By Adam Bunch


It all started in the basement of the Albert Hotel in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was the early 1960s. A Toronto guitarist by the name of Zal Yanovsky had been living there with some friends and former bandmates, but most of them were gone now – they’d recently dropped acid, thrown a dart at a map and headed off to the Virgin Islands to become The Mamas and The Papas. Yanovsky stayed behind. Instead of becoming Papa Zal, he teamed up with another friend – a harmonica player named John Sebastian – and they started to write some songs together. When their neighbours complained about the noise, the pair was forced down into the hotel’s basement, where they rehearsed their upbeat pop tunes surrounded by cockroaches and puddles.

It was a humble beginning for one of the most popular bands of the 1960s: The Lovin’ Spoonful. But they would soon leave that basement behind. The band’s very first single, “Do You Believe In Magic,” headed straight up the charts, all the way to the Top 10 – and that was just the beginning. Their second single was called “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.” It was released during this week in 1965. After that, they did it again and again and again. The Lovin’ Spoonful put every single one of their first seven singles into the Top 10 – a better start to their career than even The Beatles or The Rolling Stones had enjoyed. Three decades later, Zal Yanovksy would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.




The story starts in the 1530s. That’s when the French explorer Jacques Cartier led an expedition up the St. Lawrence River – with more than a little help from the local First Nations – to become the first European ever to set eyes on that part of Canada. At the very same time that Cartier and his men were spending a winter stuck in the ice not far from where Quebec City is now, a new musical instrument was becoming popular back on the other side of the Atlantic. The European violin had gradually evolved from a series of Middle Eastern stringed instruments and now it was catching on.

It would be another few decades before Quebec City was founded, but when it was, the violin followed close behind. There were still only a few hundred people living in town when the first violins arrived. Many of those early inhabitants were Jesuit missionaries, and it was one of them who made an interesting note that has been passed down to us nearly 400 years later. It was during this week in 1645 that two violins were played at a wedding in Quebec City. It was, as far as we know, the very first time the sound of a violin was ever heard in Canada.


By James Sandham

Any writers out there? If you count yourself among this long-suffering lot, then you probably know what month it is: NaNoWriMo! That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you not in the know, a frantic 30-day period during which writers around the world take pen to pad in the hopes of crafting a fully formed novel. To everyone else though, it’s just November – and it’s rapidly drawing to a close. Before it does (and whether you’re a writer or not), perhaps these book-inspired tunes will help stimulate your literary sensibilities, while also tickling your ears.

1. DAVID BOWIE – “1984”

This track comes from David Bowie’s 1974 album, Diamond Dogs, and was inspired by George Orwell’s iconic novel of the same name. Like most of the songs on Diamond Dogs, “1984” was originally intended to be part of a 1984-based stage musical, a dream that unfortunately never took flight for Bowie due to a veto by Orwell’s estate. While the production may never have happened, at least its musical element came to see the light of day.



Speaking of dystopian literary futures, I think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World warrants mention – especially since its fictional drug of choice, soma, was the influence for this masterpiece of garage-rock revival. This tune comes from The Strokes’ 2001 debut, Is This It, an album that for many heralded a much-needed break from a long-uninterrupted era of boy bands.



Rush, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1994 inductees, have several songs based on works of literature. The group’s 1976 album, 2112, for example, is reputedly based on Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem. However, this song is probably my favourite. Drawing from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “Rivendell” pays homage, of course, to the fictional elven outpost of Middle-earth. In the video below, the song has been paired with scenes from director Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation of the place.



This isn’t just a song that’s been inspired by a book, but rather an entire album, which makes it all the better! A symphonic prog-rock re-interpretation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, this concept piece by Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman epitomizes a certain era in rock music: epic, decadent… and perhaps a bit indulgent. I guess you can thank projects like this one for eventually birthing us the backlash genre of punk!



The indulgent prog-rock of composers like Rick Wakeman may have given rise to the musical backlash that came to be known as punk rock, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be any overlap between the genres. The Ramones, for example – punks par excellence – were just as happy as Wakeman to look to literature for inspiration for their songs. Granted, in this case they’re drawing from a dime-store paperback horror novel, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, as opposed to a Victorian classic, but perhaps therein lies the differential crux of these two genres. Either way, the music turned out great!

What other literary-inspired songs do you know of? Feel free to leave us some links in the comment section.

By Adam Bunch


John Travolta was still a fresh-faced young actor back in 1980. He’d only played a leading role in two films at that point, but they happened to be two of the biggest films of the 1970s: Saturday Night Fever and Grease. They helped to make him an international superstar – and music played a very important role in both of those movies.

His new film would be no different. Travolta had already done disco and 1950s pop, now Urban Cowboy would capitalize on the popularity of country music. While the movie raked in money at the box office, the soundtrack would rocket all the way up the Billboard country charts to No. 1 – thanks, in part, to a smash hit by Anne Murray.

“Could I Have This Dance” followed the Urban Cowboy soundtrack on its journey up the country charts, hitting No. 1 during this week in 1980. It was already her fifth country chart-topper and the 10th time she’d broken into the Top 40 on the pop charts. Murray was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1993.




They called him the Godfather of Celtic Music in Canada: a Cape Breton folk singer so popular, in fact, that he was named a member of the Order of Canada and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the East Coast Music Awards. There’s no doubt that John Allan Cameron left a deep and lasting legacy in folk music scenes from one end of our country to the other.

But it didn’t always look like he was going to have a career in music. In the 1950s, Cameron had started out thinking that he was going to become a priest, changing his mind and getting a papal dispensation only a few short months before his ordination was scheduled to take place. Instead, he found his true calling in the 12-string guitar. By the end of the 1960s, Cameron had released his first full-length album. Nine more would follow by the end of his career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival and the Mariposa Folk Festival and for Canadian troops stationed all over the world. He also became a fixture on the CBC: first on the famous “Singalong Jubilee” TV program (which also helped to launch the careers of Catherine McKinnon and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Anne Murray) and then, in the 1970s, as the host of his very own shows.

His impressive career spanned an amazing five decades and is remembered by the profound influence he had on more than one generation of Canadian folk artists. It was during this week in 2006 that John Allan Cameron passed away.


By Adam Bunch


It was originally written by an Australian; the 1950s country song “I’ve Been Everywhere” was penned by singer-songwriter Geoff Mack. It was a travelling tune listing off a cornucopia of cities, towns and villages from around Mack’s homeland of Australia. Not long after it was first released, the song caught the attention of one of the biggest country music stars in the entire world: Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Hank Snow.

Snow decided to record his own version of the tune. But first, he rewrote it a bit. This time, instead of verses about Australian places, it would feature places from North America. Instead of singing about spots such as Mooloolaba, Wallumbilla, Woolloomooloo, Tuggerawong and Yeerongpilly, he’d sing about places like Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Waterloo and Fond du Lac.

It proved to be a very good decision. Snow’s version of “I’ve Been Everywhere” was a smash hit produced by the legendary Chet Atkins. During this week in 1962, it was sitting right at the very top of the Billboard country chart.




Three of Western Canada’s biggest cities can trace the roots of their symphony orchestras back to this particular week in history.

The oldest is the one that started in Vancouver all the way back during this week in 1897 – 117 years ago – when 23 musicians teamed up with a conductor to play classical music at an old theatrical venue called Dunn Hall. They called themselves the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, but they didn’t last very long: the group disbanded after only three performances. The modern version of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra wouldn’t be permanently revived until 1930 and, before long, it had established itself as one of the most successful groups in Canada. By the end of the 1970s, the VSO had more subscribers than any other symphony orchestra on the entire continent. As recently as 2008, the VSO walked away with the JUNO Award for Classical Album of the Year.

By the time Vancouver’s was back up and running, the other two orchestras were well under way. It was during this week in 1913 that the Calgary Symphony Orchestra gave its very first performance. Decades later, it would merge with the Alberta Philharmonic to become the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Today, 101 years after that first performance, it’s still going strong.

The youngest of the three is the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which turns 94 years old this week. It started off as a community orchestra in 1910, was suspended in the ’20s and revived in the ’50s. In the time since, Edmonton’s orchestra hasn’t been afraid to crossover and collaborate with stars from the world of pop music. It’s performed with everyone from Frank Zappa to Ben Folds and with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees including k.d. lang and Tom Cochrane. In 1976, the ESO even teamed up with Procol Harum to record Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The album’s biggest single, “Conquistador,” became the very first “classical” recording ever to go Platinum.


By Adam Bunch


It all started in the early 1960s, when a musician from Arkansas moved to Canada. Ronnie Hawkins brought his backing band, The Hawks, with him to play the raucous nightclubs of Toronto’s Yonge Street strip, but over time most of them returned home and were replaced by Canadians. Before long, drummer Levon Helm was the only American left. He was joined by Toronto’s Robbie Robertson, London’s Garth Hudson, Stratford’s Richard Manuel and bassist Rick Danko from the tiny hamlet of Green’s Corners.

It was in 1964 that they left Hawkins and struck out on their own. For a while, they were playing as the Levon Helm Sextet, then as Levon and The Hawks, then as the Canadian Squires…. But they would change their name one more time before they became famous. In 1965, a folk singer from Minnesota came to Toronto to see them play. He offered them a job – and so, they became Bob Dylan’s backing group and called themselves, quite simply, The Band.

They spent the next decade as one of the most popular rock ’n’ roll outfits on the planet, but it all came to an end in 1976. They called their final show “The Last Waltz.” The Band took the stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco and were joined by a long list of all-star guests, including Hawkins, Dylan and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. The whole event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and turned into one of the greatest concert films of all time.

It was during this week in 1977 that The Last Waltz premiered on the big screen for the very first time.




The Band weren’t the only future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees making a name for themselves on the 1960s Yonge Street strip. It’s also where David Clayton-Thomas got his start, serving as the powerfully lunged frontman for rhythm and blues outfits such as The Shays and The Bossmen. In 1966, at the same time The Band was first teaming up with Bob Dylan, Clayton-Thomas followed the legendary blues singer John Lee Hooker to New York City, where he stayed on after their gigs together were over. Eventually, he was recruited to become the new frontman for Blood Sweat and Tears, who had broken up after their first album.

Now, with Clayton-Thomas giving the group new life, they released a second. The self-titled record was a smash hit; it even edged out The Beatles’ Abbey Road for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. The album’s first single, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, “Spinning Wheel,” did the very same thing. And it was during this week in 1969 that the third single, “And When I Die,” broke into the Top 10 on its way to becoming the band’s third straight single to climb all way up to No. 2.


By James Sandham

Well folks, we’ve already got one autumn holiday under our belts – along with several pounds of turkey and a few thick slices of pumpkin pie. But hold on, because the celebrations aren’t over quite yet. You may have thought it was finally safe to put away the decorative gourds, but no, not so fast! You might as well keep ’em out, because it’s time to carve them into demonic semblances of our worst Thanksgiving table guests, which is to say that it’s almost Halloween. Call it the dessert course to Thanksgiving and give these tunes a spin to help get you in the spirit.


Well, well, what do we have here? It’s CBC Radio 2’s Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) and a whole lot of zombies – many of whom appear to be played by Terfry himself. As do the zombie killers. As do the generals and news anchors. This tune has taken a turn for the terrifying, indeed!



We’ve survived the zombies, so how about we check in with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Robertson to see how we do up against the ghosts? This track comes from Robertson’s 1994 album, Music for the Native Americans, which was really his first foray into writing songs inspired specifically by his Mohawk heritage. Suffice it to say that this song isn’t so much about the sort of ghosts that go “boo,” but is more about the historic oppression of indigenous cultures in North America, which is really the more frightening of the two concepts.



Alright, let’s lighten things up – and what better way to do so than with the musical work of Mr. Will “Big Willie Style” Smith? This track, which bears a striking resemblance to a certain TV theme song, joins a long list of tunes that pay tribute to that king of 1980s horror Freddy Krueger. If you grew up in the ’80s, this will probably still give you the shivers (the vocal presence of Will Smith notwithstanding).



Now let’s check back in with our Canadian Music Hall of Fame alumni. This little ditty comes from the CMHF’s 2001 inductee, Bruce Cockburn, and while it’s not exactly “scary” per se (that is, there’s no mention of zombies or ghosts or the suffering of our country’s Aboriginal Peoples), it does have some pretty dark imagery, including these lines: “There’s howling in the factory yard/There’s pounding in my head/I’m swollen up with unshed tears/Bloated like the dead….” And yet Cockburn manages to make it all sound so sweet.



Last but not least, what’s a Halloween playlist without Michael Jackson’s macabre mega-hit? “Thriller” is a must-have contemporary classic and it really brings us full circle with our songs: right back to those irrepressible zombies. In fact, I think it’s a safe bet that this song may have been something of an inspiration for Buck 65’s zombie tribute – specifically his line that when it comes to zombies, “there’s very little information and no answers/One weird thing is that they’re excellent dancers.”

Hope these songs get you dancing, too. Happy Halloween!

By Adam Bunch


Bryan Adams was only 25 years old when he became an international superstar. However, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee was far from an overnight success. He was born in Kingston, Ontario, and grew up travelling all over the world. His father was a United Nations peacekeeper turned diplomat and his postings took the family to Portugal, Austria and Israel. Finally, though, Adams settled back home in Canada – in Vancouver – where he began to make a name for himself as a young musician. He was still just a teenager in the 1970s when he began to play in his first bands and to establish his career as a session musician, including regular gigs for the CBC.

The next step came in 1978, when Adams was only 18 years old. That’s when he met Jim Vallance, a slightly older and more experienced musician. The two became songwriting partners and by the end of the year Adams had signed his first recording contract for the staggering sum of exactly $1.

His solo career started slowly. His self-titled debut came out two years later and was, at first, such a moderate success that Adams considered calling his second record  “Bryan Adams Hasn’t Heard of You Either.” But things were about to change. His sophomore release, You Want It You Got It, produced Adams’ first Top 40 single in Canada – and it was just a hint of what was to come. His third record, Cuts Like a Knife, took off. The album produced three Top 10 singles and the entire LP broke into the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. There was no question now: Bryan Adams was a star.

It was his next album that made him a superstar. It was during this week in 1984 that Reckless first appeared on record store shelves. It produced six singles that climbed into the top 15 slots on the Billboard charts – including “Summer of ’69” and “Run to You” – joining Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. as the only previous albums to have ever pulled off that feat. This time, Adams made it all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and, to date, the record has sold more than 12 million copies. Exactly 30 years after it was first released, Reckless is still widely considered to be one of the greatest Canadian albums of all time.




This was also a big week for another Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee. It was during this week in 1996 that Shania Twain’s self-titled debut album was certified Gold. It had been released three years earlier, but it wasn’t a big hit right away. It was Twain’s second album, The Woman in Me, that made her a star – and that’s when all of her new fans went looking for her earlier album, which would, in fact, eventually go Platinum. The Windsor, Ontario–born singer-songwriter went on to become the best-selling female artist in the entire history of country music.

The following year, she was back at it again. It was during this week in 1997 that Twain landed another Gold certification. This time, it was for a single off of her third record, Come on Over. “Love Gets Me Every Time” rocketed up the charts: it spent six weeks at the top of the country charts in Canada and five in the United States, making it one of Twain’s biggest hits ever.


By Adam Bunch


In 1971, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Canadian band bigger than the Stampeders, and by then, the group had already been around for years. The band originally formed in Calgary – just as you might expect – as five high-school students calling themselves The Rebounds. This was all the way back in 1964, in the early days of Beatlemania and the British Invasion, but the Stampeders, as they soon began to call themselves, were a distinctly Canadian group, embracing their Albertan heritage by wearing cowboy hats, boots and denim.

Soon, they headed east, hitching a trailer to the back of their old Cadillac, playing gigs on their way across the Prairies and down the Canadian Shield until they finally reached the booming metropolis of Toronto. There, the 1960s folk and rock scene, which had been home to Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Zal Yanovsky, Denny Doherty and John Kay, was still in full swing, filling clubs all over Yorkville and the Yonge Street strip. It didn’t take long for the Stampeders to make a name for themselves in the big city, with their distinctly western fashion sense and catchy pop-rock tunes. Over the next few years, the band solidified its sound and its lineup, building momentum all along.

In 1971, the Stampeders finally released their debut full-length album. It was a big one. Against the Grain produced three Top 10 singles and helped to earn the band a JUNO Award for Best Group. The biggest hit off the record is still a radio staple more than 40 years later. It was during this week in 1971 that the Stampeders’ “Sweet City Woman” peaked all the way up at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.




This was also a big week for another Canadian star. Gale Garnett was born in New Zealand, but moved to Canada as a child. She spent her formative years here, before heading south to Hollywood as an orphaned teenager. There, both her acting and singing careers took off. Her biggest hit came in 1964 when “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” climbed the charts. The tune, written by Garnett herself, soared all the way into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and during this week in 1964, it peaked at No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart. The song would go on to be covered by the likes of Dolly Parton, Wayne Newton, Dean Martin, Helen Reddy, and Sony and Cher. But it’s still Garnett’s version we know best. Fifty years later, she still lives in Toronto, where she enjoys a successful writing career.


By Adam Bunch


2001. That was the year Broken Social Scene released its debut album, Feel Good Lost. It was, for the most part, an ambient, instrumental affair. There were barely any lyrics at all. And while the band would eventually boast a huge lineup, Feel Good Lost was written and performed almost entirely by just two musicians: Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. The record earned positive reviews, but it barely hinted at what was about to happen.

At the very end of that same year, the band began to record its second album. By the time it was done, Broken Social Scene’s roster had expanded dramatically. More than a dozen musicians would play on the band’s sophomore effort. Joining Drew and Canning this time around was a long list of musicians from other groups in the Toronto music scene. There was Leslie Feist, who had played with By Divine Right and sung backing vocals for Peaches (and also appeared on that first record). Emily Haines and James Shaw from Metric. Andrew Whiteman from Apostle of Hustle and The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. Plus, members of Stars and Do Make Say Think and Raising the Fawn… the list went on and on. The impressive new lineup meant a bigger, fuller sound, combining the first record’s atmospherics with a more accessible emphasis on vocals. It was full of songs that could fill the night air at massive outdoor festivals. And soon they would.

It was during this week in 2002 that You Forgot It In People was released. It was very good timing. The Internet was beginning to revolutionize the music industry. The rules were changing. The old, American-centric distribution and promotion networks had always been a challenge for Canadian artists who were still based at home. But now, new blogs and websites like Pitchfork were the tastemakers; they could reach across national barriers with the click of a mouse. When Pitchfork gave You Forgot It In People a 9.2 out of 10 and said it “explodes with song after song of endlessly re-playable, perfect pop,” it helped turn Broken Social Scene into an international phenomenon. It also helped to mark the beginning of a new era for Canadian music. Now, Canadian bands could stay at home while reaching a global audience more easily than ever before.

For Broken Social Scene, the change came just in time – because, as one influential blog, Tiny Mix Tapes, put it: “You Forgot It in People is one of the most incredible albums to come out of Canada in a very long time. Hell, it’s one of the best albums to come out of anywhere, really.”


By Adam Bunch


It was 1992 and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee k.d. lang was at the top of her game. Her previous album – 1989’s Absolute Torch and Twang, recorded with her backing group, The Reclines – had been a huge hit. It raced up the charts and earned the singer some new hardware: she took home both the JUNO Award *and* the Grammy Award for best country female vocalist.

Now she had a new record. It was called Ingénue and it would prove to be an even bigger hit than her previous album. That year, lang’s songs were in regular rotation on radio stations all over the world. The album charted in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Japan. It was nominated for album of the year at the Grammys and won the award for best album at the JUNOs.

The biggest hit on the record would be one of the most popular singles of lang’s entire career. It would go on to inspire a Rolling Stones song and win the award for best female video at the MTV Video Music Awards. More than 20 years later, the song is still hailed as a Canadian classic. It was during this week in 1992 that “Constant Craving” peaked in the Top 40 of the Billboard charts.




This was also a big week on the charts for Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Paul Anka. In 1959, he was still just a teenager and pretty new to the world of pop stardom. His first big hit single, “Diana,”  wasn’t released until 1957. Just two years later he was already one of the biggest stars on the planet. Years before Beatlemania, Anka’s fans would shriek and scream and mob the Ottawa native wherever he went. In 1959, the 18-year-old put three different singles into the Billboard Top 10.

In July, “Lonely Boy” peaked at the very top, hitting No. 1. It ruled over the chart for four straight weeks before Elvis Presley finally knocked it out of the top slot.

Later, at the very end of the year, “It’s Time to Cry” followed that success by climbing all the way up to No. 5.

And between those two hits was “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” During this week in 1959, it peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would spend 11 weeks on the chart, a longer run that almost any other song released that year.