Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1976

Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1976

Feature Photo: ceedub13, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our top 10 Canadian Songs of 1976 features music produced by some of the most popular recording artists who did more than just rock their home nation. Some of them became international superstars. Artists such as Joni Mitchell, Rush, and Neil Young played key influential roles at a worldwide level when it came to producing rock and roll music. 1976 also marked the official debut of an Ontario-based rock group that would take Canada, America, and the rest of the world by storm with their brand of classic hard rock. Triumph quickly joined their fellow Canadian rockers as one of the most popular and enthusiastic musical acts at a world-class level.

Full of Canadian Heart

On March 16, 1977 the Juno Awards ceremony was held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Similar to the American Music Awards and the Grammies, the Junos was the Canadian equivalent that recognized the best music of 1976. Among the nominees, the hometown heroes Garfield and Moxy were both competing against Sweeney Todd, Trooper, and THP Orchestra as Most Promising Group of the Year. Thanks to the rising popularity of disco music, THP earned the win. Also winning that year was Heart as it was recognized by the industry as Group of the Year. This was an amazing feat considering the music from this band was recorded and released in 1975. Ann and Nancy Wilson beat out April Wine, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Rush, and The Stampeders as the “it” act favored by Music Canada and the fans.

For Canadian classic rock fans, 1976 was a big year that marked the explosive beginning of top talents that would grace the music charts for at least a few years. While Heart was indeed the official queen of rock in Canada, Rush was king. Although Rush didn’t win any awards that year, 2112 marked the beginning of the progressive rock group’s ascendence to international superstardom.

1976 also marked the beginning for Sweeney Todd and Trooper to blossom as one of Canada’s favorite musical artists. Sweeney Todd’s lineup began with Nick Glider as its lead vocalist before he embarked on a solo career. He was replaced by a sixteen year old named Bryan Adams. While Sweeney Todd’s run didn’t last nearly as long as Trooper’s, it still holds a solid place in the hearts of Canadian music fans who look upon the second half of the 1970s with fondness.

Top 10 Canadian Songs of 1976

#10 – Old Time Movies (performed by Garfield)

Garfield earned nationwide popularity after the 1976 release of “Old Time Movies” and the group’s debut album, Strange Streets. Garfield French and his fellow bandmates were nominated Most Promising Group during the 1977 Juno Awards ceremony that was held in their home city of Toronto, Ontario. Already regarded as rock gods throughout Southern Ontario, Garfield’s rise to fame spiked even further after touring across Canada as the opening act for The Doobie Brothers.

Each time “Old Time Movies” was played before a live audience, there would be an eruption of enthusiastic fans who couldn’t get enough of this song. While the fans thoroughly enjoyed Garfield’s Strange Streets and its tracklist, music critics didn’t know what to think at the time. They, as well as the majority of mainstream radio stations, felt Garfield’s brand of progressive rock was too quirky to appeal to music fans. Despite the limited airplay “Old Time Movies” received at the time, they were proven wrong.

“Old Time Movies” began with the sound of dialogue shared between a man and his barking dog barking, a horse trotting, and the trumpet playing a familiar tune before breaking into a thoroughly enjoyable song. While Garfield was considered a progressive rock band, “Old Time Movies” came across as a folksy gem that deservedly earned its place as a classic. When looking for a good “reality check” song without becoming too serious about life’s challenges, “Old Time Movies” may serve as the ideal pick me up to chase the blues away.

#9 – Lily (performed by Max Webster)

In 1976, Max Webster released its debut studio name by the short-lived Taurus Records. It would be released a second time in 1977 as Hangover. This was the title track of the album that also featured one of Max Webster’s best known songs, “Lily.” Max Webster became certified gold by Music Canada after it sold over fifty thousand copies within the band’s home nation. Founded in 1972 by Kim Mitchell, the Ontario-based Max Webster wouldn’t realize its best lineup until the arrival of lyricist Pye Dubois, drummer Gary McCracken, and keyboardist Terry Watkinson. While Dubois never officially played any instruments or appeared on stage, he was key to Max Webster’s success as a recording artist that would win the group numerous accolades and awards.

On purpose, Max Webster’s style blended humor with hard rock as the group’s recipe for recording music. This song of encouragement was written by Kim Mitchell that addressed “Lily” as someone who can do more than just survive whatever life hurled at her. What made this song stand out was the combination of Mitchell’s incredible vocal talent and the brilliant instrumental work played out by McCracken, Wilson, and Mike Tilka. Granted, “Lily” was not an edgy rocker like the majority of the group’s material. It was, however, a beautiful representation of how talented the lineup of Max Webster was as a group. “Lily” also served as a hint of what was to come as the boys from Sarnia, Ontario would continue to make their presence felt as one of Canada’s most beloved rockers.

#8 – Take It or Leave It (performed by Moxy)

Moxy was a rock band that was founded in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1973. Despite their Canadian roots, Moxy became intensely popular in the American state of Texas, thanks to San Antonio’s Godfather of Rock, Joe Anthony. In 1977, they were the opening act for AC/DC after wowing the crowd with a string of popular hits that won over mostly Canadians and Texans who loved Moxy’s brand of rock music. Even today, the love Texans have for Moxy continues as hits such as “Take It or Leave It” remain in rotation on several Texas-based radio stations.

After the success of the independently released debut album, Moxy (also known as Black Album), Moxy II would be released in 1976 as the follow-up. With the production help of Jack Douglas, Moxy II  was highly acclaimed by music critics upon its release. At the time, Moxy was deemed the Canadian equivalent of the legendary Led Zeppelin. “Take It or Leave It” became a hard rockin’ favorite, especially in Texas as the fans couldn’t seem to get enough of it.

The guitar riffs played by Earl Johnson and newcomer Buddy Caine elevated the appeal of “Take It or Leave It” as a song that bridged the best of various subgenres into one. Disco, funk, and hard rock blended beautifully together in this song, as well as the rest of the album. Moxy’slead vocalist, Buzz Shearman was also in fine form as he lyrically praised a relationship he shared with a love interest that had him do things he hadn’t one before. The brand of music Moxy unleashed upon the audience was unique. According to the group’s most devout fans, also underrated.

#7 – Two for the Show (performed by Trooper)

1976’s “Two for the Show” was the title track belonging to Trooper’s second studio album. It, along with “Ready” and “Santa Maria,” became the three hits that would play a role in it becoming certified gold by Music Canada. The album was produced by Randy Bachman, the same musical genius from Bachman-Turner Overdrive and The Guess Who fame. “The Boys in the Bright White Sportscar” was also part of the album’s tracklist but wouldn’t be recognized as a hit until its modified version was recorded and released in 1979 from Hot Shots.

What makes “Two for the Show” a priceless gem in the realm of classic rock was the incredible lyrical performance by Ra McGuire. It was beautifully matched with the instrumentation and harmonies performed by his bandmates, Harry Kalensky, Frank Ludwig, Tommy Stewart, and Brian Smith. When it was released as a single, “Two for the Show” became a number thirty-two hit on the Canadian Singles Chart. It also became one of Trooper’s most beloved signature songs that have stood the test of time as a genuine rock classic.

Before becoming Trooper, Ra McGuire and Brian Smith started off in 1967 as Winter’s Green before changing the band’s name to Applejack. After meeting with Randy Bachman, the men underwent a second change to their band’s name. After the success of Trooper as the group’s debut album in 1975, Two for the Show was the follow-up that also met with success.

“Two for the Show” was a rather emotional single written by McGuire that laid out the tale of a performer that was getting ready to perform in concert. According to the first set of lyrics, his mother wanted to go and watch her son perform rock music but he felt she was too old. As the song progressed, it was revealed the opening act before he was about to take over as the main attraction was a woman who sang out of key and wasn’t able to dance.

“Two for the Show” became an emotional favorite among a fan base who sometimes found it difficult to listen through the entire song without the urge to shed a tear. “One for the money, two for the show” remains popular as a favorite catchphrase shared among entertainers who are about to perform. Trooper’s sensitive approach with “Two for the Show” turned this into one of the most beloved Canadian ballads among romantics who could relate to the lyrics.

#6 – So Bad (performed by April Wine)

In 1976, April Wine released its fifth studio album, The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy. It was the first recording without Jim Clench as the band’s bassist as he was replaced by Steve Lang. On the Canadian RPM national album chart as of May 8th, it was already sitting at number one and was certified platinum by Music Canada. It was the first time in Canadian history an album would achieve this status through advanced sales orders. While the album’s title track became the biggest hit on the music charts, “So Bad” would ultimately come out on top as the classic that stood out as an April Wine gem.

Performed as a man feeling caged by his love interest, Myles Goodwyn didn’t hold back as he let loose with his lyrics. The energy from Frank Marino’s guitar riffs already triggered “So Bad” as a classic in the making while Goodwyn belted away his woes. Marino is the same guitar hero many fans will argue was a Canadian equivalent of the legendary Jimi Hendrix. If you’re looking for a heavy guitar classic, “So Bad” remains one of the most enjoyable tunes worth rocking to.

#5 – Street Fighter (performed by Triumph)

Triumph’s self-titled debut album was first released to Canadian music fans in 1976 by a hard rock group that originally hailed from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. As far as several music critics were concerned at the time, Triumph didn’t exactly win them over as fans at first. This resulted in limited airplay but it wasn’t enough to hold back the fans as they bought enough copies to earn Triumph a gold certification by Music Canada. This is the same album that would be released again as a remaster in 1995. It was also retitled as In the Beginning.

Best known for their guitar-driven tunes, the explosive debut of Triumph and its tracklist featured Rik Emmett as the band’s new frontman. Originally, Triumph started out in 1975 as Abernathy Shagnaster as a four-man crew. After two of its founders, Fred Keeler and Peter Young opted out, Mike Levine and Gil Moore replaced them with Emmett. Now as a trio, Triumph’s musical influence adopted a progressive musical style that bordered between hard rock and heavy metal.

While the critics didn’t really know what to make of Triumph, both American and Canadian music fans quickly found themselves attracted to their brand of music as soon as 1978’s Rock & Roll Machine made its American debut, courtesy of RCA Records. It would be at this time more fans would learn about Triumph’s debut album. “Street Fighter” and “Street Fighter (Reprise)” became the standout favorites as Emmett’s lyrical performance belted out one of the most underrated rock tunes of its time.

“Street Fighter” was about a rebel who held the reputation of a tough guy. While disdained by law enforcement officials, he was seen as a hero by members of smaller communities and their taverns. The guitar riffs performed by Emmett and Levine were nothing short of fantastic. Moore’s feverish run on the drums felt like a wild musical ride.

#4 – Long May You Run (performed by Stills-Young Band)

Originally, Long May You Run was the name of the 1976-released album credited to Stephen Stills and Neil Young. At the time, they were known as the Stills-Young Band. The album itself became certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This creation came about after Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young completed their 1974 tour group as a four-man band. While David Crosby and Graham Nash resumed their musical partnership at the time, Stills and Young still pursued their careers as solo artists.

Going into 1976, Stills and Neil Young worked together on an album project that led to Long May You Run. The two started off touring together prior to the album’s release but Young sent Stills a telegram that he was opting out. This left Stills to finish the tour schedule on his own. The separation came about after Neil Young was receiving all the media praise as a performer while Stills met with harsh criticism.

As a single, “Long May You Run” was Neil Young’s musical homage to “Mort,” a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse that was the first vehicle he owned. After its transmission blew in 1962 while he was driving around in Ontario, Canada. While the single didn’t appear on any of the official music charts belonging to Neil Young’s home nation nor the United States, it did peak as high as number seventy-one on the UK Singles Chart.

Albeit a minor hit at the time, “Long May You Run” ultimately became a timeless cult classic. It was the song performed by Neil Young in 2010 when The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien aired its final episode. This was also the same song performed during the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

#3 – Coyote (performed by Joni Mitchell)

When Hejira was released in 1976 as Joni Mitchell’s eighth studio album, the course was already set for it to become a fan favorite. The opening track, “Coyote,” shared the same prestige as a song that became one of Joni Mitchell’s signature hits. Its inspiration came while Joni Mitchell was associated with Sam Shepard while on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue Tour that began in 1975. “Coyote” was a song Joni Mitchell wrote about her touring experience, as well as the flirtations she had with Shepard once upon a time. During the 1972 and 1973 summers, Shepherd stayed at a shoreline cottage near Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy. This is where the quote “too far from the Bay of Fundy” came in as part of the song’s lyrics. Joni Mitchell also made reference to an actual coyote she saw while she still lived in the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan.

The legacy of “Coyote” featured the contrast of two very different lifestyles as Joni Mitchell’s vocal talent laid out a series of rattling verses about a man whom she affectionately described as a womanizer. The original album version of “Coyote” was covered by Bob Dylan during a 2009 episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour show as he paid his respect to whom he described Joni Mitchell as a strong-willed woman. As for the single, it became a number seventy-nine hit on the Canadian Top Singles Chart.

#2 – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (performed by Gordon Lightfoot)

Written and performed by one of Canada’s greatest musical legends, Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was about the bulk carrier that sank on November 10, 1975. It sat and trekked along Lake Superior, Ontario until it met its unfortunate demise. Lightfoot became inspired by its story after reading about it in an article covered in Newsweek Magazine.

Best known for his folksy approach to rock music, Lightfoot’s eleventh studio album, Summertime Dream, featured “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and is regarded to be one of the best works created by this iconic singer-songwriter. The single version of this song topped the Canadian Top Singles chart, the Canadian Adult Contemporary Songs chart, and the Canadian Country Tracks chart. It also became a number two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number forty.

If you’re looking for a great historical song that’s part of Canada’s heritage, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is definitely it. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald’s final voyage on the rough waters belonging to Lake Superior was already written about before its wreckage was discovered. When Lightfoot wrote the song, he was told by his producer at the time to just write a story as the man was already familiar as a recreational sailor on all five of Canada’s Great Lakes.

As proof Lightfoot’s classic held the test of time as more than strictly a Canadian rock classic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” appeared as a hit again in 2023. This time, it peaked as high as number twenty on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. Although Lightfoot’s more recent lyrics have somewhat changed the narrative of the story where the ship’s crew was concerned, the original classic remains on top as the cult favorite.

#1 – 2112 (performed by Rush)

From Rush’s iconic album 2112, “Overture” started the musical journey of a futuristic city called Megadon. The genius that was applied to “2112” was inspired by the 1937 dystopian novella, Anthem, which was written by Ayn Rand. Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was also a source of inspiration, which can be heard in the opening synthesizer-heavy instrumental performance of “Overture.” Adding even more drama to this song’s lyrics was the biblical quote “And the meek shall inherit the earth.”

The second chapter of “2112” was “Temple of the Syrinx” which stood out with the growl of guitars as Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee seemed to outdo themselves here and it became popular enough for it to be released as a single. After this, “Discovery” had Lifeson stand out with his guitar solo as someone who just discovered an abandoned guitar. This was followed by “Presentation” as the hero of this lengthy musical story played the guitar before them. While it met with an unappreciative audience among the antagonists of “2112,” it served as a great bridge to a song that was already a classic the moment it was released.

“The Dream,” “Soliloquy,” and “Grand Finale” collectively finished off “2112” with the protagonist of the story overcoming what seemed like impossible odds against a world that felt music was too archaic for modern-day society. “Grand Finale” was the instrumental hard rock conclusion of “2112.” The legendary drum performance by Neil Peart, combined with Lee and Lifeson once again shining as guitar heroes, made the twenty-minute ride of “2112” one of the best musical experiences ever experienced on a progressive rock album.

Overall, “2112” was Rush’s response to the corporate expectations laid out by organizations that managed the music industry however they saw fit. “Overture” first revealed a futuristic world run by priests and banks who collectively outlawed anything to do with creativity and individuality. This means there was no such thing as music in their world. By the time ‘Grand Finale” hit, there was a dramatic shift in power that put control of the world back into the hands of the people. All of “2112” is worth listening to, something both fans and music critics will agree on since it was released in 1976. As an album, 2112 was certified triple platinum by the RIAA, as well as double platinum by Music Canada. In the UK, 2112 was released in 1997 and it became certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1976 article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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