After hearing The Tragically Hip’s 13th album, “Man Machine Poem”, many felt the songs were about lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie’s previously announced diagnosis with terminal brain cancer. They are not. Downie wrote all the words for them before receiving the news. Still, it’s easy to understand how the connection could be made.
Like on The Hip’s prior albums, Downie’s lyrics are poetic tapestries that can have many deep interpretations; mortality and the inevitability of death being among them. Gord Downie went beyond being a song lyricist; he was a talented and inspired poet, a humanitarian, and from what I have read, a genuinely nice guy. I had the pleasure of meeting the band members back in 1998 and my impression was that all them were.
Though Gord Downie is no longer with us, his words will forever live on in the songs of The Tragically Hip. From their 30 year of recording together, there remains more than enough unreleased material to fill a posthumous album; so maybe there is just a little more from The Tragically Hip on the horizon. One can only hope.
Day For Night is a film technique wherein filters or underexposure are used to make a movie scene shot in daylight or a well-lit studio a little darker, to make it look like it was shot at night. It is also title of The Tragically Hip’s fourth album; easily the darkest in their canon.
Compared to other Hip albums, the songs on “Day for Night” definitely have a darker feeling. The deep, moody bass lines are more dominant and the guitars are more sustained and droning. Gord Downie’s lyrics, as always, emphasize multiple layers of interpretation, but here convey a slightly more somber, sometimes more aggressive quality than on The Hip’s earlier records.
The Tragically Hip are not inherently a dark band and “Day for Night” is not by any means a dark album. But it is dark for The Hip, and that is what makes it one of their most intriguing albums. “Day for Night” is an album that exposes The Hip through a filtered lens; one that gives the listener a chance, if only for 80 minutes or so, to trade in their day for night.
When I started rebuilding my vinyl collection I knew Tragically Hip records would find their way into it at some point. What I didn’t know was that I would run across a great deal on a box set that included all 14 of their albums on vinyl. The box set also came with a poster and a turntable matt that has the band’s logo on it, including their gargoyle mascot.
Tom Cochrane never believed in following trends. He believed in individuality. That’s a theme that weaves throughout Red Rider’s third album, “Neruda”.
The album’s title was nod to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who was exiled from his home country for holding on to his individualistic beliefs. The songs on “Neruda” all revolve around the importance of the individual living in a society geared towards following trends in order to fit in.
Red Rider was one of the best Canadian rock bands in the 1980’s. Their guitarist, singer and songwriter, Tom Cochrane was one of the most gifted songwriters of that decade. His songs always had a lyrical depth that was far beyond most of his peers. The accompanying music was always a perfect blend of guitar and keyboards, not too polished or rough around the edges; never over produced. Like Red Rider’s other albums, the songs on “Neruda” are easy to listen to but could be at the same time aggressive and challenging. They were always well written and intriguing. And perhaps most importantly, they are never ever trendy.
There are two types of people when it comes to The Tragically Hip. Those who love them as one of the most incredible rock bands ever, and those who have never heard of them. That latter group doesn’t know what the ‘F’ they’re missing out on. But you Canadian’s know.
If I had to pick a favorite Tragically Hip album, I suppose it would be “Fully Completely”. Only because, barring the sentimentality behind first hearing them on my honeymoon in Toronto, this was the album where I realized what incredible band The Tragically Hip were.
It was on “Fully, Completely”, that I discovered how wonderful it can be after the honeymoon; when I could strip out the newness and the sentimentality. It was a time when I first analyzed the core and heart and soul before me and realized the awesome aura of honesty, sincerity and passion surrounding me.
Wait a second…was I talking about my wife of almost 30 years or The Tragically Hip’s music.
I love you Helen.
The Hip are pretty F’ing awesome too.
Gordon Lightfoot was more than just a Canadian singer/songwriter. He was a prolific poet and storyteller.
Although it doesn’t contain my favorite song by him, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, “Sundown” is my favorite Gordon Lightfoot album. Besides, the title track on this album ranks a close second favorite.
“Sundown” is Gordon Lightfoot at his absolute best. His baritone voice is soothing and invigorating drawing you in to lyrics that tell stories of life and love and are perfectly suited to Lightfoot’s distinct brand of mostly acoustic Canadian folk rock.
Being the most popular doesn’t necessarily make you the best. Being real and true to yourself does. The Tragically Hip were the best Canadian band ever.
The Tragically Hip never compromised their music for commercial success, yet found great success in the great white north. Making music that is real and true is what The Hip were always all about. From 1989 to 2016, The Tragically Hip were Canada’s rock and roll ambassadors to the world. Even though they gave their last performance in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario in 2016 – a televised performance viewed live by a third of all Canadians – they are still considered by many to be the band that best defines Canada today. Gord Downie, who was taken from us way too soon by brain cancer, was a lyricist who was quite possibly the most prolific Canadian poet ever.
“Trouble at the Henhouse” is one of my favorite albums by The Tragically Hip; my all-time favorite Canadian band. It is their 6th of 14 albums, all of which are in my vinyl collection.
The guitar hanging in the background was signed by all the members of The Hip. I asked Gord Downie to put some words of wisdom on it. He wrote:
“Play to live. Das Hips”.
Most Americans will admit without hesitation that our neighbors to the north (or to the south if you live in Detroit) know how to rock. Granted, you recently gave us Justin Bieber, but you also gave us bands like The Guess Who, so we’ll let you slide on your more recent export.
The Guess who were popular in Canada long before America eventually discovered them. Once they broke onto the American music scene in the late 1960s, they seemed to be an unstoppable musical force, due in part to Randy Bachman’s guitar and Burton Cummings unmistakable vocals. Within a few short years, they had amassed enough popularity to easily fill a compilation album of hit songs along with a couple early fan favorites which they released in 1971.
Randy Bachman would eventually leave The Guess Who at the height of their popularity due to creative differences. He would go on to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, another Canadian band who gained huge success in Canada and the United States.
Canadians like to Rock!
When I think of bands from the great white North, the first three bands from the golden age of vinyl that come to mind are Bachman Turner Overdrive, Rush, and Triumph. Maybe it’s having to put out more energy in order to deal with all that snow and the bitter cold up there. I don’t know. But those are three of the hardest rocking bands from the ’70s.
“Allied Forces” is the fifth album by Triumph. It is, in my opinion, the album that best defines the Canadian power trio – and not just because it contains their two most successful songs, “Fight the Good Fight” and “Magic Power”. The songs on this album are collectively everything a good hard rock album should be. They are gritty, powerful, melodic, and lyrically inspiring.
Many bands go through changes. Sometimes it’s to avoid getting bored, wanting to try something new. Sometimes it’s an attempt to better find their footing. Sometimes it’s a search for that ever elusive radio friendly single. For Rush, “A Farewell To Kings” was an attempt at all three.
Rush’s debut, self-titled album, was a combination of hard rock and metal. Their second, “Fly By Night” was not as rough around the edges and more straightforward hard rock. Their third, “Caress of Steel” ventured more into progressive rock territory. It was a change that alienated much of their established fan base. Although a good record, it was for the most part was a flop for the Canadian trio. “2112”, their fourth album, struck gold for them with its melding together the styles of its predecessors.
But what really had eluded Rush to this point, and what their musical career needed, was significant radio airplay. “Closer to the Heart” the sole single released from their fifth studio album, “A Farewell To Kings”, would change that.
For the most part, “A Farewell to Kings” revisited the progressive rock elements that had not done so well for them earlier. But by this time, Rush’s songwriting talents had become more refined and their fans had come to expect more diversity from them.
Being just shy of three minutes long. “Closer to the Heart” was one of Rush’s shortest songs, which made it a great contender to be picked up for heavy rotation on rock radio stations. The fact that it had a beautiful underlying melody, insightful lyrics, and high-caliber musicianship with a great guitar solo, made it an inevitable choice. Consequently, “A Farewell to Kings” and it’s accompanying single, “Closer to the Heart”, catapulted Rush’s popularity to the next level.
The Tragically Hip are one of Canada’s most successful rock bands – at least in their native country. Although they never achieved the success across the border in the US, except for some bordering cities like Detroit and Buffalo, NY. In Canada, the received numerous accolades including 16 Juno Awards. They’ve also had numerous Gold Records and several number one singles in Canada. They’ve always been one of my favorite Canadian bands.
One of the only Radio contest I have ever won was to see meet and greet The Tragically Hip at a small recording studio, where they would perform the private concert for 50 winners and a guest as well as tickets to see them at the Palace of Auburn Hills, a large concert venue outside Detroit. I really wanted to be one of the winners in that contest but new my odds of winning were slim to none. But that didn’t stop me from trying.
One day on my way home from work, the radio DJ announced that caller ten would be one of the winners for the contest just as I was pulling in the driveway. I figured once I got inside, I’d make the call and give it a shot. So I closed my car door, casually walked in the front door, sat my stuff down on the dining room table, picked up the phone and dialed the station. The voice on the other end said “Congratulations! You’re caller 10!”
I was absolutely astonished that I had won. The DJ gave me the details of where the recording studio was and told me I could bring along any one item for them to sign. I had just bought a cheap electric guitar at a garage sale the a few weekends prior, so I knew what I would be carrying into the studio with me, along with a silver Sharpie. That guitar proudly hangs on the wall in my man cave.
I have to say, the guys in The Tragically Hip are some of the most genuinely nice bunch of guys I have ever met. There was no rock star arrogance and a real appreciation for their fans. They are one of the few bands I know of that during their 32 years as a band, always had the same members.
Unfortunately, a few years back Gordon Downie, their lead singer and primary lyricist, was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away in 2016. A very sad day for Canadian Rock.