We live in a potentially wondrous time. The whole of the world’s knowledge is available at our fingertips. We needn’t wonder any more about anything. All of the answers to any question we could possibly have are available at the push of a button on a keyboard. Not only can we learn about anything our little hearts desire, it is now possible to promote ourselves to the world at the push of a button, too. With a little planning and organization, complete nobodies can become internationally known somebodies without the help of multinational marketing campaigns. Many of today’s top musical acts such as Lil Nas X, Ed Sheeran and BTS all let their fans know of their latest musical creations by dropping hints on social media first. By using the power of the internet to connect with their audiences, today’s music stars can have viral hits the moment their songs go public because they have created a demand “behind the scenes” as it were. The old way of putting out a single, having radio stations play your song and then watching as the song moved up the record charts all seems somewhat quaint by today’s standards. Imagine what The Beatles might have been able to accomplish using social media!?
But today’s story takes place at a time just before the internet came along and changed our lives forever. In the 1990s, if a singer or a band wanted to launch their career, they still went about it the way that groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones did…they toured a lot, were “discovered” and signed to a record deal, they toured a lot to support that record, radio stations played their “hit song”, if they were lucky, the singer/band appeared on Canadian TV and then, if all was going really well and the song was a smash hit, they might end up going to the US, touring there and, by doing so, raising their profile back in Canada. This would lead them to putting out a second album which, hopefully, was well-received and maybe the artist/band could carve out a career for themselves in Canada. The one thing about doing this in the 1980s and 90s that made it slightly different for artists was something known as music videos. The early 1980s saw the emergence of a broadcasting phenomenon called Cable TV. Cable TV allowed Canadian homeowners to enjoy a larger selection of television channels that showed regular network programming from Canada and the US. Most homes started out with “Basic” Cable which was composed of the major Canadian network channels of CBC (English and French), CTV, TVO (in Ontario), as well as the major US networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. Throw in a channel for local programming, a TV Guide channel and you had your basic cable package. But what really helped artists in Canada and the US to market themselves a little more easily was when the Cable TV providers began offering specialty channels. Some of the most successful channels were dedicated to sports and movies. But one of the most successful of them all concerned music and that was MTV in the US and Much Music/Musique Plus in Canada.
In order to help Canadian artists establish themselves, the government passed a law that mandated all radio and television stations had to include a minimum amount of Canadian content as a condition of maintaining their broadcasting license. What this meant for Much Music was that it now needed to actively acquire and promote as wide a range of Canadian artists and bands as they could manage. The music video industry grew exponentially. Grants were issued that enabled new bands to have a chance to make a half-decent video and have that video showcased on the “nation’s music station”. One example of this that I can clearly remember happened while I was enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts Programme at what was then called Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. Our little section of the university was all agog one day when one of Canada’s hottest new bands, Platinum Blonde, used part of their grant money to film a music video in our studios. Some of the kids at school (not me unfortunately) got a chance to work behind the scenes as volunteers. When the video launched on Much Music, we were understandably proud of our small role in helping to make it happen. The late 1980s and into the 90s was a time of tremendous growth for the Canadian music scene all across the country. The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, Jane Siberry, The Grapes of Wrath, Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies, The Cowboy Junkies, 54-40 and many more all got their start and were able to launch careers that achieved varying degrees of success. But make no mistake, Cancon rules and organizations such as Much Music played a huge part in helping bring the talent and imagination of many young Canadian musicians into the public spotlight.
One of those musicians who benefited from it all was a band out of Montreal called The Sam Roberts Band. This band was led by a charismatic and handsome lead singer named Sam Roberts. They began in the late 1990s and were able to release their debut album called, We Are Born In A Flame in 2002. This album spawned several big hits such as “Don’t Walk Away Eileen”, “Brother Down”, “Hard Road” and “Where Have All The Good People Gone?” The band dutifully made music videos to accompany these songs and soon Sam Roberts’ face was appearing all across the nation on a regular basis. The band’s music was Canadian tuxedo-style rock n’ roll and was well-received by audiences. In fact, when the big SARs benefit concert was held in Toronto in 2003 (a concert that included Rush, The Guess Who, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake), Sam Roberts Band opened the concert, playing for fifteen precious minutes in front of the largest crowd of their career. But, a decade or so prior to this, Much Music and the major record labels of the day came up with a unique and clever idea. Working in a rare spirit of cooperation and partnership, a new way to market Canadian artists was discussed and agreed upon that would help Canadian artists compete alongside their more successful American counterparts (who were still selling well in all Canadian markets). The plan that these executives came up with was to create their own special music compilation CD. That CD would feature songs that were popular on Much Music. It would include some of the top US hits of the day but it had to also carry just as many Canadian hits, too. In this way, if you bought this CD because you liked The Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example, you would also be getting music by Canadian bands and artists, too. The compilation CD was to be sold under the banner of Much Music and became known as Big Shiny Tunes.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I really was able to develop an appreciation for a broad swath of music in the 1980s. By the time the 1990s rolled around, I was now working as a teacher and had more disposable income to spend on my hobby. Thus, the Big Shiny Tunes series (of which there ended up being seventeen), arrived in the marketplace at around the same time as I arrived in the marketplace. Thus, these compilation CDs were one of the ways that I was able to quickly and affordably expand my own musical collection. It is a series that is still bearing fruit for me in weird ways even today. On Twitter, I follow a Canadian music site that features 1990s music. The site is called “Rave and Drool”, which was the name of a hit song by The Killjoys which, tying it all in, was one of the Canadian tracks that made it onto the very first Big Shiny Tunes CD which was released in 1996. Overall, the 17 Big Shiny Tunes CDs that were released have gone on to become Canada’s biggest selling music series with sales of over 5 million CDs. My first BST purchase was Big Shiny Tunes 2 which included Canadian bands such as Tea Party, Holly McNarland, Age of Electric, Wide Mouth Mason and Bran Van 3000, alongside such international heavyweights at the time as The Prodigy, Blur, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson and Collective Soul. The Sam Roberts Band appeared on Big Shiny Tunes 7 which was released in 2002 and just preceded the SARs benefit concert by a year. “Where Have All The Good People Gone?” appeared on Big Shiny Tunes 8 which was released the following year.
Like all good things, Big Shiny Tunes ran its course. By the time the final Big Shiny Tunes CD was assembled and released, the internet was becoming a bigger and more functional way for audiences to access their music. Eventually, the decision to end making new Big Shiny Tunes CDs was a simple case of the times changing and the series no longer making financial sense. To be honest, I cannot remember the last time I actually purchased a real CD. So, the decision to end Big Shiny Tunes was probably the correct one. However, having said that, Much Music helped change the way that Canadian artists and bands marketed themselves before the arrival of social media and the internet. For that reason, we all owe a big debt of gratitude to those imaginative folks who worked at Much Music and believed that, as a country, we had a music industry worth supporting. I don’t know about you but I love Canadian music and I say that without a hint of patriotism involved. I think that there is an awful lot of talent in our homeland and I enjoy listening to the music our artists are able to create. One of the bands I like most is The Sam Roberts Band. I hope that you like them, too. If you have any comments about Sam Roberts, Much Music, Big Shiny Tunes or any other Canadian acts that do it for you then please feel free to tell me all about it in the comments section below. Thanks for reading. It is a pleasure to have you here.
The link to the music video for the song, “Where Have All The Good People Gone?” by Sam Roberts Band can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.
The link to The Sam Roberts Band’s full set at SARs fest can be found here.
The link to the official website for Sam Roberts Band can be found here.
The link to the official website for Much Music can be found here.
The link for the history of the Big Shiny Tunes series can be found here.
In today’s song, Sam RIberts namedrops his hometown of Montreal. The link to the official website for Montreal can be found here.
***As always, all original content contained within this blog remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com
12 thoughts on “The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #18/250: Where Have All The Good People Gone? by Sam Roberts Band”
Wow! What a cool summer job!!!
I’m dating myself here but I used to order records in the mail with various artists I’m pretty sure it was K-tel ❤️❤️,
Then Columbia record house . Oh the money spent !!! But worth every penny !!
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Remember those days as well!
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Oh the days of the compilation album! A very good look at the Canadian music scene, thanks!
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The precursor to the Spotify playlist, I guess. 😀
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Ha ha! Exactly!
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This is a pre-comment, being written before I listen to any of the music being suggested today. I have never watched Much Music or MTV. When they came out I was avoiding television like it was the plague. Having watched the progression of television from the 50s through the 60s and 70s, then into the 80s and beyond, I had decided that television was doing exactly what Harlan Ellison, science fiction wtiter and 1960s TV ctitic said it was doing, turning the television audience into a bunch of mindless boobs. People would hurry home after work to watch the Boob Tube (boob in both senses of the word as TV seemed to be promoting women with big boobs at the time, as well as presenting shows that were destroying the minds of the dedicated TV audience) and then come to work the next day and discuss every nuance of every show as if the shows were real life, and real life was being a TV viewer.
Apparently I stopped watching television just before this new phenomenom of cable tv hit the airwaves. Was I wrong to turn away from the little screen? I certainly did not think so. I spent more time reading, and more time communicating with people who, like me, wanted to have real lives, to not live vicariously the lives of people who never existed. Having said that, it seems like I missed a lot of good things. Bad timing, I guess. But I cannot regret it. Many of my co-workers and television-watching friends had minds of mush. They had no idea there was a real world happening outside the boob-tube. They literally lived to watch TV.
Bottom line, I apparently missed a lot of good music, because I seldom listened to the radio either. The prominent stations were playing the Top Ten over and over, as if there was no other music to be had.
Now I will venture forth into this world you tell me I missed. I will let you know what I think when I have experienced it for awhile. Peace and love.
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Well now, if this is merely the pre-amble, my readers and I cannot wait for the actual “amble”! 😆 Truth be told, I don’t watch tv at all anymore. Once we had children, life got too busy and tv just didn’t measure up to spending time with them. Nowadays, I stream anything I want/need to watch on my iPad. We cancelled our cable years ago and I don’t miss it a bit.
Lol. Now that I am a senior citizen, I watch more TV. However, they have this great little gadget called a PVR. We tape the shows we choose to watch, and watch them at our leisure. I don’t understand about this streaming stuff I gotta admit, but we love our PVR. We do pay for basic satellite, so our choices are more limited than for some with all those premium channels, but we make do. TV is for entertainment.
My partner entertains herself with Reno Shows. I have a few dramas I watch, not many, but I don’t know what I will do next year after The Good Fight ends.
Right now is curling season in Canada, We will record enough curling games to last well into summer next. We don’t need to know the results as they happen, we are patient people. I grew up in Manitoba, she in Alberta. We love the art of curling. There is no sport like it anywhere.
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Further to this comment, I have sampled some of the songs on Big Shiny Tunes, the first release. I will not go into individual songs, because truly if I closed my eyes to the videos a lot of the songs I listened to could have been one band, playing the same kind of music over and over, just changinging the words (I think) because mostly the music drowned out the lyrics for me.
Yes, I am a hard critic, but having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I am used to being able to understand the lyrics which for the most part were clearly enunciated over music that did not interfere with the message or story. I presume growing up to this music (from 1996 and onward) spoke to a different era, one filled with anger and hopelessness, because that is what I heard and felt. In comparison, from the birth of rock n roll in the mid to late 50s, through the doldrums of the early 60s, and into the British invasion and beyond to true psychedelia (what they call psychedelic these days does not make my mind expand) we grew up in a time of great hope and self-expression.
Okay, so I have proved I am an old fuddy-duddy living in the past. I make no apologies for it. Of the songs I sampled on the first Big Shiny Tunes the only band that impressed me were the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I still could not hear the words as well as I would have liked, but I could feel the music and the words that I could hear excited my ears. I may have missed some other gems, I don’t know, but after the RHCP it was back to the same lustreless music, and I got bored.
But I will not stop here. Onwards to BST2, not meaning Blood, Sweat and Tears. There is still hope.
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Ha! Ha! I once read that the definition of someone who is too old to be in a club anymore is, upon entering, their first thought is, “Is it loud or just me?!” 😀 Anyway, don’t worry about going through the entire Big Shiny Tunes collection. There are seventeen in all. Even I didn’t listen to them all back when my ears were that much younger. Anyway, ironically enough, “Get Together” is coming up tomorrow as this week’s Reader’s Choice post. That is a lovely and much quieter song. Quite the story behind it. I hope I did it justice. Thanks, in advance, for recommending it. Look for it tomorrow. 👍
I live in anticipation, thank you. But, no, I will not abandon the BST project now that I have started on the path. There is so much I have missed.
I may not write about it here, that depends on what I find, but I am doing this for me; anyone else who gets to read about it is incidental.
Besides, who but you and me are still reading the comments on this post? Not many, very few if anyone at all.
We are two lovers of music coming from different generations. I know you appreciate the efforts of my generation. (The Who, 1965), so I just want to return the favour. (I stopped listening with Disco, and with a few exceptions — The Travelling Wilburys were really a 60s band, updated — I never got much back into rock, which had branched in so many directions.) And so it goes…
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After just a quick sampling of a few Sam Roberts Band recordings, this is my truth. My old ears find the music harsh and headache-inducing. The videos themselves are almost as bad on my eyes. But the lyrics definitely grab me. Not to demean Sam, he is a product of his generation, but at this time in my lufe I would love to hear Donovan or Melanie singing his songs using acoustic guitars. Maybe Sam has mellowed over the years, and doesn’t need so much noise behind his voice, so I would be interested in that too. But he has probably moved on to different things, I don’t know yet.
Meanwhile, I will look to see if Big Shiny Tunes are avsilable online, and look to see what other Canadian music I can find. I’m away for a few days, so my search will start next week. I will keep you posted, if I am moved to comment.
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