As the late fifties gave way to the sixties, stars of the previous decade were still producing hits, but they were quickly losing ground as they struggled to find material that would click with this new and energetic generation. However,
“The Stroll” continued to be a popular dance craze well into the 60’s alongside dances like “The Twist” and “The Mashed Potato”. The first Canadian-made and produced rock recording to achieve international popularity was “Clap Your Hands” in 1960 by a Montreal quartet, The Beaumarks. Shortly thereafter, they appeared on American Bandstand and a charity concert at Carnegie Hall. Bobby Curtola from Port Arthur, Ontario had several songs on the Canadian music charts beginning with “Hand In Hand With You” in 1960. His biggest chart-topper came in 1962 with the song, “Fortune Teller”, which was also successful internationally. In 1966, he won an RPM Gold Leaf Award (The Gold Leaf Awards, which were in effect the first Juno Awards) for being the first Canadian to have a gold album. The CHUM Chartdebuted on May 27, 1957, under the name CHUM’s Weekly Hit Parade, to 1986, and was the longest-running Top 40 chart in Canada.
During the 1960’s Canadian music was regarded with indifference and Canadian recording artists were forced to turn toward the United States to establish their careers. In 1960 Walt Grealis of Toronto started in the music business with Apex Records, the Ontario distributor for Compo Company (founded in 1918), Canada’s first independent record company that today is part of Universal. He later joined London Records, where he worked until February 1964, when he then established RPM weekly trade magazine. From the first issue of RPM Weekly on February 24, 1964 to its final issue on November 13, 2000, RPM was the defining charts in Canada. The popularity of US rock on the two Canadian charts led to many existing groups, especially those devoted to country music, to change styles or to incorporate some rock style hits in their repertoires.
Country rock and folk rock singers like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Denny Doherty (of The Mamas & the Papas), David Clayton-Thomas (of Blood, Sweat & Tears), Andy Kim, Zal Yanovsky (of The Lovin’ Spoonful), John Kay (of Steppenwolf), and Ian & Sylvia found international audiences. One important example was a Winnipeg band called Chad Allan & the Expressions, which had a 1965 hit with a version of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”. They would eventually evolve into The Guess Who, the first Canadian rock group to have a No.1 hit that reached the top on the Canadian Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, with “American Woman” in 1970. Their success paved the way for a new wave of Canadian singer-songwriters, including Stan Rogers, Murray McLauchlan, Bruce Cockburn and Willie P. Bennett.
Unlike the generation before, the late sixties American and British counter culture and hippie movements had diverted rock towards psychedelic rock, heavy metal, progressive rock and many other styles, most dominated by socially and politically incisive lyrics. The music was an attempt to reflect upon the events of the time — civil rights, the growing unrest in America over the war in Vietnam, and the rise of feminism. In many instances, the “message” within the song was simplistic or banal. Although only two of the five original members of Steppenwolf were born in Canada (Jerry Edmonton and Goldy McJohn), the band was among the biggest in Canadian music in the 1960’s and 1970’s. German born frontman, John Kay, would later become a Canadian citizen and was the only member of Steppenwolf to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame. Steppenwolf is most famous for the songs Born to Be Wild, Magic Carpet Ride and The Pusher. Born to be Wild is the group’s biggest hit, making it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, becoming one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and becoming one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Another one of the most prominent players of the late 60’s and early 70’s rock scene was Neil Young, who was a member of the folk rock band Buffalo Springfield, before joining Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Young also recorded music with Crazy Horse throughout his solo career. The song “Ohio”, written by Neil Young and recorded with CSNY, was in response to political events of the time and has since become an America social icon of the period. “Ohio” was written about the death of four students at Kent State University. The students were shot by Ohio National Guardsmen during an anti-war protest on the campus in May 1970.