"Nice day for a party, isn't it?" Oh come on now. At least some of you get the reference, right? Teenage Head?
Any journey through popular music history is personal, deeply subjective. It's bound to be, because music sets off all manner of memories. It's desperately hard to do make an objective history of two decades of music and please everybody.
So, it's 1971 or 1972. Thereabouts, anyway. I'm in my bed in Dublin and I've got a transistor radio, listening to Radio Luxemburg. Late at night the DJ is David "Kid" Jensen, who plays what's called "progressive rock." It's worth hearing, this Jensen guy's show, because he's Canadian, as he keeps reminding listeners, and he often plays Canadian bands that nobody outside of Canada has heard of. I hear the Guess Who and Lighthouse. It's impossible to buy records by these bands in Dublin, but I know the sound, and it stays with me. Right now, I can still recall the sound of Lighthouse coming from the radio. See what I mean? It's personal.
This Beat Goes On (CBC, 9 p.m.) tries hard to be all-inclusive, but in doing so it only underlines the impossibility of covering every sound, every nuance of decades of music. It's a lot of fun, and comprehensive in a shallow manner. It's full of hits, has many misses and meanders all over the place.
The first instalment tonight covers Canadian pop music in the 1970s, from the situation of scattered acts and songwriters who were semi-successful through the CRTC's imposition of Canadian content rules on radio stations and the eventual outpouring of successful Canadian music.
The Guess Who play an important role as both Randy Bachman - a great storyteller - and Burton Cummings offer some perspective on the Canadian musical scene then. We hear about Bachman Turner Overdrive (Serena Ryder says of BTO's You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet , "That song is just phenomenal.") and the fragility of the music industry before the CRTC intervened with its content rules.
Terry Jacks and Edward Bear make an appearance. There is heavy emphasis on the blues scene in Canada and how it seemed to flourish in all regions. Don Walsh of Downchild Blues Band provides one of the best quotes when he says, "You have a hit record and the rest is geography." He means the endless long-distance touring across Canada. Attention is paid to Dutch Mason, David Wilcox and Colin Linden. Then the emphasis switches, and not smoothly, to the singer-songwriters and the folk and country situations. It's Gordon Lightfoot, the Good Brothers, Anne Murray and Valdy, who "springs out of the fertile West Coast like a towering redwood," according to narrator Jian Ghomeshi. A nice bit on Kate and Anna McGarrigle reminds us that their own rendition of Heart Like a Wheel can make the hairs stand up on your neck.
The doc has a predictable TV format - we see clips of acts performing, Ghomeshi narrates the story with pith and then a musician offers a brief commentary. It's probably the only way to do such a program (it's made by Nick Jennings and Gary McGroarty) as it attempts to chronicle vast fields of an ever-changing music scene. And some of the archival footage is glorious. But in many ways the program calls out for a far more detailed narrative.
The second documentary, airing two weeks from today, covers the 1980s. There is a lot of great footage in Rise Up , too. But again, it feels scattered and unfocused. We get some coverage of the punk movement in Toronto and Vancouver, which really began in the late 1970s, and, simultaneously, much material about arena-bands such as Rush and Max Webster and the soft-rock of Dan Hill. Plus there's a brief detour into the music scene in Quebec.
The punk section is the best, with details about such bands as the Dish Rags, the Viletones, the Diodes, the Demics, Nash the Slash and Teenage Head. Someone says, "The Pointed Sticks were the best band that ever played in Vancouver." Then there's a brief portrait of Rough Trade, followed by an odd diversion to folkies Figgy Duff.
For all its faults, a lot of people will enjoy The Beat Goes On and Rise Up , because they are anchored in nostalgia and they stir memories, as only music can do.
Imagine me in stove-pipe jeans and sneakers, a shirt with tiny collar and a skinny tie. Not some ridiculous faux-leather skinny tie bought at Le Chateau. No. The real thing, bought in London, England, two years earlier. I'm trying to enjoy Teenage Head. Some bouncer is trying to stop me from enjoying myself. Like I'm dangerous or something. I'm not. Teenage Head is dangerous, though. They make you move. Mind you, not as dangerous as Steve Leckie and the Viletones. I'm dancing. I do the Wobble and the Watusi, too. See what I mean?
Also airing tonight:
The Listener (CTV ,10 p.m.) reaches its season finale tonight, and has Gordon Pinsent as a guest star. Here's the gist: "Toby (Craig Olejnik) brings Dr. Ray Mercer (Colm Feore) to the hospital to meet 'John Doe,' who Ray recognizes as Frank Cardea (Pinsent,), the man who brought Toby to Ray 20 years earlier. Due to his Alzheimer's, Frank continues to have trouble remembering, but he does tell Toby that Toby's mother Maya (Lara Jean Chorostecki) sent him. Toby is hit with a distress beacon, catching glimpses of a smashed windshield and a mysterious man, and sets course on a journey to learn more about the troubling images in Frank's mind." The story may end forever there, as The Listener was never what it was cracked up to be.