RIP, Pat. You were one hell of a great songwriter. You will be missed.
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RIP Gord Downie
I remember hearing The Tragically Hip back in my senior year of college, when Fully Completely came out, just a few days before my 22nd birthday. I was the music director for our AM station, WECB, and I always tried to keep the selection eclectic and interesting. I’d heard of the band, having seen their previous three releases in the music bins (1987’s self-titled EP, 1989’s Up to Here and 1991’s Road Apples), but their third album was definitely their breakthrough, at least in Beantown. I loved that they were a mixture that defied description, other than they sounded really cool. I immediately put “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” in rotation and “Fifty Mission Cap” as an extra play.
A year later, I’m living quite skint in the burbs of Allston and for a brief time my roommate and I have cable, and my then-girlfriend and I start watching Canada’s MuchMusic channel in earnest. It’s where I first hear great Canadian musicians like Moist, Barenaked Ladies, and Sloan in regular rotation instead of just occasionally. I stumble upon The Hip’s classic single “Grace, Too” (from 1995’s Day for Night) when I watch their video, greatly amused and fascinated by its lo-fi genius, using only video feedback, reflection, and a shirtless Gord to play off the boasting lyrics. It becomes my favorite song of theirs.
A few years later and I’m back home in midwestern Massachusetts, trying to get my life and accounts back in order, and I’m listening to WRSI and WHMP, two Pioneer Valley stations that weren’t afraid to play the same eclectic music that I loved hearing back in my college days. I hear occasional plays of “Ahead by a Century” (from 1996’s Trouble at the Henhouse) but alas, never get around to taping it off the radio.
By 1998 I’ve got a steady job at the record store and expanding my musical tastes with every new and intriguing release that comes in. So much the better if I can get a promo copy for it! The BMG rep hands me a copy of their 1998 album Phantom Power and I immediately fall in love with it, especially the lovely “Bobcaygeon”.
By the end of 2000 I’d be leaving that job, but not before getting another dose of the Hip with that year’s Music@Work album. I find myself amused once more, this time by the fitting title song:
…as well as one if the deeper cuts, “Freak Turbulence.”
In 2002, I’m writing my trilogy down in the basement on a nightly basis, and hitting up Newbury Comics on a weekly basis, and In Violet Light comes out, another excellent Hip album. Oddly enough it’s years before I actually see the hilarious video for my favorite song off it, “The Darkest One”.
I kind of lose track of the band in the mid-2000s due to multiple moves and personal events, but eventually I catch up and pick up the rest of their catalog. I sadly admit that I don’t listen to them nearly as much as I should, and I never got to see them live.
But The Tragically Hip has never really been a band that I wanted to overindulge in. I like the fact that I’ll throw on Live Between Us or Now for Plan A or even Yer Favourites and think…damn, this is one hell of a great band. I like being pleasantly surprised by just how fucking good a band like that can be.
Thanks Gord. You were one hell of a great songwriter and humanitarian.
When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time
Thinking about some of the great musicians we lost this year, I realized that Bowie, Prince, and George Michael all had career-changing releases in 1987. It was probably the last year I paid any significant attention to commercial rock and the countdown charts before I sold my soul to college radio, but I still kept my ears (and eyes) open for the big names at the time.
David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down (released 27 April 1987) was a big seller but had a mixed reaction from its critics. Having spent most of the 80s recording catchy but less-than-adventurous chart rock, after this album he’d work with Reeves Gabrels and Hunt and Tony Sales to form Tin Machine — an often maligned side project, but in my opinion a much needed boost to his creativity. He’d follow up in the 90s with much stronger albums and critical success. It took me a while to warm up to this album, as I too felt Bowie had fallen into a bit of a rut and was going through the motions, but in retrospect it’s still a solid album.
Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (released 30 March 1987) is one of my top favorite albums of his, and its creation story is even more fascinating. Known for creating multiple side projects that may or may not come to fruition, Prince took the best parts of his Camille project (recording under a different name, an altered voice, and an even more androgynous image), the last dregs of two aborted projects with the Revolution before he ended that group (Dream Factory and Crystal Ball), and filled it out with his own solo tracks to create a fantastic double album full of funk, pop, psychedelia, rock, and even a few of his patented weird psych-outs. I always felt this album was the point where he’d left his over-the-top 80s pop persona behind and became more serious about his music. He’d hit a few more roadblocks and make a few more wrong turns, but by the early 90s he’d hit his stride and become an even bigger star. I still listen to this album, it’s that damn good.
I remember hearing American Top 40 premiering George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” single in the summer of 1987 and being blown away by it — the lite-pop production of Wham! was long gone (it had started slipping away with his “A Different Corner” single from spring 1986) and replaced by HUGE sounds and a hell of a lot of funk, and I loved the sound of it. Radio and fans wondered what he was going to do next, having completely shed the goofy fun of his previous band. His solo debut Faith (released 30 October 1987) was the result: mature, intensely creative and absolutely amazing. I chose “Father Figure” here (even though the single dropped in January of 1988) because it’s my favorite song from the album…it’s a gorgeous and stunning ballad and I love the sparse-yet-cavernous sound of the production.