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Classic Album Review: Various Artists | Oh What A Feeling 2: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music

It could have been titled Oh What A Failing: Sorry, All Of The Good Ones Were Taken.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I wrote back then (with some minor editing):

 


I must have missed something. Exactly when did Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like a Woman! become “Vital Canadian Music”? Nothing against Shania, you understand. Or the song itself. It’s a great country-pop single. And a massive, undeniable hit. But — and maybe this is just me — it doesn’t feel especially Canadian. Not in the same way that, say, The Guess Who’s Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon is Canadian. Or Stompin’ Tom’s Sudbury Saturday Night. Or The RheostaticsBallad of Wendel Clark. Or … well, you get the idea.

I wouldn’t make such a fuss about Shania if her song didn’t happen to be the leadoff track to Oh What A Feeling 2, the new four-CD Canadian music retrospective issued to honour of the 30th anniversary of the Juno Awards (and to raise funds for charity). It comes five years after Volume 1, which featured the cream of the crop of CanCon classics: American Woman, Takin’ Care of Business, Turn Me Loose, Cuts Like a Knife, Life is a Highway, yadda yadda yadda. Obviously, putting together a sequel is easier said than done. You don’t want to repeat yourself. But let’s face it, an album filled with Canadian music also-rans might as well be called Oh What A Failing: Sorry, All Of The Good Ones Were Taken.

On the plus side, for the most part, the folks who compiled this 76-track box set have taken what could have been a roadblock and turned it into a scenic detour. They’ve used the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the catalogs of bands such as The Guess Who, BTO, Trooper and other acts whose biggest hits were on Volume 1. Here, they’re represented by their second-biggest hits — Share the Land instead of American Woman, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet instead of Taking Care of Business, We’re Here for a Good Time instead of Raise a Little Hell. Nothing wrong with that. There’s also a slate of tracks from ex-pats like Neil Young (Heart of Gold), Joni Mitchell (Help Me) and The Band (Up On Cripple Creek).

The compilers also took advantage of the chance to include plenty of second-tier Canadian acts that are often overlooked even in this country. If you’ve ever wanted to have CD-quality versions of Doug & the SlugsToo Bad, The KingsSwitching to Glide / This Beat Goes On, Gowan’s Criminal Mind, Prism’s Spaceship Superstar, Klaatu’s Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, Aldo Nova’s Fantasy and Copperpenny’s Sitting On A Poor Man’s Throne, you won’t get a better opportunity than this. In particular, this set devotes a chunk of time to good ol’ Canadian hard rock, represented by Lee Aaron (Whatcha Do to My Body), Toronto (Your Daddy Don’t Know), Headpins (Don’t It Make Ya Feel) and Helix (Rock You). Naturally, there are still plenty of omissions — where are Streetheart? And Goddo? And Teenage Head? But omissions are part of any box set. Hey, there’s always Volume 3, you know?

My bigger complaint is that too many of these tracks are recent singles that seem to be included more for record-company politics and artist ego-stroking than historical legitimacy. Disc 1 is especially guilty. Along with that Shania cut, there are cuts from Jann Arden (Insensitive), Chantal Kreviazuk (Before You), Tal Bachman (She’s So High), Len (Steal My Sunshine) and Bran Van 3000 (Drinkin In L.A.). Again, all fine songs. But classic Great White Northern fare on par with Bryan Adams? We’ll have to wait and see. But I doubt history will validate the inclusion of teen-pop from the likes of Sky, SoulDecision and The Moffatts.

Thanks to suspect cuts like these — and the set’s pronounced lack of biographical data and liner notes beyond songwriting credits — sometimes Oh What a Feeling 2 feels less like a tribute to Canadian music and more like the world’s longest K-Tel album. Then again, there really couldn’t be anything more Canadian than that, could there?