10 Classic CanRock Bands You Know Better Than You Think
Yeah, Canada can be stubbornly patriotic and proud. Anything with a maple leaf stamp finds a special pedestal on our national shelves. Actors, athletes, musicians, and any person with any speck of talent are often rolled up in that red and white flag and paraded for our people to celebrate. Oh, and any success abroad? We’ll make sure everyone remembers what country fostered those talents!
Rush, Blue Rodeo and Neil Young? Ours, of course. Drake and Biebs? That’s us, for better or for worse. Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell? The poet laureates of our people. Lightfoot and The Hip? We sure love our Gordies. Alanis, Celine and Shania? Like our older sister and two cool aunts who helped raise us. Barenaked Ladies? That’s what our dorky brothers were doing in the music room at recess! And Bryan Adams? Well, he did screw up the national anthem pretty good at that hockey game that one time, but he did one hell of duet with that Spice Girl, so we’ll let it slide.
All while some names get recognition, there are always the blue collar rock n’ roll road bands from the 60s, 70s and 80s who may not resonate with the young folks who weren’t there to see them blow the roofs off every small town hockey stadium across the country. Their names may be familiar, probably from the headlining spots at current music festivals that depend solely on nostalgia, and you probably think you know a song or two by these one-hit wonders. But, in reality, many of these bands worked their asses off and were certified hit-machines in their heyday. Go flip on a greatest hits collection by any of these bands or artists, and you’ll be guaranteed to know the words to at least half of the tracklist.
Here are 10 classic CanRock bands and artists that you know better than you think you do:
1. The Stampeders
You know more than just “Sweet City Woman”. No? Want to make a bet?
There is no better example of an underrated hit-machine in the realm of CanRock than this Calgary trio. Formed in the mid 1960s, The Stampeders hit a particularly lucrative stride when they released 2 albums a year in 1971, 1973 and 1974. These 6 albums spawned 13 charting hits ranging from the US breakthrough and Juno winning single “Sweet City Woman”, to “Carry Me”, “Minstrel Gypsy”, “Ramona”, “Johnny Lightning”, “Oh My Lady”, and the stylistic swerve of a hard rock gem: “Wild Eyes”.
The Stampeders international success continued with their 1975 rendition of “Hit the Road Jack”, featuring a cameo by notorious radio DJ, Wolfman Jack. The original run of The Stampeders came with a halt in 1977, but since reuniting in 1992, the CanRock trio continue to tour the country playing casinos, festivals and theatres.
2. The Guess Who
Formed in the early 1960s, the original incarnation of The Guess Who produced a series of singles under various names, including: Chad Allen & the Expressions, Chad Allen & the Reflections, and Bob Ashley & the Reflections. After a shuffling of lead vocal personnel, they found a solid frontman in the newly acquired keyboardist Burton Cummings.
Teaming up the songwriting of Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman, the Guess Who would begin a big run of releases from 1969’s Wheatfield Soul, to Burton Cummings departure Power in the Music in 1976. This era saw 11 Guess Who albums in 7 years and spawned 30 charting singles.
While you probably instantly think of “American Woman”, don’t you forget “No Sugar Tonight”, “New Mother Nature”, “These Eyes”, “Hand Me Down World”, “Share the Land”, “Bus Rider”, “No Time”, “Claps for the Wolfman”, “Dancin’ Fool” and many, many more.
While The Guess who continued on after the departure of both Bachman and Cummings, they never quite hit the same level of success. Cummings went on to create a notable solo career, and for Bachman, well…
3. Bachman-Turner Overdrive
After exiting The Guess Who at the height of their success, being quoted as citing other band members lifestyles interfering with his then-Mormon beliefs, Randy Bachman turned to former Guess Who vocalist Chad Allen, and together they formed the band Brave Belt. Two flop albums and a couple of cancelled tours later, Brave Belt bit the dust, but from those ashes rose the mighty BTO: Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Teaming with bassist/vocalist/songwriter Fred Turner, Randy Bachman enlisted his brothers Tim and Robbie on rhythm guitar and drums. Building on a guitar-heavy, blue collar boogie rock sound, Bachman-Turner Overdrive had an explosive roll in the 1970s with 5 top 40 albums, 6 top 40 singles in the US, and 11 top 40 singles in Canada.
Yeah, you know “Taking Care of Business”, but you also know: “Let It Ride”, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, “Roll on Down the Highway”, “Hey You”, “Down to the Line”, “Take It Like a Man” and “Looking Out for #1”.
The hits dried up after Randy Bachman left the band in the late 1970s. Aside from other musical projects, Bachman is now best known as host of the CBC radio series Vinyl Tap.
You know what else Randy Bachman did in the 1970s? He signed a band called Applejack to Legend Records. Applejack soon changed their name to Trooper, and Bachman would produce their self-titled debut album.
While Trooper’s name is likely most associated with the jock rock anthem “Raise a Little Hell”, Trooper actually had 13 consecutive charting singles on the Canadian charts from 1975-1980 including: “Baby Woncha Please Come Home”, “General Hand Grenade”, “Two for the Show”, “Santa Maria” “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time)”, “Oh, Pretty Lady”, “Round Round We Go”, “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car”, “3 Dressed Up As 9”, and “Janine”.
Though the singles tapered off in the late 1980s, Trooper have remained a very active touring band in Canada.
Oh, need another reason to love them? In 2012, a rescued cat that was found frozen to a driveway in Stephenville Crossing, Newfoundland was named Trooper for its miraculous recovery. Of course, the band paid the cat a personal visit.
5. April Wine
It is hard to say what April Wine song you know best. Occasionally they’re looked at by a younger audience as a band with a recognizable name, but their sound and singles might draw a blank.
And trust me, that is a shame to your uncle with the April Wine tattoo who crushes cans of Coors Light on his forehead while blasting “I Like to Rock” in his shed on a Friday night.
April Wine were one of those classic rock bands that balanced their party rock anthems, such as “I Like to Rock”, with a whole lot of power ballads, including “Rock N Roll is a Vicious Game” and “Just Between You and Me”. Releasing over 20 albums since 1981, April Wine landed many of their 70s-80s releases with US gold and platinum, as well as Canadian gold and double-platinum achievements.
In addition to the aforementioned hits, April Wine’s “Best of” tracklist also includes “Sign of Gypsy Queen”, “Tonite is a Wonderful Time to Fall in Love”, “Fast Train”, “I Wouldn’t Want to Lose Your Love”, among others.
6. David Wilcox
After exiting Ian & Sylvia’s country rock group Great Speckled Bird in 1973, an animated boogie n’ blues rock guitarist named David Wilcox decided to go solo. The tall and lanky Montréal songwriter dropped his solo album Out of the Woods in 1977, and the Canadian gold certified record spawned the singles “Bad Apple” and “Do the Bearcat”, two of his best known songs today.
Though the quirky singer and guitarist, with stage antics resembling a Dad embarrassing his teenage daughter in front of her friends, might be best remembered for these borderline novelty singles, he actually had a slew of other (perhaps borderline novelty) hits that you know better than you think you do.
Hmm, do “Riverboat Fantasy”, “Hypnotizin’ Boogie”, “My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble”, “Layin’ Pipe”, “Downtown Came Uptown”, or “Blood Money” ring a bell?
7. Kim Mitchell
You know that kind of painful song “Patio Lanterns” that sounds like your parents boring BBQ parties?
That song is thanks to Kim Mitchell.
Kim Mitchell was the lead guitarist for CanRock band Max Webster, the Ontario hard rock band responsible for “Let Go the Line”, “A Million Vacations” and “Paradise Skies”. After departing Max Webster, Mitchell took up session work and eventually launched an eclectic and sustaining solo career.
Making a mark on the US charts with the now anti-drunk driving anthem “Go For Soda”, Mitchell would follow with a string of catchy tunes that straddle the line between infectious and obnoxious. To name a few, “Patio Lanterns” and “Go For Soda” are joined by the likes of “Rock and Roll Duty”, “Rockland Wonderland”, “Expedition Sailor”, and “I Am a Wild Party”.
Though Chilliwack began as a folk and jazz infused progressive rock band, they wouldn’t discover success until they chose the road of pop-friendly rock in the mid 1970s. Chilliwack would spend most of the 1970s building a solid national following, and finding success with singles such as “Crazy Talk”.
By 1980, Chilliwack whittled their lineup down to a three piece and started the decade with international charting hits including “My Girl (Gone, Gone Gone)”, “I Believe”, and “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)”.
While the band enjoyed continued success on the Canadian market, they never got the same sustainability in the United States.
Rolling Stone magazine once wrote:
“At their best, Chilliwack was the finest Canadian rock band, outrocking BTO and outwriting Burton Cummings. But a lack of consistency kept it from international success.””
Of course you know “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend”! And no, it isn’t BTO’s unofficial followup to “Taking Care of Business”.
Loverboy were Calgary’s golden boys of arena rock who have four multi-platinum albums and millions of sold copies under the belt that holds up their tight red leather pants. Loverboy were a Canadian pillar of the 1980s, and left a strong rope of singles from 1980-1989.
In addition to “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend”, Loverboy’s tune “Turn Me Loose” has become a movie soundtrack and commercial mainstay.
The immortalized hits don’t stop there, with a repertoire including “Lady of the 80s”, “Hot Girls in Love”, “Queen of the Broken Hearts”, and “Lovin’ Every Minute of it”, there is no doubt Loverboy was the cause of many beer showers at frat house and field parties in Canada in the 1980s.
Who started the trend of naming bands after cities, anyway? Toronto are the second band on our list to bare the name of a Canadian city. Perhaps they were all trying to mimic the success of bands like Boston and Kansas.
Toronto are a unique band to close off our list as they were responsible for reviving the career of another band.
Heart, the Seattle-based sister-fronted rock powerhouse that gave us such hits as “Barracuda”, found their first success in Canada. Even as the band broke through in their home country, Heart always kept a strong connection to their neighbours in the north.
In 1985, Heart affectionately adopted the Toronto song “What About Love”, a version which would spring the band back into the spotlight after a few year slump.
While Toronto never enjoyed the same level of success as Heart, their smash hit “Your Daddy Don’t Know” broke the US pop charts in 1982.
In addition to “What About Love” and “Your Daddy Don’t Know”, Toronto also left behind a heap of national hits including “Even the Score”, “Lookin’ for Trouble”, “Still Talkin’ Bout Love”, “Enough is Enough”, “Start Tellin’ the Truth”, and “Girl’s Night Out”.