As a Brit hoping to better understand the culture of the country I hope to one day call myself a citizen of, music seems a logical place to start. From a very young age, it's played an enormous role in my life, and I'm a strong believer in the power it holds to tell us stories about our past and present.
Curious to learn what Canada's music could teach me about this fascinating country, I decided to listen to every song that won a Juno award for "best single" or equivalent, and reader: I lost the will to live. There are 40+ years of this to get through, so I'm just going to dive right in, and if you think reading this is an enormous waste of your time just remember that it was much a bigger waste of mine.
1974: Terry Jacks - "Seasons in the Sun"
For a country whose national identity revolves around vehemently denying its image as an English/French/American copycat, it sure is fitting that the first Juno single of the year was a cover of an English reworking, by an American, of a French language song. According to Wikipedia, "Jacks's version is commonly held up as an example of bad music," so things are off to a great start here. You can't win 'em all, so let's hope next year's winner will blow us away with their originality and brillia—
1975: Terry Jacks - "Seasons in the Sun"
—nce. Anyway, in a year that saw America's finest release "Born To Run" while "Bohemian Rhapsody" ruled the charts across the Atlantic, Canadians decided they'd give this award to the same song that won it the previous year, and you sort of have to respect that complete Canadian disregard for any kind of progress, don't you?
1976: Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet"
This is your run-of-the-mill glam rock song until it gets to the chorus which is just a watered down version of The Who's "Baba O'Riley," proof that Bachman-Turner Overdrive were the Canadian One Direction of their day.
1977: Sweeney Todd - "Roxy Roller"
This is easily the worst song I've ever heard.
1978: Patsy Gallant - "Sugar Daddy"
If this song had been released today, it would have been accompanied by a very 'IDGAF' video, filled with sassy moments that beg to be turned into reaction gifs. Gallant's delivery of 'AC-A-PUL-CO' feels iconic, and the breakdown a couple of minutes in makes this disco track probably the first worthy winner of the award so far.
1979: Nick Gilder - "Hot Child in the City"
No, wait, this is the worst song I've ever heard. This one is about wanting to have sex with an actual child, so what the fuck, Canada? Granted, I come from Britain, a country in which the phrase "70s entertainer" is today rarely heard outside of a sentence that also contains the words "historical sex offences," but still, a reminder: you guys bought more copies of a song about wanting to fuck a child than any other single released that year, and you should be deeply ashamed of yourselves.
1980: Anne Murray - "I Just Fall In Love Again"
Anne Murray thinks that "dreamin" is pronounced "dreamun"–is this a Canadian thing? Is this like "aboot" and "soo-rry" and milk packaged in impractical containers and making a very average coffee and donuts place your "thing"?—but that aside, she manages to pull off a straight-faced love ballad in a way few who aren't Adele can, so I'll forgive this minor flaw.
1981: THE YEAR CANADA WAS TOO INDECISIVE TO PICK JUST ONE WINNER
Martha and the Muffins - "Echo Beach"
The one good thing this rightly-forgotten new-wave song has going for it is that there's no chance of hearing a saxophone, you think, right up until the saxophone kicks in and it's somehow worse than you could have imagined.
Anne Murray - "Could I Have This Dance"
The YouTube comments for this are all people fondly remembering their first dances or how it was some dead friend's favourite song and although genuine human affection is good, this song… is not.
1982: Loverboy - "Turn Me Loose"
Hell yeah it's the chase scene from Wet Hot American Summer!! I suppose my main question here would be: were they being serious? Because my enjoyment of this song is entirely contingent on that.
1983: The Payolas - "Eyes of a Stranger"
Having grown up surrounded by British people trying to sound like Americans when they sang, it's quite odd to hear Canadians trying to sound British but this is exactly what's going on here. Side note: every person in this video looks like they work for VICE in 2017.
1984: Parachute Club - "Rise Up"
This song invented vaporwave and John Hughes's career and I love everything about it.
1985: Corey Hart - "Never Surrender"
In the mid-80s, Canada gave the world both Corey Hart and Bryan Adams, and the only explanation for this has to be that in the mid-80s Canada had a lot of unresolved middle-aged horniness.
1986: Glass Tiger - "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)"
What I'm hypothesising happened here is: for some reason "Don't You (Forget About Me)" was banned from Canadian airwaves, and Glass Tiger were given the unenviable task of writing a song that lifted its entire theme, sound and title from "Don't You (Forget About Me)", changing just enough to avoid getting sued, and giving the country a Canadian equivalent to reignite national pride.
1987: Glass Tiger - "Someday"
In fact, Glass Tiger's entire career—of which I was not aware before writing this piece—seems to suggest to me that Canada was under some sort of bizarre dictatorship in the 1980s. Obviously, the brutal regime banned music made by western artists but allowed homegrown acts to appropriate these sounds and then claim they were pioneers.
1988: NO JUNO AWARDS THIS YEAR, PRESUMABLY BECAUSE OUR GOOD AND HUMBLE LEADER WAS DEPOSED AND THE COUNTRY WAS THROWN INTO CHAOS WHILE AN INTERIM GOVERNMENT WAS BROUGHT TO POWER
1989: Blue Rodeo - "Try"
TFW the hastily installed new government turns out to be even worse than the old one.
1990: Alannah Myles - "Black Velvet"
Now the 90s, that was a decade Canada could be, like, 30 percent proud of. From the most innocuous introduction of "Black Velvet" springs an all time Top 10 chorus, and if those vocal harmonies don't make you feel something deep down you're not a true patriot.
1991: Colin James - "Just Came Back"
My fiancée grew up in Regina, and while she asserts very little came from Saskatchewan, she is obviously wrong, as this absurdly brilliant snippet of Canadian history proves.
1992: Tom Cochrane - "Life Is A Highway"
When the rapture happens you're all going to have to justify giving an award to an almost parodically awful country song that begins with the line: "Life's like a road that you travel on." That said, shout out to Tom Cochrane for looking like the most Tom Cochrane-named person ever.
1993: Céline Dion/Peabo Bryson - "Beauty and the Beast"
This winning single of the year is all a bit 'shrug emoticon' isn't it?
1994: The Rankin Family - "Fare Thee Well Love"
Jumping on the decade's celtic drone bandwagon I guess, this freakishly extensive group of siblings has a touch of creepiness about it—but on the other hand, one of their kids went on to form Alvvays and if we pretend 'Archie, Marry Me' took single of the year in 1994 the world makes a lot more sense.
1995: Jann Arden - "Could I Be Your Girl"
The mid-90s really was a great time for female singer-songwriters talking about a man but actually that man is God, which I'm fairly sure is what's happening here.
1996: ALANIS FUCKING MORISSETTE - "YOU OUGHTA KNOW"
IT TOOK 20 YEARS BUT NOW WE'RE ONTO THE GOOD STUFF—FINALLY A WINNER TO BE TRULY PROUD OF. VIVA CANADA! VIVA GOING DOWN ON SOMEONE IN A THEATRE!
1997: ALANIS FUCKING MORISSETTE, AGAIN, BITCHES - "IRONIC"
GOD DAMN, TWO IN A ROW! YES, I LOVE THIS STUPID COUNTRY WITH ALL MY HEART!
1998: Sarah McLachlan - "Building A Mystery"
I'm just going to go right ahead and say what everyone's been thinking: this song rips off Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" and I won't entertain any of your so-called 'evidence' to the contrary.
1999: Barenaked Ladies - "One Week"
I think we can all agree that 'IT'S BEEN' were the two most iconic syllables to open a pop song since 'Hey Jude' and that there couldn't possibly have been a more deserving winner in 1999. It also bears noting that frontman Steven Page is a true Canadian hero, as evidenced by this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on his drug arrest: "Though initially claiming that the white powder he was snorting was calcium, when Page was informed by the police that it was testing positive for cocaine Page allegedly said, "Yeah, it's cocaine."" Steven Page is all of us getting busted by the cops on a coke charge; a trailblazer.
2000: The Tragically Hip - "Bobcaygeon"
I was going to launch into a heartfelt bit about how wonderful The Hip are and how Canada should be lucky they get to share the same space as them before I realised this beat Len's "Steal My Sunshine," which I have previously cited as one of Canada's most notable cultural exports, so what I'm saying is there is no god and everything is bad and awful.
2001: Nelly Furtado - "I'm Like A Bird"
Nelly Furtado deserved this award and neither of the subsequent ones, imo.
2002: Nickelback - "How You Remind Me"
How many layers of irony are we up to now regarding liking or not liking Nickelback? Well, you know what? This isn't actually a bad song and that guitar tone is to be envied, so fuck the haters.
2003: Avril Lavigne - "Complicated"
Avril's another one it's easy to mock but even the most hardened cynic would struggle to deny what an absolute banger "Building A Mystery" is.
2004: Nelly Furtado - "Powerless (Say What You Want)"
Not sure why there's a banjo here.
2005: K-os - "Crabbuckit"
I like K-os, if only for the reason he told everyone his name stood for 'Knowledge of Self' and then several years down the line admitted originally it stood for 'Kevin's Original Sound'. Also Nelly Furtado's in the video for this because we can't have one year without her.
2006: Michael Bublé - "Home"
I'll level with you: I waited until all the other reviews were written before coming to this and, frankly, I am so utterly bored by the whole process at this point I can't muster up anything about the song itself.
2007: Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland - "Promiscuous"
THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN AN AUTOMATIC DISQUALIFICATION ON ACCOUNT OF THE FACT TIMBALAND IS NOT CANADIAN. BANNED. GET OUTTA HERE.
2008: Feist - "1 2 3 4"
When I was 15 or 16, Canada seemed like the goddamn coolest country on the planet, largely thanks to the scene that spawned Feist and her many talented peers. I still adore this song and believe anyone who doesn't share this with me has no soul.
2009: Kardinal Offishall - "Dangerous"
Hey, I remember this. Wait, this is Canadian? This is far too good to be Canadian! Great job, Canadians!
2010: Michael Bublé - "Haven't Met You Yet"
See: previous note about Michael Bublé.
2011: Young Artists for Haiti - "Wavin Flag"
I can't be bothered to sit down and work this out mathematically, but at a push I'd have to say the average age of the Young Artists involved in this track has to be at least 35. How the fuck Tom Cochrane or the dude from Blue Rodeo weaseled their way into this is beyond me, although the song itself is pretty good.
2012: The Sheepdogs - "I Don't Know"
Has a pop culture moment that was apparently significant to an entire country passed you by so hard you have to question whether it really happened or whether it was inserted into the country's conscience Inception-style? This sounds like a bunch of 20-somethings just discovered Creedence and had to tell the whole world about it, and that's got to be one of the all-time worst genres of music.
2013: CARLY RAE JEPSEN, QUEEN OF CANADA AND HEARTS - "CALL ME MAYBE"
THE GOD DAMN FINEST MOMENT IN CANADIAN HISTORY UNTIL QUEEN CARLY RAE BLEW IT OUT OF THE WATER HERSELF FOUR YEARS LATER WITH E•MO•TION, OUTSTRIPPING THE TALENTS OF ATWOOD, ACKROYD, AND EVERY OTHER ARTIST TO HAIL FROM THIS LAND.
2014: Tegan and Sara - "Closer"
Fuck, Canada, when did you get cool? The 1-2 punch of Jeppo and then this feels like America's kid sister reached her mid-teens and suddenly became the cooler sibling.
2015: Magic! - "Rude"
This is a single for people who think wearing a hat is a substitute for having any kind of personality and like to bring their acoustic guitars to house parties despite much protest from the hosts. Anyway, this is horrible and maybe the real "rude" person in all of this is the one who decided this deserved to win over "Hold On We're Going Home."
2016: The Weeknd - "I Can't Feel My Face"
This song builds with all the nervous energy of coming up on a cocktail of stimulants and is nothing short of a superb Canadian pop song.
I made it. You made it. We all got through this. What can we learn from this? Firstly, that people who say "music used to be so much better" are categorically wrong. It's not until the late 90s that anything remotely decent by modern standards rears its head, and a few minor blips aside (looking at you, Magic!) we're living in a very exciting time for Canadian music and I'm not entirely dreading what might win this year's best single.
And secondly, that you should never agree to write reviews for 40 years worth of Canadian music, because you will never want to listen to music again and it will destroy your life and your relationship and everything you hold dear.
Follow Jack Urwin on Twitter.