(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Canada has produced many successful rock bands over a period of more than half a century. It had a number of popular bands in the 1950s. Interest in local bands waned in the following decade, probably due largely to the British invasion of blues and rock bands. A resurgence in Canadian bands in the 1970s was helped by some solid industry support. This success continued in subsequent decades, especially in the 1990s, which saw an explosion of local bands despite strong competition from the US.
One of the most popular rock bands from Canada that has been around since the early days is the singing quartet from Toronto, The Four Lads. Their first single was ‘The Mocking Bird’ in 1952, back when rock and roll was emerging out of rhythm and blues. They went on to earn a string of gold records, including ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’, ‘Moments to Remember’ which is their most famous hit, ‘No, Not Much’, ‘Standin’ on the Corner’, and ‘Who Needs You?’ They are in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and still sing to nostalgia crowds. The current line-up includes original band member, bass singer Frank Busseri.
Winnipeg band The Guess Who was the first Canadian band to top the US charts, with ‘American Woman’ in 1970. They formed in 1960 and had mixed chart success under various names, scoring a hit in 1965 with ‘Shakin’ All Over’, as well as with ‘These Eyes’ in 1969 and ‘No Time’ in 1970. They had a Merseybeat type of sound, later moving to a mixture of rock, blues and jazz. The band had five number one hits in Canada and two in the US and is a worthy member of the Music Hall of Fame. They have had several reunion concerts over the years, including in front of a Canadian record crowd of 450,000 people at the 2003 Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, a benefit rock concert for severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Steppenwolf can almost lay claim to being a Canadian band and a very popular one too, with two of the five founding members born in Canada and with German born singer John Kay becoming a Canadian citizen. The hard rock band started off in Canada in 1964 as blues-rock group The Sparrows. Their hit song ‘Born to be Wild’ climbed to number two on the US charts. Other famous songs include ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ and ‘The Pusher’. The group has played a number of reunion concerts with different line-ups, including in Germany at the International Herman Hesse Festival in 2002 where Kay surprised many in the crowd with his fluent German.
One of the most famous and popular bands to come out of Canada is Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The Winnipeg band has sold 20 million albums worldwide. The ‘Bachman-Turner Overdrive II’ album achieved gold record status in eight countries. Their string of hits in the 1970s included such classic number ones as ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’. They won Juno Awards for Group of the Year in 1975 and 1976. The band continued to succeed playing guitar-heavy rock in an era that was moving to a much softer sound. There have been a number of disbandments and reunions. Great news for fans is that they are putting together a new album and will tour Canada and Europe in 2010.
No overview of popular Canadian rock bands would be complete without Rush, formed in Toronto in 1968. They have had 25 gold and 14 platinum records. Among rock bands, only the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith are ahead of them in terms of most consecutive platinum or gold albums. Known for their instrumental skills and complex compositions, the band moved from an early period of heavy metal to hard rock, then progressive rock, and the use of synthesizers. The band entered the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and is still touring and releasing albums. A tour in 2008 promoted its ‘Snakes & Arrows’ album released in 2007.
Another very popular band is Loverboy, which formed in 1980 in Calgary. They received a record five Juno Awards in 1981 and eight overall, also a record for a band. Their classic singles include ‘Turn Me Loose’, ‘Working for the Weekend’, and ‘Lovin’ Every Minute of It’. The band has made four multi-platinum albums, with their self-titled album going five times platinum. They became members of the Music Hall of Fame in 2009. Like many of Canada’s most popular rock bands, they are still producing albums and touring.
The Crash Test Dummies, a folk rock band, got together in Winnipeg in the mid 1980s. Their biggest hit was ‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm’ in 1993, which reached number one on the Australian charts, number two in the UK, four in the US and, ironically, only number 14 in Canada. The band did have six top-ten singles in Canada, such as ‘Superman’s Song’, ‘The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead’, and ‘He Liked to Feel It’. Their most successful album was ‘God Shuffled His Feet’, which rose to the top of the UK album charts and number nine in the US.
Alternative rockers The Tragically Hip, a band formed in Kingston, Ontario in 1983, has had a record eight number one albums on the Canadian Albums Chart. Their most successful album, ‘Road Apples’, released in 1993, has gone platinum eight times. They have six other multi-platinum albums. The band has a string on Juno Awards to their credit, including Group of the Year in 1995 and 1997. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and are still churning out platinum albums, the most recent being ‘We Are The Same’ in 2009.
Hard rock band Nickelback was formed in Hanna, Alberta in 1995 and is now based in Vancouver. They are one of Canada’s most successful bands, with worldwide record sales of more than 30 million. They rank eleventh among the highest selling music acts in the world in the 2000s, and second behind the Beatles in a list of foreign music acts in the US in that decade. Their worldwide hit ‘How You Remind Me’ was number one in Canada and the US at the same time in 2002, the first time a Canadian band had done this since The Guess Who in 1970. It was played 1.2 million times on US radio in the 2000s, the most of any song.