Recently our dear friends from the north celebrated their 150th year as a country. We salute our friendly Canucks by devoting a column to the riches that make up Canadian rock and roll. For awhile there, the music charts had a consistent Canadian presence even before Celine Dion kind of ruined it for everyone. Yea even the hosers to the north don’t particularly care for her either. And even though it might not appear to be a hey day for Canadian artist in general, currently they still have much to hang their hats on as Drake and others routinely have record sales and streams equal to many American artists.
In the late sixties the cultural exchange program between the countries was most vibrant with ideas flying across the borders in both directions. This time is summed up magnificently in Jason Schneider’s comprehensive must read Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music from Hank Snow to The Band. The early folk revival in America that peaked with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan was sparked by Canadians Ian And Sylvia and Gordon Lightfoot who ran more than one hit up the US charts. In addition, Country music owes a great debt to the legend Hank Snow and what moody, contemplative songwriter from the states does not owe some gratitude to the recently departed Leonard Cohen whose recording career began in conjunction with Andy Warhol’s emergence on the burgeoning New York music scene of the late 1960s.
Those major influencers all had an impact on perhaps the grandest of Canadian exports-Mr. Neil Young. If of course that’s all we had received from our friends up north we would still be better by any measure of our shared cultural treaty. Young’s passioned multi-decade career has been one of legend with many hints of American musical influences yet a close reading of his songs show the sensibilities to land and place that are common amongst the greatest of Canadian artists. Young and fellow country woman Joni Mitchell brought these rooted moral appreciations and feelings to bare in the melting pot of musical talent that became Laurel Canyon and rock and roll history from Steely Dan to The Eagles were impacted forever.
Oh Canada, you have had your monster hit makers as well. The Guess Who placed a number of hits on the charts as did their offshoot Bachman-Turner Overdrive along with the 1960s power metal group- Steppenwolf. One also can’t forget the frequent Vail Valley visitors Barenaked Ladies and the sappy April Wine and Loverboy. Then of course there is what became the highest selling female album of all time upon its release, Jagged Little Pill made the Ottawa born Alanis Morissette a household name in the good old US of A.
However for me, after Neil Young, the best of Canada remains their two RnR Hall of Fame members and a band that deserves to be. I speak of The Band, Rush and The Tragically Hip. The Band is simply the best mixture of American blues, front porch medleys crossed with the strong wind of the great white north. It’s pretty remarkable that the band credited with creating a genre called Americana is indeed mostly from Canada. Rush for their contribution have been a worldwide touring phenomenon by sticking to their guns as a dramatic progressive rock band- the first of their kind to receive the nod to the Hall. And then there is my personal favorite. A band that sums up all there is to know about Canadian rock and roll. From historic tragedies to the importance of land and space with fitting nods to hockey and ballads to make Hank Snow cry, The Tragically Hip is Canada. So we wish our neighbors a happy Canada Day and we look forward to the next 150 years of their music.