We Also Got the Beat: Canadian Female Bands

Japan had Speed and Stereopony, France L5, Italy Lollipop, Britain The Spice Girls, Girls Aloud and Bananarama, the U.S. Destiny’s Child, The Runaways, The Go-Go’s, and The Bangles. How about Canada?

Canada has had a surprising number of all-female acts over the years. Many of these were indie bands or outside of the pop/rock umbrella. There were a few, however, that enjoyed radio hits, were honoured at the JUNOS, scored gold records, and achieved some international success.

Most prefer to note the distinction between girl groups and female rock bands. Girl groups and boy groups simply sing and harmonize together with others writing their songs and playing musical instruments for them. Female rock bands, in contrast, write their own songs and play their own instruments. Canada has had examples of both over the years.

When such acts hit the mainstream, they tend to become extremely popular, so one may wonder why there weren’t more of them. We have seen that, since the early 90s, few male soloist superstars have emerged unless they did something outside of mainstream rock and roll. They have preferred, instead, to form rock bands. Canadian women, in contrast, have usually preferred to go solo. Part of the answer lies in understanding the differences in Canadian male and female culture, values, and attitudes. Rather than going into this, let’s take a look at some of the Canadian all-female acts. We will not include female duos but those groups consisting of three or more members.

Indie all-female acts include Cub, Magneta Lane, Fifth Column, Maow (sometimes called Meow), Jale, Ladies of the Canyon, The Organ, Plumtree, and Pony Up. The Be Good Tanyas, The Wailin’ Jennys, and The Good Lovelies were fairly successful folk/country bands. Below are mini-profiles of some of the better-known pop/rock groups.

Kittie

This is a four-member JUNO-nominated female heavy metal group from London, ON that formed in 1996. They have, since then, released six studio albums and have had success in the United States and Britain. The band’s debut album Spit went GOLD in the United States, as their song “Brackish” became a hit in heavy metal circles. Kittie formed when two members met during an extracurricular gymnastics class. The band is still active and released its sixth studio album I’ve Failed You in August 2011.

Sugar Jones

This R&B girl group was assembled via Popstars, a televised reality series that was a precursor to Canadian Idol. Five members were selected out of thousands of applicants. In 2001, the group released a platinum album, scored the huge hit “Days Like That,” a cover of Fierce’s song, and were nominated for two JUNOs the following year. The five disbanded and three members have released material as soloists, the most prolific of which is Julie Crochetière.

Lillix

This pop/rock band began as Tigerlily during high school in Cranbrook, BC. In 2001, Lillix was signed by Maverick Records, releasing debut album Falling Uphill two years later. Three singles were released including a cover of The Romantics’ “What I Like About You” which was featured in the Freaky Friday and 13 Going on 30 soundtracks. They received two JUNO nominations in 2004. After their second album Inside the Hollow and single “Sweet Temptation”, Maverick Records folded and two members left the band. The group reformed with added male members and is no longer an all-female group.

LiveonRelease

This short-lived pop/punk band from Vancouver enjoyed the hit single “I’m Afraid of Britney Spears” which appeared on the Dude, Where’s My Car? soundtrack. They released albums in 2002 and 2003 before disbanding. Lead vocalist Colette Trudeau is Métis. Lead guitarist Brittin Karroll has written songs with Bif Naked. The two other members of the band were Foxx Herst (bass) and Leah Emmott (drums). The band’s name comes from basketball jargon.

Shaye

This was a trio of high-profile Canadian female recording artists from Atlantic Canada: Kim Stockwood, Damhnait Doyle, and Tara MacLean. The group was not as successful as the individual artists’ solo careers; however, Shaye’s song “Happy Baby” received a JUNO nomination in 2004 for Single of the Year. They released two albums before calling it quits. Doyle is now with the indie band The Heartbroken. Stockwood is still active as a soloist, releasing the album Back to the Water in March 2011. MacLean released studio album Wake in 2008.

Tuuli

Vocalist/guitarist Jenny MacIsaac, guitarist Jen Blackwood, bassist Claire Blake, and drummer Naomi Langworthy formed this Toronto-based pop/punk band in 1995. They toured both sides of the 49th parallel to packed houses and were interviewed by VH1. Their only album, Here We Go (Warner), came out in 2002. MuchMusic began showcasing the MV for “Who’s the Fool Now?” but it was “It’s Over” that became a #4 hit in Canada. “Summer Song” was their third single. They toured for the next two years but dropped off the map after that, sadly.

West End Girls

This was a beloved Vancouver-based early-90s teenage trio consisting of Camille Henderson (daughter of Chilliwack frontman Bill Henderson), Aimee MacKenzie, and Silvana Petrozzi. The West End is a ritzy area of downtown Vancouver. Their debut (self-titled) album was released in 1991 and spawned two Top 40 singles and two Top 10 hits: “Not Like Kissing You” (which made the year-end Top 100) and “I Want U Back” (cover of the Jackson 5 song). The album was certified GOLD and The West End Girls received a JUNO nomination for Most Promising New Group of the Year. They toured with Roxette. First Petrozzi then Henderson left the band in 1992 and were replaced by Janele Woodley and Celia-Louise Martin respectively. The new lineup released their second album We Belong Together in 1993. “R U Sexin Me” and “Pure” received JUNO nominations. As their sophomore album did not sell as well as their first, the group broke up in 1994.

MORE…

Mad June     Caveboy

Please do let us know if there are any other Canadian all-girl groups you would like us to mention.

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Canadian Music Conquers the World (1990-1993)

The 1990s were the most prolific decade in Canadian music. A score of superstars arose, most of them female with a few rock bands to boot. By the middle of the decade at least a quarter of the songs in the Year-End Singles Chart were from Canadian artists. In fact, due to the plethora of Canadian hits we’re only going to be looking at songs and artists who finished in the year-end charts to avoid lengthy entries. Male superstars Bryan Adams, Corey Hart, and Tom Cochrane continued to churn out hits through the 90s. But the decade really belonged to the women. After Alannah Myles, the next female superstar, who, from many standpoints, became Canada’s empress of pop, was bilingual diva Céline Dion. The 1990s was the decade that taught record companies that Canadian artists did not have to make it big in the U.S. in order to roll in the dough.

1990

Canadians sat glued in front of their radios hearing the following words sung by the voice of an angel:

…But now that seems so far away
Don’t know how love could leave without a trace
Where do silent hearts go?
Where does my heart beat now?
Where is the sound
That only echoes through the night?

At about the same time Americans were drooling over their new vocal sensation Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, who was already a huge name in the French-speaking world, released her debut English crossover album, Unison, with the assistance of producer David Foster and scored an international Top 10 hit. Unlike Alannah Myles, Celine’s popularity was to increase with the release of each subsequent album.

Besides Celine, the biggest newcomer of the year was Laurence Jalbert (“Au nom de la raison”) who was to enjoy several hits through the 90s. The biggest Canadian hit of the year, finishing second on the year-end chart, was Alias’ “More Than Words Could Say”. Their “Waiting for Love” was a big hit the following year. Toronto’s Jane Child became a one-hit wonder with the funky “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love”. Courtney, B.C.’s Juno award winning gifted vocalist Sue Medley scored with “Dangerous Times”. Another Juno award winner saw her breakthrough this year—Julie Masse—with “Sans t’oublier”. Triumph’s Rik Emmett, enjoying a successful solo career, came out with the beautiful ballad “When a Heart Breaks”. Luc De Larochellière saw his first hit—”Sauvez mon âme”. Later hits from him included “Ma generation” and “Kunidé”. Colin James had his biggest hit, “Just Came Back”. This was the most successful year for The Northern Pikes who enjoyed two big hits: “She Ain’t Pretty” and “Girl with a Problem”. Marie Carmen, who started out as a backing vocalist (Claude Dubois and The Box), enjoyed an acting career, and scored her first hit, “Faut pas que j’panique”.

Outside the realm of pop, Nova Scotia’s The Rankin Family ate up the adult contemporary charts and scored a hat trick of multi-platinum albums. Their Fare Thee Well Love sold half a million copies.

1991

As far as we can tell, this was the first year that three and a half of the 5 biggest songs of the year were Canadian. What is meant by the “half”? Rod Stewart’s “The Rhythm of My Heart” was written by Canadian songwriters Marc Jordan and John Capek. The only purely non-Canadian song was American band Extreme’s “More Than Words”.

The year belonged to Bryan Adams. Canadians could never have imagined that Adams would surpass the incredible success he attained with his internationally huge Reckless album back in the mid-80s. But, in 1991, thanks to the blockbuster film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Adams had the biggest song of the year, not only in Canada, but just about everywhere in the world. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” became one of the biggest-selling singles in world history. The studio album on which it appeared, Waking up the Neighbours, became the second Canadian album ever to top the album charts in Britain (the first was Neil Young’s Harvest 19 years earlier) and became his second album to reach Diamond status in Canada. The album’s “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” was the third biggest song of the year in Canada.

Celine Dion also sang the theme song for a hit movie. Her “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson peaked at #2 on the weekly charts. The (self-titled) album on which it appeared was eventually certified Diamond. Tom Cochrane had the 5th biggest song of the year. “Life Is a Highway” was also a hit in the U.S., peaking at #6 and finishing in their 1992 year-end charts in 18th place. His album Mad Mad World was certified Diamond in Canada.

Two huge rock bands saw their breakthrough this year. Winnipeg’s Crash Test Dummies, led by Brad Roberts’ bass-baritone voice, had their “Superman’s Song”. In 1993, they released an international hit called “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”. The other band, who became one of Canada’s all-time best-selling, was Kingston, Ontario’s The Tragically Hip. “Little Bones” was their first big hit. Although their first album, Up to Here (1989), hadn’t scored any significant hit singles, it was certified Diamond by the end of the 90s. Their second album, Road Apples, which spawned the “Little Bones” hit went 8x Platinum. Les B.B. had a couple of hits in French Canada.

The U.S. and Britain had been able to form all-girl groups like The Bangles, Bananarama, and The Go-Gos. It was now Canada’s turn. Although they managed only a few hits, including this year’s “Not Like Kissing You”, Vancouver’s West End Girls received a Juno nomination and were chosen to open for Roxette on their Canadian tour. The trio’s Camille Henderson is the daughter of Chilliwack frontman Bill Henderson. She starred in the Canadian movie My American Cousin and later sang back up for Sarah McLachlan and was a guest vocalist for electronic outfit Delerium.

Top 5 Songs of 1991 in Canada

1. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”, Bryan Adams
2. “More Than Words”, Extreme
3. “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started”, Bryan Adams
4. “The Rhythm of My Heart”, Rod Stewart (song composed by Canadians)
5. “Life is a Highway”, Tom Cochrane

1992

Besides a trio of one-hit wonders—Bruce Huard (“Mona Lisa”), Francis Martin (“Tous les jours je pense à toi”), and Dan Bigras (“Tue-moi”)—there were no significant newcomers this year, save for one. The year-end chart is missing from RPM’s database, but we took a look at all the songs that made the Top 10 in the weekly charts. Celine Dion had her first #1 hit, “If You Asked Me To”, and sang Luc Plamondon’s “Quelqu’un que j’aime, quelqu’un qui m’aime” which was a big song in Quebec. Alannah Myles and Bryan Adams also had #1s this year (“I Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven” and “Song Instead of a Kiss” respectively).

The big newcomer was a Toronto (Scarborough) band called The Barenaked Ladies. “Enid” peaked at #2 on the charts and their album Gordon eventually reached Diamond sales in Canada. The Ladies had a big international hit called “One Week” in 1998. They got into trouble with women’s groups due to their name but responded by explaining, to most Canadians’ satisfaction, that it was an innocent term they used when they were children growing up.

1993

There were a number of newcomers this year both in English and French Canada. The tenth biggest song of the year in the United States was from a Canadian Caucasian reggae artist from Toronto who called himself Snow. “Informer” didn’t do as well at home but still made the year-end chart. His “Everybody Wants to Be Like You” was a bigger song in Canada in Y2K. Canadian comedic actor Jim Carrey pulled a “Weird Al” Yankovic, parodying “Informer” as “Imposter” complete with a music video which was aired on the comedy show “In Living Colour”. 

The biggest Canadian song of the year (20th) at home was Celine Dion’s “Love Can Move Mountains”. Dion was to get a female counterpart this year. Springbank, Alberta’s (near Calgary) Jann Arden saw her first big hit “Will You Remember Me” appear, a song to which Sarah McLachlan seemed to answer in her “I Will Remember You”. McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery” has a similar guitar riff to Arden’s song. (We’ll get to Sarah later on.) Arden achieved international fame in 1994 with “Insensitive”. Mae Moore arose from Brandon, Manitoba (“Because of Love”, “Coat of Shame”). She didn’t see as much success as Arden but, nevertheless, had four big hits in the 90s.

Hamilton’s glam rocker Sven Gali had a hit with the grammatically incorrect “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”. Canadian-American hybrid band Hemingway Corner scored with “Man on a Mission”.

Perhaps Celine Dion’s success had given Quebec a confidence boost (not that they lacked it previously). Many new artists began appearing, one of which became one of the most successful in Francophone rock. His name was Daniel Bélanger (“La folie en quatre”). Laurence Jalbert had the Song of the Year in the province (“Encore et encore”). Francine Raymond had the first of a few hits, “Pense à moi”. Other Felix song-nominated newcomers were Pierre Flynn, Marie Denise Pelletier, and Marie Philippe.

Coming up are a list of big songs during the period followed by mini profiles on semi-major artists Marie Carmen, Laurence Jalbert, Colin James, Julie Masse, Mae Moore, and The Northern Pikes. We will devote separate profiles to major artists Jann Arden, Barenaked Ladies, Daniel Bélanger, Crash Test Dummies, Celine Dion, and The Tragically Hip.

     Copyright 2011 Canadian Music Blog