By Steve Peake
Our neighbor to the north has always produced an impressive array of entertainers, from movies to TV and, of course, music. The '80s were a particularly kind decade to Canadian artists, as the U.S. mainstream rock and pop charts often left plenty of room for them to spread out and get comfortable. Although the most well-known Canadian pop/rock artists operated within the arena rock, hard rock and new wave territories of the decade's spectrum, plenty more variety awaited listeners who kept a careful ear out for what was coming out of the Great White North. Here's just a glimpse of Canada's '80s music contributors.
No Canadian band took the '80s marriage of pop and hard rock to greater heights than this Toronto quartet. While "Working for the Weekend" tends to get the most attention, Loverboy was undoubtedly most adept with the power ballad, including classics like "When It's Over" and "This Could Be the Night." Ultimately, when the hits dried up in the latter part of the decade, Mike Reno & Co. had a lot to show from their catalogue, headbands and spandex be damned.
This Montreal native was one of the few shining lights for male pop singers in the '80s, a solid singer, songwriter and performer blessed with good looks and a mastery of pop hooks. Most people don't know he continued to release some pretty decent music late in the decade and into the '90s, remembering instead his great '80s singles like "Never Surrender," "Sunglasses at Night," and "It Ain't Enough." Those three tunes are better than many careers, so Hart hasn't done too shabbily indeed.
Though often compared unfavorably to the similar-sounding but better-known power trio Rush, Triumph is actually far more a product of the '80s than their more expansive and prolific forebears. And while Triumph released several albums in the '70s, it was not until their second decade that the band forged its effective stew of power guitars and melodic keyboards. Tunes like "Fight the Good Fight," "A World of Fantasy," and "Somebody's Out There" perfectly embody the band's signature sound.
Utterly perplexing moniker notwithstanding, this band enjoyed a short-lived but impressive heyday in 1986 with the release of two bona fide '80s classic singles, "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)" and "Someday." And while the band will never be mistaken for a major artist in any decade, these two songs remain respectable and highly listenable relics of a time when fragile wildcats held sway on the earth. Or something like that, anyway.
Down this far on the list, we're getting into one-hit wonder territory, I suppose, but that doesn't mean the music is not well worth seeking out. This quirky, harder-rocking predecessor of Barenaked Ladies released one great tune, "I'm an Adult Now," in 1986 that injected a much-needed sense of humor into '80s pop/rock. It's wry, a little goofy and undeniably Canadian in the best sense of the adjective.
When a song occupies an organic space in your brain and you can call up the chorus instantly without knowing the band's name or having heard the song in years, it's safe to say you're in the presence of some kind of greatness. That's the case with me and this Niagara Falls band's best song, "Feel It Again."The band's rather unfortunate name doesn't detract from this tune's perfect marriage of keyboards, romantic verses and a powerhouse chorus. It's '80s nirvana, pure and simple.
Another progressive rock band that made the most out of the emerging '80s sensibility, the bombastically named Saga had a sound to match, reaching its commercial and artistic peak with the thoroughly enjoyable single "On the Loose." If overwrought vocal delivery and keyboard excess can be considered good things, then this band was pretty good at deciding on its strengths. For the record, I think these things can be quite good indeed.