We often hear about Drake representing Toronto in his music, but what about other artists? There are a ton of Toronto mentions in music, thanks to the city’s uncanny ability to inspire. Here is the first part of our list of favourite songs about Toronto (some of them might surprise you).
The Zolas “Get Dark”
The Zolas “Get Dark” was released in 2016 as part of their record Swooner. The song itself pays homage to Toronto winters — jumping from place to place underground, dealing with the lessening light of the sun, and partying it up throughout the long nights. Direct mentions to Toronto are in the lyrics, with the opening line being “Down on King street Kelly’s getting dark at the pharmacy.”
Metric “Fanfare, Parkdale”
An ode to the west end Toronto neighbourhood, “Parkdale” was originally supposed to release on Metric’s debut album, which was supposed to be titled Grow Up and Blow Away. Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? was released instead as the band’s debut album, with GUaBA coming out many years later in 2007.
Great Lakes Swimmers “Concrete Heart”
Although the music video was filmed in Vancouver, “Concrete Heart” is a song written about Toronto. Lines like “This is the place where I felt/ Like the world’s tallest self-supporting tower” allude to the CN Tower, while the rest of the song describes falling in love with the city and everything it has to offer.
The Barenaked Ladies “Jane”
The character in “Jane” is “Jane St. Clair,” named after the intersection of Jane Street and St Clair Avenue in Toronto. According to Steven Page, Stephen Duffy saw the intersection on a map and said that it sounded so beautiful, while Page “didn’t wanna break his heart to tell him it wasn’t.”
Gordon Lightfoot “On Yonge Street”
Once upon a time you could catch Gordon Lightfoot playing in a bar along Yonge Street. “On Yonge Street” is of course referring to the long Toronto street where he grew his career as a famous Canadian folk musician.
Gord Downie “Christmastime in Toronto”
Downie moved to Toronto shortly after The Hip’s career took off, and “Christmastime in Toronto” is a love letter to the city. According to a feature by CBC, Downie’s favourite lyric in that song is “persistent snow,” which is a line he took from Anton Chekhov’s novel The Wife.
Stompin’ Tom Connors “To It and At It”
Stompin’ Tom is as Canadian as it gets. This is a guy who preferred to make music about Canadian things, kick it backwoods-style and sing about hockey, ketchup, and anything else that originates from Canada. He also supported Canadian artists and musicians like no one else. “To It and At It” is a song about East coasters travelling to Toronto, portraying images of settlers and the trying times they were in.
Jason Collett “Charlyn, Angel of Kensington”
This isn’t the Broken Social Scener’s only song about Toronto, however, “Charlyn, Angel of Kensington” has a great backstory to it. According to an interview between Collett and Straight, the song was inspired by a story that Collett’s wife told him about a woman named Charlyn who played a huge role in protecting Kensington Market from being urbanized. The woman is known in real life as the “Angel of Kensington.”
Luke Doucet “Mitzi’s”
Parkdale has so much character and history, is it even surprising that so many songs are dedicated to the tiny neighbourhood? Another song about Parkdale, Luke Doucet’s “Mitzi’s” is named after the famous Parkdale restaurant Mitzi’s Cafe. “It’s a strangely quiet Parkdale morning/ Maybe everybody else is dead/ I’m so glad they’re still serving up at Mitzi’s.”
Jazz Cartier “The Downtown cliche”
Being from the city himself, Toronto is a familiar theme in Jazz Cartier’s music. “The Downtown Cliche” speaks specifically to Toronto, with shout outs to its downtown core and other neighbourhoods within the track.
Clairmont the Second “Owning the City”
In his album Quest for Milk and Honey, Clairmont the Second often references Toronto’s west end, specifically Weston Road, which is mentioned in “Owning the City.” “One of the things is that I feel like the entire west end is not represented in like mainstream music or really up there,” Clairmont told the CBC in an interview.
How much more Toronto can you get than a song named after the Don Valley Parkway? “DVP” is a song off the Toronto band’s second album The Dream is Over, released in 2016.
Lowest of the Low “Just About the ‘Only’ Blues”
“Just About the ‘Only’ Blues” is named after The Only Cafe on the Danforth. In fact, pretty much most of that album (Shakespeare My Butt…) was a nod to Toronto. “I was hanging out in the streets — the Annex, Sneaky’s, Bathurst, Queen St — I was writing a lot of lyrics. Sort of feeling superficially imposed on the cinematicness in my life,” Ron Hawkins told the Toronto Star on the making of that album.
Rheostatics “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds”
The Rheostatics are deeply embedded in Toronto’s music scene. The band has been around since the 80s, and made a name for themselves through playing at various Toronto venues like the Horseshoe. in “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds,” the song directly mentions Kipling and serves as a nod to Toronto.
Neil Young “Ambulance Blues”
Young’s “Ambulance Blues” references Yorkville in the 1960s, when Young himself lived on Isabella St.
The Tragically Hip “Toronto #4”
Toronto isn’t a stranger to The Hip’s music — even though most of the band is from Kingston, Downie did spend time living in Toronto. The song is famously mentioned in The Hip’s hit “Bobcaygeon,” as well as others. From the album Music @ Work, The Hip named this particular song after our city.
Blue Rodeo “Beverley Street”
This song is named after Beverley Street in Toronto, a street that runs north/south from Queen St West to College.
Leonard Cohen “Closing Time”
It is said that Leonard Cohen wrote “Closing Time” as an ode to the Matador, a Toronto bar located on Dovercourt that recently shut down. Cohen was a frequent performer at the club, where he even filmed the song’s music video.
Image courtesy Loozrboy via Flickr