A Guide to Cancon Songs by Non-Canadians

With Canada’s 150th birthday coming up, I’ve been asked to help prepare some properly patriotic playlists. And while it’s easy to come up with lists featuring the usual suspects (The Hip, Rush, Neil Young, The Band, Joni Mitchell, etc.) you might want to consider these songs that you might not realize are Canadian.

Years ago, the CRTC established the MAPL system as a way of determining any song’s Canadian-ness. To be properly Canadian, a song must meet two of the four criteria:

M = Music. The music has to be written by a Canadian or landed immigrant.

A = Artist. The artist has to be a Canadian or a landed immigrant.

P = Production. A bit confusing. The song has to be either (a) a live performance recorded entirely in Canada; or (b) performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada. It does NOT mean that the song was produced by a Canadian.

L = Lyrics. The lyricist has to be written by a Canadian or landed immigrant.

These rules created the quirk of allowing radio to play songs performed by a foreigner that count towards Cancon levels. And since Canadian program and music directors are always looking for ways to add extra variety to their Cancon categories, they’ve jumped all over this loophole.

Chances are, then, when you hear any of these songs on Canadian radio, they’re part of the station’s Cancon collection. It also explains why many of these tracks were hits in Canada and nowhere else.

While this is by no means an ultra-complete list (the number of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell tracks is staggering), let’s go through some of these tracks.

 

Covers

Straightforward. These foreign artists have covered songs originally written and performed by Canadian artists, i.e. the Canuck(s) is responsible for the M and the L. That means it’s officially Cancon.

Pat Benetar, Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Originally by Eddie Schwartz)

 

Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)

 

Elwood, Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)

 

Aretha Franklin, The Weight (The Band)

https://youtu.be/wta5GU3FNhA

 

Hootie and the Blowfish, I Go Blind (54-40)

 

Lenny Kravitz, American Woman (Guess Who)

 

Nicolette Larson, Lotta Love (Neil Young)

 

Manfred Mann, Runner (Ian Thomas)

 

Laura Marling, The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)

 

Nazareth, This Flight Tonight (Joni Mitchell)

 

Elvis Presley, In the Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot)

 

Elvis Presley, Snowbird (Ann Murray)

 

Santana, Hold On (Ian Thomas)

 

Tesla, Signs (Five Man Electrical Band)

https://youtu.be/jL0GLLFg62I

 

Type O Negative, Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)

 

Eddie Vedder, Hard Sun (Indio)

https://youtu.be/T_K__3OKkFg

 

TONS of people (Judy Collins, Roberta Flack, Nina Simone), Suzanne (Leonard Cohen)

 

America, Right Before Your Eyes (Ian Thomas)

 

 

Written by Canadians

Sometimes Canadian songwriters are drafted in to write material for foreign artists. An impressive number of those songs went on to become hits.

 

Aerosmith, Deuces are Wild (Co-written between Steven Tyler and Jim Vallance)

 

Heart, What About Love (Brian Allen, Jim Vallance, Sheron Alton)

 

Nicole, Don’t You Want My Love (Aldo Nova)

 

Bonnie Raitt, Something to Talk About (Shirley Eikhard)

 

Rod Stewart, Broken Arrow (Robbie Robertson)

 

38 Special, Teacher Teacher (Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance)

 

38 Special, Back Where You Belong (Gary O’Connor)

 

Sid Vicious/Elvis/Frank Sinatra, My Way (Paul Anka)

 

 

Stealth Tracks

Wait? These songs are officially Canadian? Really?

 

Archies, Sugar Sugar

This massive bubblegum hit was co-written by Montreal-born Andy Kim. Cancon!

 

Procol Harum, Conquistador

This was one of the most clever uses of the “P” criteria. Procol Harum was most definitely British, but this song was a live recording featuring the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra which was done in Alberta. Therefore, we have an “A” and a “P” designation. Cancon!

https://youtu.be/FW2KN7Tz89s

 

 

Heart: A Special Case

Let’s be very clear: Heart was from Seattle and were never Canadian citizens. So how is it that a bunch of original Heart songs qualify as Canadian content? An excellent question.

It began with Mike Fisher, a Seattle dude who skipped to Canada to avoid being drafted into the Viet Nam War. Mike was the brother of Roger Fisher, who played in a Seattle group called White Heart. Ann ended up joining the band, but also fell in love with Mike, so she followed him to Vancouver, trailed by sister Nancy and Roger Fisher, who by this time were also a couple.

Ann, Nancy and Roger continued to play together as Heart with Mike working as the band’s sound engineer. But since Mike couldn’t cross back in the US because of his draft evader status, Heart masqueraded as a Canadian band, doing all the things a domestic band would do, including recording albums at a Canadian studio for Mushroom Records, a Canadian label. So as far as anyone knew, they were Canadian.

Then, a twist. It turned out that Mike was illegally drafted, so all was forgiven and he was able to re-enter the United States. Heart relocated back south of the border and lost any Cancon status they had. But Dreamboat Annie and “Heartless” from Magazine have retained their Canuck-ness to this day.

Thanks to Sean, Blair and everyone on Facebook who helped put this list together.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

7 thoughts on “A Guide to Cancon Songs by Non-Canadians

  • June 24, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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    Some things to add: Though she had the big hit, Snowbird was not written by Anne Murray, but by another Canadian: Gene MacLellan.

    Canadian band, Toronto, recorded What About Love before Heart did.

    .38 Special recorded another Canadian song, One Time for Old Times, written by Gary O’Conner. I remember hearing both this version and the one (the original recording?) Terry Crawford being played on Top 40 radio back in the early ’80s.

    Reply
    • October 17, 2019 at 4:39 pm
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      So that actually makes 4 songs by 38 Special. Teacher Teacher and Back To Paradise were both Bryan Adams/Jim Vallance writes.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2017 at 10:54 am
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    Thank you Alan and everyone else for making my classic rock heart swell with patriotic pride (emphasis especially on Heart—the Wilson sisters’ band).
    Guess we should also be so proud of Ian Thomas who wrote and recorded a number of seemingly minor national hits that got picked up by bigger international names and made HUUUGE hits out of, even for a brief moment decades ago now!

    Reply
    • June 27, 2017 at 7:48 am
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      Not sure, but it should. Neil Young is Canadian (that’s the A in MAPL) and he co-wrote both the music (M) and lyrics (L), that’s a half-point each. Taken together, it all adds up to 2, which is the minimum required.

      Reply
  • June 30, 2017 at 4:58 pm
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    A lot of songs by Eddie Schwartz done by other major artists like America, Meat Loaf (Special Girl), Paul Carrack (Don’t Shed A Tear); Doobie Brothers (Co-write on The Doctor). “All Our Tomorrows” done by Joe Cocker.
    Ian Thomas songs “All I Do” & “As The Days Go By” were massive hits in Australia by Daryl Braithwaite (of Sherbet) and “Chains” done by Chicago.
    “These Are The Good Times” written by Myles Hunter (of Refugee/Michael Fury) was covered by Mr. Big vocalist Eric Martin for the “Iron Eagle Soundtrack.”

    Reply
  • June 19, 2020 at 1:23 pm
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    At least there was no mention of that lousy cover by Joan Baez of The Band’s classic 1969 track, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (which pre-dates Can-Con regulations). Using the MAPL rating system, “Dixie” would earn M,A,L. (music and lyrics composed by Robbie Robertson) but due to the fact that the song was recorded in Los Angeles, it does earn the ‘P’.

    Reply

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