Re-published from July 1, 2018.
It’s Canada Day and in tribute I offer my choices for the 50 best Canadian pop, rock or country songs recorded or written by a Canadian musician. (A noticeable omission is any French- language songs only because I’m not familiar with enough material. Strong consideration was given to chart placement.)
1. Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell). From the guitar work to Joni’s vocals — which will never be duplicated — in two minutes, 16 seconds she made the greatest environmental and anti-development statement made in rock music history
2. Heart of Gold (Neil Young). Neil’s only No. 1 was his best. It was intended to be segued with a song called “A Man Needs A Maid,” but he realized it could stand on its own.
3. Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen). It was virtually ignored when released in 1984 as part of his “Various Positions” album. It was only through subsequent recordings and a rousing rendition by kd Lang at the 2010 Winter Olympics that people finally took notice.
4. Four Strong Winds (Ian and Sylvia). Many believe this 1963 song, about a failed relationship, should be Alberta’s official theme song.
5. Life Is A Highway (Tom Cochrane). Cochrane has written superior songs, but he never sounded better than this song which reached No. 6 on the U.S. pop charts.It gets you from the opening hook.
6. Working for the Weekend (Loverboy). The cowbell, Mike Reno’s distinctive vocals and the hilarious sketch with Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze on “Saturday Night Live”. Loverboy had many great songs, but will forever be remembered for this piece of rock-and-roll heaven.
7. If I Could Read Your Mind (Gordon Lightfoot). The lyrics were inspired by Gordon’s divorce. On the urging of his daughter, he later changed pronouns so that it didn’t seem as sexist. Released in 1971, it reached No. 5 on Billboard.
8. Mister Can’t You See (Buffy Sainte-Marie). This song didn’t go anywhere when it was first released by other artists, so the songwriters gave it to Buffy, who made it a top 40 hit and the second single from her “Moonshot” album.
9. Takin’ Care of Business (Bachman Turner Overdrive). For pure rock-and-roll, which is easy to sing and not too difficult to play along with.
10. American Woman (The Guess Who). Its lyrics were misunderstood, but one thing everyone recognized was this was a rocker. Lenny Kravitz actually outdid them with his remake for “The Spy Who Shagged Me” soundtrack.
11. The Weight (The Band). Everybody wondered initially what the hell they were talking about. It wasn’t a hit the first time around, but eventually became a classic. Each member sang a verse.
12. Tom Sawyer (Rush). As instrumentalists, Rush might be the best ever in rock.
13. I Will Remember You (Sarah McLachlan). She won a Grammy for this and it was later used as Wayne Gretzky’s retirement song.
14. Bobcaygeon (The Tragically Hip). Described by Gord Downie as “a cop love song,” the lyrics explore racism and anti-Semitism. It won the 2000 Juno Award for Single of the Year and was a permanent staple on the Hips’ set list for years.
15. Diana (Paul Anka). Written while Anka was still a teenager, his song about having a crush on his babysitter went on to sell nine million copies.
16. Sh-Boom (The Crew Cuts). A hit song for this doo-wop group based out of Toronto, all were former members of the St. Michael’s Boys Choir.
17. Still the One (Shania Twain). A nice bookend with “From This Moment On.” A cross-over pop/country smash.
18. Complicated (Avril Lavigne). Her biggest hit earned a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year in 2002.
19. Black Velvet (Alannah Myles). Her career tanked shortly after this Elvis tribute, written by former Much Music VJ Christopher Ward, but it went all the way to No. 1 in the U.S.
20. My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion). Overplayed, yes, but Celine delivered this with so much passion it wouldn’t have been “Titanic” without it. The song was cut in one take.
21. Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen). First released on an EP in 2012, thanks to a Tweet by Justin Bieber, it became a global No. 1 and Grammy-nominated smash that even featured a YouTube video featuring President Obama. Co-written by Josh Ramsay from Marianas Trench.
22. The Safety Dance (Men Without Hats). Where were you in ‘82? It was pop synthesizer music at its best.
23. Sunglasses at Night (Corey Hart). Nothing like this had ever been released at the time. It’s an often-forgotten chestnut from the 1980s.
24. You Oughta Know (Alanis Morissette). One of many great tracks from “Jagged Little Pill,” which won the Grammy for Album of the Year.
25. Echo Beach (Martha and the Muffins). The band’s only significant hit, but what a goodie.
26. Lovers in a Dangerous Time (Bruce Cockburn). One of the great Canadian songwriters — top five anyways. The Bare Naked Ladies also did a terrific cover.
27. Summer of ‘69 (Bryan Adams). With six singles that reached the top 20 in the U.S., this is the one everyone remembers from “Reckless.” BTW, Bryan was 10 in 1969.
28. I’m Movin’ On (Hank Snow). A tearjerker by today’s standards or 1950 standards, the year of its release.
29. If I Had A Million Dollars (The Barenaked Ladies). Even with goofy lyrics, this ode to Kraft Dinner, green dresses and the Elephant Man still had a charm and warmth all of its own.
30. Raise A Little Hell (Trooper). Cue it up, someone just scored a goal.
31. Brian Wilson (The Barenaked Ladies). Written by Steven Page when he was only 20, it’s paralleling his own life with that of the Beach Boys’ leader, who at the time was diagnosed with mental illness. The real Brian Wilson has been known to sing it in concert when he plays in Canada.
32. Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young). Neil’s clearly angry in this 1989 masterpiece... one of his edgiest songs to date.
33. Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell). Joni wrote it back in ‘67, Judy Collins made it a hit a year later and just about everyone has recorded this standard ever since, including Carly Rae Jepsen. Joni’s recording is still the best.
34. Superman’s Song (Crash Test Dummies). It’s about mourners at Clark Kent’s funeral. How spooky is the baritone voice of Brad Roberts?
35. Sudbury Saturday Night (Stompin’ Tom Connors). It’s about boredom in a northern Ontario town. The men get drunk, their wives play bingo. Everybody remembers “The Hockey Song,” but this one was genuinely funny.
36. Snowbird (Anne Murray). It launched her career at a time when American radio ignored just about anyone north of the border.
37. Big League (Tom Cochrane & Red Rider). It’s not so much a sports anthem as it is a song about failed potential and life’s evil turns. It found new life in 2008 due to the Humboldt bus tragedy.
38. Rock Me Gently (Andy Kim). This went to No. 1 on Billboard as did a song he penned for a group of cartoon characters —”Sugar Sugar” by The Archies.
39. Sweet City Woman (The Stampeders). When you think of great songs from the start of the 1970s, this one will always come to mind.
40. Patio Lanterns (Kim Mitchell). It’s about a Grade 8 dance. Sweet and nostalgic for any generation. Check out YouTube for a fun performance Kim did with The Rankin Family.
41. Bad Day (Daniel Powter). This singer-songwriter from Vernon was nominated for a Grammy for this incredibly-catchy song which had universal appeal, spending five weeks atop of the Billboard (U.S.) Hot 100. It was later featured in a Chipmunks movie.
42. Hotline Bling (Drake). The lead single from his hugely-popular “Views” album, it reached No. 1 on Billboard and won the Toronto hiphop artist a Grammy.
43. Ordinary Day (Great Big Sea). The band’s biggest hit, they insisted that Stockwell Day stop playing it during his campaign for prime minister in the 2000 federal election.
44. My Girl (Chilliwack). Its unique opening and Bill Henderson’s vocal made it unforgettable. The parody on SCTV was really funny.
45. My Way (Paul Anka). Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley both made it a hit, but it was the writer, Paul Anka, who reworked a traditional French song and made it the anthem that it is today.
46. Love Yourself (Justin Bieber). Bieber broke away from his teen idol stereotype with his fourth studio album “Purpose,” and he was nominated for a Grammy Award for his songwriting in this acoustic track, cowritten with Ed Sheeran.
47. So Long, Marianne (Leonard Cohen). From his 1967 debut album, the real Marianne and her infant son lived with Cohen throughout most of the 1960s. She died in 2016 at age 81, just three months before Cohen passed away.
48. Everything Now (Arcade Fire). For those classic rockers who still think there’s been nothing exciting that’s come out over the past decade, check out these indi rockers from Montreal. This is the latest hit for the multiple Grammy Award winners.
49. Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill). Don’t groan. Success came early for this unknown 23-year-old from Don Mills, Ont. who scored a No. 3 hit and a Grammy nomination losing to “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow. Stop groaning!
50. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You (Bryan Adams). Adams had better ballads (“Heaven,” “Straight From the Heart”), but this made the list based on its incredible popularity. When released in 1991, it became one of the biggest-selling singles ever globally, shattering records for the length it stayed at No. 1.
James Miller is editor of The Penticton Herald. To contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.