Hey, the JUNO Awards are this Sunday! Let’s look back at one of the stranger categories in the award show’s history, the Breakthrough Group of the Year category.
This award began as the Most Promising Group of the Year in 1974 and remained as such until 1993, when it became the Best New Group award, until 2002, when it became New Group of the Year, until 2013 when it became the Breakthrough Group of the Year. It’s one of those strange awards, because yes, most of these bands are not exactly new.
My favourite was when the Stills were nominated in 2009 after the release of the band’s third and final LP, Oceans Will Rise. But here’s the thing that most JUNO viewers don’t realize, is that when an artist or record label submits their record or song for an award like a JUNO, they have to choose categories. If the label thinks your band has its best shot winning the New Artist award, then sure, that’s what the label will submit you for, which I believe was the case with the Stills. Which is why the award’s first name, Most Promising Group of the Year, makes the most sense.
As an aside, the early 2000s found Nickelback, Default and Theory of a Deadman winning this award in 2001, ’02, and ’03 respectively, proving that Theory of a Nickelfault was indeed a genre of music in Canada for that brief, forgettable period.
But let’s go back to 1990 and the nominees for Most Promising New Group!
Brighton Rock, Indio, Paradox, Sons of Freedom, and the Tragically Hip.
The winner, of course, was the Kingston, Ontario quintet, whose Up to Here full length had been released the previous year. Including such hits as hits as “Blow at High Dough,” “New Orleans is Sinking” and “38 Years Old,” it’s a true CanRock classic, and the band is worthy of the award in this case.
1990 – The Tragically Hip
Not all acts were as big as the Hip, in fact, very few in Canada were. A few of the nominated acts in the Most Promising Group category had a chance in 1991, though, and the nominees are …
Bootsauce, Crash Vegas, the Leslie Spit Treeo, National Velvet and Spirit of the West.
And the winner, maybe the only band to count a dog named Tag amongst its ranks, the Leslie Spit Treeo. My knowledge of this band is limited to it appearing in two Bruce McDonald films, Roadkill and Dance Me Outside, but apparently it released four records, was threatened with a lawsuit from Nabisco for the cover art for the band’s final record, Chocolate Chip Cookies, appearing too much like Chips Ahoy! packaging, and even had a Top 20 hit in 1992 with Randy Bachman on guitar from the album Book of Rejection.
1991 – Leslie Spit Treeo
So the nominees for 1992 are …
Infidels, The Rankin Family, West End Girls, World on Edge and Young Saints.
And the winner is … Infidels. Who? A mere footnote in the jazz-funk section of CanRock, but an important one, as the band featured a vocalist in Molly Johnson. Yes, future CBC Radio 2 morning host, Officer of the Order of Canada and jazz singer Molly Johnson’s band won a Juno in 1992This is the band’s “100 Watt Bulb” from 1991’s self-titled debut album.
1992 – Infidels
1993 had some interesting nominees, and was the last year to call the category Most Promising Group of the Year. Was “most promising” just simply too polite? Was Canada finally getting comfortable calling something “the best”? Maybe. Who can say. It’s actually a more accurate title, since it meant a group wouldn’t exactly have to be “new.” Anyway.
The nominees are … Lost & Profound, Pure, Skydiggers, Slik Toxik and Sven Gali.
The winner of 1993’s Most Promising Group of the Year, a Toronto band formed in 1987 whose debut LP came out in 1990, Skydiggers.
Definitely a successful act, the band is still together and is releasing its 15th-ish record, Here Without You, this May. This is “I’m Wondering” from 1993’s Just Over This Mountain.
1993 – Skydiggers
1994 is the year the award changed its name to Best New Group, and the nominees are a lot of heavy hitters that maybe weren’t new at the time, but had pretty huge records out that year.
The nominees are … Junkhouse, Sloan, The Odds, The Tea Party and the Waltons.
And the winner is … The Waltons?
Formed in 1987, this Regina, Saskatchewan act was fronted by Jason Plumb, and released seven records before breaking up in 2001. This is one of the band’s biggest hits, from their breakthrough 1992 debut LP Lik My Trakter, this is “In the Meantime” by The Waltons.
1994 – The Waltons
1995 was in the thick of “alternative” and just before pop and hip hop came in to kill things for a while, so these nominees make sense.
The nominees for Best New Group are … Big Sugar, Farmer’s Daughter, The Gandharvas, Moist and Wild Strawberries.
The winner is … Moist.
Formed in 1992, the band released its first proper LP, Silver, in 1994, spawning a few massive singles and giving teenage girls across the nation a heartthrob in vocalist David Usher, who went on to a pretty successful solo career which launched before Moist took its 12 year hiatus, beginning in 2001. The band got back together in 2013, and released Glory Under Dangerous Skies in 2014. It didn’t have the platinum sales of Silver, Creature or Mercedes 5 and Dime, but it peaked at #8 on the Canadian charts, which is pretty decent. This is a live performance of “Gasoline” from the 1997 JUNO Awards.
1995 – Moist
Let’s take a look at 1996’s nominees… Hemingway Corner, Philosopher Kings, Rainbow Butt Monkeys (which of course became Finger Eleven), Rymes with Orange and Sandbox.
And the winner, a band which had a side project featuring a cartoon pop act called Prozzak that was actually more successful, the Philosopher Kings. Yup. Formed in 1994, this pop act had yet to release its 1997 megahit Famous, Rich and Beautiful, but it had a minor hit in 1995’s “Charms” off of its self titled debut. Here’s one of the most ridiculous singles in Canadian history that is maybe only possibly satirical, “I Am The Man.”
1996 – Philosopher Kings
Let’s take a look at what bands were nominated in 1997 for the award. The Killjoys, Limblifter, Pluto, Starkicker and Victor, which was a project where Edwin sang over a bunch of Alex Lifeson instrumentals.
And the winner is … The Killjoys! Yes, the band had just released its breakthrough Gimme Five record, which turns 20 this year (click here for our interview), and winning the Best New Group award lead into the band’s third and final record, 1997’s Melos Modos.
1997 – The Killjoys
Let’s take a look at the nominees for 1998’s Best New Group – Bran Van 3000, Matthew Good Band, Age of Electric, Wide Mouth Mason and Leahy.
And the winner is … Leahy.
Huh. Well. Wikipedia tells me this band was formed in the early ’80s, so should it have been eligible for this award? Who can say. It didn’t release a record until 1996’s Leahy, so maybe. This single was actually a big hit on Much, as hey, Celtic music was a thing for a while let’s not forget.
1998 – Leahy
As the 90s drew to a close and pop was casting a larger shadow, sub fads like celtic, ska, dance, boy bands, family bands, country and swing also crept in for a piece of the pie.
The nominees for 1999’s Best New Group are … the Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra, Love Inc, New Meanies, The Moffats and The Wilkinsons.
The winner? The Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra.
Yup, that record that had a picture of a guy that looked like the guy from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on the cover and was a weird part of that swing revival. JohnnyFavourite.com is up for grabs, so I’m guessing he doesn’t make music anymore, and his last Facebook and Twitter updates are from 2011, so … yeah.
1999 – The Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra