The unspoken Canadian classic. The album that shaped a generation. No mere compilation, this was my true introduction to pop music.
It was the wintertime, in the beginning of 1998. My elementary school had a little thing called Play Day. Essentially an elementary school combination of the winter Olympics, and American Gladiators. Grade 7 and 8 students would split up into groups of 4, and make up games for the younger kids to compete against each other in. The teams (consisting of a student or two from each of the lower grades) would go around to all the different stations, and get some kind of prize at the end, based on their win/loss record. The whole thing was basically an excuse for the grade 8 kids to revel in their “top of the food chain” status before the inevitable wake-up call known as high school.
My friends and I claimed the huge snowbank on the edge of the parking lot as our game station. The only game that really made sense was an (admittedly dangerous) toboggan relay. The game didn’t really matter to us all that much though. For us, it was all about building the ultimate snow fort. We’d spent every recess, and lunch break digging out the top section of the mountainous pile of snow and ice. We had stairs leading into it, sections for storage, chairs, and of course: the stereo.
No Play Day would be complete without a soundtrack, and Big Shiny Tunes 2 was ours. At the time, I’d honestly never heard of any of the bands featured on it a, so here’s a brief list of what I was introduced to that day:
The Prodigy – Blur – Third Eye Blind – Smash Mouth – Bush – Matchbox 20 – Stone Temple Pilots – Radiohead….
Let that sink in for a bit. It was basically alt-rock overload for my impressionable ears. From the driving electro-rock intro of “Breathe”, to the brilliant choice of “Song 2” as the second track, to the “do-do-do, do-do-do-doo” of “Semi-Charmed Life”, it was pretty much my personal version of seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. That singular moment where music meant something new. To this day, any time I hear one of these songs, I’m always expecting whatever the next track on Big Shiny Tunes 2 was to kick in.
Not every song off the album’s stood the test of time (“Fly” by Sugar Ray was overplayed to the extreme on the radio), but a good chunk of it remains irresistible to this day. I’ve never run into a party where a surprise play of “Drinking in L.A” didn’t guarantee me at least one appreciative nod and smile from somebody. Even my generally quiet and reserved great-grandfather couldn’t resist tapping his foot to the infectious riffs and “woo hoo”s of “Song 2”, when it kicked in during a beer commercial.
Although it would go on to become on of the best selling albums in Canadian history, the advent of iTunes (and the cheap/easy way to make your own compilations) pretty much killed the Big Shiny franchise. Still, I’ll never forget the lesson it taught me, about how great a really well put together mix can be. Not just a random mish-mash of songs, but a combination of genres that has the ability to bring people with diverse tastes together to have a good time. Stressing the importance of sequencing tracks to hook people in, then take them through a musical trip, full of energetic highs, and contemplative cooldowns. A well constructed mix really is a thing of beauty.
1. The Prodigy – Breathe (Edit)
2. Blur – Song 2
3. Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life
4. Smash Mouth – Walkin’ on the Sun
5. Sugar Ray featuring Super Cat – Fly
6. Bran Van 3000 – Drinking in L.A.
7. Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People
8. Holly McNarland – Numb
9. Bush – Swallowed
10. Matchbox 20 – Push
11. Collective Soul – Precious Declaration (Remix)
12. The Tea Party – Temptation (Edit) (Tom Lord-Alge Mix)
13. The Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats (Radio Edit)
14. Wide Mouth Mason – My Old Self
15. Radiohead – Paranoid Android
16. The Age of Electric – Remote Control
17. Stone Temple Pilots – Lady Picture Show