Which 'Big Shiny Tunes' album is the best?

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MuchMusic released 14 Big Shiny Tunes compilations from 1996 to 2009.
MuchMusic released 14 Big Shiny Tunes compilations from 1996 to 2009.

For any Canadian who went through adolescence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the “Big Shiny Tunes” albums were vital. In our pre-iTunes world, the compilation albums were the best way of gaining access to the year’s most popular “alternative” music -- your only other options were to buy the whole album of every band you liked (not cost-effective), taping songs off the radio (you’d get the DJs speaking over the start of the songs and it just wasn’t the same), or obsessively watching the MuchMusic Countdown (which... we all did anyway). There were 14 “Big Shiny Tunes” albums released between 1996 and 2009 (plus two installments of “Big Shiny ‘90s” and one “Big Shiny ‘80s”), so it’s likely that every Canadian currently in their 20s to mid-30s considers at least one of the “BST” albums to be the soundtrack of their high school experience.

But ask people which “BST” album is the best, and that’s where the debate starts.

Personally, I think “Big Shiny Tunes 2” is the clear winner. When it came out in 1997, I was 14 years old and had just started high school. To say that everyone owned that album might be an exaggeration, but only barely – as of 2010, it was still the third best-selling Canadian album of all time. So yes, I definitely have a fondness for “BST 2” because of its prevalence during a crucial time in my life, but even aside from that, the track listing is pretty great:

1. The Prodigy - "Breathe (Edit)"
2. Blur - "Song 2"
3. Third Eye Blind - "Semi-Charmed Life"
4. Smash Mouth - "Walkin' on the Sun"
5. Sugar Ray - "Fly" (featuring Supercat)
6. Bran Van 3000 - "Drinking in L.A."
7. Marilyn Manson - "The Beautiful People"
8. Holly McNarland - "Numb"
9. Bush - "Swallowed"
10. Matchbox 20 - "Push"
11. Collective Soul - "Precious Declaration (Remix)"
12. The Tea Party - "Temptation (Edit) (Tom Lord-Alge Mix)"
13. The Chemical Brothers - "Block Rockin' Beats (Radio Edit)"
14. Wide Mouth Mason - "My Old Self"
15. Radiohead - "Paranoid Android"
16. The Age of Electric - "Remote Control"
17. Stone Temple Pilots - "Lady Picture Show"

Look at that! “Song 2” was the song of the late ‘90s, which puts “BST 2” miles ahead of the others all by itself.

OK, sure, it’s got Smash Mouth, but 1997 was a magical, naïve time when we didn’t yet realize how bad they were – and mock Sugar Ray all you want, but “Fly” was catchy as hell.

Collective Soul is a little embarrassing now, too, but remember The Age of Electric? You had totally forgotten about them until just now, but they were great. And “Semi-Charmed Life” still stands up as a fantastic song today.

I consider “Big Shiny Tunes 2” to be the perfect snapshot of teen culture in Canada in 1997, and I assumed that everyone else agreed. I was legitimately surprised to find out this week that not everyone at Yahoo Canada thought it was the best of the bunch.

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And I was even more shocked to find out that not everyone on Twitter agreed, either.

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Now, “Big Shiny Tunes 3” (1998) certainly had a pretty great track listing as well.

1. The Smashing Pumpkins – "Ava Adore"
2. Fastball – "The Way"
3. Foo Fighters – "My Hero"
4. Matthew Good Band – "Apparitions (edit)"
5. Semisonic – "Closing Time"
6. Barenaked Ladies – "One Week"
7. Beastie Boys – "Remote Control/Three MC's And One DJ"
8. Rob Zombie – "Dragula (The Hot Rod Herman Mix)"
9. Third Eye Blind – "How's It Going To Be"
10. Sloan – "Money City Maniacs"
11. Lenny Kravitz – "Fly Away"
12. Placebo – "Pure Morning"
13. Garbage – "Push It"
14. Radiohead – "Karma Police"
15. Goo Goo Dolls – "Iris"
16. Big Wreck – "That Song"
17. Monster Magnet – "Space Lord"

That’s a pretty solid lineup, and it’s understandable that some think it’s the best one. “Money City Maniacs” and “Push It” are still incredible, and “Pure Morning” makes me sad that Placebo kind of faded from the mainstream.

However, there’s no big stand-out like “Song 2” on this one, no song that makes you think, “Oh, this song exemplifies the time period.” It might be argued that that works better for the album as a whole, but even if that were true, the fact that Monster Magnet is on there cancels it out. That was a band? A popular one? Go home, "Big Shiny Tunes 3," you're drunk. (Also, Wikipedia tells me that Monster Magnet is still a band and released an album as recently as 2013. Keep shooting for that rainbow, guys.)

Third Eye Blind’s “How It Going To Be” just makes you want to listen to “Semi-Charmed Life” instead. Also, remember when Barenaked Ladies were considered an alternative band? What a strange time the 1990s were.

“Big Shiny Tunes 4” (1999) also has its fans, though it’s harder to argue that it’s actually the best one.

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Some good songs to be sure, but…

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Sorry, “4,” but including Serial Joe automatically means you don’t win. But fine, let’s take a look at what “Big Shiny Tunes 4” has to offer:

1. Lenny Kravitz – "American Woman"
2. Moist – "Breathe (TLA Mix)"
3. Sugar Ray – "Someday"
4. Matthew Good Band – "Hello Time Bomb"
5. Blink-182 – "What's My Age Again?"
6. Goo Goo Dolls – "Slide"
7. Fatboy Slim – "Praise You"
8. Kid Rock – "Bawitdaba"
9. Smash Mouth – "All Star"
10. The Tea Party – "Heaven Coming Down"
11. The Chemical Brothers – "Let Forever Be"
12. Orgy – "Blue Monday"
13. Red Hot Chili Peppers – "Scar Tissue"
14. I Mother Earth – "Summertime in the Void"
15. Silverchair – "Anthem for the Year 2000"
16. Serial Joe – "Mistake"
17. Econoline Crush – "You Don't Know What It's Like"

Econoline Crush! I’d forgotten about them, but they were awesome. And listening to I Mother Earth again makes me want to find out which Toronto bar Edwin is bartending at and ask him to get the band back together.

However, by 1999 we should have known that Smash Mouth was the musical equivalent of a whoopee cushion, and how Kid Rock even made it onto this list is a mystery. The Tea Party? They were on "2" as well, and that was more than enough. And, as mentioned before, Serial Joe. More like Serial No, amiright? (Sorry.)

For the most part, the “BST” debate usually focuses on 2, 3, and 4 – likely because the Internet became more prevalent and it became easier to simply download whatever songs you liked instead of going to the store to purchase a compilation. There are the occasional outliers, like one of my Yahoo Canada colleagues who insists that “Big Shiny Tunes 5” (2000) is the best one because “Teenage Dirtbag” is on it.

A great song , sure, but the best “BST” album? Hardly. This coworker is very young, though, and has many things still to learn about the world, so her naiveté can be forgiven. But there were apparently enough people who bought Big Shiny Tunes to warrant a new compilation every year until 2009. Who are these people? Why didn’t they just use iTunes?

But the strangest part of the entire debate is that the album that started it all, the first “Big Shiny Tunes,” rarely comes up in the debate. Did anybody listen to that album? Did it even really exist? Why doesn’t anyone care about it? Poor guy. It’s the “Big Shiny Tunes” that time forgot.

Which “Big Shiny Tunes” album do you think is the best?

 

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