Music/Lists

A definitive ranking of every Tragically Hip song

September 21, 2017

A close look at one of Canadian music's brightest back catalogues, song by song.

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

160-Cemetery Sideroad

159-Killing Time

158-Evelyn

157-All Canadian Surf Club

156-Done and Done

155-Pretend

154-Apartment Song

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.

153-Highway Girl

152-Toronto #4

151-Frozen in My Tracks

150-Sherpa

149-Small Town Bringdown

148-Trickle Down

147-She Didn’t Know

146-Eldorado

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.

145-Coffee Girl

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

141-Freak Turbulence

It’s all well and good that the band should exercise their punk influences but singing about a turbulent flight is a distancing act.

140-The Rules

139-The Last Recluse

138-Last Night I Dreamed You Didn’t Love Me

137-Leave

136-About this Map

135-Throwing Off Glass

134-Mean Streak

133-Ocean Next

132-Coconut Cream

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

129-Butts Wigglin’

128-Fly

127-Impossibilium

© A.Side / Stephen McGill

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

126-Luv(sic)

125-All Tore Up

124-The Bear

Name-dropping Algonquin Park was a nice, albeit obvious, touch.

123-The Heart of the Melt

122-The Drop-Off

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.

120-Chagrin Falls

119-Emergency

118-The Luxury

117-Streets Ahead

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

111-Hot Mic

110-Fight

109-The Exact Feeling

108-Silver Jet

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

105-World Container

Lyrically indulgent, this album closer sounds like a product of Bob Rock’s effusive production style.

104-In Sarnia

103-Stay

102-Are You Ready

101-Country Day

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.

98-The Completists

97-Titantic Terrarium

96-Lionized

95-So Hard Done By

94-Opiated

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.

93-Modern Spirit

92-Honey, Please

91-Goodnight Josephine

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.

88-Morning Moon

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.

84-Speed River

83-Here in the Dark

82-Everytime You Go

81-Membership

Containing some of Downie’s most evocative lyrics, he professes his love for rivers atop a chugging, Neil Young-esque groove.

80-The Wherewithal

79-Train Overnight

78-Take Forever

77-Putting Down

The Tragically Hip does Springsteen.

76-Inevitability of Death

75-Summer’s Killing Us

74-On the Verge

73-700 Ft. Ceiling

72-The Bastard

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.

70-Vaccination Scar

69-Greasy Jungle

68-At Transformation

67-An Inch an Hour

66-Fire in the Hole

Once their standard set closer, this is the band at their most beautifully chaotic.

65-You’re Everywhere

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

63-Machine

62-Man

61-The Dark Canuck

60-Great Soul

59-Vapour Trails

58-Sharks

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

50-What Blue

49-Thompson Girl

48-Pigeon Camera

47-Another Midnight

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.

42-Thugs

41-Don’t Wake Daddy

40-Daredevil

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

38-Flamenco

37-Cordelia

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.

35-Emperor Penguin

© A.Side / Sarah Rix

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

33-Lake Fever

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.

28-The Lookahead

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

26-Something On

25-Fiddler’s Green

24-Bobcaygeon

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.

23-In View

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

19-Fully Completely

18-Poets

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.

17-Little Bones

16-Fireworks

15-Blow at High Dough

14-Courage

13-Wheat Kings

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.

12-Goodnight Attawapiskat

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.

10-Family Band

Another autobiographical number, this could be Downie paying homage to his bandmates in song.

9-Three Pistols

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.

7-Gift Shop

Only Downie could turn a trip to one of the world’s most-visited attractions into a perfectly crafted 90’s rock track.

6-Grace, Too

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.

3-Scared

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.

1-Nautical Disaster

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.

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