I was born in Canada and I grew up hundreds and hundreds of miles north of the US border. We may have been a long way north but we still loved to rock and perhaps all the more so because of the 9 months of winter and the 18 hour nights during those winters.
So I thought I’d present a few little known but influential and meaningful Canadian bands that I listened to growing up in the Great White North. When I say influential and meaningful, I mean to me, not necessarily to anyone else 🙂
Let’s start with a real one hit wonder, producing one of the best party tunes of 1980, but nothing else: The Kings performing their single “This Beat Goes On / Switchin’ to Glide”.
Yes, in 1980 you would hear this several times a night at any party you attended.
Moving west to Alberta, where I grew up, to the town of Calgary (or Cowtown, as we called it), comes a band called The Stampeders. The Stampeders had a few local hits, including “Sweet City Woman”, “Wild Eyes”, a cover of “Hit the Road Jack”, and my favorite, “New Orleans”. I cannot find decent live video of this band doing this tune and so the link below only offers sound.
Here’s another Alberta band, from Edmonton this time: The Models. Honestly, they didn’t have any great tunes but in 1980, this song was on the radio a lot and we all used to be captivated by the album cover:
And you know who else started in Alberta? KD Lang. She has a fantastic voice, pure and melodic, and here she covers a song from another famous Canadian artist, Neil Young. Neil Young, of course, needs more than an entry in this blog post. I once read that he has written over 600 hundred songs! But for now:
Now we’ll get to a few more well known Canadian artists. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite, William Shatner.
Nope. Sorry. Can’t. do. it. If you need to hear Shatner’s musical “performances” you’ll need to go to Youtube yourself and search. They are just too brutal to link here and I know that I will regret this if I do. He does all the greats: Bohemian Rhapsody, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Rocket Man, you name it. But I can’t link them.
So why bring him up? Because, living in the US as I do, people with whom I work constantly used to tease me about my fellow Canadian, William Shatner.
At the opposite end of the country, from Vancouver, were Doug and the Slugs, making music and corresponding “rock videos” in the classic 1980s MTV style. Here is their first major hit, “Too Bad”. In Western Canada, this song was literally everywhere in 1980 and I almost didn’t include it but it was immensely popular.
Let’s talk about Randy Bachman next. In 1962 he helped found the band which would eventually (several years later) be known as The Guess Who. Later, in 1965, they would bring on Burton Cummings as lead vocalist, and then to launch in 1970 their biggest hit “American Woman”, with a truly excellent B-side “No Sugar Tonight”. “American Woman” was the first time a Canadian band earned a #1 spot on the music charts in the US and the song has a fascinating origin. After breaking a string at an outdoor concert in Ontario, Bachman played the basic riff to this song while tuning up. As he did so, Burton Cummings started improvising the lyrics and the song became an improvisational live jam session. They noticed a kid with a tape recorder and asked security to get the tape and that became this song:
Very soon after releasing American Woman, Randy Bachman left the Guess Who, allegedly because of conflicts with their lead singer Burton Cummings. Bachman formed his next band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, with Fred Turner. Their second album was released in 1973 and contained the song to which I will link: “Takin Care of Business”. This song is special for me because it was one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar (the very first being “Offend in Every Way”, by Jack White).
Canada has had its share of catchy-tune bands too – think Foreigner but from the Great White North. In 1978 Trooper released “Raise a Little Hell” which eventually would go on to become an anthem in hockey rinks all over the country. Sadly, I can find no live video at all of this band until the predictable re-union concerts 30 years after, which are not very good. So here is a music only cut from their 1978 album:
Another band in this same vein to whom I used to listen was April Wine. April Wine was a prolific band with all kinds of hits that you just don’t hear any longer. They were at their peak in 1977 when they recorded “Live at the El Mocambo”, the El Mocambo being a club in Toronto. What made this performance remarkable (if you were present at the El Mocambo) was that they opened for the Rolling Stones, who were performing in secret, under the nom de guerre “The Cockroaches”. Here is April Wine doing “Tonight is a Wonderful Night”, live at the El Mocambo:
And though they are most assuredly not Canadian, here are the Rolling Stones immediately after April Wine finishes their set, live at the El Mocambo, in 1977:
I am not going to discuss the band Rush, despite their fame and their output, mainly because they were a band with whom I was never able to connect. But I would like to mention Triumph because in many ways, they were a similar band and a band with whom I did connect. Triumph, like Rush, was a power trio who built their reputation through relentless touring. Like Rush they were known for musicianship, Rik Emmett being considered a world class guitarist in many styles, including Flamenco! Triumph would eventually release 10 studio albums before breaking up and I am going to link my favorite of their songs, with Rik Emmett on lead guitar and lead vocals:
Let’s close this post with possibly the most famous band ever to come out of Canada (and interestingly, one which few Americans have ever heard): The Tragically Hip. They released 14 studio albums in Canada of which 9 reached #1. Their music spans over 30 years and in 2016, they announced their lead singer had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. And so in 2016 they went on what many believed might be their last tour ever. The final performance of the tour, which was held in Aug 2016 in the city of Kingston, Ontario, was broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and it is believed that roughly one third of all Canadians watched this concert.
I have chosen to link to one of their very first songs, from many years ago, in 1988, “Blow at High Dough”:
That’s it for now. Goodnight and Good luck.