by carl wilson

Going to the Source


SoundProof magazine, a previously unknown-to-me Toronto venture that apparently has big ambitions to expand across the continent, keeps it proudly local in their new feature, "The Top 20 Toronto Albums Ever," based partly on a very patchy survey of critics & bloggers including myself. Aside from the Barenaked Blegghies and some picks of dubious Torontosity (throwing Neil Young in at no. 2 is only the most obvious instance), I won't nitpick their choices: Some might quibble with putting both Final Fantasy albums in the list, but predictably not me. But I was most grateful to see that Main Source's Breaking Atoms was on the roster, because I'd never known about that terrific 1991 disc's T-dot hookup - I was living in New York when it came out and thought of it as an NYC product, unaware that the two members who weren't the Large Professor were Torontonians. (Further background here.) And here I'd thought the lovable but not exactly A-list Dream Warriors were Toronto's only semi-substantial contribution to golden-era hip-hop. Breaking Atoms is a stone classic.

Here, for the record(s), (sorry Michael), is the list I sent them. I ended up choosing not to rank them but to list them off in chronological order, which affected what ended up on my list. You'll note that the '90s are a bit of a dry patch - I'm not, for example, the Rheostatics fan that many people are, and Toronto was pretty heavily grungey through much of that period. One big oversight (aside from Main Source): I'm embarrassed to say that I overlooked Fifth Column, though I'm not sure which album I'd choose - and maybe it would be the JD's Homocore compilation instead. I also lament the lack of jazz, though it would be hard to settle on one or two particular albums there. Some improvisors are represented in other guises.

What would be your picks?

Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations (1955)
Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy, self-titled (1970, re-released 2004)
The Four Horsemen, Canadada (1971)
Gordon Lightfoot, Gord's Gold (1975)
Bruce Cockburn, Humans (1980)
Jane Siberry, The Walking (1987)
Mary Margaret O'Hara, Miss America (1988)
Handsome Ned, The Ballad of Handsome Ned (posthumous, 1989)
Bob Wiseman, Sings Wrench Tuttle: In Her Dream (semi-pseudonymous, 1989)
John Oswald, Plunderphonics (samizdat-autonomous, 1989)
Guh, self-titled (1996)
Michelle McAdorey, Whirl (1999)
Royal City, Alone at the Microphone (2001)
The Hidden Cameras, Ecce Homo (2002)
Blocks Toronto Compilation (aka Toronto is Great) (2002)
Barcelona Pavilion, It's the Barcelona Pavilion EP (2003)
Les Mouches, You're Worth More to Me than 1,000 Christians (2004)
Bad Bands Revolution compilation (2006)
Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds (2006)
Eric Chenaux, Dull Lights (2006)

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 28 at 7:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (32)



Firstly, any Feist album before Trinity Session? PLEASE! Never on my list would that happen.

Second, Harvest a Toronto album? That's an insult to all the Americans that played on it!

My choices:
Phleg Camp: Ya'red Fair Scratch TOP FIVE for sure.
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet: any (can you convince someone to release their incidental music from Kids In The Hall, please?)
Shotmaker: MouseEar (recorded in Toronto)
Mary Margaret O'Hara: Miss America
King Cobb Steelie: s/t
Rush: Signals

Posted by fluffer on July 10, 2007 1:47 PM



By the time of Alone at the Microphone, I think Royal City mostly lived here, no? It's at least a Guelph/Toronto album. I wouldn't call At Rush Hour the Cars a Toronto album so much. But Toronto (like New York, like Montreal) is a place where most of the significant artists moved, not someplace they grew up, so these ambiguities always persist. More relevantly, for me the one-two of Royal City and The Hidden Cameras kicked off this (arguably the best) Toronto era - in their social effects as much as their musical ones - the embodiments of the Wavelength effect but also their own effects. The Constantines I still think of less as a T.O. band, but I am not sure I could justify that feeling. It may be just a matter of closer personal contact. Which of course are the effects that interestingly inform and distort any such list on narrow grounds like this.

As a big tangent: I heard more recent Kardinal Offishal tonight than I had before - I'm beginning to think that he is getting slept on a bit. Maybe not top-20-ever calibre - I need to listen more - but I wonder if we've taken him too much for granted.

Posted by zoilus on July 7, 2007 2:54 AM



As soon as I saw the Zoilus list, I immediately thought of Phleg Camp, but the Eric Cheneaux album makes sense.
Is Change Of Heart's Smile over-rated or just forgotten about now?
Royal City - like the Cons I never thought of them as a Toronto band. Such a fantastic band on record that never cut it live.
No Toronto punk or metal? Sacrifice's Forward To Termination is still mind-blowing today. So are those Youth Youth Youth albums.
Also, I'd hate to say that no Toronto album of the past 5-6 years still makes me as happy as the Deadly Snakes' Ode To Joy does. It's truly incredible.

Posted by Sean on July 5, 2007 10:09 PM



I'll cop to sharing dave's new-jack status in re 90s t-dot rap. i'll take myself to school at some point. and to clarify, del - i heard Main Source when i was in NYC but Dream Warriors when i was in Montreal before that - they were definitely better known there than Maestro, it seemed to me, though i was in school at the time so maybe it was just a college-radio thing.

Susana, good points on the weak-rock and strong-rap theme - but isn't that really just the story of 90s music overall, not just in Toronto? As far as i'm concerned the grunge explosion was the last hurrah of the rock-dominant era, and what was left standing afterwards was hip-hop (as well as the prominence of techno and other stuff).

& yes, it's pretty clear from their list that the SoundProof people are circa their mid-twenties or so, but that's no crime. and ok, if i had it to do over again, maybe i would switch something out for Shadowy Men, though this gets into the whole albums-qua-albums issue.

Guy - the Spoons? you gotta be kidding me.

Posted by zoilus on July 4, 2007 7:44 PM



i haven't heard Symphony in Effect in ages--probably since it came out. but i found the follow-up, Black Tie Affair, at Sam's closing sale in (sigh) the 99c bin. with the exception of the horrific "private symphony," it's an awesome album from start to finish. the maestro definitely deserves respect--and i'm not just saying that as a scarberian.

otherwise, any toronto list without shadowy men is not even worth talking about. but while i am anyway, these listmakers are obviously born in 1980--esp if they honestly believe The Blue Hysteria could possibly be the best Rheostatics album just because it's the first one they heard.

Posted by barclay on July 4, 2007 1:38 PM



sorry for density
symphony in effect = maestro's debut = best toronto hip-hop LP i know of*
"stick to your vision" = lesser maestro post-comeback guess who-sampling single.

*i freely admit that i'm a local rap new jack -- my knowledge of t-dot 90s jawns aint shit. ask me about i mother earth though!

Posted by dave m. on July 4, 2007 12:30 AM



i meant to say:

but i don't remember it being ever a record being identified as a toronto hip-hop record.

Posted by Del on July 3, 2007 10:10 PM



i also believe that main source's 'breaking atoms' is unnquestionably a classic record. however, it never struck me as a toronto record. i do remember the first time i heard dj x drop tracks from the album on ckln and the palpable excitement around it but i don't remember it being ever a record being identified as a hip-hop record. hip hop can be so localized and 'just hanging out' one of the first tracks on 'breaking atoms,' is virtually an queens, ny sightseeing trip through the eyes of large pro.

the main issue is the influence of large professor, something that was only magnified by his ongoing stellar work after the dissolution of the original lineup.

i also think carl's comment about living in nyc and hearing the dream warriors is interesting. despite maestro's success in canada and in some parts of the states, the dream warriors had a much higher profile to those outside of toronto and canada. i was living in the uk when i heard king lu and capital q and i had not heard of maestro at all back then.

Posted by del on July 3, 2007 10:06 PM



Dacks - I wasn't calling you out or implying you were lazy in any way, btw. I probably should have used a clearer tone. I was more or less just including a dot-dot-dot addition to what you had said...

I do think it's pretty interesting that the 90s were considered slow or unremarkable for rock, but yet were explosive (relatively) for local hip hop. That so much of the current scene still thinks back so fondly on those years, and in many ways, wishes to revisit them. I wonder if there's a link between the two?

Posted by Susana on July 2, 2007 12:20 PM



Anyone who thinks that 12 out of 20 best Toronto albums ever were made since 2001 seriously needs to get their heads out of their self congratulating ass. Miss America is more important an album (and a better one too) than any album currently on the list they got.

(that amazing first Crash Vegas album, or shadowy man, or the spoons, or for chrissake the St. Lawrence string quartet wouldnt hurt either)

And btw having been there in early 90's the indie rock scene wasn't so bad its just that nobody who wasnt in a band themselves paid any attention.


Posted by guy on July 2, 2007 12:03 PM



Susana, you're absolutely right about my lazy comment. I was referring to the growing opinion in the last few years that characterizes Toronto's *rock* (or proto-indie rock) scene in the 90s as the dark ages or something.

I know that's not the case for all forms of music - nor is it ever the case that individual years or even decades can be characterized as strong or weak in terms of artistic output. It just depends where you're looking. With the total amount of musical output rising from year to year, there's going to plenty of shit, but also more and more great stuff.

Don't know where to find the Clifton Joseph record these days - you can give me a shout if you like. Or perhaps Clifton has a box or two left in storage...

Posted by dacks on July 2, 2007 9:41 AM



Yes, Clifton Joseph's Oral Transmissions should definitely be on any list of "The Top 20 Toronto Records Ever." Good on ya, Dacks, for remembering this fabulous document. I played the sh*t out this when it came out on cassette in the late 80s. Now I'm gonna dig through some boxes in the basement to see if I still have it!

Posted by randall on July 2, 2007 8:44 AM



"Carl, what happened to the 90s? Maybe there just aren't as many classic discs from that decade, but I've noticed a trend lately to paint the 90s as a time of failed indies and general frustration for musicians."

...EXCEPT, of course, for hip hop. There was so much energy and so much optimism in the hip hop scene during that decade, and I don't think we've come anywhere close to realizing half the dreams and ambitions that were cooked up. The 90s was a period of tremendous output and creativity across the city*. Tremendous.

Output and creativity, of course, that is not reflected anywhere on this list. But, like the racist structure of standardized tests in schools, the way this list (and nearly every other "best albums" list) is designed, there's not much place for a culture that was built on singles, mixtapes, and concept records. It wasn't designed with all genres in mind. Just as critics' picks are not designed with all critics in mind.

Anyway, Dave M, I'm a stickler for what I consider Toronto music, and I don't think I would call Main Source a local crew. They didn't make music here. (Correct me if I'm wrong, please.) Just as Marco Polo doesn't make music here, and never did. Just cause someone is from here... know what I mean? Alexander Graham Bell? Maybe I'm just too hardassed about this. Like everything else. Oh well.

Dacks, I would LOVE to hear that Clifton Joseph record. If it captures even a 10th of his insanity live, it must be amazing. Is it fairly easy to track down?


*(No wonder so much of the current hip hop scene - especially the downtown cats - is still stuck in that decade and trying to relive it through dated playlists and samples, but alas, that's another conversation for another time...)

Posted by Susana on July 1, 2007 10:32 PM



I was asked to for my submission to this poll also but when it came down to thinking about it I could only think of the current crop(ie last 5 years) of Torontonian artists(eg. BSS, Final Fantasy etc.) It'd seem a bit silly for me to submit a list that didn't include anyone pre-2000 for example. Reading the comments to this post, I must agree that at least one of the Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet records should be on the list. I'm surprised Change of Heart and Blue Rodeo didn't make the top 20. How about Venus Cures All? Early Spoons anyone? The Diodes? By Divine Right?

Posted by mike on July 1, 2007 12:46 AM



Do the constantines count as Toronto? What about Broken Social Scene? Do Make Say Think? Crystal Castles?

Posted by sean orr on June 30, 2007 11:21 PM



hey Dave, I'm not quite getting your point at the end of your comment - sorry to be dense...?

Brian, Phleg Camp came close to being on my list (which was restricted to 20, by the way, as I don't think I've mentioned), but I decided to favour more recent Eric Chenaux! And vfw, I had a Government album (or two?) when I was a teenager, and have no idea what became of it - I remember it really fondly but haven't heard it in forever. So in my case it's fallen through the cracks of memory, yawning but not indifferent. And Andy Paterson is definitely a local hero to this day. That'd be a great reissue project for some Toronto label!

Posted by zoilus on June 30, 2007 7:54 PM



Sadly forgotten and surely out of print: Electric Eye (1979) by The Government, a brainy new wave album (and video score) from the proto days of arty Queen W. The highly idiosyncratic frontman, Andy Paterson, worked for many years as a waiter at the Cameron and also scored shows for Videocab's Deanne Taylor. "Flat Tire" has to rank as one of the best deadpan songs ever. A reminder, if ever we needed it, that even good stuff often falls through the yawning, indifferent cracks of time.

Posted by vfw on June 30, 2007 5:04 PM



Coming in late on this, but what about Mike Murley's first record The Curse from the late 80s? Killer...

Posted by nick on June 30, 2007 2:36 PM



people sleep on main source as a group because it was large pro that broke out, and love k-cut and solo as i do (seriously how can you front on the lyrics to "friendly game of baseball"? damn yankees) he was the towering influence that came out of atoms.

also dream warriors huh? aren't you forgetting something? symphony in effect what? don't let that "stick to your vision" ish cloud your judgement.

Posted by dave m. on June 30, 2007 9:59 AM



I'm glad people have brought up the folk scene, because the Four Lads have a connection there too. Around the time the Weavers had a Top 10 hit with "Wimoweh" (which later got covered by a folkie-leaning doo-wop group who needed a B-side, and whose producers hired George David Weiss to write English lyrics, who came up with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"), the Four Lads hit with another actual African tune, this one from Zimbabwe, called "Skokiaan."

More exuberant than "Wimoweh" though less hauntingly melodious, and with truly long-gone-dated-stupid English words that sank its chances to be a standard:

Oh, Far away in Africa
Happy happy Africa
They sing a-bing-a-bang-a-bingo
They have a ball and really go
Skokiaan, Skokiaan, Skokiaan, Skokiaan

Oh, Take a trip to Africa
Take any ship to Africa
Come on along and learn the lingo
Inside a jungle bungalow
Skokiaan, Skokiaan, Skokiaan, Skokiaan

It's definitely part of the same "moment" as the "Wimoweh" phenomenon in N. American pop. ("Lion Sleeps Tonight" has stupid lyrics too, though not as bad. "Shimmy Shimmy Coco Bop" by Little Anthony and the Imperials is closer.)

Lotta weird history.

Posted by john on June 29, 2007 6:37 PM



Five words that will make no sense to anyone under the age of 25...

Phleg Camp - Ya'red Fair Scratch

Posted by Brian on June 29, 2007 2:55 PM



Carl, Marco - one place to start on the folk scene of the early 60s and prior is the Mariposa bio "For What Time I Am In This World". It's way out of print, but I have a chapter in PDF format on the history of the festival itself that I can send out upon request. It's a fascinating profile of an indie arts organization growing and responding to challenges of underground/overground popularity over the years. Which of course is still very relevant...

Posted by dacks on June 29, 2007 12:33 PM



Carl, what happened to the 90s? Maybe there just aren't as many classic discs from that decade, but I've noticed a trend lately to paint the 90s as a time of failed indies and general frustration for musicians. I think there's a need for a post/article/book (post-Have Not Been The Same) which covers this decade in Toronto.

As for the list itself - and I'd love to see all the submissions - I could go on for days. In honour of the 5th Canadian Reggae Summit happening tomorrow at the Horseshoe, I'll limit myself to recommending some first rate reggae discs. These all from the 80s, mind you, but they're each wonderful, individual and timeless discs...

Clifton Joseph 'Oral Trans Missions'
Lillian Allen both 'Conditions Critical' and 'Revolutionary Tea Party'
Leroy Sibbles 'Mean While' and 'On Top'
R. Zee Jackson 'Seat Up'
the Sattalites (who are receiving a lifetime achievement award tomorrow) Self-Titled (1983)

I don't know if the Jackie Mittoo anthology 'Champion in the Arena' counts, because the tracks were recorded in Jamaica, but he was a well established Torontonian for a decade at that point. I suppose we can invoke the Neil Young rule here.

Posted by dacks on June 29, 2007 12:29 PM



Carl, I'm no expert on folk music (though I'd like to be!), but I think that Toronto had a fairly vibrant coffeehouse folk scene in the early sixties, and that Ian and Sylvia were a part of it before heading off to New York; one of my all-time-favourite Toronto films, Don Owen's great Nobody Waved Good-Bye from 1963, has a great folky soundtrack and depicts a Yorkville hootenanny of the period.

Posted by marco on June 29, 2007 11:29 AM



What about the Pukka Orchestra?

Posted by Dixon on June 29, 2007 11:06 AM



I'd have to brush up on my Ian & Sylvia history to be sure - I thought they'd actually met in NY rather than Toronto, but I could be wrong. (Was there much of a folk scene to speak of in *early* 60s Toronto, rather than mid?)

Lenny Breau's a good call, Randall.

Posted by zoilus on June 29, 2007 11:01 AM



Not being a Torontopian, perhaps I shouldn't weigh in, but I gotta give it up to the Four Lads, one of whose early names was the Otnorots! (A backwards spelling of . . . )

They weren't remotely rock, but, curiously, they were inspired by gospel quartets; they had similar roots as the doo-wop groups. (And, coincidentally, they went to the same high school as the Crew Cuts.) And, given their gospel-quartet roots, it's an odd bit of history that they may have beaten Ray Charles to the pop-ification of spirituals and gospel tunes. They remade "Down by the Riverside" as a moon-June-lust song in 1953. No, their innovation didn't go on to become soul music, but it's still interesting.

Their tenor -- I'll look up his name later -- had a gorgeous voice, and they arranged for his solo spots with great dramatic flair. They're most famous now for having done the original "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," which I prefer to TMBG's.

Posted by john on June 29, 2007 10:03 AM



A lot of these musicians worked and recorded in NYC (even the mighty Goldberg Variations were put to vinyl there), which seems understandable since it had a musical infrastructure that Toronto lacked. That said, I think Ian and Sylvia should count as a Toronto group, having been forged in the Toronto folk scene of the ealy 60s.

I was only a bit surprised that you didn't include a Martha and the Muffins record, because you've championed them before and because they say "Toronto" more strongly than any band since, well, Toronto). ;)

Posted by marco on June 29, 2007 8:46 AM



Carl: You considered but chose not to include Great Speckled Bird in your list? And no mention of Lenny Breau either? Otherwise I'm with you on many of your picks.

Posted by randall on June 29, 2007 8:20 AM



I feel honoured, and my list would have included ALL of Guh's albums (my dubious membership in that band aside) and ALL of the Shadoy Men On A Shadowy Planet records.
Also, Was Mashmakhan or Demon Fuzz from Toronto?

Posted by Matt Collins on June 29, 2007 1:32 AM



I don't think those early Ian & Sylvia records count as Toronto albums, as they were in NYC at the time. I did consider Great Speckled Bird though. And I came very close to putting M+M's Metro Music on there, which is not only a great disc but also one of the more Toronto-saturated albums ever.

Posted by zoilus on June 28, 2007 11:14 PM



Throwing a few Toronto favourites out there; though personally I wouldn't count Gould, since his records would probably fill out my Top 30 or 40 (though for those interested in Gould beyond Bach, I'd recommend his foray into Renaissance music, "A Consort of Musicke Bye William Byrde and Orlando Gibbons" from the late sixties, complete with ye-olde-fashioned spellings). Barring Gould, however, I'd pick:

Ian and Sylvia - Northern Journey (1964)
Ian and Sylvia - Early Morning Rain (1965)
Ian and Sylvia - Play One More (196?)
The Sparrows - Presenting Jack London and the Sparrows (1965)
The Ugly Ducklings - Somewhere Outside (1967)
The Paupers - Magic People (1967)
The Kensington Market - Avenue Road (1968)
Lenny Breau - Guitar Sounds from Lenny Breau (1968)
Great Speckled Bird - s/t (1970)
Martha and the Muffins - Metro Music (1979)
Toronto - Lookin' For Trouble (1980)
Martha and the Muffins - This is the Ice Age (1981)
Martha and the Muffins - Danseparc (1983)
Deadly Snakes -Love Undone (1999)
Deadly Snakes - Ode to Joy (2003)
Sick Lipstick - Sting Sting Sting (2003)
Tangiers - Hot New Spirits (2003)

Posted by marco on June 28, 2007 10:23 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson