A Completely Biased Ranking of the 60 Best CanRock Songs Ever, Part I
From Big Wreck to Moist and all the way back to the Tea Party, here are the hits you wanted to forget in one place.
Canadian music is probably at its best ever right now in 2016. There's Drake, there's Grimes, there's Bieber, there's Carly Rae, there's Mac DeMarco, there's the Weeknd, there's still a thriving Quebec metal scene, there are all of those inspiring producers popping up out of Toronto's 'burbs, there's a booming hip-hop movement in fucking Saskatchewan, and there's everything that's been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. What a time to be alive and Canadian, eh? But knowing all of that is around me, why do I constantly find myself reverting back to all of those Canadian rock bands from 20 years ago? In case you've been too busy following Canada's music of the present and future, the nation's past has been quietly gaining substantial attention. There is a new documentary currently in the stages of being crowd-funded called Rave & Drool (named after a song by CanRockers the Killjoys), which focuses on CanRock – from its extraordinary ascent at the height of the alternative culture boom to its just as extraordinary descent at the hands of a pop-obsessed new millennium. On top of that, a new book is being published that explores MuchMusic's Big Shiny Tunes compilation series, not to mention a Toronto-based band that both named itself after the comp and also covers its songs.
So, why all the renewed interest in CanRock? Well, we love nostalgia for one. A lot of the fans have never stopped listening. But it's also coming from the original bands themselves. We all just finished watching as CanRock's biggest act the Tragically Hip said goodbye on their farewell tour.
And reunion tours are big business and CanRock has had quite a few of them recently: Moist, Rusty, the Tea Party and just a few months ago, I Mother Earth returned with Edwin to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Scenery & Fish. And although they're technically a new band, indie rockers TUNS is comprised of CanRock royalty: the Inbreds' Mike O'Neill, the Super
Friendz's Matt Murphy and Sloan's Chris Murphy. As well, a number of recent and forthcoming vinyl reissues have hit the market from Matthew Good Band, Eric's Trip, Limblifter and Our Lady Peace. In light of all of this, we present a completely biased list of the 60 best CanRock songs, carefully selected between the arbitrary years of 1993 and 1999. Of course, some of these
artists are deserving of more than one song on a list such as this, but we needed to implement some kind of rule.
This is part one. Part Two is here.
60. Moist "Silver"
Every music scene needs its drama queen, and for CanRock that was Vancouver's Moist. Frontman David Usher was a histrionic ninny at times, but his emotionally charged vocals were considered deeply profound and cathartic to his fans—and laughably exaggerated and insincere to his critics. Moist were never not as serious as a heart attack, no song better exemplified this than the title track to their 1994 debut album. Their unwavering gravity definitely made them unique amongst their peers.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Yes, but only in retrospect on Big Shiny '90s Volume 2.
59. Age of Electric "Remote Control"
Where Age of Electric are concerned I'd argue that "Untitled" was better and the cock-rockin' "Ugly" was their most popular tune, but both lacked the gimmick of "Remote Control." With that silly chorus, this song secured its status. When among friends you can still mount any couch and yell, "Where's my remote control?" and someone in the room will start singing along. Trust me, 18 years later and this is still something people do here in Canada.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? But of course—Big Shiny Tunes 2.
58. Serial Joe "Mistake"
Teenage rap-rockers Serial Joe were impressively bang on with their timing, emerging just as nu-metal was exploding. And that timing helped them score a Woodstock '99 appearance, astonishingly. Although it was a bit soppy, the grunge-y, "Mistake" scored them an alt-hit and probably made them pin-ups for a few tweens across Canada. Yes, it sounded like Silverchair but that was much more palatable than their RATM-aping first single, "Skidrow."
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Duh, all the girls probably flocked to go out and by the Big Shiny Tunes 4 CD.
57. The Tea Party "The River"
When the Tea Party first appeared with "The River," there were two things people talked about. The first was how much the singer was parroting Jim Morrison, and the second was legitimately questioning if they were occult practitioners. Despite the pretence, I still love it when the chorus kicks in and how this song winds down with some chaos. After this, the Tea Party became one of Canada's biggest rock bands for about a decade. However, to me they will always be remembered not for their music, but for turning down a $1 million U.S. offer from the right-wing political party of the same name for their domain, teaparty.com. Surely they could have come up with an alternate URL.Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Sadly, not this one. But four other tunes were big and shiny enough.
56. Sandbox "Curious"
Did you know that Bubbles, the weirdo with the Coke bottle glasses from Trailer Park Boys, had a CanRock band? They were called Sandbox and they had one song that still gets played on Canadian rock radio constantly. And this is that one song.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Considering how many spins it gets to this day that is a bit of a shock.
55. Bran Van 3000 "Drinking In L.A."
Bran Van 3000 were a collective that were and still are huge in their home province of Quebec. In the mid-to-late '90s there were a shit ton of artists trying to sound like Beck (see also Son, the early project of Chilly Gonzales) and Bran Van were one of them. I guess it worked considering they managed to score a pretty massive international hit with "Drinking In L.A." A lot of people didn't (ever) realize that BV3K were even Canadian, which might make them one of the few global success stories on this list. Anyway, I feel like this song will never die because of summer and alcohol.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Are you kidding me? See Big Shiny Tunes 2.
54. The Watchmen "All Uncovered"
The Canadian prairies were a pretty underrepresented region for CanRock. Maybe it's simply because this video looks like it was shot in Winnipeg the Watchmen always felt like the archetypal prairies band. Anyway, this song wasn't quite the rocker as "Run and Hide," "Boneyard Tree" or "Stereo," and that's probably why I like it. This band was better when they got introspective.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, apparently the Watchmen failed to meet the big and/or shiny quotient.
53. The Headstones "When Something Stands For Nothing"
The Headstones always looked like a bunch of Clash fans but sounded like a hard-living bar band. Frontman Hugh Dillion's "badass punk" shtick felt a bit forced on stage, but just watch him as Joe Dick in Hard Core Logo and he'll sway you. Turns out, the guy was a better actor than he was a frontman, which is likely why he put music on hold to star in shows like Durham County and the third season of The Killing where he stole the show. (I never watched Flashpoint.) Plus, he made good choices, like staying away from Hard Core Logo 2. What to say about this song? It has a cool harmonica solo.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. The Headstones were never shiny. More snarly.
52. Econoline Crush "TDM"
Canada is responsible for two of industrial music's greatest contributors: Skinny Puppy and Frontline Assembly - which was really a Skinny Puppy offshoot. Econoline Crush were not one of them. In fact, after their first release, the 1994 EP Purge, Econoline Crush transitioned into a more of a straight rock band. But their first single "TDM" was industrial-ish, and yeah, it sounded like a complete knock-off of Ministry's "N.W.O." but that hook in the chorus is still huge. Go figure that their best song didn't make their 2010 best-of compilation.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Not this one, but their later, industrial-lite work scored three comp appearances.
51. Scratching Post "Bloodflame"
London, Ontario's Scratching Post married chunky hard rock riffage and the saccharine vocals of Nicole Hughes, which produced a pretty cool dynamic. Hughes also had some vibrantly dyed hair, which made her a bit of an alt-style icon for Canadian teens. "Bloodflame" was a fairly big hit, thanks in part to significant video play by Much and a key musical performance on one of television's biggest CanRock supporters, Jonovision. Also, shout out to their label Squirtgun Records, which released so many good 7" singles as well as the More Of Our Stupid Noise comp series and albums by the awesome Radioblaster.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Hard to believe, but nah.
50. Our Lady Peace "Naveed"
Our Lady Peace, or OLP for the die-hards, were CanRock's poster boys. Led by pretty boy Raine Maida, they were a pretty traditional rock band, but Maida's signature yodelling wail gave them some distinction. OLP were always garbage at choosing first singles though, and their best, "Naveed," was inexplicably the fifth single lifted from their debut album's fifth single. I should point out that this song also features much less yodelling, which might have something to do with it being their best.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, but they had two other songs appear on later comps. I am also surprised that OLP only ever had two big shiny tunes.
49. Limblifter "Tinfoil"
The Dahle brothers always seemed way too cool to be in Age of Electric, so when they launched the more alt-rock-oriented Limblifter on the side, it felt like a real a-ha moment. (I can't say the same for the Kerns brothers' Static in Stereo, which sounded exactly like AoE.) I always struggled to figure out the lyrics to "Tinfoil" and when I eventually Googled them I was surprised to discover that they were just as weird as I thought. From what I can tell, this song is kinda, sorta about keeping your mayonnaise fresh, which I'll admit, is important.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Oh hell yeah. The inaugural Big Shiny Tunes. Them's bragging rights.
48. Smoother "Jurk"
Hamilton's Smoother could be the most obscure band on this list - although maybe you caught them performing their forgettable 2000 single "East Side" on The Mike Bullard Show But for a year or two in the early '90s, Smoother were arguably Hamilton's buzziest indie band. Signed to Sonic Unyon, they were originally called Sponge, until the Detroit band of the same name that sounded like Stone Temple Pilots threatened legal action. A couple of releases – 1993's Trendbender and 1994's Copycat – verified the hype. "Jurk" wasn't exactly a breakout hit by any stretch of the imagination, but it really captures the buoyancy of what the YouTube poster for this song calls "happycore." Fun fact: I went to high school with the blonde girl in this video.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, instead it appeared on Sonic Unyon's proto-Big Shiny Tunes comp, Rock Hits.
47. 13 Engines "Smoke & Ashes"
13 Engines were already on to their third album when the CanRock era began, and although big things were expected from the Toronto band both north and south of the border, it never really happened for the four-piece. Because of their inability to meet commercial expectations and their sound, I consider them to be Canada's version of Luna. Their fourth album, Perpetual Motion Machine, did mark somewhat of a domestic breakthrough for the band, thanks to an impressive run of singles, most notably "Smoke & Ashes." And while 1995's "Beneath My Hand" may have been their best song, "Smoke & Ashes" is the first song I ever crowd-surfed to, so for that reason alone it wins this spot.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, and it's not a surprise. Luna never made it either.
46. Huevos Rancheros "Gump Worsley's Lament"
Like Canada's greatest instrumental rock band of all-time, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, Huevos Rancheros were "not a fucking surf rock band." You can hear some Dick Dale in the Huevos repertoire, but this vocal-less band blended a variety of different styles in their sound: rockabilly, grunge, lounge and spaghetti western. Named after the famous Montreal Canadiens goaltender, "Gump Worsley's Lament" demonstrates just how much these Calgarians could shred. They let it rip for three minutes solid. In a perfect world, kids would grow up learning how to play this song instead of fucking "Smoke On The Water."
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? What could've been a great leftfield addition to one of the comps ended up being a nah.
45. Duotang "Slowdown"
Winnipeg's Duotang were not only significant for being one of only a few duos in CanRock, but they were also the best-dressed duo (sorry Inbreds), and maybe even best-dressed band in all of CanRock. Rod Slaughter and Sean Allum styled themselves like mods and even drove Vespas, but instead of sounding like the Kinks or the Who they had more of a grungy, post-hardcore angle to their music. It may have been provinces away from the Halifax explosion, but "Slowdown" had a distinctively East Coast ring to it. And I've gotta give props where deserved: If you're going to name your band after a brand of school binders, Duotang is a way better than both Trapper Keeper and Finder Binder. Smart choice!
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, probably too mod to make it.
44. Punchbuggy "Lucky Me, Lucky You"
If you take a look at that CD copy of the Freddy Got Fingered soundtrack in your media storage tower, you'll notice that Punchbuggy's "Lucky Me, Lucky You" is the album's tenth song. I'm guessing that's because the movie's writer, director and star Tom Green was probably a fan and likely even friends with Punchbuggy, seeing as they were both from Ottawa. Nevertheless, Punchbuggy were a pretty awesome power-pop-punk band led by one of Canada's most underrated songwriters, Jim Bryson. Their 1994 album, All Nite Christian Rollerskate, which also features this song, is awesome.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Just nah.
43. Bif Naked "Moment of Weakness"
I'm not sure why, but when you Google "Bif Naked" in Images, a selection of "big snakes eating people" comes up as a result. Anyway, Bif Naked is many things - musician, actress, TV host, cancer survivor, and as a result, motivational speaker – but she's also one of CanRock's most animated characters. With a heavily-tatted body and an provocative approach, she was often recognized as a punker, but her music was all sorts. "Moment of Weakness" is an irresistible jam that shares the same kind of pop-punk spark as Tragic Kingdom-era No Doubt. Okay, it sounds exactly like that album.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? What is so obviously her biggest and shiniest tune failed to make it. But "I Love Myself Today" appeared on Big Shiny Tunes 6. Inconceivable.
42. By Divine Right "Come For A Ride"
José Contreras has been recording as By Divine Right since 1989, and he probably deserves an award for such longevity. "Come For A Ride" is probably the band's only recognizable song, but it will forever have bragging rights for featuring Leslie Feist and Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning. Their involvement shouldn't steal all of the spotlight, because this is one hella catchy song. But their appearance in the video as donut bakers sure does. Because no donut baker has ever been as elated as these guys. Gotta love Contreras' perpetual head wiggle.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. But had MuchMusic known at the time that Feist would become Canada's indie darling, they likely would have.
41. King Cobb Steelie "Triple Oceanic Experience"
Guelph, Ontario's King Cobb Steelie deserve the distinction of being CanRock's most cult-y band. Their music attracts a fan base that is deeply passionate about musicianship, obviously because of this band's ability to fuse and experiment with genres (jazz, funk, dub, electro, rock). Even though "Rational" found a bigger audience, I'm going with "Triple Oceanic Experience" here because 22 years after hearing this song, I still get its frenetic guitar riff in my head on a consistent basis.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, nah, nah.
40. I Mother Earth "One More Astronaut"
I Mother Earth were a bit of an anomaly when they dropped their 1993 debut, Dig. I viewed them as a Canadian Alice In Chains for some reason, probably because they were a bit grunge-y, and a bit metal, as they were played on MuchMusic's metal show Power 30 . But that seemed to change when they released their sophomore album, 1996'sScenery & Fish. Maybe it's because frontman Edwin cut off his long hair, but "One More Astronaut" marked a seismic shift for the band. It was also super fucking weird because IME flirted with so many different styles. I mean, the rhythm section alone wanders funk, prog rock and even a bit of jazz in the track's mid-section. In fact, just writing that makes me realize just how progressive they were, especially at that moment in time.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Obviously! This was a legit banger. First track, first Big Shiny Tunes, baby!
39. hHead "Flower"
Yet another band that Brendan Canning played in before Broken Social Scene. hHead were formed by the BSS bassist and singer/guitarist Noah Mintz in 1991 as an acoustic duo, but wisely progressed into a loud, grunge band. The sludgy guitars and deep low-end of "Flower" are a strong reminder of just how much heavier their sound was before they signed to a major and eventually fizzled out. Shame about having to change the spelling of their name though. No one was a fan of that lower-case "h."
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, too early for the series, and too unknown/indie for the Big Shiny 90s comps.
38. Salmonblaster "Freeway"
Salmonblaster were sadly short-lived, but thanks to this beast of a post-grunge rager they rocked MuchMusic's world and for one fleeting period in 1996 were "Toronto's best-selling indie act" – despite calling London home. They didn't last long enough to record a second album, but they did manage to perform on the Tom Green Show, which may or may not have led to their demise.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Despite love from Much, they weren't big enough. May have gotten votes for their shine, however.
37. Barenaked Ladies "The Old Apartment"
Despite their once controversial name , Barenaked Ladies were a band for all ages back in the early '90s. They were disgustingly popular at the time and really helped pave the way for independent music in Toronto. Their 1992 debut, Gordon, was crammed with hits that made them a bit of a novelty band, but that notion began to fade with 1994's Born On A Pirate Ship. "The Old Apartment" was their first hit in the U.S., thanks to its mature theme and well, a music video directed by superfan, Jason Priestley.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Yes. I bet Brandon Walsh flashed his winning pearly white smile and just like that it was on Big Shiny '90s Volume 2.
36. Rheostatics "Claire"
Rheostatics were kinda the CanRock band for literary freaks. They wrote profoundly meaningful and poetic lyrics with deep connections to Canadian history (i.e. they once released a tribute album to the Group of Seven and wrote a ballad about Toronto Maple Leaf, Wendel Clark). And maybe because of all that, pretty much every fan of theirs I've ever known has been considerably older than me. But "Claire" was that one Rheostatics song that had broad appeal and won over just about anyone that heard it. I'd argue that it's the most beautiful song on this list.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, too erudite.
35. Len "Candy Pop"
For a minute, just forget about "Steal My Sunshine." Sure 17 years later it's still better than whatever wins "song of the summer" honours, but before that Len released a pretty solid album of goofy fuzz pop called Superstar. "Candy Pop" was the single, and its boy (Marc Costanzo) and girl (Sharon Costanzo) vocals were gooey grunge goodness. Of course, I didn't realize they were siblings when I first heard it, so that later confused me. Nevertheless "Candy Pop" might just be the only great CanRock song of 1995 to namedrop one of my favourite chewy sour candies ("Got cherry blasters in my head").
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Of course nah. But astonishingly, neither did "Steal My Sunshine."
34. The Killjoys "Dana"
The Killjoys were Hamilton's most popular band for a stretch in the mid-'90s. Like their blue collar hometown, they weren't exactly fashionable, but man, could they write catchy power pop. It's a bit of a toss up between "Dana" and the T-shirt-friendly "Today I Hate Everyone," but the former isn't just a great CanRock song, it should really be considered one of power pop's finest, period. Fun fact: My mom taught frontman Mike Trebilcock in elementary school.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, but "Rave + Drool" did on the OG edition.
33. Shallow North Dakota "Odd"
Shallow North Dakota (fka Shallow) were one of Sonic Unyon's earlier bands, and easily their loudest. Much like Helmet, they made noise rock that was loud and punishing, but not disaffecting. While they were treated as a bit of a curiosity in their local music scene, Shallow quietly became an influential band in the noise and metal community outside of Canada with their trio of albums. Since there is a video for it, "Odd" was I guess the single from 1994's awesomely titled Auto Body Crusher. Fun fact: My mom also taught their guitarist.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? And scare off all of the Moist fans? Nah.
32. Zumpano "I Dig You"
It's amazing how many people that love the New Pornographers are not familiar with Carl Newman's earlier work. You might get a pass if you've never heard Hit Songs For Girls by his first band Superconductor, but how could you miss Zumpano? They were signed to Sub Pop! Named after drummer Jason Zumpano, this quartet wrote a proficiently arranged mix of power pop and baroque pop laced with overdose levels of melody. Take one listen to single "I Dig You" and you'll immediately be able to connect the dots between Zumpano and New Porno.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Umm, they were on Sub Pop, so nah.
31. The New Grand "Yours Truly"
London, Ontario's the New Grand were one of the most exciting bands to see live back in the day, and that was completely due to the melodic indie rock band's unrestricted energy. "Yours Truly" wasn't even on an album of theirs nor was it a single, so this could be the most unfamiliar song on this list. Instead it appeared on the Squirtgun Records' More Of Our Stupid Noise comp. But they call them earworms for a reason, and this one embedded itself in my ear 20 years ago and to this day it comes to mind at the weirdest of times. So there.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, but they were on More Of Our Stupid Noise, which may not have been as lucrative but is worth a million bucks in indie cred.
Cam Lindsay is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.