folk songs toronto

The top 10 folk songs about Toronto

Toronto has a rich history of folk music, so it's no wonder that so many songs have been inspired by the city. From the smokey cafes of 1960s Yorkville to the Cameron House and Tranzac Club where a new wave of folk artists grace the stages, Toronto's love of folk music is mutual as musicians find inspiration from the city's cast of characters, commuter chaos, and the endless possibilities it offers.

These are my picks for the top folk songs about Toronto.

Great Lake Swimmers, "I Will Never See The Sun"
"I will never see the sun, Spadina, St. George, Bay, and Yonge." Inspired by frontman Tony Dekker's daily eastbound commute on Line 2 (or Bloor-Danforth), Dekker and the rest of the Great Lake Swimmers perfectly capture just how depressing it can be to ride the TTC everyday.

Gordon Lightfoot, "On Yonge Street"
In one of the most romanticized homages to a street ever, Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot looks at the longest street in the world a little differently than most. "On Yonge Street," Lightfoot sees children playing, couples meeting, and maintains "everyone you pass seems to want to say hello" - which is highly unlikely.

Cold Specks, "Elephant Head"
Walking through the downtown core, Al Spx (Cold Specks) is hopeful for a prosperous future. In the haunting "Elephant Head," from her 2012 record I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, Spx lifts her mighty voice high above the "frantic city" and the streets of "Bathurst, Spadina, St. George and Bay."

Whitehorse, "Boss Man"
In 2013 folk-rockers Whitehorse paid tribute to Rob Ford in their clever and infectious single "Boss Man." Never mentioning Ford by name, Whitehorse do name "the Star man," reference brotherly love, and top their track off with this lyrical gem: "Smoke, smoke, smoke - smoke 'em if you got 'em. Drive the Escalade to the low, low bottom."

Neil Young, "Ambulance Blues"
Neil Young reflects on the end of the hippie era and the old folky days in Toronto in his "Ambulance Blues." Referencing Yorkville cafe the Riverboat and Isabella Street, where he lived for a short time, Young sings of "keepin' jive alive" in T.O., which he always does when he rolls through town.

Jean Leloup, "Balade à Toronto"
Particularly poignant when driving along the 401 to Toronto, Francophone star Jean Leloup takes a trip to the city taking in the beauty of the the stars, Lake Ontario, and his passenger.

Bruce Cockburn, "Coldest Night of the Year"
Toronto gets cold in the winter! Although some Canadians may refute that statement, Bruce Cockburn obviously agrees. With a serious case of S.A.D., Cockburn, now that "the sun is lurking just behind the Scarborough horizon," dreams of some company on a cold Toronto night.

The Good Lovelies, "Backyard"
Like many Torontoians, The Good Lovelies have some hesitations about celebrating their city. Amidst a buoyant, foot-stomping, folk soundscape, The Good Lovelies take listeners on a bike ride on Harbord Street, up Bathurst to St. Clair in a futile search for cleaner air. Before the song ends though, they finally admit that the city will always be home.

Shawn William Clarke, "Tranzac Club"
One of Toronto's burgeoning folk stars, Shawn William Clarke shares an endearing love story of two concert photographers that all begins in line at the Tranzac Club. This is a cute romance that folk-loving Torontonians surely dream of.

Blue Rodeo, "Western Skies"
Like the Great Lake Swimmers, Blue Rodeo have come complaints about the TTC. Eager to get out of the city, Jim Cuddy and co. long to chase after shooting stars and be back in the Rocky Mountains rather than "waiting for this dumb 503 TTC" or "sitting in some bar on Queen Street." And hey, who can blame them.

Did I miss any folk songs? Add your suggestions in the comments.

Writing by Laura Stanley / photo of Great Lake Swimmers by Randall Vasquez in the blogTO Flickr pool.


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