In celebration of Canada’s birthday – July 1 for those who don’t know!
There are a couple of articles and postings in this blog about Canada, and this one deals with song themes about the Great White North. Many of these songs are well known, and have made the list for that among other reasons. Sure there are lots of underground songs that never really see the light of day, but these have taken the Canadian theme to huge listening audiences, which is cool because apparently people really dig them. Enjoy – you might even see one or two that you recognize.
Note: This is a video post, and so may not appear on some handheld or mobile devices.
** Feel free to add any that you want to see on this list – place a comment and have your say! **
10. The Coffee Song – The Arrogant Worms
Canada has embraced the “coffee culture” in a big way. Tim Horton’s rules the coffee world as the icon of Canadian “donuts and java”, while at the same time the Five Dollar Coffee has also made its mark on the scene as the “Starbucksization” of Canada’s coffee landscape has grown. But Canadians do love their coffee and this song is great Canuck perspective on that “java joe” passion. Now if only the band would follow up with The Donut Song, the perfect sequel…
9. Acadian Driftwood- The Band
This song tells a story of the French-British war when the land that is Canada today was still colonial settlements of the French and British. Before the country achieved its independence from Britain in 1867, Canada was the battleground between the two European powers (on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec), which is how Canada ended up with French and English regions and two official languages. As a true Canadian song, this even has French and English verses.
8. Northwest Passage – Stan Rogers
This song has been hailed by Canadians for two generations as one of the most passionate and compelling stories of the country’s north. Stan Rogers sings this in classic style with an “easterner’s” twang, which in itself is very Canadian and reminiscent of the Maritime influence. Rogers was noted for his rich, baritone voice and his finely-crafted, traditional-sounding songs which were frequently inspired by Canadian history and the daily lives of working people, especially those from the fishing villages of the Maritime provinces.
7. Runnin’ Back To Saskatoon – The Guess Who
This tune is home grown (don’t come from Hong Kong). It’s all about Saskatchewan and some town where nothing much ever happens. Winnipeg’s The Guess Who are one of Canada’s greatest musical exports, but that never stopped them from writing about the country they came from. “Running Back To Saskatoon” showed their love of Canada in full force, including a laundry list of small towns and references to grain elevators, prairie tunes and Medicine Hat. Doesn’t get much more Canadian than Medicine Hat.
6. Prairie Town – Randy Bachman and Neil Young
Canadian or not, this song is passionate, haunting and guaranteed to give the listener chills. It tells a beautiful story about coming from the the prairies, Canada’s flatlands and the heart of wheat farming. Bachman and Young are jamming about prairie life with Margo Timmins, the singer from Cowboy Junkies (another great Canadian band).
That great refrain that pays props to “Portage and Main, fifty below” is about the main downtown intersection (Portage St. and Main St.) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and strikes a chord with most Canadians. “Winter nights are long, spring time melts the snow, rivers overflow”….
5. Fifty Mission Cap – The Tragically Hip
It would be illegal in Canada to have a list of Top Canadian Songs without having something about hockey (could be jailable offense). The definitive tune would be The Good Old Hockey Game by Stompin’ Tom, but since he has a song here already, this choice by The Tragically Hip is a close second. This song is about a legendary hockey player who mysteriously went missing while on a fishing trip, but perhaps the most miraculous thing in this song is the reference to the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup, which in Toronto is akin to discovering the Holy Grail.
4. Four Strong Winds by Ian Tyson
Another version by a dude from Canada:
This is another song about longing for Alberta by a Canadian legend. “Four Strong Winds” has reached legendary status, being nominated as Alberta’s provincial song and sung at the Edmonton Folk Festival every year, as well as being covered by a who’s who in the world of folk music. That list includes: Neil Young, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithful, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.
3. Sudbury Saturday Night – Stompin Tom Connors
Any song by Stompin’ Tom would do – he is the penultimate Canadian folksinger, songwriter and documenter of all things Canadian from coast-to-coast. He got his name from the habit of stomping his foot while he sang, and with the hard-soled cowboy boots he normally wears, he found that he had to put a piece of plywood down to keep from putting his foot through the stage floor!
Stompin Tom has traveled the country and chronicled his journeys in song, from “Bud the Spud” about a potato from the famed Prince Edward Island potato farms to tomatoes from Leemington, Ontario (where Heinz grows most of its tomatoes for ketchup) and even a song about the man in moon who is actually a “Newfie” (Canadian slang for someone from Newfoundland), Stompin Tom really is the man.
This particular song selection for the post is about life on a Saturday night in Sudbury Ontario, where workers from the Inco nickel mines have a few drinks and let off some steam in the pub.
2. Canadian Railroad Trilogy – Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot is among the most prolific and captivating songwriters to come out of Canada. With many hits to his name this is one that is a must-have on any list of songs about Canada, as it tells the story of how the country was unified with the building of railroads and the workers who toiled and perished along the way.
1. Helpless – Neil Young
One of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever written, and it is about the rugged outdoorsy area of northern Ontario, where people go to play outside – canoeing, camping, fishing, boating, hiking, watching the autumn leaves change colour, and so much more. This version of the song is from the movie “The Last Waltz”, and features The Band (lead guitarist Robbie Robertson – Canadian) and Joni Mitchell (you got it – Canadian) jumps in from backstage to lend some backing vocal harmonies.