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The essential Céline Dion: CBC Music’s guide to her best songs

Editorial Staff

Céline Dion's talent and work ethic are unrivaled. Even the haters can't argue that. Dion has been hustling since she was 12 years old. For more than three decades, the Quebecois chanteuse has been captivating audiences.

She's not just one of Canada's most important musicians. She's the best-selling artist in Canada. Bigger than the Beatles or Shania Twain or Madonna. Céline Dion est le meilleur.

In honour of Dion's 48th birthday on March 30, CBC Music producers and hosts gathered together to celebrate their favourite Dion songs. From French-language deep cuts to Disney delights, please enjoy our highly personal guide to the essential Céline Dion.

'Because You Loved Me'

If you haven't belted out the lyrics to "Because You Loved Me" while crying over an ex, you've never lived. Céline's 1996 hit song has all the melodrama that a Diane Warren and David Foster co-pro deserves, though its slow-burn build and harmonies make it way easier for sing-alongs than a few of her other heartwrenching hits. "Because You Loved Me" was fittingly chosen as the theme song for the Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford co-starring drama Up Close and Personal. It was also the theme song to my first-ever slow dance at my Grade 6 graduation, all sweaty palms and straight arms and nervous glances. Now that's range. — Holly Gordon

'To Love You More'

When I was deeply into one phase in my early 20s, I use to YouTube her live performance of this song featuring the violinist Taro Hakase. The way she moves her body, her profound gestures and earnest facial expressions combined with Hakase just giving his all — I thought it was hilarious. But sure enough, my bombastic laughter would slowly morph a deep, mournful sob. Oh Céline, my favourite comedienne! — Louise Burns

'Love Can Move Mountains'

Growing up with much older siblings, I would be stuck finding my own entertainment. One activity was listening to music in the rec room and making mix tapes of songs on the radio, and in the '90s in Canada, soft rock ruled the airwaves. So I taped "Love Can Move Mountains" and was so inspired by the light gospel feel and the inspirational message, I choreographed a dance to the song. There was a lot of sweeping arm movements and prancing in front of an imaginary audience. I worked up a sweat and was so engrossed in my dance I didn’t notice my brother at the door. I was a kid, but probably older than I should have been for this kind of dance. In a proto-Liz Lemon move, I stopped and made up a lie about this being a project for school, but it was all Céline. — Jeanette Cabral

'That’s the Way It Is'

In the past few years, the guy who is responsible for the majority of top 40 smash pop hits for the last two decades is finally getting his due. Max Martin wrote most of the breakout hits for the likes of 'NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and hundreds of others whose names can only be found in Wal-Mart discount bins on NOW! That's What I Call Music 11.

Martin's gift was working with singers of varying ability to make them sound slick and marketable, and he did that by getting them to ape his exact demos. As John Seabrook talks about in his new book, The Song Machine, all of the vocal inflections, ooh's and aah's in 'Baby One More Time' or 'I Want It That Way' were done by emulating tapes given to the band by Martin. So the question is, what happens when one of the greatest pop songwriters ever meets one of the greatest western voices ever?

Well "That's The Way It Is" happens. If you just read this and thought 'Nope, I'm out of here,' you don't have to read further - just listen to her vocal part at 3:10 and check out those vocal flourishes. Céline's voice is freed of the torch ballads, and finally gets to have some fun.

You get the feeling on this song the feeling that both Martin and Dion were finally challenged. Martin by a vocalist whose ideas were stronger than anything he could invent, and Dion by the challenge of finally charting with an upbeat number.

Both artists reached new heights with this song, and while it may not age as well as "The Power of Love" or that Titanic song, and the video may look at lot like a GAP ad, it was the song in which two masters were forced to work harder to reach the next level of their talents, and it delivered. — Tom Power

'My Heart Will Go On'

I re-watched Titanic in preparation for this proclamation: "My Heart Will Go On" is, hands down, Céline Dion's most legendary song. You remember the story: both Dion and Titanic director James Cameron were reluctant when first presented with the tune; Cameron didn't want to end his blockbuster film with a power ballad, and Dion didn't want to be associated with another one after "Beauty and the Beast". Thank God they relented. Dion's reported single-take recording went on to dominate charts around the globe, become the world's best-selling single of 1998, win an Oscar and multiple Grammys and, provide Cameron with the perfect emotionally wrenching song to end an emotionally wrenching movie. Also nothing before or since has ever rivaled that "you're here/there's nothing I fear" shiver-inducing key change. That will go on and on as one of the greatest popular music moments of all time.— Emma Godmere

 'The Power of Love'

Although generally veering away from all things sentimental, even I can appreciate Céline Dion’s version of “The Power of Love.” With lyrics as simple and heartfelt as “’cause I’m your lady, and you are my man”, emotionally charged production, and carefully placed percussive explosions juxtaposed with deliberate pauses, Céline has given us a gift on this, her birthday, with this masterful adult contemporary piece that is difficult for the hard-hearted to resist.  — Joan Chung

'All By Myself'

Originally an Eric Carmen song released in 1975, “All By Myself” was adapted from the beautiful second movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18. Dion covered Carmen's version in 1996 on her album Falling Into You and it quickly became one of her signatures. Whatever you might think of the song, no can deny that it's a loneliness anthem almost, something in short supply in the musical world since most songs about loneliness typically veer towards sad and slow. Everybody can relate to Dion’s dramatic delivery at some point in their lives.  — Nicolle Weeks

'Beauty and the Beast'

One of my all time favourites from Miss Dion is the iconic "Beauty and the Beast." This song is reminiscent of my childhood. I remember rewinding the VHS tape over and again, just to sing along pretending that I was Belle. This track is beautifully written and never gets old. Simply put, it's magical! — Kiah Welsh 

'The Prayer'

It’s a lot of pressure to put on grade school children to sing along to any Céline Dion song, but I vividly recall learning “The Prayer,” Dion’s 1999 duet with Andrea Bocelli, in my elementary school choir. While I never perfected the same operatic highs as Dion and Bocelli, I did grow an appreciation for the duo’s powerful pipes, intertwining over dramatic symbol smashes and soaring orchestral arrangements. I imagine this is the aural equivalent of being hit by a tidal wave — as many of Dion's most audacious musical moments are — and for that, I will always respect Dion’s colossal vocals. — Melody Lau

'Je danse dans ma tête'

All of a sudden in 1990, Céline Dion was everywhere, floating on clouds of cottony David Foster synths, gentle, three-ply snare beats, carefully stitched double-negatives for shallow credibility and all of it quilted for comfort. She became a wedge-issue for music fans: did you, or not? I didn't. I couldn't. I wouldn't.

Then, a couple of years later, I saw her on Ralph Benmergui's CBC late night show Friday Night. She was a huge star by then, having conquered the U.S. market with a Grammy and an Oscar for her duet with Peabo Bryson from the Disney feature Beauty and the Beast. From almost any angle, the 1992 edition of Céline Dion had nothing left to prove. Until that night on live national television.

The supporting act on the show was a rebellious Newfoundland band called Thomas Trio and the Red Albino. They were fantastic. They were gritty and tight and irreverent. The were everything Céline Dion wasn't and they stole the show. Then Céline got up, and for that moment she wasn't an untouchable star any more. She was back to being the youngest of 14 from a poor family outside Montreal, whose teeth were a little wonky, whose English still needed work and who was as hungry as a gravel road. She had to deliver, right then, and she did.

Earlier that year she'd released a record of songs by the Quebec musical theatre giant Luc Plamondon, including four new songs for her. She sang one of those — "Je danse dans ma tête" — and for those few minutes there wasn't a whiff of cleaning product anywhere in the place. The language was real. She meant it and it was sweaty and great.

It probably didn't mean anything to her career. That path was already set, but it meant something to me. From then on I couldn't hear her voice without admitting that for those few minutes, whether I liked it or not, I did. — Tom Allen

 'It’s All Coming Back to Me Now'

This is my all-time favourite Céline Dion song. I’m kind of obsessed with it, actually. It ties together everything about her that I adore and that of which I’ve been critical in the past. It’s a sopping, dripping, mess of emotion and sentiment, grandiose and gothic, a mini pop opera dressed up as a sweeping soft-rock ballad. Under Jim Steinman’s pen and arrangements, it’s almost egotistical in its self-indulgence, but Dion tethers the bloated hot air balloon to something real and makes you feel, well, all the feelings. Arguably, too many feelings, but in Dion’s world, you sing from the heart, from the gut, with your whole body, and you hold nothing back. That’s one of the great gifts Dion has modeled for her fans since she began: embrace your sincerity, wear your vulnerability as armor, do not be ashamed of your heart. — Andrea Warner

 'You and I'

From 2004's A New Day, "You and I" is probably best known for its use in an Air Canada TV ad. In fact, I suspect the song's genesis was at least partly engineered by the airline, since the video — shot at Toronto's Pearson International Airport — shows a shiny Air Canada plane slowly emerging from a hangar, people cheerfully waiting at a luggage carousel and a departures screen with all flights listed as "on time." The carrier also used the song to launch its new line of in-flight staff uniforms.

It says a lot about Dion that she can take a song conceived by committee and make something beautiful out of it. The production is more acoustic than we had come to expect from her and the two verses lie low in her range, giving her a chance to explore the expressive possibilities of that part of her voice. Of course, the chorus soars ("You and I were meant to fly") with an uplifting Dionesque message and with each repetition she makes a slight melodic change to crank up the intensity. We also get an epic modulation (3:05 in the video), so it's all there. — Robert Rowat