The Polaris Music Prize not only crowns the best Canadian album of each year, but they’ve also been digging into the nation’s musical canon to honour great LPs from yesteryear. The Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize nominates one album each from four specific time periods (1960-75, 1976-85, 1986-95, and 1996-05 — four winners total) from prior to the Polaris Prize’s inaugural edition in 2006. Honouring landmark Canadian albums based on artistic merit, 12 albums will be vying for this year’s prize, with winners being announced on Thursday, Oct. 24. Here’s a breakdown of the 2019 nominees.
It’s My Way (June 1964)
As we saw with her 2015 Polaris victory for Power in the Blood, Buffy Sainte-Marie continues to make acclaimed albums to this day. However, her 1964 debut remains one of Canada’s most influential and iconic folk albums, painting a haunting and stark picture of Indigenous mistreatment, war, and various other issues with her acoustic guitar and compelling vocal delivery.
Robert Charlebois & Louise Forestier
Lindberg (January 1968)
Quebec’s only representatives this year also happened to make one of the most landmark albums in the province’s musical history. Lindberg is a psychedelic head trip both lyrically and musically that shifted Quebec’s francophone musical trends from singer-songwriter pop to rock virtually overnight, and songs like “California”, “La marche du président” and the album’s title track still sound adventurous and daring.
Music From Big Pink (July 1968)
One of Canada’s most iconic bands of the 60s and 70s are nominated here for their 1968 debut, which stands the test of time as a dazzling mélange of folk, rock, roots, soul and country. Though its most recognizable tune is inarguably “The Weight”, the album also shines thanks to its organic production and instrumentation through it being recorded live, with “Chest Fever” and opener “Tears of Rage” also among its standout moments.
Court And Spark (January 1974)
A jazzier twist on Joni’s iconic folk-pop style led to her most commercially successful album, and the album itself is one of her most intricate and enduring. “Help Me” and “Free Man in Paris” are among its most memorable and arresting tracks, helping to further cement Joni Mitchell as one of Canada’s greatest musical exports, six albums into her career.
Fogarty’s Cove (January 1977)
Perhaps the most lesser-known of this year’s nominated albums among today’s kids, but certainly worth discussing. Nova Scotia’s Stan Rogers uses his distinctive baritone to tell various stories about his province and its seas and coastlines combines descriptive storytelling with the ability to capture a region’s way of life, sonically transporting listeners to the Maritimes even if they’ve never been.
Hardcore ’81 (August 1981)
The sophomore album by these Vancouverites not only remains one of this country’s most monumental punk records, but also helped pave the way for a whole new punk subgenre: hardcore. A rollicking, 19-minute thrill ride, Hardcore ’81 is full of piss, vinegar, honest lyrics and plenty of raw energy – plus, a punk-flavoured cover of Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” to boot.
Maestro Fresh Wes
Symphony In Effect (December 1989)
One of the most pivotal albums for hip hop in this country by one of its most pivotal artists just so happened to be his debut. Going close to double platinum, Symphony in Effect remains one of the biggest-selling albums Canadian rap albums in history, and its biggest single, “Let Your Backbone Slide”, recently became the first rap song inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Breaking Atoms (July 1991)
Despite being dually Canadian and American, Main Source’s debut album is still known for its production, influential use of samples and status as a gem of hip hop’s golden age. Among the album’s high points are “Looking at the Front Door”, “Just Hangin’ Out”, and “Live at the Barbeque” – a posse cut best known for being the world’s introduction to Nas.
Ingénue (March 1992)
On k.d. lang’s sophomore album and mainstream breakthrough, the Alberta singer-songwriter deftly blends styles ranging from country to pop to jazz and beyond, not to mention showcases her captivating knack for melody and songcraft. The end result gave Lang six Grammy nominations, including a win for her biggest-ever hit, “Constant Craving”.
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (October 1993)
Already a star in Canada, Sarah McLachlan’s third album would help break her through to American audiences four years before truly exploding there with 1997 follow-up Surfacing. From its haunting opener “Possession” about a real-life experience she had with a stalker, to its arresting title track closing the album, this LP is still McLachlan’s most personal and expansive.
Left and Leaving (July 2000)
Though they may have famously sung about how much they hate Winnipeg, the Weakerthans’ second LP is a prime example of why they’ve become one of the city’s most distinctive and essential musical exports. The album not only superbly captures life in Winnipeg, but does so through frontman John K. Samson’s exceptional poetry and storytelling capabilities.
You Were Here (August 2000)
The commercial breakthrough for Burlington, ON singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer not only saw her emerge from the shadow of mid-late ‘90s alt-rockers Weeping Tile, but also saw her perform on Letterman and be named 2000’s best debut album by TIME. Flipping between moody, tender and incredibly earnest with each song, this album established Harmer as one of Canada’s biggest folk-pop darlings.Buffy Sainte-Marie, D.O.A., Heritage Prize, Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, Maestro Fresh Wes, Main Source, Polaris Music Prize, Robert Charlebois & Louise Forestier, Sarah Harmer, Sarah McLachlan, Stan Rogers, The Band, The Weakerthans