The top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1968 featured in this list came from a collection of talented men and women who did so much more than wow a nationwide audience. They did this at an international level as well. The Band, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, Steppenwolf, and Neil Young were among the icons who rocked their way into the music industry as some of the late 1960s biggest global influencers.
Born to Be Stars
The star quality of the Canadian collection of musical talent made such a huge impression that had more going for these artists than the ability to wow a crowd. From the subtleness of folksy singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell to the harder-edged rockers such as Burton Cummings and John Kay, there was no denying these talented artists were each born to become some of the brightest stars the music industry had to offer.
1968 marked the year Neil Young’s run with Buffalo Springfield officially came to an end. Already riding from the success of the American-Canadian rock band he founded, Young picked up where he left off as a solo artist, as well as a collaborator. Fans of Crosby, Stills, & Nash will also remember at one point Young was part of this supergroup when the men performed at the legendary Woodstock Festival that was held from August 15th to 18th on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm.
Joining Young as one of the Canadian talents to make a big impression at one of the greatest musical festivals of all time was The Band. They were so popular at the festival that they were called back to do an encore. The Band’s rise to international fame began when they served as Bob Dylan’s backup band from September 1965 until May 1966. Billed as Bob Dylan and the Band, it was a concert tour that rubbed fans of folk music the wrong way. Apparently, folk-rock had yet to catch on at this time.
At first, The Band was technically the Hawks before officially going with an official name change in 1967. This came about after Dylan became injured while riding a motorbike on July 29, 1966. It was an injury that caused Dylan to head back to his home in Woodstock, New York. In the meantime, the Canadian lineup of the Hawks went back to performing in local bars and roadhouses between Ontario and New York. In February 1967, they were invited by Dylan to join him in Woodstock.
Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson resided in a large pink house in West Saugerties, New York. This was the infamous “Big Pink,” the same house that featured the series of legendary recordings known as The Basement Tapes. At first, Levon Helm wasn’t part of the lineup as the men enjoyed jamming sessions with Bob Dylan between their home and his. He didn’t join back up with them until October 1967.
The significance of the recording sessions Danko and his bandmates had with Bob Dylan led to a new chapter in their recording career. The experience resulted in a team of musicians that began to write their own songs while still residing in Big Pink. It would be at this time they adopted The Band as the group’s official name. It wasn’t exactly a name the men wanted but since this was the identity they were referred to while performing with Bob Dylan, it was a name they finally decided to go with. 1968’s recording and release of Music from Big Pink became The Band’s incredible debut that put them on the map as more than just some backup band who played with Bob Dylan.
1968 was a big year for Canadian rockers, especially for The Guess Who. Although already established in Canada as popular rockers since 1962, most of the men from Winnipeg, Manitoba started out as Chad Allan and the Reflections. Randy Bachman, Jim Kale, and Garry Peterson were Allan’s mainstays, as well as keyboardist Bob Ashley. Going into 1965, the group’s name was changed to Chad Allan and the Expressions after it learned about an American group known as The Reflections released “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” as a hit single.
Performing as a garage rock band, this group released Shakin’ All Over as an album and as the cover to Johnny Kidd’s original. It became the group’s first number one hit in Canada but the men were credited as Guess Who? instead of Chad Allan and the Expressions. This was a publicity stunt that was carried out by Quality Records as they hoped to capitalize on the musician British invasion that had swept across all of North America. What started out as a publicity stunt became a renaming of a band as radio disc jockeys continued to call Chad Allan’s group the Guess Who?. 1965’s Hey Ho (What You Do to Me!) became the group’s second album to be released that year and it was credited to Chad Allan and the Expressions. However, “Guess Who?” was prominently displayed on the cover.
Another key change that took place in 1965 was the departure of Bob Ashley. Taking his place was an eighteen-year-old kid named Burton Cummings. Because this talented keyboardist also had an incredible singing voice, he wound up sharing the role of lead singer with Chad Allan. This didn’t last for long as Allan left the band so he could finish his college education. This left Cummings as the band’s new lead singer, as well as a good reason for its new name to officially become The Guess Who?. It wouldn’t be until 1968 that the question mark in the band’s name would be officially dropped. This was also the same year The Guess Who would find itself on a musical journey that would turn this Canadian rock group into legend.
Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1968
#10 – So Good Together (performed by Andy Kim)
“So Good Together” was a love song written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim that was recorded and released in 1969, along with Kim’s debut album, Baby I Love You. On the US Billboard Hot 100, this feel-good love song became a number thirty-six hit. It also made a chart appearance in Germany, peaking as high as number thirty-seven there.
Oddly enough, the singer-songwriter from Quebec failed to have this gem make an appearance on any of the official music charts belonging to his home nation. If you’re looking for a catchy classic that focused on living in the moment, “So Good Together” has the “na, na, na, na, na” charm to do it.
#9 – Night in the City (performed by Joni Mitchell)
Recorded and released in 1968, Song to a Seagull was Joni Mitchell’s debut album. David Crosby was the producer and Reprise Records was the label Mitchell was signed up with at the time. “Night in the City” was a stimulating song about sexual desire as the songstress was taking in the wonder of big city living. Unlike the laid-back environment the communities of Saskatchewan, Canada was known for, cities like New York and Los Angeles served as a major contrast.
Prior to “Night in the City,” Joni Mitchell already made a name for herself as a talented songwriter. However, it was part of an amazing tracklist that served as the start of a brilliant recording career the humble musician from Canada would experience.
#8 – The Loner (performed by Neil Young)
Neil Young’s debut as a solo artist came right after Buffalo Springfield was disbanded as a group in 1968. Now on his own, “The Loner” came across as what seemed like an autobiography of the Canadian singer-songwriter. At the time of release, it was commented it was about Young’s observation of Stephen Stills. The two were bandmates while with Buffalo Springfield but continued to perform together, most notably as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. There is a special eeriness to “The Loner” as a song, as well as an important piece of history where Neil Young was concerned.
#7 – I’ve Been Waiting for You (performed by Neil Young)
Although Neil Young was already an established recording star thanks to his run with Buffalo Springfield, it wasn’t until 1968 did the Canadian singer-songwriter make his debut as a solo artist. “I’ve Been Waiting for You” was considered one of his best-crafted songs. The live acoustic version of this song was recorded in 1968 just a few days before Neil Young was released as an album. The opening of the song had a desperate-sounding Young pining for a woman to come into his life and save it from loneliness. In a way, it seemed to serve as the second chapter to another Neil Young classic, “The Loner.”
#6 – The Weight (performed by The Band)
1968’s “The Weight” was an incredible song from Music from Big Pink that peered into a community called Nazareth. However, it wasn’t about the biblical city. It was about the one in the American state of Pennsylvania. Performed from the point of view of a bible follower from Arkansas, Levon Helm’s vocals made references to the townsfolk he’d name off as the song progressed.
The characters in the song were inspired by various people members of The Band already knew, whether it be directly or indirectly. What made “The Weight” such a gem was the influence of the American South blending in with a variety of musical styles the group fused together such as country, folk, and gospel. For Helm, performing as a Southerner was easy enough to pull off as the only American part of an otherwise all-Canadian lineup.
When Robbie Robertson wrote the song, the inspiration came to him after the movies produced by Luis Bunuel. The Spanish filmmaker made it no secret what he thought about Catholicism and other forms of organized religion. He never cared for any of it and it showed in his filmworks. “The Weight” served as a musical reflection of some members of society trying to measure up to certain expectations that are sometimes too unrealistic to achieve.
#5 – Magic Carpet Ride (performed by Steppenwolf)
Contrary to popular belief, “Magic Carpet Ride” was not a song about riding some kind of drug high. It was about enjoying the experience of listening to good music through a great sound system. Recorded in 1968 for The Second album, Steppenwolf’s John Kay had just purchased a new speaker system that played an instrumental role in his rock group’s brand of music. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, “Magic Carpet Ride” became a number-one hit. It peaked as high as number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. Among the nations of Australia, Austria, Germany, and New Zealand, it was at least a top twenty hit.
Using the mythology from Aladdin’s Lamp, “Magic Carpet Ride” extended the invitation to enjoy the thrilling experience of a musical trip. According to John Kay’s lyrics, it was even better with the eyes closed while the heart and mind is left wide open. This was a song that became just as legendary as Steppenwolf’s previous big hit, “Born to Be Wild.”
#4 – Tears of Rage (performed by The Band)
When The Band developed a close friendship and working relationship with Bob Dylan, “Tears of Rage” was one of the iconic songs that were first recorded in 1967 that would later be released in 1975 on The Basement Tapes. In 1968, The Band recorded it as one of the songs for its debut album, Music from Big Pink. Dylan wrote the lyrics while Richard Manuel put together the melody. He was also the vocalist, which fans will agree really outdid himself as a lyrical performer.
What made The Band’s version of “Tears of Rage” a classic rock gem was how passionate it came across as a song. Already designed as a biblical-themed song of lamentation, The Band turned “Tears of Rage” into a powerful spiritual experience. This made a huge impact on a growing fan base that was becoming fed up with the political and social directions that were taking place at the time.
#3 – These Eyes (performed by The Guess Who)
Together, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings wrote “These Eyes” as a single that was first released in Canada in 1968. It became a number seven hit on its Top Singles Chart. In 1969, it was released in the United States and it became The Guess Who’s first big breakthrough as “These Eyes” peaked as high as number six on the US Billboard Hot 100. It would later become certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. This song also became an overseas hit as it charted as high as number ten in South Africa. From the album, Wheatfield Soul, the Manitoba-based The Guess Who already established itself as a popular Canadian rock band. This was, however, the first from a star lineup that had Bachman, Cummings, Jim Kale, and Garry Peterson work with producer Jack Richardson.
At first, members from The Guess Who were reluctant to release “These Eyes” as a single as it was performed as a ballad. It was a stark contrast to the group’s tracklist of hard rock songs but the vocal talent of Burton Cummings couldn’t have performed any better as it did with this song. Singing as an anguished man who realized the greatest of his life had just slipped through his arms, Cummings already demonstrated at such a young age at this time how awesome his singing voice was. He was only eighteen years old when The Guess Who’s original founder, Chad Allan, recruited him as lead singer in 1965. Originally, the men from Winnipeg started out as Chad Allan and the Reflections in 1962.
#2 – Bird on the Wire (performed by Leonard Cohen)
Recorded in 1968, then released in 1969, “Bird on the Wire” became one of Leonard Cohen’s most popular songs. It also became one of the most covered songs as the beauty behind the lyrics captivated more than just the admiration of a worldwide audience. The first to cover Leonard Cohen’s classic was Judy Collins as her 1968 recording was part of the tracklist belonging to Who Knows Where the Times Goes.
According to Leonard Cohen’s own words, he was inspired to write “Bird on the Wire” after observing one of these feathered creatures sitting on a newly installed phone wire while he was living in Hydra, Greece. This, combined with the experiences he had while staying on the Greek island, started out as a simple country song. It soon adopted a Bohemian theme as a folksy favorite performed by scores of top recording artists such as Tim Hardin, Jennifer Warnes, and The Neville Brothers.
“Bird on the Wire” is a timeless beauty that became one of Leonard Cohen’s signature songs. It also remains one of his most beloved classics of all time. The Canadian singer-songwriter was often compared to Bob Dylan when it came to pouring his heart out from pen to paper as one of the greatest poets of all time.
#1 – Born to Be Wild (performed by Steppenwolf)
There are few songs that can hold the mantle as an all-time cult classic with the same timeless appeal as Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Recorded and released in 1968, “Born to Be Wild” was the opening song used in the 1969 cult classic, Easy Rider. Already popular before the movie starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, “Born to Be Wild” became immortalized as soon as the story about two American bikers came out.
This song became an anthem for motorcycle enthusiasts and truckers as they could each relate to John Kay’s incredible lyrics as he proudly sang about a counterculture lifestyle worth embracing. Even among casual motorists, “Born to Be Wild” became a favorite tune to play while on the road. Fans hearing this song from home, whether it was from a Steppenwolf record or on the radio, couldn’t help but rev up in what was regarded as the first real example of a heavy metal tune.
The second verse of the lyrics, “heavy metal thunder” made reference to the roar of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as Kay and his bandmates poured all their raw energy into “Born to Be Wild.” These Canadian rockers from Ontario experienced their first number-one hit on the Canadian Top Singles Chart after “Born to Be Wild” was released as a single. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number two. In Austria, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the UK, this single became at least a top forty hit. It also shared the North American experience as becoming a timeless cult classic.
In 1999, proof of “Born to Be Wild” establishing itself as an all-time popular favorite, it appeared on the UK Singles Chart for the second time since its release. The first go-round had this song peak as high as number thirty-two. The second time around witnessed “Born to Be Wild” soar even higher to number eighteen. Among the nations of Denmark, Italy, the UK, and the United States, this single became certified gold.
Feature Photo: Licensed from Shutterstock/ Text Design by Brian Kachejian
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