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Brendan Canning: 5 songs that changed my life

Melody Lau

As the cliché goes, music is the soundtrack of our lives. But how does that play out for musicians, who put everything they have into actually creating the music we all know and love? In this series, CBC Music speaks with influential musicians and asks them to pick just five songs they worked on that changed their lives completely. A soundtrack to their professional life, as written by them.

Brendan Canning has been making music for almost 25 years now and while he's best known for cofounding Toronto collective Broken Social Scene, he spent most of the '90s (and latter '00s) in various other bands. From alt-rock band hHead to his brief stint in By Divine Right and even most recently, in 2012, his other offshoot project Cookie Duster, Canning is one busy musician.

Last week, Canning released his third solo album, Home Wrecking Years, a collection of throwback '90s ambient indie-rock numbers that serves as a great segue back into the studio with Broken Social Scene as news broke that the band is officially reuniting for a new album.  

Below, we asked Canning to comb through his 25-year discography and list five songs he wrote that changed his life. 

hHead, ‘Happy’ (1993)

"I won $100,000 with this song in 1993. CFMY-FM had this contest and the day before I was like, to the guys in hHead, 'We should enter it,' and they were like, 'We already did the year before.' But they were giving away $100,000; I thought it would be foolish not to at least go in the studio and try. And that’s exactly what happened; we booked a day at Umbrella Sound Studio. We made it to the semi-finals and played at Roy Thompson Hall and won $100,000. That was a little too much for a band at that point, but we were taking meetings with all kinds of people. We didn’t know how to make a record!"

Cookie Duster, ‘Two Feet Stand Up’ (2012)

"That song was written for a zit-cleaning remedy. At the time, it took a day to write. We needed something anthemic and for, you know, a 17-year-old girl. So we kept it up-tempo, got out of my comfort zone, and we wrote this song. Four years later, we re-recorded it. That was probably the song that got me a record deal in the U.S. with Cookie Duster."

Broken Social Scene, ‘Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl’ (2002)

"I chose this just because of the fact that you get so many people who love this song and it just feels like that’s my biggest hit. I came up with this song just in the basement, kind of whispering a little melody in [Emily Haines'] ear and she just ran with it. I’d never written a song like that before. [Broken Social Scene cofounder Kevin Drew] will talk about how he didn’t have that much to do with it but he was upstairs, saying, ‘Sounds terrible,’ then he came down and was like, ‘This sounds better’ — that’s playing a role."

Broken Social Scene, ‘Blues for Uncle Gibb’ (2001)

That [song] got used in Half Nelson, that Ryan Gosling movie. It’s funny because we were doing two movies at the same time. We were doing this one called Snow Cake, and we got that movie because they really liked 'Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl,' but Half Nelson ended up using maybe 12 songs from Broken Social Scene. 'Blues for Uncle Gibb' was used underneath a scene where Ryan Gosling was smoking crack in the bathroom and [actress Shareeka Epps] finds him in there all f--ked up."

Brendan Canning, ‘Book it to Fresno’ (2016)

"That was the lead-off song on Home Wrecking Years and probably the first song people heard where they were like, ‘Oh sh-t,’ right back in that pop, indie-rock thing. My publishers got behind me on that."

More to explore

Brendan Canning expands Broken Social Scene universe with new solo album

How Len and 'Steal My Sunshine' found life outside the charts

Listen to a new song from Broken Social Scene, 'Gonna Get Better'