Music to CBC's ears

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

How do you replace an icon?

If you are the CBC's Scott Moore, you turn to a 14-year-old Eminem wannabe in Mississauga, you turn to a childhood rock 'n' roll idol and a freelance composer and every garage band between Scarborough and Nunavut.

"For us to get 15,000 entries is amazing," the executive director of CBC Sports said, as the network's search for a new theme song for Hockey Night In Canada enters its stretch run.

"The whole thing struck a chord, it's a combination of two passions for Canadians -- music and hockey."

The CBC bowed out of a bidding war with CTV to retain the rights to Dolores Claman's HNIC theme song, which has become as much a part of Canadiana as maple syrup, beavers and potholes. For 40 seasons it was the opening fanfare to HNIC. No more. Since June, entries to the CBC's Hockey Anthem Challenge have been coming into the website at CBCSports.ca/anthemchallenge.

"The old anthem is jammed in my brain like the rest of Canada; it is an audio symbol," said Toronto's James Fisher, once a Grant Fuhr wannabe and now a budding composer. "I couldn't pass up the chance to at least try making the next anthem for our country's sport."

Entries range from hip-hop to country, rock, orchestral and stuff that sounds about as inviting as a dentist's drill. A jury of 130 people has trimmed the entries down to 150 with a panel of professional musicians and entertainers whittling that down to five finalists who will be presented on a network special Oct. 4.

"There's definitely gold in there but you've got to cut through a lot of rock to get there," Moore said. "But the gold is easily identifiable,"

The following week, on a HNIC Thursday doubleheader, two finalists will be presented, with fans casting votes to pick the winner -- to be revealed two nights later on the Oct. 11 HNIC broadcast.

About the only preconceived notion he has of the winning tune, Moore says, is that he is looking for "something hum-able." He says there are enough good entries that the network is considering cutting a CD of the jauntier tunes.

Still many of the lyrics available on the website seem trite and when it comes to fingers dancing across a keyboard some of the music is about as appealing as fingernails over a chalkboard.

That makes this contest kind of like NHL broadcasts themselves: It is necessary to weed out the irritating stuff -- like anything wearing a Maple Leaf, Sean Avery having a hissy-fit, or exploding geraniums disguised as Don Cherry's jacket -- to find the interesting bits.

Big names have entered. Legendary rocker Randy Bachman "entered five different songs," Moore said. "I thought, hey, how cool is that? A guy I grew up listening to."

Other entrants include Harlequin, a band out of Edmonton, and Cooper McGill. The latter is a 14-year-old from Mississauga with a home studio and dreams of becoming a full-time music producer.

He's big on rap, but for hockey he has gone to a more rock 'em approach.

"The original song gives me goose bumps every time I hear it," McGill said. "I wanted to create something that when the beat started and the crowd started clapping to the beat, would give goose bumps to a new generation of Hockey Night In Canada fans."

Fisher, 32, a self-described composer/sound designer who lives near Christie Pits, penned Zamboni Heat.

"The inspiration for my song came after I listened to some of the entries and decided I wasn't going to be one of those guys who said he could do better but didn't try."

One of the most viewed entries is from a Toronto band called the Dropjoys. It's titled I'm a Canadian and, writes David LeBlanc: "I wrote it like an anthem with a military style drum beat in loud guitar chords, and cascading horns like a royal announcement."

In other words, like the sound that happens when Richard Peddie comes into a Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board of directors meeting to announce the annual profits.

Says Moore: "I don't know if it'll be a finalist but it's a great song. There's another called Blades of Steel that is sort of punk-rock ... the lyrics are terrific."

The winning songwriter receives $100,000, plus half the performance royalties (the other half goes to minor hockey) and the inevitable comparisons with the original theme.

"At the end of the day ... as much as we loved the old theme we couldn't possibly justify paying $3 million to keep it," Moore said.

That tune, written by Claman, is so ingrained in the hockey conscience that Gershwin or Nelly could pen the new theme and it would be greeted by some with all the warmth of Daniel Alfredsson at a meeting of the Leafs fan club.

"Change is difficult for anybody," Moore said.

"But how do you get people to watch Jay Leno instead of Johnny Carson? And how are you going to get people to watch whomever replaces Jay?

"Elements of a show change all the time. We changed from the powder blue jackets. We changed the logo, we change commentators. It's not like we're asking people to accept that Hockey Night in Canada is actually going to be showing basketball. The essence of why you tune in is still the same; some of the window dressing will change."


Videos

Photos