37 Famous Canadian Songs

Famous Canadian songs have a lot of crossover with music from the United States, as artists popular in either country are often beloved in both. However, some hits got their start in the northernmost part of North America, so let’s look at the best Canadian songs to grace the airwaves.

“One Gun” by 54-40

Song Year: 1987

54-40’s indie-rock hit is a curiously melodic tune, coming in at a little more than four minutes but not making much sense the first time you listen through. The lyrics tell the story of a boy pursuing a girl, but she keeps refusing him due to a cycle of pain.

Music isn’t always easy to understand, but something about “One Gun” touches people, which is part of why 54-40 became one of Canada’s most distinctive bands throughout the 80s and early 90s.

“Ironic” by Alanis Morissette

Song Year: 1996

An enduring favorite among listeners, “Ironic” tells of a range of unfortunate and odd situations that people might experience, from dying immediately after winning the lottery to getting in a traffic jam while you’re late for work. However, as Morissette noted afterward, none of the situations described in the song are genuinely ironic.

“Adult Diversion” by Alvvays

Song Year: 2014

This alternative hit focuses on unhealthy fixations, especially stalking. That’s a situation that many singers are all too familiar with, as it’s not hard to find fans that take it a little too far. Alvvays also put some extra creativity into this song during the bridge, when the word “moment” blends into the rest of the lines.

“Snowbird” by Anne Murray

Song Year: 1969

Anne Murray’s gentle folk-pop song didn’t just get a Grammy nomination for pure quality, it outright won a Juno Award. The lyrics focus on a breakup, wrapped in metaphors of the seasons and birds, and the confusion between caring for someone and knowing they’re going to cause more pain.

“You Could Have Been a Lady” by April Wine

Song Year: 1972

April Wine’s hard rock hit focuses on talking to a girl and discussing her situation and options. The song's focus character is clearly in demand, with many men wanting to become her lovers. However, she doesn’t quite realize why they’re all so interested and doesn’t quite believe the attention she’s getting.

“Wake Up” by Arcade Fire

Song Year: 2004

Arcade Fire’s hit song from their album Funeral got them a Juno Award for Songwriter of the Year. It’s relatively long for the length of the lyrics, with a series of powerful instrumental sections.

The verses focus on the pain of trauma and how people are often told to hide it or shove it away, but that this can also be the wrong approach and often ends up doing more harm than good. While they acknowledge that remaining children isn’t the right way, humans can act and make changes. There’s a reason this remains one of their most popular songs.

“Complicated” by Avril Lavigne

Song Year: 2002

“Complicated” was such a smash hit that it feels much older than it is. Nominated for a Grammy and winning a Juno Award, this song’s distinctive pacing is instantly recognizable and helps reinforce the emotion and confusion of its storytelling.

Many people wish that life could be simpler, and the fact that some people make it needlessly complicated can be a source of intense frustration. Avril Lavigne has quite a few hits, but “Complicated” is easily one of her most enduring releases.

“Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Song Year: 1973

Most people can easily recite the chorus to BTO’s song about daily life, even if they forget the rest of the lyrics. That’s the power of iconic pacing and lyric writing. Despite its popularity, though, this song was practically an accident. Randy Bachman was originally writing a different song, but overheard the title from a DJ and decided to add it in.

The audience loved it, and in the years since, it’s remained one of the group’s most beloved tunes.

“The Weight” by The Band

Song Year: 1968

Although possessing perhaps the most generic band name imaginable, The Band wrote this after inspiration from a surreal filmmaker. It mixes modern ideals with Biblical references to create an almost parable-like song.

It also discreetly references Robert Johnson, a famed Blues singer, who was widely rumored to have made a Satanic pact to acquire his incredible guitar skills before dying early. “The Weight” is a dense and complicated song, and it’s worth listening to a few times before reading up on the lyric meanings.

“One Week” by Barenaked Ladies

Song Year: 1998

The Barenaked Ladies get right to the action in one of the most iconic pop hits from an already-famous group. It starts with detailing a few days during an argument in a relationship, starting one week before and focusing on how hard it can be to open up and admit wrongdoing.

This pop tune also contains numerous references, from comic books and Canadian restaurants to other notable singers. Like “The Weight” above, this is an excellent song to listen to once or twice, then look up the lyrics to get some context and understand the full meaning of what they’re singing about.

“Turn the Lights On” by Big Sugar

Song Year: 1998

Big Sugar’s reggae-rock song earned a MuchMusic nomination for its cinematography, making this a song that’s better to watch instead of just listening to. The lyrics are relatively simple but focus on the pain of being alone and the desire for a lover to wake someone up after getting home.

Not everyone enjoys being woken up, but some will place priority on spending time with their partner before they get to sleep. It’s a heartfelt tune that speaks directly to our desire for human comfort and is an excellent song by any metric.

“Drinking in L.A.” by Bran Van 3000

Song Year: 1997

Bran Van 3000’s alternative-pop release is among their only truly successful songs, but it’s been on the airwaves for a long time. The song's basic premise is encouraging people to get up and act in their lives instead of passively sitting down and waiting for time to pass by.

It’s an interesting irony that the song focuses on taking action to achieve success, while the band itself never took off beyond this song. That doesn’t make the lyrics any less real, though, and many people can relate to the experiences it conveys.

“Almost Crimes” by Broken Social Scene

Song Year: 2002

Broken Social Scene’s alternative song is a wild mess of energy, feeling like it’s on the edge of completely falling apart at any moment. Despite that, it somehow manages to make sense as the lyrics focus on making it and reaching success.

However, it’s probably better to avoid thinking too deeply about this song. It’s better to simply listen and feel here, and if you’re a little confused at the end, that’s okay.

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