Canadian Rock Pantheon

Listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered in the car, Stacy and I somehow got on to the topic of the Canadian Rock Pantheon. When it first came up, I thought the list would be long, but in our conversation, only two entrants qualified in my mind: Rush and The Guess Who. Stacy wanted to add The Tragically Hip, but I’m wary of including a band that had no significant uptake south of the border. We also dismissed the singer-songwriter folkies (e.g., Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen) as, well, not rock. We considered Neil Young, but while Canadian, pretty much his entire meaningful career existed in the United States.

On Twitter, I posed the question “Who is in the Canadian Rock Pantheon? Obvi, Rush and The Guess Who. Whom else? Neil Young? BTO? The Hip? Bryan Adams?” For me, to be Canadian Rock Pantheon, the band/person must have: recorded primarily in Canada; played guitar-driven rock; and had a lasting influence and presence. The latter criteria rules out a number of indie bands (such as Arcade Fire, New Pornographers) — to be in a pantheon requires the test of time. Given the criteria, and the feedback I got from Twitter, this is what I believe to be Canadian Rock Pantheon:

And, for now, that’s it. Steppenwolf is disqualified as they didn’t become that band until the members had moved to the US. Alanis Morrissette has not demonstrated any meaningful longevity. Blue Rodeo and Bruce Cockburn have no presence south of the border. Loverboy is simply too one-hit-wonder. After seeing Anvil! The Story of Anvil, I’d consider them as a kind of special entrant given their awesome influence on an entire subgenre of rock.

I’m surprised at how few bands made it into the pantheon. The population of Canada 1960-2000 tracks very closely to the population of California in that time, yet in that time California has had many more Pantheon bands (off the top of my head: The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Eagles, The Byrds, Metallica, Green Day (i think they qualify already) (and I’m sure these lists: Musical Groups from Los Angeles and Musical Groups from San Francisco would turn up many more.

5 thoughts on “Canadian Rock Pantheon

  1. Comparing California band stats to Canada is the same as comparing Hollywood’s movie production to Canada’s. California feeds the entire U.S. with its entertainment talent. It is also a mecca for that talent, much of it from Canada. Still, there is only one Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and we know, ahem, where that is.

  2. Simple question: why should US sales/impact be a factor?

    It’s your list, so you can make whatever rules you like, but from the Canadian side it seems like an arbitrary and somewhat irrelevant consideration. To suggest that the Tragically Hip or Blue Rodeo don’t belong to the Canadian rock pantheon because they haven’t broken through in the US seems bizarre. Those groups have been successful, long-lived, and influential.

    I can somewhat understand the “record in Canada” rule, but even that feels a bit odd. Does U2 stop being Irish because they record in London or New York?

    Maybe your list should be retitled to simply: “Canadian rock acts that have had an impact in the US”, since that seems to have been the uber rule.

  3. I’ve gotten a lot of pushback on the “US sales/impact” rule, and I’d consider bending on it. However, I think extra-national sales/impact is part of what defines pantheon for any rock band in any country.

  4. Then I think your list becomes the International Rock Pantheon. Just because some countries don’t have acts on the international stage doesn’t mean that they don’t have a pantheon of their own. And, US sales be damned, the Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo are in ours!

  5. If you’re including Green Day already you had better include Alanis Morrisette and probably Sarah Maclachlan, who aren’t any less guitar-driven than the Beach Boys or the Doors, sold ridiculous numbers of records and charted worldwide, and have been very influential whether you like the results or not (like Green Day.)

    I know you called out Alanis Morrisette above and she *did* have one big record that she never matched sales-wise, but you could say the same about Tori Amos and no one tries to claim she’s not an important artist.

    If we want to get into genres than SNFU and Nomeansno should be in there too, you can’t find a single yelpy indie-math band in the world now who didn’t start out listening to their older siblings’ NMN cassettes. Both of those bands also sold many more records than the New Pornographers.

    Dennis, I’d disagree that the Tragically Hip have been very influential in Canada. They’ve sold a shit-ton of records but there haven’t been any other bands that sold any records by trying a Hip-like sound.

    I also hope everyone realizes that the single most influential band in guitar rock since the late 90s has been, er, Nickelback.

    We’re sorry.

    Really, really sorry.

    ps: also your California list should include Carlos Santana and Tool, both of whom have been a much bigger deal for guitar rock in the past 20 years than the Byrds or the Beach Boys– the latter of whom have been more influential on bands that don’t play guitars, and only in the past seven or eight years. I’m torn on the Eagles because they were more the sum of a bunch of influences than anything original.