What’s the biggest, shiniest tune you can think of? OK, now think bigger and shinier. The biggest and shiniest. Fourteen times bigger and shinier.
Big Shiny Tunes debuted in 1996, courtesy of MuchMusic, and continued through 14 yearly iterations, as well as spawning three compilations dedicated to the ’80s and ’90s. It is the best-selling album series in Canadian history. I had no idea it still existed in 2009.
For me, there's a tremendous nostalgia in the early BSTs. Most people of a certain age (that would be my age, give or take five years on either side) owned a copy of one of the Big Shiny Tunes. (I would like to hear from the person who owns/owned all 14, so if you're there, email me.)
So, I decided to listen to all 253 songs spanning all 14 BSTs, and I can safely say that finally, FINALLY, I get the plight of young, white men.
But there's also so much more. Below, I've evaluated every BST on the same criteria and ranked them in order of Smallest & Shabbiest to Biggest & Shiniest. Scroll down and see if you agree, or just revel in the snapshots of your youth.
Big Shiny Tunes 5
The worst BST ever, simply by virtue of its inclusion of Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch.”
First track: Matchbox Twenty’s “Bent.”
Best: Well, Matthew Good Band’s “Load Me Up” is clearly the winner here, though the Deftones’ “Change (in the House of the Flies)” has some enjoyably melodramatic gravity.
Worst: Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch” is probably one of the worst songs ever written, even if you just treat it as a joke. And the lyrics to Kid Rock’s “Only God Knows Why” are navel-gazing in a desperately irritating "poor, successful me" way.
Where are the women? Zero. This is where they stopped pretending women matter.
Whatever happened to J. Englishman? Jason Englishman ("More") is still involved in the music industry (he’s done time as a guitarist for his sister, Esthero, and has worked on various tours and festivals) and works as an audio engineer.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Wear gloves when you touch this thing.
Big Shiny Tunes 4
The worst BST ever? Almost.
First track: Lenny Kravitz’s “American Woman.”
Best: Matthew Good Band’s “Hello Time Bomb” and Fat Boy Slim’s “Praise You” help make the best of a pretty bad situation. Moist’s “Breathe” and the Tea Party’s “Heaven Coming Down” have their moments as well.
Worst: Well, any party that starts with Kravitz’s rendition of “American Woman” is a dud from the start, but this compilation also includes Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba,” Sugar Ray’s “Someday” and Orgy’s simpering cover of “Blue Monday.”
Where are the women? Lenny Kravitz’s drummer. Yep.
Whatever happened to Serial Joe? The "Mistake" band had the misfortune to play the abysmal Woodstock 1999 and broke up in the early 2000s. Lead singer Ryan Dennis makes electronic music under the name Platypus, which you can listen to on his SoundCloud page.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Green silver in your grandma's basement. She's also a hoarder.
Big Shiny Tunes 12
This is the BST that contains Maroon 5. Let that marinate.
First track: Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer.”
Best: The Used’s over-the-top theatrics on “The Bird and the Worm” wouldn’t normally work, but they’re having fun and it’s a bit of a sonic respite from the rest of the record. Alexisonfire carries on with its angel-and-devil delivery vocals with “Rough Hands” and the Fratellis’s “Flathead” has its charms, though it also sounds an awful lot like the Strokes on vacation, just five years later.
Worst: Maroon 5’s “Wake Up Call” is awful on multiple levels. Sure, it’s catchy, but it’s another tired narrative (but this time in 2007!) about shooting the man who’s sleeping with your girlfriend and how both will get what’s coming to them. Blech. IllScarlett’s “Nothing Special” makes the joke too easy and Ten Second Epic’s “Old Habit Die Hard” is instantly forgettable.
Where are the women? Great question. It’s like BST curators never heard of the Pack A.D. or any of the other amazing women rock bands in the world.
Whatever happened to Ten Second Epic? The group just called it quits in February after 12 years together.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? When you accidentally use a Brillo pad on a non-stick frying pan.
Big Shiny Tunes 7
Testing my theory that the first track on each BST is indicative of the album’s ultimate quality, this compilation features Chad Kroeger twice, Theory of a Deadman and Danko Jones.
First track: Nickelback’s “Too Bad.”
Best: Sam Roberts’s “Brother Down” is something of a Canadian classic, and the Vines’ “Get Free” is three minutes of pure fireworks.
Worst: So much to choose from, including the Christian nu metal of P.O.D.’s “Youth of a Nation,” Staind’s “It’s Been Awhile” and New Found Glory’s “My Friends Over You,” plus, let’s face it, Papa Roach is a big, fat “nope.”
Where are the women? What are these women creatures you speak of?
Whatever happened to Not By Choice? The Canadian punk band ("Standing All Alone") released a second album, 2004’s Secondhand Opinions, but went on indefinite hiatus in 2008.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? The receiver of that lone payphone on the corner where the old man with the cough stands all day waiting for his call.
Big Shiny Tunes 14
Not going to lie, but I kind of wish they’d called it with BST 13. This last compilation feels cobbled together, but at least the curators are back to including multiple (three) acts with women in them or women artists, rather than pretending the entire gender doesn’t exist.
First track: Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”
Best: Arkells’s “Oh, the Boss is Coming!” is pretty fun, and Paramore’s “Ignorance” is an anthem and a half.
Worst: Well, the All-American Rejects’ “Real World” is a clunky bit of philosophy and superiority and Nickelback’s “Burn it to the Ground” is the usual impotent rage disguised as party starter for the common people, as sung by an extremely wealthy man who lives in giant mansions and is going to marry Avril Lavigne in a few years.
Where are the women? Die Mannequin and Paramore, plus Lights gives a hand to Ten Second Epic.
Whatever happened to Shinedown? The "Second Chance" group is also still a band! The Jacksonville, Fla., alt-metal rockers released their last album, Amaryllis, in 2012.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? That time when you mistook paint thinner for car wax.
Big Shiny Tunes 6
This is a pretty limp affair and relatively unforgettable, considering the CRIA never even bothered to certify it.
First track: Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer.”
Best: Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” and Moby’s “South Side” are perhaps the strongest contenders. Bif Naked offers some respite from the sameness with the bouncy self-esteem anthem “I Love Myself Today.".
Worst: The offerings aren’t great, and reflect that 1999-2000 splintering between music and good taste, what with the proliferation of bands that all pretty much sound the same: Blink-182’s “The Rock Show,” American Hi-Fi’s “Flavour of the Weak” and Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” for example, or the nu-metal flavour of Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer” and Tantric’s “Breakdown.”
Where are the women? Bif Naked is all by her lonesome.
Whatever happened to Tantric? Tantric is still a band! They released 37 Channels in 2013.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? A scouring pad to your chrome-finished door for an "industrial" look in your live/work loft.
Big Shiny Tunes 8
There’s a bit more sonic diversity here than on previous recent iterations, or at least as diverse as BST compilations get. By which I mean there’s nu metal, hard alternative, pop-punk and rock represented on this offering.
First track: Linkin Park’s “Somewhere I Belong.”
Best: Queens of the Stone Age’s “Go With the Flow” is among the standouts, in addition to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and Sam Roberts’s “Where Have All the Good People Gone?.”
Worst: Three Days Grace’s “I Hate Everything About You” and Fefe Dobson’s “Bye Bye Boyfriend” have not held up that well, plus the Salads’ “Get Loose” is reggae-punk. Blech.
Where are the women? Fefe Dobson represents.
Whatever happened to the Salads? They are still a band! In 2012 they released a self-produced album, Music Every Day.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Nickel-plating chipping off that charm bracelet from seventh grade.
Big Shiny Tunes 11
Like a variety pack of cereal, this seems like a good idea but then you realize you only care for 25 per cent of the choices. On the plus side, though, this is perhaps the most significant range of any BST, exploring all the loosely shaded grey areas between metal and post-punk/pop.
First track: AFI’s “Miss Murder.”
Best: Metric’s “Poster of a Girl” and Wolfmother’s “Woman” feel like the strongest contenders in an ultimately dismal offering.
Worst: Sure, one looks at the tracklisting and is like, "Sweet, no Blink-182!" but what madness lurks in Angels & Airwaves? Why it’s a “supergroup” led by Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge, leading a veritable Lost Boys of hard rock into the future. There are aspects to the song that work (the long intro is kind of nice), but DeLonge’s vocals are as grating as his soul-searching lyrics, which strive for meaningful but read like a guy who just read Catcher in the Rye for the first time.
This is all to say that there are numerous other tracks that are worse: the All-American Rejects’s “Move Along,” Yellowcard’s “Lights and Sounds,” Avenged Sevenfold’s “Bat Country,” Thirty Seconds to Mars’s “The Kill (Bury Me),” Blue October's "Hate Me" and Three Days Grace’s “Animal I Have Become.” Most of this record actually.
Where are the women? Metric’s Emily Haines is the woman of the hour.
Whatever happened to Blue October? Still a band! The group released its newest record, Sway, in 2013.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Your dreams when you're 30.
Big Shiny Tunes 10
As snapshots of time go, this is a hard one to argue with, because each of these songs landed in its own way, be it on indie charts or in the mainstream. And yet the glimpse we get of what could have been — reportedly the online advance tracklisting included Arcade Fire and Beck — makes for a bittersweet case of what if?
First track: My Chemical Romance’s “Helena.”
Best: Hot Hot Heat’s “Middle of Nowhere” is a fun piece of catchy pop and Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.” still surprises all these years later.
Worst: Alexisonfire’s “No Transitory” screamo stylings are kind of hard to take seriously since it just seems like an inelegant mash-up of emo-punk and Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” is just another knife to the heart of old school Weezer fans.
Where are the women? DID WOMEN EVEN EXIST IN 2005?
Whatever happened to Mobile? The "Montreal Calling" band won a Juno for new group of the year in 2007, but called it quits in 2011.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Your dreams when you're 20.
Big Shiny Tunes 2
Yes, this one is the most popular, the best-seller, the biggest, the shiniest — it’s also one of the most polarizing with huge highs and lows.
First track: The Prodigy's “Breathe.”
Best: Blur’s “Song 2” is still ridiculously catchy, and of course Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” was a game-changer, but Holly McNarland’s incredible “Numb” reminds us just how great her career should have been.
Worst: The back-to-back tracking of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ on the Sun” and Sugar Ray’s “Fly" is the triple threat of terrible.
Where are the women? Bran Van 3000 and Holly McNarland are the only two women or bands with women members on BST 2.
Whatever happened to Age of Electric? The band ("Remote Control") featured two sets of rock brothers: Todd and John Kerns, and Ryan and Kurt Dahle. During Age of Electric, the Dahls also had another successful side project, Limblifter. Age of Electric broke up in 1998 and everybody moved on to multiple projects: the Kerns brothers formed Static in Stereo (Todd has moved on to a solo career); Kurt is in the New Pornographers and has a solo career; and Ryan, is a producer who recently formed the band Mounties.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? A horse's coat before a good brushing.
Big Shiny Tunes 9
A few genuine standouts as BST leaves 1999-2000 in the rearview mirror, thankfully.
First track: Billy Talent’s “River Below.”
Best: The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” is still a pretty great debut single from a new band, as was Franz Ferdinand’s insta-dance party “Take Me Out” and the Marble Index’s messy garage rocker “I Believe.”
Worst: Hoobastank’s “Same Direction” and Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue” are distressingly samey and while I sort of fell for Finger Eleven’s “One Thing,” back then, the tune hasn’t aged well and the lyrics are just incomplete sentences disguised as profound blurbs.
Where are the women? Evanescence. Kravitz’s drummer, Cindy Blackman, left the band to pursue her solo jazz work in 2004 and didn’t play on his song, “Where Are We Runnin’.”
Whatever happened to the Marble Index? The band split up in 2010, going on indefinite hiatus, and founding member Brad Germain is still involved in other bands including the Gord Lewis Songbook.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? New coins under plastic wrap, a gift from that distant uncle you barely know.
Big Shiny Tunes 13
Weezer's "Pork & Beans" is the band’s comeback and, appropriately enough, this BST is largely a return to form in that it's an all-encompassing rough sketch of hits and never-heard-ofs, creating a terribly skewed look at a specific year in music.
First track: Weezer’s “Pork & Beans.”
Best: It’s kind of a kick to find Coldplay’s “Violet Hill” and the Raconteurs’ “Salute Your Solution” sharing the same space as Tokyo Police Club’s “Tesseliate” and Wintersleep’s “Weighty Ghost.” The Kooks’ “Always Where I Need to Be” has a familiar sound, but with enough quirks to keep it fresh.
Worst: Buckcherry’s “Sorry” is just an awful ballad. That voice. Queens of the Stone Age’s “Make It Wit Chu” (besides that terrible song title) finds the band channeling the Doors in a most unflattering way. And that’s without paying mention to Linkin Park’s “Given Up” or Seether’s “Rise Above This.” The Mission District’s “Youth Games” is power-pop-punk from Montreal that feels like every other power-pop-punk band that’s ever existed ever.
Where are the women? Die Mannequin, welcome to the big leagues!
Whatever happened to Saving Abel? The "Addicted" rockers are still a band, albeit with very few remaining original members.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? A fresh dye job, salon quality.
Big Shiny Tunes 3
This could be the most ridiculously all-encompassing BST ever, but with whiplash effects because for every great moment there’s a banal bit of “bland rock” just waiting to hit you in your snooze button.
First track: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Ava Adore.”
Best: Matthew Good Band’s “Apparitions” and the Beastie Boys’ “Remote Control/Three MCs and One DJ” couldn’t be more different — except side-by-side Garbage’s “Push It” and Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” All four tracks are late '90s classics, plus this record contains my personal favourite one-hit wonder, Fastball's "The Way."
Worst: But then we’re faced with Semisonic’s “Closing Time” (which I totally forgot wasn’t by Green Day) and one of Barenaked Ladies’ worst efforts ever, “One Week.”
Where are the women? Garbage and Lenny Kravitz’s drummer. Yep.
Whatever happened to Monster Magnet? Monster Magnet ("Space Lord") is still a thing, though lead singer-songwriter Dave Wyndorf is the only remaining member.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Sunlight bouncing off the water on a summer day.
Big Shiny Tunes
Sometimes the first time is the best time. BST 1 is a decent snapshot of the mid-’90s gloom resulting from the stark reality that we were all going to have to live in a post-Kurt Cobain world and a nice respite from the coming onslaught of emo-pop-punk headed right for us.
First track: I Mother Earth’s “One More Astronaut.”
Best: Radiohead’s “Just” and Sloan’s “The Good in Everyone” are still great almost 20 years later.
Worst: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Aeroplane” is basically elevator muzak with S&M lyrics and Poe’s “Angry Johnny” is a sex-and-violence eyeroll filled with “clever” wordplay like “I wanna kill you/ I wanna blow you — away.”
Where are the women? Garbage, No Doubt and Poe make this one of the biggest showcases for women in Big Shiny Tunes’ entire catalogue, so just think about that.
Whatever happened to Poe? Poe released two records, 1995’s Hello and 2000’s Haunted, but allegedly label mergers and industry nonsense resulted in Poe being trapped in a 10-year legal battle to wrest back control of her music and image from a wealthy oil executive and fan who bought her contract in 2001.
On the scale of tarnished, sticky, dive-bar penny to gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball, where does it rank? Do not look directly at the gold-plated, sun-sized, mirror ball!
Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner
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