Some CBC Radio One listeners may remember a program called 50 Tracks, which aired in 2004. The idea for the show wasn't bad - find the fifty "most essential songs" in pop history and fashion an iPod list out of them. The execution, of course, was lacking considering CBC Radio One is notoriously middle-of-the-road as far as radio goes.
If WFMU or BBC 6 Music had organized the list, it would probably contain more eclectic choices than what 50 Tracks came up with. There wasn't anything wrong with 50 Tracks, but its list only really touched on certain cultural milestones in popular music. "London Calling," "God Save the Queen," "When Doves Cry," "Walk on the Wild Side" - those are decent choices, and more familiar than a witch's pet. Who's to say that Devo's "Mongoloid" or Captain Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller" aren't more essential than Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" or David Bowie's "Heroes?" Lists like this are always subjective. Throwing Slayer's "Angel of Death" or a John Cage composition onto the list would have made 50 Tracks FUN. CBC Radio One being hardly fun in the first place, 50 Tracks could have alleviated the network's dullness a bit, but it didn't. C'est la vie.
For all my internecine whining about the show's conservatism, 50 Tracks became successful enough to spawn a sequel and a regular series. The National Playlist takes 50 Tracks and steers it toward the right side of freeform radio, which is what 50 Tracks should have been aiming for in the first place. For one thing, with three rotating panelists and host Jian Ghomeshi nominating four songs out of eight for inclusion into a top-ten list, this show could last for years. Will John Zorn stay on the list for a third week? Listen tomorrow to find out!
Here's the problem with the show: the panelists CBC picks for its shows aren't diverse enough for a show like this. Most of the panelists are of usual CBC quality, last week featuring Jason Collett of Broken Social Scene and arts journalists/CBC mugwumps Richard Crouse and Tara Thorne. Past columnists have included Toronto Star music journo Ben Rayner, CBC Ottawa stalwart Amanda Putz and Jowi Taylor from CBC's Global Village. That's fine for fans of alternative newspapers, indie kids and the CBC, but it makes for stilted radio.