Music Over 40: Why America Should Have Gotten Hip to the Tragically Hip
The Hip captured the best of 90's rock
As Americans, we enjoy many imports from our good neighbors up north, Canada. Rush, Molson, Labatt, hockey players, Bill Shatner, Jim Carrey and so many others.
But we have missed the boat on one of their most valued musical exports. The Tragically Hip, a Kingston, Ontario quintet, has been together since 1983. They have been releasing albums since 1987 and continue today. While all of their releases are worthwhile, the four album winning streak that started with Up To Here in 1989, going on through Road Apples in 1991, Fully Completely in 1993 and concluding with Day For Night in 1995 is a series of must haves for any Nineties rock enthusiast. Simply stated, these albums stack up with any other catalog in the Alternative Rock era.
Yet, except in border outposts like Buffalo NY and Detroit MI, the band is criminally unknown in the U.S. A slight blip from their appearnce on Saturday Night Live in March of 1995 (featuring fellow Kingston native Dan Ackroyd) was about the only recognition The Hip has really gotten in America. A look back at these four gems may be just the remedy.
Lets start off by recognizing one big accomplishment. The band, which is Gordie Downey on vocals, Bobby Baker on guitar, Paul Langlois on guitar, Gord Sinclair on bass and Johnny Faye on drums has been intact since the beginning, going on 30 years.
Up To Here features classic cuts and live favorites New Orleans is Sinking and Blow At High Dough. It has the spritely Another Midnight, the raucous Ill Believe in You (or Ill Be Leaving You) alongside the shuffling Boots or Hearts. This is counterbalanced by the dark and brooding 38 Years Old and the sinister Opiated.
Road Apples has real winners in the favorites Little Bones and Three Pistols, Catchy rock numbers Twist My Arm, Cordelia and Fight keep your attention. The Hip gets their acoustic groove on for Fiddlers Green and Last of the Unplucked Gems. On the Verge is the sleeper here, a real high tempo rocker that grabs hold and doesn't let go.
Fully Completely may be one of the best Alternative Rock albums of the era. Starting with the anthemic Courage and finishing up the catchy Eldorado, there is nary a wasted note on this one. From the Canadian prairie imagery of Wheat Kings to the American Plains imagery of At the Hundreth Meridian, this one delivers the goods. Toss in fast paced rockers like The Wherewithal and Fully Completely with slower and darker fare such as Locked In the Trunk of A Car and Looking For A Place to Happen and you have got a real winner here.
Bringing up the rear is Day For Night. This is another solid effort that includes The Hips lone foray into the US Modern Rock Chart, Grace Too, is the feature track. Mellower, almost plaintive songs make a significant impact here in the songs Scared, Titanic Terrarium, and Yawning or Snarling. Live favorites So Hard Done By, Fire In The Hole and Nautical Disaster are compelling and all feature different takes on Gord Downie's signature vocal style. There are some uptempo numbers like An Inch An Hour, Daredevil and Impossibilium which create a great balance to this album.
The Tragically Hip is one of those bands where the individual parts really make up an amazing concoction. Gordie Downie's unique vocals and cryptic lyrics, the complimentary and varied twin guitars of Baker and Langlois, and the solid foundation of Sinclair and Faye.
Take a long hard look at any of these four albums and I think you will have yourself a musical companion for a long time. God bless the Maple Leaf!