TV Review | Rise Up: Canadian Pop Music in the 1980s Part One

I liked Part One of Rise Up: Canadian Pop Music in the 1980s a lot more than I did either part of This Beat Goes On: Canadian Pop Music in the 1970s.  Although the general Shakin’ All Over/This Beat Goes On formulae are repeated, the first half of Rise Up has tons of genuine hits – Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance,” Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” The Parachute Club’s “Rise Up,” Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” Bryan Adams’…well, Bryan Adams, Triumph’s “Magic Power”…can I stop now?

There isn’t much proselytizing on Rise Up.  The name-checked bands, with few exceptions, are important to Canadian music history – The Pursuit of Happiness, Slow, hell, even Gowan.  I don’t understand why CBC continues to sell me on the merits of Jane Siberry, and I’m not convinced that Daniel Lavoie should have been featured on Rise Up.  Still, it’s the first hour and no one’s even mentioned k.d. lang, Cowboy Junkies, Blue Rodeo, Mitsou or Alannah Myles.  That has to count for something.

The 1980s music videos make Rise Up entertaining.  There’s the odd bit of concert footage, like Triumph at the 1983 US Festival, but the videos really sell the documentary.  It’s amazing how important these things were seen as being in the 1980s versus their actual quality.

Take Gowan’s video for “A Criminal Mind.”  The video’s production values are excellent for the era.  Shit, Canadian voiceover legend Len Carlson kicks off “A Criminal Mind” like he’s pitching for Kraft.  The video’s content?  Uh, something about a blue-skinned supervillain.  Oh, and white goop.  It was the 1980s.  Videos just needed to be back then.

MuchMusic’s role in promoting Canadian music is bigged up, but not as much as one would think.  While much of Rise Up is based around music video culture, MuchMusic is grist for Rise Up‘s fast-moving mill.

MuchMusic’s greatest accomplishment is in its aesthetics – the open-concept “sets,” live-to-air on-camera fuckups, the “throw it in” approach to the channel.  It would be easy to say the Internet killed MuchMusic, but the channel really died the moment it became a lifestyle channel.  Ren and Stimpy is as good a suspect to blame as any.

The weakest part of Rise Up is its lack of variety relative to This Beat Goes On.  Canadians should be familiar with Payola$’ “Eyes of a Stranger,” 54-40’s “I Go Blind” and The Pursuit of Happiness’ “I’m an Adult Now.”  Exceptions are made for Dalbello, Slow and The Box, but Jian Ghomeshi doesn’t start referencing Skinny Puppy or Nomeansno.

In fact, an argument can be made that Skinny Puppy are worthy of mention in Rise Up – in the days before Sarah McLachlan, Skinny Puppy made Nettwerk Records.  Few bands in industrial rock have their international profile.  Maybe they appear in Part Two, I don’t know.

Rise Up contains few surprises for the hardcore Canadian music fan, but I like it.  I don’t even mind hearing how Slow predated the grunge sound by a few years.  Having a Michael Barclay book named after one of the band’s songs screams “HELLO, I’M AN OVERUSED REFERENCE.”  Hopefully, Rise Up‘s second half will be as good as its first half.

As a bonus, here’s the debut of MuchMusic on August 31, 1984.  Warning: features darkies and chroma key.

Cameron Archer

Owner/Writer at Gloryosky
Cameron Archer runs this site, and is a freelance arts writer. He has contributed to Canadian Screenwriter since 2011. He is a CMG Freelance member.
Cameron Archer