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RPM, 1964-2000: The Conscience of Canada's Music Industry
By Richard Green, Director (retired), Music Division, Library and Archives Canada
It is now hard to believe, with the success of Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams, Blue Rodeo, Rush, Avril Lavigne and countless other artists, that there was a time when English-Canadian popular music was rarely heard on the radio or promoted by Canadian record companies. Yet in the 1960s, Canadian music was regarded with indifference and Canadian recording artists were forced to turn toward the United States to establish their careers. In his 1964 Toronto Telegram article entitled "Canada Has A Booming Record Industry (But Only Because It's 95% American)," Jerry Ross wrote: "We have so many good records available to us from the States that there's really not much point in doing a great deal of recording up here." This feeling was common in large parts of the broadcasting and music industries. One person who did not agree with that sentiment was Walt Grealis.
Walt Grealis was born in Toronto on February 18, 1929. His father was a Toronto firefighter and his family roots were a mixture of Irish, Spanish and Cree. In 1947, after attending Central Commerce High School in Toronto, he joined the RCMP and, by 1952, was a member of the Toronto police force. In 1957 he changed careers, first working as a sports director and social host at a hotel in Bermuda, then doing sales and promotion for O'Keefe and Labatt's breweries. His promotion skills led him to the music industry. In 1960 he started in the music business with Apex Records, the Ontario distributor for Compo, an early Canadian record company that today has evolved into Universal. He later joined London Records, where he worked until February 1964, when he established RPM as a weekly trade magazine.
From the first issue on February 24, 1964, to its final issue on November 13, 2000, RPM was the bible and, in many respects, the conscience of the recording industry in Canada. Walt Grealis was the moving force behind RPM, and his contribution to Canada music has garnered him many awards. In 1984 the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences - organizers of the Juno Awards a ceremony he initiated - created "The Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award" for individuals in the music industry who have helped to advance Canadian music. He was named as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1994. In 1999 he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, another organization he helped establish. In the fall of 2000, faced with changing advertising policies that made continuing virtually impossible, Walt Grealis chose to bring RPM to a close.
In 1994 Grealis was asked if he ever regretted leaving the police force. His reply was "No, not at all. How boring to be a policeman at 65 years of age. At 60 they would have turfed me out to pasture. Here I am at 65 and still part of a young, exciting industry. I think I owe the industry a great deal because it has provided me with a lifestyle that most people would never come close to acquiring" (RPM, Vol. 59, No. 6, February 28, 1994). On January 20, 2004, Walt Grealis passed away at the home of his long-time friend and partner, Stan Klees, after a three-year struggle with cancer.
RPM: Records, promotion, music
RPM's pages fully document 36 years of the music industry in Canada. In its pages can be found information about recording studios and changes in radio formats and programming ideas. RPM documents the emergence, growth, merger and dissolution of various large and small record companies and follows the evolution of formats from the 45-rpm disk, through the LP, the 8-track and the cassette, to compact discs. From concerts to MuchMusic to the Web, from the British invasion to rap and hip-hop, RPM covered it all. It provides a unique perspective on how the Canadian music scene has emerged from the indifference of the 1960s to become a multi-million dollar industry with recognizable stars. Walt Grealis, and RPM itself, were major catalysts in that evolution.
RPM actually came about because of a misunderstanding. Grealis was attending a meeting with Harold Moon of BMI and Buffalo radio personality George "The Hound" Lorenz. Talk turned to a tip sheet - a publication designed to alert radio station programmers of potential new hit records - that Lorenz published and how Canada could use a tip sheet of its own. Lorenz thought it meant using his publication. Walt Grealis interpreted it as a sign that he should start a publication to promote Canadian music. To Grealis it seemed strange that he "was part of the Canadian music industry but [he] wasn't promoting Canadian talent" (RPM Vol. 59, No. 8, February 28, 1994, p. 8). He decided that a change had to be made. He asked an old high-school friend, Stan Klees, who was also in the music business, how much it would cost to publish a small weekly trade magazine. Advised that it would cost $500 a week, Grealis put the idea aside until Klees came up with the idea of taking a legal-size page, mimeographing it, and then folding it to create a four-page publication.
On February 24, 1964, the first 500 copies were sent out free-of-charge. With time, the format of the magazine changed. Advertising started to cover the costs and RPM went from being a tip sheet, listing Canadian recordings with a little commentary and editorializing, to a full-fledged glossy trade magazine with charts, national reports, articles on musicians and complete coverage of the industry. RPM was more than just a trade magazine. It was a powerful force in the industry.
Stan Klees, Grealis's colleague, shares the responsibility for many of RPM's innovations. Born in Toronto on April 29, 1932, Klees had been involved with music since his youth. He played accordion professionally as a child and was a disc jockey at CHUM Radio when he was 16. Eventually he went to work at London Records. In 1963 he started his own label, Tamarac. Then in partnership with Art Snider, of ACT Records, and Duff Roman, of Roman Records, he founded Red Leaf Records. Red Leaf had a major hit in 1965 with Little Caesar and the Consuls' recording of "My Girl Sloopy." Despite some success, Klees' records were coming up against a wall of indifference; many radio programmers felt that a Canadian record could automatically be trashed without listening to it, because it was, by definition, inferior to the American product. Good English-Canadian artists, it was assumed, would follow the traditional route, pioneered by Guy Lombardo, Paul Anka and countless others, and find success in the United States, before they would receive recognition at home.
In 1971 Stan Klees joined the staff of RPM as a designer and eventually became a "special projects consultant." Klees' design and organizing capabilities were essential in ensuring that RPM would have a major impact on the Canadian recording industry. In 1995 Stan Klees was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Grealis and Klees wanted to make RPM into something more than just a trade magazine and the Canadian music industry into more than a United States branch plant. Their goal was to create a star system for Canada and a Canadian industry that could stand on its own. The Canadian recording industry can attest to RPM's contributions: The Canadian Independent Record Production Association, started by Stan Klees in 1971, is now a leading industry voice for Canadian record companies and the MAPL logo (for Music - composer, Artist, Production - recording location, Lyrics - lyricist) designed in 1970 by Stan Klees for use on his Tamarac label has become an accepted industry standard for indicating Canadian content. RPM helped with industry promotional events such as the Maple Music Junket, the Canadian presence at MIDEM (Marché International du Disque et de l'Edition Musicale) and the Canadian Music Week, which started as an RPM industry get-together called Three Days in March. RPM also helped establish the Canadian Country Music Association, which had its roots in the 1975 creation of the Big Country Awards and the Canadian Academy for Country Music Advancement. RPM was also responsible for the publication of various industry directories. For the public at large, RPM's biggest impact was in the establishment of national awards and ceremonies to honour top Canadian artists, and as a champion of Canadian content regulations.
From the very beginning RPM recognized that handing out awards would raise public awareness of Canadian music and musicians. Initially they created an annual readers' poll. (In 1964, the first year of the poll, the first top male vocalist was Terry Black, the top female singer was Shirley Matthews and the top vocal instrumental group was The Esquires.) In 1969, RPM started work on its own awards ceremony. In February 1970 the first RPM Gold Leaf Awards were presented at a ceremony in Toronto with singer Diane Leigh as the first recipient. The award, a stretched metronome-shaped walnut trophy was designed by Stan Klees. Stan's mother made sandwiches for the ceremony. In 1970, following the announcement of Canadian content regulations by Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) chairman Pierre Juneau, the name of the award was nicknamed Juno. In 1975 the awards were televised for the first time and were produced by CBC-TV.
An advisory group, the Canadian Music Awards Association, was formed to improve the production quality of the show. This group was the foundation of the current Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), which took over full control of the Junos in 1977. The Junos are now recognized as the major event for English-Canadian artists on Canada's music calendar.
Canadian Country Music Awards
In September 1973 RPM held its first Big Country Weekend, a series of meetings for the industry and country music artists. An awards ceremony was added in 1975. This association evolved into the Canadian Country Music Association, which decided in 1982 to hold its own nationally televised annual awards, the Canadian Country Music Awards.
Canadian content regulations
Perhaps RPM's most significant contribution to Canadian music was as a leader in promoting Canadian content (Cancon) regulations for radio. RPM knew that, if there was to be a star system in English-speaking Canada, it was essential for Canadian records to be played on Canadian radio. Recordings were being produced in Canada prior to Cancon regulations but they were usually made for an older audience or for a specific niche market. Not many featured the kind of music popular with the nation's youth. Rock-and-roll programming in Canada followed the lead of American sources such as Billboard, Cashbox and the Gavin Report. If Canadian discs were added to a station's playlist, they were usually by local musicians, with a limited reputation, for a regional audience. Few thought nationally.
Canadian musicians shared this regional approach: "it is obvious that many of the groups across Canada are either too busy selling themselves to their local audiences or just don't care about the rest of the country until, that is, they are left out of the picture at a time when they think the whole world should know of their existence" (RPM's reply to a reader, Vol. 6, No. 7, October 10, 1966).
Initially RPM did not push for Canadian content regulations: "RPM felt that a soft policing by the broadcast industry alone would bring about the necessary musical nationalism" (Vol. 4, No. 7, October 11, 1965). To facilitate this "soft policing," the Maple Leaf System (MLS) was created in 1969 with Walt Grealis as coordinator. The idea was that 12 radio stations from across the country would review Cancon singles every week and then select ones to be given regular airplay and promotion. The system fell apart when the stations didn't follow through and actually play the records. In a series of articles in the fall of 1969 analyzing the state of Canadian content recordings, RPM concluded that if MLS was to work, it "would have required courage on the part of the members and stations involved and unfortunately Canadian radio has been capable of very little creativity and courage." On November 24, 1969 Grealis resigned from his MLS position. MLS limped on until 1973 when lack of interest brought it to an end. By then, Cancon had moved to a new level.
A series of 10 articles that began on April 20, 1968, written by Stan Klees, started a heated debate on the pros and cons of legislated Cancon. RPM recommended that 25% of programming be 100% Canadian: "production, creation, performance and control." The discussion, which still continues among broadcasters, musicians, and record companies, took a decisive turn when the issue was picked up by the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and championed by its chairman, Pierre Juneau. On January 18, 1971, regulations requiring most Canadian radio stations to play 30% Canadian recordings came into force.
Our current concept of charts - a regularly produced numbered listing of popular recordings, based on sales, air-play or popularity polls - was established in 1940 by Billboard, the American trade magazine first published in 1894. There were lists of popular songs for sheet music and recordings published before 1940 but they were never organized in a systematic, seemingly impartial, fashion. By 1964, the rock-and-roll era and the burgeoning teen market had made chart position an artist's dream and a crucial part of getting a record played on radio stations across the country and prominently placed in the nation's record stores.
Radio stations that programmed for the youth market usually compiled their own weekly chart, publishing it in the local newspaper or distributing copies to area record stores. The CHUM chart, issued weekly by Toronto's dominant rock radio station (1957-1986) was perhaps the most influential of these charts. A Canadian chart that used sales figures and tracked radio play on a national level did not exist.
Early issues of RPM did not feature a chart. Instead they posted play lists of a few radio stations from across the country. On September 1, 1964 RPM introduced a new national chart, the "Top 40+5." From that point, charts became an essential part of RPM. The "Top 40+5" evolved into Canada's first "Top 100" in March 1966. Over the years more charts were added as the music industry grew. These included LPs, country singles, country LPs, MOR (middle of the road), adult contemporary, CDs, videos and annual compilations. By the time publication ceased in 2000, there were ten charts compiled from sales figures, radio and television play, and discussions with record companies and retailers. In its 36 years of publication, RPM published over 9000 charts. They prove the accuracy of Pierre Juneau's 1971 prediction that "…the prophets of doom, the messengers of mediocrity, will be overwhelmed by the new generation of competent, creative, confident artisans," a statement that appeared in almost every subsequent issue of RPM.
This website reproduces all of RPM's charts. Though the chart information changed over the years, most provide song or album title, record company, issue number of the recording, position on the chart, the previous week's position and number of weeks on the chart. Cancon titles since 1971 can be identified by the MAPL logo. Searching the charts gives people the opportunity to trace the careers of their favourite bands, research specific songs and test their memory. Together the charts provide a comprehensive picture of the changing musical tastes of English-speaking Canada and the evolution of the Canadian recording industry.