Tuesday, June 30, 2009

O Canada

Because Canada Day falls on a Wednesday and you need some cheering up about being cheated out of a long weekend, here’s something to ponder in your hammock tomorrow.

A couple of months ago, I was invited to cast a ballot for a new book project entitled The Top 100 Canadian Singles, author Bob Mersereau’s follow-up to his 2007 book The Top 100 Canadian Albums. The ballot was limited to 10 songs, of any genre and any era. I quickly made a shortlist of 30, songs that not only deserved classic status, but that meant a lot to me in some way and that I still don’t tire of hearing.

That made it easy to leave off a lot of obvious songs that either drive me nuts or I never have to hear again (“Takin’ Care of Business,” I’m looking at you—and remembering that scene in Don McKellar’s Last Night). I also avoided great songs from classic albums—albums whose status overshadows any individual song on the record (Joni Mitchell’s Blue). And on a similar note, there are a lot of my favourite Canadian artists whom I love for their overall output, and not just one song (Neil Young, Stompin’ Tom) that towers over all their others. Finally, I tried to keep the list to songs that were actually released as a single (or video, or “focus track”) in some form or another.

Much of this fails to be objective—how could it? see Carl Wilson’s take on the same task for a much broader list, as well as David Dacks's response—and so these are simply 30 Canadian singles that I couldn’t live without. Listed alphabetically by artist.

And for the love of God, don't judge them on their videos.

“Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)” – Arcade Fire (2004).
The opening guitar melody and tinkling piano sound like curtains being parted on a stage, and the song only gets more cinematic from there. “Tunnels” is four minutes of slow build, keeping the bombast in check and maintaining tension throughout, until it finally explodes with Regine Chassagne’s ur-disco drumming and falsetto backing vocals echoing the opening melody. Win Butler’s voice sounds like he’s waking up from a long Montreal winter, from his childhood, from a spiritual slumber, crawling toward shafts of sunlight to sing golden hymns. This was the opening track on Funeral, as well as the first single, and it encapsulates everything that this band did so brilliantly at the time—and no matter how many cheap imitators tried to replicate this, the song has lost none of its revelatory power.

“Up on Cripple Creek” – The Band (1969).
Sure, “The Weight” is covered more often. And Robbie Robertson wrote better songs. But in terms of performance and four flawless minutes, divinity is in the details here: Levon Helm’s southern drawl, the quiet punctuation of the piano and guitar, the affectionate ode to a “drunkard’s dream, if I ever did see one,” the closing yodels. But ultimately, only two things matter in “Cripple Creek”: Garth Hudson’s bullfrog clavinet, and Helm’s funky backbeat—which is even more awesome when you realize that he never once touches a cymbal or opens his hi-hat for unnecessary flair (how Canadian—ironic, because he’s the only American in the band), which exemplifies everything that people love about Helm, the gentleman drummer.

“Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” – Blue Rodeo (1993).
On the surface, Blue Rodeo have dozens of songs like this: the long, slow unfold (“Lost Together”), the Beatle-y chords set to Canadiana country songs, the impeccable harmonies between Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy. But it’s the lyric here that sets it apart, nailing that moment in time between tragedy and acceptance, those stunned moments of silence as you lie soaking in stasis, caught in a suspended state, “standing transfixed before the streetlight/ watching the snow fall on this cold December night.” The fatal event in question was both inevitable and yet unbelievable—it “comes as no surprise” though he “never thought this could happen.” This is such a universal moment—the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, a death—and yet I can’t think of another song that expresses this so perfectly, with equal parts pain, bemusement and resilience. And yes, it’s made me cry more than once.

“Lovers in a Dangerous Time” – Bruce Cockburn (1984).
Cockburn has plenty of songs to equal this one for poetry, passion and economy (“The Trouble With Normal,” “Tokyo” and “Stolen Land” spring to my mind immediately). And maybe it’s because this song is the opening salvo to his greatest album, or maybe it’s because it hit me during a formative year, or maybe because it can make me weep unexpectedly when the mood hits—but from the title on down, I find this to be Cockburn’s most affecting set of lyrics, set to one of his most memorable pop songs. The arrangement is bare-bones (stark drumming, mostly just bass and snare; synched rhythm guitar and bass; three-note guitar melody) to better serve a cavalcade of couplets that consistently link back to the title sentiment of experiencing ecstasy amidst chaos, of the power of the human spirit to overcome oppression.
It’s better in his own words:
“One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall/ the next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.”
“Spirits open to the thrust of grace/ never a breath you can afford to waste.”
“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/ got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.”
Enough said.

“Closing Time” – Leonard Cohen (1992). (link)
The sheer lyrical avalanche of this track is a marvel. It’s Cohen at his lustiest, growling and slurring while he spits out stanza upon stanza of hilarious couplets that are equally ankle-deep, submersive and subversive. What better lyric sums up the psyche of post-Berlin Wall Europe than this one: “Looks like freedom but it feels like death/ it’s something in between I guess.” It’s all set to the closest he’s ever come to country music, with the woozy violinist bending his notes and the backing vocalists sounding like they’re stumbling drunk around the dancefloor repeating the mantra “closing time, closing time, closing time, closing time.” He’s witnessing the end of his life, the end of his relationship, the end of the world as we know it, and realizes that there’s no better tonic than to raise another glass of acid-spiked cider.

“I Wish It Would Rain” – Cougars (recorded 1970, released 2006).
This single went entirely unheard upon its original release in the early ’70s, which is especially ridiculous when you consider how much radio stations were crying about not having enough CanCon to play in order to meet new federal broadcasting regulations. Maybe they didn’t think there were black people in Canada making music (don’t put it past them). Never mind: 35 years later, a Vancouver DJ and a Seattle record label dusted off this treasure and released it on an astounding compilation called Jamaica to Toronto, which contains over a dozen tracks that deserve to be in the Canadian canon. This, however, is the undisputed highlight. For starters, you can’t go wrong with the song itself, which was a 1967 hit for the Temptations. Add two powerhouse vocalists singing a duet: Jay Douglas and Salome Bey. Place a quietly insistent single guitar chord that chimes throughout the verses, atop a hybrid reggae/soul rhythm section. Just as the verses come to a close, gospel-inflected backing vocals and a Hammond organ take over the title refrain, just before the chorus kicks in with a Levon Helm backbeat and uplifting horn section. There you have it: four-and-a-half minutes of soul salvation, one of the best Motown covers ever recorded—and Canada let it slip through the cracks. This is a source of equal parts shame and pride.

“Gonna Get Close to You” – Dalbello (1983).
They certainly don’t put songs like this on the radio or video playlists anymore. Everyone was surprised to learn that The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” was about a stalker; no one was surprised that this 1983 Dalbello song was too (the Rob Quartly-directed video helped). This is the creepiest song to ever crack the Canadian Top 40, and yet in its structure and its melodicism it functions perfectly as a pop song. It opens with a sparse drum machine, the sound of a clock, and minor-key horror-movie keyboards before Dalbello starts whispering about “looking at shadows sweating on the wall.” She slowly turns up the intensity: at first there’s a heaving anxiety in the way she sings “each and every afternoon,” before she starts howling while describing: “You fumble for the keys/ I’m six or seven steps behind you.” Producer/guitarist Mick Ronson (Ziggy Stardust) swoops in and out of the action to build up tension—and if nothing else, this song is full of tension, from the taut rhythm to the Phillip Glass-like marimbas that percolate underneath the chorus. Dalbello’s operatic range serves her well in character here; even the one showboat-y vocal moment sounds like the cackle of someone whose grip on reality is vanishing before our ears. Too weird for many, too close to ’80s metal power ballad for others (I just found out it was covered by Queensryche (?)), this is a bold, daring and thrilling single—no wonder most Canadians have never heard it.

Some curious footnotes I unearthed in my cursory (i.e. Wikipedia) research:
“Since 2002, Dalbello has been the brand announcer voice for the Canadian cable news network, CBC Newsworld and additionally, her voice can be heard introducing CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge on the network's flagship nightly news and current affairs program, The National. She also was featured on the theme song for the first three seasons of the television series Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

“This Lamb Sells Condos” – Final Fantasy (2006).
Very few political songs work outside of their original context. But you don’t have to have lived in Toronto during the condo boom of the last decade to find these lyrics hilarious, even if they seem on the surface to be taking cheap shots at a bald and bullying condo developer, “his seduction to the world of construction,” his “massive genitals” and marital disputes over impotency. The central piano riff is part Scott Joplin, part Nintendo video game theme; harpsichords and violins drive the rest of the song, and it’s to Owen Pallett’s credit that he can arrange such a successful pop song with these tools. The coda takes the cake, however, as the chattering classes mutter over a melody sung by an angelic choir, before a new narrator enters detailing the boredom and frustration of the champagne chic. Mainstream press people ask Pallett why he writes songs like this; the real question is, why doesn’t everyone else?

“Put the Blame on Me” – Handsome Ned (1989).
Ever since Hank Snow, Canada has always done country music well, but there has never been a male vocalist like Handsome Ned—and this song is by far his most powerful performance. Ned was a singer the equal of any of the Sun Records greats, and right from the opening lines, he is a positively arresting presence, all swagger and twang and dedication and ready to take on any burden, no matter how misdirected, to save a relationship. This is a song that would work at any tempo, but the clickety-clack of the hepped-up Tennessee Two-style rhythm section gives it that much more urgency and helped him cross over to the Queen St. punk crowd in the mid-’80s. This song is all the more memorable for its use in the opening credits of the 1989 film Roadkill, where it scores footage of the College St. Good Friday parade. The Biblical allegory is all there in the lyric, which is why when I used to have a weekly radio show, this was a staple of my annual “Dead Jesus Day” show.

“Basement Apartment” – Sarah Harmer (2000).
It starts with a drum machine, a Joni-ish giggle, some Lightfoot chords, some subtle Lanois ambiance, and then the unmistakable voice of Sarah Harmer channeling Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, detailing the ennui of a subterranean existence, isolated from the world and mired in self-defeat. Harmer is a vocalist who could make even the most mundane material resonate with warmth and empathy, which is in part why this downer of a song managed to become a breakthrough pop hit for her. But while the lyrics may detail boredom, they’re razor-sharp in their detail of life “below street level, barely alive,” “watching the things that go unsaid.” And, in the song’s final cruel blow, she shatters the illusion that a life led defying the soul-crushing mainstream existence doesn’t mean that you’re not locked into your own vicious cycles that are equally suffocating: “We always said that we were different/ but you know now that we weren’t.”

“Never Surrender” – Corey Hart (1984).
I can’t rationalize this, so I won’t. I love this song, always have. I was rooting for Hart over Adams in the diamond duel of 1985 (they both scrambled to become the first Canadian to sell one million copies domestically—Adams won.) I love the L.A. Law-style tenor saxophone. I can live with the huge ’80s power ballad drums. I’m not sure about the chicka-chicka pseudo-rock-steady guitar, which still kind of bugs me. This is fine cheese, right down to the after-school-special inspirational message, and it’s as tasty as it is sticky and greasy.

“Crabuckit” – K-OS (2004). (link)
How Canadian is this? A bass line cribbed from a British new wave song (The Cure’s “Lovecats”), a groove from American R&B (“Hit the Road Jack”), and lyrics referencing Yonge St. and The Tragically Hip. Then there’s the central image of the chorus: Canadian culture is all-too-often comprised of jealous backbiters ready to cut someone down for daring to think outside the box or get too big for their britches. The Canadian mainstream has long been resistant to homegrown hip-hop, and K-OS’s brand of genre-jumping doesn’t play well with the hardcore heads—they’re all a bunch of crabby crustaceans he’s more than happy to swagger on past as he sings “no time to get down coz I’m moving up.”

“Turn Me Loose” – Loverboy (1980).
Like others on this list, this is about the slow build: open with a droning synth and suspenseful hi-hat, introduce that definitive octave bass line, then the power chords—at first straightforward and simple, slowly get more noodly. The drums and vocals are announced simultaneously, with Mike Reno—one of the greatest male voices in Canadian classic rock, second only to Burton Cummings—updating Paul Anka to claim that “I’ve gotta do it my way/ or no way at all.” The chorus maintains the slow burn, with no sign of release and the addition of cooing female vocals. The only time the song breaks character is when a shrieking Reno promises to spread his wings and “FLYYYYY! My way!” As far as cock rock goes, “Turn Me Loose” is all about restraint, and it’s all the more impressive for it.

"Let Your Backbone Slide" – Maestro Fresh Wes (1989).
“THIS IS A THROWDOWN.” No shit—Canada’s first great hip-hop single is still the best. Never mind its novelty factor in the CanCon canon of the ’80s, because despite regional ripples by various artists before this, Maestro Fresh Wes single-handedly announced the birth of Canadian hip-hop with his breathless verbal avalanche, his deft vocabulary, a booming beat and that signature organ sample. Even better, Maestro sounded live and raw—this was no pop cop-out, and it still sounds “fresh” 20 years later. Like all hip-hop, Maestro also knew that his individual personality owed a large debt to his regional roots, which is why this and many of his other classic singles were unabashedly Canadian and Toronto-centric—which was refreshing from any charting act in 1989, hip-hop or not. I wonder what the rest of the world thought of his boasting about “bills that are brown.”
Tragic follow-up: Believe it or not, this song is not available on iTunes or any other digital provider I could find. All Maestro CDs, including his criminally underrated second album Black Tie Affair (which I bought on CD for $2 at Sam the Record Man’s closing sale), are out of print, except for a best-of that the Orange label put out in 2005. Other than that, the only place you’ll find this song is on the Oh! What a Feeling box set. Personally, I blame Allan Gregg. He might be a good TVO interviewer who knows a thing or two about politics, but don’t forget how he almost took down the entire Canadian music industry single-handedly with the Song Corporation fiasco, which enveloped Maestro's label, Attic. Can’t Farley Flex do something about this? Isn’t he now best buddies with Gregg’s former business partner, Jake Gold?

“Echo Beach” – Martha and the Muffins (1980).
Canadians seem to excel in escapist tales borne of ennui. Here, Martha Johnson sings like the clock just stuck 5 and she’s torn between the options of either crawling home for a TV dinner or daring to daydream about a solitary escape where “waves make the only sound.” The tenor saxophone attempts to seduce her, slowly raising her temperature one ascending note at a time, until by the end of the song she’s—well, actually, she hasn’t changed that much at all. Canucks—so blasé, eh?

“Snowbird” – Anne Murray (1970).
This song is sufficiently removed from cliché status by now that it’s much easier to appreciate, to analyze, and to embrace that weird sitar sound that kicks it off and sets it apart from any other Nashville pop hit of the time. I suspect “Snowbird” gets knocked because it encapsulates the milquetoast middle-of-the-road that so much of Canadian culture aspires to—and even more so because it came out amidst the socio-political tumult of the late ’60s and early ’70s, longing for “the land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow.” There are many familiar Canadian themes in Gene MacLellan’s lyric: seasonal change, dreams of escape, communing with nature, but the key here is a line that’s barely noticeable when sung by Murray’s bell-clear, innocuous voice: the narrator, who confesses to once being a free spirit, says that “now I feel such emptiness within/ for the thing I want most in life is the thing I can’t win.” It’s the kind of line that stops you in the middle of your grocery shopping, prompting an immediate re-evaluation of your own life’s thwarted plans and goals, and before you know it you’re sitting on a park bench communing with the commuter birds as well, waiting for a swirling, saccharine string section to embark on a choppy 16th-note ascent into the stratosphere and carry you away with it.

“Letter From an Occupant” – New Pornographers (1999).
The one-note opening guitar riff is deceptive. The next three-and-a-half minutes is a pop music baklava: dense, layered and overflowing with honey and butter. There’s the soaring theremin-like vocal chorus, propulsive drums, a guitar solo that sounds like it’s falling apart trying to maintain the song’s intensity, and the knockout vocals of Neko Case. “Where have all sensations gone?” she sings in the bridge, and compared to most of the deadly dull rock being made at the turn of the century—both indie and corporate—this arrived like an avalanche and became “the song that’s shaking me.” Not that any of the other lyrics make an ounce of sense; not that they have to.

“Rise Up” – Parachute Club (1984).
This song is such a cliché now that it’s easy to forget how good it actually is, even if it’s easy to dismiss it as an Up With People version of “A Change is Gonna Come.” It’s perhaps singular in being a socialist utopian pop song that isn’t the least bit preachy; if you’re not listening closely to Lorraine Segato’s soulful and engaging vocals, it may as well be about pizza crust; if you’re a card-carrying member of the NDP, it’s an affirmational fantasy. Everyone else can “talk about building the land of our dreams” any way they want. An early Daniel Lanois production, “Rise Up”—like the rest of the Parachute Club’s debut album—is notable for its heavy percussion and unique rhythms, making them one of the only Toronto acts to successfully incorporate the reggae and calypso of that city’s large Caribbean population.

“Eyes of a Stranger” – Payola$ (1982).
Canadian pop in the ’80s had its fair share of misused reggae influences and questionable British accents (both real and fake), but this song managed to tap into the menace of the darkest dub, dress it up in synth pop clothing and chorus pedals, and a tense, gripping vocal turn by Paul Hyde. But mostly what makes this song is drummer Chris Taylor; it’s possible this entire song would fall flat were it not for his slinky groove and those absolutely delicious drum fills, complete with timbales. It’s because of him that the outro is almost more satisfying than the chorus.

“Work Out Fine” – Joel Plaskett Emergency (2003).
Joel Plaskett is probably the best working songwriter in Canada today, but he doesn’t always pick his best songs as singles. This one, however, is three minutes of perfection: reggae bass line, Who-style power chords, call-and-response gang vocals, a shuffling hi-hat, organ stabs, and plenty of space for Plaskett’s befuddled optimist to set the scene. If it’s a pastiche that’s tailor-made for the High Fidelity crowd, so be it; Plaskett is a master technician who does this better than any of his peers and without a wink to be found. He’s also a kindred spirit for everyone east of Winnipeg who suffers from hometown bringdown when he sings, “All my friends, where did they go! To Montreal?! Toronto?!”

“Cherry Beach Express” – Pukka Orchestra (1984).
Oh-so-polite Canada doesn’t boast many pop songs about police brutality, so to say that “Cherry Beach Express” is the best one on the subject isn’t saying much. But it takes a certain skill to skewer Toronto’s 52 Division by name and to set a major-key melody to a chorus of: “My ribs are broken and my face is in a mess/ and I made all my statements under duress.” The production is too clean to be considered punk, but this sounds like a lost Joe Strummer classic.

“King of the Past” – Rheostatics (1992).
Part of what has mystified this band’s critics and skeptics is that the Rheostatics simply don’t sound like anyone else; there are very few obvious reference points, especially for a song that sounds like “King of the Past.” The fact that it’s in 6/8 is just the beginning. The sustain of Martin Tielli’s Steinberger guitar mirrors the opening violin line; drummer Dave Clark flatly refuses to play a waltz; the crescendos in the rhythmically stuttering chorus are restless and unsettling, offset somewhat by the simplicity of the stately three chords that consist of the chorus. The last 90 seconds are filled with swooping guitars and a string quartet, but this entire coda is basically a long and graceful drum solo for Clark, while Tielli’s guitar sounds like it’s struggling to break free and soar before the song erupts into a syncopated gallop. Maps are a recurring theme in Tim Vesely’s lyric; this song exists in its own cartographical sphere, in rivers rarely navigated by any of their peers.

“The Deca-Dance” – Rough Trade (1982).
Fifteen years after Pierre Trudeau told us that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, Carole Pope and Kevan Staples showed up Prince, Madonna and other supposedly shocking sex pioneers in pop music by singing about “transsexual erotica/ role reversal/ promiscuity” and inviting you to “take your guilty pleasure/ piss on your conditioning/ there’s a freedom we should comprehend.” This is one of Pope’s best vocal performances and most powerful choruses; she’s less campy, less directed, falling into the sway of a killer rhythm track worthy of Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. And now, 25 years later, it’s still hard to think of a commercial pop singer with the power and persona of Carole Pope, who made transgressive sexuality a factor of everyday life on Canadian radio.

"Closer to the Heart" – Rush (1977).
Despite Neil Peart’s Ayn Rand fixation at the time he wrote this lyric, this song sounds shockingly socialist, or at least egalitarian. Gather round, all ye philosophers and ploughmen, blacksmiths and artists, it’s time to forge a new reality! To start with, a three-minute pop song by Rush (2:53, actually) means that these high-falutin’ prog rockers managed to abandon their side-long suites in favour of a more direct approach—something closer to the heart, if you will. It’s incredibly earnest, as a Canadian anthem is wont to be, but the only really silly thing about it is the reverbed vibraslap that punctuates the guitar solo. They would score other surefire singles—either “Tom Sawyer” and “Subdivisions” could just as easily been my pick for this list—but this is the Rush song that even Rush-haters can warm up to.

"Having an Average Weekend" – Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (1985).
This band loved the art of the 7-inch single—as anyone who bought their singles in the mid-’80 can attest. One they packaged a 45 in a Jiffy Pop container. Another time the sleeve folded out into a board game called Schlagers!. But most importantly, this instrumental trio understood the economy of the form, and how subtle variations on the theme make all the difference in the world when you don’t have a singer in front. The Shadowy Men were often tagged as a surf band, but two thirds of them hail from Calgary, and Brian Connelly’s twangy guitar is more evocative of the Alberta plains than California shores. This song’s status as the theme song for the Kids in the Hall means that these two-and-a-half minutes are the most beloved in the Shadowy discography, even by people who think they’ve never heard of them.

“Spadina Bus” – Shuffle Demons (1986).
This one has great personal resonance for me. As a somewhat sheltered suburban rock kid, this single opened my mind to jazz, funk and hip-hop. It helped considerably that it was performed by a bunch of wacky, dashiki-clad buskers who were singing about Toronto’s public transit system. This not only turned my ears in several new directions, but inspired me to start my first band (a polka band, but that’s another story) and embrace guerilla gigging. But aside from that context and the fact that it’s a novelty song, “Spadina Bus” holds up incredibly well for a variety of reasons—not the least of which is that every member of this band went on to become an accomplished jazz player. Stitch Winston’s drums display funk finesse, Jim Vivian’s bass line could fit in perfectly on A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory, the sax trio breakdown at the three-minute mark barrels along with a stuttering, syncopated glee, and the main riff sounds just as glorious as the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme they would cover a few years later.

“Have Not Been the Same” – Slow (1985).
Perhaps Canada’s finest punk rock single, it actually starts out like a soul song, with a guitar riff that could be a Stevie Wonder clavinet lick. Then come the slightly disco drums and the coo-ing female backing vocals. Then Tom Anselmi stumbles into the party like he just woke up in an alley in Vancouver’s east side, complaining about his hangover. As the song gains momentum and the drums struggle to keep up with the accelerating guitars, the fist-pumping chorus is an explosive release valve for the building tension of the verses. The final 60 seconds of this three-minute masterpiece finds the band tripping over themselves to get to the finish line, yet stopping on a dime like they knew what they were doing the whole time. Which they most certainly did.

“Born to be Wild” – Steppenwolf (1969).
The song that gave birth to the term “heavy metal” (“heavy metal thunder”) still induces chills, right from the opening chords, through to the organ stabs, to the unforgettable chorus. And how many hard rock or proto-metal songs feature an organ solo? No one has yet to get a Hammond organ and Leslie speaker to sound as monstrous as keyboardist Goldy McJohn did on this song (and “Magic Carpet Ride,” of course). It says a lot that this song hasn’t been diminished by hundreds of thousands of appropriations by Hollywood every time a character fires up a motorcycle (preferably a character experiencing a mid-life crisis, prompting “Born to be Mild” puns). If you’ve never pumped your fist to this song, you simply don’t believe in rock’n’roll.

"Start Telling the Truth" – Toronto (1982).
Somehow I inherited a tacky tourist t-shirt that reads: “Canadian girls kick ass,” which I wear with only somewhat ironic pride. Growing up in the ’80s, it’s hard to argue with a long line of powerhouse female rockers: the Headpins’ Darby Mills, Rough Trade’s Carole Pope, Lee Aaron, and Toronto’s Holly Woods. Did women like this even exist in the U.S. or the U.K.? I mean, other than Heart—who launched their career in Vancouver, and won a Juno for their first album. But to the case at hand: “Start Telling the Truth” is neither power ballad nor rocker, but a mid-tempo pop song anchored by a one-note bass line in the chorus, a verse that drops out consistently for a “Be My Baby” beat, and a stirring performance from Woods. There is a stately grace to the space this song allows: long, sparse guitar chords; a melodic guitar solo devoid of flash; and the way that bass line maintains a drone, giving the song a sumptuous, slow simmering feel. In a genre where most women come across as hosebags, these hosers left us with this seriously sexy single.

"Fireworks" – The Tragically Hip (1999).
Not an obvious choice for one of Canada’s best-loved bands, who have a dozen singles that many die-hard fans would place before this one. But in the framework of a deceptively simple three-chord garage rocker, Gord Downie creates a character who evolves from a confused adolescent concerned only about hockey into an only-somewhat-more worldly adult who recognizes that fireworks, though thrilling, are little more than “temporary towers,” and that marriage can be “a fake Cold War” that must be negotiated. He sings about shaking off expectations, both of your own and that of the whole goddam country, and finds it “amazing what you can accomplish/ when you don’t let the nation get in your way.” He does this all fantastically in four minutes flat, without giving the guitarists a chance to solo, though leaving ample room for backing vocals and manic drum fills.

And really, what better way to close Canada Day than with “Fireworks”?

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