JAIMIE VERNON: LIFE’S A CANADIAN…LOVE SONG (20 OF THEM)

Tuesday is Valentine’s Day and Sir Paul McCartney has cleverly positioned his new album of old standards, ‘Kisses on the Bottom’, to coincide with the Hallmark holiday. The lead off single is one of the few original tunes on the album called “My Valentine” and there’s even a contest running to offer some lucky sap the chance to propose to his true heart during McCartney’s live gig that night. Fans were debating on Facebook this week about whether this is all just too cheesy. My response to that was pointing out that this was the man who wrote the greatest satirical love song of all time: “Silly Love Songs”.

‘You think that people would have had enough of silly love songs/But I look around me and I see it isn’t so/Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs/And what’s wrong with that?’

Indeed. Sir Paul can be accused of many things but heartbroken cynic is not one of them. And he has every right to be. McCartney got to live the greatest love story of all time. The world famous rock star met photojournalist socialite Linda McCartney and while living under the microscope of media scrutiny (and scorned vindictive Beatle fans) twenty-four hours a day for more than 30 years managed to live a real-life “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Even after Linda was tragically struck down with cancer, Paul remained optimistic about true love. And again he had his heart broken – this time by money hungry wife #2.

And still he continued his search for love. It occurs to me that even if his recent third marriage should also crash and burn, McCartney will remain a hopeless romantic. And he will continue writing those “Silly Love Songs”.  McCartney is the gold standard by which all permutations of love in song can be explored. At least in Britain. The Americans have turned it into a cottage industry: Goffin & King, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Burt Bacharach, Mac Davis, Neil Sedaka, et al.

But what about Canadians? We’re doing more up here than Eskimo nose kisses and having sex doggy-style during ‘Hockey Night In Canada’ so that both parties don’t miss any of the on-ice action.

Canadians aren’t known for their touchy-feely emotional depth and we’ve got a long way to go to shake the image of purveyors of moose rock and beer drinking anthems. But Canadians *do* fall in and out of love too. And we’ve written some of the greatest odes to the running pump ever – even it some of them travel down dark alley ways. Here, for your Valentine’s pleasure are, arguably, the 20 greatest Canadian love songs of all time:

20) “Diana” – PAUL ANKA
Paul Anka might, arguably, be the most prolific Canadian songwriter of all time. His own discography covers 6 decades (!!!) not to mention songs he wrote for others – including “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” for Buddy Holly when Anka was only 17 years old. Anka was Canada’s first certified teen heart-throb. The Justin Beiber of my parents’ generation, if you will. He and Bobby Curtola would go head-to-head simultaneously wetting the panties and provoking tears from teenaged girls throughout Canada until The Beatles landed and rendered every crooner (including Elvis Presley) temporarily irrelevant in 1964. Anka was smart enough to pack his bags and leave Canada in 1963 and wait out the British Invasion. He wrote the ‘Tonight Show’ theme song and the English version of ‘My Way’ for Frank Sinatra. Anka didn’t NEED to return to the charts until the Beatles were no more. However, his return to splendour also ushered in the era of Paul Anka schmaltz starting with 1971’s cloying “Do I Love You”. But Anka’s chart run from August 1957 to November 1962 included a staggering 29 Top40 hits.

“Diana”, a true ‘Diners & Dives’ jukebox rocker, was the first shot out of the starting gate and catapulted to No.1 on both sides of the border. “Diana” rode the charts for four months before he knocked out with his next single, “You Are My Destiny”. Anka’s original compositions were being cranked out as singles at a rate of one every 6 to 8 weeks including “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” and two tunes – “Lonely Boy” and “Puppy Love” – that would launch the solo career of a new 70’s teen idol: Donny Osmond. And if you ignore Anka’s No.1 selling, sexist, vomit-inducing “Having My Baby”, “Diana” remains Anka’s biggest hit of all time. Not bad for a kid from the Ottawa Valley.  http://youtu.be/fuTbB-d12A0

19) “Theme from ‘A Summer Place” – THE PERCY FAITH ORCHESTRA
Following the snoozefest of the 1950’s crooners but before the Invasion of the British came a placid lull in pop music. There existed a hole in Canadian music filled only by Paul Anka’s ballads and Ronnie Hawkins’ rockabilly. A surprise came in the form of Canada’s orchestral soundtrack maven Percy Faith who delivered the lilting and sexy love theme to the Sandra Dee film ‘A Summer Place’. Few instrumentals can be called love songs, but this one fits the bill. A million Cinderella slow dances would be re-enacted by teenaged girls the world over. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaXzeQoWTko&feature=youtu.be

18) “Help Me” – JONI MITCHELL
I’ve never considered Joni Mitchell a romantic. She always came across as the female Leonard Cohen – complete with three piece suit and a loaded weapon…her ballpoint pen. Mitchell is a challenging listen at the best of times with songs about dark topics filled with discordant musical arrangements and prosaic vocal leaps. But on “Help Me”, the protagonist artist strips bare. She is emotionally naked and admits with candor that she’s lost control emotionally and wants help dealing with being in love. It’s a foreign concept and she’s drowning in it. It takes a brave songwriter and a brave human being to lower the shields and leave one’s heart vulnerable for a metaphorical heart attack. “Big Yellow Taxi” this ain’t. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOEE-kR-Txg&feature=youtu.be

17) “Man of Two Minds” – THE TREWS
“Man of Two Minds” is a rootsy power ballad with a twist. Vocalist Colin MacDonald offers the song up as a confessional about being passionately in love with two different women equally. It’s a psychological tug of war between pride of the conquest and the guilt over NOT regretting it. The clever presentation of the song comes in the dynamics of the band – a plaintive cello punctuates the introspective verses and a full band assault accentuates the lyrical liberation. It’s an adulterer’s conundrum laid bare and we’re left hanging as the confessor fails to resolve the issue by song’s end. I await the sequel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_H6_2l8cZG4&feature=youtu.be

16) “The Other Man” – SLOAN
Meanwhile, Sloan’s “The Other Man” finds love inside the beating heart of a self-proclaimed stalker. No one is good enough for her. Especially not the guy she’s already with. The narrator will be the White Knight. He will be the un-credited hero of her affection. No one’s rooting for him. He just knows that he’s the one even if history judges him otherwise. A chilling and problematic reflection of our love deprived culture in general. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kslDI0CZlOY&feature=youtu.be

15) “Knee Deep In Love” – KLAATU
Yep. The mysterious Beatles-in-drag guys who were “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”. Though they started out in 1973 singing about exploding planets and lost subway tunnels, they canceled their subscription to ‘Scientific American’ and realized that without live performances, radio play was all they had to keep them alive. Their label, Capitol Records, wanted some concrete American pop hits and shipped the trio to Los Angeles for four months in 1979 to see what producer Christopher Bond (Hall & Oates) could do with them. The ensuing album, ‘Endangered Species’, was still-born on the heels of a Capitol’s downsizing, but “Knee Deep In Love” managed to catch radio’s ear with its David Gates/Bread styled optimistic pop sensibilities in the spring of 1980. The record never charted stateside but cracked the RPM Top50. To date, the song is still a staple on Canadian oldies radio like CKOC in Hamilton. http://youtu.be/bWmuVLdZPO8

14) “My Heart Will Go On” – CELINE DION
I can hear you rolling your eyes right now. Go ahead…cringe. The truth remains that Dion’s diva-fueled ballad tapped into the fictitious romantic zeitgeist of 1998’s tragic James Cameron megolithic, and unbeatable, disaster flick ‘Titanic’. The Harlequin Romance of the Seven Seas had Rose and Jack living out the heart-break of a thousand generations. Dion voiced the pain and not just because she hits herself in the chest too hard. When prompted, she can actually deliver real emotion. 10 million listeners shared her heartbreak. I will not subject you to the movie soundtrack edit or Dion’s video of the song but, instead, offer you this disturbing teenaged boy’s lip-sync ‘interpretation’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phiBOQo4AX0&feature=youtu.be

13) “I’m On Fire For You, Baby” – APRIL WINE
April Wine’s Myles Goodwin is nothing if not astute at writing rockers for the guys and ballads for the girls. Though “You Won’t Dance With Me” – a throwback to 1950s sock hop slow dances – landed the band at No.5 on the CHUM Chart, “I’m On Fire For You Baby” was a contemporary love song suited for the dog days of August 1974. I can only imagine cottage bonfires, underage beer drinking and clumsy sex in the back of Dad’s old station wagon as the sunset radiated amongst Muskoka evergreens and old friends dragged the ditty back to school with them. The tune would be a key to slow dancing at high school dances and house parties that Fall and inspire another generation of musicians. Here’s Ron Sexsmith and the Bidiniband giving it a run through: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNABaWIRo1c&feature=youtu.be

12) “I Will Still Love You” – STONEBOLT
The entire 1970’s Southern California music movement of acts like The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Poco, Ambrosia, and Pablo Cruise had a distinct identity and was a truly alien musical concept compared to the differently evolving Canadian West Coast scene where the most sunshiney of acts was limited to Bill Henderson’s Chilliwack.

However, a late 1960s Vancouver act called Perth Amboy were doing session work for the likes of Denise McCann (the future Mrs. Randy Bachman) and were discovered by Johnny Rivers’ manager Walter Stewart. He ran their demos up the flagpole at Casablanca Records’ imprint Parachute Records in California and with deal in hand, they renamed themselves Stonebolt and recorded their Stewart produced debut. The second single off the record was the ballad “I Will Still Love You” – a quintessential combination of fey Timothy B. Schmidt falsetto and big city country balladry which grazed the Billboard Top30 in 1978 and made them one hit wonders on both sides of the border. I have always felt that

Randy Vanwarmer stole the best parts of this song for his 1979 hit “Just When I Needed You Most”.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s54-4pJVQEY&feature=youtu.be

11) “Oh, Pretty Lady” – TROOPER
Forget “Raise a Little Hell” and “Boys in the Bright White Sports Car”. Trooper had more depth than most have given them credit for. Ra Maguire and Brian Smith could actually cop a good ballad every now and then. The 1977 Randy Bachman produced ‘Knock ‘Em Dead Kid’ featured the message heavy feel-good bopper “We’re Here For a Good Time” and this beautiful Frank Ludwig keyboard driven Procal Harum-styled ode to eternal love, “Oh, Pretty Lady”.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLX1X_-CUz4&feature=youtu.be

10) “Oh My Lady” – STAMPEDERS
When The Stampeders moved to Toronto in the early ’70s from Calgary, they were viewed as country throwbacks in cowboy hats and sequined jump suits. The 1970 country ballad on Mel Shaw’s newly formed Music World Creations label, “Carry Me”, was met with a programming shrug – “No, thanks…we’ve already got The Good Brothers”. So The Stampeders ditched the wardrobe (though they kept the rawhide boots) and began showing radio stations what a country rock hybrid could accomplish. Following legislation to enact Canadian content rules in 1971 that pushed radio into playing more Canadian songs, The Stampeders were allowed a second shot. And that shot was heard around the world. “Sweet City Woman” went No.1 just about everywhere on the planet and immediately made The

Stampeders a household name. In its wake, the band released several rockers and the criminally overlooked BJ Thomas-styled ballad “Oh My Lady” which, sadly, failed to chart when it was released in 1973. Take a listen. It’s more than just a throwaway on a K-Tel album.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mu1_1LxoMx0&feature=youtu.be


9) “You Oughta Know” – ALANIS MORISSETTE
As Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders once opined “It’s a thin line between love and hate”. With “You Oughta Know” Morissette created the perfect shit storm narrative for a woman scorned. Every word is death by a thousand cuts while the object of her affection bleeds out through the speakers. Rage, sarcasm, affection, revenge, longing and recrimination all play out like open wounds on raw nerves. A line like “You said you’d be with me till the day you died…and you’re still alive” leaves no room for interpretation. Every woman who had ever been two-timed grabbed pitchforks in her defense…and every philanderer ran for the hills afraid they’d have their genitals removed. The song was censored on radio for language and adult content but the message bled through. Don’t EVER leave a woman for another woman or your soul will be publicly executed. 17 million women bought the disc. That’s a lot of broken hearts and asshole men. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nUz34iQDuU&feature=youtu.be

8) (Make Me Do) Anything You Want – A FOOT IN COLDWATER
What if you found out that the song that launched a thousand first-dances at Canadian brides and grooms wasn’t a love song at all? A Foot In Coldwater member Danny Taylor was looking for lyrics that matched the brilliant guitar lines from the late Paul Naumann. Previously, Taylor had a No.1 hit with the

Lords of London and middling fame with their succesors, Nucleus. A Foot In Coldwater was the all-or-nothing shot at the big time as they were signed in 1971 to the energetic new Daffodil Records run by Frank Davies. Frustrated with his earlier missed opportunities, Taylor copped a plea with his higher power to make the band successful. The song peaked at No.21 in July, 1972 and AFICW enjoyed an extended career through most of the 1970s. Now go back and listen to the song with the knowledge that Taylor is singing about spiritual servitude rather than romantic pulchritude and “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” becomes a whole different kind of love song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fYLjRMNA1A&feature=youtu.be

7) “Constant Craving” – k.d.lang
Unrequited love has never tasted so bittersweet. It’s the song that launched Lang’s career as a serious songwriter and a vocal force to be reckoned with.  Words fail to convey the emotion in this song. Years later the lyrics became more poignant following Lang’s public coming out as a lesbian. Regardless, the

heart knows not from orientation. A million souls related to Lang’s passion and pain as they had done two decades before with Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”. It  would take a remake of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallejulah” for her to find that emotion again. And only the producers of a soul-less TV show like ‘Glee’ could turn it into pablum. Do yourself a favour and listen to the original again. It’s still a superb performance especially in tandem with that sad Parisienne accordion accompaniment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXqPjx94YMg&feature=youtu.be

6) “Everytime I See Your Picture” – LUBA
As great as A Foot In Coldwater’s “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” is, Montreal’s Luba takes the trophy for the greatest gut wrenching hymnal-meets-love song allegory of all time. That a voice this big and this riveting could come out of such a diminutive singer is testament to the performer. She owns the song and, with it, the listener. Is it a love song of the flesh or to Jesus himself? Luba lets the listener decide. This tune should have been a global hit. It’s been sadly overlooked in favour of her World Music hit “Let It Go” and evangelical spiritual “How Many Rivers To Cross”. The video is live and demonstrates the power and the fury of her voice – no Auto-Tune, ladies and gents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKr5-LWTU4o&feature=youtu.be

5) “Suzanne” – LEONARD COHEN
Leonard Cohen, like Paul McCartney, is a hopeless romantic. There has never been any doubt that Cohen’s muse is women. It permeates everything he writes – poetry and songs alike. Even with Cohen’s limited vocal capabilities, he has been able to evoke emotional performances that make women (and men) weep.  “Suzanne” was a real woman named Suzanne Verdal who Cohen claims to have had a platonic relationship with. She was his Aphrodite and the inspiration for every love story ever told. The sentiment of the song is ubiquitous and Cohen never had to seduce the real woman to render it as authentic because he was able capture love as an ideal rather than a physical state. It takes a student of the human condition to remove ones self from the narrative while still describing emotions and Cohen does it succinctly here. The link is a performance by Cohen and Judy Collins who actually recorded the song in 1966 before Cohen’s own version was released. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGGSo530bdA&feature=youtu.be

4) “Try” – BLUE RODEO
After rattling around Toronto and then New York City as punk band The Hi-Fi’s, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor returned to Canada and re-invented themselves as the water and oil voiced alt-country progenitors Blue Rodeo. Marrying the best elements of country with rock they were the heir apparent to The Band. And they came out of the barn swinging with the ballad “Try”. Cuddy paints a picture of two doe-eyed lovers locking glance from across the room and the narrator begging the girl to give him a chance. It’s the theme song to every awkward love-at-first-sight story and could just have easily worked if it were called “The Ballad of the Wallflower” by Hank Snow or Wilf Carter. The song is immortal and harkens back to an age of naive innocence and ‘movie’ love. Fortunately for Blue Rodeo that leading their career with a ballad didn’t kill them dead or stereotype them forever. They’re still at it and Keelor would get his chance to write the “Try” sequel with the more robust “Lost Together” where the two lovers live happily ever after. The video features bassist Basil Donovan, original drummer Cleave Anderson, and keyboardist Bob Wiseman. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vw3jUZo9FQ&feature=youtu.be

3) “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – BRYAN ADAMS
Adams’ work-a-day everyman guitar rock earned him early hits with “Cuts Like a Knife”, “Lonely Nights”, “This Time” and ballads like “Straight From the Heart” and “The Best Was Yet To Come”. All hell broke lose in 1984 with the release of the ‘Reckless’ album which spawned half-a-dozen Top 10 hits including the perennial Canadian anthem ‘Summer of ’69’. Adams rode the crest of a wave throughout the remainder of the ’80s racking up world tours and several diamond selling albums (that’s 1,000,000 units in Canada!).

Then the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself: to write the love song for the Kevin Kostner movie “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. With producer Mutt Lange and arranger Michael Kamen, Adams (minus Jim Vallance) went to work crafting a simple but elegant power ballad for the ages in only 45 minutes (!?!). The ‘keep-it-simple-stupid’ ballad would go on to sell 10 million copies worldwide and went number one in more than a dozen countries. You can scoff at it, despise it, or feel indifferent about it but people were married to this song and most probably conceived children to it. So goes the power of love.  Stewie Griffin sings Adams: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6t9b8gvcVM&feature=youtu.be

2) “Beautiful” – GORDON LIGHTFOOT
To even the most casual fan Lightfoot’s popularity can be defined by the folk  tragedy “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and the roving melancholia of “Sundown”. His most recognized love song would have to be “If You Could Read My Mind” but as writer Bob Mersereau was able to glean from an interview with Lightfoot in the book ‘The Top 100 Canadian Singles’, the song is a wistful tale about the implosion of his first marriage. If you listen to the poetry of his words, they are wrapped in allegories and cinematic word play about regret and redemption. And these words are hardly the snuggle-up-and-kiss-me-Kate song that some would-be girl group would have us believe when they turned it into a dance tune many years ago.

No, Lightfoot’s greatest love song – and tribute to women in general – is the plaintively elegant “Beautiful”. It is easily the male equivalent to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRhEvjyk_dc&feature=youtu.be

1) “These Eyes” – THE GUESS WHO
If rock radio had its way, “American Woman” would be the only song you’d ever hear by The Guess Who. But this 1969 stylistically uncharacteristic chart topper was the first of three Canadian number one hits from a band that only three years previous had made the Top 5 with the Johnny Kidd written jangly guitar ditty “Shakin’ All Over”. Of course, the difference between the 1966 Guess Who and the 1969 Guess Who was the dramatically charismatic lead vocalist/piano player Burton Cummings…and the soon-to-be-famous producer Jack Richardson. As was Canada’s way at the end of the 1960’s, outrageous over-wrought orchestrated production was the order of the day. It would work for Blood, Sweat & Tears, it would work for Lighthouse and Richardson gambled that it would work for The Guess Who. Sweep back the production and Cummings tears his heart out (and his lungs) with an ode to monogamous fealty. You truly believed he would weep without this girl. And it would make The Guess Who international superstars an entire year before “American Woman”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT4Qp0tYfBg&feature=youtu.be

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and is the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. He keeps a copy of Lightfoot’s “Sundown” under his pillow at night.

13 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON: LIFE’S A CANADIAN…LOVE SONG (20 OF THEM)”

  1. Sensational list of Cancon love songs, Jamie. Much to be argued but that’s what lists elicit. Brought back memories of great music and unrequited loves.

  2. Stay Awhile by the Bells

  3. […] Top 20 Greatest Canadian Love Songs Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  4. There you go again, Jaimie, eliciting memories. I remember putting an A Foot In Coldwater display in a window of a San Diego record store when the US album (Or All Around You) was released only to get a note from the front office to take it down for something more relevant. What a band and what a disappointment to find that their song was not about the love we all suspected. About your writing, though. Ubiquitous? A word I use and didn’t know what it meant. Please, no more word journeys. I’ve fallen and can’t reach my dictionary.

  5. I did not know that Klaatu single. I am guilty of having ignored Endangered Species at the time. Neat list. Thanks for your insights and for being the tireless keeper of Canadiana lore.

  6. James Rogers Says:

    Hey Jaimie, I totally agree with the #1! I guessed before reading or at least hoped you chose ‘These Eyes’. One you missed in my opinion…one of the best ‘drip’ tunes ever…’Right Before Your Eyes’ by Ian Thomas.

  7. Fred Hinnegan Says:

    Interesting list, Jaimie. Some expected, but lots of surprises. I, too, was surprised at nothing from “The Bells”. How could you leave off a song where the singer sounds like she’s having an orgasm for the whole song? Even their minor hit “Oh My Love” might make a List #2. Good article, though….

  8. […] Segarini: Don't Believe a Word I Say Just another WordPress.com site « JAIMIE VERNON: LIFE’S A CANADIAN…LOVE SONG (20 OF THEM) […]

  9. PartyPooper Says:

    Frozen Ghost – Dream come true,
    A Canadian classic.

  10. Thanks for including Lightfoot’s Beautiful ! Nice choice! I played that at a Wedding once as per the couple’s request, and that song was a stand out for me ever since its 1st trip around my turntable. I missed seeing Kenny Loggins’ Danny’s Song here, since it was brought to the top of the charts by Anne Murray ( Celine didn’t write that Titanic Song, did she? So I figure it’s okay to highlight a song not written by the Artist?). These lists can go & on hahaha! So STOP me after mentioning: Sarah Maclaughlin’s Hold You Down, Bruce Cockburn’s Loner, Brian MacMillan’s Turn The Radio Up and David Celia’s I Tried. 🙂

  11. My painting “Canadian Love Song” near to completion. I want guidance and references of Top love songs. singers, song writers and composers.

    my profile: search at http://www.google.com as Wasan Khurshid.
    My Facebook ID: Wasan Khattak
    School of Thought: Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

  12. Great selection of Canadian Classics!

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