Rock Music in Quebec and French Canada

Origins of Country-western, Crooners and Pop

While it is generally agreed that the origins of Quebec rock and roll took place in the mid-1950s, the term "rock" has designated artists whose musical influences were varied: country-western, jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, rockabilly, crooners, chansonniers, yé-yé, progressive rock, pop, punk, heavy metal, or alternative. The first appearance of rock in French Canada was through radio, 45-rpm records, popular contemporary styles (country-western, rhythm and blues, jazz, South American music, etc.), and the spread of the electric guitar. The Quebec phenomenon was distinguished by the originality of its songs, and in the 1950s and 1960s, by French versions of English hits.

Influenced by popular music performed in English, the first Quebec artists to take up the electric guitar were probably country-western musicians. From the 1940s, singers such as Willie Lamothe, Marcel Martel, and Paul Brunelle composed songs reminiscent of bluegrass or western American swing. Beginning in the 1950s, cabaret artists recorded pop and crooner songs characterized by the new rock and roll. Among these were Aglaé, Jen Roger, Dean Edwards, Roger Miron, Les Jérolas (with Jérôme Lemay and Jean Lapointe), Paolo Noël, Margot Lefebvre, and Rosita Salvador. The expression "rock and roll" began to appear in hit songs of the period. Léo Benoît recorded "Le rock and roll dans l'lit," André Lejeune "Qu'est-ce que le rock and roll?," and Denise Filiatrault "Rocket rock and roll" (referring to the hockey player Maurice 'The Rocket' Richard). The Montreal band The Beau-Marks released Canada's first rock hit in 1960.

The Yé-yé Movement and other Variety Music

Popular music in Quebec in the early 1960s retained the two dominant tendencies of the chansonniers and yé-yé. Yé-yé was undoubtedly the movement most associated with rock and roll. According to Richard Baillargeon, historian of popular Québécois music, there were in Quebec alone more than 500 yé-yé groups, most made up of young men. Of these, at least 50 had significant careers. The Mégatones, discovered by Yvan Dufresne (manager of crooners Michel Louvain and Donald Lautrec), kicked off the Quebec yé-yé movement with their recording Voici les Mégatones (1962). The innovative "Rideau S.V.P." from this album became a classic. Beginning in 1964, the Beatles' mega-success in North America led to a new wave of commercial yé-yé.

The Classels (for "Class Sells"), with lead singer Gilles Girard, performed French versions of hits by Paul Anka, The Platters, and Roy Orbison, as well as original works. Les Baronets, comprising René Angélil (future manager of Céline Dion), Pierre Labelle, and Jean Beaulne, became a best-seller mainly with French versions of Beatles songs. History also remembers several other hit groups: César et les Romains, Les Hou-Lops, Les Lutins, Les Bel-Canto (Jean Beaulne, manager), Les Habits jaunes, Les Chanceliers (with Michel Pagliaro), Les Gendarmes, Les Gants blancs (with Gerry Boulet), Les Sultans, Les Sinners, Les Excentriques, and Les Milady's (one of the rare female groups).

Some solo artists were directly associated with yé-yé. Pierre Lalonde, Donald Lautrec, Nanette Workman, Jenny Rock, Joël Denis, Marc Gélinas, Anne Renée, Christine Chartrand, Claude Steben, Claire Lepage, Dany Aubé, Johnny Farago, Robert Demontigny, Tony Massarelli, and Patrick Zabé were among them.

Chansonnier Rock and Groups of the 1970s

The influence of rock on the chansonniers was more noticeable after the success of Robert Charlebois and L'Osstidcho (1968), a cult event that changed the face of song in Quebec. His subsequent hits "Lindberg" and "California" illustrated this change in musical aesthetics. Legend has it that Jean-Pierre Ferland attended a performance and left in tears, acknowledging that the "great Québécois chanson" could never again be what it had been. Ferland himself began a major turnaround that culminated with the album Jaune (1970). Ferland's Soleil (1971), more akin to psychedelic rock, confirmed this aesthetic change.

Other solo artists from the 1970s combined the "grande chanson" and rock, eg, Plume Latraverse, Michel Pagliaro, Diane Dufresne, Claude Dubois, Paul Piché, and Richard Séguin.

The 1970s was also the decade of cult groups in Quebec. With Serge Fiori, the group Harmonium in 1974 succeeded in recording an album of popular songs that were accessible and artistically researched. The mix of pop and progressive rock assured Harmonium such wide popularity that they were able to tour in English Canada, the US, and Europe. Also in 1974, Beau Dommage launched its first album. Almost all their songs became classics (eg, "La complainte du phoque en Alaska," "Ginette," "Le picbois," and "23 décembre"). Other groups like Offenbach (with Gerry Boulet), Corbeau (with Marjo and Pierre Harel), Octobre (with Pierre Flynn), Aut' Chose (with Lucien Francoeur), Contraction, Morse Code, Maneige, Abbittibbi, and the Ville Émard Blues Band made their mark on the decade.

Popular Rock Music for the Mass Market

With the establishment of the ADISQ gala in 1979, the creation of the Audiogram record label by Michel Bélanger in 1982, and the arrival of the TV channel Musique Plus in 1986, the artisans of popular music in French Canada exercised increasingly tighter control on phonographic production, broadcasting, and local shows. Among the many solo artists and groups who included rock in songs and recordings in the mid-1980s were Daniel Lavoie (a Franco-Manitoban), Jim Corcoran, Sylvain Lelièvre, Rock et Belles Oreilles, Luc De Larochellière, Céline Dion, Marjo, Gerry Boulet, Marie Philippe, Mitsou, Mario Pelchat, Lucien Francoeur, Francine Raymond, and Pierre Flynn. Following the 1980 Quebec referendum, the decade was marked by a wave of Anglo-Québécois performers. Men Without Hats, The Box, Corey Hart, Luba, The Doughboys, and Idées noires were among the main exponents. Daniel Lanois (raised in Ontario) played an important role in the music industry in the US and English Canada, particularly through his work with U2, Peter Gabriel, and Willie Nelson.

Finally, the jazz-fusion rock group UZEB was also noteworthy. In addition to touring with Claude Dubois and Diane Tell, UZEB performed all over the globe.

After 1990, mass-market pop-rock repertoire was considerably diversified. Among the newcomers in the 1990s were Richard Desjardins, Jean Leloup (now Jean Leclerc), Zébulon, Éric Lapointe, Joe Bocan, Roch Voisine (from the Madawaska region of New Brunswick), Les BB, Vilain Pingouin, Noir Silence, France D'Amour, Les Colocs, Sylvain Cossette, Dan Bigras, Les Respectables, La Chicane, Rudeluck, Les Mauvais quarts d'heure, Sylvie Paquette, and Lili fatale.

Since 2000, the flock of up-and-coming artists has included Les Cowboys fringants, Mes Aïeux, Daniel Boucher, Simple Plan (ex-Reset), Les Trois accords, Garou, Mononc' Serge (ex-Colocs), Stefie Shock, Ariane Moffatt, Annie Villeneuve and Marie-Mai Bouchard, Marie-Chantal Toupin, Andrée Waters, Dumas, Fred Fortin, Boum Desjardins and Dany Bédar (ex-Chicane), Kaïn, Martin Deschamps, Projet Orange, Capitaine révolte, Hugo Lapointe, and Swing (a Franco-Ontarian group).

Heavy Metal, Alternative, Punk and Metal

Since the early 1980s, a substantial number of alternative rock and metal groups in Quebec have made their mark on a relatively young and changing audience. These groups were on the fringe of the popular music widely broadcast on radio and specialty TV channels.

While it is difficult to define the beginnings of the heavy metal movement in French Canada, early fans knew Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth as well as other British and American bands in that style. In Quebec in the 1980s, only Voïvod (formed circa 1982) carved a place among the first generation of heavy metal groups.

Since the early 1990s, the number of groups in marginalized styles increased considerably. In alternative rock (or "rock festif "), the Quebec bands Grim Skunk and Groovy Aardvark stand out. By combining alternative and punk in various degrees, others such as Yelo Molo, Les Vulgaires machins, Kermess, Les Planet Smashers, Banlieue rouge, Les marmottes aplaties, Les pistolets roses, WD-40, Le nombre, Les Chiens, Map, Brain for Sale, Éric Panic, X-Large, Reset (later Simple Plan) and even the more experimental Godspeed You! Black Emperor, produced albums that had some success. More recently, up-and-coming English Montreal groups received exposure in the US. Of these, the huge success of Arcade Fire and the album Funeral (2004) is noteworthy. Others, such as The Stills, The Stars, The Dears, Les Georges Leningrad and The Unicorns enjoyed some popularity. Among francophone alternative groups, Malajube, Karkwa, and Les Breastfeeders have recently gained recognition from the general public.

Finally, in the strictly metal category, groups from all over the world have aroused enthusiasm from the large pool of Quebec fans. Quebec City has forged a reputation as a metal capital. Local groups that have carved out places include Anonymus (not to be confused with the early music ensemble of the same name), BARF, Overbass, TSPC, Kataklysm, Gorguts, Cryptopsy, Quo Vadis, Martyr, Neuraxis, Obliveon, Ghoulunatics, and Mental Disorder. With few exceptions, however (eg the association between Mononc' Serge and Anonymus on L'Académie du massacre, 2003), the metal style and recordings by these groups remain unknown to the general public.

See also: Chanson in Quebec; Rock 'n' Roll and Rock Music, Anglo-Canadian; Songwriters and Songwriting in English Canada