The Top 100 Canadian Singles
By Christopher Duda
Bob Mersereau has once again given plenty of recognition to the much deserved Canadian musician with his well thought out, informative music monster bible. From the Guess Who’s American Woman and all the way down the hard steel tracks to Wintersleep’s-Weighty Ghost. Bob has successfully included informative text and beautifully illustrated points with pictures, memorabilia and Canadian personalities own personal lists. For all those whom are Canadian and love music this is an essential addition to your collection of dusty books. To all those not Canadian by purchasing this book we will recognize you as an honorary member of this “Rockin” country.
1. Were there any surprises in the lists you received? Was there any musicians you felt that should of been included that were not? Who were the near misses?
The surprises in the lists of votes I received was how unpredictable they were. Most people assume you can pigeonhole voters; they feel young people will vote for new music, and old people will vote for classics. In fact, you never knew from list to list. I would get people in their 50's voting for Arcade Fire, and in their 20's voting for Neil and Joni and Trooper. There were many artists I thought should have been in the Top 100, but everybody is like that, our tastes all differ. Having said that, I don't have a problem with any of the songs that did make the list, I understand why people voted for them. I would have had Valdy, Murray McLachlan, Sarah McLaughlin, and The Odds, lost of different artists in my own Top 100. Near misses in the final vote include Nickelback, Slow, Sarah M., Jann Arden, and Joni Mitchell's "Free Man In Paris".
2. What has the reaction been to the book thus far?
The reaction has been really positive. The reviews are almost all in favour, some over the top, a few more reserved, hardly any are dismissive. I think once people see the actual book, as opposed to just the list of the Top 100, they understand the concept a little better, and the fact that it exists to present Canadian music in a coffee table, art book format, the list is just the start of it. The pictures and stories are the key. The people who are complaining about it are largely on-line, and those who have only seen the list, and want to argue why their favourites aren't included.
3. Are there plans to put together another book?
I am really still trying to figure out what another good book would be that is not repetitive and interests me. Many people think Top 100 Artists or Bands or Singers, but it doesn't ring my bell yet. Somebody suggested Top 100 Canadian hits from the 60's or 70's, I like that idea a bit more, there were so many 60's songs that didn't make it, yet there will be repetition there as well. In addition, I could do Top 100 Atlantic Canadian Songs, which is a book very much needed here where I live, I believe.
4. I believe the only thing that was not included in the book that I was a bit surprised about was The Viletones. Screaming Fist was milestone that reached far beyond Toronto. Punk is always on my radar and it seems it was captured in your book-Teenage Head, The Diodes, and Demics etc. How do you personally feel about the first wave of Punk and do you believe it changed the face of music to come?
I went through the first punk era at its height, although living far away from the centers, here in Fredericton. We did have knowledge, and the records, and we had a small but very interested group of people. I was more of a New Wave guy really, speaking Costello and Talking Heads versus Pistols and Ramones. So Teenage Head were of more interest to me. Now, the rocky question of what it changed in music: I think it separated those deeply serious and interested about music from those who simply enjoy it. I have no problem with either group, but I worry about too much emphasis placed on its musical importance. It was a genre, like others, better than some. Other people are just as influenced by folk, old country, 60's pop, it all comes and goes, influences and gestates.
5. Were you able to put a copy of the book into Neil Young's hands?
I was able to put a copy of the first book, Top 100 Can. Albums in his hands. He seemed to like it fine, and was happy to get it. Who really liked it was his wife, Peggy, and manager, Elliot Roberts. I was with them backstage at a concert in Halifax, and had much more time with them, as Neil was making his way through the well-wishers. I just stayed with them, and showed them the book. Peggy was very pleased to see some of her photos in it.
6. Was the number one choice a surprise to you-The Guess Who?
The number one choice was not a surprise, nor was the number two. I had thought going into the project American Woman would win and Heart of Gold would be second. After that, I didn't know. However, based on how people voted in the first, Albums book, I had the feeling that would be the case.
7. How did you obtain the list of people that could vote?
I had much of the list of voters already in place from the first book, but I added several hundred more, as some didn't want to vote again in the singles book, and I did increase the number of votes I got. What I do is go to the music professions in the country, people that know Canadian music; journalists, musicians, record company people, management, agents, etc. I send out thousands of these invites to vote, and see who is interested enough from that. Then, I also get big fans of Canadian music emailing me, asking if they can vote, and of course, I say yes, I want a good percentage of just plain fans too.
8. Was there anyone that you wished would have voted but could not track down?
There were plenty of folks I would have liked to have heard from, but none that killed me. The more stars the better of course, it's fun to see what they vote for. Keelor and Cuddy were supposed to do lists, but couldn't find the time. They were up for interviews, but really, it's hard work sitting down and going through your thoughts on what constitutes your very favourites. I was happy to get every vote, but would have loved to have 2000!
9. Now that the book is out would there be anything you would change about it or the process of putting it together?
Again, I would just have liked to see more voters take part. I think that it may have stopped some of the perceptions (although they are few) that the book is biased towards certain areas, age groups, etc. Moreover, if I had had more time, I might have found some more interesting and rare memorabilia, etc. In addition, I would have loved to have had new interviews with all the musicians, but I did have over 75 percent, so that was mark I was satisfied with. However, it was time to put the book out. I would love to have more pages for more visuals, and the time to find them, secure the rights, etc. I think the visual look of the book is very important.
10. Are you an avid vinyl or cd collector?
I am an avid collector, but luckily I have had years of reviewing to help me. Getting the stuff sent to you for review is a real blessing when you are a collector, so it has saved me a lifetime of spending. I do however, spend way too much still at times, and have recently been obsessed with picture sleeve 45's and EP's. It's fun though. I want it all.
11. Was there anything omitted from the book that you would have liked to include?
No, nothing omitted, just that I was hoping to have more artwork, more memorabilia ... picture sleeves, advertising, tickets and passes, that sort of stuff, more of a museum feel. I hope to present a book like that at some point.
12. Did you actually vote on your top ten Canadian singles?
Yes, I was one of the voters; my number one choice was Ron Sexsmith's Secret Heart.
13. Was there anyone you would of liked to interview for the book?
I would have liked to have a new interview for each article. Number one on the list is as always, Neil Young. Quite simply, he only does interviews when he feels like it, his management keeps him sheltered, and hopefully someday, they'll give me a few minutes.
14. Why did Peter Gzowski refer to you as Rockin’ Bob Meserau?
I met Gzowski when he came to New Brunswick for an East Coast Music Awards. I had some good friends that worked with him, and the contact for them here suggested I be on his show as a reporter for the event. The local guy always had called me "Rock" for some reason, short of Rockin’; it was just his little nickname. So, when my friends introduced me to Peter, they did so as Rockin' Bob. It was kind of a joke; I am not really a rockin' guy. However, he picked up on it, and always referred to me on air as that. So did others on his show, such as Shelagh Rogers. Therefore, it has stuck.
15. In a few short words or painfully funny antidotes, please describe the following people.
Neil Young-Is exactly what you would expect he would be like when you meet him. He's a big old hippy, totally cool, bemused. You can tell he has a million things going on inside, but he's not at all dismissive of your few seconds of meeting him. Very respectful. He also is interested in what you think of his show and band and gear and whatever you want to bring up about music.
Justin Bieber-I don't have a problem with the whole teen idol side of pop music. After all, what was Elvis at first? Teenagers of all stripes need music to enjoy. I don't have to listen to it if I don't want. Some of it is good sometimes, too. There have been teen idols in pop since day one, and lets not forget Paul Anka was one of the very first, AND he wrote his own hits, and wrote for others too, such as Buddy Holly. Who knows where a Bieber can go? Just get a new haircut, kid.
Randy Bachman-Interesting, complicated man. Very focused on the business of being Randy Bachman, searching for the next advancement and challenge, and always driven. He seems to be very focused on being a success, whether it's on the charts, on stage, on radio, as a songwriter. Luckily, he has proven to be a multi-talented man, so I'm always interested in his latest attempts. Sometimes they work out pretty good, like his CBC show and the new Bachman-Turner album, sometimes they flop.
Bubbles-A muse. His mere existence has proven instrumental in Canadian music. Where would Rush, The Tragically Hip, and half the East Coast musicians be without his influence? Everyone wants to know Bubbles. I know Bubbles. I am blessed.
Levon Helm-Not many can pull off such a late-life re-emergence, especially since he's faced so many problems. However, he's a tenacious guy, and used to lots of craziness, and always put the music above everything else. His two new albums remind us where the swing in The Band came from, and what a unique mix they came up with my transplanting that Southerner into the melting pot that was Southern Ontario in the early 60's.
Joel Plaskett-drips pop songs. He's mastered the art of the difference. While his songs seem straight ahead, he's made each one his own, no matter how simple they seem on the surface. You cannot mistake him for anyone else, and has such a distinctive storytelling style. I love his production as well, a woodshed pop not unlike McCartney's first solo album
Neil Peart-A generous man when it comes to relaying the history of the band. He's proud of Rush's success, especially as it continues and actually grows. You can tell how much he is enjoying seeing the band now finally talked about as being cool, and seeing so many young people discovering the music. At the same time, he has a great confidence, as for years he's known how much his and his partner's playing and writing has influenced other musicians. He is not stuck up about it, just satisfied. And he seems very down to earth, and of course, very Canadian because of it.
Gordon Lightfoot-Well, he's pretty humble these days, which is nice. It's pretty cool to have this highly respected songwriter not play the star card and just talk about it all. Now, there's plenty of stories about his drinking and temper and everything else from the 70's, and he won't deny 'em, but it sure seems like a completely different person to the one I've talked to in the past few years. The guy watches the Leafs games on TV, just like you and me, and likes to talk about it.
Leonard Cohen-Easily the most gracious person I have ever talked to in my life. He has a way of greeting you and telling you how honoured he is that you're interviewing him that makes you feel special immediately. And, you can't help but believe it's totally real. I think it is. My wife once saved an answering machine message from Cohen for months. Okay, I saved it. It went "Hello, I'm looking for Bob. This is Leonard Cohen calling from Los Angeles. I think I might have mixed up the time." Not that I listened to it several times and have it memorized.
Frankie Venom-I only met him later on, in 2007. While Gordie Lewis was thrilled about Teenage Head's inclusion in the Top 100 Canadian Albums, I couldn't tell you if Frank liked it, hated it, or even considered it. He had a scowl on his face as I introduced the band's concert appearance at the hometown Hamilton Music Awards. Again, I don't know if he hated or loved my intro. He LOOKED pissed off. It was a punk show. It was perfect.
Bryan Adams-I was told by his management PR that they wouldn't be interested in passing on an interview request for Bryan for the Singles book; it wasn't really anything worth it for him. However, his old friend and writing partner Jim Vallance thought he'd like it, and offered to get in touch himself. Adams quite happily got involved and answered all my email questions, very quickly. It made me feel a lot better about big international rock stars.
Anne Murray-is one funny, classic, touch Maritimes woman. She easily slips back into her hometown, small-town background, and you can tell she will be absolutely thrilled to retire to being that person again. I bet she's tough as nails and has lots more secrets than the ones she decided to tell in her autobiography, but I could happily hang out with her just for laughs and not even talk music.
Ian and Sylvia Tyson-So when they talk about the Village and the folk scene in New York in the early 60's, why is it always Dylan and Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary and never Ian and Sylvia? Certainly all the players from the time know how big and important they were to the scene. Why is it the Canadians always get short shrift in the music chronicles? Of all the writers who went "If Bobby Dylan can do it so can I", who was better than Ian Tyson, not to mention Sylvia's own writing and rocking up the folk style. The first song Tyson wrote was Four Strong Winds, and the first one Sylvia wrote was You Were On My Mind. Damn.
Joni Mitchell-I have never interviewed Joni Mitchell. The thought actually terrifies me. I know that she does not suffer fools, and from what I understand, she can quickly proof that you are, or at least that you won't be able to understand the complicated music she creates. I once asked her manager about interviewing her. He said it's probably better that you don't.
Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy-I can't think of two people who compliment each other more in a band setting. While they are greatly different as musicians, they use that to maximum effect, able to switch moods and gears, get weird and go straight, and never bore you, especially in concert. While they are both fine performers and songwriters, neither gives you the same magic on their own. Like Jagger and Richards, I guess.
Gord Downie-I just met Downie for the first time a couple of weeks ago, although I had interviewed him before on email and phone. He was completely different than I expected. He was friendly, funny, a little mysterious but mostly pleasant, humble and enjoyable. Now, you could tell there was quite a mind working away there... but he couldn't have been more gracious. I thought he would be a bit dismissive. Nope.
Tom Cochrane-Seriously underrated as a writer. I think it's the huge hit syndrome. After Life Is A Highway, how can you top that? It unfortunately made many people forget Big League, White Hot, many other great ones, and buried his albums since.
Robert Charlebois-Brought modern rock to Quebec. But also kept the spectacle in it. His stage show was wild and crazy, and it helped keep the emphasis on performance in Quebec modern music, which is still important. There's that element of theatre, and performance art that sets it aside from English rock music. If Charlebois had've done it without the show, perhaps that would have been lost, such is his importance in Quebec music.
Carole Pope-It is still unbelievable that Rough Trade could get airplay, to me. Certainly, it wouldn't have happened in the States. I guess it shows just how great the songs were, that programmers but away their normal conservative and safe rules.
K.D Lang-A tough one. She's had to battle her way to the top, and has never compromised. Plus, she changed her style completely, in an orderly manner. I love that she has become this modern vocalist, a crooner if you will, since she started out screeching old school country.
The book can be purchased at amazon.ca, chapters.ca, hmv.ca and is in all fine bookstores.