Desert Island Discs: Canadian Bands Edition

Share this:

In a pitched battle for Canuck supremacy, Neil Young edged out Rush by just one mention, as we imagined what being stranded on an island just off the coast of Canada might be like.

Meanwhile, the Guess Who received one more vote than the Band, while Joni Mitchell, Bachman Turner Over Drive, Diana Krall and Sloan each received two nods as we polled our intrepid panelist/boating enthusiasts on which albums by Canadian bands would become must-haves should their pleasure cruiser go down.

Also mentioned: April Wine, Bruce Cockburn, Cowboy Junkies, Crash Test Dummies, Daniel Lanois, David Foster, Gino Vannelli, John Oswald, k.d. lang, Loreena McKinnett, Rufus Wainwright, the Tragically Hip, Trooper and Voivod, among others …


1-2. RUSH – SIGNALS (1982) and GRACE UNDER PRESSURE (1984): A one-two punch following the knock-out blow (can that be done?) of Moving Pictures. This was the great power trio format the band had always followed, but embraced in a sheen of ’80s sounds and styles that almost completely redefined their music. The funny thing is, this redefinition kind of lets the other guys shine (you know, Geddy and Neil on bass and drums, respectively) after years of guitar-centric music.
3. VOIVOD – NOTHINGFACE (1989): Sci-fi rock, that’s about the best way to describe this. Oddball time signatures in pop-style rock tunes (including a fantastic cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”), over top of which are these fractured, freak-out guitar textures and pinched, nasal vocals. Pure weird and completely fun, and that’s a beautiful thing.
4. THE TRAGICALLY HIP – FULLY COMPLETELY (1992): The Canadian REM, the Canadian Pearl Jam, the Canadian “you name it” American rock act. Whatever it is, the Tragically Hip have been their very own, unique thing for a long time, a combination of rootsy rock and lead singer Gordon Downey’s unusual lyrics and delivery. Once they get under your skin you really can’t shake ’em.
5. BRUCE COCKBURN – THE CHARITY OF NIGHT (1996) – Fitting for the title, this is a dark, quiet, introspective piece, and the rewards come in listening closely to the interplay between musicians. Key among them is bassist Rob Wasserman, who takes a chill-inducing solo moment during “Pacing The Cage.”


1. CRASH TEST DUMMIES – GOD SHUFFLED HIS FEET (1993): Lyrically this album is an absolute delight, from start to finish. I especially enjoy the quirky love song, “Swimming in Your Ocean.”
2. ROCH VOISINE – I’LL ALWAYS BE THERE (1993): Acadian Canadian Voisine releases albums in both Acadian French and English. “I’ll Always Be There” was/is his English language debut. Voisine has a fantastic voice. The anthemic title track was co-written by David Foster (the keyboard flourishes give him away even before even checking the liner notes).
3. JAMES LaBRIE – ELEMENTS OF PERSUASION (2005): Dream Theater vocalist’s 3rd solo album. Where his 2 “Mullmuzzler” albums were more hard rock/AOR, this one is pure crunchy heavy metal. This is the album to wake up to the next morning after Foster’s “Rechordings” lulled you to sleep the night before.
4. DAVID FOSTER – RECHORDINGS (1991): With instrumental piano versions of several of the songs Foster co-wrote and produced for other artists (Boz Scaggs’ “Look What You’ve Done To Me,” Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” Peter Cetera’s “The Glory of Love,” and Earth Wind & Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone” to name a few) this is a great album to chill out (or fall asleep) to.
5. TIM FEEHAN – FULL CONTACT (1990): I “discovered” Feehan after hearing Chicago’s version of his song “Heart in Pieces” on their 19th album. In addition to Feehan’s version of “Heart in Pieces” there are several other solid AOR songs on this album. “Dive” has become another favorite of mine.


1. THE BAND – THE BAND (1969): Practically a greatest-hits package all on its own, this album examined our familial and societal connections amid dying traditions, creating themes and textures that still thrum with relevancy today. Looking back, every important permutation of the Band’s quickly emerging legend can be found inside this loose-knit yet completely assured song cycle.
2. NEIL YOUNG – HARVEST MOON (1994): Young’s companion piece to 1972’s Harvest arrived at just the right time, with popular music in the midst of a revolution of feedback and flannel — which, admittedly, he himself had helped foment. Still, as Young celebrated home and hearth, after years of screwing around with every permutation of his craggly, convoluted, WTF-filled muse, he reconnected with me in a startlingly direct way. I haven’t played any single Young album more often since.
4. RUSH – 2112 (1976): If for no other reason than the titanic 20-minute what-if-they-banned-music themed title track. I’m not sure — even now — that this seven-part concept-suite (with its crazy-good instrumental interludes, crazy-ass screeching and sometimes plain-crazy Neil Peart theme) isn’t the best thing Rush ever did.
4. K.D. LANG – INGENUE (1992): Achingly gorgeous, this was an American songbook for a different American generation — delicately beautiful but also lastingly mysterious. She sings with a heart-breaking finality, yet without much specificity, creating something quite unlike so many of those more straight-forward, but ultimately featureless chanteuse records of yesteryear. Like looking into the endless mystery of a pearl.
5. DANIEL LANOIS – ACADIE (1989): You expected something similar in tone with his best stuff (that is to say, his most atmospheric stuff) from the previous decade. More often, though, this is just a folk-rock album … by way of the Cajun prairie, of course. After reveling in the complexity of his work with Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson and U2, imagine my surprise at how moving Lanois’ solo debut was — in its simplicity.


1. THE GUESS WHO – GREATEST HITS (1999): Chock full o’ Hits could’ve been the alternate title for this most recent “Greatest Hits” CD that is true to its name with “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time,” American Woman,” “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” “Hand me Down World,” “Share the Land” and “Clap for the Wolfman” all being here, amongst their other lesser-known hits.
2. NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE – LIVE RUST (1979): Even though, it’s almost identical to Neil’s classic, Rust Never Sleeps single album, I actually do prefer this soundtrack double album set — simply because the song selection and live performances are better. So many fab performances, like both of the acoustic/electric versions of “My My Hey Hey,” to the righteous heavy crunch of “Cinnamon Girl,” and the definitive version of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” One of the best live albums of all time.
3. RUSH – CHRONICLES (1990): A double album, “Greatest Hits and More” type collection spanning the years 1974-1990 which I think has all of their essential singles and album rock radio hits — including “Trees,” “Finding My Way,” “Working Man,” “Freewill,” “Spirit of the Radio,” “Farewell to Kings,” “2112 Overture,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” “Closer To the Heart,” “Subdivisions” and “New World Man.”
4. COWBOY JUNKIES – STUDIO: SELECTED STUDIO RECORDINGS 1986-95 (1996): I know The Trinity Session is the Cowboy Junkies’ definitive album; despite that acknowledgement, I still am drawn more to this well chosen best of CD with “Misguided Angel,” “Sweet Jane,” “Sun Comes Up It’s Tuesday Morning,” “Common Disaster” and “Shining Moon” all in one spot.
5. GORDON LIGHTFOOT – COMPLETE GREATEST HITS (2002): This 2002 collection has everything a casual Lightfoot fan like me would want on a single CD like “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” “If you could read my mind,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Early Morning Rain.” It really does live up to its “complete” name.


1. NEIL YOUNG – RUST NEVER SLEEPS (1979): I love the side A/side B-ness of this album. Acoustic Neil is followed by full-on electric Neil. And by “electric” I mean distortion-from-hell electric.
2. SLOAN – NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT (2006): I never heard of these guys until they opened for the Rolling Stones in Boston on the Bigger Bang tour. Their keen sense of power pop songcraft made me wonder why they weren’t more popular down here in the flatlands.
3. RUSH – EXIT … STAGE LEFT (1981): Not sure I can live without both “YYZ” and “La Villa Strangiato.”
4. JONI MITCHELL – DON JUAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER (1977): Joni’s catalog is kind of huge. Also, kind of great … making this a really difficult choice. So here we have Joni with a crazy-great cast of session people including Jaco Pastorius, Airto Moreira, Don Alias, and Wayne Shorter. Some folk fans were turned off by this album, which made me wonder what was wrong with their ears.
5. TROOPER – THICK AS THIEVES (1978): When I was a kid we only had a handful of TV stations, with one from Portland, two in Bangor, and a fourth in Poland Springs (which only came in well if you had that bunch of aluminum foil adjusted to the correct location on the rabbit ears). Late on Saturday nights, there would be ads for albums and concerts from Canada — things like Styx at the Moncton Coliseum, and the latest album by Trooper! (exclamation point because I think it was just a shot of the album cover with an excitable voiceover. Anyway, they played a bit of “Raise A Little Hell” and I was hooked.


1. ANNIHILATOR – ALICE IN HELL (1989): The most underrated thrash album, in my opinion, and one of the most underrated guitarists out there in Jeff Waters. Though they’ve released some good records over the years, they’ve never quite matched the ferocity of this one.
2. INTO ETERNITY – BURIED IN OBLIVION (2004): The middle and best of three great releases in a row from the prog-metal outfit. Buried in Oblivion found the right mix between heavy, growling extreme metal influences and tasty, melodic passages. Another highly underrated band.
3. RUSH – MOVING PICTURES (1981): I find myself saying this a lot about bands I think I should like, but I’m not a huge Rush fan. Still, they can hardly be left of this list, and if I had to choose one record by the band, this would be it. My introduction to Rush, though I had no idea who they were at the time, came as a little kid watching Kerry Von Erich come to the ring in Mid-South Wrestling with “Tom Sawyer” as his entrance music. And, yes, I do still crank up “Tom Sawyer” every time it comes on.
4. APRIL WINE – THE NATURE OF THE BEAST (1981): “Sign of the Gypsy Queen.” That’s really all I need to say.
5. STRAPPING YOUNG LAD – CITY (1997): I remember hearing this weird guy named Devin Townsend wailing his ass off on Steve Vai’s Sex and Religion album and saying, “that guy’s going to do some great stuff one day.” Though, over the course of his career and therapy, his output has been uneven, he’s often lived up to that expectation. This album, the musical equivalent of dealing with your problems by ramming your head repeatedly into a brick wall, is one of the high points.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B000W1TJSQ” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B000002VKU” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00004W510″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0011ZYH5M” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B001W2F730″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]


1. THE GUESS WHO – THE BEST OF THE GUESS WHO (1990): No self-respecting rock fan should be without this album — or any of the subsequent compilations — from this still-unique band. They managed to combine straight-ahead rock with very interesting chord changes, such as the epic “These Eyes.”
2. BACHMAN TURNER OVERDRIVE – THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (2008): A close second to their “parent” band the Guess Who, BTO established themselves as masters of blue collar rock and roll. This album contains all of their big hits like “Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” but also includes deep cuts that are hardly ever played on the radio.
3. REMY SHAND – THE WAY I FEEL (2002): A superb work of blue-eyed soul, this album stands thus far as Shand’s only release. Let’s hope he returns someday with more tasty tunes like “Take A Message.”
4. DIANA KRALL – ALL FOR YOU: A DEDICATION OT THE NAT KING COLE TRIO (1996): Krall’s smoky voice and exquisite piano work are on full display here, proving her versatility. A particular highlight is the joyful “Hit That Jive Jack,” an uptempo departure from her usual ballads.
5. NEIL YOUNG – HARVEST (1972): How can one select a single album from Neil’s varied and stellar career? While difficult, Harvest stands out for the haunting “The Needle and the Damage Done,” hands down the best song about drug addiction ever written.


1. NEIL YOUNG – EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE (1969): “With Crazy Horse,” indeed. Though After the Gold Rush is a close second, the uncompromising and often confoundingly individualistic Young found his most solid footing with the rollicking and vigorous songs on this guitar-driven work.
2. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – TWIN CINEMA (2005): The lead-off title track sets the pace for the giddy power pop of this third album from the Vancouver group. Hooky, quirky, and infectious.
3. THE BAND – THE BAND (1969): Leave it to a bunch of mostly Canadian guys to impart a vivid portrait of the American scene and hardscrabble history, from the frisky “Rag Mama Rag” to the ambitious, Civil War-set “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Robbie Robertson’s aptly rough-hewn songcraft is masterful and astutely observed.
4. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (1998): Life is a cabaret, and so is Wainwright’s extraordinary debut album of lush romanticism, especially as helped along by Jon Brion’s production and Van Dyke Park’s orchestral arrangements. Highly melodic and inspired, in word and music. This isn’t his father’s music.
5. RON SEXSMITH – COBBLESTONE RUNWAY (2002): Sexsmith’s plaintive and often achingly melodic but simple romanticism gets a more of a gussied-up production job than earlier albums, without detracting from the immediacy of his warmth and sincerity.


1. THE GUESS WHO – ARTIFICIAL PARADISE (1973): For whatever reason, it was decided to spread the songwriting and singing duties around, and not just to rely on lead singer/piano player Burton Cummings. The resulting album ended up selling so poorly that it was the last from the Guess Who to be reissued on CD — which is too bad, because it really is an excellent piece of work, showcasing the various strengths of the entire group, not just Cummings. He laid down the law, however, ending the cooperative experiment and assuming the mantle of leadership on subsequent releases.
2. BACHMAN TURNER OVERDRIVE – NOT FRAGILE (1974): Meanwhile, the Guess Who’s former guitarist Randy Bachman was out on a mission to prove that lightning really can strike twice. Recruiting leather lunged bassist/vocalist C.F. (Fred) Turner, BTO hit musical paydirt with a mixture of pop craftsmanship and workingman’s three-chord rock and roll.
3. GODDO – LIGHVE! BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE (1981): You thought Rush was the only Power Trio in Canada? Goddo, led by bassist/vocalist/lead rabble rouser Greg Godovitz, had a reputation for their energetic live performances, giving the required 110% at every show, whether in front of 80 thousand people or eight. Besides, you’ve gotta admire them for calling one of their albums An Act of Goddo.
4. ANDREW CASH – HI (1993): Take a roots rock collection of songs and add liberal amounts of distorted guitars and feedback, and you might end up with Andrew Cash’s Hi. Somehow, it never seems to sound like a close cousin of Neil Young and Crazy Horse; nor does it ever sound like an obvious grafting together of CNS&Y and the Jesus and Mary Chain. The standout track is “Hey Maria” — dark music for driving alone at night.
5. SLOAN – NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT (2006): One CD; 76 minutes; 30 (that’s right — thirty) songs. Sloan’s 1996 album One Chord to Another can be thought of as “The Greatest Revolver Album The Beatles’ Never Made,” so it’s easy enough to take the next logical step and think of this as “The White Album meets Side Two of Abbey Road.” You could maybe even throw in Husker Du’s Zen Arcade to remind everyone of the noise and thrash content that Sloan utilized on their first couple of efforts, and can still conjure when necessary.


1. JOHN OSWALD – PLUNDERPHONICS (1989): No longer sold legally, the very thing that makes it illegal is the thing that also makes it powerful: cutting up and mashing up recognizable snippets of music using low-tech methods that made musical collages that were way ahead of what hip-hop had been doing with sampling. Chopping up a Beefheart song might be redundant, but everyone from Bix Biederbecke to Michael Jackson also gets run through the sonic blender and the frozen cocktails are served stiff. Cheers!
2. NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE – EVERYONE KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE (1969): Young has made so many great records, but a good deal of them can be traced straight back to his first encounter with Crazy Horse.
3. JONI MITCHELL – COURT AND SPARK (1974): There might not be a more perfect blend of folk and jazz than this record, and no one else can write such labyrinthine but listenable melodies in the pop realm like that.
4. RUSH – HEMISPHERES (1978): I’m partial to the 1975-1981 period and this one right in the middle of it sounds the freshest to my ears. Having “The Trees” on here doesn’t hurt, either.
5. GINO VANNELLI – PAUPER IN PARADISE (1977): Vannelli’s bombastic, operatic voice was perfectly suited for Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Plus, Gino’s innocently zany “Mardi Gras” might be the best pean to the Big Easy ever made that doesn’t involve a second line beat.


1. THE GUESS WHO – AMERICAN WOMAN (1970): A totally under-rated band with a singer, Burton Cummings, who was one of the best in the business. Randy Bachman was no slouch on his axe either. Known as a top 40 band these guys from the Great White North showed they could hang with hard rockers everywhere on this, their best album.
2. NEIL YOUNG – AFTER THE GOLD RUSH (1970): The ultimate hippie singer-songwriter LP. It’s a melodic journey through all of the things the ’60s were about. Just ask Lynyrd Skynyrd. They found out the hard way.
3. THE BAND – THE LAST WALTZ (1978): Some of the greatest story songs ever put on vinyl. Robbie Robertson certainly knew how to write songs and the groove the band laid down for their final performance was second to none. If you don’t believe me watch the movie. Great performances by the guest stars too. Americana rock at its finest.
4. LOREENA McKINNETT – THE VISIT (1992): A modern day Annie Haslam, McKinnett picked up where Renaissance left off. Her gorgeous voice suits the material quite well and she is a perfect, medieval, witch goddess, rivaling Stevie Nicks in that area. “The Lady of Shalott” stands out on this outstanding disc.
5. DIANA KRALL – QUIET NIGHTS (2009): Krall is one of the more tasteful female jazz crooners around today. She sings well but her piano playing on this disc is her best ever. The song selection, loaded with bossa nova tunes and ballads, is impeccable. Featuring tracks by Bachrach/David, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and more the album shines from beginning to end. (As a side note, if you’ve seen the cover of Krall’s latest CD, Glad Rag Doll, you’ll wonder why Elvis ever leaves the house.)

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B000001FKD” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0097AQEOK” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B001VZY4MI” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B000SO7OL6″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00000I0QI” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

Something Else!

Something Else!

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, and, among others. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Something Else!
Share this: