The top 10 Canadian rock songs of 1977 feature a list of great tunes that mostly became instant classics as soon as they were released as singles. There were a few that took a bit longer for fans to warm up to as the Canadian music industry at the time had yet to fully evolve into what it has become today. During an era when country music seemed to reign supreme in Canada, it sometimes felt like rockers faced an uphill battle just to get noticed. However, the trend of rock n’ roll music refused to take a backseat to anyone. This was made clear by the powerful performances laid out by some of the greatest legends such as Joni Mitchell and Jim Vallance. Both of these extremely talented songwriters not only shaped the influence of rock music that would define Canadian pop culture but at a global level as well.
1977: What a Superstar Rush
1977 was a big year for Canadian music, especially among its rockers. Already incredibly popular were Canada’s rising stars at the time, Prism, Rush, and Trooper. Prism’s “Spaceship Superstar” was one of Jim Vallance’s final contributions to the group’s signature hit before moving on as one of the world’s greatest songwriters of all time. Rush’s A Farewell to Kings had big shoes to fill after the massive success of 2112. During the 1978 Canadian Juno Awards, the progressive rock group from Ontario was named Group of the Year. The Junos also nominated Max Webster and Prism in the Most Promising Group of the Year Category as both bands exploded onto the Canadian rock scene with some of the decade’s best musical material produced.
In addition to the Canadian music scene carving out 1977 as an awesome year for rock and roll, there was also news that unexpectedly shook the entire music industry. On February 27th, the hotel suite of Rolling Stones legend Keith Richards was raided by the Royal Canadian Mount Police. Under the nation’s Narcotic Control Act, this could have warranted seven years to life imprisonment for the man based on what was reportedly discovered.
In the meantime, he and his family were detained in Toronto for a full month. In 1978, a trial was held that led to Richards pleading guilty to possession of heroin. There was a visually impaired witness who testified on Richards’s behalf which led to a benefit concert for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Fortunately for Richards, the charges against him were reduced which prevented him from having to spend at least seven years behind bars.
Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1977
#10 – Off Night Backstreet (performed by Joni Mitchell)
Joni Mitchell was (and still is) one of Canada’s all-time greats as a musical goddess that has influenced so many fans worldwide. Born in Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada, before moving to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, at eleven years old, Mitchell already expressed more than a passing interest in music. Going into the 1960s, the influence of folk, jazz, and pop music shaped the woman’s career to become one of the greatest recording legends of all time. The woman’s musical portfolio includes several awards and accolades, including ten Grammy Award wins. In 1997, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During the 1970s, Joni Mitchell was to Canadian music fans what Linda Ronstadt was to the fan base in the United States. In addition to her influence as one of the world’s greatest songwriters of all time, Joni Mitchell was also globally recognized for her talent with the guitar. As far as Canadians were concerned, she was their answer to another incredible legend, Janis Joplin.
In 1977, Joni Mitchell recorded and released her ninth studio album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. This double album witnessed Joni Mitchell explore deeper into jazz as she sought to broaden her musical repertoire. “Off Night Backstreet” beautifully illustrated how talented Joni Mitchell was as a world-class musician. Even though the album didn’t receive the best reviews from music critics, the fans made it clear they were in stark disagreement. In just three months, the album became certified gold by Music Canada after it sold over fifty thousand copies. Even though “Off Night Backstreet” was a released single that failed to chart, it has stood the test of time as a cult classic. When listening to Mitchell’s lyrical performance of this awesome song, your ears will be in for a treat as Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther of Eagles fame performed as her backing vocalists.
#9 – Life in London (performed by Pat Travers)
When Pat Travers was twelve years old, he watched a Jimi Hendrix concert in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Inspired by this guitar god, Travers began to set his sights on a musical career of his own. In 1976, he recorded and released his debut album which featured a fusion of blues and hard rock. After this, Travers he released two albums in 1977. The first was Makin’ Magic, then Putting It Straight. “Life in London” was the lead track from Travers’ third studio album and it was this song that became one of the fan favorites which has stood the test of time to become a rock classic.
The opening guitar riffs already set the mood of a song that served as a story of a man who briefly moved from Toronto, Ontario to London, England. He was in his early twenties at the time and sought to make a name for himself in the highly competitive music industry. In the lyrics, Travers seemed to suggest the music scene overseas wasn’t much different than what he already knew in Canada. What made Pat Travers stand out as a crowd favorite was how he could rock on as a guitar rock god which would have made the likes of Jimi Hendrix proud.
#8 – In Context of the Moon (performed by Max Webster)
Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was a hard rock group known as Max Webster. From 1972 until 1981, Kim Mitchell led the band to achieve success as a recording artist in Canada and the United Kingdom. In 1977, the group recorded and released its second studio album, High Class in Borrowed Shoes. Just like the 1976 debut album, it became commercially successful enough to earn Music Canada’s gold certification after selling at least fifty thousand copies within the nation. “In Context of the Moon” was the final recording on the nine-song tracklist and it wonderfully finished off what was designed as a progressive rock meets heavy metal album.
At the time, Max Webster was close to Rush as both Canadian-based bands often jammed together and toured together. The musical influence of Rush can be heard in this album, as well as the musical legends of Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa. Listening to “In Context of the Moon” was like experiencing a trippy musical ride. This was Max Webster’s trademark sound that made them popular fan favorites across Canada.
#7 – Requiem For A Sinner (performed by Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush)
Founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1970 was a hard rock band known as Mahogany Rush. Its frontman, Frank Marino, was often considered the Canadian equivalent of Jimi Hendrix as he displayed an incredible talent for the guitar. Also the band’s lead vocalist, Marino was instrumental in raising his group’s popularity level in a nation that had yet to fully grasp the aura of classic rock and roll music. Even though the genre was rising in popularity in Canada, it still played second fiddle to country music. Marino was also criticized by the industry as a Hendrix copycat as he did cover a number of his classics such as “Purple Haze.” However, when listening to 1977’s “Requiem for a Sinner,” it was made clear he was perfectly capable of coming up with his musical material as well.
When asked about how much his style of guitar playing paralleled Hendrix’s, Marino pointed out there was no intention to sound like the legend at all. It was a style that chose him instead of one that he chose himself. When asked about the key influencers that sparked his interest in performing guitar, Duane Allman, John Cipollina, Robby Krieger, Carlos Santana, and Johnny Winter are all names that join Hendrix as his personal favorites. Their various musical styles enabled Marino to fuse blues, jazz, and heavy rock into a style that was genuinely his own.
When listening to “Requiem For A Sinner,” the lead track from World Anthem, it’s easy to become caught up in its emotional impact. Marino’s guitaring genius, especially the solo, puts the listener into a lonely realm of what happens to people when all their sins catch up to them. No matter how hard we try to escape from them, they’re always there like an anchor, weighing us down. If you’re looking for a psychedelic rock meets jazz experience, “Requiem For A Sinner” is worth the musical journey.
#6 – “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time)” (performed by Trooper)
Since it was released as a single in 1977, ‘We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time)” has become one of the most popular anthems played at social events and sporting venues. When Trooper teamed up with BTO’s Randy Bachman, he helped the Vancouver-based Canadian rock group produce their third studio album, Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid. It was the first from Trooper to become certified platinum by Music Canada. The dynamic duo, Ra McGuire and Brian Smith, also had a new bassist added to the lineup as Doni Underhill replaced Harry Kalensky. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, “We’re Here for a Good Time” charted as high as number forty-three when it was first released. However, this became a cult classic as the popularity of the song continued to grow, even long after it fell off the official music charts.
From the opening guitar performance to McGuire’s lyrical encouragement for people to enjoy life, “We’re Here for a Good Time” easily became a crowd favorite as the perfect pick-me-up. In the chorus, it pointed out “the sun can’t shine every day,” as a simple fact not everything can go our way all the time. The journey of life is a wild roller coaster ride as it is with many ups, downs, twists, and turns. It’s up to each person to decide if they simply want to hang on and enjoy the ride or criticize every little thing they disagree with.
#5 – Spaceship Superstar (performed by Prism)
When Prism released “Spaceship Superstar” in 1977, it became an explosive hit that would become a timeless cult classic. Written and vocally performed by Jim Vallance, this incredible debut may not have become a top forty hit for his group but it did cement them as bonafide rock stars around the world. On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Spaceship Superstar” peaked at number eighty-two. It was a number sixty-three hit in Canada. A year after the song was released, it earned a Certificate of Honour from the Performing Rights Organization of Canada. In 2011, it was used as the wake-up song for the crew members on board the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Originally, “Spaceship Superstar” was written in 1975 while Vallance assumed “Rodney Higgs” as his pseudonym. Although recognized as a Prism hit in 1977, Vallance had already moved on and was no longer part of the lineup. As a songwriter, the song came to Vallance after watching the George Lucas sci-fi classic, Star Wars. Additional key influences to the composition behind “Spaceship Superstar” was Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” and Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride.” Vallance was also a fan of the Who, which also played a factor behind one of Prism’s most iconic rock songs.
#4 – Takes Time (performed by Triumph)
Triumph technically began as a four-man bluesy-based band that was founded in 1975 by Fred Keeler, Peter Young, Mike Levine, and Gil Moore. At the time, they were known as Abernathy Shagnaster before Keeler and Young left the lineup. During the summer season, Levine and Moore met Rik Emmett while they were in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. These fellow Canadians would become a trio act that would merge classical music and progressive rock into a style that wasn’t well received by the music critics at first.
The 1976 debut of what’s now labeled as In the Beginning was an album that mostly had Canadian fans listen to this brand of rock music for the first time. This was followed by 1977’s album, Rock & Roll Machine. In 1978, a modified version of Rock & Roll Machine was released in the United States that included “Takes Time.” Although not released as a single, this song became the classic favorite of fans who found Triumph’s music exhilarating.
What put Triumph on the map on the music charts at first was their bombastic version of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way.” This is what spiked Triumph’s popularity to extend beyond Canadian borders. Although they also became popular overseas, Triumph preferred to focus on appeasing American and Canadian fans with their brand of classic rock music. “Takes Time” was a song that informed the narrator’s love interest that time can be tricky when it comes to settling down in a relationship, especially when he’s spending much of his time on the road with his bandmates.
#3 – Xanadu (performed by Rush)
“Xanadu” was a song about a special place that granted immortality. The idea of living forever seemed appealing at first, at least according to Neil Peart’s lyrics. However, the attitude changed after a thousand years as there was now a desire to see the world come to an end. “Xanadu” and A Farewell to Kings became one of Rush’s finest works as a recording artist. Peart, along with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, performed this classic as a synth-heavy song that also played with several different instruments and sounds.
Inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan, the progressive rock group from Ontario, Canada, used this Mongolian-themed story as a frame of reference to record a song that played for just over eleven minutes. Note for note, Rush knew “Xanadu” was the making of a classic. The fans and music critics, as soon as they heard it, agreed. Too long to be released as a single, “Xanadu” became one of those awesome songs that could be best described as one hell of a trippy ride.
#2 – Like a Hurricane (performed by Neil Young)
Neil Young originally penned “Like a Hurricane” in 1975 while he was still recovering from throat surgery. Unable to use his vocals at the time, even to talk, he could at least whistle. He did this as he played out this song before he opted to have it recorded for his 1977 album American Stars ‘n Bars. Although there was a single version of this song that was released, it was the album recording that became the fan favorite.
Sang as a man obsessed with a potential love interest met at a bar, Young seemed to outdo himself as a vocalist. Combine this with the electric guitar performance as if a man possessed, “Like a Hurricane” was over eight minutes worth of Young at his best. Just because the man couldn’t talk in 1975 didn’t mean he couldn’t write songs. He wrote many before unleashing “Like a Hurricane” for the melodic gem it was.
#1 – Barracuda (performed by Heart)
Released in 1977, “Barracuda” was Heart’s response to the lack of respect they received from their previous label, Mushroom Records. Ann and Nancy Wilson became furious with the company after a false story about a love affair was unleashed as a publicity stunt. This, combined with contract issues, gave Heart cause to temporarily drop their work with Magazine as their next studio album and sign up with a new label, Portrait Records. From it, they released Little Queen and it became a smashing success.
On the US Billboard Hot 100, the aggressive “Barracuda” peaked as high as number eleven. It was even more popular in Canada as it charted as high as number two. It was at least a top forty hit among the nations of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden. In the UK, it became certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry.
“Barracuda” was Ann Wilson’s vocal output as a woman scorned by a tumultuous relationship. The song reflected Heart’s frustration with the corporate circus ride they experienced as recording artists in the music industry as their feud with Mushroom Records at the time raged on. The electrified guitar riffs performed by the Wilson sisters came to them after listening to Nazareth’s cover version of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight.” “Barracuda” became one of Heart’s heaviest rock songs, as well as one of their biggest classics. Although technically the Wilsons and Heart came from the United States of America, they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, shortly before they recorded and released their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, in 1975.
Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1977 article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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