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Canadians vote to rock the White House

To celebrate his inauguration, Canadians are giving President-Elect Barack Obama an iPod. It isn’t just any iPod, though. It’s a…

By Brandi Cowen , in Bridging the 49th Parallel , on January 12, 2009 Tags: , , ,

To celebrate his inauguration, Canadians are giving President-Elect Barack Obama an iPod.

It isn’t just any iPod, though. It’s a tool to help the 44th President of the United States better understand his northern neighbour and oddly enough, it just might help us Canadians better understand ourselves.

Earlier this month, CBC Radio 2 asked Canadians to nominate 49 Songs from North of the 49th Parallel that best define the country. Nominations closed on January 9th, and the folks at Radio 2 spent the weekend narrowing the field to a shortlist of just 100 songs.

Today through Friday, Canadians can visit to vote for their favourites. The top 49 songs will be uploaded onto an iPod and presented to Obama in order to help him learn about Canada.

Some of the nominees are classics that represent Canadiana in its purest form. k.d. lang’s cover of Hallelujah, Stompin’ Tom Connors’ The Hockey Song and Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Takin’ Care of Business were all nominated. Regardless of which of these songs, if any, make the final cut, looking over the list of nominees is a reminder that Canada boasts a wealth of homegrown talent.

Other nominees offer insight into how Canadians view the two countries and their relationship with one another.

Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World and Bruce Cockburn’s Democracy are indictments against American, and to a lesser extent Canadian, third world policies of the past. For a newly inaugurated president, the lyrics are a poignant reminder of his office’s ability to affect sweeping change at home and abroad.

Both songs also warn of Canadians’ quickness to blame the US for the wrongs in the world, while overlooking our own government’s role in creating and perpetuating them. In the past, Canadian fingers have been quick to point to Washington when assigning blame for everything from long delays at the border to increasing gun violence in Canada.

Though dropped from the shortlist, Blue Rodeo’s Lost Together captures the nature of our relationship with the US. For better or for worse, history, geography and simple economics have tied Canada’s fortunes to our southern neighbour. Obama must remember that when Washington makes a decision about a domestic issue, such as bailing out the big three American automakers, consequences are often felt on this side of the border too.

When all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter whether the Oscar Peterson Trio’s Hymn to Freedom beats out Feist’s I Feel It All or Jully Black’s Seven Day Fool for a spot on Obama’s playlist. What matters is that Radio 2 has gotten Canadians thinking about our relationship with the US in terms of what it is and what it could be.


  • Do you think the CBC is doing anything different from their previous Canadian 50 Tracks?

  • I understand the historical significance of Obama getting the presidency, but at first I kinda rolled my eyes at this idea — we haven’t even seen what the man can do, and yet everyone is praising him like he’s already changed America. But it’s nice to see that at least some of the songs going into this playlist consider the tricky relationship between the U.S. and Canada, and aren’t all praise for a man we don’t know yet.

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