Another Canada Day has come and gone and like many I’m sure, I got caught up with that odd confusing feeling one gets when they think too hard about what it is to be truly Canadian. I don’t want to dive too deep into the subject (God knows I am woefully under qualified) but being a general, all-around, music fan who used to obsessively watch MuchMusic (when they still played music videos), I think I can offer a small contribution to the pursuit of Canadian music. So here is my list of twenty Canadian songs that you have probably never heard before, unless of course you spent your formative years in this country without a cell phone or internet access (the 90’s!). Sure you may have heard of some of the bands, but I can almost guarantee none of these songs are getting any kind of airtime these days, especially not like they used to. So, sit back and enjoy a time warp back to a Canada of yesteryear.
1) The Watchmen (Winterpeg) had a few big hits in their day. Often confused as a Canadian version of Hootie and the Blowfish, they were of course an entirely different band with their own sound. This is All Uncovered off of their 1994 album In the Trees.
2) The Doughboys (Montreal) were not actually made of dough but they did have a couple hits in the early 90’s. This is the upbeat single Shine off of their 1993 album Crush.
3) Junkhouse (Tiger-Cats homefield) released a totally different, but identically titled, song on their 1997 album Fuzz. The video is worth a watch even if the volume is turned off; and no, the lead singer is not Chad Kroeger.
4) Speaking of interesting videos, the Inbreds (Kingston) video for their 1994 song Any Sense of Time (album: Kombinator) is definitely worth a watch for its distinctive qualities. The song is also an interesting test for bass guitarists who may be looking for an unconventional challenge.
5) If someone ever asked me what is the most unappreciated Canadian song of the 90’s I would have to say it is Mystery Machine’s (Vancouver) Brand New Song from their 1996 album 10 Speed. There are elements of shoe-gazer in the song which is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but the changing elements and melodic nature of the tune makes it worth a listen.
6) OK, Bran Van 3000 (Montreal) might not be completely unheard of but their uniqueness and quintessential Canadian 90’sness makes it impossible to leave Drinking in LA off of this list (1997 album: Glee).
7) There is no shortage of Canadian 90’s rap to choose from. Choclair to Kardinal Offishall, or The Rascalz to Saukrates, but the Dream Warriors (T.O.) possess more Canadianess than all of them put together and the song Day in Day Out from their 1994 album Subliminal Simulation is probably their best.
8) Near the end of the 90’s Ivana Santillli (T.O.) started her solo career after leaving the classic Canadian teeny bopper group Bass is Base. I can’t bring myself to include any of their tunes on this list, they really are quite terrible. Her solo track Sun + Moon = Tomorrow (1999 Brown) may not contain very deep lyrics but the groovy beat and hooks makes it a classic unheard Canadian 90’s tune.
9) If you like interesting beats and unconventional music then King Cobb Steelie (Guelph) is the underappreciated Canadian 90’s band for you. The song Rational from the 1997 album Junior Relaxor is unlike anything I’ve heard anywhere else since, definitely worth a listen.
10) When it comes to being unique no one beats Spookey Ruben. If you don’t believe me just watch the video for his 1995 song These Days are Old (Modes of Transportation Vol. 1). I imagine the theme is something along the lines of “how much weird stuff can you fit into 4 minutes”.
11) Coming back to some more mainstream songs, check out this one by the Rainbow Butt Monkeys (real name) from Burlington Ontario who would eventually change their name to Finger 11 and hit it big (no joke, look it up if you don’t believe me). This song is Circles from their 1995 album Letters from Chutney. The verse may be a bit jarring at first but stick around to the chorus and you will hear the budding Finger 11 coming through. The song Danananana from the same album is also worth a listen if you can find it anywhere.
12) Only in Canada could a fiddler, backed up by some more conventional instruments like the bag pipes, make it mainstream. Ashley MacIsaac (Cape Breton) had a series of hits on Canadian radio following the 1995 release of his album Hi™ How Are You Today?, this is the entirely instrumental Brenda Stubbert.
13) Hayden (Thornhill Onatrio) is this lists folkiest entry. Guitarists beware; the tuning on his song Bad as they Seem (Everything I Long For 1995) makes it easier to play overcooked wet noodles loosely stapled to a 2×4.
14) Treble Charger (Sault Ste. Marie) may have ended up making it big but their beginnings were very humble and the band spent many years as an independent act. Another video worth a look for its cinematic qualities alone, the 1997 song Red (Maybe It’s Me) is one of my personal favorites.
15) The Odds (Vancouver) were a staple on MuchMusic during the 90’s with their radio-friendly and catchy tunes. Of all their singles I think I Would Be Your Man (Good Weird Feeling 1995) captures the bands quirky yet powerful voice better than any of the rest.
16) Before Gob (Vancouver) made it to the mainstream with songs like I hear you Calling and Underground they started off as a uniquely Canadian punk act. One of their first songs to get airtime was off of their 1995 album Too Late… No Friends and it was called Soda. The video quality is bad, the recording is terrible, and the lyrics are without any refinement whatsoever (even for punk!), but I am pressed to think of any video that is more “90’s Canadian”.
17) Only in Canada could 3 girls from Vancouver take punk and make it cute. Cub is so unique I don’t think anything like it will ever be seen again. Here is My Chinchilla from their 1993 album Betti-Cola.
18) The Killjoys (Hamilton) should have gone much farther than they did, but even though they didn’t make it big, it wouldn’t have been the 90’s without them. This is Today I hate Everyone off of Starry (1994).
19) Gandharvas (London) was not Canada’s answer to Nirvana but they did pull off a couple good tunes in their day. This is a very unique song indeed and worth a quick look. The First Day of Spring from the 1994 release A Soap Bubble and Inertia.
20) 54-40 (Vancouver) is arguably the Canadian band of the 90’s. In fact they would have canceled the whole decade without them. They are exceptionally talented and very versatile musicians that were huge in their day, but few people seem to have heard of them and I am struggling to think of the last time I heard one of their heavier songs on the radio. For people who know them for their more upbeat songs like Ocean Pearl, this song may be a bit off a shock. This is Blame your Parents from Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret (1994).
Bonus Track.) What happens when you cross second rate Canadian rap with amateur heavy metal? Raggadeath (Toronto). I can’t do it any justice trying to explain it, just have a listen to Dance with the Devil (1997).
I’m fully expecting to get some angry responses from Tragically Hip, Great Big Sea, Crash test Dummies, Bare Naked Ladies, Tea Party, Age of Electric, Matt Good, and Our Lady Peace fans (maybe even some Nickleback fans), but the thing is I could only pick 20 songs and I wanted to focus on the tunes that haven’t got airplay since Seinfeld was in production. Also, these are the songs that first came to mind when I think of esoteric Canadiana (they also had available YouTube videos). I would have liked to include Sarah Harmer’s band Weeping Tile but there isn’t much of a recorded history left on the internet. If I expanded the list I would have also mentioned Artificial Joy Club, Legion of Green Men, The Pursuit of Happiness, Philosopher Kings, I Mother Earth, Big Sugar, Dayna Manning, The Rankin Family, Meryn Cadell, Loreena McKinnet, Sarah McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Moist (even though David Usher’s vocals make my ears cry tears of vomit) among many others. This is what I got. I hope you enjoyed the trip back to a time when there was a lot more plaid, jeans were supposed to be baggy not skinny, and headphones were large because they had to be, not because they looked retro.
Image CC t r e v y on Flickr