In the Fall 2023 issue of Spacing (coming soon to a store or mailbox near you), we shine a spotlight on five “Toronto Troubadours” — musicians “dedicated to not just writing songs about the city, but to uniting the creative communities that helped put it on the musical map.”
Unsurprisingly, songs by these artists also represent some of the most well-known and poignant musical tributes to our city, but they by no means tell the whole story. How do I know? Because I made a list, that’s how. I scoured articles, playlists, search terms, and more, and found more than 400 songs that reference Toronto, by nearly 250 musicians spanning every genre.
So, with apologies to the writers of the many songs I didn’t find, and with thanks to all of the list-makers who came before me, I present the following list of 50 Toronto songs by 50 different artists, in alphabetical order by title. Feast your hometown-loving ears on this (and go all the way to the end for the links to the playlist):
- #IVIVI — Lilly Singh & Humble the Poet
A fitting tribute to our city’s diversity. (Did you figure out what the title means yet? Think Roman numerals.)
- 416/905 (T.O. Party Anthem) — Maestro Fresh Wes
Maestro is one of Toronto’s original hip-hop representatives, and he chronicles his influence on this track.
- Ambulance Blues — Neil Young
- The Anthem — Kardinal Offishall
One of the five Toronto Troubadours we profiled in the magazine, Kardi could have had a half dozen tracks on this list. But this one stands above the rest.
- At the Roncies — Jully Black
- Beverley Street — Blue Rodeo
Jim Cuddy and company tuck many Toronto references into their songs. This one is a great example.
- Black Ice — Ohbijou
Another entry in our top-five list of Toronto Troubadours, Ohbijou’s Casey Mecija’s songwriting shines in this eloquent ode to loss and longing.
- Bobcaygeon — The Tragically Hip
- Charlyn, Angel of Kensington — Jason Collett
- Cherry Beach Express — Pukka Orchestra
- Civic Kiss — Kurt Swinghammer
It’s possible that no one has written more Toronto-centric songs than Swinghammer. This one is a great example, but there are many more — dig deep.
- Closing Time — Leonard Cohen
R.I.P. The Matador.
- CN Tower — Michaele Jordana and the Poles
- The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead — Owen Pallett
Owen Pallett got the nod as one of our five Toronto Troubadours for many reasons, including amazing songs like this one. Can you see your house from here?
- The Coldest Night of the Year — Bruce Cockburn
- Concrete Heart — Great Lake Swimmers
Tony Dekker is a master at weaving the personal and the universal in his lyrics. Toronto takes the spotlight in this song, and its spiritual companion, “I Will Never See the Sun.”
- Confessions From a Parkdale Basement — Cuff the Duke
Sidelines of the City, the third album by Oshawa transplants Cuff the Duke, is peppered with subtle Toronto references, but this song lays it all on the table.
- Contract Killers — Kiwi Jr.
- Crabbuckit — k-os
- Demolition Waltz — FemBots
This song can be found on The City, a Toronto-themed concept album by FemBots that received wide critical acclaim, for good reason.
- Dope Fiends and Boozehounds — Rheostatics
- Down by the Henry Moore — Murray McLauchlan
- DVP — PUP
- Echo Beach — Martha and the Muffins
Even if they had never written a single lyric about Toronto, Martha and the Muffins would belong on this list for the cover art of their 1980 debut album, Metro Music, which features a map of downtown Toronto.
- The Embassy (223 Augusta) — Henri Fabergé and the Adorables
- Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins) — Shad
- Forests and Sands — Camera Obscura
- Get Dark — The Zolas
- Hard Deep Junction Blues — Big Rude Jake
Andrew Jacob Hiebert’s premature passing in June 2022 left a big, rude hole in Toronto’s music scene. He was a fixture for more than two decades, and wrote many great songs about Toronto — this one is likely the best known.
- Jumped in the Humber — Jerry Leger
- Know Yourself — Drake
Of course Drake is on this list; he’s on the list of five Toronto Troubadours that we published in the print edition, too. Like many other artists mentioned here, he’s written many times about his hometown. This track and “Weston Road Flows” are arguably the best examples.
- Let’s Go — The Beaches
This song chronicles the genesis of The Beaches at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts — which, along with Etobicoke School of the Arts and Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, has produced many Toronto musicians.
- Metro’s No. 1 Problem — Truths and Rights
- Mississauga Goddam — The Hidden Cameras
- Mitzi’s — Luke Doucet
Another tribute to a late and lamented watering hole and music venue: Mitzi’s Sister in Parkdale.
- Neon Skyline — Andy Shauf
This song is the title track from Shauf’s concept album about the colourful characters he encounters in a night spent at the Skyline diner in Parkdale. A great listen, front to back.
- The Old Apartment — Barenaked Ladies
- On Yonge Street — Gordon Lightfoot
- One People — L’Etranger
How many Toronto punk bands can lay claim to counting two federal politicians in their membership? L’Etranger included future MPs Andrew Cash Charlie Angus in their lineup, and this song was an early MuchMusic staple.
- Parkdale — Metric
- Romantic Traffic — The Spoons
Though the lyrics don’t reference Toronto directly, this song wins its place on the list thanks to its classic video, the entirety of which takes place on the TTC.
- Spadina Bus — The Shuffle Demons
Speaking of the TTC, how could we not include this song? If Spacing had a theme song, this would likely be it.
- T-Ode — Abdominal ft. Notes to Self
Yes, that really is former mayor David Miller introducing this song.
- Tell Your Friends — The Weeknd
- Trinity Bellwoods — Treble Charger
- TTC Skidaddler — Stompin’ Tom Connors
- Under the Carlaw Bridge — The Lowest of the Low
East end represent! The Lowest of the Low made our list of Toronto Troubadours thanks to their unfailing dedication to writing about their home, with a special focus on places and people on the “other side” of the Don.
- West End (Yea Eh) — The Sorority
- Wezied — Clairmont the Second
- YYZ — Rush
Todd Harrison is a co-founder and senior editor of Spacing, as well as a Toronto-based musician, teacher, writer, and dad.
Image by Virginia Dimoglou