[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca – AC]
Despite being next to the largest exporter of popular culture in the known universe, Canada’s domestic music market is not just thriving but kicking butt on a global scale. Thanks to artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Rush, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette and so many others, we’ve long punched far above our weight when it comes to exporting music to the rest of the world.
We’re the sixth-largest music market on the planet, behind the U.S., Japan, the U.K., Germany, and France. Not bad for a country with only 35 million people spread out over nearly 10 million square kilometres.
But it wasn’t always this way. Before the 1970s, there really wasn’t much of a music industry in this country at all
For the first 70 years of recorded music, Canada was, to put it kindly, a backwater. While there were a few domestic record labels, most of the business when to branch offices of foreign companies. We lacked basic infrastructure and expertise: recording studios, producers, managers, agents, venues, promoters, pressing plants — all those things that underpin a nation’s music to be heard.
That all changed on Jan. 18, 1971, when the new Canadian content laws decreed by the newly-formed CRTC (est. 1967) went into effect. From then on, 30 per cent of music heard on the radio — down from an original proposal of 45 per cent — had to be Canadian in origin using an oddly bureaucratic and idiosyncratic vetting procedure known as the MAPL system. This, the commission said, would ensure that Canadians heard Canadian music and therefore not be swamped by material coming from America and the U.K.
As well as a cultural protectionist strategy, it was also an industrial one. Now that radio needed Canadian music, the new rules spurred the establishment of the necessary infrastructure. We needed to create a music industry out of whole cloth.
Radio types bristled at being told what to play and the notion of having to achieve quotas at the expense of hit songs that audiences craved. Some stations would edit Canadian songs down to 90 seconds or less and then spin them all between 11 p.m. and midnight in what was pejoratively called “beaver hours.” The CRTC soon put a stop to that, adding new regulations that required Canadian music be spun around the clock.
On the surface, all this seemed like a quick fix to the problem of a lack of domestic product on the radio. But the government was playing the long game. It would take years for us to catch up to the U.S. and Great Britain. And there were plenty of growing pains along the way. That’s a nice way of saying songs of dubious quality received radio airplay, all in the name of hitting that magic and non-negotiable 30 per cent quota.
In honour of Canada Day, I thought we’d go back through the CanCon graveyard to remember 10 songs that were big hits in their day, but have mostly passed into obscurity since.