Canada...Land of Many, Many Rock Stars

The History of Canadian Rock 'n' Roll By Bob Mersereau Backbeat Books, 288 pp., $24.99.

Any book that attempts to offer bite-size career capsules of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Guess Who, Triumph, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, K.D. Lang, Alanis Morissette, Rush, Leonard Cohen, Ian & Sylvia, April Wine, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Men Without Hats, Tegan and Sara, Michael Buble, Arcade Fire and Justin Beiber in one tome certainly gets credit for its breadth and ambition.

Then again, the country of Canada consists of almost 3.9 million square miles. That's a lot of space to cover with music.

Mersereau, a music journo and producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Company since 1985, has tackled the topic with skill, if a somewhat Wikipedia-style writing style sometimes. But a chunk of the interest in this book is the connections that he makes between the acts and the unique conditions and challenges that Canadian musicians have.

After all, it's a big country with detailed regional scenes, and without the venues, media and centers of recording activity that its neighbor to the south has in abundance. Still, that hasn't stopped Rockin' (and Croonin'...and Screamin'...) Canucks from making a big impact worldwide.

Neil Young, Rush and Celine Dion are perhaps the most successful acts to come from the Great White North, in radically different genres. Morissette's Jagged Little Pill was the best selling rock album of the '90s. Nickelback was declared the "Top Rock Band" of 2000-2009 by Billboard. And the artist with the record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the British charts since they started keeping charts? Bryan Adams.

But Mersereau's book also covers lesser-known acts who either made brief impacts in the U.S. or remain Canadian favorites like The Tragically Hip, Terry Jacks, Chilliwack and Lighthouse. And the country's Sarah MacLachlan gave us the Lilith Fair and commercial with starving animals.

The careers of Canadian producers like Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan), Bob Rock (Metallica, Aerosmith), Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, KISS) and David Foster (Michael Jackson, Celine Dion) are also covered.

The book does suffer a bit from the dearth of original interviews, because when an artist gets a chance for extended commentary from the vantage point of today, it's enlightening. Nevertheless, it's a compact guide to decade of Canadian performers and music.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero