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Shakin’ All Over: Canadian Pop Music in the 1960s (2006)

by on 2012/09/19

“If that ain’t a hit, we’re changing professions.”

* * * *

Nearly as soon as I uprooted my life and moved to Ottawa, I felt I’d made a terrible mistake. There wasn’t a lot of happiness in the darkened early daze, though I found small comforts in the most unlikely places.

For example, in a mall across the street, an utterly depressing blight which could be described as “tumbledown”, “ramshackle” or, most charitably, “abandoned”. The bookshop — going bankrupt, of course — had a decent bargain bin, where I discovered all kinds of Canadian music books.

Perhaps the crowning jewel was Nicholas Jennings’ Before the Gold Rush, since transmogrified into CBC’s Shakin’ All Over. It flies through the history of dozens of homegrown artists, about half already known to me, and just as many “new”.

The list of names goes on and on, including the following and more: Anne Murray, The Band, Bruce Cockburn, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Classics and The Collectors (later Chilliwack), David Clayton Thomas, Dr. Music, Five Man Electrical Band, Gordon Lightfoot, The Great Scots, Great Speckled Bird, Guess Who, The Haunted, Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, Joni Mitchell, Kensington Market, Leonard Cohen, Mashmakhan, Murray McLauchlan, Neil Young and the Squires, The Paupers (Lighthouse), Robbie Lane and the Disciples, Robert Charlebois, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, Seeds of Time, The Staccatos, Stormy Clovers, Three’s a Crowd, and The Ugly Ducklings.

In telling their stories chronologically, we shift past a series of phases: the singer/songwriter folk boom of Yorkville, Beatniks becoming Hippies, the influence of psychedelia (particularly in Vancouver), garage rock anticipating punk and grunge, and the assimilation of soul and blues to form the Toronto sound.

Genres bleed into national issues of language, borders, and exposure. Quebec and English Canada evolve in apparent silos. Some artists resist the pull of America; ironically, others seek international validation to win respect at home. And in the days preceding Canadian Content rules and dedicated channels, TV shows and cross-country festivals help to fight against radio apathy.

It’s a wealth of people, places, sounds, information, and approaches. Where possible, vintage footage is shown, often sacrificing audio quality for a window on the past. Other times, new performances are used instead, or prominent cover versions. Most of the performers are interviewed between clips.

Everything is tied together by the narration of Jian Ghomeshi, who may be recognized by listeners of CBC Radio (or fans of Moxy Fruvous, if you lived through the early Nineties).

Which brings me to my greatest compliment. Not only is this video an archival treasure, it’s also heartening to see a new generation respectful of, familiar with, and impressively knowledgeable about their forerunners.

My concerns about the documentary are relatively few. A very small percentage of the focus is on females, Francophones, or non-Caucasian players, even within the bounds of mainstream popular music. Whether the unbalance is a bias in the programme, or an accurate reflection of the subject is unclear.

The narrative ends abruptly, with a conclusion less satisfying than its introduction. I know there are further installments featuring the Seventies and Eighties, but this one never suggests such a context, and was sold as a standalone disc.

Still, even within this initial part, there’s an ample amount of variety, ensuring a little something for everyone. Like a tour through the audio equivalent of wine country, Shakin’ All Over’s samplings may leave you slightly unfocused overall. Unless you don’t like music, however, it’s strongly recommended for its many, many highlights.

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Not Rated

90 minutes

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