Nation Branding for your iPod? Canada Votes for a National Playlist.

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  01.07.09 | 11:52 AM ET

Photo by FHKE via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

Call it change you can listen to: CBC Radio is hoping to get some made-in-Canada music onto incoming President Obama’s iPod.

The Canadian broadcaster is accepting nominations for a “definitive Canadian playlist”—dubbed “49 Songs from North of the 49th Parallel”—to be unveiled on Obama’s inauguration day. “One of the best ways to know Canada is through the depth and breadth of our artistic expression,” said a CBC representative. “We’re excited about the new president, and we want him to be excited about us.”

So how do you go about compiling a definitive national playlist? CBC producers will whittle the suggestions from the public down to a manageable 100 most-nominated songs, and then online voting will cut the shortlist down to the final 49.

Sure, the project seems a tad goofy—realistically, Obama will have bigger things to worry about on Jan. 20 than whether he prefers Stompin’ Tom Connors or Gordon Lightfoot—but it got me thinking about music and national identity.

Every country has a homegrown musical tradition of some sort, but I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a single nation whose population can agree on the songs and artists that represent them and their nationality.

Take the United States, for example. There’s nowhere in the world with a richer popular music heritage—but try and declare just 50, or even 100, songs to be the American playlist? There’d be even more acrimonious debate and public wrangling than we saw in the presidential campaign. Likewise, in the UK, I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d argue that A Day in the Life, say, doesn’t represent them at all—and, sadly, some younger folks who wouldn’t even recognize the song.

So where does that leave the idea of a national playlist? Well, maybe instead of one “definitive” list, we should be making many individual ones.

Whenever I’ve gone on a long trip, I’ve collected a list of songs—some homegrown, some not—that I associate with the country or region I’m visiting. I have an Acapulco mix tape, an Australia CD, and an extensive UK playlist on my computer. I can’t listen to the Jackson 5’s “ABC” without thinking back to a night out in Auckland six years ago, or to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gimme Three Steps without remembering the Nashville cover band that managed to play the song four times in one night.

Maybe that’s the way we should be building any national playlists, too—using the memories and quirky associations of individual citizens to create a series of eclectic and highly personal lists, rather than attempting to choose songs that define or represent the population as a whole.

As for “49 Songs from North of the 49th Parallel”? Well, for the record, if I was going to send a Canadian playlist to Obama, this song would be in the mix:

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

7 Comments for Nation Branding for your iPod? Canada Votes for a National Playlist.

Valerie Conners 01.07.09 | 1:04 PM ET

Eva - I always create mixes following my trips - the latest is my Vegas playlist, which my friend Alex and I created, and which, may i say, totally ROCKS - in a very weird, vegas-y way.

Eva Holland 01.07.09 | 5:47 PM ET

Sweet list, Valerie! I never object to a little UB40.

Valerie Conners 01.07.09 | 5:50 PM ET

Ah yes, we were staying at a wretched hotel/casino, and the lobby was always filled with the sounds of the ‘80s - the inspiration for many of the songs on the list ... certainly not all chosen b/c of their high quality as travel songs ;-)

Eva Holland 01.07.09 | 5:53 PM ET

No judgment here! These lists aren’t about quality, they’re about the memories - “The Real Slim Shady” made it onto my NZ mix thanks to an unfortunate karaoke episode… :P

Michael Yessis 01.07.09 | 6:59 PM ET

Great post, Eva.

I support your idea for personalization. I also wonder how—and perhaps why—you endured Gimme Three Steps four times.

Eva Holland 01.07.09 | 7:46 PM ET

Ha, good question! I had a good table with a quick server, and there were March Madness crowds to consider, so I figured I should stay put. You don’t even want to know how many times they played Rocky Top.

Brenda 01.15.09 | 11:35 AM ET

I agree that everyone has their own playlist and playlists would vary greatly from person to person. However, I am curious to see what the CBC audience is going to put together for a playlist for Obama.  If anything, I wish it was a broader survey than just CBC.  Anyway, I wrote a page about this playlist at and would be thrilled if you would visit and vote for your favorite song!


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