13 Great Songs by Calgary Acts

There are plenty of highlights in our city’s modern-era musical history. Here’s a playlist of a few.

For many decades, Calgary wasn’t exactly known as a hotbed of musical talent. Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver took all the credit as Canada’s music capitals. Sometimes, though, that credit has not been entirely deserved. One example: Vancouver claims Loverboy as a hometown band, but in fact, the 1980s mega-hitmakers met, formed and had their first rehearsals here in Calgary.

It’s been just over 35 years since Loverboy’s self-titled first album was released, and in celebration here’s a highly subjective look at some of the greatest popular music to come out of our city, in chronological order. The criteria: the artist or band must either be from Calgary or have developed a musical career here. The end result: one really great playlist.

The Stampeders – Wild Eyes | 1971

Still a classic-rock radio staple, “Wild Eyes” is an example of this Calgary-bred band’s transition from the sunny pop practitioners of “Sweet City Woman” to a seriously hard-rocking power trio. The best part: the original lineup continues to perform today at clubs and casinos around the city and beyond.

Loverboy – Turn Me Loose | 1980

Formed when singer Mike Reno met ex-Streetheart guitarist Paul Dean in a Calgary bar, Loverboy coalesced the spirit of the times by injecting sing-along choruses and New Wave-friendly synthesizers with a powerful shot of heavy guitar rock. The lead single from the band’s first album, “Turn Me Loose” gets better with age.

Jann ArdenCould I Be Your Girl | 1994

For many of us, Jann Arden was the first successful international artist who we all knew was from Calgary. This early hit remains one of her finest, with heart-tugging lyrics and a subtly pulsing track.

ZuckerbabyAndromeda | 1997

Mid-1990s radio-friendly alternative rock in a nutshell, “Andromeda” manages to be depressing and uplifting at the same time. And it still sounds amazing.

Cripple Creek Fairies – Red Sweater | 2001

The ageless Cripple Creek Fairies have been, and remain, a must-see live band. They play what they want, the way they want to, and that’s rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of punk, a dash of garage and a liberal helping of humour. This well-produced track is hard to sit still to – and it contains a reference to iconic local instrumental band Huevos Rancheros.

Tegan and SaraWalking With a Ghost 2004

Tegan and Sara have amassed a huge catalogue of great music and legions of fans worldwide. This track from their So Jealous album is one of the Quin twins’ best. Did we mention that they’re among our favourite Top 40 Under 40 alumni?

Paul BrandtAlberta Bound | 2004

It’s hard not to feel a swell of pride when this song comes on, even 11 years after it was released. We feel similar pride when we look at the talent and career of this Calgary-born, Airdrie-raised former pediatric nurse.

Feist Mushaboom | 2005

This track from Feist’s breakthrough album, Let It Die, captures everything that’s great about her music in one 3:44 snapshot. It’s relaxing, energizing, toe-tapping and thought-provoking, with a captivating melody. Leslie Feist cut her teeth toiling in the local music scene, and has accomplished the difficult task of not getting discouraged and continuing to advance her creativity.

The Dudes – Dropkick Queen of the Weekend | 2006

This song made a major splash, thanks in part to its licensing by Rogers Wireless for a TV commercial. The Dudes are the highest profile and most commercially successful project by Dan Vacon, the creative force behind a number of Calgary bands past and current (and probably future).

Woodpigeon – Now You Like Me How? | 2009

Woodpigeon is the definitive indie pop collective. The band is centred on the songwriting and musicianship of Mark Andrew Hamilton, who can count several dozen people as having been bandmates at one time or another. Woodpigeon has a global following – we wonder if it would be as popular if Hamilton hadn’t shortened the name from the original mouthful, Woodpigeon Divided By Antelope Equals Squirrel.

Jenavive – Change Yur Wayz | 2011

One of several configurations led by singer-keyboardist Jenavive Smith, the 2011 version of Jenavive rocks hard on this arresting track penned by Smith and her brother, guitarist Reg. Turning a dead-simple descending two-note progression into a killer hook is a neat trick. You’ll hear it done to perfection here.

Transit – Not For Clubs | 2011

Preeminent Calgary hip-hop artist Transit pulls out all the lyrical stops on this semi-autobiographical rap. Almost every line is quotable: “I’m a freedom fighter / Steven Tyler mixed with MacGyver / They told me to walk this way, but I escaped using a lighter and a set of pliers.”

KieszaHideaway | 2014

What more can be said about this ubiquitous track? Hideaway first gained traction with DJs in U.K. nightclubs, moving to radio where it topped the British charts in early 2014. From there it leapt across the Atlantic to North American airwaves, helped by the amazing continuous-shot video that showcases Kiesza’s dance skills. Did her success come overnight, out of nowhere? Sure, but only after years of dedication, toil, perseverance and talent honed on Calgary’s streets and stages.

Agree? Disagree? Did we miss any of your favourites? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

– Thanks to Heath McCoy for his input on this article.

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