Arts and Culture

The Great Canadian Song Debate Continues

And Stompin' Thom Wong dumps on a few more of your favourites.

By Thom Wong 28 Feb 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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He doesn't make it either.

Are we going chalk to pick the greatest song a Canadian has ever sung? Do you even know what that means? It doesn't matter, because if I learned one thing from the last column it's that no one agrees on music. Ever. If you missed part one catch up here

I Liked Them Before They Were Cool Region

1. "Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)" - Arcade Fire
2. "Wheat Kings"/"Scared" - The Tragically Hip
3. "Claire" - Rheostatics
4. "Almost Crimes" - Broken Social Scene
5. "Mass Romantic" - The New Pornographers
6. "Romantic Rights" - Death from Above 1979
7. "The Suburbs" - Arcade Fire
8. "You May Be Right"/"All the Things I Wasn't" - The Grapes of Wrath
9. "Safe and Sound" - Hawksley Workman
10. "This Heart's On Fire" - Wolf Parade
11. "The Lines You Amend" - Sloan
12. "Love is the Subject/Eat My Brain" - Odds
13. "Odessa" - Caribou
14. "The House That Heaven Built" - Japandroids
15. "Nowhere With You" - Joel Plaskett Emergency
16. "Basin Street Blues" - Kid Koala

It's the '90s in Canada, and there's a war being waged, a war between bands "inspired" by the grunge gods just down the I-5, and those who found their muse a bit further across the Atlantic Ocean. And I don't know if it's because, as Canadians, we have a natural affinity for the British Isles, but all of those who heard the siren call of Nevermind and Superunknown ended up really, really sucking. The Tea Party, Our Lady Peace, I Mother Earth, Age of Electric -- like similarly thrice-named serial killers, they murdered songwriting in the name of angst.

They do not appear on this list.

After a brief flirtation with electronic music -- Bran Van 3000 anyone? -- two supergroups emerged and basically started the indie rock scene. This may be an exaggeration, but there's no denying the way Broken Social Scene and The New Pornographers (what's with the three word names?) changed the landscape of Canadian rock. When Arcade Fire dropped their definitive debut album, Funeral, Canadian music had traded Lilith Fair for the new Lollapalooza. But more about all of that later. 

Singer? Songwriter? Singwriter? Region

1. "Needle and the Damage Done" - Neil Young
2. "Suzanne" - Leonard Cohen
3. "The Future" - Leonard Cohen
4. "Heart of Gold" - Neil Young
5. "The Weight" - The Band
6. "Summer of '69" - Bryan Adams
7. "Early Mornin' Rain" - Gordon Lightfoot
8. "Theme from a Summer Place" - Percy Faith
9. "Words We Never Use" - Ron Sexsmith
10. "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" - Rufus Wainwright
11. "These Eyes" - The Guess Who
12. "Born to be Wild" - Steppenwolf
13. "Let It Ride" - Bachman-Turner Overdrive
14. "Up With Love" - Teddy Thompson
15. "Put Your Head on my Shoulder" - Paul Anka
16. "Sometimes When We Touch" - Dan Hill

Everyone clamoring for "American Women" can just settle down -- that's not even The Guess Who's best song -- how could the best Canadian song be an existential dilemma about American imperialism? -- whereas "These Eyes" has the most words anyone has ever tried to cram into a chorus, a feat of verbal dexterity only matched by Burton Cummings' equally dexterous hair. 

Is Steppenwolf a Canadian band? They actually have more of a claim to it than Arcade Fire, and Arcade Fire might run away with this whole thing. So yes, yes they are.

The top four are actually interchangeable in my mind, and probably interchangeable with many other songs from Young and Cohen's respective catalogues. I went with the ones that meant the most to me. I'm not even going to pretend I was objective about it.

Were You Objective at All?

I was going to put every song from Arcade Fire's Funeral in a region just to see what would happen, but also because I kind of believe it. Funeral is just phenomenal. But then I thought if the entire album is that good, wouldn't the best song from that album easily win? Now I'm not so sure, but that's my awkward way of saying I tried to be objective. Oh lord, how I tried to be.

Honourable Mentions and Obvious Omissions

Every song on this list is sung in English. That's leaving out an overwhelming amount of music, and I'm not going to pretend that doesn't matter. And apart from the Fresh Wes himself, there isn't much in the way of hip hop or R&B. That's not to say Canada hasn't produced any of note, but if I'm honest neither genre fit with the categories I chose. 

A less obvious omission is the Barenaked Ladies, and here I'm going to say something that's probably not going to be popular: the Barenaked Ladies were a novelty act. They're like Weird Al with a less developed sense of humour. Their biggest hit features the lyric "Chickety China, the Chinese chicken", and, again, that was THEIR BIGGEST HIT. If they had only ever sat in the back of that moving truck and covered Bruce Cockburn songs they might have made it, but they didn't, and then llamas and, well, no. Just no.

"Life is a Highway" - Tom Cochrane. Terrible. 

Stompin' Tom Connors. If the title was Most Canadian Song, Stompin' Tom would probably run away with it.

Dream Warriors - "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style". Still great, but suffering from its lack of slotability. I'd probably rank it in the top 10. 

Glass Tiger - "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)". A truly great song that has high karaoke value and a hilariously dated video. 

And now...

Round of 64

1. "No Cars Go" by Arcade Fire vs. 16. "A Soft Place to Land" by Kathleen Edwards

Hard luck for Edwards who runs into one of the three Arcade Fire nuclear missiles. Short story even shorter: she's not going to win here. But since we'll hear from Arcade Fire again, let's take a minute to consider Edwards' roll in Canadian music. She's basically a female Ron Sexsmith, critically loved but never really breaking through, although she's at least charted down south. "A Soft Place to Land" deserves to be bigger than "Ironic" or "Come On Over", but will likely never be heard by anyone not currently Googling it. And that's a shame, as it easily matches the complexity of her better known peers. It rings with poetry.

"I'm looking for a soft place to land The forest floor, the palms of your hands." 

Next time - the other 31 matchups.  [Tyee]

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