Does Big Shiny Tunes still matter?

Mark Teo, author of the new book Shine, explains why the MuchMusic compilation series' legacy endures, then creates a tracklist for a hypothetical 2018 edition


MARK TEO with MIKE TREBILCOCK OF THE KILLJOYS as part of book launch for SHINE: HOW A MUCHMUSIC COMPILATION CAME TO DEFINE CANADIAN ALTERNATIVE MUSIC AND SELL A ZILLION COPIES! at Supermarket (268 Augusta), Saturday, May 26, doors 6:30 pm. Pwyc. 


Back in 1996, when MuchMusic introduced a CD collection of alt-rock bangers titled Big Shiny Tunes, few could have guessed how significant its place in Canadian music history would be. 

Between its inauguration and 2009, the one-time nation’s music station assembled 14 volumes of the compilation, featuring the latest hits by both million-selling international acts (Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Bush X) and Much-assisted Canadian artists (Sloan, Limblifter, the Killjoys).

The series was an unexpected smash, going on to sell approximately five million copies combined and reach number one on the Canadian album charts five years in a row. In a time when the CD dominated music sales, Big Shiny Tunes was a runaway success – even towards the end of its run it still managed some gold sales certifications.

Unlike most compilations – or even albums – from its era, BST has shown significant cultural staying power. Music journalists have documented its generational impact, a cover band from Brantford named Big Shiny Tunes pay homage to the albums with their performances – and then there is Toronto writer Mark Teo, who chose the initial comp as the subject for his first book. 

In Shine: How A MuchMusic Compilation Came To Define Canadian Alternative Music And Sell A Zillion Copies (Eternal Cavalier Press), Teo uses humour and insight to go deep on the endearing legacy and cultural influence of Big Shiny Tunes – through both his own eyes, as well as the artists behind the tunes themselves, the people that compiled it and key insiders. 

(Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the chapter on Sloan’s The Good In Everyone.) 

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Where did the idea to write about Big Shiny Tunes come from?

I think it began when I was working for Fast Forward Weekly [in Calgary]. Sled Island [festival] had a Big Shiny Tunes cover night, where local bands were covering the songs from the album. My editor said, “Just write a story about [the album’s] impact, its significance and how it’s weird that all of these Calgary bands are covering this compilation.” It kind of led me to examine my own relationship with the BST franchise.

Why do you think this out-of-print, MuchMusic compilation still matters?

My sister and I were latchkey kids, so we watched a lot of TV growing up. And I loved watching The Wedge and Rap City on Much. I also grew up listening to a lot of compilations, but I rarely think of them as serious artefacts of my musical history. But BST was one of the first CDs I ever bought, and I noticed that put me on a trajectory to the kind of music I like today. It put me on this path where I went looking for more and more artists, especially Canadian artists, as well as other compilations by labels like Squirtgun, Sonic Unyon and Victory. And that all started with Big Shiny Tunes.

Did you find that others felt the same way as you?

People have nostalgia for it, but it’s a different kind of nostalgia than what they might have for a Killjoys album. So I think people were happy to see something like this taken seriously, because it’s usually the butt of a joke. It touched a lot of people. I think people do earnestly like Big Shiny Tunes because of the songs on it. So I wouldn’t say it’s solely an exercise in irony.

Is there a market for a Big Shiny Tunes vinyl reissue?

When I started writing this book a couple of years ago, it was my secret hope that we could launch it with a vinyl repress of [the original] Big Shiny Tunes. It probably would’ve made more sense back then when everything was being pressed to vinyl and there was more of a crowd for novelties. I think it would be funny and there would be a small market for it. I want to see it on vinyl. 

What makes a tune big and shiny?

The song would need to have mass appeal because they were all hits to various degrees. I think they all had to capture a certain alternative rock essence because none of them were straight pop songs. They documented the period where alternative music and pop had a crossover, and BST was right in the middle of that Venn diagram.

Do you think a comp like Big Shiny Tunes could be successful in 2018? 

Probably not. It’s no longer how we listen to music. There is a lot less of a captive audience, and a lot more diverse ways in which people discover music. There were logistically fewer ways for people to find new music back in 1996.

If they were to make a new 2018 version of Big Shiny Tunes, what would the tracklist be?

1. Partner – Everybody Knows

2. Haim – Want You Back

3. Paramore – Hard Times

4. Alvvays – Dreams Tonite

5. The xx – Say Something Loving

6. Arcade Fire – Everything Now

7. Lorde – Green Light

8. Arkells – Knocking At The Door

9. Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still

10. Imagine Dragons – Believer

11. Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs – Talk 2 Her

music@nowtoronto.com | @yasdnilmac

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