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“Oh, Canada”

February 28, 2019

With winter’s grip still upon us here in Columbus, it reminded me of cold and snowy Canada.  In addition, I owe it to my former Palo Alto condo roommate, landlord and long time friend Steve Fung to choose my top ten rock and pop artists from Canada during the 1960s and 1970s. Steve originally hails from Vancouver and has always reminded me of the greatness of all things Canadian. (As you will see from the list, I struggled to come up with 10 artists which perhaps suggests that Canadian musical “greatness” is a bit overrated, at least during the 60s and 70s.)

To qualify for this esteemed list, the group or artist must have had some significant part of its output from the 1960s and 1970s (so no Barenaked Ladies I’m afraid) and the majority of the group’s members must hail from Canada. So herewith is my list in approximate order:

  1. Neil Young– “Southern Man” “Down by the River” “Heart of Gold” “Cinnamon Girl”-Is there any doubt that Neil Young is the greatest Canadian rock artist ever? His styles range from soft, socially conscious folk-rock (e.g. “The Needle and the Damage Done”) to hard guitar rock “Down by the River” with everything in between. His songs are brilliantly written with infectious melodies and he is a pretty darn good guitarist too.
  2. Rush– “Fly by Night”; “Closer to the Heart”, “Limelight” “Tom Sawyer”- This Toronto based group became the preeminent progressive Canadian rock band courtesy of some brilliant rock songs. Admittedly some of their best output was in the early 1980s but they still had many good songs in the 1970s so they definitely qualify.
  3. The Guess Who- “American Woman”, “No Sugar Tonight” “These Eyes” “Undun” – During the late 1960s and early 1970s, this Winnipeg based group rose to the top of the pop charts and were quite good, featuring Randy Bachman on guitar and Burton Cummings as a superb lead vocalist. It was a relatively short-lived success. During 1969-70 the group had six top twenty hits. Randy Bachman left in late 1970 and after that the group had only one top ten, the not-very-good “Clap for the Wolfman” in 1974. The group disbanded shortly thereafter.
  4. Bachman Turner Overdrive-“Taking Care of Business” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” “Roll on Down the Highway” “Hey You” – After the early 1970s demise of the Guess Who, Randy Bachman and fellow Canadian Fred Turner formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive in Vancouver. Between early 1974 and mid-1975, the group had their biggest hits with a nice hard rockin’ sound. However, they faded into obscurity soon thereafter.
  5. The Band “The Weight”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, “The Shape I’m In”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – The Band was formed in Woodstock, New York in 1968 but with the exception of drummer/vocalist Levon Helm (born in Arkansas), the group members were all from Ontario. I always liked their mellow rock sound. They produced a number of good songs in their career which ended in 1976 with their last concert documented by Martin Scorsese in the movie The Last Waltz.
  6. Steppenwolf – “Born to be Wild” “Magic Carpet Ride” “Rock Me” “The Pusher”- After an unsuccessful career as The Sparrows, three members of this Ontario group went to LA and recruited two Americans and formed the group Steppenwolf in 1967. They had their breakthrough success with “Born to Be Wild” in mid-1968, but their last good single and last top 40 (“Hey Lawdy Mama”) was only two years later. They were the first hard rock group to come from Canada.
  7. Gordon Lightfoot “If You Could Read My Mind” “Sundown” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – While I don’t know much of Gordon Lightfoot’s music beyond his three big hits, those songs alone are good enough to qualify him. An excellent folk singer from Ontario, Lightfoot wrote great music with wonderful lyrics.
  8. Joni Mitchell- “Help Me” “Big Yellow Taxi” “California”- I have very mixed feelings about Joni Mitchell. Some of her songs are great, but many seem so dreary to me that overall I am not much of a fan. Nonetheless, she certainly qualifies as one of the top ten Canadian artists of the 60s and 70s.
  9. Anne Murray- “Snowbird” “You Won’t See Me” “Danny’s Song”. Anne Murray might rank as the top pop artist ever to hail from Nova Scotia. She has a very nice voice, but her country/soft pop style and her constant focus on covers of others songs never did much for me. But since she is one of Steve’s favorite artists ever I had to include in the top 10!
  10. Five Man Electrical Band, Stampeders, and Lighthouse – These three groups came from Ottawa, Calgary and Toronto respectively. They are best known for only one hit each: “Signs” (“and the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply”), “Sweet City Woman” and “One Fine Morning” respectively. Fortunately, all three songs are excellent (and interestingly all of them came out in 1971). Of note, Howard Shore who played the saxophone for Lighthouse ended up being the first music director of SNL (Saturday Night Live) in 1975.

Dishonorable Mention: The Poppy Family (incl. the execrable solo #2 hit “Seasons in the Sun” by group member Terry Jacks, as well as unmemorable solo compositions by his wife Susan ) and Paul Anka (Known for such saccharin hits as “Puppy Love” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” and the truly awful “You’re Having My Baby”).


From → Music 60s70s

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