35 Canadian 80s Songs

My second 80s countdown, to Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World's Canadian release date of May 7, 2013. All Canadian, all the time. Sample it if you dare.

CND Song 1

Neil Young - Rocking in the Free World, 1989 (Toronto, Ontario)

'But there's a warning sign on the road ahead. There's a lot of people saying we'd be better off dead...' What else was I going to finish with? 'Rocking in the Free World' was released in the last weeks of 1989, when the decade of large hair and big spending was creaking to a close. Within a few months the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War was over, and it was the 90s. And this anthem, I'm pleased to say, was first on the soundtrack.

So, after a hundred songs in total, here's the closing number. Big thanks and loving smoochies to anyone who was a guest poster, left a comment, or just stopped by for a tune. Now it's time for me to get on a plane and head for Canada, where I've heard that a certain novel set in 1987 is available in fine book stores, starting today.

CND Song 2

Leonard Cohen - Take this Waltz, 1988 (Montreal, Quebec)

"Look, Leonard, we know you're great, but we don't know if you're any good." - Walter Yetnikoff, president of Columbia Records

Leonard Cohen, first-rank poet and unlikely pop star. In the 80s he was regularly mobbed in the streets by his European fans, but back in Canada and the U.S., we tended to focus more on the 'unlikely' part of the description. The songs were beautiful. It was Leonard's singing that was seen as the stumbling block, and nobody knew how to sell him - the quote at the beginning was alledgedly a reaction to Cohen's 1984 album Various Positions (the track list contains a nice little song called 'Hallelujah') which Columbia refused to release. I remember Cohen didn't get serious radio attention in North America until Jennifer Warnes' 1987 cover album Famous Blue Raincoat. But the album was a hit, people started to take notice, and now we can't get enough of him. I could have chosen anything from I'm Your Man (1988) or Various Positions, but this is my favourite of Leonard Cohen's 80s-released songs, a translation of Federico Garcia Lorca's Little Viennese Waltz. The video consists mainly of Leonard staring disconcertingly into the camera and lip synching in front of postcard backdrops of Grenada, so I decided to go for concert footage from 1988 instead. Apologies that we're cut off abruptly in mid 'la, la, la'.

CND Song 4

K.D. Lang - Crying, 1989 (Edmonton, Alberta)

'I was alright, for a while. I could smile, for a while...' I'd almost forgotten about Kathryn Dawn Lang, but then I stumbled onto this clip from the 1989 Roy Orbison tribute at the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, and...holy #$%@! This is &%@#ing magnificent. Honestly, the woman almost makes Sinead at the Grammys the same year look like a Britney Spears rip-off. K.D. Lang burst onto the Canadian country scene as a wacky novelty act in the mid-80s, in horn-rimmed glasses and a big granny skirt, dragging chuckling audience members out of their seats at the Junos for an impromptu square dance. But she grew up fast and became an international sensation, spurred by her iconic duet with Roy Orbison, which was actually commissioned as part of the soundtrack to a now-forgotten 1987 John Cryer film called Hiding Out. (Watch Roy and K.D. on the link if you're brave - the footage of the young Cryer is a particularly saddening example of time's cruelty. It happens to us all.) Like the Junkies and the Hip, K.D. is an artist I'd associate more with the 90s, and it's the time when she really came into her own. But this performance was probably the beginning of it all.


CND Song 3

Men Without Hats - The Safety Dance, 1983 (Montreal, Quebec)

Yes, I'm running this one from my last countdown again, and at number three, no less! Sorry, but the dance compells me.

'...Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, then they're not no friends of mine!' - Men Without Hats

'Well, what do you expect? They're Canadian.' - South Park Movie

It's difficult to isolate the most embarrassing aspect of this post for me. Is it because I bought Rhythm of Youth in 1983 and loved it, without any irony or distance? Was it the expression of amazement and distaste on my dad's face as he watched the 45 of 'Safety Dance' revolving on my record player? Is it the fact that I still find Ivan attractive in that outfit, in a D&D kind of way? Perhaps it's because for years I thought the daft peasant girl popping onto the screen with her exclamation of 'Danser!' was really saying, 'Don't say!' No. I'm most hideously ashamed for this reason: I still like this song. Apparently Ivan wrote 'Safety Dance' after being thrown out of a club for his extreme New Wave dancing, though the brief shots of nuclear missiles at the end are not an explicit reaction to this. Today, I'm watching this merry medieval scene and all I can think of is - Wicker Man. Stay out of the burning man, kids! Stay safe and dance!

CND Song(s) 5

The Cowboy Junkies - Misguided Angel, 1989 (Toronto, Ontario)

...and The Tragically Hip - New Orleans is Sinking, 1989 (Kingston, Ontario)

'I said, Mama, he's crazy and he scares me, but I want him by my side...'

'Bourbon blues on the street, loose and complete...'

My last double bill here on 35 Canadian 80s Songs. Today the theme is 'almost the 90s' because I associate both of these acts with my disgraceful early twenties rather than my hopeless teenage years. But both bands did get their starts in the last moments of the decade that gave us Glass Tiger, and I wouldn't feel right leaving them off the list. The Junkies have appeared on this site before, but while I agree that they did a haunting version of 'Sweet Jane', it's 'Misguided Angel' that really hits the spot for me in terms of pure truck-stop torch. What a song. And The Hip? Well, you can't really say much more than 'The Hip' while nodding wisely, or at least I can't. 'New Orleans is Sinking' was briefly banned from American radio after Hurricane Katrina, and for some reason it pleases me when Canadians cause controversy. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone's feelings, of course.

Here's The Cowboy Junkies:

 ...and The Tragically Hip

...and a flyer advertising the Cowboys in concert for the whopping ticket price of four bucks.

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