Sunday, March 20, 2005

The best Canadian pop songs ever?

So the CBC is running this contest, asking us to vote for the 10 most important Canadian pop songs from a short-list of 50 tracks. The CBC’s website describes the process as "controversial" and "hotly debated." No kidding!

What kind of list leaves out Loverboy? "Turn me Loose," "Working for the Weekend" and "Kid is Hot Tonight" would be right up there in my top 10 list of the best Canadian pop songs of all time.

There’s no techno (where’s Plastikman?), not much reggae (where’s Snow?) and no glam rock (where’s Haywire?). Lee Aaron, Mitsou, Chilliwack, Helix, and Doug & The Slugs are also disappointingly absent from the list.

Instead, we get to choose among boring Anne Murray, inoffensive Gordon Lightfoot and sniveling Bruce Cockburn. Of course, the CBC list also includes those frat boy favourites: The Tragically Hip and Spirit of the West. Lame-o-rama.

I was going to stage a silent protest by not voting, but changed my mind when I saw that everyone who voted would be entered into a draw for some cool free stuff. I love winning cool free stuff! (Voting closes Tuesday in case you’re interested.)

So from the CBC’s list of 50 songs, here are the 10 I voted for and why. In no particular order:

1. Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell (1970): "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot." Good tune, fantastic lyrics. Poetry, really.

2. Heart of Gold, by Neil Young (1971): How can you not love Neil Young? I would have voted for any of his songs. But I like this one the best.

3. Takin’ Care of Business, by Bachman-Turner Overdrive (1974): Just a rollicking good tune. Plus it was written the same year I was born.

4. Fly By Night, by Rush (1975): One of the most technically precise rock bands around. Gotta give Rush their props. Though it took me a few years to figure out that Geddy Lee was a man, not a really unattractive woman. The high voice threw me off.

5. Raise a Little Hell, by Trooper (1978): Quintessentially Canadian. Makes me want to drink beer.

6. High School Confidential, by Rough Trade (1980): This song is sexy. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s hot!

7. The Safety Dance, by Men Without Hats (1982): Not just one of the best Canadian pop songs, but one of the best ‘80s songs of all time. Heavy on the synthesizer, big hair, bad outfits, weird video. I came of age in the ‘80s and this song was on the soundtrack.

8. Let Your Backbone Slide, by Maestro Fresh-Wes (1990): Do-do-do, do-dootlie-do. This song was so huge when it was released that I actually thought it was American. And if that’s not a sign that a Canadian artist has made it, then I don’t know what is.

9. Coax Me, by Sloan (1994): I like Sloan. They remind me of the Beatles in their earlier years. Easy to listen to and very catchy.

10. Crabbuckit, by K-OS (2004): Definitely not his best song. But I love K-OS and his refreshing brand of hip hop that is not about bling, bullets and babes.

So those are my favourites (not including Loverboy, of course). What are yours?


Carrie said...

Great list! I'm with ya on this. Although I am partial to Anne Murray's Snowbird :-)

There's an April Wine song...several of theirs are great, but one in particular. Can't for the life of me think of it's title. But AW should be on the list too.

And as much as everyone says they don't like her, I do - Alanis Morisette. And Sarah McLachlan of course.

Brian Feltham said...

My word, that list was soooo incomplete! What about "Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone" By Glass Tiger? or "Never Surender" by Corey Heart? or "Pop goes the World" by Men without Hats ?or "Strange Animal" by Gowan? And of course there is always "Check the OR" by Organized Rhyme (I can't believe you left that one out Sarah).

Ok, I think I watched just a bit to much of Stew Jefferies and Goooooooooooooooood Rockin' Tonight

Nicole said...

Great list, but... Crabbuckits?? Geez!

Hey, did you see that John Doyle ripped apart your boyfriend George in the Globe this morning? Want me to kick him?


Sarah said...

Geez...I can't believe I forgot about Gowan and Glass Tiger!

The list is so incomplete, and so weird (in my opinion).

I know that what I'm about to say might get me kicked out of the country, but I'm not a big Alanis Morisette or Sarah McLachlan fan. Sorry! They just don't do anything for me.

As for John Doyle ripping apart George....what??? Blasphemy!! Must go read Globe and Mail right now...


Anonymous said...

Ah, Sarah. You are spot on pointing out Loverboy as one of the missed hits (I can hear the start of 'Turn Me Loose' right now- steady keyboard note, and some high-hat leading into the bass line - CLASSIC). What really gets me, however, is the listed hits that were definitely misses.

Parachute Club's 'Rise Up'? I remember this song acutely, not only because it sucked, but also because it never really went anywhere on either Friday Night Videos or Video Hits. How does this beat out Loverboy, or even Platinum Blonde's 'Standing in the Dark'?

And I love Leonard Cohen's songwriting ability, but there simply isn't room for two of his songs on this list. 'Tower of Song' is just a tip of the hat to LC, and it should not be there.

And putting Tom Cochrane on the list makes me wonder if this is based on quality. How can you draw the line between 'Life is a Highway' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Duty' by Kim Mitchell or 'Black Velvet' by Alanna Myles? Either they're all on, or not. Or was this just a way to let people vote for crap?


PS - If you don't vote for anything before your own birth, you aren't giving the list much thought.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sarah

Former colleague and Bosnia co-explorer Noel from Fredericton here. It's been a while. How are things on the West Coast? is the website if you want to see what I've been up to lately...

Looking buff in that triathlon team photo!


Sarah said... are so dead on. Good analysis. I still don't understand how they can overlook Loverboy.

I actually voted for two songs that were around before I was born but I didn't really start listening to pop music until I was about 10. At least, I don't remember listening to anything other than Raffi and Anne Murray before then.

Noel...good to hear from you! I will check out your website.


Sarah said...

Oh, yeah. One more classic Canadian pop song missing from the list is...

The Zit Remedy's "Everybody Wants Somthing." That song rocks.


Bill Doskoch said...

While I'm grating my teeth at waking up every morning to the 50 tracks thingee, here's some input:

While you, Sarah Marchildon, are a documented hockey hater, I would argue a Canadian list should consider Tom Cochrane's "Big Leagues."

For that matter, I would also endorse Joni Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery."

I would also nominate The Tragically Hip's "Little Bones" (frat boy faves though they may be). Does a great job of capturing the emptiness of small-town loserdom:

it gets so sticky down here\
better butter your cue-finger up \
it's the start of another new year\
better call the newspaper up\
2.50 for a hi-ball\
and a buck and a half for a beer\
happy hour, happy hour happy hour is here\

Plus one of the great opening riffs in Canadian rock history!

Being a Prairie guy by birth, I'd have to put in a kind word for The Guess Who's "Runnin' Back to Saskatoon."

If I had to pick a Leonard Cohen tune, it would be "The Future" (on the soundtrack of the light romantic comedy Natural Born Killers).

I must protest at this characterization: "... inoffensive Gordon Lightfoot and sniveling Bruce Cockburn. Of course, the CBC list also includes those frat boy favourites: The Tragically Hip and Spirit of the West. Lame-o-rama."

Whatever you say ... Loverboy-lover. :)

Bill D.

Sarah Owen* said...

I think that the list is flawed since the way they came up with the final 50 was to have songs each week going head to head. For instance one week they had The T.Hip 'Courage' up against Sarah Harmer 'Basement Apartment'. These are both fantastic songs, why Tom Cochrane made the list and Sarah Harmer didn't continually finds me in the re-accuring nightmare of CBC's list of top Canadian artists.

I would also like to point out that CBC has failed to include any independent artists. The talent in our Country is tremendous and often times it's the artists that didn't sell out that are the most Canadian and the most profound. To name a few; Hawksley Workman and Danny Michel.

Sarah said...

Bill: Interesting choices. You didn't really explain why you'd pick those songs so I'm left scratching my head. Tom Cochrane? Tragically Hip? Why?

I'm curious why you disagree with my characterization of Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn. Does anyone go home at the end of the day and put on an Anne Murray CD? I don't think so. Well, actually, I'm sure those people exist but I don't personally know any.

The thing with music -- as illustrated by the CBC's list -- is that it's totally subjective. There's no reason why Loverboy speaks to me and doesn't for someone else.

Sarah Owen: Sarah Harmer is great and I love that "Basement Apartment" song, but will she stand the test of time like BTO? I don't think so.

Sarah said...

Oops...Bill...I meant you didn't explain the other stuff you picked (not Tragically Hip, you explained that pretty well).


Nicole said...

Ooooo... Danny Michel and Hawksley Workman... "On the highway tonight" makes me cry. Every. Damn. Time.

Good Call.


Bill Doskoch said...

Hi Sarah:

"Big Leagues" is a Tom Cochrane song about a father lamenting his hockey whiz-kid son who was likely headed for the NHL but died before he could get the chance.

It's a well-written song with a good melodic structure that touches on both Canadian and universal themes of the human experience.

"Raised on Robbery" is, I believe, Joni Mitchell's only hockey-themed song. :)

Some lyrics:

He was sitting in the lounge of\
the Empire Hotel\
He was drinking for diversion\
He was thinking for himself\
A little money riding on the Maple Leafs\
Along comes a lady in lacy sleeves\
She says let me sit down\
You know, drinkin' alone's a shame\
It's a shame it's a crying shame\
Look at those jokers\
Glued to that damn hockey game\
Hey honey, you've got lots of cash\
Bring us round a bottle\
And we'll have some laughs\
Gin's what I'm drinking\
I was raised on robbery\

It's also a very catchy tune with some great sax work.

"Runnin' back to Saskatoon" is just a great driving song. To me, its rhythms match the Prairies -- as do some of its lyrics.

Here's a lyrical sample:

I been hangin' around grain elevators\
I been learnin' 'bout food\
I been talkin' to soil farmers\
I been workin' on land\

Moose Jaw, Broadview, Moosomin too\
Runnin' back to Saskatoon\
Red Deer, Terrace, Hanna, Medicine Hat\
Sing another prairie tune\
Sing another prairie tune\

I've been to all those places, so that's a bonus to me. :)

"The Future" isn't particularly Canadian, and it is very bleak (although if you listen to it the right way, some parts of it are mordantly amusing), but it is mesmerizing.

I was listening to CBC just over a decade ago, and host Ross Porter said of Cohen's "The Future" and Mae Moore's "Bohemia", "These are two albums you'll still be listening to 10 years from now."

He was a prophet, that Ross. :)

A lyrical sample from The Future:

You don't know me from the wind\
you never will, you never did\
I'm the little Jew \
who wrote the Bible \
I've seen the nations rise and fall\
I've heard their stories, heard them all\
but love's the only engine of survival\

Your servant here, he has been told \
to say it clear, to say it cold:\
It's over, it ain't going
any further\
And now the wheels of heaven stop \
you feel the devil's riding crop\
Get ready for the future:\
it is murder

BTW, I didn't disagree with your characterization of Anne Murray; I can't listen to her.

OTOH, Cockburn and Lightfoot are songwriting geniuses, IMHO -- but I concede it is just that: an opinion.

But the vast majority of tunes on your list are ones I have no problems with.

Wendy said...

Here's the bigger question:

Why is the CBC doing this? Is this a holdover from The Greatest Canadian?

As someone said within one of the comments, music is completely subjective. How can a all-encompassing (and fair) list possibly be created?

When I think of the best Canadian songs, automatically, I think of the songs which have a special place in my heart. I don't think of songs that are necessarily great masterpieces or ones that had a cultural significance.

A few songs that I will love forever:

Cuts Like A Knife--Bryan Adams
Snow White--Streetheart
Go To Pieces--Paul Janz
3 Dressed Up As a 9--Trooper
Don't It Make Ya Feel--Headpins
Thinking of You--Harlequin
Several Jann Arden songs
Several S.N.F.U songs
Mama Let Him Play--Doucette

I could go on and on...

Yvonne said...

Okay, I am totally turned off at the available list of picks. It should simply have been open-ended. "Contests" like that aren't contests at all: they are circle-jerks.

What about Matthew Good?
What about "Bobcaygeon" by The Hip?
What about EVERYTHING Jann Arden ever did?
What about Gilles Vigneault?
What about... oh forget it.

I'd like to link to you, but I never do without a visit and a blessing. Won't you stop by at and enter my KILT Contest? If you think I'm link-worthy, I'll do it.

In any case, I'll be BACK!

Sarah said...

The CBC wasn't kidding when it said the list was controversial. That's a bit of an understatement.

Bill: Thanks for those lyrics. Man, that Tom Cochrane song is sad now that I think about it. Who knew?

I like the one about Saskatoon too. Ah, fond memories!

So you agree that Loverboy rocks? Good!

Wendy: I love Jann Arden. Where is she? Nowhere!

Citrus: I will check out your site :)


Bill Doskoch said...

Hey Sarah:

"So you agree that Loverboy rocks? Good!"

Uh, I wouldn't go that far. :)

My diplomatic answer would be that I can understand why many people like them. "Workin' for the weekend" has great energy to it.

But if I was looking a 1980s Canadian band on which to base a Canuck Spinal Tap, Loverboy would be my prototype. :)

During one reunion effort, Mike Reno, who had become considerably less hirsute over the years, still wanted to wear a tight red leather suit.

Unfortunately, middle age had done unflattering things to his physique.

Yet he couldn't understand why the young girls didn't rush the stage like they did in the old days. :)

That's sad -- but also kinda funny. :)

Sarah said...

Oh God! LOL and COL (crying out loud) at the same time. Funny and sad.

Loverboy as the Canadian Spinal Tap? I love it...


Kathryn said...

What I want to know is, where the hell is Dan Hill and "Sometimes When We Touch"???!!! =)

Seriously though, the list is certainly lacking (though I did vote as I too am a sucker for cool, free stuff). I tried, apparently in vain, to get 54-40's I go blind added as a listener pick. Oh, well.

As for Loverboy and Mike Reno? I am with you, Sarah. Anyone who had or visited a cottage at any time in their teenage years had Loverboy as their summer soundtrack.

I went to his "birthday party" at the Commodore back in January and it was super fun.

Mr. Doskoch, give the man a break. He auctioned off his famous red leather for charity and is actually not looking too bad for a 50 year old aging rockstar.


Sarah said...

I am soooo jealous that you went to his birthday party! I would have rushed the stage.


Kathryn said...

I could make you more jealous, but that would risk me loosing my job and I am quite fond of the steady income at the moment


fatcitizen said...

We're doing a response to the CBC's list called The OTHER 50 Tracks. You might like it (then again, it might make you mad).