Culturally, Canada is without a doubt one of the most diverse nations on the planet, and with its record stores awash since the 1950’s in both the best of American AND British releases (it’s interesting to note The Beatles were stars in Canada as early as the Summer of ’63), it’s not surprising that big white country has produced countless songwriters, musicians, and bands who can each offer their own, oddly unique approaches to the beast we lovingly call both Rock and Roll.
So I thought I’d offer this simple thumb-nail “primer” to some of the best sounds Canada has ever blessed the world with in the seven-inch, under-four-minute category.
1. “BRAINWASHED” by DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS & THE BOSSMEN
Before fleeing Canada for a life stuck in the middle of the jazz-rock road with Blood Sweat & Tears, the legendary DCT fronted a succession of tough’n’tumble Toronto-based combos during the mid-Sixties. Like his brilliant English counterpart Eric Burdon, David sported an amazingly expressive voice and made some marvelous records indeed; unfortunately, like the chief Animal, David too languishes in semi-obscurity today, one of rock’n’roll’s most frustrating cases of “only if.” One listen to “Brainwashed,” however, reveals David Clayton-Thomas to have that rare sort of vocal talent even Jagger and, yes, Burdon would have run countless laps through fire and rain to possess at the time. And probably would still today.
2. “LOVEDROPS” by BARRY ALLEN
Imagine, if you can, the white-keyed artistry of Del Shannon’s “Hats Off To Larry” crossed with some of Buddy Holly’s most sweetly Texan proto-pop: “Lovedrops” combines all of these irresistible elements and THEN some, and the result is a thoroughly charmful two-minutes-thirty which actually rivaled “Yellow Submarine” briefly in the Canadian Top Ten. And how couldn’t it, having been arranged and produced by no less than original Crickets studio-master Norman Petty himself!
3. “CORNFLAKES AND ICE CREAM” by THE LORDS OF LONDON
England may have had their beloved Small Faces, and America its Turtles and Tommy James. But Canada spent its most sunshine-filled months circa “Itchycoo Park” basking in the sly, shy, romper-room psychedelia of Toronto’s wondrous Lords Of London and their lone hit, “Cornflakes And Ice Cream.” As innocent as the local schoolyard, yet swirling hither and yon amidst a hurly-gurdy wash of carnival surrealism, this record is a true musical marvel to behold, and neither time nor fashion has yet to penetrate or reduce one iota of its in-grown, dayglo magic.
4. “HALF PAST MIDNIGHT” by THE STACATTOS
The Stacattos prided themselves as being Ottawa’s premiere vocal combo during the mid-Sixties, and yes indeed no other act then operating in Canada would even ATTEMPT to tackle the kind of Beach Boy sophistication “Half Past Midnight” was built upon. Such was their complete and flawless mastery of the pop form that The Stacattos carried on successfully, as few of their Canadian counterparts did, well into the 1970’s (albeit under their new nom-du-disc, The Five Man Electrical Band. Remember “Signs,” anyone?)
5. “IT’S MY PRIDE” by THE GUESS WHO
The indisputable Beatles of Canadian rock (with songwriters Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman their in-house Lennon & McCartney), it’s interesting to note that The Guess Who, in their many and various incarnations, released literally dozens of fine recordings before FINALLY breaking through internationally with “These Eyes” and “American Woman.” There wasn’t a single style these wily Winnipeg-ers didn’t convincingly tackle, but it was when they tried their hand at the gripping garage-tones of the Standells and early Raiders that they truly shone. “It’s My Pride,” accordingly, is precisely the kind of teasingly obscure, rough ‘n’ rollicking gem which deserves an entire NUGGETS box of its very own.
6. “JUST IN CASE YOU WONDER” by THE UGLY DUCKLINGS
If the Guess Who were Canada’s Fab Four, then Toronto’s infamous Ugly Ducklings were most certainly the Great Wide Northland’s Rolling Stones: Woolly, wild, and able to leap tall Vox amplifiers with a single E-chord, these one-and-only Ducks could at the same time produce peerless, pure fits of lighter-than-air whimsy whenever the mood struck (their 1967 hit “Gaslight” sported a surprisingly assured, Rascals-like flair for blue-eyed rock’n’soul). But “Just In Case You Wonder,” a Toronto Top Ten in 1966, was the band’s shining moment: a raw slice of monstrous, powerful pop the likes of which even The Who didn’t (or couldn’t?) get around to matching til at least “I Can See For Miles.”
7. “TOP DOWN” by TEENAGE HEAD
Few ever understood that the Ramones were simply Herman’s Hermits in leather jackets at 78RPM. In 1977, Teenage Head did. Roaring out of their home-base of Hamilton, Ontario (the Liverpool of Canada, I kid you not), the Head brought a much-needed sense of playful humor – not to mention a Nick Lowe by way of Eddie Cochran sense of song-craft – to the nascent Canadian punk scene. “Top Down,” their three-minute crowning achievement, is the kind of robust, hot July music that even those Raspberries only dared touch upon circa “Cruisin’ Music” and “Drivin’ Around.” And who’s supplying this record’s trademark Jan & Dean falsettos? None other than fellow Hamiltonians Dave Rave and Rick Andrew, aka The Shakers (...more about THEM later!)
8. “UNLESS YOU CARE” by TERRY BLACK
Tired of sharing the early Canadian pop charts with Bobby Curtola -- not to mention a slickly interchangeable parade of similar (pre-Beatle) Canadian pin-up poppers -- Terry Black bravely headed south to Los Angeles in 1964, joined forces with no less than P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, and the result was this instantly intriguing slice of Billy J. Kramer-calibre Merseybeat, expertly driven home by the before-McGuinn 12-strings of none other than Glen Campbell. With a stellar cast such as this, it’s no small wonder “Unless You Care” can still sit proudly alongside “Sugar Sugar” and/or “Yummy Yummy Yummy” -- not to mention “Little Children” – in your International Guilty Pop Pleasures file.
9. “LOVIN’ YOU AIN’T EASY” by PAGLIARO
There are two vividly distinct cultures, artistic AND social, living uncomfortably alongside one another in Canada: the largely French-speaking province of Quebec, and the entire REST of that gigantic nation! But even English Canada’s age-old suspicious aversion to their Quebec brethren would instantly melt whenever the triumphant voice of Michel Pagliaro appeared on the airwaves during the early Seventies. His absolute string of Top 40 masterpieces (many recorded at no less than the London studios of Apple Records …in and around Badfinger sessions!) remain defining moments in the History of Canadian Rock, and with them “Pag” made his mark as not only a Pure Pop Wonder, but a figure who all-too-briefly united Canada’s dual (and dueling) halves with nothing but a song.
10. “BIG TOWN BOY” by SHIRLEY MATTHEWS
Yes indeed, there WAS intelligent life to be heard between Buddy Holly’s plane crash and “Love Me Do.” Spector, Wilson, Motown… and somehow, someway, ALL of these tried-and-true-blue elements found their way into Shirley Matthews’ one and only Canadian hit of 1963. “Big Town Boy” bounces confidently atop a horn-heavy arrangement (a la Quincy Jones’ early Lesley Gore productions), yet at the same time sports lyrics as sophisticated and insightful as few then being written outside of Goffin & King’s Brill Building cubicle. Sorry to say, had Shirley then been living (and recording) in either Detroit, Chicago or New York instead of Toronto, you’d no doubt have at least ONE copy of “Big Town Boy” sitting proudly in your collection today.
For much, much more information regarding these and so very many other
Canuck-rock giants both old, new, legendary and shoulda-been, you should
immediately visit the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia right there at