By the 1970s, Canadians had had enough of their musicians taking the best of the nation’s music to the United States because they couldn’t earn a living at home. To discourage this, two significant building blocks in the development of the Canadian music industry were put in place. The first of these was the establishment of the Juno Awards. The televised annual ceremony, held amidst a gala of stars, gave out awards to the best in Canadian music.
The second, which was controversial, involved the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announcing new regulations governing Canadian broadcasting. The new rules required that 30% of the songs on playlists of Canada’s AM radio stations had to fulfill two of the following four characteristics: the music was composed by Canadians, the lyrics were written by Canadians, the recording artist was Canadian, and the recording was performed (i.e. recorded) in Canada. The regulations, known as MAPL, were designed to compel radio stations to promote Canadian music.
Although some radio stations fulfilled the rules defiantly by playing the Canadian songs early in the morning or late at night, the new regulations allowed the Canadian music industry to really take off. The first artist to benefit from the new rules was Anne Murray whose song “Snowbird” became an international multi-million seller. With the groundbreaking international success of The Guess Who, a number of acts who’d been ignored by radio in the 60s saw breakthroughs in the 70s (Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Lighthouse, The Five Man Electrical Band, and The Bells). This precipitated what became known in the United States as the “Canadian Invasion”.
First and foremost was Anne Murray who would go on to sell over 54 million records worldwide becoming a national treasure. Second in rank was Diane Dufresne, the first francophone female rocker. Patsy Gallant emerged and released successful songs in both French and English. Country singer Renée Martel had three chart toppers from 1972-1973: “Un Amour Qui Ne Veut Pas Mourir”, “Partir Au Soleil”, and “Si On Pouvait Recommencer”. The other big country singer who began rising to fame and glory was Carroll Baker.
The men were more plentiful (haven’t things changed since the 90s!). First in rank would be Gordon Lightfoot. Although his debut came in 1962, his big (international) breakthrough came eight years later. Neil Young had finished dabbling with Buffalo Springfield and went solo. He was always more successful outside of Canada, especially in the U.S. And he had the first #1 album in Britain by a Canadian artist. Pianist André Gagnon rose to prominence as did Frank Mills after his departure from The Bells.
A number of other singers emerged, like R. Dean Taylor, whom American critics consider one of the most underrated acts ever to record under the Motown label. His “Indiana Wants Me”, which opened the decade, made the Top 5 south of the border, becoming one of the label’s first hits from a white artist. The following year, Taylor came out with “Gotta See Jane” which did even better in Canada, finishing as one of the biggest Top 40 hits of the year in his native Toronto.
Tex Lecor achieved international success with the Georges Langford song “Le Frigidaire”, which he, amazingly, recorded in five languages. The French version topped the charts in Quebec for five straight weeks in early ’72. His “Quand Ca Ne Tourne Pas Rond” also did well. Award-winning folk music came from Ottawa-native Valdy.
Donald Lautrec continued churning out French hits (he was the one who sang a French version of “Whiter Shade of Pale” called “Le Jour du dernier jour”). On Remembrance Day in 1972, Lautrec’s “Le Mur Derriere La Grange” peaked at #2 on the Montreal charts. 1972 also was a big year for Georges Dor. Not only did his “Pour La Musique” top the charts in Quebec, but CKAC radio designated Dor’s “La Manic” as the most popular song of the last fifty years.
The early 70s, like the late-60s, were dominated by The Guess Who, naturally. Their “American Woman” was the 2nd biggest Canadian tune of the whole decade and they had five additional songs that made the yearly Top 100. Perhaps the second most significant band of the period was April Wine with three huge hits that decade (and a couple in the early 80s). Bluesy Offenbach became a formidable force as well. Calgary‘s The Stampeders scored three major hits.
Lighthouse succeeded with “One Fine Morning” (1971) and “Pretty Lady” (1973). They won Juno Awards for Best Group of the Year in 1973 and ’74. The Five Man Electrical Band‘s “Signs” was the 22nd biggest song of the year in 1971 and they subsequently scored with “I’m a Stranger here” two years later. Original Caste scored two major hits in 1970: “Mr. Monday” and “One Tin Soldier”. They disbanded the following year.
There were a couple of one-hit wonder bands that appeared. The first of these was Mashmakhan. Their “As the Years Go By” was the 10thbiggest hit of 1970. The following year, gospel-ish Ocean came out with the third most successful Canuck song of the decade: “Put Your Hand in the Hand”.
Before moving on to the big guns, below are mini-profiles of semi-major acts: Patsy Gallant and The Bells / Frank Mills.
Patsy was one of ten children who all sang in a family group, The Gallant Sisters. She began singing when she was five. In 1967, she started a solo career, appearing in TV commercials and variety shows. Her debut album appeared in 1970 and she became, not only one of the few Canadians to have hits in both official languages (English and French) but also one of the few successful Canadian disco artists later in the decade. Patsy Gallant’s “Tout Va Trop Vite” reached No. 3 on the Canadian French charts in 1972. Later in the decade she had huge success with “From New York to L.A.”, and her “Sugar Daddy” was the best-selling Canadian single of the year in 1978. She won the Juno Award for Best Female Singer of the Year in both 1977 and 1978.
The Bells / Frank Mills
The Bells were a Montreal outfit who debuted in 1968. But their first big hit came in 1971—”Stay Awhile”, the 27th biggest song of the year. Their “Fly Little White Dove, Fly” was nominated for a Juno. Pianist Frank Mills departed for a successful solo career performing instrumental piano pop. His first major hit, which faired much better in Canada (topping the charts) than the U.S., was “Love Me Love Me Love” in 1972. “Pretty Little Fool” followed that year. His huge international breakthrough, however, came in 1979 care of his album Music Box Dancer with two hit singles: its title-track and “Peter Piper”. The album reached #21 on the Billboard charts and its title-track reached #3.