While the early to mid 70s were bustling with popular Canadian acts, things had slowed down by the late-70s. There were perhaps three reasons for this. The first was that, while the rest of the world became swept up in disco fever, Canadian artists remained aloof from this genre of music with the odd exception like Patsy Gallant or the T.H.P. Orchestra. Coinciding with this was the decline in popularity of folk music, the style that had been Canada’s specialty. Furthermore, the big names in music were sliding into retirement. Things were to pick up and surpass previous prominence of Canuck music, however, in the 1980s, which saw the first Canadian album to be certified diamond.
The late-70s were in fact a crossroads of artists retiring and new ones emerging who didn’t skyrocket to prominence until the following decade. One of these was the rock band Rush. Though their debut came in 1974, they didn’t score a major hit until 1978′s “Closer to the Heart” and steadily rose to notoriety in the early 80s. Rush is one of the longest-lived and most popular Canadian rock bands. Though never scoring a lot of radio-played hit singles, they have remained a highly successful album-oriented act, as 13 of their studio albums have gone platinum. They are considered the fifth best-selling rock band in history internationally after The Beatles, Rolling Stones, KISS, and Aeorsmith respectively.
A band that often worked and co-wrote songs with Rush was Max Webster. They managed a Platinum album in 1979. In the 80s, member Kim Mitchell embarked on a solo career and did much better.
In terms of bands that scored hits, Vancouver’s Trooper was king in this period with ten Top 40 hits (3 more after 1979). Their album Hot Shots was the first Canadian album to go 4x Platinum in Canada. Toronto’s Triumph didn’t do as well, as their popularity remained mostly in eastern Canada where they scored the 1979 hit “Hold On” and “Magic Power” in 1981. But, unlike Trooper, they have managed to become inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Prism arguably faired better than Triumph with six platinum albums, two major hits (“Night to Remember” and “Young & Restless”), and Juno Award for Group of the Year in 1981. Regina’s Streetheart rose to fame with their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”. Randy Bachman, after his departure from B.T.O., formed a new band, Ironhorse. They released only two albums and scored one Top 30 hit: “Sweet Lui Louise”.
Other bands in this period were Harlequin and the new wave outfit Saga who managed several minor radio hits. Canada was heading into more progressive electronic rock thanks to Nash the Slash and FM.
Because they started out in Canada, it is worth mentioning the American band Heart. Sweeney Todd released the huge hit “Roxy Roller” but disbanded quickly, two of their members going solo. The first, Nick Gilder, scored a couple of huge hits, one being the biggest of the late-70s, but faded into obscurity after. The second, Bryan Adams, did not see success come as easily, but once he found his signature formula, he became the biggest Canadian solo artist of all-time. We will profile him in the 80s.
The biggest solo artist of the late-70s was former Guess Who front man Burton Cummings. His first hit was “Stand Tall” in 1976. Success came for Angèle Arsenault in 1977 with the multi-platinum album, Libre.
Though he debuted in 1970, folk-pop singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn‘s big breakthrough came in 1979 thanks to “Wondering Where the Lions Are”. Paul Piché‘s solo album went platinum the same year. Martin Stevens’ single “Love is in the Air” went gold while Claudja Barry‘s “Boogie Woogie Dancing Shoes” went Platinum. Respected guitarist Pat Travers churned out some his best material during the late 70s. (Jerry) Doucette‘s debut release, Mama Let Him Play, earned platinum status. Bells’ former pianist Frank Mills released his “Music Box Dancer” instrumental, the sheet music of which has sold in excess of 3 million copies. Diane Tell and Véronique Béliveau both released debut albums in 1977. They became highly successful in the 80s, and we will take a look at them later.
Number One singles in the late 70s were Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, Burton Cummings’ “Stand Tall”, Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch”, Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me” and “I Just Fall in Love Again”, and Gino Vannelli’s “I Just Wanna Stop”. Nick Gilder departed from Sweeny Todd after their Number One smash “Roxy Roller”, and came out with the biggest Canadian song of the late-70s: “Hot Child in the City”, 7th biggest song of the year 1978 according to CHUM FM. “The Theme from S.W.A.T.” by the T.H.P. Orchestra, which earned them the Most Promising Group of the Year Juno in 1977, was also a number one single. Patsy Gallant’s “Sugar Daddy” won the Song of the Year Juno in 1978. Pianist André Gagnon took home the Album of the Year Juno in 1978 for his Neiges, breaking B.T.O.’s three-year streak in the category.
Outside the realm of pop, some big names at this time: celebrated jazz trombonist Rob McConnell, classical pianist and composer André Gagnon, Nova Scotian female country singer Carroll Baker, earthy folk singer Stan Rogers, and hugely successful children’s music trio Sharon, Lois & Bram.
In 1979, due to the Juno Awards’ lack of attention to fracophone artists, Quebec launched the Felix Awards. For more on this, click HERE.
Below are mini-profiles on Heart, Streetheart, Sweeney Todd, and Nick Gilder.
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson who have hitherto sold over 30 million albums worldwide, started out in Vancouver, Canada, so we will take a brief look at them here.
In 1967, Roger Fisher formed a Seattle-based band called The Army that went through a number of personnel and name changes. In late-1970, Ann Wilson joined. Roger’s brother, Mike, was set to be recruited, against his will, into the army to fight in Vietnam. When he failed to show up for duty, American authorities raided his home. He jumped out of a rear window and escaped to freedom in Canada. The Americans labeled him a “Vietnam War Draft Dodger”.
One day in 1971, Mike snuck across the border back to the U.S. to visit family. There he met Ann Wilson and the two fell in love. This prompted Ann to follow Mike back into Canada. This led other band members to follow suit. They reformed in Vancouver, and changed their name to Heart. Ann’s sister Nancy joined in 1974 and began a love affair with Roger.
The band, augmented by some Canadian studio musicians (one of whom permanently joined the band as their drummer) released Dreamboat Annie on Vancouver’s Mushroom Records label. Singles “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” helped the album to eventually sell over a million copies.
In 1977, The American government returned to policies more in keeping with democracy and granted amnesty to Vietnam draft evaders. This led the band to break its contract with Mushroom and move back to Seattle.
This band from Regina, formed in 1977, is best known for their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” as well as “Action”, “What Kind of Love is This”, and “One More Time”. Four of their albums attained platinum status, one going multi-platinum. In 1980, they received the Juno Award for Most Promising Group of the Year. They disbanded in 1983.
Sweeney Todd / Nick Gilder
This glam rock band that formed in Vancouver in 1975, with Nick Gilder on vocals, scored the #1 hit “Roxy Roller” winning them a Juno Award for Best Single in 1977. Gilder quickly left the band after its success to pursue a solo career. He was replaced by Clark Perry, an arrangement that was short-lived, and Bryan Adams, then only 15 years old, took over on vocals. The band’s second album was finally released but was unsuccessful, resulting in Adams’ departure. Chris Booth took over on vocals but Sweeney Todd had, by then, run out of steam and disbanded before recording any further albums.
In the meantime, Nick Gilder, born in London, England in 1951, was enjoying a hugely successful solo career. His “Hot Child in the City” topped the charts for weeks and won the 1979 Juno for Single of the Year. It was the 7th biggest song of 1978 according to Toronto’s CHUM Radio. It performed equally well in the American Charts. Gilder’s “Here Comes the Night” made the Top 30 and “You Really Rock Me” the Top 40. In 1980, “Wild Ones (Feeling Electric)” and “Catch 22″ made the Top 30, but further success proved unattainable. He began composing for other artists, most notably Patty Smyth, Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, and Pat Benatar. In 1984, he co-wrote the song “The Warrior” for the band Scandal, which made the Top 10 in the U.S.