It’s a shame that it’s up to Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen to wave the Canadian flag in the U.S. Top 10 right now. (Drake, please come back, and bring Rihanna with you!) The U.S. neighbor to the north has contributed so much more and so much better to popular culture over the years: William Shatner, Michael J. Fox, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Rachel McAdams and Degrassi. But it’s in song that Canada has truly excelled, though it seems to be rarely acknowledged.
The British invasions — all of them — have featured better styling, and the under-sung heroes of Australian indie pop are sexier and edgier, but what about Canada’s steady stream of musical exports since the ’60s? Cumulatively, they’re sort of the Toronto of their country’s cities. Montreal and Vancouver hog the must-visit status, but if I could be anywhere in Canada right now, I’d choose Toronto, and not just because my brother Alexi has lived there for years (though that would be an excellent enough reason on its own).
We’ve shown plenty of love to plenty of individual Canadian acts over the years, but rarely to all of them in one place. Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was a UK-to-U.S. hit in 1984, as was U.S.A. for Africa’s “We Are the World” a few months later, but what happened to Northern Lights’ “Tears Are Not Enough,” Canada’s contribution to ’80s famine relief, not only a tear jerker but a solid song, too? Perhaps because Canuck musicians are all over the musical map, making it impossible for the media to package them as any kind of movement, the media rarely bother dealing with them en masse, which is exactly what I’m about to do (minus Jane Child, Corey Hart and Celine Dion, whom I’ve praised enough).
Joni Mitchell “My Old Man” As ’70s singer-songwriters go, my greatest love of all.
Gordon Lightfoot “Sundown” Regrets, I have a few, like never getting around to listening to Songbook, the 1999 Gordon Lightfoot box set that the record label Rhino once sent to me at work.
Gino Vannelli “People Gotta Move” He’s best known for his U.S. Top 10 ballads “I Just Wanna Stop” and “Living Inside Myself,” but his first song to make it in the U.S. (No. 22) sounds as good today as it must have sounded in 1974.
Anne Murray “Danny’s Song” I once had drinks with her and her former publicist (still a good friend of mine) in the New York City hotel where she was staying, and she got all excited when she found out that George Jones was staying in the same hotel. “Who cares?” I asked, although I really did. “You’re here!”
Bryan Adams “Back to You” I recently saw Adams, who sang a duet on the Anne Murray album that she was in NYC to plug that time, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and I couldn’t pay attention to what he was singing (“Run to You”?) because I was too busy wondering how he manages to still look and sound as good as he did circa 1984. (For some reason, I can’t post it, so click here to view.)
Neil Young “Harvest Moon” One of 10 perfect moments I’ve had in my life: staying in on a rainy night in New York City with my very first boyfriend, listening to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, still one of my all-time favorite albums. Sublime.
k.d. lang “The Mind of Love” I once did the same thing in the Jersey City brownstone I called home from October 1991 to October 1992, only with k.d. lang’s Ingenue, and alone, which is sort of how that song cycle about unrequited love deserves to be heard.
Sarah McLachlan “Hold On” She’ll probably be forever best known for “Angel” and “I Will Remember You,” which is really a shame because this song — a lullaby, a warning, a plea to a lover dying from AIDS, from 1993’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, her best album and the one that made her a star — is the most potent thing she’s done in a career full of powerful moments.
Deborah Cox “Things Just Ain’t the Same” If I were underneath a strobe light right now, and I could spend 9:22 dancing to whatever I wanted to, it would be the Hex Hector Club Mix of Cox’s 1997 single, which is completely unrecognizable from its lite-soul source material.
Shania Twain “Ka-Ching!” Where are you, girl? You and your exclamations points are greatly missed!!!
And 5 More Reasons…
1. Kate and Anna McGarrigle
4. Glass Tiger
5. Randy Bachman (of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive)