Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Oh, Canada

As most of you know Canadian radio is forced by the Canadian Radio-Television And Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) to play a certain amount of music deemed “Canadian”. The regulation was put in place in the early seventies in hopes that we would build a Canadian star system. The system has been fought and debated since its inception and the rules and regs have changed over the years with more Canadian music than ever now being heard on our airwaves. As it stands now most new stations are forced to play upwards of 40% Canadian Content (Can-Con).

Can-Con is determined by using the MAPL system. If a song has two of the four MAPL designations it qualifies as a “Canadian” song.  M stands for music and you get a point if it is composed by a Canadian once. A is for Artist, once again if you are Canadian you’re up for another point. P is for performance and if the song was recorded in Canada you are in. L is for lyrics, once again, if the lyrics are written by a Canadian a point is awarded. Of course there are all sorts of little co-write rules but these are the basics.

Now if you are a Canadian band chances are you are going to meet enough requirements to make the cut. If you are a Canadian band and cover a tune written by non-Canadians you can make that song qualify as Can-Con by recording it in this country. The converse is also true. An early example would be “This Flight Tonight” by Nazareth. The Scottish band had a huge hit with the song in Canada as it qualified under the regulations as the music and lyrics were written by Canuck Joni Mitchell.

My thoughts about Can-Con has gone back and forth over the last thirty odd years. As a manager it certainly helps to get airplay in this country but there has always seemed to be this attitude around the world that a Canadian hit was only a hit because radio was forced to play it.. Back in the day when you could still sell music airplay would equal sales so any airplay was good but it was still difficult to secure international releases for Canadian acts. Overall it has been a boon for our industry as many artists have been able to carve out a lucrative career here in Canada.

When programmers bitch there is not enough Canadian music to play all they need to do is listen to CBC Radio or SiriusXM’s “The Verge” who really almost exclusively on Canadian programming and always sound good to my ears.

This week the CRTC awarded the 88.1 frequency in Toronto (the former home of CKLN) to a group spearheaded by the folks at Rock 95 in Barrie. The station will be known as Indie 88.1 and will play 40% Canadian content, of which 60% will be emerging artists. It will be a few months until they are up and running, and their signal will be very weak outside of the downtown core, but it should be interesting to hear their programming. Good news for local artists.

Songs about Canada have always seem to strike a chord with us. Ditties like “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” or “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” by Gordon Lightfoot raced to the the top of the charts. Stompin’ Tom Connors sings nothing but songs about his native land but rarely receives radio play. Tom has had a lucrative career crossing the nation and singing about its heritage in bars, fairs, legions and anywhere a PA and stage could be constructed.

If you had to pick one band that honours their country the most it would have to be The Tragically Hip. They have defined their career by singing about Canadian sites, issues and folk heroes. Songs such as “50 Mission Cap”, “At The Hundredth Meridian”, “Wheat Kings”, “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)”, “38 Years Old” and “Bobcaygeon” give us an aural history of the country. Although they have had success in the United States and other places in the world perhaps it is their lyrical content that has held them back international superstardom.

In Winnipeg John K. Samson and The Weakethans have never been afraid to sing about their country. “Tournament Of Hearts” is by far the greatest rock’n’roll song ever written about curling (and beer), It takes some kind of Canadian genius to sing “I’m peeling off the label as they’re peeling off the corner guard”. On “One Great City” the have the balls to sing “I Hate Winnipeg” in a love letter to their hometown. Hockey, a recurring theme in Canadian songs, also gets a Weakerthans treatment with “Elegy For Gump Worsley” about the late great Habs goalie. Of course The Hip touched on the game with their song about Maple Leafs hero Bill Barilko and his Stanley Cup winning goal on their hit “Fifty Mission Cup”. Tom Cochrane also scored with his ode to the hockey rink “Big League”. Hell even Toronto Maple Leaf goalie Johnny Bower scored a top thirty hit in 1965 with “Honky The Christmas Goose”. His teammate Eddie Shack had a number one song written about him in 1966 with “Clear The Track Here Comes Shack” by the long-forgotten Douglas Rankin With The Secrets.

Another songwriter not afraid to sing about his country is Joel Plaskett. I’m pretty sure Joel was making a political statement, as well as confessing his love for his country in “True Patriot Love“. He also sings of his hometown of Halifax/Dartmouth in his song “Love This Town” and may be the only songwriter ever to rhyme Riviere-du-Loup with the word soup.

The mere mention of the word Canada in a lyric can cause a live audience to go totally patriotic. Anyone who has ever seen Sloan perform “The Rest of My Life” with the lyrics “One thing I know about the rest of my life I know that I’ll be living it in Canada” can attest to that fact.

Another artist who signs and also writes books about his native land is Dave Bidini. With the closing of Thursdays in Montreal this week it is only fitting that he mentions Crescent Street in the latest Bidiniband single “The Ladies Of Montreal”. I think you can pick up the single

Hopefully the new Indie 88.1 and a few other adventurous radio stations will help discover the next great generation of Canadian storytellers,

NXNE in conjunction with the NXNE Film Festival are throwing a film festival party this Saturday night at the Bovine Sex Club (342 Queen Street West), Doors open at 9:00 PM and we kick off the night with an encore screening of the Danko Jones documentary “Bring On The Mountain”. That will be followed by the music of A Primitive Evolution and then the stars of Hard Core Logo II Die Mannequin. The bar is open until 4 AM and that will give you enough time between the bands and movie to grab a quick bite at The Shanghai Cowgirl right next door.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE Magazine, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Oh, Canada”

  1. One thing I like about Dala is their sometimes unique Canadian view. The mentions of Winnipeg make me smile and you cannot deny the teen angst of “Hockey Sweater”, left behind with love from a guy heading South. And I think the whole MAPL thing was/is good. Anything which gives music a better chance, and sometimes just a chance, is A-OK with me.

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