A Stodgy Old Man Takes You on an Odyssey Through Time

When men were men and hair was huge.

My family got cable the summer of 1988, which means for the subsequent two decades I watched Muchmusic with a devotion that bordered on monastic. My fingers were so attuned to hitting 1-4 on the remote control that I would call up the channel when it was already on! I knew dancers on Electric Circus by name! I would be disgusted with myself if I actually did an audit on all the hours I logged watching that channel. Much was my cool older brother who let me listen to his records. Then he became a classmate who I could tape swap with. Then he became a younger brother who still had decent taste in music even if I questioned some of his sartorial decisions. Then he became a 14-year-old girl who is too busy texting to talk to me.

Look, fine, the demo Much is trying to appeal to has long passed me by [so much so the ‘music’ was dropped from the station’s name at least two years ago and nobody noticed], though it’s sad to see MTVCanada kowtow to that demo with greater ease. And complaining that they never show videos anymore is, once again, like shouting at the clouds.

But it does sadden me, and if you were a kid like me in the late 80’s and early 90’s you understand why. Because it’s not like when I started watching the channel when I was eleven it was a wall to wall diet of Billy Idol and Def Leppard. Back in the day this was a station strangled into playing the cheesiest, amateur, avant-garde stuff because CRTC regulations and Canadian content laws were so much stricter on them. Thanks to the marvel of Youtube and a platoon of pop culture historians with curiosities as esoteric of my own, I can share them all with you. These aren’t songs I like [far from it, in some examples] but they’re just the ones I remember, the ones that I talk to the Lady about when something calls up some fragment and brings me back to 1989 , in my parents’ basement, finger on the pause button of the VCR to amass a respectable library of clips [I really wish I could find those…]

Please bear in mind, these videos received airplay. On a national broadcaster.

We’re gonna end up a long way from Gossip Girl reruns and So You Think You Can Dance marathons, children, I promise you that.

The Dead Milkmen – Punk Rock Girl

Back in that weird and wonderful time known as the 80s, they didn’t have the phrase ‘alternative rock’ or ‘new rock’ or ‘modern rock’ whatever the middle-aged men at rock radio try to call music made after 1991. [ASIDE: Are we officially entering that stage where ‘modern rock’ is the new ‘classic rock’? On Toronto’s the Edge or Detroit’s 89X anyway, music from the heyday of 90s and millennial alternative still dominates the playlist with a few token tracks from bands like Alexisonfire or Paramore. The last time I remember these stations being current was when Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance made their debuts and that was five years ago! END ASIDE] they called it ‘college rock’ since itonly ever got played on campus radio stations. But Much had hours to fill, which is the only reason I can explain why the Dead Milkmen ever got played.

To be honest, I would have preferred posting ‘Smoking Banana Peels’ but anyone with a remaining copy of that video has yet to upload it to the web. But Punk Rock Girl is a perfect example of all the things that made college rock so charming to me as a lad, from the jangly guitars to off-key solo and awful singing, and its ability to weasel into your head despite everything working against it. Besides, as a younger man I always did have a soft spot for the Suicide Girl types [though we didn’t call them that then] who would be prone to jumping on a diner table and shouting ‘Anarchy!’ because she couldn’t get hot tea.

The Shuffle Demons – Spadina Bus

David Wilcox – Layin’ Pipe

Two examples of the hell Muchmusic’s programmers must have endured hogtied by the rules of Cancon. Living in Windsor, where the content laws are reduced and it doesn’t matter anyway since we get all our media from Detroit, it took Muchmusic to open my eyes to all kinds of….”great” Canadian artists we missed out on in the Dirty Southwest. People like Kim Mitchell, and Platinum Blonde, and Helix. And David Wilcox and the Shuffle Demons.

The Shuffle Demons I actually dig on, probably since they appealed to my pre-adolescent love of rhythm and I dug their outfits. Living in Toronto now, it makes me sad to know I’ll never ride the Spadina bus. Living in Windsor in 1987, I had no idea what a Spadina even was.

David Wilcox was something else entirely. Good Lord, look at this guy. Even as a kid, I could tell everything about the guy was wack. Not like his bandmates are the epitome of rock, but they at least kind of make an effort, what with the beards and the mullets. Wilcox looks like an accountant with ADHD. Out of all the relics on this list, this is the one that baffles me the most. Dude looked like my dad 20 years ago, can you even imagine someone trying to get on MuchMoreMusic, let alone the flagship?

MCJ & Cool G – Just Listen

Canadian hip-hop has been…uneven, at best in its short history, especially as it tried to find its footing in the early 90’s. New Jack Swing was still dominating the R&B charts down south, and any rapper who wanted to crossover had to adopt a little of it into their style. So it was the horribly named MCJ & Cool G.

The duo get respect not only for being from Halifax [what was the scene like out there? SRSLY] and Montreal [Canadian and fromQuebec? Double whammy] but for being the first group I’d seen pair a singer with a rapper. Nowadays they smoosh both those guys together and call him Drake, but back then it was kind of trailblazing. But that’s about all the love I can give. The lyrics in ‘So Listen’ are just beyond lazy, even as a kid I knew they were basic. ‘What’s up everybody, my name’s MCJ / I’ve got something that I want to say’? Not that I have anything against true basic rhyming, but when you look at Greg Nice or early Busta Rhymes, that’s just pitiful.  Try to chalk it up to the early stage in the culture’s lifespan but come on, by ’91 Rakim had already dropped two albums, hell even MC Hammer’s rhymes were more complex than this [ASIDE: May I also direct you to the equally awful ‘No Sexx (With My Sister)‘]?

You will notice I am not hating on the fashion. Mostly because I had a polka dot shirt in the ninth grade. It was awesome. I rocked it with a cardigan and a Raiders cap.

Jean Leloup – Printemps, été

So for about ten years or so, back when videos were the channel’s bread and butter, there was really only four hours of live broadcasting on the channel, from 12-4. Then you’d have some specialty shows, a daily countdown, the artist spotlight, and those four hours would get repeated like, three more times at least on any given day. As a Canadian channel, Much had to devote like, 2% of their broadcasting day to Francophone videos, usually all crammed together on a show called French Kiss which aired at 11.30 a.m. Mon-Fri [a quick Google tells me it still airs at 6.00 a.m. everyday]. Since during school holidays and periods of unemployement I was usually up by then, I’d end up watching the show by default, waiting for the next day of live-to-air to start.

As a rule, most French music is kind of awful. The hip-hop’s always had a jazzy sensibility I enjoyed, but the pop music is just abhorrent. This is the culture that gave us Celine Dion, remember.

But something about the Stray Cats, rockabilly groove of this song, Leloup’s snotty expression, the guy playing piano with a smoke in his mouth, the dilapidated house filled with women in their underwear…it was kind of everything an 11-year-old boy thought adulthood should be.

Whale – Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe

One of the reasons why the ’90s ruled [as opposed to the myriad of reasonswhy they sucked] is that when the whole ‘alternative’ thing happened, the radio and video channels were looking for something that no one else had yet. You had to give the kids something they hadn’t seen before, not something they wanted. I suppose that’s how a band like Sweden’s Whale got any airplay, let alone the heavy spins they did.

Screaming men in dresses? Sure. Tinfoil diapers? Why not. Flailing around in what seems to be a volcanic rock quarry? Absolutely. And a sweetly sinister, bracefaced girl singing lead? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Seriously, she looks like she’s about to stab you in the eye with that lollipop stick, just because she can, god bless her.

Like I said, I can’t be mad at the station for switching their format to try and rope in the kids. And I can’t blame the kids for being far savvier than I was at their age, and looking online to fill their music needs. It was a different time then, and for my generation, Muchmusic was a direct line to music and videos and bands we would never have seen otherwise. It was this little scrappy thing who would do things just because they could [this is the station that used to spend a day of programming on January 2nd launching their Christmas tree off the roof of the CHUMCity building in Toronto]. For an old fart like me, a spectacle like the MMVAs will never match the ingenuity they displayed when the people at Much didn’t know what the hell they were doing because no one had done it yet.

When you look back at things like Speaker’s Corner, or the little bumpers they would have focused on Canadian visual artists or where musicians would talk about what books they were reading [Thom Yorke loved Oliver Sacks, never forget that one, and a lot of musicians loved Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses]…it’s sad to see how they’ve been left so utterly in the dust by people who have built on the innovations Much was at the forefront of 15 years ago.

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