The top 10 Canadian rock songs of 1966 witnessed a year of emerging stars who would become some of the biggest names in the music industry on both a national and international level. Such stars included The Guess Who, David Clayton-Thomas, and Joni Mitchell. Fans of Blood, Sweat & Tears may recognize Clayton-Thomas as the frontman of an iconic rock group that was at its prime from 1967 until 1972.
Canadian Teen Idols
While the United States of America had an impressive list of teen idols that influenced so many fans going into the 1960s and beyond, Canada had some of its own that would do the same. One particular teen idol that stood out at the time was Bobby Curtola. As young as fifteen years old, the Ontario-born rocker was already well on his way to becoming an official Canadian teen idol. Starting in 1960, he began to make his mark with his first hit, “Hand in Hand with You.” At the time, he was backed by a group known as the Corvettes, a name that would be changed to The Martells after Curtola’s manager, Maria Martell.
Going into 1966, Curtola already established himself as one of Canada’s brightest stars as a musician. He won an RPM Gold Leaf Award after becoming the first Canadian recording artist to achieve a certified gold album with the 1962 release of his second studio album, Mr. Personality. In 2019, Curtola was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Despite his 2016 passing in his home in Edmonton, Alberta, the legacy of Bobby Curtola continues to live on. Credited as one of the pioneers of the rockabilly genre, Curtola enjoyed an incredible career that earned him twenty-five singles that became certified gold by Music Canada, as well as twelve certified gold albums.
Joining Curtola as a teen idol in 1966 was eighteen-year-old Burton Cummings. It didn’t take long for the newest member of The Guess Who? lineup to win over a national and international fan base. As of 1966, Cummings took Chad Allan’s place as the Canadian rock group’s official frontman and lead singer. It was from this point forward, Chad Allan and the Expressions became no more. What started out as an unofficial name for the group from Manitoba became official as soon as its founding member left the lineup. Until 1968, Cummings and his bandmates were regarded as The Guess Who with the question mark still in place.
Canada’s Bright Light
One of Canada’s greatest musical legends who became one of the most influential folk-rock artists of all time was the iconic Gordon Lightfoot. Credited as one of the pioneers to define folk-pop throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Lightfoot’s brand of music has been nothing short of exemplary. His legacy includes several of his songs to be covered by some of the best-known recording artists throughout the world. Regardless of the genre, Lightfoot’s influence played a key role in the development of another songwriting legend, Bob Dylan. As soon as Lightfoot began his recording career in 1962, it didn’t take long for all of Canada, as well as the rest of the world, to fall in love with his brand of music.
Gordon Lightfoot’s star quality featured a long list of recordings that became certified silver, gold, platinum, and multi-platinum. These certifications didn’t just take place in his home nation but worldwide. Born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938, Gordon Lightfoot was already a star in the making even as a small child. His mother saw potential in her son, thus encouraging him to become a performer at such a young age. In addition to performing as a vocalist capable of ranging between baritone to soprano-like singing, Lightfoot also self-taught himself to play the drums and the piano.
He also learned how to play percussion instruments, as well as the guitar. In 1958, Lightfoot moved to Los Angeles, California, so he could study jazz and orchestral music at its Westlake College of Music. When Gordon Lightfoot passed away in Toronto, Ontario on May 1, 2023, fans all over the world grieved. The legacy he left behind extends well beyond the musical contributions he laid out as a performer. From 1958 until the day of his death, Lightfoot’s easily distinguishable singing voice graced the ears of so many listeners, regardless of whatever style of music they preferred to hear.
Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1966
#10 – Wildwood Days (performed by Bobby Curtola)
Originally recorded and released by Bobby Rydell in 1963, “Wildwood Days” was covered in 1966 by one of Canada’s brightest stars at the time, Bobby Curtola. Curtola’s version became a number thirty-six hit on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. Although he was Canadian, the influence of American rock and roll played an instrumental factor in its growing popularity in Canada. Although still loyal to the country music genre, talented recording artists like Curtola knew how to fuse country and rock together, along with some blues and jazz, to come up with some of the best musical material recorded. “Wildwood Days” about New Jersey’s infamous city, Wildwood.
It earned quite a reputation for its energized nightlife and rock and roll background. This is where rockers came to record their music in the quest to share successful musical careers of their own like Peggy Lee and Elvis Presley. While “Wildwood Days” became an anthem for the New Jersey city, it also became a beloved favorite in Canada, thanks to Curtola’s performance. As for Canada’s version of a community called Wildwood, that’s in Alberta and it has a population of less than three hundred people. Before passing away in 2016, Bobby Curtola lived in Edmonton, Alberta, which is a drive of about ninety minutes straight east from Wildwood on the infamous Yellowhead Highway.
#9 – You Laugh Too Much (performed by Little Caesar and the Consuls)
From 1961 until 1971, Little Caesar and the Consuls rocked as a Canadian rock band from Toronto, Ontario. Founded by Bruce Morshead and Norm Sherratt, Little Caesar and the Consols got its name after it was noted Morshead’s resemblance to Edward G. Robinson, the lead actor who starred in the 1931 crime movie, Little Caesar. As for the Consols, this was previously named after a popular car when its original lineup was first put together in 1956. Before moving on in 1961, The Band’s Robbie Robertson was part of that lineup before he and much of the old Consols teamed up to form The Suedes.
In 1966, Little Caesar and the Consoles released the single “You Laugh Too Much.” It joined a collection of released singles that became a hit for the popular rock band. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number nine. “You Laugh Too Much” addressed what the singer felt was a problematic issue that apparently drove him up the wall. Enjoyable from start to finish, part of the highlight of the song was the laughter that seemed to point out the obvious. In addition to Morshead’s role as lead vocalist, he was also the talented pianist whose entertaining performance was paired up with saxophonist Norm Sherratt.
#8 – C’mon Everybody (performed by The Staccatos)
As The Staccatos, this Canadian rock band from Vancouver, British Columbia released “C’mon Everybody” as a standalone single. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number twenty. Released that same year, Initially became The Staccatos’ first full-length studio album. It featured this song, along with the group’s collection of new material and previously released singles.
Performed as a Canadian version of a beachy classic, this was a party favorite among fans as soon as their ears heard it in 1966. In 1966, Initially became The Staccatos’ debut studio album, featuring Les Emmerson and his bandmates performing “C’mon Everybody” as an invite to enjoy the music from a group that would call themselves the Five Man Electrical Band not long after this single was released.
#7 – If I Call You By Some Name (performed by The Paupers)
From 1965 until 1968, The Paupers performed as a psychedelic rock group that hailed from Toronto, Ontario. Initially, Chuck Beal, Denny Gerrard, Bill Marion, and Skip Prokop called themselves The Spats in 1964 before undergoing the name change. After the name change, The Paupers earned its first record deal in 1965 which led to the release of the debut single, “Never Send You Flowers.” Going into 1967, The Paupers recruited Scottish-born Adam Mitchell, who quickly shared the role of lead singer and songwriter with Skip Prokop.
The Paupers also enjoyed a reputation that won over the attention of Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. He managed to convince the group’s former manager, Bernie Finkelstein, to sign the rights of The Paupers over to him. The group’s debut single with Mitchell as lead vocalist was “If I Call You By Some Name.” On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it became a number thirty-one hit. This hit was performed as a mellow folksy number by Adam Mitchell and Skip Prokop while the two were still part of The Paupers lineup.
#6 – Believe Me (performed by The Guess Who? )
1966’s “Believe Me” was a song released by The Guess Who? that peaked at number ten on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. Written by Randy Bachman, it came from the Winnipeg-based rock group’s third studio album. This song, along with the album, became the starting point for a young newcomer named Burton Cummings. However, “Believe Me” was performed by Chad Allan as lead vocalist while Cummings was on the keyboards, as well as singing backup. “Believe Me” was the first single performed by Cummings with The Guess Who? while It’s Time was the final album for Allan.
The lyrics of “Believe Me,” revealed a man’s determination to keep the romance he was with his love interest alive. While Chad Allan was part of the lineup, The Guess Who had yet to engage in the hard rock sound that would become its trademark going into the 1970s. “Believe Me” is, however, a gentle Canadian classic performed by a band that was heavily influenced by the wave of British talent that won over dedicated fans all over the world. That influence is heard in this great 1960s-style love song.
#5 – His Girl (performed by The Guess Who?)
Written by Johnny Cowell, “His Girl” was performed by The Guess Who?, which became a number nineteen hit on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. There was also a remixed version that became a number forty-five hit on the UK Singles Chart. Despite its success in both of these nations, “His Girl” wasn’t able to chart in the United States. By this time, an eighteen-year-old named Burton Cummings recently replaced keyboardist Bob Ashley. When founding member Chad Allan also left, Cummings also took over as the group’s new frontman.
“His Girl” was the first single performed by The Guess Who? without Allan in the lineup. What made “His Girl” a gem was the observation Cummings made as a vocalist. It was about a woman whose dedication to her love interest was so great that the singer found himself wanting the same thing for himself. “His Girl” was performed as a gentle pop song as The Guess Who had yet to embrace the harder rock songs that would win over a fan base that extended well beyond the band’s Canadian hometown borders.
#4 – Lovedrops (performed by Barry Allen)
Originally recorded by the American R&B duo, Mickey Baker and Sylvia Robinson in 1957, “Lovedrops” was a song that was recorded on the B-side of their hit single, “Baby You’re So Fine.” In 1966, Alberta-born Barry Allen covered this song along with his backup band, The Rebels. It became a big enough hit in Canada to peak as high as number ten on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. It also became certified gold, as well as earned Allen a Gold Leaf Music Award for Top Male Vocalist.
Lovedrops was also Barry Allen’s second studio album, which was recorded and released in 1967. At the time, he was signed with Capitol Records. After the success of this album, he released two more singles that failed to meet the label’s commercial expectations. For Allen, the closure of one chapter paved the way for the opening of another. In 1970, he released an album with the production help of The Guess Who’s Randy Bachman.
#3 – While I’m Away (performed by Bobby Curtola)
Starting in 1960, Bobby Curtola became one of Canada’s favorite teen idols when he officially began his musical career. By 1966, he was already established as one of the nation’s pioneers when it came to its brand of rock and roll music. The fusion of country mixed with his style played a contributing factor to his role as one of the founders behind the rockabilly craze that would spark its own genre.
As for “While I’m Away,” this 1966 classic became a number four hit on the Canadian Top Singles Chart and has since remained near the top as one of the all-time fan favorites to this day. From 1960 until 1967, Curtola dominated the Canadian music charts as he had thirty hit singles win over fans across the Canadian nation. “While I’m Away” became one of the all-time favorites that also won him a fan base outside of Canada as well.
#2 – Brainwashed (performed by The Bossmen)
Before David Clayton-Thomas became the lead vocalist of the legendary rock group, Blood, Sweat & Tears, the Canadian singer was already making a name for himself with a rock group named The Bossmen. In 1966, he wrote and released “Brainwashed,” a song that fused jazz, R&B, and rock into what became one of Canada’s biggest and most popular singles of the year. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number eleven. After the success of “Brainwashed,” Clayton-Thomas headed to New York City. Starting in 1968, he became the new frontman for Blood, Sweat & Tears.
After enjoying incredible success with the American-based rock group until 1972, this Canadian rocker embarked on a lengthy solo career. When listening to the lyrics of “Brainwashed,” the instrumental performance by Clayton-Thomas’s bandmates was fantastic as the group let out what they thought about a series of political and social issues that were going on at the time. “Brainwashed” remains as one of the Canadian gems from the mid-1960s that continues to receive nationwide airplay on retro rock radio stations.
#1 – Song for a Winter’s Night (performed by Gordon Lightfoot)
One of Gordon Lightfoot’s signature classics, “Song for a Winter’s Night,” was recorded in 1966 for his album, The Way I Feel. It was released in 1967 as one of the standout tracks that would become one of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s most beloved songs. While on tour, he was missing his wife he had at the time, Brita Ingegerd Olaisson. Although it was summer when he was on the road, he began to write a song using winter as a reflection of how he felt.
The legacy of “Song for a Winter’s Night” includes covered versions performed by Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo, and Glass Tiger. However, nothing beats Lightfoot’s original. The beauty of his version of “Song for a Winter’s Night” came from Lightfoot’s incredible vocal performance and his acoustic guitar. This was a love letter, brilliantly written by what many fans and critics will agree was one of the world’s greatest lyrical songwriters of all time.
Top 10 Canadian Rocks Songs of 1966 article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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