Canada woke Tuesday morning to the news that Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, is battling terminal brain cancer.
As much as Canadian artists are dominating the Billboard charts these days (and in recent years), none of them are as quintessentially Canadian as Downie and The Hip, especially if you came of age during the group’s ascension and extended run as one of the top Canadian acts in the world. Between working in references to hockey, tiny little communities on the Trent-Severn Waterway and our national broadcast network, they spoke about things everyone identified with, even if they weren’t quote-unquote Hip Fans.
And so in honour of one of this country’s greatest lyricists in wake of tragic news, we’re delivering The Essential Tragically Hip in this edition of The Rundown.
New Orleans is Sinking (from Up to Here, 1989)
The second single for the band’s second studio album, this remains one of their signature tracks and a staple of their live shows, where Downie spreads his wings and freelances in the middle, with the “Killer Whale Tank” version being the most well known.
Long Time Running (from Road Apples, 1991)
One of the earlier stripped down tracks from The Hip and still one of their best. The mark of a great rock band is how well they did when the amps weren’t turned up to 11 and the electrics were exchanged for acoustics and this was one of the first indications that The Tragically Hip could excel in this range.
At The Hundredth Meridian (from Fully Completely, 1992)
It’s where The Great Plains begin! The third single from Fully Completely, this feels like a classic Downie track now, with his vocal levels changing throughout the song and the almost spoken word bridge that builds to a crescendo with a Ry Cooder reference. It’s also another of the songs that plays much longer live.
Wheat Kings (from Fully Completely, 1992)
Never released as a single, this might be the most universally beloved Tragically Hip song of all-time. “Wheat Kings” tell the story of David Milgaard, a Winnipeg teen wrongfully convicted of murder and forced to spend more than 20 years in jail before ultimately being released and exonerated.
Nautical Disaster (from Day for Night, 1994)
One of the two songs the band played when it served as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live (Grace, Too is the other), it’s a classic Hip rock track that grew out of the improvisational moments in the middle of “New Orleans is Sinking.”
Scared (from Day for Night, 1994)
Another one of those “further down the track list” songs that has become a favourite of faithful fans, “Scared” is another outstanding stripped down offering that serves as a strong balance to a track like “Nautical Disaster.”
Ahead By A Century (from Trouble at the Henhouse, 1996)
Another song developed from “New Orleans is Sinking,” this is The Hip’s most successful single, having reached No. 1 on both the Canadian Hot 100 and the Canadian Rock/Alternative charts. After a decade as a rock band that slowed it down occasionally, this stripped-down, folk-ish sound became the band’s signature for a while and it worked real well.
Fireworks (from Phantom Power, 1998)
Maybe the best opening verse of any Tragically Hip song ever and “you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr” is a great line from a Canadian about young love. It’s a song built around the ’72 Summit Series. This is quintessential Canadiana. It’s perfection.
Bobcaygeon (from Phantom Power, 1998)
Named after a small town in the Kawartha Lakes region, it’s where we saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time. The song won Single of the Year in 2000 (the Junos don’t make sense) and is one of the band’s signature tracks.
My Music at Work (from Music @ Work)
After a bunch of low key, folksy stuff, this debut single from the band’s seventh album was a return to more of a rock tone and jumped off the radio when it hit. While they kept turning out albums, maintained a strong fan base and experienced moderate success, this was their last real big hit.