"The Unplucked Gems": An Introduction to the Music of The Tragically Hip

I recently posted “In View” from the new Tragically Hip album, World Container. The Hip were my favorite band from about 1994 until about ‘99, and that song re-sparked my interest in them after a few years of indifference. The thing about the Hip that always amazed me was just how regional the band has always been. Cities like Buffalo and Detroit have accepted the band with open arms, but few other areas have done the same. They were all over rock radio in Western New York while I was in college (during the aforementioned years), yet wouldn’t sell out a venue like Manhattan’s Irving Plaza if it wasn’t for the willingness of their homeland fanbase to make the long trip south.

If you’ve never given The Tragically Hip a fair shot, I’ve compiled a series of tracks to give you a short introduction to what the band is capable of at their best. The following songs have been live staples from the time of their release, and act as a sort of mini-Best Of comp for the uninitiated. Their real Best Of compilation, Yer Favorites, was a double album released in 2005, and serves as an excellent introduction to one of the most under appreciated bands of the past 20 years.

MP3 :: New Orleans Is Sinking
(from Up To Here, 1989)

MP3 :: Little Bones
(from Road Apples, 1991)

MP3 :: At the Hundredth Meridian
(from Fully Completely, 1992)

These three songs are a few of the many highlights from the band’s most consistent time period. Each should be a staple of classic rock radio.

MP3 :: Grace, Too
(from Day For Night, 1994)

MP3 :: Ahead by a Century
MP3 :: Scared
(from Live Between Us, 1997)

“Grace, Too” is my personal favorite Hip song, and always the best live show opener. It scaled back the straight ahead rock of the earlier songs to something more carefully nuanced and moody, resulting in this amazing, subdued anthem. “Scared” and “Ahead By A Century” are both from the Hip’s only live album, Live Between Us, and capture the band doing what they do best.

MP3 :: Bobcaygeon
MP3 :: Fireworks
(from Phantom Power, 1998)

These two songs, from the reinvigorated Phantom Power, are fine examples of why the Hip are so loved in their native land and ignored in America. “Bobcaygeon” is a shuffling folk-influenced song, name-dropping Willie Nelson and featuring some fine acoustic guitar picking. However, the song’s title comes from a small town in Northern Canada, thereby most likely doing little more than confusing fans unaware of this fact. “Fireworks” is bristling modern-rock, perhaps their slickest and catchiest song up to then, but mixing hockey memories, Canadian-Russian foreign relations as a metaphor for dealing with the inter-personal, and the way culture jumps from hot item to hot item like they were exploding fireworks, although brilliantly interweaved, wasn’t the way to reach us simple-minded Americans.

MP3 :: The Dire Wolf
(from In Violet Light, 2002)

After Phantom Power the Hip’s output seemed to get stuck in a rut of relying on past song structures and sounds, while Downie’s lyrics lost some of their striking imagery for something decidedly more opaque. “The Dire Wolf” breaks that mold, presenting once again interesting lyrics, full of sea imagery and Canadian settings, against a wall of rising guitars and a memorable melody.

Purchase any and all of the above albums at Amazon

Check out the Hip’s website for lots of tour information, live music, and videos. Their new album, World Container, is also streaming there.


matt said...

Greatly underappreciated band! Is there any way we can get the last five tracks in mp3 format?? Thanks.

James said...

Hey Matt -

Thanks for taking the time to write, and sorry about the other formats. Since I've been added to the Hype Machine last week I've learned that a lot of my files aren't in mp3 format. I'm working on it.

If you like the Hip you should certainly pick up an album or two. "Road Apples", "Fully Completely" and "Phantom Power" are my favorites, and there is a very solid 2xcd best of called Yer Favorites which is well worth the money for a beginner.

Thanks again,

matt said...

I own Day For Night which is an outstanding record and Ive been able to procure a few tunes via the blogosphere. My faves are "Fifty Mission Cap" and I have live version of "Highway Girl" that is incredible. Thanks again for this post!

James said...

Day for Night is indeed a fantastic record, if maybe just a song or two too long. 50MC is a classic as well, and I know the Highway Girl you're talking about. The one with the apartment story, right? You won't be disappointed diving a little deeper than you already have with the Hip.

James said...

Matt -

The files have been converted to mp3....enjoy!