Ian Tyson was a Canadian singer-songwriter whose career stretched longer than six decades. He and his then-wife, Sylvia, performed as a duo from 1959 to 1975. However, that partnership concluded with their amicable divorce, which saw Tyson returning to his farm while continuing his music career in a more limited fashion. In 2006, he suffered scarring and a viral infection that caused irreversible changes to his voice. Even so, he continued making music until he died in 2022. Tyson was considered highly influential in Canadian music. As such, those curious about the country’s culture might want to give the man a listen.
Here is our opinion of the ten best Ian Tyson songs ever released:
10. “The Old Double Diamond”
“The Old Double Diamond” was penned by the American singer-songwriter Gary McMahan. It’s been recorded by numerous artists. This one deserves recognition for being one of the better versions. The song’s title refers to a real ranch east of Dubois, WY. McMahan took inspiration from seeing it being auctioned off, which he found unpleasant because he interpreted it as a part of the gradual death of the Old West. Much of the song is based on his recollection of the cowboys winding up operations before heading off to find ranch work elsewhere.
9. “Saddle Bronc Girl”
Cowboys are associated with the Old West. However, they existed throughout North America. Never mind similar sub-cultures elsewhere. Tyson often sang about cowboys because he grew up in that world. “Saddle Bronc Girl” discusses the lengths the titular character is willing to go to for the sake of her chosen competition. Unsurprisingly, riding a bucking horse is dangerous, so much so that injuries are common while fatalities aren’t unknown. Tyson himself had been a rodeo rider before he suffered the career-ending injury that prompted him to take up music.
Magpies are clever birds that have long since established themselves in human culture. Here, the narrator talks about some of their best-known characteristics. Still, the most critical would be what he sees as the magpie’s longing for freedom, which matters because he is the magpie and vice versa.
7. “Red Velvet”
“Red Velvet” was recorded when Ian and Sylvia were performing together. Johnny Cash covered the song, which must’ve been a sign to Tyson that he had managed to make it. After all, Cash’s “I Walk the Line” was one of his first songs when he taught himself how to play the guitar. It’s known that Cash had a high opinion of “Red Velvet,” so much so that he thought it would be a hit. Things didn’t go as he had expected. Even so, the song has its merits.
6. “Summer Wages”
Tyson grew up in British Columbia. Cowboys aren’t the only outdoor profession common in the province. Its forests mean there’s also a long-standing logging industry. “Summer Wages” pays respects to B.C. loggers, who work in a profession well-known for being dangerous.
5. “M.C. Horses”
“M.C. Horses” is about the sale of horses. It hits some of the same notes as “The Old Double Diamond,” which makes sense because it touches upon some of the same themes by focusing on something that was but no longer is. Still, “M.C. Horses” is another song with a different spirit imbued in the lyrics. The result is by no means inferior to its counterpart. If anything, it feels even better coming from Tyson, which makes sense when it’s his song in a way that “The Old Double Diamond” isn’t.
4. “Cottonwood Canyon”
“Cottonwood Canyon” is from Tyson’s last album, Carnero Vaquero. As such, it’s the work of a much older individual than most of his releases. Despite this, “Cottonwood Canyon” feels contemporary because it combines a longing for nature with a sense of being overwhelmed by modern connectedness. It’s also notable for being a political song. The song doesn’t make it clear until some way in. However, it opposes the devastating effects of fracking on air quality, water quality, and other environmental factors. Supposedly, Tyson managed to earn more than a few younger listeners by taking this stand.
3. “Navajo Rug”
The Navajo have earned a rightful reputation for weaving excellence. Still, interested individuals should know this song isn’t about their handicrafts. Instead, “Navajo Rug” is mourning for a love who has gone out of the narrator’s love. The titular work exists to give everything a sense of authenticity through various descriptions of its usage. With that said, it’s clear that it possesses emotional significance for the narrator and his ex. He wouldn’t focus so much on it if it didn’t. Similarly, his ex wouldn’t have saved it from the fire if it didn’t.
2. “Someday Soon”
“Someday Soon” is another song from the Ian and Sylvia days. It has extra emotional power when one realizes it was released a little after the two married in 1964. Later, “Someday Soon” would become even more famous because of Judy Collins, who recorded it at the encouragement of Stephen Stills. That version reached the Billboard Hot 100 but never rose high. It was still popular enough to inspire numerous artists to record covers. People are still doing it in the 2010s and 2020s, thus saying much about the song’s lasting appeal.
1. “Four Strong Winds”
“Four Strong Winds” is one of the most famous Canadian songs ever released. Moreover, it’s specific about its context because it straight-up mentions the province of Alberta, which explains why it has become an unofficial anthem of sorts for the latter. The song is so popular that it was once voted the best Canadian song of all time by the listeners of a CBC radio program back in the 2000s. It even has a remarkable story because it’s the first song Tyson ever wrote while working in the manager Albert Grossman’s little apartment.
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