Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1979

Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1979

Feature Photo: Warner/Reprise, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Upon looking into the top 10 Canadian rock songs of 1979, we focus on a genre of music that shaped the nation’s pop culture going into the 1980s and beyond. The classic rock songs featured in our list come from artists who were either born in Canada or grew up as Canadians. Some of them were able to do more than win over their home nation’s wave of fans. Some were able to win over the hearts of millions as world-class legendary rockers who could easily perform before sold-out crowds in cities such as London, Los Angeles, and New York.

Recognizing 1979 at the Canadian Juno Awards

1979 was a year that witnessed a wider gap develop between the genres of country and rock music. Throughout the 1970s, including 1979, Ann Murray earned a name for herself as the top female vocal artist. Her music graced virtually every single Canadian chart and was the nation’s biggest star at the time. Now known as the Juno Awards, Music Canada consistently recognized Murray as its Female Vocalist of the Year. However, hot on her heels as nominees in 1979 and 1980 were two other musical legends, Lisa Dal Bello and Joni Mitchell. While neither lady scored a win to dethrone Murray, their musical styles were more rock-oriented than Murray’s. To this day, Ann Murray’s name is world-renowned as one of country music’s brightest stars of all time. While she did indeed experience a series of pop hits worldwide, her style of music appealed more to fans who favored easy-listening music. As far as rock music fans were concerned at the time, Joni Mitchell was their official “it chick.”

The 1980 Juno Awards also recognized Burton Cummings as Male Vocalist of the Year. This is the same man who led The Guess Who to become international rockin’ favorites from 1965 to 1975 before he opted to go solo. 1979 also marked a year Trooper made a grand impression that earned them the win as Group of the Year. This was no easy feat as this legendary group competed against fellow nominees April Wine, Max Webster, Prism, and Rush. Prism’s iconic album, Armageddon, was produced by Bruce Fairbairn and it was he who won Producer of the Year at the Junos. Fairbairn was the same man behind the production work of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and New Jersey, as well as Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip. He was also the producer behind The Razors Edge by AC/DC and Balance by Van Halen.

1979 Today

When looking back to 1979 and the rockers who stood out with their iconic hits, not all of them were seen as number-one favorites at the time. A few didn’t even appear on any of Canada’s official music charts. Today, they’re among the most endearing classics fans can’t seem to get enough of. Many of those songs are now among the most requested on radio stations worldwide as retro favorites fans can’t seem to get enough of. The most recognized classic rock hits found on this list are songs that have done more than just keep music fans pumped up. They were inspirations that continue to bring forth new rockers with their tunes in one of the most popular genres in the music industry.

Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1979

#10 – The Dream Never Dies (performed by The Cooper Brothers)

“The Dream Never Dies” came from the Canadian southern rock band, The Cooper Brothers. Brian and Richard Cooper teamed up with long-time friend Terry King as a trio in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1974. In 1978, they signed with Capricorn Records with Gary Cape as the producer. This brought forth two albums, The Cooper Brothers and Pitfalls of the Ballroom. “The Dream Never Dies” came from the first of these two albums, which was released in 1978. As a single, it was released in 1979 and it became a number thirty hit on the Canadian Singles Chart. This was the same song that was written by Richard Cooper which was recorded and released in 1979 as an American country hit by Bill Anderson.

Regarded as a Canadian classic, “The Dream Never Dies” performed by The Cooper Brothers starts with pure vocals sung in perfect harmony. This was an easy-listening favorite when it was first released and has since become a pop culture icon. As a song of encouragement, “The Dream Never Dies” pointed out a strong dream will continue to live on even long after the dreamer has passed on. While Anderson’s country-style performance was well-regarded, classic rockers will argue the folksy pop version from The Cooper Brothers is the hands-down favorite.

#9 – The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines (performed by Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus)

Released in 1979, Mingus was Joni Mitchell’s tenth studio album. She collaborated with jazz legend Charles Mingus in a recording that first received criticism from the Canadian press before it was finally recognized for the gem it was. Although prior to working with Mingus she was already familiar with performing jazz, this was also her first full-blown experimentation with jazz music as an album recording. Still a rocker by heart, it also further demonstrated her genius as a recording artist. “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” was released as a single from the album that became a Canadian cult classic, despite the fact it failed to make an official chart impression in Mitchell’s home nation.

Joni Mitchell is a legend who was among the most influential singer-songwriters that dictated the course of 1960s folk music. Going into the 1970s, she broadened her musical repertoire to include jazz and pop into what became some of her most popular songs such as “Big Yellow Taxi,” “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” and “Help Me.” “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” was originally composed by Mingus before Joni Mitchell added lyrics to a song as she further embraced jazz as a vocalist.

#8 – 3 Dressed Up as a 9 (performed by Trooper)

“3 Dressed Up as a 9” was the second single released by Trooper in 1979 that earned a Juno nomination at its awards ceremony in 1980. On the Canadian Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number twenty-eight. This classic rock favorite remains a popular choice among a fan base who were in agreement the rock group led by Ra McGuire and Brian Smith was at the top of their game that year. This song became a solid staple on retro radio stations across Canada favoring the nation’s biggest hits from the 1970s and 1980s.

It was about a woman who attempted to dress up as if she was at the same class level as a movie star but simply couldn’t pull it off, at least not according to the lyrics performed by McGuire. This was one of two singles released by Trooper in 1979, as well as one of two singles that were nominated for Composer of the Year at the 1980 Juno Awards. Flying Colors was the album that released “3 Dressed Up as a 9” as the first of its three hits. “Janine” and “Good Clean Fun” also made the Canadian Singles Chart with the first of these two being the most successful when it peaked as high as number seven in 1980.

#7 – Powderfinger (performed by Neil Young)

Performed by Canadian music legend Neil Young, “Powderfinger” was a song featured on his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. Consistently ranked as one of the greatest songs of all time by music critics in Canada and the US, it was originally recorded as an acoustic solo by Neil Young in 1975. It was supposed to be part of the Chrome Dreams tracklist that was released in 1977. Instead, he sent it to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant with the intent of it being recorded for their next album. As fate had it, Zant perished in a plane accident before he and his Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates had a chance to record it. This led to Neil Young engineering “Powderfinger” as an electric version that would be recorded with Crazy Horse on Rust Never Sleeps.

“Powderfinger” was about a young man who sacrificed himself in an attempt to save the day from an approaching gunboat that threatened to kill his family. It was performed as if the man was already killed and was looking back at a chain of events that led to a decision that claimed his own life. This song, along with the iconic “My My, Hey Hey (Into the Black),” played an instrumental role in the success of Neil Young’s seventh studio album. It became certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association, gold in Australia, and silver in the UK. The infamous line “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” was just as dramatic in this song as it was in “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “My My, Hey Hey (Into the Black).”

#6 – Hold On (performed by Triumph)

In 1979, Just a Game was released as Triumph’s third studio album. “Hold On” was a single that was released during the summer that became a number thirty-eight hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also charted as high as number thirty-three on the Canadian Singles Chart. Written by Rik Emmett, “Hold On” became one of Triumph’s signature hits. The origin of the song’s verses came from a poem Emmett wrote while he was still in high school. The complexity of its studio recording was rarely performed in concert as “Hold On” used so many musical arrangements. The radio-friendly version falls one-second shy of the three-minute mark as it kept out the starting acoustic folk performance and the disco-style ending. The single version is the most popular and remains a solid fan favorite among Canadians and listeners around the world.

The opening guitar solo was followed by the incredible lyrics performed by Emmett as an easy-listening gem before picking up the pace into one of the most beloved guitar classics of all time. “Hold On” continues to serve as a song of encouragement for dreamers to never give up. The raw energy of “Hold On” made it a major fan favorite when it was first released. It also influenced upcoming guitarists around the world to pick up the instrument and follow their dreams to become rockers themselves.

#5 – The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car (performed by Trooper)

The 1980 Juno Awards recognized the musical accomplishments made by its collection of Canadian recording artists that were made in 1979. Trooper made history by having two songs from two different albums nominated in the same category at the same time. Neither “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” nor “3 Dressed Up as a 9” scored the win as Composer of the Year as that honor went to “Peter Piper” by Frank Mills. “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” came from Trooper’s first compilation album, Hot Shots. On the Canadian Singles Chart, it became a number twenty-five hit. During an era when country stars were dominating the charts more than genuine Canadian rockers at the time, this was an important achievement.

The song was about a group of young men racing around in a car that was suspected to be stolen, at least according to the lyrics. Originally, “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” was a song recorded on the 1976 album Two for the Show. It wasn’t until it was part of the Hot Shots tracklist that it was released as a single. As far as Canadian rock classics go, this became one of Trooper’s signature hits that still receives considerable airtime on radio stations that favor retro rock music. If you’re looking for a song with fantastic guitar riffs, “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” is it.

#4 – A Million Vacations (performed by Max Webster)

As an album, the 1979 release of A Million Vacations produced three hit singles for Max Webster that put Kim Mitchell’s group on the Canadian Singles Chart map for the first time since the group was founded in 1972. Although “Paradise Skies” was the third and most successful hit on the charts as it peaked as high as number twenty-one in Canada and at number forty-three on the UK Singles Chart, it was the title track that stood out as the overall classic rock favorite. “A Million Vacations” became a number eighty hit on the Canadian Singles Chart when it was released as a follow-up single behind “Let Go the Line.”

Originally from Toronto, Ontario, Max Webster was already a staple favorite in the band’s home nation as fans couldn’t seem to get enough of their albums. Also, a standout favorite was the album’s title track, as well as “Let Go the Line.” There became cult classics among the Canadian fan base that are still enjoyed today on radio stations across the nation. “A Million Vacations” was a phenomenal song that offered listeners to take a break from the mundaneness of everyday living and the all too familiar.

# 3 – Wondering Where the Lions Are – Bruce Cockburn

In the number three spot on our top 10 Canadian Rock Songs Of 1979, we turn to Bruce Cockburn’s breakout hit “Wondering Where The Lions Are.” The song was released on Bruce Cockburn’s album entitled Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. It was the Canadian songwriter’s ninth studio album. The song was a huge hit in Canada where the man’s star shined brightly However it also helped him gain attention in the United States where the song hit number twenty one on the US Billboard Hot 100.

#2 – Armageddon (performed by Prism)

Although “Armageddon” only peaked as high as number twenty-three on the Canadian Singles Chart, it became an iconic hit that stood out as one of the greatest Canadian classic rock songs. By this time, Vancouver-based Prism was already hugely popular in Canada. Their first hit, 1977’s “Spaceship Superstar,” later became the wake-up song for the Space Shuttle Discovery during its historic 2011 run. As an album, Armageddon featured the songwriting talent of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. This was before Adams would enjoy a solo career as one of the biggest rock stars to burst onto the music scene in the 1980s.

The full length of “Armageddon” is seven minutes and forty-seven seconds and it is worth listening to every second of it. Because of the song’s length, many radio stations were reluctant to play it at the time. “Armageddon” seemed to play off “Spaceship Superstar” with the opening of what sounded like a radio transmission. As soon as the orchestra and opening riffs began, already the listener was privy to a dramatic rock song that deservedly earns its place as a classic. Whenever played in concert, “Armageddon” commanded the attention of the audience in what often felt like an out-of-this-world event.

Written by Lindsay Mitchell, “Armageddon” had the opening verse describe Elvis Presley fans who believed he faked his death on August 16, 1977, to get out of the public spotlight. They didn’t seem to care about what the news had to say about his death and funeral. The hype that spawned around Presley’s fate served as a source of inspiration to write a dramatic rock song about the rumored “end times.”

The infamous red phone which was often portrayed in movies and television as a symbol of communication during the Cold War that existed between Russia and the USA was also referenced in the song. Agreed by a multitude of fans, “Armageddon” was a song that didn’t receive nearly as much attention it deserved when it was first released as a single. Today, it’s regarded as one of Prism’s signature songs, along with “Spaceship Superstar,” “Take Me to the Kaptin,” and “Don’t Let Him Know.”

#1 – Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) (performed by Neil Young)

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” was the iconic classic rock number from Neil Young that came from his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. The collaboration Young had with the American punk band Devo influenced this song, as well as the best-selling record for one of Canada’s all-time greatest rock legends. The quote “Hey Hey, My My” became the album’s popular catchphrase while “rust never sleeps” was a slogan Young remembered as a former graphic artist. Although this classic fan favorite didn’t appear on any of the Canadian music charts during the year of its release, the popularity of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” rightfully earned its place as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It’s been a favorite used in various movies and television programs, as well as covered by several world-class recording artists such as Rick Derringer and Oasis.

The legacy of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” is as dynamic as Neil Young’s musical career. Since making his debut in 1963, Neil Young had been a tremendous influence in the music industry worldwide. He began his career in Winnipeg, Manitoba, before moving to Los Angeles to join Buffalo Springfield. As soon as he went solo, Neil Young often performed with Crazy Horse. Together, they brought forth Rust Never Sleeps, an album that became certified platinum with the RIAA, as well as gold in Australia, and silver in the UK. “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” has become so much more than just a great song to finish off the 1970s decade. It is a legend.

Top 10 Canadian Rock Songs of 1979 article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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