The strange silence of songbirds
Think about the number of songs with the names of American cities in the title. I’m sure I could cite one from every state: New York, New York, I Left my Heart in San Francisco, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Tallahassee Lassie, Viva Las Vegas, Streets of Laredo, Hollywood Nights, Philadelphia Freedom, Chicago, Do You Know the Way to San Jose. You get the idea. Even a mere spot on the American map merits a mention. Jackson Browne wrote the first line, “Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” Glenn Frey finished the rest, and Take it Easy became a big hit for The Eagles.
Compare that with Canada where I can count the number of song titles containing Canadian cities on the fingers of one hand: Sudbury Saturday Night, by Stompin’ Tom Connors, Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon by The Guess Who, and Bobcaygeon by The Tragically Hip. Even one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot, gave us only one song with a Canadian place name, Alberta Bound. To get the list all the way up to my fifth finger I have to include Helpless, by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young where Neil Young managed to sneak the words “There is a town in North Ontario” into the lyrics.
The list of Canadian singers without a Canadian place name in any of their top songs is lengthy: Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Micheal Bublé, Nickelback, k.d. lang, Blue Rodeo, Hank Snow, Leonard Cohen, The Weeknd, Diana Krall, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Even our most famous songbird, Anne Murray is silent on Canadian cities. As if to prove my point, the most recent Canadian songster to gain fame in the U.S., William Prince, has done a duet with Willie Nelson and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in February. There are no Canadian cities in his titles.
Is this some sort of conspiracy? An oversight? My suspicion is that they don’t want to tempt fate in the U.S. market by singing about some Canadian city that the Americans never heard of. I can almost understand that way of thinking for someone early in their career, but once established, you’d think they’d feel a little freer to celebrate their home country without fretting they’d suddenly be ditched by American fans.
Or maybe they’re representing Canadians exactly the way we are, hiding under a huge inferiority complex. The most we can muster to Americans is, “We’re different from you.” Why don’t we say we’re the same as you, only better? Why not strive to be foremost? That would be the best song of all.