'American Woman' tops best Canadian songs list
TORONTO - The Guess Who's 1970 smash "American Woman" is the greatest Canadian single of all time, according to a new book coming out Thursday.
Author Bob Mersereau polled roughly 800 musicians, journalists, managers, promoters, label executives, retailers and music fans to compile his book, "The Top 100 Canadian Singles," which spans more than six decades of material.
The second spot went to "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young, whose "Harvest" album topped Mersereau's 2007 book "The Top 100 Canadian Albums." Rounding out the top five were "The Weight" by the Band, "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
But Guess Who songwriter Randy Bachman proved to be the big winner. Along with his work with Bachman-Turner Overdrive (whose "Takin' Care of Business" is No. 8), he has six songs in the top 100, a number that increases to eight if his production work for Trooper is included.
"When you look at this, you'd have to say that Randy Bachman is the king of Canadian pop," Mersereau said in an interview in Toronto on Wednesday.
"Eight of the top 100 songs, Randy's directly involved in. The guy has shown that he's got the magic when it comes to writing a rock 'n' roll song and recording it and getting that radio-friendly sound."
Mersereau is proud of the fierce debate spawned by his last book ("I've heard of dinner parties that have become complete arguments about what's in that book," he boasts), and he expects this sequel will be just as hotly debated.
Young has five songs total on the list, the Tragically Hip and Adams have four apiece while Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Rush, Sloan and Blue Rodeo have three songs each.
"The list shows just how strong we are at writing songs and in many cases producing these little three-to-five minute gems of radio or video magic," Mersereau said.
"Singles, by nature, people think of the top 40. So it's a little more representative of that. But I think it also shows that you didn't have to be a star name in Canada to have a star hit, and I really like that.
"For every Neil and Joni and Cohen in there, there's a Mashmakhan and a Diodes."
Mersereau's panel of voters included Joel Plaskett, former MuchMusic VJ John Roberts, the CBC's Stuart McLean, late author Paul Quarrington, Dallas Green, Sass Jordan and Sloan's Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson.
He aimed for a group diverse in age, region, profession and area of musical interest ("I didn't want this to be a music-nerd kind of book," he explains).
He focused not on songs but singles, with the criteria that each tune on the list had to be released separately from an album collection at some point, whether as a 45, a CD single, a cassingle (remember those?) or a digital download.
Each member of Mersereau's panel submitted a list of their 10 favourite Canadian singles of all time. Simple math determined the final list.
The 1970s were the best-represented period, with 35 songs. Two songs from the '50s made the cut, 13 from the '60s, 24 from the '80s and 19 from the '90s.
Montreal critical darlings Arcade Fire have the only song from the past decade in the top 50, with their rousing anthem "Wake Up" coming in at No. 29.
Malajube, Feist, k-os, the New Pornographers and Wintersleep (whose "Weighty Ghost" is No. 100) are the other artists to make the cut with tunes released in this century.
Mersereau said that recent hits by Drake and K'naan hit the airwaves too late for consideration, but that the latter's "Wavin' Flag" might have made the cut otherwise.
"I think that is a song that would have got in there if the survey had been done this year," said Mersereau, a music writer and longtime arts reporter for CBC-TV in New Brunswick.
Of course, music fans will care as much about which artists were left out as which made the cut.
And Mersereau's book sure features some high-profile snubs, including Nelly Furtado, Sarah McLachlan, Broken Social Scene, Avril Lavigne, Nickelback and Shania Twain -- one of the best-selling artists of all time from any country.
"It was really stiff competition numbers-wise towards the 50-100 here," Mersereau says by way of explanation. "But I think by and large, there are certain artists who are backlash artists, who have fans but have haters too.
"Nickelback knows that half the audience loves them and half the audience hates them. Avril probably knows that. Shania knows that. Some people consider these artists pariahs."
Other major Canadian artists made the list but with surprisingly low placements.
Alanis Morisette --whose 1995 smash "Jagged Little Pill" was No. 6 on Mersereau's album list -- has only one song on the list, with "You Oughta Know" checking in at No. 53. Ditto Stompin' Tom Connors ("The Hockey Song" is 86th) and Celine Dion ("My Heart Will Go On" clocks in at No. 70).
Mersereau did try to answer criticism about his previous list's English-language bias by including a separate Top 100 of the best French-Canadian singles of all time (Robert Charlebois' "Lindberg" is No. 1).
"I was writing a book for an English audience," he says of his first book. "It really surprised me how much francophones were interested in this, considering it wasn't even in their first language."
"I have to take that criticism, and it was certainly legitimate."
Mersereau says that his intention is not to necessarily create a definitive list of the best Canadian music, but rather shift the discussion toward Canuck talent in general.
"It's a list of art -- it's never going to be right," he said. "You can't do a scientific poll. It's not like an election. ... It's always a snapshot. It'll be different in five years time.
"The point is not so much the list as it is the celebration and what you can do at that time to say: 'Canadian music is great, it has been great, it will be great.' It should be recognized as such."