15 Canadian Rock Gods for Canada’s 150

Daniel Lanois, portrait by Tracy Anderson 2017, conte crayon

Daniel Lanois, by Tracy Anderson 2017, conte crayon

With Canada Day fasting approaching, and a special Canada Day at that – 150 years of Canadian awesomeness, it seems appropriate to write a post celebrating my Canadian Rock Gods.

We grow some excellent talent up here; as unique, diverse, and gorgeous as this vast chunk of land we call Canada.  In fact, this vast chunk of land is often inspiration for these fine artists.  In my Canadian Popular Music class in University (that’s right, my uni was super cool and offered such Canadian Studies gems as this one, Canadian Science Fiction and… Hockey in Canada…. and yes, I took all three :D), we learned that there are common themes in Canadian music, and geography is one of them.  Canadians like to sing and write about the True North, strong and free.  (Weather is another… I mean, when you get 8 months of winter that can reach temperatures of -20 and even -40 degrees Celsius, you HAVE to write about it…  those icicles are in our hearts and souls…)

So how can I possibly narrow down the list to my top 15?!?! Some are no-brainers – you say “Canadian Rock Gods” and I will immediately shout out ‘The Tea Party!” (If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve probably already heard me gush over them once or 10 times…)  and “The Tragically Hip!” Seriously, Canada would disown me, denounce me,

The Tragically Hip, Edmonton, Man Machine Poet Tour Rexall Place, July 30, 2016

The Hip, Edmonton, Rexall Place, July 30, 2016

take away my citizenship, kick me out and likely non-apologetically beat me with hockey sticks if The Hip were not on my list… so they are. (And because I adore them anyways.) “Bryan Adams!” Duh.

Then it gets more complicated – do I choose those artists that have had the more successful careers – like Nickelback and Justin Bieber?  Or the Canadian legends – Joni Mitchell, The Guess Who, Neil Young?  Or newer artists like The Weeknd and Alessia Cara…. soooo many choices!! (Only one of these is on my list, btw…)

Like my whole blog and my definition of Rock God – the only real rule is they must have impacted my life, touched my soul, with their music… those Canadian artists who have rocked my world the most…

And so, without further adieu, here they are (in no particular order, except the Tea Party and The Hip must be first :))

One: The Tea Party: What can I say about this band that I haven’t said here and here and will most definitely say again in the future?  I love these guys.  This band from Windsor, Ontario are my epitome of ‘Rock Gods’: unequivocal musical and lyrical geniuses,  stage ‘gravity’ that just pulls you in, and, yes, that Rock God with a Conscience thing that I love so much.  Actually, they, along with U2, are pretty much my Gods of all Gods – my Über Gods… (You may have noticed that this blog is so far a whole lot of U2 and The Tea Party… I will diversify, I promise, but there will alway remain a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) dose of what I like to call U-Party… hey, the other option was Tea2…)

Though perhaps most well-known for the cleverly labeled ‘Morroccan-roll’ soundscapes, The Tea Party are inspired by music and literature the world over and bring that inspiration, and those musical instruments, tunings and  learnings into their work.  You don’t have to know the esoteric and worldly references used in their lyrics to love and appreciate this band, but they really are amongst the more intellectual, well-read, well-cultured (both in terms of literature, musical knowledge and world cultures) musicians out there.   And then there’s the whole playing with symphony orchestras thing… They are what happens when we open our minds to the beauty of the many cultures around us.

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, Man Machine Poet Tour Edmonton, Rexall Place, July 30, 2016

Gord Downie of the Hip, Edmonton, Rexall Place, July 30, 2016

Two: The Tragically Hip: You might think that Céline Dion is Canada’s sweetheart, but really, it’s the Hip. (OK, she might be too…)  This is the quintisential Canadian rock band, beloved by probably the whole country… I’m serious – pretty much the whole nation went into mourning when lead singer Gord Downie announced he has terminal brain cancer.  The band soon after toured in support of their latest album (Man Machine Poem) and many fans and media suspected it might be their last tour (though the band apparently have never said this is so).

CBC, our national tv station, even went commercial free for a couple of hours to broadcast and livestream the band’s final hometown show in Kingston, Ontario to the country. Over 11.7 million people watched that concert on CBC… Bars, restaurants, and lounges in many Canadian cities aired the show on their big screen tvs on a night they normally would have been playing sports tv. Canadians (myself included) flocked to these establishments and laughed, cried and celebrated with our band and with each other.  Prime Minister Trudeau was even in the audience that night. It was a defining Canadian experience.

Why are they so beloved, you may ask?  Well, the music is really good, of course; the lyrics, super poetic story-telling at its finest, but it’s also really Canadian.  The Hip would be the perfect example of the theories mentioned in my Canadian Popular Music class.  They write about Canadian towns and landscapes (At the Hundredth Meridian), they sing about Canadian heroes and stories that have touched our hearts (Wheat Kings).  They sing about the weather, politics and social justice issues.  And they sing about hockey (Fifty Mission Cap)…

All five members of the Hip are about to be awarded with the Order of Canada “for their contribution to Canadian music and for their support of various social and environmental causes.”

(Check out my Photo Gallery for more photographs from the Man Machine Poem concert.)

Three: Daniel Lanois: This man is simply Canadian Music Royalty.  He is, of course, half of the virtuoso producer/collaborator team that brought us U2’s The Joshua Tree, Unforgettable Fire, Achtung Baby and No Line on the Horizon (the other half being Brian Eno).  He has also produced Peter Gabriel, the Killers, Bob Dylan and more.

But more than that, Daniel is a brilliant musician and songwriter whose atmospheric, wide open sounds and delicious lyrics stand on their own.  He has a way of telling a story through music like no one else.

I am completely in love with his song I Love You…, which has been beautifully covered by The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin and reminds me of U2’s Red Hill Mining Town.

Jeff and The Tea Party have actually covered a few of Daniel’s songs – I love You, The Maker, and The Messenger.  This YouTube video is of Jeff singing both I Love You and The Messenger (and taking a tiny dig at U2… gasp!)

U2 AND The Tea Party – U-Party – sigh, my musical worlds connect through Daniel Lanois… That would be enough to put him on my list 😀

Four: Bryan Adams: Right?! No Canadian Rock God list would be complete without Bryan.  Bryan is probably the first Canadian musician I knew was Canadian.  Let’s face it, we are so close and so connected to the USA that our music scene is mostly their music scene, maybe less so now, but it certainly felt this way in the 80s when my musical soul was awakening. Almost all of the artists played on my radio stations were American, some were from the UK…. So to have this man rocking it out at the top of the American charts brought a fierce amount of pride and awareness that Canadian music is alive and well and kicking ass.  (I often think of Canada as the little sister of the USA – often overshadowed by her louder, more gregarious big sister, but shining brightly in her own way, fighting for attention and staking her own identity.)

Bryan is just pure rocker and pure balladeer all mixed in one.  Songs like Summer of 69 and Run to You demand the volume be cranked as loud as possible while you jump around the room air-guitaring along with Bryan (or is that just me…). Meanwhile it doesn’t get much more romantic and sappy (in a good way) than Everything I do (I Do it For You) and Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman.

Five: Eve Hell:  My girl.  Though this Rock Goddess (ironically, in terms of this post) works more in Americana style music, she is my Canadian Rock Goddess for all the reasons I mentioned here. Intelligent, sultry, passionate, visceral, honest, kick ass.  Eve’s upright bass defiantly claims “This Machine Kills Sexists.” And it does, at her hands.

Six: Marianas Trench: This Vancouver pop punk/symphonic rock band are a more recent addition to my Rock God list.  Having been out of the country for a few years before, my introduction to their music began with their third album Ever After (2011) and songs Haven’t Had Enough, Fallout, Desperate Measures and, my favourite, Stutter.

Their albums are actually quite genius – full of catchy, strong soundscapes with heavy drums, beautiful harmonies and meaningful lyrics, they are concept albums that tell stories through the order of the song list. An interesting concept in itself, considering this generation’s mode of playing music is generally not by album or by defined order but by digital playlists, Spotify, and Google/Apple Music streaming.

Interesting Canadian Rock trivia – Marianas Trench’s Canadian record label is 604 Records, which is owned in part by Chad Kroeger of Nickelback.

Seven: Our Lady Peace:  I love me some Our Lady Peace, Ow, a woo woo! One of the more unique voices in rock, Raine Maida and his band-mates painted the 90s with glorious punk-driven anthems like Naveed (1994), Superman’s Dead, Automatic Flowers and 4AM (All off of the super cool Clumsy from 1997), and Somewhere Out There and Innocent (from Gravity 2002).

Like almost all of my Rock Gods, OLP handles a lot of heavy issues in their lyrics, though the songs I am most familiar with seem to concentrate on depression, self-hatred, the disastrous pressures of beauty standards, and suicide.   It is so important to discuss this issues openly, break down the stereotypes and secrecy so people going through them know they are not alone and how to get help.  I truly believe music helps do this.

Eight: Sarah McLachlan: Known for her gorgeous, haunting, sweeping voice and emotional, heartfelt lyrics, Sarah has had a formidable impact on Canadian music and the music industry as a whole.

In 1996, when festival and concert promoters refused to book two female acts back to back, Sarah booked a tour herself with Paula Cole.  The success of this tour prompted the creation of her brainchild, the Lilith Fair, the following year, a festival tour of only female acts. It was “the top-grossing festival tour of 1997 and ranked 16th among the year’s Top 100 Tours.”

Nine: Jann Arden: Perhaps the best explanation of Jann’s music is the title of her greatest hits album – Greatest Hurts, lol. She brings the beautiful pain in songs like Could I be your Girl? and asks all the hard questions in her music – “Will you remember me after I die…” whoosh! Actually that title also highlights Jann’s sense of humor.  She is absolutely one of the funniest artists I’ve seen live.  I had the pleasure of seeing her, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan, and the Bare-Naked Ladies in a benefit concert several years ago in Vancouver and Jann had us in stitches!

Ten: The Weeknd: This is another newish entry into my Rock Gods list.  This probably should come as no surprise to me or anyone who knows me as the Michael Jackson influence is strong with this one. I had to Shazam the song I Feel it Coming when I first heard it as I thought it might be another posthumous release from Michael… It isn’t.  I love this song.  It’s beautiful.

Eleven: Michael Bublé: I know – you are thinking – What??? Michael Bublé isn’t rock! He’s a crooner! But remember, my definition of Rock God isn’t beholden to genre rules. In fact, like many of my RGs, I like to break these genre rules – genre, pfffft, who wants to be labelled anyways? Music defies boundaries!

Anyways, Michael, the Burnaby BC boy, the man with the golden voice!  Holy crap has there ever been a more velvety, clear, flawless tone… just wow.  Plus, I dig the music he covers, these classics, big band, swing,  jazzy standards. This was my mom and dad’s music and, therefore, the emotional connection is deep.

Twelve: David Usher/Moist: My sister might disown me if David Usher wasn’t on this list, but I agree – he and Moist are definitely Canadian Rock Gods. Moist: Canadian grunge, electric guitar, fuming poetic lyrics; David Usher: sexier lyrics, softer soundscapes. He is quite the activist as well.  My sister and I saw David live at the Calgary Stampede in 2003, I think.  He is very engaging; a magnetic stage presence.  He also studied at the same uni as me – Simon Fraser University in Burnaby (though not at the same time :D)

Thirteen:  The Barenaked Ladies.  The geniuses behind the genius theme song for that show about geniuses… Not to mention a long list of hits such as If I Had a Million Dollars, Brian Wilson, Enid, Be My Yoko Ono, and this super-fast tongue-twister – One Week.

These guys are also amongst the most hilarious Rock Gods I’ve seen.  Their humour is evident in their lyrics and videos, but the banter during their live shows is comedy festival worthy.  Love this guys.

Fourteen: The Philosopher Kings:  Jazzy, sultry rock n’ roll. Love the wah wah pedal.  I saw these guys live at McEwan Hall (University of Calgary) in 1998, they rocked this intimate venue. The lead singer, Gerald Eaton also released three solo albums as Jarvis Church.  He also discovered and co-produced Canadian songstress Nelly Furtado’s first album.

I miss this band…

Fifteen: Pilate/Pilot Speed: I discovered Pilate (pronounced like Pontius Pilate, not Pilates) online while doing homework for my Canadian Popular Music class. I think the website was a type of new Canadian bands list and I don’t know what it was that made me press play on their song Into Your Hideout, but I did and I instantly loved it.  Sort of post-punk, alternative, pop cross (I get the irony that I am labelling all of these artists in spite of saying above that I don’t like labels :D), Pilate has an angsty mellow sound that brings the feels…

Funniest concert story I witnessed happened at their show at the Calgary Stampede in 2004 – it’s a simple story – some guy threw his cartoon hearts covered boxers onto the stage – they landed on Todd Clark’s mic stand and hung there for the rest of the show.  I seem to remember a slightly startled look on all their faces, quick laughter and continuing on.

The band ended up changing their name to Pilot Speed as a result of legal restrictions (I think it had something to do with American companies having copyright of the name in the USA).

It breaks my heart that they have since disbanded.

So there you have it, my top Canadian Gods.  There really are so many more I could have listed…  Who is in your list?  Did I miss your favourite Canadian Rock God? Anyone you disagree with (Be kind!)?

Categories: Rock God MusingsTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thank you for adding Moist & David Usher. I am in virtually complete agreement with you, except that you forgot some oldies but goodies which need to be added. (I offer you a ready made excuse in that these Canadian Rock Gods were before the time of those you mentioned – I am really just listing some of the other Canadian artists I can think of the are really great.) In no particular order:

    Gordon Lightfoot
    Leonard Cohen
    Joni Mitchell
    Bruce Cockburn
    KD Lang
    Burton Cummings
    Tom Cochrane
    Matthew Good Band
    Corey Hart
    Ann Murray (yes dammit!)
    Big Sugar
    Biff Naked
    Crash Test Dummies!
    Arcade Fire (how did you miss this one!???)
    April Wine
    Blue Rodeo (yes, I am looking at a list now…)
    Econoline Crush
    Glass Tiger
    The Guess Who
    Honeymoon Suite

    – okay, apparently I could do this all day. I didn’t realize how many truly great bands and musicians are Canadian! Thank you CanCon, and thank you sister for this post!


    • I know! It was so hard to choose just 15, any and all of these you’ve listed, and more, could be on the list… Arcade Fire…. I know… they should be on my list… maybe I should have done the top 150 😉


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