The recent death of Lighthouse founder Skip Prokop highlighted not only his musical prowess with the success he had with hits “Pretty Lady”, “Hats off to the Stranger” and “One Fine Morning”, but he also politically provided key testimony during the initial phases of Canadian content in Canadian radio.*
In his obituary posted in the Globe and Mail (September 8, 2017) Prokop appeared at CRTC hearings in 1970 stating “…in part the kids who are recording will start getting hit records. Then Canadian kids will start paying a certain amount of money to go and see them in concert. This creates the beginning of an industry – you start creating stars within your own country. This is something that Canada has never really had.”
Did his words strike true? Has the introduction of cancon developed the Canadian music industry? Would we have fewer Canadian musical artists cracking the US Charts if cancon had not come into being? If the government had not instituted the Canadian content rules would we have April Wine, Streetheart, Prism and others that may have had a small ripple in the United States but mainly have had successful Canadian careers? Concentrating on the first two decades of cancon, who would not have been here? Who should we thank cancon for, for having some artists in our record collections, mixed tapes and digital music play lists?
Knowingly I have not included names like Bryan Adams, Rush, The Guess Who/BTO, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot. These successful careers were based on influences that were are entirely due to the introduction of cancon rules. The longevity of their careers has guaranteed their music stays out of the “Canadian” bins due to international sales and tours.
The MAPL system of identifying Canadian content was established by the CRTC in 1971. The MAPL designation identified the Music, Artist, Performance and Lyrics as being solely Canadian. To be a cancon selection two of the MAPL categories had to be of Canadian origin.
The initial success of Lighthouse was borne before cancon rules were in place, though the rules certainly may have extended their radio success. What about other bands, that as Canadians we love, but won’t be more than a passing interest to Americans?
Without prejudice I wonder what the fate would’ve been for the following Canadian musicians/bands if cancon had not been mandated. These bands all had fabulous success in Canada (I have most of these discs in vinyl). Below are just a few cancon era bands I personally love to hear in my playlist.
The 5 Man Electrical Band made more money when Signs was covered by Tesla in 1990 than they did in 1971 under their own name. An Ottawa based band they had other memorable songs including Werewolf and Absolutely Right. With three big hits they have every right to play the reunion fall fair concert circuit.
The Stampeders had 16 singles charting in Canada from 1971 to 1976, they had but four songs crack the US. Cancon has been good to The Stampeders. How else do you explain never cracking the top 10 in 7 years and maintaining a solid fans base today while continuing to hear Carry Me, Sweet City Woman and Hit the Road Jack in rotation at Canadian oldies radio stations?
I have nothing but smiles for the music of Michel Pagliaro. He was HUGE in Quebec starting in 1968 but for the rest of Canada it’s songs like Rainshowers and What the Hell I Got, which scored big for Pagliaro in English Canada and cancon gold.
It was the 80’s classic My Girl (Gone Gone Gone) from Chilliwack that made it big in the US but in the early cancon days Chilliwack sustained their career with songs like Lonesome Mary, California Girl , Fly at Night (not to be confused with Rush’s hit Fly by Night) that sustained the band via cancon.
Born from a cancon homegrown music contest, there is no better band than Honeymoon Suite to represents the success of Toronto’s Q107 radio contest. Honeymoon Suite won that contest with the hit New Girl Now. The band scored 6 Top 40 songs in Canada and 2 Top 40 hits in the US. Without cancon rules and Canadian radio looking for new talent to play it is hard to know just where Honeymoon Suite would be.
With 19 singles released in Canada between the years 1977-1981, Prism is a cancon success. I’m surprised to see their lead single Spaceship Superstar only charted as high as 63 in Canada in 1977. I thought it was a fabulous song! In four years Prism charted 10 times in Canada and 5 times in the US. Prism’s success is cancon-centric, something to be proud of with 5 well received albums by Canadian rock and pop music lovers.
In an odd cancon twist of success, Saga scored big with 5 LP’s from 1980 to 87, but is a European twist; Saga has charted albums in Germany since 1981’s Worlds Apart. Saga soared with a top 3 hit in Canada and Top 30 in the US with On the Loose in 1981. With initial success in Canada the band has succeeded to continue to see success and to tour consistently. As a nod to their German fans Saga has released three CD/DVD concerts sets recorded in Bonn and Munich since 2004.
Canada has shown a real love for its homegrown bands. Whether it was cancon that created the environment for the love, Skip Prokop was prophetic when he appeared at the CRTC hearing back in 1970, “(cancon) creates the beginning of an industry – you start creating stars within your own country.”
*The CRTC mandated that 35% of music played on Canadian music must be considered Canadian content. 2 of the 4 categories of the MAPL pie must be either composed, written or performed by a Canadian to meet content. Classical radio stations and Windsor ON stations had reduced content regulations.
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