When I’m tasked with preparing a more complex meal for supper, I sometimes enjoy a podcast rather than music. They’re a great way to busy my brain while I’m chopping and stirring. Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History is a favourite, though sadly lacking in episode volume the last few seasons.
Another I like is Alan Cross’ The Ongoing History of New Music. You’ll likely recognize Alan’s voice if you listened to inflight music on Air Canada back when screens were inset into seat backs and you needed to plug your headphones into the armrest.
A few months ago, I happened upon an episode entitled “50 Years of CanCon,” an interesting dive into the history of Canadian Content regulations. I won’t bore you with a rehash of the CanCon story but encourage you to check it out if this type of behind-the-scenes music trivia intrigues you.
What I will share, however, is the fascinating discovery this podcast inspired me to seek. CanCon was brainchild of Stan Klees. Klees, along with Walt Grealis, also developed RPM Weekly, Canada’s version of Billboard slash Rolling Stone.
RPM is now defunct, but the Canadian Music Charts it published are archived at Library and Archives Canada. This is both cool and important. Cool if you want to travel back in time to see what songs were popular in The Great White North when you were born, say. Important because it provided me the opportunity to test Cross’ podcast’s core thesis.
That core thesis was that Canadian music sucked in the early years of CanCon. This is a common criticism of the program and there’s a whole lot of truth to it. The very elite of Canadian popular music left for brighter futures in the USA, leaving our domestic music scene nearly non-existent.
When CanCon was created to rectify this problem, it took a few years to get us up to speed. In the meantime, radio was required to play a legislated amount of “Canadian Content” which meant a whole lot of inferior music made it to our airwaves.
I decided to test this theory out for myself. CanCon came into force in 1971, a year before my birth, so I had no personal experience upon which to draw but I did have the RPM music chart archives to explore. Coupled with YouTube, I figured I could at least find one long forgotten hit by a Canadian artist/group that I’d never heard before that was, in fact, pretty damn good. Hopefully more than one.
Well, it turns out there actually was a lot of garbage produced in those early years of CanCon. It was the early 70s and sappy, folksy, ballody, singer-songwriter schlock was quite popular, so Fate wasn’t exactly on our side. If you want a cringy chuckle, check out some of the “hits” of the day according to RPM.
Thankfully, though, I did find a couple gems. Okay, a gem. I didn’t check every song out … yet … but of the dozen or so I investigated, this was by far the best. And it’s one I’d never heard before by a band I’d never heard of. They had a couple albums, a couple minor hits, and then evaporated into the dusty corners of the Federal Governments official archives of Canadian history. That’s kind of a shame, in my opinion, because this is a catchy “classic rock” tune.
I’m kicking off your weekend with Steel River, a band out of Toronto. From their 1971 album, A Better Road, this is “Southbound Train.” I hope you enjoy this forgotten treasure.
Live Version (medley):