“Best” is, of course, open to interpretation. We’ll try to be objective here and use some kind of justifying metric in our list. Here, by acclaim according to every relevant authority we can find, are the top Canadian artists and bands of all time…
#10> Joni Mitchell
Rising to fame in the 1970s with a signature folk / pop style, Joni Mitchell saw herself become a legend in her own time. As a singer / songwriter, she was an early trendsetter in writing realistic songs about her personal experiences in life and love, a suit many female performers after her would follow. Her hits like “Big Yellow Taxi” still get airplay.
K.D. Lang is a Juno and Grammy winning artist who has collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, and Elton John. Beside this, she has also made a double name for herself as an outspoken progressive with a number of activist causes she has embellished with her country / folk music style. Most recently she performed opening ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
While so many hip-hop artists of his generation were flashes in the pan blowing up and fizzling out after a year or two, Drake has maintained the flame and kept the spirit of his old-school hip-hop alive. In addition to being the highest-certified digital singles artist ever in the US, he’s also won numerous Grammys, Junos, and countless other accolades.
Surprising as it may be to those who grew up thinking of the group as an American staple, all the original founding members were Canadian even though they formed while in L.A. Their song “Born to be Wild” was so much more than just a biker anthem. It defined a generation and an era. Many more of their songs would establish the base of acid blues rock ‘n’ roll, finding their way onto movie soundtracks from the 1960s up to today.
#6> Men Without Hats
The New Wave movement of the 1980s was a ripe time for Canadians with an ear for good synthesizers and a quirky talent for experimental sounds, and Men Without Hats was in the right place with the right talent. They’re second only to Talking Heads for ushering the New Wave / synth sound to Generation X. With songs like “Pop Goes the World” and “Safety Dance” becoming worldwide hits, the band saw thriving success well to the end of the 20th century and even had enough momentum to recently re-form.
#5> Leonard Cohen
We enter the true legends in the front half of this list with the recently-late Leonard Cohen, who was far too ahead of his time to enjoy much mainstream success but was one of those musicians whom all the others looked up to. Cohen saw himself inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while being honored by bands such as Nirvana. The band Sisters of Mercy is named after one of his songs. Cohen’s quirky style and talent made him a background artist similar to the Velvet Underground: Many never heard of him, and yet his influence was behind the scenes almost everywhere.
#4> Alanis Morissette
Inheriting the torch from female singer / songwriters who had gone before her, Alanis Morissette shot to fame in the 1990s and 2000s with one hit single after another. Crushing the charts and garnering multiple Grammy, Juno, and various other awards, Morissette has ridden a wave of controversy over her angsty, gut-wringing lyrical style. Naming her albums with titles like “Jagged Little Pill” and “So-Called Chaos,” she’s made a name for herself as the alt-rocker with the punk rock mentality.
#3> Bryan Adams
Bryan Adams is simply the picture of recording artist success. A mere list of his awards, including Grammys and Junos, could fill a book. From 1979 until the present day, he has been certified as selling over 65 million records and singles worldwide, most prominently his worldwide multiplatinum 1993 album titled humbly “So Far So Good.” Adams’ brand of simplistic pub rock may not be the most ground-breaking work ever recorded, but that’s Adams’ genius: make easy-listening, crowd-pleasing music that attracts the widest possible fan base.
As outstanding as their attention-grabbing name, Barenaked Ladies is the jangle-pop / alt-rock college nerd band that shot to fast fame in the 1990s and is still going strong. Hailed with numerous Grammy and Juno awards, their catchy guitar hooks and sharp lyrics make them a soundtrack-friendly choice for film, TV, and commercials. Their late 1990s hits like “One Week” and “Pinch Me” still get airplay today, and the group’s not losing an ounce of steam yet.
#1> Neil Young
Neil Young tops the list for attaining a legend in his own time many times over. History may well note him as the Baby Boomer with the longest-lasting influence. His influence starts in 1960s folk rock, winds through 1980s bold experimentation with electronic and punk sounds, and into the 1990s and 200s as the “Godfather of Grunge.” Numerous Grammy and Juno awards have laid beside the point as he is also an artist other artists look up to, sharing a stage with virtually every important name in the history of North American rock and beyond.