In the UK, a steady stream of re-released albums helps to preserve British music. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Canada.
Every time I go to the UK, I’m – to use their vernacular – gobsmacked at the amount of reverence the British accord their music. The newsstands are filled with thick, well-written music magazines, from the generalist (Q, Uncut) to the specific (Classic Rock, Kerrang) to the obsessive (Mojo, Record Collector). Millions spend their summers going from festival to festival. Even radio – from the immense BBC 1 and 2 to the various private stations around the island – continues to wield tremendous power and influence. But what really amazes me is the care taken to preserve British music.
Browsing through the HMV flagship store on Oxford Street, I looked for the CD version of a particular Ultravox album from the 1970s. I’d have a better chance of finding Angelina Jolie at my front door with a bottle of Dom and two glasses than locating a copy here in Canada. Yet there it – they! – were: five copies in the rack at six pounds each. Sold.
The music mags are filled with reviews and ads for re-releases of albums from the past. They come from a variety of boutique-y labels which lovingly unearth, digitize, tart up, and re-release them. And while the anglophile in me is happy, I also feel a little sad for Canada.
No one talks about it, but a significant amount of Canadian music was lost in the transition from vinyl to compact disc. Many singles and albums – especially those from niche genres – never made it for a host of reasons – lost or damaged master tapes, unclear or disputed ownership of copyright, badly executed recording contracts, dead or missing members.
I, for example, would love a CD copy of *Lullabyes in Razorland*, the excellent post-punk album by Toby Swann, ex of the Battered Wives. I have the vinyl, but it’s old and crackly. And not that anyone mourns the loss of Cats Can Fly’s debut album – they did win a Juno, after all – it’s never been available on CD.
Then there are the CDs that have long since gone out of print. Eight Seconds was a pretty decent alt-rock band from Ottawa who had a couple of hits. What about Teenage Head: where’s their stuff? And after Eddie Vedder had a hit with his cover of Indio’s “Hard Sun,” was it possible to find a copy of the original on the *Big Harvest* album from 1989? Not a chance.
In the 90s, it looked like we were starting to get our own network of boutique reissue labels, but then the bottom fell out of the CD market. Today, given the costs involved in digging up and re-releasing this old material, it just isn’t worth it. You’d never sell enough copies to come close to making your money back. Even issuing this material online, which would reduce your manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution costs to zero, wouldn’t be affordable; the start-up costs involved in solving the various legalities would be prohibitive. So much for Long Tail theories.
Meanwhile, this music fades. If we wait much longer, it’ll be gone forever.