MUSIC CHEAT SHEET: Hanlon's Hip faves
Sarah Hanlon picks her top Tragically Hip songs - no easy task! POSTMEDIA
SARAH HANLON/ 24 HOURS
Canada is still reeling from the death of its beloved frontman, Gord Downie.
The Tragically Hip frontman who captured millions with his riveting live performances and intimate lyrical prowess faced a very public battle with terminal brain cancer which ultimately took the singer’s life last week.
No artist has ever faced demise on their own terms more than Downie. After publically announcing his brain cancer last spring, the musician, poet and historian didn’t slow down artistically. In fact, he amped up his passion projects — leaving us with a legacy that keeps on giving.
Below are our favourite songs from The Tragically Hip:
The opening song to Man Machine Poem, the band’s 13th album, is haunting, moody and almost hypnotic. Great for a moment of morning meditation or a calming way to end your day — Man is a fantastic song that sets a whimsical tone for a phenomenal album. While it was written before Downie’s diagnosis with cancer, it has elements of reflection, beauty and grace that reminds the listener of the beauty in Downie’s journey and public persona. I love Man because it is an auditory adventure that uses sound and music in really interesting ways to create an almost house-like trance track.
Ahead by A Century
This track from the 1996 album Trouble At The Henhouse is No. 1 on my playlist because the song could be about Downie himself. The enigmatic singer who was seemingly too intellectual and dimensional for mainstream U.S. markets has always been was ahead of his time creatively. Acutely aware of his voice as an instrument, Downie use of syncopation, tone, and reverb compliment the music and the lyrics in a way that brings a song to life. Just listen to the symbolic poetry in the song-writing of Ahead By A Century itself: “But that’s when the hornet stung me/And I had a serious dream/With revenge and doubt/Tonight we smoked them out.” For many people, Ahead By A Century reminds them of their father, their older sibling or someone truly inspiring — for me, it will always be about Gord Downie himself.
38 Years Old
No song stirs the imagination like 38 Years Old, which was released in 1990 as the fourth single from the Hip’s first full-length studio album, Up To Here. The chorus captures you in an instant and has your mind immediately questioning: who, what, why? “Same pattern on the table, same clock on the wall/Been one seat empty, eighteen years in all/Freezing slow time, away from the world/He’s thirty-eight years old, never kissed a girl.” Well, if you were wondering, the dramatically twangy, guitar-heavy song is a fictitious account of a real-life prison breakout that happens outside of Kingston, Ontario at the Millhaven Institution in 1973. Although one of their most popular and well-known songs, the band rarely played 38 Years Old during live shows.
At The Hundredth Meridian
The lyrics of this song, released in April 1993 as the fourth single from the band’s 1992 album, Fully Completely, are loaded with historic and personal references. The Hundredth Meridian refers to the line of longitude which separates the prairies from the more urban landscape to the east. In the song, Downie waxes nostalgic and romantic ideas of the plains while simultaneously jarring us with his manically fast vocals. When performing At The Hundredth Meridian live, they would often speed up the tempo and use the extra time for a longer jam.
Probably their most popular song, this pretty track from Fully Completely pairs an airy acoustic guitar with Downie’s melodic, full voice, making it one of the most singable tracks the band has. The light musical quality allows for a darker story to be told in the lyrics: “Late breaking story on the CBC, a nation whispers/We always knew that he’d go free” they add, “you can’t be fond of living in/The past, ‘cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last/Wheat kings and pretty things/Let’s just see what tomorrow brings.”
Wheat Kings tells the story of David Milgaard — who was imprisoned for 23 years under false rape and murder charges before finally being released in 1992 (Wheat Kings was released six months later). The Hip wrote the song after meeting Milgaard’s sister who was gathering petitions for her brother’s release at one of their concerts. After his release, David Milgaard was able to attend a Tragically Hip concert where they dedicated this song to him.