Since Ron and I posted our picks for the top 20 albums by Nova Scotians a few weeks ago, we’ve been having a lively debate between ourselves about individual songs by our fellow Bluenosers. We decided to do things a bit differently – this time out we have tossed critical objectivity out the proverbial window in favour of embracing our own feelings. Accordingly, we each agreed to pick our favourite five songs based solely on our own idiosyncratic points of view… and then we added five more that were “honourable mentions,” because we both found it too difficult to winnow it down to just a quintet!
These are the songs that we love the most, for reasons that we each briefly describe as best we can. It can be hard even for practiced wordsmiths like Ron and me to put feelings into words sometimes – how exactly, for example, do I describe the joy I feel when listening to “You Feel The Same Way Too” by the Rankin Family other than to say “it’s just so irresistibly fun”?
Speaking of the Rankins, it’s worth noting that Ron and I each chose a song by the first family of Nova Scotia music, and then I added another in my honourable mentions. He and I might be rockers at heart, but neither of us can resist the wonderful song craft and pure joie de vivre of the clan from Cape Breton.
Your choices will no doubt differ from our eclectic lists, because there’s so much great stuff from which to choose. We hope you feel inspired to leave a comment and let us know your “fave five”!
Rose Cousins – “If You Were For Me”
I sat next to a girl once and desperately wanted to kiss her. So I screwed up my courage and leaned in… and it was wonderful. In another universe, we both knew that we would have been for each other. But in this one, because the stars aligned in a different direction, we weren’t. This beautifully heartbreaking song by Rose Cousins was written for the two of us that live in this universe, and everyone else like us.
Wintersleep – “Search Party”
We all have dreams when we’re young. We’re going to change the world. Life will be a grand adventure. We’ll travel, and live and laugh and love, and make every minute of every day mean something. And then one day we hear a sound. It’s faint at first, just out of reach. But then it grows louder and louder, until we finally realize it’s the sound of our own subconscious screaming in pain and anger and self-loathing at what we’ve become… at which point we either go on a holiday, or blow our brains out. Either way, the end result is pretty much the same. “Search Party” brings that stark existential truth home.
Blackpool – “Days and Days”
Chiming guitars and a rollicking and carefree summer night classic rock beat serve as the foundation for the strained but honestly resonant voice of John Wesley Chisholm belting out lyrics that could come straight from any young man’s heart, about the kind of girl that every guy falls in love with once in their lives, or least hopes he will. The kind of girl who gives you looks that last for days and days.
The Rankin Family – “Feel The Same Way Too”
When I think of Nova Scotia, this is often the first song that comes to mind. When I imagine what heaven sounds like (should such a place exist), I hear the voices of the Rankins harmonizing. The Rankin Family had so many wonderful songs in their career – “Fare Thee Well Love”, “Gillis Mountain”, “Rise Again”, “North Country”, and on and on – but this one is my favourite. My closest friends will tell you that I almost always refuse to dance in public, the result of my inherent shyness… but this is the one song that I’ll always make an exception for, because it’s just so irresistibly fun.
Matt Mays – “Take It On Faith”
I remember the first time I heard this song – it was on the car radio early one evening in the summer as I was driving near Lawrencetown Beach. I pulled over, put the car in park, turned the volume up, hopped out, leaned against the hood, and watched the waves thunder against the shore. That’s what this song does – it thunders over the horizon of your soul and washes over you with a kind of other-worldly force that drives home its simple yet profound message. “Bet your life on mine, take it on faith, my love.”
Cool Blue Halo – “Too Much Kathleen”
Sloan – “The Other Man”
Leonard Conan – “Frightened Of”
The Rankin Family – “Fare Thee Well Love”
April Wine – “I Wouldn’t Want to Lose Your Love”
Sloan – “Underwhelmed”
This early 1990s late grunge classic is too fast for shoegazing, too smart for pop radio, and too cool to be ignored. Whether it’s the medieval harmonies (fourths and fifths, mostly) or the deliciously ambiguous wordplay, “Underwhelmed” remains an enduring delight.
The Rankin Family – “Fisherman’s Son”
One of the early classics from the Mabou, Cape Breton band, “Fisherman’s Son” starts with an unstoppable ‘la la la la la la’ chorus and then never lets up. With the three Rankin sisters singing like manic pixies and the full band ramping up throughout, “Fisherman’s Son” celebrates place, continuity, family and lingering traditions with enthusiasm and compassion. It’s the ultimate East Coast singalong song, because the sea is still our lifeline, and the shore is still our home.
Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Nowhere With You”
Plaskett’s playfully existential anthem is also about a place, and that place is Halifax, or Dartmouth, or anyplace that doesn’t seem all that important as long as you’re together with somebody you love, or just desire a lot. Bone-simple, with a chorus that you just can’t shake, “Nowhere With You” contains one of Plaskett’s best ever lines, which reduces the East Coast to an unforgettable few syllables: “I’m so cheap I might as well be free.” Indeed!
Everyday People – “I Like What I Like”
Way, way, way back in the early 1970s, Bruce Wheaton, Pam Marsh and a gaggle of other East Coasters formed a band named after Sly Stone’s hit “Everyday People”. They signed to GRT Records in Canada and Paramount Records in the USA, releasing a single very potent long-player that featured a six minute early dance-floor epic written by Wheaton that became a wayward hit from San Francisco to New York City. Beginning with pulsating drums, and then gaining momentum with some of the strangest vocal arrangements ever, “I Like What I Like” eventually morphs into an absurdly catchy chorus. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Four The Moment – “I Love You Woman”
This 1989 song by the four-piece all-female Halifax-based African Nova Scotian acapella group Four the Moment remains one of the all-time great recordings ever done on the East Coast. Written by Delvina Bernard and featured in the opening moments of Sylvia Hamilton and Claire Preito’s NFB film Black Mother, Black Daughter, it brings unadulterated soul and passion to a celebration of community in an a capella tour-de-force. From a group that refused to compromise the integrity of their music by playing the record company game, this is a song that reminds listeners that music sometimes is an end, utterly and completely, in and of itself.
Rita McNeil – “Flying On Your Own”
Classified – “Oh Canada”
Pepper Tree – “Airplane”
Joel Plaskett – “Love This Town”
David Myles – “When It’s My Time”