Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Tragically Hip, Essential Listening

Where do I begin?  Violins and Tambourines, and this is what I think it means ...

Last night was possibly the last public performance ever by one of Canada's favorite bands, The Tragically Hip.  There.  I've already pissed off 72% of Canadians reading this, who will quickly proclaim that there's no doubt whatsoever that they are THE favorite.  And judging from my Facebook feed last night during the concert, and judging also by the fact that nine of the top ten trending topics on Twitter at one point were directly related to The Hip, I'd find it hard to argue.  I just don't want to appear biased, because in fact, they're my own favorite band.  Click HERE to read a post I wrote about them close to a decade ago, which the Hip ended up featuring on the home page of their website,

CBC live-streamed their final concert, a show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario.  Let me throw out a quick comment to say that anyone who doesn't understand why Canada should have a national broadcaster may want to re-think their position after last night.  Also, kudos to CBC for ensuring that NO advertising was inserted into the entire broadcast, which lasted almost three hours.  That broadcast is not currently available online yet for replay, but should be soon.

After the show, I was reading some of the articles on mainstream (US) media about the band.  Here are a few (obviously, the last two are Canadian publications):

The New Yorker         Vice           Washington Post         
Slate            CBC              MacLeans

The main reason that I started to write this post is because I promised a friend of mine, Nikki, that I would to try further her musical education about the band.  Like all Canadians, she knows a number of their more well-known commercially-successful songs.  But I said that I'd put together a playlist for her of what I considered to be Hip Essential Listening.

Let me preface by saying that this post will create all sorts of controversy among Hip afficionados.  Why?  Because I haven't included ANY songs in my "Twenty Classic Hip Songs" from anything other than their first four albums.  Somehow, I feel that this is going to create a firestorm of controversy among a number of my friends who are also huge Hip fans.  Admittedly, I'm going to mention a few tracks from [studio] albums five and six.  And don't think that I dislike albums after "Day For Night."  Take "Trouble At The Henhouse," for example.  I feel that this album is their most consistent in terms of flow, and it's best listened to in one sitting, start to finish.  Sadly, that's a concept that seems to have disappeared these days, in our digital work of being able to download individual tracks.  "Trouble At The Henhouse," is more of a musical voyage, although there are only a few songs on it that also want to be able to stand on their own.  That album also has my favorite production approach, with a very warm, crunchy-without-treble, analogue distortion sound on the guitars (except on Ahead By A Century).

Anyway, I'm going to break my recommended tracks down into three groups:  Twenty "Classic Hip," six classic slower songs, and eight other great songs that saw varying degrees of commercial success.

First, my twenty "Classic Hip."  As mentioned, these aren't always the most well-known fan favorites (and I put slower songs into a second group further down this page).  I'll be castigated by some fans due to some of my intentional omissions from this list.  My rationale?  For someone who is only starting to discover more than a smattering of Hip songs, I want to be able to introduce you to songs that show lyrical and musical craftsmanship.  You can click on each of the song titles to find YouTube versions of the songs, although most are not actual videos, just audio recordings.  To avoid the agony of trying to rank them in terms of my favorites, I'm going to list the twenty in chronological/album order:

01. She Didn’t Know [Up To Here]
02. Boots Or Hearts [Up To Here]
03. Every Time You Go [Up To Here]
04. Another Midnight [Up To Here]
05. Opiated [Up To Here]
06. Little Bones [Road Apples]
07. Born In The Water [Road Apples]
08. Three Pistols [Road Apples]
09. On The Verge [Road Apples]
10. Courage [Fully Completely]
11. Looking For A Place To Happen [Fully Completely]
12. At The Hundredth Meridian [Fully Completely]
13. Locked In The Trunk Of A Car [Fully Completely]
14. Fully Completely [Fully Completely]
15. Fifty Mission Cap [Fully Completely]
16. Eldorado [Fully Completely]
17. Grace, Too [Day For Night]
18. So Hard Done By [Day For Night]
19. Nautical Disaster [Day For Night]
20. Thugs [Day For Night]

Some of my personal favorites are definitely far off the beaten commercial track, songs like Eldorado, On The Verge, and Opiated.

Let me also throw out six songs with slower tempos, most of which (aside from #4) became Canadian classics:

01. 38 Years Old [Up To Here]
02. Long Time Running [Road Apples]
03. Fiddler’s Green [Road Apples]
04. Last Of The Unplucked Gems [Road Apples]
05. Wheat Kings [Fully Completely]
06. Scared [Day For Night]

Finally, if you really don't know The Hip's music at all, here are some other hits that you should check out.  Most of these saw more mainstream success than my Top Twenty.  Why didn't I include them in my Classic Hip list?  Well, I guess it's because these songs saw more mainstream success, and I didn't want a lot of the band's other early work to be overshadowed by these songs.

01. Blow at High Dough [Up To Here]
02. New Orleans Is Sinking [Up To Here]
03. Gift Shop [Trouble At The Henhouse]
04. Ahead By A Century [Trouble At The Henhouse]
05. Poets [Phantom Power]
06. Bobcaygeon [Phantom Power]
07. Fireworks [Phantom Power]
08. My Music At Work [Music @ Work]

Most importantly, if you like my choices, I've turned the whole series (34 songs, all three lists) into a giant "Essential Hip" playlist, which is accessible to the public.  Here you go if you want to bookmark it:

I currently have it sorted by default to the same play order as what I've listed in the three lists above.  However, once it starts playing, you can press shuffle (which I recommend) to vary the order of the songs.

So there you go.  I look forward to a stream of comments about my choices.  I'll close by saying that I did agonize for a bit about whether or not to include Ahead By A Century in my main Essential Hip list.  In the end, I didn't, for reasons that I'm not even certain of.  I think one of my goals for this winter will be to release a few cover versions of Hip Songs.  So to be fair, lest anyone think I'm hating on "Ahead By A Century," I'll make sure that I prioritize doing a recording of that song as a winter project.  Stay tuned.

Also, for anyone who wants to compare my picks with the set list from the final concert in Kingston on August 20th (which was amazingly watched by an estimated 11.7 million viewers), here's what they played:

Main Act
50 Mission Cap
Wheat Kings
At the Hundredth Meridian
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
What Blue
Tired As F---
My Music at Work
Lake Fever
Toronto #4
Putting Down
Twist My Arm
Three Pistols
Fiddler's Green
Little Bones
The Last Of The Unplucked Gems
Something On

Encore 1
New Orleans Is Sinking
Boots or Hearts
Blow at High Dough

Encore 2
Nautical Disaster
Grace, Too

Encore 3
Locked In The Trunk Of A Car
Gift Shop
Ahead By A Century

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