25 songs turning 25: Céline Dion, Bryan Adams, Blue Rodeo, Roch Voisine and more
This is the sound of 1994 based on the Canadian charts.
The year was 1994. Grunge had finally come to Canada (the Watchmen). The country's rock music was somehow instantly classic (Blue Rodeo, Gowan) or alternative (Moist, Sloan), rarely contemporary. Pop ballads ran the gamut from searingly intimate (Jann Arden) to all of the performative romance of a public proposal (Bryan Adams with Rod Stewart and Sting). Jolts of cool (the Cowboy Junkies, Wild Strawberries) bumped up against earnest declarations (Céline Dion, Dan Hill), late '80s synth carryovers (Glass Tiger) and head-scratchers that sounded more like novelty jams (Crash Test Dummies) than chart-toppers.
But among all of these quirks and question marks, there were also iconic tracks in the making, songs with serious staying power that would go on to define some bands' entire careers — and some music journalists', too. This list is stacked with songs that many Canadians grew up alongside, carried with them into adulthood, and either by genuine love or relentless ubiquity, became soundtracks of circumstance for at least two generations.
Surveying the list of 1994 "Anglo hits" on Music Canada's site, there are a few observations worth noting: the Canadian music industry skewed overwhelmingly white, and tended to be straight and male. Acknowledging these discrepancies is vital when celebrating a list that fails to be inclusive, and to make space for how inequity has influenced and whitewashed the music scene since colonization. There were a couple songs that charted in 1994 featuring Black lead singers and people of colour. The success of these artists was their own, but it also hinted at the beginning of a more diverse music scene. There were also a number of women — though, again, mostly white women — who were already big stars in their own right, as well as emerging stars, which indicated the potential of a more gender equitable future.
It's important to interrogate where we've been in order to see how far we've come, evaluate how much work there is left to do, and, yes, even celebrate the moments of triumph. Twenty-five years ago, the following Canadian songs hit the Canadian charts. Some of these songs have shaped the country, others have slipped into obscurity. But together they provided an auditory snapshot of a time and a place.
Welcome to Canada, 1994.
Song: "Anniversary Song"
Artist: Cowboy Junkies
It could be argued that nothing good comes from a funky twang, but that's a lie, because Cowboy Junkies' "Anniversary Song" is Canadiana with a delectable and distinctive kick. It's also a gloriously pragmatic love song that gives space for its narrator to be head over heels but still a little suspicious that love is real and this is where she's ended up in life.
— Andrea Warner
Song: "Grace, Too"
Artist: The Tragically Hip
Gord Downie was a brilliant showman, the ringleader of his own human emotion circus onstage and behind the mic, and this official version of "Grace, Too," with its few strangled cries, only hints at where he would take it over the next 20-plus years. — AW
Song: "Crying Shame"
Artist: Wild Strawberries
This laid-back, sing-song track heralded the arrival of a compelling new voice in Canadian pop — Roberta Carter-Harrison — and a band that should have been way bigger than it was. — AW
Just a year after signing to a major label, Vancouver rock band Moist made its debut with "Push." The song was drenched in guitars and bass, drawing direct influence from the Seattle grunge scene that gave us Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Its big wall of sound often crashed up against lead singer David Usher's whispering verses, but it's the track's chorus that truly hooked listeners. "Push just a little too late," Usher and his bandmates shouted collectively, clawing through the cacophony to be heard.
— Melody Lau
Song: "Coax Me"
The harmonies, the chorus, everything about this track is as tight and perfect as one could hope from a power-pop song. The key change kicks it into a whole other stratosphere, as does the most true and genius lyric ever: "It's not the band I hate/ it's their fans." — AW
Song: "The Power of Love"
Artist: Céline Dion
An incredibly difficult song to sing at karaoke ("'Cause I'm your laaaaydaaaay! And you are my maaaaan"), "The Power of Love" was Céline Dion's first No. 1 hit in the States. It is earnest and heartfelt, two key ingredients in Dion's recipe for ballads, and the perfect storm for a love song in 1994. Co-written and originally recorded by Jennifer Rush, this version of "The Power of Love" was produced by frequent Dion collaborator and hit-maker David Foster. A little too possessive for my liking (again: "'Cause I'm your laaaaydaaaay! And you are my maaaaan"), it is nonetheless an irresistible hit in the Céline Dion canon.
— Holly Gordon
Song: "I'll Always be There"
Artist: Roch Voisine
The production on this song is as wild and confounding as the music video — a humble acoustic beginning suddenly flourishes into a full orchestral arrangement with what sounds like a full choir — but it works, and that's all thanks to Roch Voisine. His clear voice imbues even the most ridiculous moments with genuine warmth and emotion. — AW
Artist: Barenaked Ladies
"Jane" is a surprisingly earnest moment that opens Barenaked Ladies' 1994 album, Maybe You Should Drive. A song about unrequited love, whose subject is named after an intersection in Toronto (Jane and St. Clair), singer and songwriter Steven Page gives one of his most vulnerable performances ever, delivering more of a heartfelt ode than a flashy earworm. Plus, bonus points for the most '90s reference for "No Juliana next to my Evan," which is a nod to indie rockers Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando's relationship. — ML
Song: "Good Enough"
Artist: Sarah McLachlan
"You deserve so much more than this," McLachlan assures on "Good Enough." They're simple but life-changing words to someone who is stuck in a cycle of abuse. Here, McLachlan stretches her hand out as a symbol of love and support, telling women, "Just let me try and I will be there for you." In that moment, enveloped in McLachlan's words, you can't help but feel safe. — ML
Song: "God Shuffled His Feet"
Artist: Crash Test Dummies
Joan Osborne asked "What if God Was One of Us?" in 1995, but Crash Test Dummies went there first. They laid out "God Shuffled His Feet," a story-song that might have seemed gimmicky at the time but was 1) in keeping with Barenaked Ladies, who were showing everybody how much fun pop music could be and 2) really just a creative and weird pop song crossed with a bit of folk and touch of cabaret. — AW
Song: "Dancing on My Own Ground"
Artist: Lawrence Gowan
This folk-rock tune takes the high road and focuses on the not-so-small victory of finally remembering who you are and what's important to you. In any other hands, the song could take a slightly bitter turn toward the celebratory screw-you. In Gowan's, it's a homecoming for one because that's what matters. — AW
Artist: Jann Arden
With that unmistakable opening drum-and-piano combo, Jann Arden dropped her most popular hit into our collective conscience. It is a vulnerable mess of a falling-out-of-love song, and we loved it, with the song reaching No. 1 in Canada. Twenty-five years later, it's still a point of pride to remember the lyrics (and keep the tempo) to both versions of the chorus. — HG
Song: "Bad Timing"
Artist: Blue Rodeo
Even the harmonica is wistful on this aching, lonesome, lost love ballad. A man who can't quite get it right. A lover who's been left on the hook more than they deserved. And the quiet, lilting hope that maybe, just maybe, there's a dusty path back and a way to finally call each other home. — AW
Artist: Wild T & the Spirit
This band and this song both deserve a much larger legacy. Lead singer-guitarist Tony Springer's vocal performance on "Loveland" is sexy, sunny and soulful. Wild T & the Spirit was also a pioneering blues band and one of the very few Canadian bands to chart in 1994 fronted by a Black man. If you don't know this song already, it's never too late to start interrogating why a gem like this has been so under the radar since it charted 25 years ago. — AW
Song: "Sun's Gonna Rise"
Artist: Sass Jordan
A hopeful, heartfelt tune by an artist who hit it big in the '80s and was poised, appropriately, on the precipice of a comeback in 1994. Jordan's career didn't quite rise again, but the song itself charted, even if the album didn't connect the way it was supposed to. It remains an anthem of empowerment to this day. — AW
Song: "Just Keep me Moving"
Artist: k.d. lang
This blatantly sexy song is equal parts lesbian anthem and siren call, and it bangs. K.d. lang sounds confident and cool, and the soulful funk arrangement is everything. When the jazz flute starts fluttering in the final third of the track, well, try to resist joining in her dance party. — AW
Song: "Miracles Happen"
Artist: Lost & Profound
I still don't know if Lost and Profound was secretly a Christian folk-rock band, and I kind of don't care. Music and pop culture in the '90s invoked a lot of Christian iconography and themes (Our Lady Peace, giant crosses hanging from chokers) and Lost & Profound fit right in, particularly this alt-rock bit of angst with a chorus that prominently repeats, "Hallelujah! Amen!" — AW
Song: "Boneyard Tree"
Artist: The Watchmen
This blistering alt-rock tune is urgent, hypnotic and relentless, and lead singer Daniel Greaves tears into his vocals with relish. But there's also so much going on in the musical arrangement, from the key changes and fuzzy guitars to the flurry of drums and twinkle of piano. This is a song that holds nothing back, and it's glorious. — AW
Song: "Change Your Mind"
Artist: Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Bittersweet and utterly hypnotic, there is something both artful and odd about this Neil Young epic. The guitar work is, of course, masterful, and Crazy Horse is brilliant, and it's just a marvel to watch these artists lose themselves together. — AW
Song: "Sometimes When We Touch"
Artist: Dan Hill with Rique Franks
Dan HIll's 1994 duet with Rique Franks presents a total reinvention of his radically vulnerable ballad. Franks' verses give her an agency in the song that Hill makes space for, a necessary extension of the noteworthy self-awareness he exhibits in his original solo version. — AW
Song: "I Had a Dream"
Artist: Carol Medina
A little electro-pop-disco in 1994 was exactly what we needed, we just didn't fully appreciate Carol Medina to the extent that we should have. — AW
Song: "Throwin' it All Away"
This pop gem is one of three singles that charted from the Nova Scotia-based band RealWorld, which released one album, 1994's Dig, before breaking up in 1995. Co-singer-songwriter Gordie Sampson would go on to write songs for country stars such as Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood. — AW
Song: "Touch of Your Hand"
Artist: Glass Tiger
The final chart single for the wildly popular Canadian rock band is appropriately full of longing, love and gratitude. It's a repetitive ballad, but it's got a dynamite sing-along chorus that's exactly the right combination of urgent need and needless melodrama. — AW
Song: "Listen for the Laugh"
Artist: Bruce Cockburn
More like listen for the horns, right? But iconic horn section and saxophone aside, "Listen for the Laugh" is a highlight from Cockburn's work with producer T Bone Burnett in the '90s, a song with an upbeat country-rock hybrid sound that makes us want to dance every time we hear it. — ML
Song: "All for Love"
Artist: Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Sting
Any theme song for the Three Musketeers soundtrack is going to be schmaltzy, but put Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting together for it? That's hitting the sentimental testosterone bullseye. "All for Love" topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks until another power ballad stole its spot: "The Power of Love." — HG
On July 24, you can also enjoy CBC Music's radio special on great songs from 1994 at cbc.ca/listen.