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Coeur de Pirate, K-os, more on what Canadian songs should be taught in school

Kerry Martin

CBC Music, in association with Musicounts, is looking for Canada's Greatest Music Class. Choose a song to cover and upload the video for a chance to win an exclusive concert at your school. Go for details.  

What Canadian song do you think should be taught in school?

That's the question we are asking this week at CBC Music. From beautiful works of poetry to simple sing-alongs, musicians have singled out some of Canada's most important attributes and turned them into melodies, harmonies and anthems. 

We asked some of your favourite musicians what song they would pick for Canada's curriculum — have a look through the list below, and listen carefully to the lessons in each and every pick. Class is in session, crank it up!

Song: "Under a Stormy Sky," Daniel Lanois
Endorsed by: 
Tom Wilson (Blackie & the Rodeo KingsLeE HaRvEy OsMoNd)

"It's simple French, and it's simple English. I find that 'Under A Stormy Sky' is like a nursery rhyme of people migrating across this country. It's very important for young Canadians to know about these journeys. It's not a story told by a historian, it's told from the perspective of an artist. It's more of a story of a personal journey, I think it's the personal journeys that really make up Canadian culture — it's not necessarily the big bangs, but the little pops that go on in neighbourhoods, towns and cities across this country that make this country unique, and those are the stories that need to be told over and over again in schools, in playgrounds, in bar rooms, anywhere they can be told. "

Song: "Sleepy Maggie," Ashley MacIsaac feat. Mary Jane Lamond
Endorsed by: 
Alan Doyle (Great Big Sea

"When Great Big Sea started crossing the country in 1994, Ashley was in his heyday. I think people have forgotten what a genius Ashley MacIsaac is. I look at 'Sleepy Maggie' as the song to represent the Celtic wave on the mid-1990s. It has almost everything in it, such as a beautiful voice singing in Scottish Gaelic, and musically, it is at least a decade ahead of its time with the looping of sounds that became so big in the early 2000s with things like Fruity Loops and Pro Tools. Ashley did it first, and he did it so well. There is so much to be learned from him, and his music."

Song: "The Canadian Dream," Sam Roberts
Endorsed by: 
Drew McTaggart (Dear Rouge)

"From the lyrics, 'everything moves real slow when it's 40 below,' you can teach kids about the Canadian cold and its effect on our culture, and human behaviours. Also, at the end of this song, when Sam spells out 'S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-M,' you can use that as an opportunity to discuss political and economical theories with kids."

Song: "You Needed Me," Anne Murray
Endorsed by: Shakura S'Aida

"I think being a teenager at any time is really rough. With Anne Murray's song 'You Needed Me,' it was the song that opened me up to the thought that somebody out there could hear me, acknowledge my existence, who could know what I was feeling, and be there for me. I hope that kids can hear themselves in this song, identify with the lyrics, and study who Anne Murray is, where she came from and how she got to where she is. We should learn about her, and her journey."

Song: "One Great City," the Weakerthans
Endorsed by: 
Kalle Mattson

"This is the best apathetic love song to a Canadian city to be written by another Canadian. I also think that the way John K. Samson brings you in on this song, he makes you feel like it could be any city in the world. John's lyrics are a lesson in creative writing, and should definitely be taught in school. " 

Song: "Poets," the Tragically Hip
Endorsed by: 
Donovan Woods 

"'Poets' is a beautiful rock song with a poetic, and tough, anthemic lyric, where a grown man is not afraid to be poetic in a rock song, and sing words that are interesting and convoluted, needing to be unpacked. Gord Downie is a guy who writes poetry, and he makes everybody sing along to his poetry, that's what he does. There is so much value in that, and there is something uniquely Canadian about Gord's lyrics. They would be a great addition to any Canadian curriculum."

Song: "The Black Fly Song," Wade Hemsworth
Endorsed by: 
Justin Rutledge

"I think that 'The Black Fly Song' should be mandatory in school. Black flies are everywhere, and they are not going away. But the black fly is also something that unifies us as Canadians: a common factor. So let's celebrate the black fly, by teaching this song in schools, please." 

Song: ","John K. Samson
Endorsed by: 
Andy Maize (Skydiggers

"It's a petition that was started by John K. Samson several years ago to promote Reggie Leach, a.k.a. the Riverton Rifle, into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had a 61-goal season, a 50-goal season and a Stanley Cup. Leach is ... from the Berens River First Nation. John and a few others worked together comparing Reggie Leach's career statistics to others who are already in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and how he measures up, and put forth why he should be inducted. He delivered it by hand with a group of people, and they sang this song as they delivered the petition with the signatures on it."

Song: "Heartbeats Accelerating," Kate and Anna McGarrigle
Endorsed by: 
Coeur de pirate

"This song is rhythmically challenging, and it talks about love and the beautiful ways of speaking about it. It's a very Canadian song, but with a dance-hall beat to it, which is amazing. I thought that mash-up was fascinating. I think this song would be great in any music class." 

Song: "Lodestar," Sarah Harmer
Endorsed by: 
Caroline Brooks (the Good Lovelies

"I don't think you can get much more of a Canadian tune than 'Lodestar.' A great thing about this song is that the lyrics are reflected in the music. This song would be a great way to teach children how to write poetry for the mood and tone you are given. There are basically two parts to this song: in the first part, it is very outward-looking, experiencing the stars and the lake, and then it turns inward, focusing on how you would feel being out on the lake, in the water. It reflects exactly what Sarah was trying to say."

Song: "Acadian Driftwood," the Band
Endorsed by: 
Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake SwimmersBelle Starr)

"When I went to school, I did not learn about the Acadian deportation, the mass deportation of a whole group of people from the Nova Scotia area, who were taken and deposited down south to work around the New Orleans area. They became 'Cajun[s].' This song is a beautiful narrative about trying to fight one's way back up to Acadia, to the land that they had been tossed away from."

Song: "I Can Feel It," Sloan
Endorsed by:
 Jim Bryson 

"Let's be frank and honest: this is a beautiful and heart-warming love song, and who doesn't love and need a song like that every now and again? A crush is a crush, and a crush can be a wonderful thing. I quote Prince here: 'Dig if you will, a picture,' how great would it be to go on YouTube one day and see kids from across Canada singing this, and see the blushing, and maybe even a heel-to-heel dance step or two?"

Song: "Heart of Gold," Neil Young
Endorsed by:

"I think that Neil Young's song 'Heart of Gold' would most definitely have to be my pick. Every single lyric in that song is so poignant. The message is such an amazing message to spread across this land, and teach kids about what it is to live life, and to become your end result, once you finally realize it. That is a feeling we are all seeking, and we all strive for, but Neil Young put it in the most poetic way possible, over the perfect piece of music."

Song: "The Ballad of Wendel Clark," Rheostatics
Endorsed by: Whitehorse 

"This song introduces what it means to be uniquely Canadian from a musical perspective. I think the fact that it's all right to be into Neil Young, and still be into Rush, fine art, literature and enforcer-style hockey at the same time while bringing it all in to one cohesive perspective is Canadian. To me, that's very valuable on its own. Aside from this song, the Rheos could be a Canadian course, in and of itself."

Song: "At the Hundredth Meridian," the Tragically Hip
Endorsed by: Tim Tamashiro (Tonic, on Radio 2) 

"This song teaches the precise spot in Canada where the country divides into half, being dry, flat prairies into Western Canada, and the other half turning into the more damp, urban part of Eastern Canada. The 100th meridian lands almost right at the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and that's something that could be easily remembered. When kids hear this song, they might remember all about the 100th meridian, where the great plains begin, all courtesy of their teachers, the Tragically Hip."

Song: "Bring Me A Rose," Jenn Grant
Endorsed by: 
Peter Katz

"I think something that is missing from the traditional curriculum is our own emotional curriculum, and being able to deal with something like loss. In this song, Jenn took a very sad event, the loss of her mother, and turned it into this beautiful song. I think that would be a very valuable skill for young people to learn: the answer to the question, 'What do I do with this? And how would an artistic, creative process help you deal with it?'" 

Song: "Space Oddity" Chris Hadfield (David Bowie cover)
Endorsed by: Emm Gryner 

"In this version, Chris tells his own story about being the first Canadian commander of the space station. It is very unique, and amazing. There are also space station sounds put in by Chris: he recorded ambient noise, and a few different things and they are in the song. The vocals were also recorded in space. I remember sending David Bowie an email asking him to listen to this, and he called this one of the most poignant versions of this song ever. "

Song: "This Land is Your Land," the Travellers' Canadian version (written originally by Woody Guthrie)
Endorsed by: 
Rich Terfry (Drive on Radio 2)

"I was taught this song in music class when I was a kid, and learned all about the diverse terrain of the Canadian landscape: Vancouver Island, the Arctic Circle, the Great Lakes, all that stuff in this great version of the song."

Song: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," the Band
Endorsed by: 
Terra Lightfoot

"This song contains a ton of historical information, and though it may be American in nature, it was written by one of the best Canadian bands of all time. I think it's important to tell these stories because songs that have societal impact are extremely important. It's important to get these history lessons through music, and it's really the most viable way to get children to learn — through song. It's a way that helps them understand, and have fun singing along to this amazing song in the process." 

Song: "Waitress," Jane Siberry
Endorsed by: 
Alejandra Ribera 

"I think this would be a very fun song for kids to learn in school. As a musician, I know that a lot of us start off supporting ourselves by becoming waiters or waitresses, and it's the job that a lot of people take to put themselves through school. Nobody teaches you that. This song is a very funny tune, and it gives you a lot of great tips about how to be a great waiter."

Song: "Share the Land," the Guess Who
Endorsed by: 
Ewan Currie (the Sheepdogs

"In my opinion, the Guess Who are the greatest Canadian band. This song tells us to share the land, live together. I remember learning about sharing, and [being] conscientious when I was a kid, and this song can help. The verses of this song are in a minor key, but in the chorus it switches to a major key, which makes the chorus sound really epic. So if you hear this song in music class, you can figure out how to write an epic chorus, instead of being the one who just says, 'Whoa, that chorus is epic.' Learning these fundamentals gives you the tools, and blueprint, to write an amazing song."