The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #18/250: Where Have All The Good People Gone? by Sam Roberts Band

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!?

When I was still in high school, I had a summer job working at Seaside Cable TV Ltd. in Sydney, Nova Scotia. This was the summer that the specialty channels were unveiled and being promoted. My job was to monitor the video feed for our specialty channels. What that means is that I watched a lot of movies and got paid for it. 😉

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.

The Much Music studios on Queen Street in Toronto. Note that Speakers Corner (which was used by The Barenaked Ladies to help launch their career) was located at this site, too.

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.

Sam Roberts Band.

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.

“Where Have All The Good People Gone?” was one of the great songs on Big Shiny Tunes 8.

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

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable mention Song #23: Have Not Been the Same by Slow (as Chosen for Ian Jack) (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #24: Have Not Been The Same by Slow (as Chosen for Ian Jack).

So, you are out and about, driving merrily along, when you happen to pass a local church hall or community centre with a sign out front that says something like, “Ladies Auxiliary Bake Sale Today!!!”…..what do you do? Well, if you are like me, you safely apply your brakes, pull into their parking lot and head on inside. Why? Because one of the truisms of my life so far is that anywhere little white-haired Grandmothers are making meals or baking pies, there is bound to be good eating going on inside! So, in I go. Always. Every time.

Ironically enough, I drive by fast food and chain restaurants every day without getting the same feeling. It is not like simply having access to food is my motivating factor. What it is, really, is having access to a certain kind of food that is lovingly made, by the very people whose name is on the sign out front. For the most part, community groups and, by extension, most “Mom and Pop”-type food stores, put a lot into the food they serve because their food represents who they are, as real people. That isn’t the same as it is for minimum wage earners who ask if you want fries with your burger. For them, the experience of preparing food for others is a job….a way to make the money needed to live the lives they seek to live. It is not an experience that is often filled with passion and pride, as if the server’s reputation is connected with the assembly-line burgers being kept warm under heat lamps. No, for me, home-made is best. And, if I can find that home-made taste experience, out in the real world, that is where I will spend my money every time.

The same rule applies to my taste in music. I have never been an off-the-rack Pop follower. Over the course of this countdown, I have noticed trends in how many of you respond to the songs I post. Most of you are consistently willing to “Like” or “Love” almost anything I write but, some of the songs I like the most….Radiohead, Bjork, Kate Bush, DJ Shadow, etc., have been the posts that have garnered the fewest kindhearted responses. That is not a criticism of you but more, an acknowledgement that my tastes tend to not be the same as most people’s tastes in music. For this reason, over the course of my entire music-loving life, I have had to fight to find access to the types of music that mean the most to me. Like the grey-haired ladies making pies in the church hall, I tend to gravitate toward music that doesn’t follow formulas and isn’t being made with commercial considerations at the forefront of the creative process. I guess you could say, I tend to be drawn to Alternative and Indie music most of all. That is not everyone’s cup of tea but, it works for me. So, this post, more than anything else, is about how I have found the music that has held the most meaning in my life and why it hasn’t been from commercial radio. It is, also, about a kindred spirit that I didn’t really even know that I had until doing this project…..Mr. Ian Jack, for whom this post is dedicated.

One of the hobby horses I have ridden for awhile is that commercial radio bugs me. What it is that bugs me exactly is how most commercial radio stations are more concerned with advertising and marketing than they are about the Art of making music. One of the ways you can tell this is by their lack of involvement in the local Arts scene in the communities in which they broadcast. The second thing is by how they allocate their advertising and promotional dollars toward artists who just happen to be touring in the area and/or have just released new work that is in need of promotion. In my own experience working in radio for the short time that I did, commercial radio operates on a continuous cycle of promoting the same popular acts, over and over again, ad nauseam. To me, commercial radio is like Walmart or McDonalds…..sure, I can get things that are useful there but, it is not really the quality of the experience I am really looking for. So, I have had to find ways to find artists and bands who create, first and foremost, for the sake of the Art they are making.

I have been like this forever and, truth be told, I didn’t know I was like this until one evening, waaaaaaay back in the early 1980s, when I discovered a programme on CBC Radio that was airing all the way in the commercial dead zone of midnight. That show was called, “Brave New Waves”. It was hosted, at that time, by a lady named Augusta LaPaix. Back in those days, I used to enjoy winding down from my day by listening to music in the dark, after everyone else had gone to bed. By the time that happened, it was usually late at night. So, on one of those late nights, I happened to tune the radio dial, in search of anything interesting, headphones on, when suddenly, I heard music I had never heard before. It was jangly and fast and loud and was speaking about all sorts of things that I didn’t normally hear in the Top 40 music that I was used to listening to. It was music by bands like The Spoons, when they were just starting out….King Cobb Steelie, Eric’s Trip, Mary Margaret O’Hara and many more. Most of the artists or bands were completely unknown to me. My first time hearing them was when Augusta LaPaix decided to spin their record. Before I knew it, I was tuning in to “Brave New Waves” as often as I could manage. The logical next step in my music listening evolution was in trying to find some of the music by these artists and bands…….that is when I began to realize that commercial radio was not for me. To this day, I still cannot remember a time when I have tuned into CHUM-FM….Toronto’s big Top40 station…..and heard them play a Sloan song or The Skydiggers or Jane Siberry. It just never happens. So, I turned away from stations like that and found other sources where I could find new music, indie music, alternative music.

As I was discovering and loving “Brave New Waves”, I was, also, discovering Much Music (Canada’s version of MTV, for my American readers). In the early 1980s, Much Music had lots of air time to fill and were quite open to airing just about anything remotely appropriate by any Canadian artist or band. It was via Much Music that I discovered the Rheostatics, The Pursuit of Happiness and, even, a very young band called Barenaked Ladies, who got their big break by appearing on a CITY-TV project called “Speaker’s Corner”. Many Canadian artists and bands got their first national exposure via the VJs on Much Music and, by extension, I got to hear interesting bands that way, too.

Nowadays, I tend to spend much of my time consuming whatever YouTube algorithms send my way. Because I actively search out Independent music online, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, along with platforms such as YouTube, tend to push me toward newer content from artists such as Idles (who were the whole reason I ever found out about Internet streaming radio station, KEXP, in the first place, let alone their list of the Top 500 songs of all-time, that inspired our very own countdown journey). Because of the algorithms I create online, I have come to know singers such as Aurora, who is this generation’s Bjork, in my mind. What a talent! I am lucky to have found her, and all of the like-minded, Art-first musicians I tend to be drawn towards.

This brings me back to my friend, Ian Jack. Ian is an elementary school teacher in my area. I worked with his wife, Cara, when I was still teaching. My wife, Keri, taught Ian and Cara’s eldest son. So, we all know each other, professionally and personally, in ways that have nothing to do with music. Fast forward a few years, another way I have gotten to know more about the music I like….and that is so hard to find on commercial radio… via books. One of my favourite music authors is a man named Michael Barclay. I was introduced to his writing by way of the fabulous book about The Tragically Hip called, “Never Ending Present”. Once I finished that book, I looked for other work by Barclay and, lo and behold, what did I find but a book entitled, “Have Not Been The Same” by Barclay and, my pal, Ian Jack! Up until that point, Had never read “Ian’s book” but, I have now and it was like seeing my own life story told by someone else. So many of the stories told in this book correlate directly to my love of Alternative music, my experiences with “Brave New Waves” and the early days of “Much Music” and how those times laid the groundwork for much of what has come to pass as a Canadian music scene today.

The title of Ian’s book is the title of a song by a mid 1980’s punkish band called, Slow. Slow were a rather notorious band, as it turned out due to cases of indecent exposure in BC, as well as, problems with drugs and alcohol. But, when you see the video for the song, Have Not Been the Same” you are going to see Grunge before Grunge became a thing. Slow had a lot of potential to be “the next big thing” in music circles but, being the next big thing was never what they were about. That they didn’t survive as a band says a lot about them but, so does the fact that many of the original members are still making music today in bands that nobody hears unless they catch them in a small town bar or opening a festival in a farmer’s field somewhere for the just-after-lunch crowd. Sometimes, when you pour yourself into the songs you create, it is a recipe for the best music of all….even if it doesn’t chart and only a handful of people ever hear it. You made it. It is part of you. And, if something that is part of you can become part of someone else’s life then, you have succeeded in making good Art.

The link to the video for “Have Not Been the Same” by Slow, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Slow, can be found here.

If you wish to order the book, Have Not Been the Same” by Michael Barclay, Ian Jack and Jason Schneider, contact your local, independent bookstore. That’s where I got my copy.