With so much amazing music being created within our fair city, it’s no surprise that there’s a fair share of amazing songs about Montreal itself. No matter what your preferred era or genre of music, it’s hard not to feel a sense of pride or nostalgia when listening to something written about the city you live in. So whether you’re looking to gain a renewed appreciation for your hometown or just want to see it from someone else’s perspective, here are 10 timeless tunes written about Montreal.
Suzanne — Leonard Cohen (1967)
While the song never mentions our fair city by name, this track off of Cohen’s 1967 LP Songs of Leonard Cohen has long been known to be about Montreal. The song depicts Cohen’s platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal, a prominent muse of the beat era. The song’s lyrics describe a rendez-vous in which Cohen goes to visit Verdal at her apartment by the Saint Laurence river. There, Suzanne would serve Cohen tea and oranges before the two would head off on a walk through the Old Port towards the Church of Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours. Verdal herself confirmed that these encounters took place frequently.
“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river…”
Hello, Montreal! — Ted Lewis (1928)
This song serves as proof that Montreal’s reputation as a party city is nearly as old as the city itself. Written during the prohibition era, the song is about how Montreal served as a haven for alcohol-starved Americans who were no longer able to drink legally in their home country. The song also gives a shout out to Montreal’s old red light district as he salaciously states, “You ain’t been hugged, you ain’t been kissed til you’ve hit that town”.
“With a stein on the table, I’ll be laughing at you all. Goodbye Broadway, hello Montreal!”
Hometown Waltz — Rufus Wainwright (2004)
Wainwright comes from one of Montreal’s most talented musical gene pools (his sister is Martha Wainwright, his mom is Kate McGarrigle and his father is famous folk singer Loudon Wainwright) and this song certainly does well by the family’s legacy. Clocking in at a brief two and a half minutes the song is short and sweet. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous but seem to depict a truth that anybody whose lived in this city has come to know well: sometimes Montreal can be a frustrating place, but leaving it will always make you realize that it is, nonetheless, the greatest city out there.
“The drummers and jugglers in Montreal don’t even exist at all…”
80 Bus — The Planet Smashers (1998)
Montreal’s kings of ska penned this little ditty about a problem that many of us can relate to: trying to maintain sanity while riding the 80 up/down Parc ave. The song’s lyrics feature all the classic elements of a ride on the 80 from the old grumpy man who doesn’t want to let you get past him to the menagerie of perfumes that waft from the various drunken party people using the bus to get to Montreal’s various bars and clubs. The song also shouts out getting drunk and playing pool at Gert’s which is pretty hilarious in and of itself.
“On my way from work, I’m on the 80 bus, It’s crowded as hell, someone’s raising up a fuss…”
Montreal — Raine Maida (2013)
In this song, Maida, the former frontman of Our Lady Peace, actually manages to weave our city’s less-than-pleasant weather into a pretty little metaphor. While the song doesn’t seem to specifically be about Montreal per se, the city’s bone chilling winters are used to make a beautiful analogy and send the message that, no matter how cold things get, spring will soon come.
“The winter can take its toll, but it can’t take our lives.”
Montreal — Arianne Moffat (2006)
This song is the definitive Montreal summer anthem. Lyrically, the song is somewhat similar to Hometown Waltz in the way it describes the cathartic and redemptive feeling that comes from returning home to Montreal after a long time away. Musically, however, the song somehow manages to pack everything that is wonderful about Montreal into a tidy, three and a half minute pop track. I defy you to listen to this song and not immediately have images of Montreal’s beautiful summer glory come streaming through your mind’s eye.
“Je reviens à Montréal, la tête gonflée de nuages.”
Rue Ontario — Bernard Adamus (2010)
Even the seediest of Montreal’s underbellies deserves a shout out, am I right? This track pays homage to Ontario Street, which, if you follow it East from Saint Denis, gets pretty sketchy the further you go. This song’s pretty much got it all as the lyrics take a survey of the various wondrous things those who travel along Rue Ontario will find such as: cops, drug dealers, prostitutes, Molson Export and cheap pizza. Musically, the song is also incredibly catchy, as it’s set to a classic stomp-and-clap blues melody.
“Bienvenue tout le monde dans le bas de la côte on est au royaume des cops pis des vendeurs de dope.”
Montreal -40°C — Malajube (2006)
This is another fantastic song about Montreal’s god-awful winters. In between immensely catchy choruses, Malajube describes Montreal as a harsh, spiteful, proud and, above all, very cold city. Yet, at the end of the day, the band finds that the worst the city has to offer inspires them to be the best that they can be. The track’s chorus wraps up with the band declaring that its love for Montreal is borderline hallucinogenic. If that’s not a love song, I don’t know what is.
“Oh Montréal. T’es tellement froide.”
Je Reviendrai à Montreal — Robert Charlebois (1976)
It might be a little cheesy, but this is probably the most heartfelt ode to Montreal out of all the songs on this list. In the song, Charlebois speaks of his need to see Montreal’s winters again. He longs for Montreal’s streets and even for its cold wind. So what if the music sounds like a Perry Como-Bette Middler love child? Anybody who loves Montreal this much deserves to make the list.
“Je reviendrai à Montréal, me marier avec l’hiver…”
La Manifestation — Les Cowboys Fringants (2002)
This is a song that honours one of Montreal’s most entrenched traditions: protesting. In particular, the song describes a scene that anybody who was a part of 2012’s student demonstrations would recognize. A protest that starts off as a non-violent rally for ambiguous 70’s-worthy socialism, devolves into violence as a couple of “extremists” start hurling rocks at policemen. While the lyrics are slightly dark, the song itself is a barn-stompin’ bluegrass anthem that’s hard to get out of your head. Keep this one in mind next time you’re out on the streets rallying against the powers that be.
“Su’l boulevard René-Lévesque, y’ont envoyé l’anti-émeute et des policiers sur leurs bikes pour contrôler la meute.”