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Top 10 Tragically Hip Songs

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Aaron Cameron It's been a long time coming... it's well worth the wait. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 Tragically Hip songs. For this list, we’ve chosen our entries based on a combination of the artist’s fan favorites and their most commercially successful songs. Special thanks to our user Raymond Leduc  for suggesting this idea, check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Songs+by+The+Tragically+Hip
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It's been a long time coming... it's well worth the wait. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 Tragically Hip songs. 
 
For this list, we’ve chosen our entries based on a combination of the artist’s fan favorites and their most commercially successful songs. However, we’re only choosing songs that are by the Tragically Hip, so tunes from side projects like Rob Baker's Stripper's Union, or Gord Downie's solo career aren’t in the running. 


#10: “Poets”
Phantom Power (1998)

Not only do we not know what the poets are doing, we don't even know who they are. But as is the way when Gord Downie's involved, everything's about something. Released on 1998's Phantom Power, “Poets” first debuted in true Hip fashion during extended live jams throughout 1997. However, the song didn't really take shape until guitarist Rob Baker later developed the chorus and signature riff. The song was tightened up further in the studio with co-producer Steve Berlin. An instant fan favorite, “Poets” went on to be #1 in Canada for 12 straight weeks, and even managed to crack the top 40 of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart south of the border as well.  
  

#9: “Grace, Too”
Day for Night (1994)

It could be based on the 1944 film noir Double Indemnity, it could be an attack on the UN's modus operandi, or even about a hooker and her extremely eager client. Mind you, Gord Downie claims the title came from a teacher who had a canoe named Grace, Too. Whatever its origins, the lead single from the band’s 4th record hit #11 on the Canadian charts when released, and #19 when re-released 22 years later. Bass heavy, guitar rich, lacking a proper chorus, and featuring the eerie and uncommitted backing vocals of guitarist Paul Langlois, “Grace, Too” is one of the Hip's finest moments – fellow Kingston-area resident Dan Aykroyd even introduced their performance of the track when they played it on SNL.
 

#8: “Wheat Kings”

Fully Completely (1992)

Owing to, or perhaps creating, Gord Downie's status as the unofficial poet laureate of Canada, “Wheat Kings” tackles the wrongful conviction and subsequent release of David Milgaard. Convicted at 17 for the rape and murder of Gail Miller, Milgaard spent 23 years in prison until being released in 1992, and was eventually confirmed innocent once and for all in 1997 by DNA evidence. Milgaard actually passed up parole 20 times as accepting parole would have meant accepting the conviction. Not a protest song, far from preachy, and not even mentioning him by name, “Wheat Kings” manages to tell Milgaard's story and the emotional root of it without a hint of mellow drama or sappiness.
 

#7: “Little Bones”

Road Apples (1991)

Written and recorded in New Orleans, “Little Bones” is loaded with typically eclectic references from Gord Downie. Drawing upon either the Timothy Findley novel “The Last of the Crazy People,” which features a cat named “Little Bones” or a New Orleans cab driver who warned Downie not to choke on the little bones of the chicken he was eating, the song also makes mentions of the Kennedys and makes a passing reference to William Shockley. Road Apples’ 2nd single, meanwhile, was top 20 hit in Canada, and became a radio and live show mainstay – despite Johnny Fay reportedly claiming as early as 1998 to not remember how he played the drums on it. 
 

#6: “Fifty Mission Cap”

Fully Completely (1992)

Bill Barilko did indeed score the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Maple Leafs in 1951, but he went missing months later following a fishing trip in the James Bay area. The Leafs didn't win another until 1962, just weeks before Barilko's body was finally found. This is a story Gord Downie “stole” from a hockey card, which is most likely the number 340 from the 1991 NHL Pro Set trading card series. “Fifty Mission Cap” lays out the true story of Barilko's disappearance, and the hockey card the narrator kept under his hat – perhaps to keep the peak stiff while working in the veteran Air Force Cap. Quite a “hat-trick,” overall.

#5: “Nautical Disaster”
Day for Night (1994)

Kicking off with a haunting bassline from Gord Sinclair, locked in place by Johnny Fay's drums, and featuring guitar work as frantic as the storyline, “Nautical Disaster” is another Hip song that doesn't exactly tick most of the conventional boxes. Lacking anything remotely resembling a chorus, and born out of live versions of “New Orleans is Sinking”, fans speculated that the song was about the Battle of Dieppe during WWII, the sinking of the Titanic, or even the Lusitania. According to Gord Downie, however, it's actually about the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck and the cruelly conducted partial rescue of its crew by the British HMS Dorsetshire.
 


#4: “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)”
Fully Completely (1992)

A common question among at least, casual Tragically Hip fans is “Who is Hugh MacLennan?” Well, Hugh MacLennan was a Nova Scotian novelist and an English professor at McGill University. As for why “Courage” bears a dedication to him, Gord Downie had been reading MacLennan's “The Watch that Ends the Night” and even inserted a few lines into the song's lyrics. But perhaps there's more: MacLennan, like the Hip, was never afraid to openly write about the world around him or to be upfront with his “Canadianess” even if his publishers saw no money in it and which critics accused him of being Canadian for the sake of being Canadian... so it's possible Downie saw a kindred spirit in the arts. 
 


#3: “New Orleans is Sinking”
Up to Here (1989)

A basic requirement for all Canadian cover bands, “New Orleans is Sinking” was recorded not in Canada, or New Orleans, but in Memphis, Tennessee. The song name checks Hank Snow's and later Elvis Presley's manager Col. Tom Parker, and at least one theory has it that “New Orleans” was a steamboat and not the city … but beyond that, it's anyone's guess. Since 1989, “New Orleans is Sinking” has become a forum for on-stage jamming and has seen David Bowie's “China Girl” and the Beach Boy’s “Don't Worry Baby” mashed in. It is also the song that birthed of both “Nautical Disaster” and “Ahead by a Century” – to say nothing of the infamous “Killer Whale” rant... 
  
 

#2: “Bobcaygeon”
Phantom Power (1998)

 
Like “Wheat Kings,” “Bobcaygeon” is a gentle, acoustic number with a sinister underbelly. Moving past a sly reference to marijuana via Willie Nelson, the bulk of “Bobcaygeon” is believed to deal with the Christie Pits riot in 1933. Breaking out after a baseball game, the riot saw Toronto Jewish residents throw down against thugs from various Swastika clubs and damaged Hogtown's then-pristine image. Despite all this, Gord Downie would later claim it's a love song about two gay cops. Perhaps it’s both. As for what any of this has to do the town of Bobcaygeon? It rhymed with “constellation.”  A favourite among both die-hard and casual Hip fans, it was awarded the Juno Single of the year in 2000.
 
 

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
 
“Locked in the Trunk of a Car” 
Fully Completely (1992)
 
 

“Blow at High Dough”
Up to Here (1989)
 
 

“My Music at Work” 
Music @ Work (2000)

 

#1: “Ahead by a Century”
Trouble at the Henhouse (1996)

 
“Ahead by a Century” had a bumpy ride on the way to become the song we know and love today. Originally bass heavy, the song’s various elements were re-tooled by the band members, with Paul Langlois adding his come-and-go backing vocals. As it began to look increasingly single-worthy, Gord Downie reworked the lyrics, removing a pair of c-words, specific to each gender … While its parent album debuted on the top of the Canadian charts, the alternative rock track also became a #1 single, eventually achieving platinum status in its home country. The song also has the bittersweet distinction of being the Hip’s last live song, capping their final show on August 20th, 2016.
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