Canadian music showed no signs of slowing down through the remainder of the decade. What was unique about the late-90s was that, Canadian artists began to branch out and conquer other genres of music. Pop and rock had been championed by a plethora of Canadians as had folk; it was time to show that we could produce a superstar in other fields of music.
Although Canada had always done well in the country music scene, ever since Wilf Carter appeared in the 1930s, it was time for a Canadian superstar to churn out three double-diamond albums in a row, a feat completely unprecedented. Her catchy music appealed to children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, and even seniors. It was so irresistible that a few of her songs crossed over onto the pop charts. One was the third biggest song of 1998 in the United States. She teamed up with musical genius “Mutt” Lange, who had worked with Bryan Adams, and married him. Her name was Shania Twain.
So-called R&B had always been a genre that appealed more to the populace south of the border. But a Torontonian fell in love with it and decided to make a career out of performing these kinds of songs. She never became a big name in Canada, but, in 1998, her song “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” was a million-seller in the U.S., peaking at #2 on the pop charts and topping their R&B charts for 14 consecutive weeks, smashing all records. Her name was Deborah Cox. She scored a big hit in Canada later on in 2009; “Beautiful U R” was 39th of the year.
The late-90s also saw the rise of the biggest-selling female jazz artist in the world, a Canadian. Most jazz artists could never hope to sell as many records as pop or country artists but Diana Krall sold 15 million worldwide. Eight of her albums debuted at the top of the Billboard jazz albums charts, six of them being certified multi-platinum at home.
Another genre conquered was Celtic / New Age, thanks to harp-player Loreena McKennitt and her hauntingly beautiful voice. Her three albums released in the 90s all went 3-4x platinum and in 1997 she scored a Top 10 hit on the pop charts.
Canadians were not satisfied with their newfound success in France which began not with Celine Dion but with Roch Voisine. Two more superstars arose to score diamond albums in the land of the Eiffel Tower. The first was roots rocker Isabelle Boulay. The second was to become the second best-selling Canadian artist in France (after Celine Dion). He was born in Sherbrooke and is known for his throaty singing style. He currently holds the SNEP record for the most weeks at number one. His name is Garou.
Toronto’s Our Lady Peace, thanks to a diamond album, was the hottest new band to emerge. Frontman and primary songwriter Raine Maida formed a musical family by marrying Chantal Kreviazuk, a former childhood prodigy, who, herself, became one of the most cherished singer-songwriters in the country.
Many new artists arose this year. The biggest song of the year, as mentioned previously, was Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery”. Second to that was Our Lady Peace’s “Clumsy” which appeared on the year-end chart at #14. Another new band to emerge was St. John’s folky Great Big Sea. Their song “When I’m Up” appeared in the year-end chart at #62. They managed a pair of platinum and of multi-platinum albums and scored a few more hits. The Philosopher Kings were another semi-major act, their first big song being “I Am the Man”. Band members met while in high school in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill. They scored a couple more Top 10 hits the following year. Saskatoon’s bluesy Wide Mouth Mason scored their biggest hit “Midnight Rain” (#56 YE). Another band from Saskatchewan had a hit this year. Age of Electric’s “Remote Control” finished as the 71st biggest hit of the year. Toronto’s Big Sugar added a dash of reggae to their music and had their first hit single “If I Had My Way”. Fellow locals I Mother Earth scored their biggest hit, “Raspberry” which pushed sales of their album to double-platinum status. Vancouver’s Econoline Crush attained one-hit wonder class with “All That You Are”.
Isabelle Boulay, from the town of Sainte-Félicité, on the north shore of the Gaspé peninsula, scored her first hit,” Je t’oublierai, je t’oublierai” off her debut album. Although she’d been around since 1993, Nanaimo, BC’s Diana Krall made it to the big leagues when her album Love Scenes, released this year, attained double-platinum status, a difficult feat in the realm of jazz. Chantal Kreviazuk scored her first hit “God Made Me”, the 77th biggest song of the year. Halifax’s fusion artist Holly Cole made a name for herself with “I’ve Just Seen a Face”. Another Holly (McNarland) emerged from The Pas, Manitoba and gave us the hit “Numb”. Later she collaborated with the likes of Matthew Good and The Tea Party.
The biggest name in male soloists was Sherbrooke’s Garou, a stage name that is a combination of his surname Garand and the French expression loup-garou, which means werewolf. He was discovered by Luc Plamondon while performing in a local bar and subsequently drafted to play in Notre-Dame de Paris. The song “Belle” from the musical, sung by himself, Canada’s Daniel Lavoie, and France’s Patrick Fiori, became the third best-selling single of all-time in France (after two novelty songs). In 2000, Garou released his debut album Seul, certified diamond in France, and one of the biggest-selling French-language albums in history worldwide. He eventually became the best-selling Canadian artist in France after Celine Dion.
Bruno Pelletier was another new name this year. He was born in Charlesbourg, a suburb of Quebec City. His debut had come in 1992 but, with the 1997 single “Aime”, saw his first Felix-nominated song of the year. The only other male artist to have a big hit this year was Men Without Hats’ Ivan whose song “Open Your Eyes” made the year-end Top 100 chart.
Big hits this year included Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the number one movie of all-time (at the time) Titanic. Bryan Adams had two chart-toppers: “On a Day Like Today” and “Back to You”. Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U” was a number one single as well. In the United States, the two biggest songs of the year were “Too Close” by Next and “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy & Monica respectively. In third place was a song called “You’re Still the One” by a Canadian country artist from Windsor, Ontario, named Shania Twain. She achieved the unimaginable: three consecutive studio albums were certified double-diamond in Canada (2 million copies sold).
Manitoban Celtic new ager, master of voice, piano, accordion, and harp, Loreena McKennitt, had been around since the mid-80s, scored a quadruple-platinum album in 1991, called The Visit, and had her first big hit, “The Mummers’ Dance”, on the pop singles chart this year.
Montreal’s Éric Lapointe scored his first Felix-nominated song of the year, “Rien à regretter”. According to some sources, he had as many as 30 songs that topped the charts on various radio stations and singles charts in Quebec.
Toronto’s dance band Love Inc. scored a couple of hits this year: “Broken Bones” #31 and “You’re a Supertar” #13. A few years later they were discovered by Britain and both songs became Top 10 hits there. There are some who credit their debut with being the only dance album created in Canada to attain platinum status.
On a side-note, a dance version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” was performed by the international group Stars on 54 and was featured in the Mike Myers’ film Studio 54. It peaked at #3 on the charts.
The three biggest Canadian songs of the year came via new artists. While the Americans were taken by Toronto’s Deborah Cox who supplied the 9th biggest song of the year in the U.S., Montreal pop duo Sky scored the first of three number one singles called “Love Song”, the 6th biggest song of the year. In eighth place was Randy Bachman’s son Tal with the song “She’s So High”. And at 15th spot was the Toronto one-hit wonder group Len (“Steal My Sunshine”).
Besides Sky and Len, there were a number of new bands this year. Bluesy La Chicane debuted and scored the hit “Calvaire”. The Moffatts were four brothers who had grown up in various locales in B.C. They relocated to Nashville in the U.S. and released their first (country) album. Later they switched to pop and scored their first hit “Misery”. Montreal’s Les Respectables came out with “Amalgame”. Dance trio The Boomtang Boys scored the hit “Squeeze Toy”. Toronto’s dance group Temperance had the hit “If You Don’t Know” and 2 rude had “Thinkin’ about You”
Mario Pelchat, from Dolbeau-Mistassini, QC, won the Felix award for song of the year with “Je ne t’aime plus”. Francophone Italian-Canadian Nicola Ciccone appeared this year with the song “Le menteur”. Dance artist Joee scored the hit “Arriba”, the 51st biggest song of the year. Martin Deschamps saw his first hit—”Quand?” He took on the role of lead singer for the reunited Offenbach.
There were no new significant female soloists this year.
Coming up are lists of big songs and albums from the late-90s; a list of Juno and Felix song nominees and winners; mini-profiles on semi-major artists La Chicane, Nicola Ciccone, Holly Cole, Great Big Sea, The Moffatts, Mario Pelchat, Bruno Pelletier, The Philosopher Kings, and Sky; and feature profiles on major artists Isabelle Boulay, Garou, Diana Krall, Chantal Kreviazuk, Éric Lapointe, Loreena McKennitt, Our Lady Peace, and Shania Twain.