Before I go on a bit of a Toronto-centric music rant, I should probably preface that while I never studied broadcasting per se, I always thought I would make a good radio programmer. Besides curating some mean playlists and the odd mixtape back in the day, I have an innate knack for balancing what needs to be pushed versus stuff I want to hear.
This now said, Indie88 celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving as well as its fifth anniversary of sorts by revealing what their listeners supposedly voted as the Top 500 Alternative Songs of all time. Listen, I’m sure plenty of opinions were submitted, but being in marketing research when not freelancing as ROCKthusiast…I bet there was more than a little fudging going on. Especially when the final list bears a striking resemblance to a similar one not that long ago by their chief market competitor.
Come to think of it, it’s been almost twenty years since 102.1 The Edge put together their dauntingly defining “Top 1,002” to take full advantage of the 20th century ending. Like southern sister stations Q101 in Chicago and Seattle’s 107.7 The End who also did thousand-plus best of lists, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the undisputed champion. This time around, “Seven Nation Army” usurped Nirvana for top honours, which I have absolutely no problem with. That song was freaking everywhere in 2003, staying top-of-mind to the point where you can’t go to many sporting events nowadays without hearing some version of it. The White Stripes are also my favourite live band ever, so there.
As much as I may worship Jack and Meg White, that doesn’t give them carte blanche to reissue their first three albums on crappy-quality tapes for Cassette Store Day. That’s just plain stupid.
The problems really begin if you start weighing Indie88’s picks against those of the Edge from back in 1999, salvaged from Rocklists.com. In quickly analyzing their respective Top 50, I found that 30% the songs were exactly the same, or Indie88 simply swiped “classics” like The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” for “London Calling”. (Violent Femmes and Talking Heads also appear on both lists.)
What’s more, only 38% of Indie88’s Top 50 songs are from the year 2000 until now. You would think in a market as cutthroat as Toronto, the newer kid on the block would do anything and everything to distinguish themselves from their closest-sounding rival. But a criticism that has dogged them from the outset (by meaner people than me) is how their music selections are too much like Dean Blundell’s former employer 102.1 The Edge. For a station that prides itself as being “where new music belongs”, there is a lot of recycling going on, and not in a good way.
No U2 was the most glaring omission for me; no matter how awesome Arcade Fire is when they’re not acting like snobby hipsters (showing up twelve times, more than any other artist), that’s not an equal substitution. Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out” and “Ride” also appear twice each, which is I know is probably an honest mistake but is still sloppy. I could go on, but I genuinely like tuning into Indie88 when listening to the radio strikes my fancy. A list such as this should generate healthy discussion akin to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, but I was more disappointed in their haphazardness and near plagiarism than anything. If anyone there needs a music outsider to shake things up, drop me a line at [email protected].