Best Canadian Songs of All Time
We know a thing or two about music here at Bodog – we even had our own label, Bodog Music, which released over 100 albums featuring everyone from Wu-Tang Clan to Winnipeg’s own Bif Naked. So when the time came to produce our own Top 10 list of the best Canadian songs of all time, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. This country has produced so much great music over the years, it’s impossible to fit it all into just 10 songs.
For one thing, you have alternative artists like Bif who have done some incredible work that not nearly enough people are familiar with. It seems wrong not to include, say, 54-40 on this list, or Art Bergmann, Sloan, the Evaporators, Raggadeath, the Shuffle Demons, Spirit of the West, cub, Sons of Freedom, Holy F., Rheostatics, Rough Trade, the Grapes of Wrath, Chromeo, Chalk Circle, SNFU, Front Line Assembly, Bootsauce, Jane Siberry – even the Tragically Hip didn’t quite make the cut.
Then you have the chart-toppers whose music has received mixed reviews at best from the critics. You won’t find Nickelback anywhere on this list, or Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, Bryan Adams, Corey Hart, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, and so on, although a few of these names do feature on our Ultimate Canadian Bracket!
There also isn’t enough room for timeless Canadian acts like the Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the Band, Trooper, Triumph, Oscar Peterson, Loverboy, Chilliwack, April Wine, Doug and the Slugs, Paul Anka, the Crew Cuts, Stan Rogers, Guy Lombardo, or even Anne Murray, which again seems wrong somehow. And we’re not quite ready to put newer acts like The Weeknd in our Top 10, although that might change when we revisit this list 10 years from now.
Instead, before we launch our Top 10 Best Canadian Songs of All Time, we’ll include a “First Four Out” and “Next Four Out,” in a nod to all those March Madness bracketology experts. Then we’ll count down our best of the best starting at No. 10.
First Four Out
“New Orleans Is Sinking” – The Tragically Hip
“American Woman” – The Guess Who
“Lovers in a Dangerous Time” – Bruce Cockburn
“The Weight” – The Band
Next Four Out
“R.E.D.” – A Tribe Called Red
“Let Your Backbone Slide” – Maestro Fresh-Wes
“Takin’ Care of Business” – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
“Snowbird” – Anne Murray
10. “Universal Solider” – Buffy Sainte-Marie
This song was written and composed by Sainte-Marie, a member of the Piapot Cree Nation in Saskatchewan; it appeared on her 1964 debut album It’s My Way! before covers by Donovan and Glen Campbell made it part of the folk canon. “Universal Soldier” is a potent anti-war song that rings truer today than ever before.
9. “The Hockey Song” – Stompin’ Tom Connors
You can’t have a hockey game in Canada without “The Hockey Song.” Written and originally released on the 1973 album Stompin’ Tom and the Hockey Song, this ode to our national sport gained a second life in 1992 when the expansion Ottawa Senators started playing it at the old Civic Centre. Connors, a native of Saint John, saw his career revived during the ‘90s as a result, and “The Hockey Song” even reached No. 29 on the Canadian Hot 100 in 2013.
8. “Sundown” – Gordon Lightfoot
Choosing which Lightfoot song to include here is like choosing which of your children you love most. We almost went with “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and other songs like “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” carry a bit more gravitas, but “Sundown” (from the 1974 album of the same name) was the lone No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for the pride of Orilla, Ontario.
7. “Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell
We faced the same difficult choice with Mitchell, who was born in Fort McLeod, Alberta before growing up in the nightclubs of Saskatoon and Toronto. You could easily put “Both Sides, Now” here, but “Big Yellow Taxi” was a hit on multiple occasions after its release on Mitchell’s 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. The live 1974 version is the one that continues to receive airplay to this day.
6. “Northern Touch” – Rascalz
This 1998 gem by Vancouver-based Rascalz was a collaboration with some of the biggest voices in Canadian hip-hop: Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust and Choclair, all of whom share songwriting credits. Released as a single, “Northern Touch” became the first Canadian hip-hop song ever to reach the RPM Top 100, peaking at No. 41. Sports fans will recall the 2018 Toronto Raptors remix that name-checked DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas.
5. “Suzanne” – Leonard Cohen
No, not “Hallelujah” – the autopsy for that song reads “Death by a thousand covers.” Cohen’s greatest song was his first single, from the 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen; it describes the time Cohen spent around town with dancer Suzanne Verdal in Montreal. Although it didn’t chart at the time, “Suzanne” grew in popularity until finally reaching No. 284 on the 2021 edition of the Rolling Stone Top 500.
4. “Wake Up” – Arcade Fire
Returning to Montreal, we have a band with a bit of an image problem right now thanks to Win Butler, but Regine Chassagne and the rest of this very large band deserve better than cancellation. “Wake Up” is from Arcade Fire’s breakthrough 2004 album Funeral, released during an outstanding period for Canadian music (Broken Social Scene, Metric, Stars); this sweeping stadium anthem helped them overtake U2 as the Biggest Band in the World, at least for a while.
3. “Spirit of Radio” – Rush
Rush could have taken up all 10 spots on this list. No, really, here are nine other worthy contenders:
– “Tom Sawyer”
– “Closer to the Heart”
– “New World Man”
– “Distant Early Warning”
– “Time Stand Still”
– “Fly By Night”
And that doesn’t even include their longer concept pieces like “La Villa Strangiato.” But we’re going with “Spirit of Radio” from their 1980 album Permanent Waves. Written by all three members, this song was inspired in part by Toronto radio station CFNY-FM, which thankfully continues to follow the alternative rock format.
2. “Heart of Gold” – Neil Young
Young’s only No. 1 single in the United States, “Heart of Gold” includes back-up vocals by Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, and featured on the 1972 smash hit Harvest. It’s often listed at the top of the best Canadian songs of all time, but Young himself wouldn’t argue with our selection for No. 1.
1. “Four Strong Winds” – Ian and Sylvia
Written by Ian Tyson in 1962, and performed by Young on a regular basis, “Four Strong Winds” appears on the 1964 Ian and Sylvia album, Sylvia being Ian’s better half in this Toronto-based duo. It’s the unofficial provincial anthem of Alberta, a familiar story to any Canadian who has lived coast-to-coast across this great land – and a perfect way to end our list here at Bodog.
Do you agree or disagree with our list of the best ever Canadian songs of all time? Let us know!