It was only recently that I realised that a great many of the female singers of my favourite songs were all from Canada. I've spoken in the past about my conversion, slowly like Constantine and Christianity, towards female music. It was a process that could never be pinned down to a specific date but, as in The Battles of The Milvian Bridge or Frigidus, it's only later that the real significance can be discerned (or imputed retrospectively).
Canada has produced some pretty damn fine female singers. Let's take them in chronological order, as they appeared to me, shall we? And give them a song each.
Alanis Morrisette - Head over Heels
Anyone who doesn't like Jagged Little Pill (1995) is a fucking idiot. There aren't many perfect albums out there. The odd Beatles long player, Astral Weeks - Van Morrison, Achtung Baby - U2, The Byrds first album, but Alanis delivers HUGH on her third album. It's funny, provocative, and the music is as tight as it gets. I picked Head Over Heels because I think it's the most complete song on the album, musically and lyrically. It's optimistic and happy, a honeymoon period song. The sort of song you'd always hope someone would write about you before they find you out.
It was, of course, the high water mark of Alanis. A bat-shit crazy hippy, she'd delivered her one stab at posterity before disappearing up her own backside. She's still there allowing her to hand over to her fellow compatriots...
Celine Dion - Think Twice (1994)
Okay, so she's like your mum and hogs the middle of the road like some corporate VP asked to comment on anything controversial at a staff meeting. And seriously, what was the point of General Wolfe dying folks? Vous avez un fucking rire. True but no one denies that the girl can sing and sometimes, given serendipity and the right song, she's queen of the last dance, erection section. I always liked 'Falling into You' which is dreamy and fluid, and shows off Celine's beautiful tone. But recently I've been drawn towards Think Twice. She floats in this song, serenely sailing towards the island of beautiful melodies, thousands of waving lighters marking the way. Noodling heavy guitar and treated drum 90's beats, provide the requisite soft-rock back drop to this classic. And that high sustained note! You go girl!
Fun fact; Think Twice was written by British song writer Andy Hill, who, if he did nothing else, is famous for writing all my favourite Bucks Fizz songs including the 80's pop masterwork that is Piece of the Action.
Well I know it sounds funny but I don't wanna be in love // I just want a piece of the action.
Another unsung British hero.
Shania Twain - You're Still The One
I had a view about Shania Twain for years - namely that she was sexy and sassy and the singer of comedy lightweight country songs that had punning titles - step forward, Man, I Feel Like A Woman. And then I came across this song. A totally different vein. There's a vulnerability about her voice, it sounds raw, late night, cracked; honest. No jokes, no routines, just a sincere acoustic strum you could image down The Bluebird Cafe (yes, I watch Nashville). I love the backing vocals and the way they anticipate Shania's lead on the chorus by half a bar - "You're still the one..." The tune is special but the way she delivers it. Man, I Feel That Woman's Power.
Shania's got a very devoted fanbase and reading their comments about the behaviour of her erstwhile husband, Mutt Lange, who's the subject of this song, is instructive. Apparently Mutt thought it good idea to cheat on the beautiful Shania with her best friend. Classy mate. Real classy. I guess Mutt's no longer the one.
Avril Lavigne - Take Me Away
She's like so, whatever // And you could do so much better
Sure she's a brat and - like Pink - if her lyrics are anything like her real personality, she's probably really hard to be with... But. But. I love her shouty grungy guitar driven sound, even if she is, in her own words 'A motherfucking princess'. I first got into Avril around 2003, about the same time as Lucie Silvas. I'd play her album 'Let Go' constantly - getting down to Sk8ter Boi, Complicated, chuckling to the smut of Things I'll Never Say. But the apogee of Avril, for me, was her second album, Under My Skin, where the guitars are ramped up to eleven, the vocals still crystal clear, the harmonies challenging, not smooth. This is RAWK album, sung by a teenage girl backed by some severe amplification. Hell yeah! I could pick any of the songs on this album - Together, Forgotten, My Happy Ending - but Take Me Away is probably the most representative - borrowing grunge trick number 1 (this is the quiet bit / this is the loud bit), angsty lyrics, great singing, great harmonies.
I can't handle this confusion / I'm unable... // Come and take me away,
Footnote to the Avril story. My girls have graduated a little away from Taylor Swift and into shouty arms of Avril. I'm cool with that. I'm down with the kids, yeah. I was there first! Now I just await their conversion into Beatles fans. Elvis fans. Stones fans. I'll save The Smiths for myself!