I’ve never considered myself a Tragically Hip superfan, but in the wake of singer Gord Downie’s passing last night, it is hard not to feel impacted. The group produced many great songs over its three-decade career (as well as a few not-so-great ones) and gradually cemented its status as “Canada’s band.” Downie himself was a fascinating and charismatic figure. He will be remembered for his music, his poetry, and his tireless work for reconciliation.
What follows are my selections for the Tragically Hip’s best songs:
A love song centred around the 1972 Summit Series. What could be more Canadian?
8. Grace, Too
Slow and haunting. An emotional highlight from performances on the band’s final tour.
7. Ahead by a Century
Their best-known song. Exemplifies Downie’s odd “rising inflection” style of singing. You can always tell a Hip song by its melody.
Introduced in concert as being “about a couple of gay cops that fall in love.”
5. Gift Shop
Goes from moody and reflective to a driving rocker.
4. New Orleans Is Sinking
Their riffiest song. Just try not to headbang!
3. Wheat Kings
A melancholy ballad that doesn’t skimp on the Canadiana.
2. Nautical Disaster
A slightly dark one about, well, a nautical disaster.
Wikipedia informs me that this song was released as a single in 1995, but I can’t recall ever having heard it on the radio. An underappreciated masterpiece, this quirky acoustic ballad, featuring understated crescendos and Downie’s characteristically head-scratching lyrics, is sad and beautiful.