The 10 Most Influential Canadian Musicians

The 10 Most Influential Canadian Musicians


Today is Canada Day, the national holiday of North America’s other, more icy power state, and to mark the event I thought it would be fun to write a feature piece. Now, I’m not Canadian, nor I have any connection what so ever with the maple state, however some of my most beloved artists hail from there, so I guess this has to count for something, right?

Bellow you can browse through a list of the ten most influential Canadian musicians that through out their careers’ span have shaped and directed countless artists and musical genres that followed in their footsteps.

10. D.O.A.


The Vancouver punk band D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival) is not only one of the most influential Canadian bands, but also one of the most memorable punk acts in the world. Convinced anarchists and activists D.O.A. were responsible for coining the term and genre hardcore, which has now seen countless mutations across the hundreds of bands who have adopted the style. Their most important work is at the same time one of their earliest, in the form of D.O.A.’s 1981 LP “Hardcore ’81.” The album is simply one hell of a ride, just like any other punk rock aficionado will tell you.

Currently, the band is still active, having released last year a new, though not so well received, album  titled “Northern Avengers” and touring through out the world.

9. Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morisette

The winner of countless Grammy and Juno Awards, the Canadian beauty with a voice of gold Alanis Morissette has had her music reach the ears of millions of people around the world. A sparkling talent since her teens, Alanis is a true ambassador of Canadian music and a pillar for the contemporary alt-rock/pop scene. Her most notable album is the 1995 “Jagged Little Pill” which moved well over 30 million copies and contains classic hits such as “Perfect” or “Ironic.” Her latest album released was the 2008 “Flavors of Entanglement,” which ranked #37 in our top 50 albums of ’08 list.

8. Celine Dion

Celine Dion

One of the most successful pop artists in history with more than 200 million records sold, Celine Dion has one of the most widely recognized female voices in the world. Hate her or love her, she’s one of Canada’s most prized gems and no one in their right minds can possible deny her incredible talent. Before reaching her career’s peak with the 1997 “Let’s Talk About Love,” which included the soundtrack for the blockbuster Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On,” she also gained worldwide commercial and critical recognition thanks to her 1993 “The Colour of My Love” and the 1996 “Falling Into You.”

7. The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip

Hailing from Kingston, Ontorio, The Tragically Hip or just The Hip is one of the most loved bands in Canada, having earned numerous awards and #1 positions in the Canadian Music Charts. Referred to many as the Canadian R.E.M., because of the similarities in style and frontmen vocal range, The Hip is not so well known outside of Canada like some of its fellow country men musicians, however the band’s uncanny passion and incredible live performances have managed to win countless hearts.

6. The Band

The Band

When looking back at The Band‘s rich and packed with value discography, it’s really hard for the word influential not to come in mind. Initially having been Bob Dylan’s back up band, while they were still playing under the name of The Hawks, The Band shattered a lot of perceptions people had over music, especially country music. Their debut, and at the same time most important, album “Music from Big Pink” caused nothing less then a revolution.

5. Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was one of the key players in the late ’60s-’70s folk movement scene, establishing herself as a talented singer/songwriters. Her 1971 confessional album “Blue” broke every chart that year and there isn’t virtually any list compiled by any respectable music magazine that doesn’t mention it. Joni Mitchell – a well of inspiration!

4. The Guess Who

The Guess Who

Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, The Guess Who were the first ever Canadian rock band to have a #1 single in the American Billboard Chart with their explosive, timeless “American Woman.” Back in the ’70s they were basically synonymous with the term “Canadian Rock” and even got to play at the Nixon White House. Their masterful combination of hard-rock with roots jazz made them one of history most sought at acts and earned the band millions of fans and records sold.

3. Rush


Alongside Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, Yes or Van Der Graaf Generator, the Torontonians of Rush were part of the progressive rock apex from the ’70s, to mid ’80s. Like many progressive bands from their time, Rush tackled many genres, from heavy metal to hard rock to synth pop, and they rocked the house regardless of what they played.

2. Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Poet, singer/songwriter, novelist, a true artist in all the word’s right, Leonard Cohen undoubtedly belongs to the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters,” as described by Lou Reed. Although the Montreal wordsmith’s lyrics were somewhat darker, Cohen’s wit and charm made every song of his shine like a star. He’s also one of the most covered artists, with thousands of renditions of Cohen’s songs having been performed by countless artists such as Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Judy Collins and many more. Also, as a sign of his impressive influence, he’s songs have been covered in over 32 tribute records recorded in other languages.

For the last 15 years, Leonard Cohen has been pretty elusive, only releasing some new material from to time, but with no live appearances whatsoever  – until last year that is, when he embarked on a massive tour which continues to present day.

1. Neil Young

Neil Young

Although he approached a diverse array of genres through out his career, Neil Young will always be remembered for his folk-esque acoustic guitar that made him a living legend. He’s a distinct lyricist and singer, but maybe above all he’s an incredible showman and performer, delivering some of the best live concerts in history. Just by making quick rundown over his discography one can easily see how immensely talented he is, with 33 studio albums released and countless number one singles under his belt. Again, A LIVING LEGEND!

BONUS – honorable mentions

  • Rufus Wainwright
  • Bryan Adams
  • Nickleback
  • Paul Anka
  • Hot Hot Heat
  • Steppenwolf
  • Hank Snow
  • Shania Twain
  • Arcade Fire

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  • Eric

    List seriously lacks some Skinny Puppy

  • David Blake

    Kate and Anna McGarrigle should also be mentioned.

  • Bananz

    What kind of list is this? You give Hot Hot Heat honorable mention? They have four albums. None of them any good. How are they influential in any way? Not to mention how absolutely terrible Nickleback is. This is insulting to Canadian music lovers. You should be kicked, repeatedly.

  • thet1m

    As far as influential musicians go, I feel that The Arcade Fire are too new to be on here, Nickelback is too suck to be on here and Hot Hot Heat just aren’t accomplished enough. Perhaps you are just a biased fan when making honorable mentions. But then I would have included Raine Maida/OLP on my list. Seriously though, Nickelback is not an influential group, nor are they a decent, good or even respectable.

  • Stephen DeCourcy

    What about David Foster?

  • Rockosaurus Rex

    How about Anvil?!?

  • richrhodes

    Neil Young? Are you kidding me? He IS a part of music history with many memorable songs and albums, but where has he been in the last 30 years? How about treating Rush with more respect…a band that has been relevant for 35 years. And not that I am a fan of either artist, but no mention for Gordon Lightfoot or Anne Murray…again, not my cup of tea, but mention…this list is way short and way lacking in serious thought.

  • canuckken

    There are many I feel could have made the list such as Triumph, Stampeders or even Chilliwack but to leave Gordon Lightfoot off the list is unforgivable. Perhaps the writers age has something to do with his poor decission making. I understand much is debatable but Gordon Lightfoot is a no brainer, at least with Canadians my age who where born in the 60’s.
    I agree with most of you selection but to mention Hot Hot Heat and not mention Gordon Lightfoot falls way to short of who truly was and still is Canada’s most influential musicians.

  • Amanda

    I really think that some of the honourable mentions are not so worth mentioning… specially the newbies… if you wanted to list some new-er rock band how about someone intstantly recognizable like Our Lady Peace or Moist/David Usher??? Plus I feel that Helix deserves an honourable mention for definite.. just for being Helx lol

  • kjcrooks

    I agree with canuckken and think not having Gordon Lightfoot on the list is just wrong. I disagree with richrhodes comment concerning Neil Young. If you take the time to do a little reading you will soon discover that he is as relevant today as he was 30 years ago. Relevance and being influential comes in many forms. It is not necessary to be producing top selling Cd’s to be influential. Just read common knowledge about Mr. Young that can be found in places such as Wikipedia and you will be astonished.
    Also what about April Wine. They are still producing great music and I personally think they should be on the the list.

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  • Andrew

    Umm.. WTF!? Nickelback gets an honorable mention and Our Lady Peace isn’t even considered? And The Hip isn’t in the top 3!? Ask anyone what Canadian music is and they’ll tell you the hip, also Rush should be higher than they already are

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