Discover more from This Week in The 90s
Everything I Do, pt. 6: When Canada accidentally banned Bryan Adams [August 12, 1991]
Plus: Right Said Fred, PM Dawn, Manic Street Preachers, and The Blue Aeroplanes
This week’s Number 1 :
‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
Two countries have absolutely dominated modern popular music: the United States and the United Kingdom.
Every country has its own music scene. Here in Ireland, for example, we had a thriving showband industry in the 60s, then a big folk revival in the 70s, and a bustling rock scene from the 80s onwards.
But none of those bands stood a chance in the face of the US/UK juggernaut. Looking at the Irish Top 30 for this week in 1991, we’ve got a couple of new Irish bands like Georgia and Goats Don’t Shave, plus some old reliables like Clannad, Daniel O’Donnell and Mary Black.
But the overwhelming majority of the Top 30 comes from that Anglo-American nexus of pop.
Number One in Ireland this week is Bryan Adams, of course. At least he’s a little different from the other, being Canadian. Isn’t he?
Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘Canadian’.
In 1971, authorities in Canada recognized that Anglo-American culture represented an existential threat to Canadian artists. They founded the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and created a mandate for broadcasters to use a certain amount of homegrown Canadian content, or CanCon.
For music, that meant that radio station playlists had to be 25% CanCon. Over time this grew to 30%, then 35%, and now it’s generally 40% on most stations.
But what is Canadian music? If BTS recorded an album in Ottowa, would that count? Or do you have to be a dude in a hockey jersey who sings about Tim Hortons and apologises a lot?
Glad you asked. Music is Canadian if it meets two of four requirements:
Music composed entirely by a Canadian
Artist is a Canadian citizen (the band can be foreigners, but the lead singer must
Performance is recorded entirely in Canada
Lyrics written entirely by a Canadian
(The acronym is MAPL, because Canada.)
That means that BTS could record an album in Ottowa and qualify as CanCon, if the songs were written by a Canadian. If that’s not an incentive for BTS to record an album of Leonard Cohen covers, I don’t know what is.
Lots of Canadian artists did benefit from CanCon rules. Shania Twain, Alanis Morrisette, The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan, k.d. lang, and Our Lady Peace are all acts that got their big break on Canadian media. Some of them take great care to make sure they stay within MAPL requirements, just to ensure their Hometown Hero status.
What about our boy Bryan then? In his own words, CanCon never helped him much. Like his compatriots Celine Dion and Nickleback, he found fame outside of Canada while working with an international team, and it was only after this success that he started getting time on Candian airwaves.
But Adams did meet CanCon requirements… right up until Waking Up The Neighbors and ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’. Mutt Lange, who is South African, was credited as co-author on the album, which Adams recorded in London.
The biggest song in the world, and the biggest Canadian hit ever by 1991, was not sufficiently Canadian under MAPL rules. Radio stations could play it, but only during 60% of their airtime.
It was a dumb enough situation that they actually changed the CanCon rules and added a new exception:
…if the musical selection was performed live or recorded after September 1, 1991, and, in addition to meeting the criterion for either artist or production, a Canadian who has collaborated with a non-Canadian receives at least half of the credit for both music and lyrics.
Which is kind of hilarious. They practically mention Adams by name, while also explicitly stating that (EID)IDIFY is not eligible.
I guess they were also sick of the song by then.
Anyway, everything seems to have worked out now. CanCon rules still dictate what radio stations can play, but Canadian artists aren’t punished for their international success.
Canadian protectionism seemed weird in the 90s, which was an age of privatization and international free trade. But things have been going the other way since the Trump era. Irish artists have been calling for something similar since 2016.
And in fairness, it doesn’t seem to have hurt Canadian artists that much. The perception is that Canadian audiences like the rule and enjoy having a way to find out about local acts, rather than listen to whatever is emerging from the US and the UK. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 2 (↑3): ‘I’m Too Sexy’ — Right Said Fred
Right Said Fred have a shockingly impressive musical pedigree. When they were young, the Fairbrass brothers gigged with bands like Joy Division and Suicide. Richard Fairbrass was a session musician who worked with David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Fred Fairbass jammed on a Bob Dylan record.
And yet, these guys could not get a record label to take an interest in their dumb sexy song. In the end, a 19-year old receptionist offered to try to get the record out in exchange for 20%. And she did!
‘I’m Too Sexy’ ended up at Number One in seven countries, including the U.S. But it failed to shift our Bryan off the top of the UK charts, despite a record-equalling six weeks in second place.
The other song that spent six weeks at Number 2? ‘The Smurf Song’
The Smurfs did a cover called ‘I’m Too Smurfy’, so there are multiple connections between them and Right Said Fred. However, as far as I’m aware, The Smurfs never opened at The Factory for Joy Division.
Number 5 (New Entry): ‘Set Adrift On Memory Bliss’ — PM Dawn
1991 was something of a prelapsarian Eden for hip-hop. Gangsta will soon cast an exciting but deeply problematic shadow over the genre, but here in 1991 we’ve got De La Soul Is Dead, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low-End Theory, and PM Dawn have just released one of the most beautiful hip-hop singles to ever appear in the charts.
It’s all built around a sample from Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’, which is why Tony Hadley has a cameo at the end. Spandau had just broken up a few months ago in 1991 and the rest of the band were about to discover that they did not, in fact, have a gentleman’s agreement with Gary Kemp to split songwriting royalties. The band spent most of the 90s fighting in court to get paid.
They lost and Kemp got everything. Presumably, this includes royalties from ‘Set Adrift On Memory Bliss’.
Number 13 (↑19): ‘Apparently Nothing’ — Young Disciples
Never mind Right Said Fred’s pedigree, how about Carleen Anderson of Young Disciples? Her dad discovered James Brown!
Bobby Byrd met Brown in prison. Byrd was working at the local juvie when he met the teenage soul legend, who was doing a stretch for robbery. Their first record was the incredible ‘Please, Please, Please’, after which it became clear that the band was too small to contain Brown. He went solo but Byrd continued working with him over the decades, and even asked James Brown to be godfather to his daughter.
Something similar happened to Young Disciples, with Carleen Anderson leaving after the first record to pursue a solo career. She never quite hit the same heights though.
Number 26 (↑35): ‘Love’s Unkind’ — Sophie Lawrence
Hey look, it’s Diane Butcher from Eastenders.
Number 40 (New Entry): ‘Stay Beautiful’ — Manic Street Preachers
Manic Street Preachers said that they were going to sell 16 million copies of their debut album and then break up forever. ‘Stay Beautiful’, the debut single from Generation Terrorists, peaked at Number 40. The album went on to sell around 160,000 copies.
So were they sincere about the 16 million things, or was it all a prank? It was both, and understanding this contradiction is part of the Tao of the Manics. I look forward to explaining this when we look at each of the 22 Top 40 singles they had in the 90s. Twenty-two! Have no doubt that we will listen to every one of them.
Album of the Week
Beatsongs — The Blue Aeroplanes
Personally, I spent my whole life until this week thinking that The Blue Aeroplanes were Irish.
That’s possibly because Dave Fanning played them a lot. Also, around 95% of Irish rock bands at the time sounded exactly like this - art rock with dense, sing-spoken lyrics.
Beatsongs is generally less well-regarded than their big 1990 album, Swagger. But it’s a great record in its own right with some songs that sound like Big Star and a raucous jam-band cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Boy in the Bubble’.
More Adams. We’re nearly halfway through, don’t worry.