Barackin’ in the Free World

Leonard Cohen is the king of Obama’s Canadian playlist


CBC Radio 2 invited listeners to assemble a playlist for Barack Obama, featuring 49 songs from north of the 49th parallel. Drawn from over 130,000 votes, the results are fairly predictable. Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson and the Tragically Hip all have two numbers each on the list. But only Leonard Cohen has three, if you include two of his own recordings—Suzanne and the prescient Democracy (is coming to the U.S.A.)—plus k. d. lang’s rendition of Hallelujah. One dark horse winner was the Parachute Club’s Rise Up, a spot the band’s singer, Lorraine Segato, won after a vigorous email campaign, urging that this 1983 anthem of social change was tailor-made for the new president.

CBC Radio

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Barackin’ in the Free World

  1. This whole playlist idea was so embarrassing from the outset, about which Feschuk left little doubt.

    And yet I find as I scan these songs, I can’t stop myself from concocting my own sentimental, nationalist playlist. So, heaven help me, here’s a bit of commentary on good choices, bad ones, and sinful omissions.

    Ben Heppner, “We’ll Gather Lilacs” The choice of the great tenor’s version of this World War II song is quite inspired.

    Bruce Cockburn, “Wondering Where the Lions Are” A catchy song, no doubt about it, but wouldn’t “Coldest Night of the Year” have said more about the Canadian urban experience?

    Daniel Lanois, “Jolie Louise” When federal politicians switch back and forth randomly between English and French, it sounds forced; when Lanois does it in this song, it sounds like conversation in a Gatineau bar. So good pick.

    Glenn Gould, “Goldberg Variations” Irreproachable choice. But “Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1,” Gould’s controversial recording with American icon Leonard Berstein conducting, would have been a cleverer allusion to bilateral creative friction.

    Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Not even close to Lightfoot’s best stuff. You’re telling me “Song for a Winter’s Night” isn’t way better? It’s more genuinely Canadian, too.

    Great Big Sea, “Ordinary Day.” I’m all for an East Coast quotient here. For my iTunes money, though, I’d prefer anything from Suzie LeBlanc’s CD Tout passé: chant d’Acadie, especially the rousing bicultural medley “The bedding of the bride; La disputeuse; Keep it up!”

    Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You” Is indispensable. But “Both Sides Now”? It’s fine but nowhere near as Canadian as “Raised On Robbery,” with its “Look at those jokers, glued to that damn hockey game…”

    k.d. lang, “Hallelujah” I’d rather hear Leonard Cohen’s live version of his anthem, and let k.d. liven up the list with “Sugar Moon”. Cohen’s “Democracy” is a good call, however, as is “Suzanne”.

    From Neil Young, we can’t seriously be going with “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Not in the Neil Top 10. “Helpless,” of course, but with “Winterlong,” please—his best and, as it happens, most Canadian song.

    Parachute Club’s “Rise Up” was a beloved anthem of the early ‘80s, and has been at times a sort of unofficial NDP theme song. But from a bit before then, the Demic’s “(I wanna go to) New York City” captured a particular Canadian view of America, and must be on any credible list of 49.

    Stan Rogers, “Northwest Passage” No contesting this choice. For another song with explicit classroom-ready Canadian historical references, shouldn’t The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” be included? Let me answer that: yes, it should.

    Stompin’ Tom Connors, “The Hockey Song” This is the choice if you really think Tom is just for laughs. But if you ever care to send a genuine folksy rootsy shiver down your spine, listen with an open heart to the first couplet of “Gumboot Clogeroo: “Oh we sailed away at the break of day to pull traps in oilskin trousers/On the “Susie Jack” but tonight we’re back wit a tousand pounds a lobsters…” (No typo there: it’s tousand.)

    And to finish up: the best Canadian songwriter is surely Ron Sexsmith, and you don’t get more Canadian than “Snow Angel.” Also, for anybody who’s public school choir experience left them with the suspicion that “Land of the Silver Birch” is the real national anthem, check out John Roney’s jazz/classical setting on his recent album Silverbirch.

    • Sexsmith is good but the only songwriters who are in Leonard Cohen’s league are Joni Mitchell and I guess Neil Young, and they are a good ways in back.

      i see Mitsou, men without hats, STARS, the spoons, Tegan & Sara and the Box were all denied.

  2. “One dark horse winner was the Parachute Club’s Rise Up, a spot the band’s singer, Lorraine Segato, won after a vigorous email campaign, urging that this 1983 anthem of social change was tailor-made for the new president.”

    Seriously? Segato launched email campaign to get on this list? I think someone has too much time on her hands.

    I don’t have strong feeling about any of these songs except for Stompin’ Tom, The Hip and Arcade Fire.

    Should have been Sudbury Saturday Night or Tillsonburg over Hockey Song. How can you not love – ‘The girls are out to bingo and the boys are gettin’ stinko’ or ‘Tillsonburg? My back still aches when I hear that word’.

    Also would have chosen Last American Exit over Bobcaygeon.

    I hope cbc producers send this list of songs, along with tape of bye-bye special, and Obama will see just how ‘sophisticated’ we are.

  3. “Rise Up”? Because Lorraine Segato waged a campaign? Oh, great. First day with the new president, and we’ve already used up our allotment of goodwill. “I have recently had occasion to hear a song by a Canadian artist, called ‘the Parachute Club,’ I believe. We begin bombing in 5 minutes.”
    I suppose I should be happy. My original reasons for so despising the song – weak music, insipid lyrics, irritating hook – were so old and tired. But now I have fresh new reasons!