When the Tragically Hip played what is looking more and more like their final show, it was dubbed quite rightfully by the CBC as “A National Celebration.” After all, this was a band that was being lauded not for changing the course of music, making great strides in fashion or being outspoken political influencers, but for creating a language through their songs that two generations of Canadians now spoke.
Yes, the Tragically Hip toured through the United States, Europe and Australia (And even a one-off show in the Cayman Islands to celebrate what looked to be the 25th anniversary of a liquor store?) And yet in the year since they’ve walked away from the stage, it’s been largely in Canada that their legacy has begun to be created: they were awarded the Order of Canada, were honoured by their hometown OHL team with jerseys donning the names of their songs and just last week, Long Time Running, a film that documents their final tour, made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Long Time Running is a rare glimpse behind the curtain of a band of childhood friends that always eschewed the spotlight, preferring to let their songs represent them. And with good reason: Canadians never explicitly got behind the band because they triumphed over the rest of the world in the way say, a Sidney Crosby or Lester B. Pearson did.
They did so because in a world in which it is often become difficult for Canadians to forge an identity, these songs were the terribly literate and insightful inside jokes that only we could share, a language we used to spark connections with other Canadians we hardly know in a country of titanic proportions that connections between us can sometimes feel tenuous. These songs forced us to look inwards and dared us to understand where Clayoquot Sound and Attiwapiskat were, why David Milgaard matters and why we shouldn’t forget Dan Snyder.
National identities often are forged in ways we least expect, and generations from now, the songs of the Tragically Hip may be one of the few things that Canadians can still share.
Now, this isn’t to say, of course, that every Tragically Hip song is a barn-burning ode to all that’s good and holy in this country. It’s not even to say that every Tragically Hip song is all that good. Over 13 studio LPs and one EP, the band released 162 songs. And just as we’ve come to collectively lambast the word “moist” as part of the English language, so too have some Tragically Hip songs resonated more strongly with listeners than others.
As Long Time Running may very well find you deciding to give the Tragically Hip’s catalogue another listen, we decided to dive into their entire back catalogue (Only tracks from their studio albums, no B-sides or live stuff here, because that’s another dialect altogether) and rank their songs.
We’ve broken their songs up into 10 ranked categories and assigned their songs into these categories, giving breakdowns wherever warranted. We’re also sure you’ll probably disagree with some of our choices but hey, is that not what using language is for?
The Unrecognizable Tracks
Though the Tragically Hip probably hit their stride in the mid-to-late 90s with a string of albums heavy on chugging, literate rock, they were never a band to have their songwriting constrained. There were tracks that pushed the boundaries of their sound on every record: Some hits and more than a few misses. There’s no sense in faulting a band that felt comfortable enough with each other to experiment sonically, but not all experiments work. To play the tracks below to a mildly casual Hip fan would involve a heavy amount of convincing that what they were listening to is indeed the sound of Canada’s house band.
Oh, and their debut EP is largely unlistenable now.
162-I’m a Werewolf, Baby
Atop a strange, lopsided riff, Downie sings the line that lands this track in Tragically Hip purgatory: “Ripped my pants, ripped my shirt/I’m gonna eat your mother for dessert”
161-As I Wind Down the Pines
157-All Canadian Surf Club
156-Done and Done
There’s a few confusing tracks on Trouble at the Henhouse but the blasé tone of “Apartment Song” is light years away from even the band’s middle of the road stuff.
151-Frozen in My Tracks
149-Small Town Bringdown
147-She Didn’t Know
The A for Effort Tracks
The Tragically Hip were always trying very hard. They tried to tour every corner of the country, they tried to make themselves accessible to fans, they tried to map the sound of a country sometimes uncomfortable in their own skin and they tried to do all of this as much as possible.
But sometimes, they tried a little too hard to make a song work. Every album by any band consisting of multiple songwriters always has that “Little song that could” and what follows are the A for effort tracks.
The band’s attempt at adult contemporary radio is cringe-worthy.
144-Tired as Fuck
143-I’ll Believe in You
142-Bring It All Back
It’s all well and good that the band should exercise their punk influences but singing about a turbulent flight is a distancing act.
139-The Last Recluse
138-Last Night I Dreamed You Didn’t Love Me
136-About this Map
135-Throwing Off Glass
Allegory for some NSFW stuff or not, the way this one plods reminds me of something a band would do for stoned laughs in soundcheck.
131-If New Orleans is Beat
130-Love is a First
The boring tracks that can still pass the time
Look, I’ll take a bad Tragically Hip track over most good tracks from their contemporaries time and time again. And the band wrote many songs that weren’t necessarily bad, but also felt like the type of songs they could write in their sleep. These are the tracks that plod along just fine, thank you very much, but don’t have that je nais se quoi that elevates them to something special
125-All Tore Up
Name-dropping Algonquin Park was a nice, albeit obvious, touch.
123-The Heart of the Melt
121-Yawning or Snarling
The climax at the end of the build of this track is one of the better hills the band climbs, even if takes a little too long to get there.
116-Heaven is a Better Place Today
115-When the Weight Comes Down
114-We’ll Go Too
113-Now for Plan A
The tracks that have potential, but were poorly constructed
Five songwriters means five very different opinions about which direction to take a song in. Many of the tracks below have elements within them that could push them into that very good or maybe even great territory, but stop short because of clunky construction or structure. A great Tragically Hip song has layers to unpack: consider the following songs onions that have a spot or two in them that spoils them from the bunch.
112-Now the Struggle Has a Name
109-The Exact Feeling
The band were known for literally passing a guitar around the studio to share ideas. The verse and chorus in this single sound like they were results of two drastically different sessions.
107-Wild Mountain Honey
106-A Beautiful Thing
Lyrically indulgent, this album closer sounds like a product of Bob Rock’s effusive production style.
102-Are You Ready
100-Man Machine Poem
99-One Night in Copenhagen
Downie sings of a drugged-out night in the Danish capital and, while groovy enough, sounds like it was recorded in one take under those same drugs.
95-So Hard Done By
The decent but probably overrated tracks (That were still better than almost every other 90s
Canadian rock track)
The following songs begin to approach that territory where they’re recognized by the casual fan. Some of these songs even became set list mainstays in the band’s live shows. And make no mistake, most of these are indeed well constructed songs, if not held in too high a regard because of being overplayed by FM rock radio.
In short, these are the kinds of songs that allow you to connect with fellow Hip fans, but should force you to dive a bit deeper into their exhaustive catalogue.
90-Yer Not the Ocean
89-Springtime in Vienna
Downie has said before that this is his favourite Tragically Hip track, though he doesn’t exactly know why. That sounds about right.
87-It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken
The winding, delicate single from 2002’s In Violet Light is the best of the low point of their career, creatively speaking.
86-Twist My Arm
Though it’s one of the band’s most memorable riffs, they ride the wave through this song on that riff alone.
85-Boots or Hearts
The chugging rock tracks that defined their sound
Sorry, now we’re talking. You won’t find many radio singles in here (Remember them?) but what you will find are songs that are unmistakably “Hip” in their essence: two grinding guitars pushing out a chunky, reverberating sound that will find even the most docile squeezing their fists and pumping along.
These songs are the backbone of the albums they find themselves on. Often the type of song sandwiched between singles to keep the album afloat, these are the songs that always find themselves in the better half of each album’s track list.
Many I’ve spoken to about the band have found it difficult to put their quintessential sound into words. These are the tracks that those people were looking to define.
83-Here in the Dark
82-Everytime You Go
Containing some of Downie’s most evocative lyrics, he professes his love for rivers atop a chugging, Neil Young-esque groove.
The Tragically Hip does Springsteen.
76-Inevitability of Death
75-Summer’s Killing Us
74-On the Verge
73-700 Ft. Ceiling
71-Looking for a Place to Happen
Of the billion or so singles off of 1992’s Fully Completely this is the one you probably can’t yet pick out a lineup.
67-An Inch an Hour
66-Fire in the Hole
Once their standard set closer, this is the band at their most beautifully chaotic.
The good, underrated and overlooked tracks (for, ahem… hipsters)
There’s a reason this section of the list has the most tracks. That so many people associate the band with hearing “New Orleans is Sinking” for the umpteenth time is a damn shame. These are the songs that show the Tragically Hip at equal parts innovative and comfortable. They use the most potent elements of that aforementioned chunky sound mixed with an uninhibited flair that speaks to their divergent tastes and influences. Or perhaps try an approach they never have before and it sounds like old hat.
These are the change up pitches that so few bands have in their arsenal. There’s little wrong with them as songs: The only thing holding them back is exposure to a wider audience and the chance to further influence a culture they’d be welcomed in.
64-Queen of the Furrows
61-The Dark Canuck
57-Use it Up
56-As Makeshift as We Are
There’s no reason why this shouldn’t have been one of the band’s radio singles. A straight ahead, joyous revelation.
55-The Kids Don’t Get It
54-Tiger the Lion
53-Let’s Stay Engaged
52-We Want to Be It
What at first sounds like another love song, this could be an autobiography of the band’s upcoming, complete with a truly hypnotic chorus.
51-The Lonely End of the Rink
46-Are We Family
45-Save the Planet
44-Last of the Unplucked Gems
43-Put It Off
Bass heavy and pointed, the band’s psychedelic influences take hold in this stunner.
41-Don’t Wake Daddy
A large element of Downie’s genius is his ability to pair lyrics with songs that somehow sound like whatever he’s singing about. This tale of a man heading down Niagara Falls in a barrel is a swirling, boiling delight.
39-The Darkest One
36-Last American Exit
The only decent track off their debut EP. Even early in their career, life on the road was seeping into their songs.
The great, storytelling tracks
Downie’s lyrics star in most of these tracks. If they’re not songs rich with poetic intrigue and plot twists, they still suck listeners in the kind of wordplay that has made Downie a fucking national treasure. He rose to the occasion too, as sonically, this is some of the band’s best work.
34-In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
32-The Dire Wolf
31-Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park
30-The Depression Suite
29-Born in the Water
For all the Tragically Hip songs that appear to celebrate Canadian history, here’s one about Sault Ste. Marie’s backwards language laws that ought to push fans to research some of the uglier moments of that aforementioned history.
Downie’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer during the making of 2012’s Now for Plan A and this two-and-a-half minute pop ditty exposes the genuine frailty of where he was at.
27-38 Years Old
Generations from now, this may be the song most closely associated with the Tragically Hip. It put a small town on the map and admitting you dislike this story of a cop in love is kind of like admitting you’re already dead inside.
The tracks that will start a sing-a-long
These are the Tragically Hip songs you’ll hear at weddings for a reason. We know them, we all (Even secretly) love them and so many Tragically Hip fans can remember a specific time and place when we heard these songs.
They might have been beaten to death by DJ’s, but that so many of them are 20+ years old and still continually heard at backyard BBQ’s, cottages, open mics and the like speaks to their perseverance. These are the songs that made the band famous and will serve as the introduction for new Tragically Hip fans for years to come.
22-Music at Work
21-At the Hundredth Meridian
This bombastic classic probably forced more students to pay attention in Geography class.
20-New Orleans is Sinking
Probably the band’s easiest track to dance too, the Tragically Hip have made a habit of using this song to rescue setlist lulls during their live shows.
15-Blow at High Dough
And this soothing cautionary tale probably forced more teachers to answer more questions about David Milgaard than they ever thought they’d have to.
The gold standard
Every single one of these songs offers something different. And not just different from each other, but different from the Tragically Hip song that came before it and different from the entire blueprint on how to write a great guitar-based song.
Downie nails the lyrics with each of these, and with a variety of punches.
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy,” Ludwig van Beethoven said. If that’s true, these are the Tragically Hip songs that are capable of attaining those heights.
As political as the Tragically Hip has ever gotten, more people need to hear this late addition to the band’s canon.
11-Locked in the Trunk of a Car
A deep dive into the psyche of a killer makes for a haunting bit of catharsis.
Another autobiographical number, this could be Downie paying homage to his bandmates in song.
An absolute barn burner, this is the quintessential bar band track.
8-Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man:
It sucks you in with a slow building bass line and never let go.
Only Downie could turn a trip to one of the world’s most-visited attractions into a perfectly crafted 90’s rock track.
It’s not a Tragically Hip show until you’ve bobbed and screamed along to this one. It’s sheer release and exultation.
5-Fifty Mission Cap
Though the backwards ball cap-wearing bros might have hijacked this one early on, the marriage of a mysterious loss and a unifying victory is worth every fist pump.
4-Long Time Running
At their heart, the Tragically Hip are a blues band. And this homage to small town love would made the likes of Howlin’ Wolf proud.
Don’t even try and find a more traditionally beautiful Tragically Hip song. It won’t happen. Soft acoustic guitars weave in an out on this stunningly layered track.
2-Ahead by a Century
Likely the last Tragically Hip song ever played live, the band went out on a high note. It will forever evoke those final, long summer days and bring listeners back to a more peaceful, innocent place.
Who needs a chorus when you have commanding guitars building into a tale of woe at sea that is both personal and powerful. At the band’s best, the Tragically Hip have always been able to make big moments feel intimate. I’ll never understand how they were able to pull this track off, which is probably a good thing: It’s worth a lifetime of listens, after all.