With the release of Man Machine Poem on Friday and an impending tour on the horizon, plus the tragic news that Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer, I have been listening to The Tragically Hip even more than usual. Though I am not Canadian, I do love Canada and would move there if they’d have me. The Hip’s music has been a part of my life since the late 1980s, and I love the connections to Canada, Downie’s poetic and metaphorical lyrics, and the wall of sound created by the music.
The last few weeks have been difficult as a Hip fan, as Downie’s lyrics and The Hip’s music has meant a lot to me over the years; from the first moment I played “Last American Exit” on my show on Salem State radio to seeing them live for the first time to seeing them on Canada Day in Toronto last year to hearing a new album was being released to Downie’s diagnosis, The Hip has been there. In fact, they’ve been a part of my entire adult life.
Narrowing down The Hip’s catalog to just 10 songs was a challenge, so I decided to do a Top 30. I have not heard all of Man Machine Poem yet, so this list, as always, is subject to change.
30. “No Threat”
29. “Three Pistoles”
28. “At Transformation”
27. “In View”
26. “Gift Shop”
25. “Last American Exit”
24. “38 Years Old”
23. “Trickle Down”
22. “Fifty-Mission Cap”
21. “Vaccination Scar”
20. “Little Bones”
19. “Twist My Arm”
18. “Boots or Hearts”
17. “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind”
16. “At the Hundredth Meridian”
15.“Looking for a Place to Happen”
14. “Long Time Running”
13. “Ahead by a Century”
12. “Blow at High Dough”
Now the Top 10 …
10 “Fully Completely” – AT face value, it’s the ultimate “fuck you” song after a breakup, but I have learned over the years that what goes on in Gord Downie’s mind is often more metaphorical.
9. “Courage” – I just love the music and the melody of the voices ion the song. I also like the idea that the ordinary choices we make every day have larger consequences than the larger decisions that are made far less frequently.
8. “Grace, Too” — The instruments in this song are hypnotizing … the bass line and the guitar are possibly the most emotional in any Hip track.
7. “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken” – Another hypnotizing song, the lyrics are equally as powerful. When Downie sings, “Find someplace to grow”, I find myself singing along – even though I cannot sing! It’s a perfect example of Downie’s storytelling skill.
6. “My Music at Work” — From the beginning guitar riff and drums to the chorus, this is an amazing song. The Hip has never been worried about commercial success, especially in the US, and the lyric, “Avoid trends and clichés / Don’t try to be up to date” sums up The Hip as well as anything else they have written.
5. “Something On” — Always loved this song, right from the first moment I heard it. It’s catchy and beautifully written. Downie has said it’s about friendship, but I truly have no idea what it’s about. I just know it rocks!
4. “Scared” – This beautiful song appears to be about selling fear, something those of us in the United States see regularly from our politicians. I love the guitar and Downie’s voice throughout. Of course, the song takes on a whole new meaning with Downie’s recent diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
3. “Fireworks” – My wife, Dayna, loves the line, “You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey” but the song is much deeper than hockey – to me it’s about how fame and pop culture is fleeting at best, and we get far more from our own experiences rather than living through the experiences of others. On top of that, the lyrics and music are top notch.
2. “Wheat Kings” – I love political protest songs, and this one is right up there with “Fight the Power”, “Killing in the Name” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” on my list. Seeing this song live is an experience, and it’s hard not to think of the life of someone wrongfully convicted when hearing it. “Wheat Kings” is a powerful, moving track.
1. “Bobcaygeon” – I know it’s cliché to have this at No. 1, but I cannot help it. The guitar mesmerizes me, and the lyrics and music build to a crescendo. When Downie belts out, “That night in Toronto,” it gives me chills. This song represents what Canada is, and it makes me sad (and jealous) that I am not Canadian.