A Completely Biased Ranking of the 60 Best CanRock Songs Ever, Part 2
Continuing our journey through the world of 90s Canadiana.
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 to keep it from getting out of hand.
This is part two, you can find part one here. (Whoops)
30. Raggadeath "One Life To Live"
Toronto's Raggadeath arrived when rap-rock was still in its infancy. Rage Against the Machine, Biohazard Bodycount and the Judgment Night had all laid the foundation, but even still, Raggadeath were unique. A supergroup founded by super-engineer/producer Walter Sobsczak, drummer/DJ Steve Kendall and members of industrial rock act Monster Voodoo Machine, the group melded rapping and crunchy metal riffs with dancehall and reggae rhythms when something like that was virtually unthinkable – and cool. Featuring a cast of vocalists, it was pioneering Toronto MC Michie Mee that really made Raggadeath a sensation. They had a few singles, but "One Life To Live" was the hit, with its posi message of survival. Michie kills it.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Really, it could've qualified for the original comp, but nah. They waited for Serial Joe and Kid Rock before they started considering rap-rock.
29. Grasshopper "Glass Eater"
Derek Madison is one of Toronto indie music's greatest self-promoters. When he was running his band Grasshopper in the early 1990s, Madison postered every inch of the city and handed out stickers featuring the band's name and a Marvel Comics character. But he and his band also made some tremendously riled and distorted noise pop over the span of three years that peaked with the release of their one and only LP, 1994's Stereovision. That repetitive, knuckle-scraping riff in "Glass Eater" is still one of my all-time favourites.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. I imagine this would just irritate the Foo Fighter fans.
28. Mystery Machine "Brand New Song"
Vancouver's Mystery Machine were loud, noisy and melodic, in the same vein as Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth and Smile-era Ride. Their 1993 debut album, Glazed, is deserving of cult status, but it was their follow-up 1996's serener 10 Speed that nearly saw the band score a hit in "Brand New Song." This quixotic tune featured some irresistible cascading guitar noise that scored some regular rotation on alt-radio and MuchMusic. Fun fact: The B-side to this song's 7" was an ill-advised cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" featuring Kristy Thirsk of Rose Chronicles.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Like garage rock and East Coast indie rock, Big Shiny Tunes didn't welcome shoegaze with open arms.
27. The Gandharvas "The First Day of Spring"
I fully believe that if you polled 100 Canadians that grew up as teens in the 1990s on their favourite CanRock song, "The First Day of Spring" would have a fighting chance to take #1 on this list. This song has a feverish cult following – people just fucking love it - and while it was a sizeable hit for them back in 1994, I, like most people, couldn't name another song by this London, Ontario band. This song recalls Jane's Addiction a little, and I suppose it does kinda rule. Well, not really since it's at #27. But it's great.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Not even the Big Shiny '90s. Obviously these comps weren't decided by the fans I know.
26. cub "My Chinchilla"
Vancouver's cub were the poster children of the cuddlecore movement, a strand of indie pop that was just too adorable to be classified as twee. It was pretty short-lived, but then again so was cub. Their debut LP was cutesily named Betti-Cola and featured an illustration of them performing on the cover, drawn by Dan DeCarlo, the man behind Archie Comics. To show just how cuddly they were, they wrote this song called "My Chinchilla" – named after the cutest rodent ever – which repeats the line, "Satan sucks, but you're the best!" That's cuddlecore for you. I can't believe I wrote all of that without mentioning that Neko Case was briefly their drummer, which is a fun fact, by the way.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Way too cuddly.
25. Rusty "Misogyny"
Rusty were a pretty meaty and dependable grunge band led by Ken MacNeil's dreadlocks. They received ample play on alt-radio and MuchMusic, and even scored a U.S. record deal. Often their videos tended to overshadow the music. "Empty Cell" starred future famous people Danko Jones and Floria Sigusmondi, but "Misogyny" was a real shock to the system for 1995. It might be hard to believe, but it wasn't customary to watch scenes from a gay porn flick on daytime television back then, and that's what this video featured. Rusty used clips from Hustler White by Toronto queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce – who appears in the video pining for Madonna's ex, model Tony Ward. Surprisingly, this wasn't too much for Much, which aired it constantly. Oh and the song rips too.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Unlike the video, this was too much for Much to include.
24. Odds "Heterosexual Man"
Picking one Odds song is a tall order. The Vancouver band were a real singles machine throughout the '90s. But "Heterosexual Man" wins not just because it was a catchy song, but because it had great intentions: to make macho dudes insecure about their sexuality. Better yet was the casting of the Kids in the Hall in the fabulously gender-bending video for the song.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, not this track, but two other songs made comps, which doesn't seem like enough.
23. Kittens "Great Dane"
Winnipeg's Kittens were the kindred spirits of Hamilton's Shallow North Dakota. They toured together and released a split album called Rhinoceros Love for No List in 1996. Kittens were a bit like Melvins, as in weird and erratic but always heavy as fuck. And that argument was made loud and clear on their wacky 1997 album, Bazooka & The Hustler. "Great Dane" was the single and as noisy and belligerent as it is, there's a groove and a proper verse-chorus-verse structure in there that makes it eligible for CanRock inclusion.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. But wouldn't that have been something if it had.
22. Alanis Morissette "Ironic"
Everyone will tell you that "You Oughta Know" was the track that erased memories of Alanis as the teenage hairspray queen, but I felt "Ironic" was the standout on Jagged Little Pill. Even the fact that Alanis had the same inability to define irony as Winona Ryder in Reality Bites , it's still a bona fide karaoke jam. In fact, it's more fun to sing it knowing how wrong she is on almost every situation she sang about. Even more fun can be had by reading the annotated lyrics for it on Genius.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. And I bet it's because there was one Dave Coulier apologist at Much that wasn't yet over the whole "You Oughta Know" speculation.
21. Big Wreck "That Song"
You want real irony, look to Big Wreck and their 1998 hit "That Song." It feels like frontman Ian Thornley was tempting fate when he chose such a title for his one and only hit. [Cue the tireless joke about loving "that song" but forgetting the name of it.] Though it's the same kind of meat-headed post-grunge as their Albertan peers Nickelback, "That Song" is so puzzlingly awesome. It likely has to do with the lyrics now being super-meta: "So I always get nostalgic with that song… I really love that tune / Man, I love that song."
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Fuck yeah! Big Shiny Tunes 3. Really, the comps should've been called Big Shiny That Songs.
20. Tricky Woo "Fly The Orient"
Garage rock wasn't universally cool when Tricky Woo emerged from Montreal in the late '90s (it needed a couple more years to get there). At the tail end of the decade though, they released an album that should have been the one to beat the White Stripes to the punch. Sometimes I Cry was rip-snorting fun, thanks in large to the blistering anthem "Fly The Orient" and its ridiculously frenzied chorus. I can't believe this song was never commissioned for an ad of some sort. Like an all-terrain vehicle or energy drink.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Big Shiny Tunes only welcomed one garage rock band into its fold and that was the Hives.
19. Pluto "Paste"
Pluto were the CanRock band that was poised enough to stay in favour with the indie rock community and also taste some mainstream success. They were initially on Mint, which earned them the indie cred, and when they graduated to Virgin they put out a damn fine self-titled album of punky power pop led by the effervescent "Paste." I must've listened to this song a thousand times in 1996, and still could not figure out what the hell it was about. Fun fact: There are quite a few bands that have been named Pluto.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Amazingly yes! Volume one even.
18. Hardship Post "My Only Aim"
St. John's, Newfoundland's Hardship Post were one of CanRock's biggest what ifs. They amazed everyone with their Murderecords-released Hack, which was recorded with Rick White of Eric's Trip. This led to a deal with Sub Pop, and while their only LP, 1995's Somebody Spoke, was both different and great, it couldn't quite live up to the sky-high expectations. They seemed to catch the drift pretty early on and just gave up. But "My Only Aim" seems to be a real cult classic with its feisty blitz of fuzzed out guitars and singer Sebastian Lippa's passionately mumbled message.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Like garage rock, Big Shiny Tunes didn't welcome East Coast indie rock with open arms.
17. Plumtree "Scott Pilgrim"
If you're not familiar with this song I bet you're wondering which came first: the comic-turned-film (and totally underrated one at that) or the song? Answer: Plumtree's Carla Gillis came up with the character as a bit of an inside joke. Originally released as a split single with the Inbreds in 1996, eight years later Bryan Lee O'Malley began writing his acclaimed graphic novel. But never mind the story behind how the song got famous, the song itself is a perfect depiction of the obsession that comes with a teenage crush. That simple melody and lyrical refrain ("I've liked you for a thousand years, a thousand years") made it one of the best tunes to come out of the Halifax pop explosion.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, and I'm sure the band is fine with it considering the comic and film made them known internationally. I doubt Big Shiny Tunes did that for any band.
16. Tristan Psionic "Black Psabbath Psong"
That's not a spelling error. The Sonic Unyon linchpins liked to slap a "p" in front of words beginning with "s" to keep with their enigmatic name (see their cassette Pslop). And despite its name, the song wasn't as much a tribute to Ozzy and Iommi as it was to My Bloody Valentine's overdriven guitar tricks and Sonic Youth's driving rock structures. Fun fact: I once DJed the afterparty for a Tristan Psionic show at the short-lived Zaphod's 2 club in Ottawa.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Like Smoother, this one also appeared on the superior Rock Hits.
15. SIANspheric "I Like the Ride"
Burlington space rockers SIANspheric have one of the most amazing stories in all of CanRock, which you can read here. Their story is a real rollercoaster ride, much like the progression of their song "I Like the Ride" from 1995's Somnium. There is a deceptive calmness that climbs to a peak before it goes full into butterfly-inducing drops, corkscrews and dizzying loops. For a band that liked to trip out and ride their delay and reverb pedals, this was as direct as they got.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. See above.
14. Hayden "Trees Lounge"
I suppose "Bad As They Seem" is Hayden's hit and deservedly so. It was the song that took off, made him such a indie pinup that his fans insisted on sitting for his shows, and won him a record deal from Neil Young – which he fucking declined!!! But there's something about "Trees Lounge" that makes it stand out more to me. Maybe it was that Steve Buscemi personally commissioned the track for his film, or that Chloë Sevigny was in that film fresh from KIDS, or maybe it was the charming AF video starring all of the barflies from the film. But it's likely that this tune was the first taste Hayden being a huge star in the making. Of course, that's not what ended up happening, but who doesn't still love Hayden?
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? It really should have but nah. Probably too dour.
13. Gob "Soda"
Punk didn't really mix with CanRock all that much, but one band that managed to get through the cracks was Langley, BC's Gob. Although they've had a few minor hits in their career - 2000's "I Hear You Calling" is hands down better than anything Sum 41 ever recorded – "Soda" has the greatest one-liner in Canadian music's history. "I want to jump in a lake!" is such an influential line in the song that last year frontman Tom Thacker told us they still get bombarded with it on a regular basis. Of course, the fact that they threw some lake-jumping stunts into the video secured its legacy.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Appallingly, nah, but they eventually got one on Big Shiny Tunes 9.
12. The Super Friendz "Karate Man"
Like Sloan, the Super Friendz were also East Coast pop rock heroes, also on Murderecords and also featured a songwriting democracy where each member sang and wrote their own songs. In fact, Sloan's Chris Murphy was their drummer for a period. But the Super Friendz were notable because of their distinct ear for melody and tight AF playing. Oh and Matt Murphy's sky high leg kicks. "Karate Man" is a fluid power pop gem with a contagious chorus that seems to just pop in my head whenever I hear the word "karate."
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah.
11. Pure "Anna Is A Speed Freak"
Vancouver's Pure were always a little goofy with their lyrics, and there's no better example than "Anna Is A Speed Freak." (It was released in the U.S. as the less direct, less drug-referencing "Anna.") And yet somehow they managed to cram that ridiculous title into one of the best sing-along choruses in CanRock. Obviously, this was a song that probably couldn't have been pulled off in any other decade than the '90s, but put it on now and you'll see that this crunchy tune has still got its bite.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. Despite winning a MuchMusic Video Music Award a few years earlier, Pure were never esteemed by the series.
10. Jale "Not Happy"
I think it's safe to say that Jale existed thanks to Sloan, but once they were up and running the Halifax quartet really became their own band. Signed by Sub Pop in the great early '90s signing frenzy, Jale did some remarkable things in their three brief years together. They released a bunch of 7"s as well as two albums, but nothing was as memorable as the lead single from their debut album, Dreamcake. I'm not convinced there is a better opening riff in CanRock than the one that kicks off "Not Happy." Oozing out some Big Muff fuzz, it's the kind of monster riff that makes amplifiers give up and explode.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. I'm sure in BST language "Not Happy" meant the same thing as "Not Shiny."
9. The Inbreds "You Will Know"
The thing about Kingston duo the Inbreds was just how simple they made everything. As they once pointed out to us, there was no reason to expand beyond the two of them because Mike O'Neill and Dave Ullrich were able to fill enough space with their bass and drums set-up. "You Will Know" is a perfect demonstration of this strategy; with its bouncy rhythm and sinuous melodies, this was a band that knew how to do quite a lot with so little.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, and this is probably where I should say that the closer we get to #1, the fewer big and/or shiny tunes.
8. Treble Charger "Red"
Quite possibly the only band or thing other than hockey players to ever come out of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Treble Charger were originally called nc17 before some other band with the same name threatened to sue. In the beginning, they were a tremendous power pop band that signed to Sonic Unyon, only to turn around, give in to major label temptation and towards the end fail to become Sum 41 – a band managed by Treble Charger's own Greig Nori. But Treble Charger have arguably the greatest ballad of the era in "Red." In fact, the song was so great, it was released on three different albums by the band. Flaunt it if you've got it.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Okay, now it's getting out of hand. Another one from Rock Hits. But they also had a song on Big Shiny Tunes 5. Best of both worlds.
7. Eric's Trip "View Master"
By using such meagre resources, Moncton's Eric's Trip had probably the least commercial appeal out of any of these CanRock acts. However, I also tend to think they were the most influential band, even ahead of Sloan. They weren't exactly a singles band, so "View Master" really wins out because A) It's probably the closest thing they ever had to a proper single, B) The video for it is just so damn perfect, and C) That shred-fest at the two-minute mark is so fucking good!
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Just the thought of it is worth a good laugh, but nah.
6. Thrush Hermit "French Inhale"
I don't mean to keep going on about bodacious guitar riffs, but man does "French Inhale" ever have one. The first time I saw the video for this song I became obsessed: that bright pink performance room, the band's amateurish Bowie-esque makeup, the French inhaling, the French kissing, the living room wrestling matches and that creepy dude with the blood dripping from his tongue. According to singer Rob Benvie, "'French Inhale' is about a skate-punk girl I briefly went out with when I was 16. She was from downtown [Halifax] and intimidating. I dumped her on Christmas Eve. The chord progression is meant to be happy, then sad, then sort of evil. Much like love." An evil love song? Nothing beats that. Fun fact: I interviewed Thrush Hermit three times for my teenage fanzine.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah, and I had to triple check if some of their later work was included but still nah. For shame.
5. Chixdiggit "Where's Your Mom?"
Ask me when I'm in the right mood and I could possibly let it slip that Chixdiggit's "Where's Your Mom?" is my straight-up favourite song ever. Ask me every second of every day and I will tell you that Chixdiggit are not only Canada's most underrated band ever, but also Canada's best pop-punk band ever (Sum 41, Propagandhi and the Weakerthans, whatever). Not only do these Calgarians write about Canada in clever and hilarious ways (see every album of theirs), they write Ginsu-sharp hooks. Their self-titled, Sub Pop-released debut album is a stone-cold classic and a large reason for that is this song. Also, the video features the band giving away puppies from the stage. You can read all about that here https://noisey.vice.com/en_ca/article/chixdiggit-twenty-five-year-anniversary-interview-2016, by the way.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? As much as Big Shiny Tunes loved pop-punk, they infuriatingly overlooked one of the genre's greatest songs ever.
4. Doughboys "Shine"
Back in the '80s, Doughboys were a proper Montreal punk band, sharing a kinship with a band like Goo Goo Dolls. And like their Buffalo-bred kindred spirits, they too made a bid to become more accessible in 1993 by signing a major label deal for their album, Crush. First single "Shine" became an immediate hit with rock radio and MuchMusic, which even commissioned the song as the theme for their alternative music video show, The Wedge. Like a shot in the arm, this song was a massive jolt of energy for both fans and band, refining the sound they'd long had and introducing them a whole new audience.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Nah. It predates the series by three years, but that's what Big Shiny '90s was for.
3. The Tragically Hip "Grace, Too"
The Tragically Hip will forever be Canada's Band™. If that ever needed corroborating it definitely happened this past year with their final tour. The Hip were therefore the face of CanRock and a perfect example of how no matter how big they were internally, this period of music never fully made it across the border. Picking one defining Hip song is a toughie ("Nautical Disaster" and "Ahead By A Century" were contenders), but it's tough to argue with "Grace, Too." It was the song they chose to play on Saturday Night Live, and it's hard not to feel some sort of national pride when you hear Gord switch the lyric, "He said I'm fabulously rich" with "He said I'm Tragically Hip," like a proper introduction the outside world needed.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Fuckin' nah! Can you believe it? They never had one track on any edition.
2. Sloan "The Good In Everyone"
Like the Hip, singling out one Sloan song is a hard task. Do you go with the befuddling wordplay ("Three cans of water perverts me") and tangled harmonies of "Coax Me"? Future Shop's "Money City Maniacs"? Nah, it's gotta be "The Good In Everyone," a song that not only announced that Sloan were back after nearly ending the band for good, but also a song that packed an unexpected blast of punk-pop, a boogying chorus and a frantic guitar solo. And it's hard not to go with a song that re-enacted the scene from Easy Rider with Phil Spector as its video. Fun fact: *In my best James Murphy voice* I was there when they recorded the intro to this song: Brother Bill of CFNY presenting the band at Edgefest, which was supposed to be the last ever Sloan performance.
Big Shiny Tunes appearance? Yup, smack dab in the middle of the first one.
1. Matthew Good Band "Load Me Up"The sheer magnitude of Matthew Good Band's thrilling 1999 hit cannot be overstated in my opinion. Simply put, this song rules. Well, obviously, it's #1. But this song is basically one prolonged climax from beginning to end. I hate to admit to fist-pumping along to a song, but "Load Me Up" takes over my central nervous system and I can't stop moving my clenched fist. This is pumped-up rock music at its finest. That it never went on to break MGB in the U.S. of all the places that loves a killer, radio-friendly rock song is beyond me. And let's not forget about the iconic (at least in Canada) music video, where MG and band are hunted down by a bunch of gob-spitting Catholic school students. It's a CanRock classic.Fun fact: Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, agrees with mehttps://twitter.com/matsoR/sta... Shiny Tunes appearance? Yes, Big Shiny Tunes 5, but bafflingly it was sequenced in the second spot after Matchbox 20's limp-dicked "Bent." What a way to not start an album.
Cam Lindsay is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.