The 50 best Canadian songs of the '90s
Around here at CBC Music, we like a good challenge. Last year, we ranked the 50 best Canadian albums of the '90s. That experience brought long repressed memories flooding back, so much so we dedicated a whole week to our collective nostalgia.
Well, that experience felt so good we decided to do it again. Welcome to the second edition of '90s Week! This year, we thought it was time to tackle the decade's best songs.
Ranking songs turned out to be a much different experience than ranking albums. Here, we got to re-listen to all our favourite music but we were also allowed to indulge in all the guilty pleasures and one-hit wonders the decade had to offer. If you peruse the list in the gallery below, you'll be sure to see some names you haven't thought about since, well, the '90s.
Song: "Record Body Count"
In a little more than two minutes, the Rheos' Martin Tielli perfectly encapsulates the last day in the life of the bullied. — Judith Lynch
Song: "Sleepy Maggie"
Artist: Ashley MacIsaac
It's a contentious one, but there's no denying that MacIsaac brought the fiddle to the masses in 1995. Mary Jane Lamond's vocals are icing. — Holly Gordon
Song: "Aunt's Invasion"
Artist: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
Shadowy Men were best known for their music's constant presence on Kids in the Hall — including the theme song, "Having an Average Weekend" — but this track from the brilliantly named 1991 album Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham was one of their biggest '90s standouts. And seeing drummer Don Pyle play it live was always worth the price of admission. — Jennifer Van Evra
Song: "Mummer's Dance"
Artist: Loreena McKennitt
Nobody can really name this song, but everybody knows it. It was inescapable in the mid-'90s. It also put McKennitt on the map and made her a global sensation. Ethereal, meditative yet energetic and full of lush mystery. — Andrea Warner
Artist: Treble Charger
Treble Charger's "Red" was released in 1994, gaining the independent band much notoriety and helping the campus rock scene's popularity. — Nicolle Weeks
Artist: Jann Arden
The lyrics of "Insensitive," Arden's biggest hit in Canada and beyond, could easily pass for a pretty strong dramatic monologue. But, y'know, rhyming. — Dave Shumka
Song: "O Siem"
Artist: Susan Aglukark
One of the biggest songs of 1995, "O Siem" and its album, This Child, earned Aglukark seven Juno nominations. — D.S.
Song: "Basement Apartment"
Artist: Weeping Tile
The '90s may have celebrated slacker 20-somethings, but "Basement Apt." perfectly illustrated on their gloomy realities. — D.S.
Song: "Little Kingdoms"
Artist: Change of Heart
No country did more for power-pop in the '90s than Canada, and Change of Heart helped blaze the trail with songs like this noisy number. — D.S.
Song: "I Will Give You Everything"
Artist: The Skydiggers
If you're sitting at a campfire where a guitar is being passed around and the woman ahead of you just pulled off "Wheat Kings," drop the mic with this little jam from the 'diggers. — J.L.
Song: "April Fools"
Artist: Rufus Wainwright
Wainwright proves his writing chops with the soaring chorus of this favourite off his 1998 debut. — D.S.
In an interview, Propagandhi lead man Chris Hannah said that when he hears this album, he thinks, "Jesus Christ, turn that f--king thing off." But at the time, the politically charged Winnipeg punk outfit — which also included Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson—was performing alongside big-name acts from Fugazi to NOFX.
Song: "Secret Heart"
Artist: Ron Sexsmith
Canadian musician Ron Sexsmith has been a darling of the Canadian indie scene for 30 years, and it's no wonder: even in the irony-laden '90s, he released this timeless gem, which is not only one of the best Canadian songs of the '90s, but one of the sweetest Canadian songs of all time. The track also received a second life when it appeared as a cover on Feist's landmark 2004 album, Let it Die. — J.V.E.
Song: "E-Z On Tha Motion"
Artist: Ghetto Concept
Ghetto Concept had the misfortune to come out at a time when the popularity of Canadian hip-hop was waning, but "E-Z on the Motion" still has some of the most dexterous lyrics to come out of this country in the '90s. — C.D.
Song: "Any Sense of Time"
Artist: The Inbreds
This song represents peak Inbreds: it's earnest and charming, and you love it even though it's not clear at all what the lyrics are about. Soothing to anyone with a '90s lo-fi heart. — Andrea Gin
Song: "Someone Who's Cool"
Artist: The Odds
A pop gem crammed solid with three minutes of clever wordplay, unlikely rhymes, spot-on similes and everything else you learned about in English class. — D.S.
I know women who will still gush about the dreaminess of David Usher, decades after this debut single raced up the charts and touched off their high school crush. That aside, this is sturdy rock that everybody can enjoy. — Mike Miner
Song: "You're a Superstar"
Artist: Love Inc.
Pure sing-along-in-the-bar, dance-with-your-hands-over-your-head commercial-dance joy. If you can't bop along to this, you're probably a very unhappy person. — C.D.
Song: "From the Back of the Film""
Artist: Thrush Hermit
The first song from the Halifax band's last album starts with a blast of classic rock rhythm guitar, crescendos with a raucous piano and stops on a dime. — D.S.
Everybody likes to make fun of Snow 20 years after the fact, but when this song comes on at a retro '90s jam, the same people lose their minds. "Informer" endures. — C.D.
Song: "Steal My Sunshine"
No Canadian band has had as much fun being a one-hit wonder than the brother-sister team behind Len. Bonus points for being the catchiest, most upbeat song ever written about coming down from a drug trip. — J.K.G.
The signature song from one of the most influential bands to ever come from the East Coast. You can almost hear the point at which the mid-'90s Halifax music scene moves from its grunge beginnings to its power-pop pinnacle in this one song. — A.G.
Song: "I'm an Asshole"
When they released Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie in 1998, NoMeansNo had already been around for almost 20 years — but they hadn't lost any of their powerhouse punk spirit, their air-tight speed or their biting sense of humour. There's a moshpit worth of great tracks on that album, but this one became one of the Vancouver trio's most memorable anthems. — J.V.E.
Artist: Bif Naked
This song perfectly encapsulates what 1998 sounded like: a rock song with bouncy guitars but also electronic drums, and also it's sad. — D.S.
Artist: Buck 65
The "Carrie"-sampling first-person tale of a mythical beast pursued by the porno industry was a great addition to the wave of weirdo rap that was bubbling up from the underground in the late '90s. — C.D.
Song: "You May Be Right"
Artist: The Grapes of Wrath
This song transports you right back to 1991, from the gloomy chords to the non-committal lyrics and proto-emo delivery. So West Coast you can almost hear the rain. — A.G.
Song: "First Day of Spring"
Artist: The Gandharvas
The Gandharvas burst from London, Ont., in the early '90s on the strength of this song. "First Day of Spring" became a high rotation Cancon hit on alternative radio and stood out among the bombast from fellow "alt-rock" Canadian bands like I Mother Earth and Big Wreck. — Brad Frenette
Song: "Anytime You Want"
Artist: Eric's Trip
Clocking in at just over a minute, "Anytime You Want" is short and sweet. Pretty melody over fuzzy guitar from Moncton's musical finest. — H.G.
Artist: Matthew Good Band
Perhaps one of his strongest songs, "Apparitions" is the sound of '90s Canrock — all swirling guitars, splashy cymbals around a hooky, bleated chorus that begs you to sing along. Good stuff, indeed. — J.L.
Song: "Any Man of Mine"
Artist: Shania Twain
A frisky frolic of a country song, it is equal parts nod to June Carter and Johnny Cash and indicative of Twain's pop crossover future. — A.W.
Artist: Our Lady Peace
The percussive title track from Our Lady Peace's debut waxes on death and the beyond. Lead singer Raine Maida told CBC Music last year that no one wanted to release this as a single, yet it went on to become a favourite sing-along at Canadian summer festivals. — B.F.
Song: "Drinking in L.A."
Artist: Bran Van 3000
This song is still going strong. From "Stereo Mike" to the descending beeps and bloops of the melody, this song is as timeless as the question in its chorus. — J.L.
Song: "Let's Ride"
The essence of golden age Canadian hip-hop: Choclair and Saukrates team up with Kardinal on production for what's still one of the best reasons to roll your car windows down when you're cruising downtown. — J.K.G.
Artist: Bass is Base
Bass is Bass occupied that perfect moment in the '90s when sunny pop hooks melded seemlessly with R&B, hip-hop and flute solos. Wait, what? — J.K.G.
Song: "New York City"
This song is so innocent and happy. It's Cub's most perfectly crafted pop song and should (with all due respect to Taylor Swift) be the soundtrack to anyone's first trip to New York City. — A.G.
Song: "Northern Touch"
One of the most successful rap songs in Canada, there was no escaping the power of the cross-country posse cut that would cement the careers of the artists who had the wherewithal to shout themselves out in the chorus: "Rascalz, Checkmate, Kardinal and Thrust, Choclair coming down with the Northern Touch." — J.K.G.
Song: "It's All Coming Back to Me Now"
Artist: Celine Dion
There's no separating my love for Meat Loaf, this song and the video. They feed each other. The bombast, the melodrama, the soap opera of it all and Dion's voice is perfect for this kind of ballad. I ban all covers for eternity. — A.W.
Song: "Bad as They Seem"
There's a perfect reason that the very first song most of us heard from Hayden is still our favourite. It's just that good. — J.K.G.
Artist: Holly McNarland
Big Shiny Tunes 2, anyone? "Numb" is proof that McNarland should've hit it much bigger than she did. Shame on us. — H.G.
Song: "Ocean Pearl"
The Vancouver band caught the grunge bug from neighbouring Seattle, and pushed their riff-rock and campfire songs into fun new directions like this groove-laden, punky fuzz. — M.M.
Song: "Life is a Highway"
Artist: Tom Cochrane
Inspired by a famine relief trip Cochrane took to West Africa with World Vision, "Life is a Highway" is a metaphor for the struggles everyone faces on a daily basis. Proof that you can make an upbeat, chart-topping hit while still dealing with serious issues. — J.K.G.
Song: "Nobody's Supposed to be Here"
Artist: Deborah Cox
We failed Deborah Cox. She should have been huge and Canada let her down. This R&B gem is flawless and should be taught in schools. — A.W.
Song: "Nautical Disaster"
Artist: The Tragically Hip
Gord Downie picks up on the spirit of Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," but in his hands, uses a nautical distaster — in this case the horrors of a failed Second World War raid — as a metaphor for a failed relationship. Poetic genius. — J.K.G.
Artist: Sarah McLachlan
It's not what she's known for now, but there was always an undercurrent of darkness in McLachlan's sexiest songs in the early '90s. Now, this song was inspired by her real-life stalker, so that makes sense. But it's a visceral, sultry thrill nonetheless. — A.W.
Song: "Lost Together"
Artist: Blue Rodeo
A Keelor-penned song originally lampooned by the rest of the band — that went on to become one of their biggest hits. — J.L.
Song: "Constant Craving"
Artist: k.d. lang
The pain of desperation and waiting were perfectly captured in this k.d. lang track, which landed the favourite Canadian singer lofty spots on the charts in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., as well as a 1993 Grammy for best female pop vocal. The black-and-white video, which features a 1950s staging of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, also landed an MTV Award for best female video. — J.V.E.
Song: "My Definition"
Artist: Dream Warriors
There is a generation of Canadians — and Brits, where the song was even more successful — who grew up thinking of Quincy Jones as "that guy the Dream Warriors sampled." This song is still a banger a quarter-century later. — C.D.
Song: "Brian Wilson"
Artist: Barenaked Ladies
Thought of as a novelty act, BNL actually shone with songs like "Brian Wilson," which hinted at Steven Page's struggle with mental illness. — N.W.
Song: "Coax Me"
Could it be any other song? This one's pure guitar-pop gold, instrumental to the mid-'90s Halifax scene. The catchiest shift in the decade. — H.G.
Song: "You Oughta Know"
Artist: Alanis Morissette
This track was everything to me in the '90s. All snarled fury and middle fingers, but also bitingly funny, cutting and vulnerable. It's my hype music forever and ever. — A.W.
What is your favourite Canadian song from the '90s? Did we miss any classics in our list? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #90sweek.