by Kohan Eybergen
Canadian media has always seemed like a bit of a joke. For the most part, the majority of Canadian-produced content consists of lamer versions of American shows and channels, such as Much Music and shows like Canadian Idol. Anything new that’s even remotely original to Canada either doesn’t do well or is doomed to fail due to not being accessible enough. Unfortunately, this has been the rut that Canadian artists, filmmakers, and actors have faced for decades, and plenty of our most talented citizens eventually move south to the United States in search of success.
However, there are cases of Canadians who have successfully produced content in entertainment that maintained a distinct Canadian identity without becoming Americanized. In television, we’ve had popular series such as Corner Gas, Degrassi, and Letterkenny, as well as long-running programs like Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. Although there are examples in television, perhaps the area of entertainment where Canadians have seen the most success is in the music business.
Since the 1960s, Canada has been producing excellent musicians who have gone on to gain popularity and fame throughout the world. Although all of these musicians come from different areas of Canada and all of them write and perform music in their own respective genres, they all have something in common: a distinct feeling of Canadian-ness. Whether it’s Gordon Lightfoot writing about the Canadian railroad, Geddy Lee from Rush singing about fireworks on Victoria Day, or even Drake repping the 6ix (Toronto) every chance he gets. Although these artists often write about and pay homage to their country of origin, it never feels like they are bragging or being nationalistic. In the case of The Tragically Hip, it’s about quite as removed from nationalism as it gets as their lyrics often criticize and show the more ugly and dark side of our country. But as self-reflection and acknowledgment of one’s flaws is a trait that Canada strives to maintain in its citizens, this just further promotes their aura of Canadianism.
Although stereotypes are usually overwhelmingly false, the ones about Canadians being humble and polite as a whole seem to hold true, and this also seems to include our musicians (perhaps not Beiber). The examples of Canadian manners being exemplified by our musical artists are abundant. One would only have to watch or listen to a few live performances in order to see Neil Young politely asking photographers to take pictures in between songs while he’s talking so as to not throw off his timing. Or even Gord Downie, front man of The Hip, doing a mic drop at his final performance of the song Grace Too during the last ever Hip concert and then walking back on stage to pick it up and replace it in the stand before leaving the stage again. Perhaps these stereotypical Canadian characteristics have attributed to these artists’ success in Canada, but it doesn’t account for their popularity in other countries.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland for a wedding. While I was there, I visited multiple pubs to listen to live music, and I was astonished to realize how many of the songs that the musicians were performing were Canadian. It seemed as if almost every fourth song was written by a Canadian artist, and the other people in the pubs were singing along with ease. It was a surreal feeling being in another country and hearing music that was written by your fellow citizens being performed so regularly. It got me thinking about how cool it was that people so far away liked music from our country; I had no idea that Canadian music was popular internationally. It appears that Canadian artists are so popular in other countries because our artists are truly and remarkably talented. It also got me pondering what my personal top ten Canadian songs would be. Although I usually refrain from putting songs into arbitrary lists due to the fact that musical tastes are always changing, I decided I’d give a top ten (in my opinion) best Canadian songs list a go.
10: American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay, Sam Roberts Band. A pretty self-explanatory title. This song is about an American who flees the states to avoid the Vietnam War and settles in Thunder Bay to become a teacher.
9: The Necromancer, Rush. This progressive metal song is a highly mystical experience full of weird time signatures and Lord of the Rings-like imagery.
8: I’ve Rationed Well, July Talk. A song written about the male singer Peter’s hometown of Edmonton that is slow and eerily beautiful.
7: I Don’t Get By, The Sheepdogs. A modern rock song with a distinctly 70s-blues influence written by some good old long-haired Saskatchewan boys.
6: Home For A Rest, Spirit Of The West. This is a fun drinking song about being so sick from the drink on vacation in the UK that you need home for a rest. It has a very Celtic vibe due to the fast paced flute throughout the song.
5: Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen. This is possibly one of the most beautiful songs ever written with covers that are just as good as the original. It also happens to be written by my namesake, so maybe I’m biased towards this one.
4: The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot. One of the most epic Canadian songs, this song tells the true story of the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior.
3: My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)/ Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black), Neil Young. Technically two mirrored songs, one acoustic and the other electric, in that respective order. It’s also notable that it was famously quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
2: Nautical Disaster, The Tragically Hip. An incredibly dark song concerning a shipwreck that never fails to give me the shivers, no matter how many times I’ve listened to it.
1: Fiddler’s Green, The Tragically Hip. Honestly, I could make a separate list of all of The Hip’s songs that rival every other song on this list, but it would be all of them. The emotion behind this song is haunting, and the imagery in the lyrics is incredible.