You still need a passport to cross any of our borders with our friendly neighbor to the north, but you don’t need one to hear the multitude of Canadian musicians that have graced American airwaves over the past half century or so. From ’70s schmaltz queen Anne Murray to ’90s anger-management candidate Alanis Morissette, and from one-hit wonder Alannah Myles to heritage rock artist Amanda Marshall, we’ve been rocking and rolling to their music for eons (well maybe not rocking in Murray’s case, but you get the point).
Perhaps in no other single year has this been more the case than the current one. One look at this week’s Billboard charts (dated Sept. 19) and you’ll see who’s been dominating airwaves, streaming and sales/downloads within America’s shores during 2015. This week’s Number One album is by alternative R&B artist Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, whose album Beauty Behind The Madness opened with more than 326,000 in pure sales and 412,000 in album-equivalent units (which factors in streaming and individual track downloads). Those numbers are second this year only to rapper Drake’s album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which debuted in February with more than 400k and 500k in those categories, respectively.
Both Drake and The Weeknd are Canadian, as is the artist who replaces The Weeknd at Number One on the pop singles chart, Justin Bieber. His “What Do You Mean?” enters the Billboard Hot 100 at Number One, becoming the first single to début at the top in over a year (since Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”). He also registers one of the highest sales weeks of 2015 in doing so. To add to the Canadian dominance of America’s pop charts, the singles at #2 and #3 are both by The Weeknd. “Can’t Feel My Face” falls to #2, while “The Hills” climbs to #3. It’s the first time any Canadian artist has simultaneously had two of the top three singles in America, and the first time Canadian artists have collectively occupied the top three slots.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, The Weeknd has eight (!) songs from the new album that début on the Hot 100 this week – joining the three that were already there – for a total of 11 songs from one album on the chart simultaneously. This places him in rare territory with artists like Drake and Swift who’ve achieved similar feats. In fact Drake tied a record in February when he had 14 songs on the chart simultaneously (10 from his latest album).
This year certainly represents one of the best showings for Canadians in recent memory, and probably one of the more diverse, both in terms of musical styles and ethnicities. In the past, most of Canada’s musical exports were of the rock variety, and nearly all of them were white. Aside from Murray and Morissette, there were classic pop/rock acts like the Guess Who, Bachman Turner-Overdrive (a derivative of the Guess Who), Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Bryan Adams, and many others who achieved great success in America.
The success of Drake and now The Weeknd during this decade demonstrates the diversity of music that Canada indeed has to offer. My further research of this topic found that there are plenty more Canadian artists of diverse musical and ethnic backgrounds that have gone largely unnoticed here in America. People like Tamia and Glenn Lewis (both of whom have had some R&B success here), Toya Alexis, Melanie Durrant, Gary Beal and Jully Black have had moderate to good success in Canada. In fact Jully Black has been considered the “Queen of Canadian R&B” with several hits across the border (Deborah Cox may have something to say about that crowning though). However, there’s rarely been any such luck here for many of these artists.
It is with these artists and the recent success of this year’s chart-toppers in mind that I thought now would be a great time to come up with a list of the Canadians who have had the most impact on America’s music charts and pop culture over the decades. I decided to go back 50 years to 1965 and rank the 25 Most Impactful Canadian Musicians on the American Music Scene. Of course, as with all the DJRob countdowns, there is a list of honorable mentions which follows the top-25 list.
The rankings cover from 1965 to the present, and there are artists from each of the past six calendar decades represented, including some with whom you may not be as familiar. The thing I found most interesting about the list is that almost all the artists in this ranking are still alive, which is in stark contrast to some of my other “Greatest Artists” djroblists.
So where do the current crop of Canadians stand with respect to their musical forefathers and foremothers? Without any further delay, here they are…the 25 Most Impactful Canadian Musicians on the American Music Scene for the past 50 years.
25. Corey Hart (Montreal, Quebec). Memorable American contributions: “Sunglasses At Night” and “Never Surrender.” In 1984, Hart frantically warned his subject “Don’t switch the blade on a guy in shades, oh no!” By the following year, he’d calmed down a bit and had a more uplifting message for people who were “lost and on their own.” The latter, “Never Surrender,” became his biggest American hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1985. In all, he had nine top-40 hits in America. For grins, check out one of those hits, the title track of his 1985 album, “Boy In The Box.” Pure ’80s bombastic fun!
24. Deborah Cox (Toronto, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Who Do You Love?” and “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here.” At a time when R&B music was dominating the pop charts during the late 1990s, Cox rode the crest of a soulful wave when she tied a record-setting 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts with the soaring ballad, “Nobody Supposed To Be Here.” It just missed giving the artist her only #1 pop single when it got stuck at #2 on the Hot 100 for eight weeks in early 1999. Had she climbed a notch higher, she would’ve been the fourth Canadian woman to top the American pop singles charts, after Anne Murray, Alannah Myles and Celine Dion, and the first black one. Before and after “Nobody” hit, she also made a name for herself in the dance music scene, having recorded 12 Number One Billboard dance chart hits, including a famous dance remix of “Nobody.”
23. Avril Lavigne (Belleville, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Complicated,” “I’m With You” and “Girlfriend.” Skater punk queen Avril Lavigne is perhaps one of the most successful Canadian woman to emerge during the 2000s with several top ten hits, including the #1 single, “Girlfriend.” Lavigne is one of five Canadian women to have a #1 single in America, following the previously mentioned Murray, Myles and Dion plus Nelly Furtado.
22. Loverboy (Calgary, Alberta). Memorable American contributions: “Turn Me Loose,” “Lovin’ Every Minute Of It” and “Working For The Weekend.” Sure, Loverboy has had more hits than the classic weekend anthem to reach America’s charts. But none gets people as amped up as the rocker that it seemed every pop or rock radio station would blast at 5pm on Fridays to signal the coming weekend. I played it (loud) this week and, of course, the air drums were going full swing!
21. Diana Krall (Nanaimo, British Columbia). Memorable American contributions: Eleven Number One U.S. jazz chart albums (out of twelve released). Krall is one of the best-selling jazz pianists of all time, with six of her albums reaching the top ten of the American pop charts. Since jazz artists don’t usually release singles, take your pick from any one of the quality tracks on her albums. I liked (and included on the special djrob Spotify playlist below) “A Case of You” and “If I Had You” (duet with country legend Willie Nelson).
20. Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Winnipeg, Manitoba). Memorable American contributions: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” “Takin’ Care of Business” and “Let It Ride.” Rock group The Guess Who had two main vocalists, smooth tenor Burton Cummings and the rougher-sounding Randy Bachman. It was Bachman who left the group to form his own, BTO, in the early ’70s and gave us the classic “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” complete with his famously contrived stuttering of the chorus. Another great song was “Let It Ride” earlier in ’74. By 1975, the group’s creative juices had stopped flowing and they churned out their last top-40 occupant, “Hey You,” which seemed like a mere mash-up of “Let It Ride” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” This loss of creativity signaled the end of BTO as hitmakers. Bachman resurfaced a third time in 1979 with a new creation, the band Ironhorse, which had the top-40 pop single “Sweet Lui-Louise.” Check out BTO’s #1 hit single below.
19. Hank Snow (Brooklyn, Nova Scotia). Memorable American contributions: “Hello Love” plus six other Number One country songs. Most of Snow’s (not to be confused with Canadian reggae-style rapper Snow) biggest success occurred during the 1950s and early ’60s, prior to the period of consideration for this djroblist. However, his legacy was enough to get him on the list. “Hello Love” from 1974 was his last #1 single on the American country charts, and at 59 years old, it made Hank the oldest artist to reach #1 on that chart, until Kenny Rogers (61) broke the record in 2000.
18. Sarah McLachlan (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Memorable American contributions: “Angel” and “I Will Remember You.” Remember the female-dominated heritage rock explosion of the mid-to-late 1990s, with people like Jewel, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin and others enjoying the spotlight? Perhaps the most successful of all them was Sarah McLachlan, whose brand of pop music was a staple on the American airwaves during those years. Still, her biggest U.S. contribution may be the $30-plus million she’s said to have raised for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, particularly with the use of her “Angel” in the group’s TV ads depicting battered animals in need of some TLC.
17. The Band (Toronto, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Leave it to a folk-rock band from Ontario to grab a slice of Americana and create a sound that was better than most American bands could do at the time. During the late-1960s, this group created music that is still viewed as some of the most influential in rock music history. They have the distinction of being in both the Canadian and American Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine ranks “The Weight” at #41 on its list of the greatest songs of all time.
16. Nelly Furtado (Victoria, British Columbia). Memorable American contributions: “Promiscuous,” “Say It Right” and “Give It To Me” (w/ Timbaland and Justin Timberlake). Nelly Furtado first soared across the American border with her inaugural hit, “I’m Like A Bird,” in 2001. Then she clipped those wings, teamed up with mega-producer Timbalake and exploded with the three #1 singles mentioned above in 2006-07. After “Give It To Me” descended the charts, Furtado’s American star faded almost as quickly as it rose. She hasn’t reached the top 40 here since that funky 2007 tune. In addition to the big hits, check out “Maneater,” one of my faves by Furtado.
15. Nickelback (Hanna, Alberta). Memorable American contributions: “How You Remind Me” and “Photograph.” In 2001, led by vocalist Chad Kroeger, this group joined the ranks of The Guess Who, BTO and Barenaked Ladies as the only Canadian groups (non-solo artists) to reach #1 on the American singles charts with “How You Remind Me.” Four years later they nearly repeated the feat with the #2 single, “Photograph.” But the change in decades from the ’00s to the 2010s seemingly marked an end to their success, as they haven’t had a U.S. top-40 hit since “This Afternoon” peaked at #34 in 2010.
14. Paul Anka (Ottawa, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Diana,” “Lonely Boy” and “(You’re) Having My Baby.” Most of Anka’s legendary success occurred before 1965, but the single that is largely responsible for his 1970s comeback success is one that set the women’s liberation movement back about 30 years when “(You’re) Having My Baby” reached #1 in ’74. With lyrics like “the seed inside you, do you feel it growing? Are you happy in knowing that you’re having my baby?,” it’s amazing that he managed to have several more top ten hits here (many with singer Odia Coates) after that “I forgot what decade I’m in” song ran its course.
13. Rush (Toronto, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: Any number of their album-rock songs featuring that piercing lead vocalist, Geddy Lee. This group combines progressive and hard rock elements to come up with their unique sound which is at its best when Lee’s voice switches from its normal mode to that famous yell (which is always done in key). It’s ironic, but this Canadian and American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entrant has never had a #1 album in this country. My personal favorites: “Free Will,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Fly By Night” (which was popularized in a Volkswagen TV commercial several years ago…check it out below).
12. Justin Bieber (London, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Baby,” “Believe” and now “What Do You Mean?” Place me among the many Americans who tired easily of all the news of Bieber’s attention-seeking antics of a couple of years back. He’d still get my vote for Canadian musician most likely to be deported if there were such a thing. Nonetheless, he has had a huge impact on the teenybopper record-buying community, which was made most evident by his “comeback” single, and this week’s #1 pop hit, “What Do You Mean?”
11. Michael Bublé (Burnaby, British Columbia). Memorable American contributions: “Home,” “Everything” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.” Bublé has had chart-topping success in America for years, having released several #1 albums – both for the pop and jazz album charts – as well as a number of chart-topping singles on the Adult Contemporary chart. The biggest of those, “Haven’t Met You Yet,” was his only top-40 pop hit. Of his 30 million in total worldwide record sales, 18 million occurred in the U.S.
10. Drake (Toronto, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Best I Ever Had,” “Take Care,” and “Started From The Bottom.” For all of his success in America, there’s one thing rapper Drake has yet to accomplish: hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his own single (he did it once as a guest on Rihanna’s “What’s My Name” in 2010). Regardless, he’s the Canadian who has appeared in more Hot 100 chart hits than any other (largely due to his featured role on other people’s tracks). And, despite one’s views about Drake or his chart omnipresence, those artists wouldn’t be calling on him if they didn’t think he had swag or chart mojo.
9. Alanis Morissette (Ottawa, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: Any of the songs from 1995’s Jagged Little Pill, plus the respectable follow-up single “Thank U.” When most people think of Alanis Morissette, they think of her mid-1990s triumph Jagged Little Pill and all the angst associated with songs like “You Oughta Know,” “All I Really Want” and “Hand in My Pocket.” But the album’s biggest hits were “You Learn” and “Ironic,” the latter of which is remembered, ironically, for incorrectly describing situations that were not ironic at all (just examples of pure bad luck). I remember her most for the video to the first single from her follow-up album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, called “Thank U,” where she’s seen standing in a skin-toned body suit that creates the illusion of her being naked (and, ironically, vulnerable).
8. Joni Mitchell (Fort Macleod, Alberta). Memorable American contributions: “Help Me,” “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” There must be something cool about being Joni Mitchell, even if you’re primary musical output has been folksy and fronted by a beautiful, if not commercially appealing contralto voice like hers. Mitchell has been name-checked by seemingly hip American artists like Janet Jackson and Prince in their own musical endeavors. Joni Mitchell has an ally of sorts with Prince, as they both reportedly share a disdain for the “business” part of the music business. Despite that, she is considered one of the most influential rock vocalists and songwriters in music history.
7. Neil Young (Toronto, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Heart of Gold” (solo) and “For What It’s Worth” (with Buffalo Springfield), then “Ohio,” “Teach Your Children” and “Our House” (all as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young is the only artist on this list who can claim to have top-40 singles with two different groups and as a solo artist. (Randy Bachman did it with three groups, but not solo.) Young’s music is largely considered folk rock, but there’s plenty of protest music in his repertoire, including a couple of songs aimed at U.S. Presidents from the Republican party (1970’s “Ohio” criticized Richard Nixon, while “Let’s Impeach The President” from 2006 targeted George W. Bush).
6. Gordon Lightfoot (Orillia, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: “Carefree Highway,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown” and “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.” Checkout this lyric from “Edmund Fitzgerald”: “the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.” In this case, “Gitche Gumee” was Lake Superior, the site of the wreck of one of the biggest ore carriers in the Great Lakes in November 1975, the story of which Lightfoot turned into a hit song exactly a year later. This song still gives me chills when I hear it almost 40 years later. It’s a great example of Lightfoot’s legendary story-telling ability, which is further demonstrated on classics like “Carefree Highway” and “Sundown,” his only #1 pop hit in America.
5. The Guess Who (Winnipeg, Manitoba) w/ Burton Cummings. Memorable American contributions: “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “No Time,” “American Woman” and “Clap For The Wolfman.” If that last title doesn’t date this band, I don’t know what could. How many of you even remember the famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack, much less that there was a hit song that paid tribute to him. Anyway, I prefer to celebrate this venerable Canadian band’s better fare, like one of my all-time favorite ’60s songs, “These Eyes.” Group founder Randy Bachman has already been mentioned several times in this article, but props also go to lead-singer, Burton Cummings, who sang lead on “These Eyes” and “Laughing” before going solo and having his own hit, “Stand Tall” in 1976. The Guess Who has one American #1 single, appropriately titled, “American Woman, which is a classic rock staple to this day. They’re also in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, but, surprisingly, not in the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
4. Shania Twain (Windsor, Ontario). Memorable American contributions: Any of the singles from her Come On Over album. Hard to believe it’s been almost 20 years since country-pop queen Shania Twain wowed us with 1997’s Come On Over, which ended up being the biggest-selling (non-soundtrack) album by a woman in history at 33 million (16 million in the U.S.). What’s not as hard to believe is that Canadian women own the two biggest-selling albums in this category, with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill ranked right behind Twain. What’s that you say? “That Don’t Impress You Much”?
3. Anne Murray (Springhill, Nova Scotia). Memorable American contributions: “You Needed Me,” “Songbird,” “You Won’t See Me” and “Danny’s Song.” Many of my closest friends know that I am not the biggest Anne Murray fan. To me, she epitomizes the time when pop radio became dull and boring in the late ’70s and early ’80s (particularly when disco “died”). But even I cannot deny the impact she’s had here in America, becoming one of the biggest country/adult contemporary/pop crossover artists in history. She even gets props for pulling off a #1 pop hit with the sleepy but sweet ballad “You Needed Me” during a year when disco had pretty much dominated. But that won’t stop me from sticking my finger down my throat every time I hear “Could I Have This Dance,” “Broken-hearted Me” or “Blessed Are the Believers.” Harsh, yes, I know, but hey, she’s way up here at #3! Recognize my objectivity, folks!
2. Bryan Adams (Kingston, Ontario. Memorable American contributions: “Cuts Like A Knife,” and any number of songs from his 1984 album Reckless (“Run To You,” “Heaven” and “Summer of ’69”). Actually, there are plenty of other memorable hits in Adams’ repertoire, including the #1 singles “Everything I Do (I Do It For You),” “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” and “All For Love” (with Sting and Rod Stewart), which joined “Heaven” as his four U.S. chart-toppers. No other male from Canada has had as much success as Adams. Plus, he’s the only Canadian to have ever recorded a top-20 hit with legendary rocker Tina Turner (1985’s “It’s Only Love”). And only one other person could possibly top him…
1. Celine Dion (Charlemagne, Quebec). Memorable American contributions: “The Power Of Love,” “Because You Loved Me,” “My Heart Will Go On” and Vegas! One of this powerhouse vocalist’s earliest hits in America was a 1992 remake of an old R&B song done by another powerhouse vocalist (“If You Asked Me To,” first done by Patti LaBelle in 1988). But boy did Dion come into her own with the hits that followed. Her theatrics in the studio are perhaps only matched or exceeded by LaBelle’s. And Celine has the stage show to back it up, including a long-standing Vegas stint for the better part of this millennium. Add to that the over 200 million records she’s reportedly sold in the past 25 years and you have the makings of Canada’s biggest contribution to the American music scene! Check out her video for the million-selling 1996 hit, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” below.
And there’s your list of the most impactful Canadian musicians on the American music scene.
Now for the honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically):
April Wine (“Just Between You and Me”)
Barenaked Ladies (“One Week,” “Pinch Me”)
Jane Child (“Don’t Wanna Fall In Love”)
Terri Clark (several country hits)
David Clayton-Thomas (lead-singer Blood, Sweat & Tears)
Tom Cochrane (“Life is a Highway”)
Leonard Cohen (“Hallelujah”)
Crash Test Dummies (“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”)
deadmau5 (pronounced “dead mouse”; electronic/house)
David Foster (writer/producer/singer)
Nick Gilder (“Hot Child In The City”)
Jeff Healey (blues/jazz trumpeter)
Dan Hill (“Sometimes When We Touch,” “Can’t We Try”)
Terry Jacks (“Seasons In The Sun”)
Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”)
France Joli (“Come To Me”)
Andy Kim (“Rock Me Gently”)
k.d. lang (“Constant Craving”)
Glenn Lewis (“Don’t You Forget It”)
Amanda Marshall (“Birmingham”)
Loreena McKennitt (“The Mummers Dance”)
Frank Mills (pianist, “Music Box Dancer”)
Alannah Myles (“Black Velvet”)
Aldo Nova (“Fantasy”)
Daniel Powter (“Bad Day”)
Tamia (“Stranger In My House”)
R. Dean Taylor (“Indiana Wants Me”)
Gino Vannelli (“Living Inside Myself,” “I Just Wanna Stop,” “People Gotta Move”)
Vanity (“Pretty Mess” “Nasty Girl”)
The Weeknd (“Earned It,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills”)
To hear many of the songs (including the honorable mentions) discussed in this article in my special Canadian Artists playlist on Spotify, click here.
And, as always, thanks for all the love and support!