The Tragically Hip lives. A new album, the first since Man Machine Poem in 2016, will arrive tomorrow. This requires quite a bit of explanation.
When the band went to New Orleans to record the Road Apples album in September 1990, they went armed with a dozen solid songs destined for the album. But when they arrived, they were so full of energy and creativity that they just kept on writing. The end result was that they had more songs than would fit on the album. Some hard choices had to be made about which songs to include and which ones to leave out.
In all cases, it wasn’t a matter of which songs were necessarily better than the others. Although the dropped tracks were all very good, a few sounded a little too similar to songs that were slam-dunks. If “Little Bones,” “Twist My Arm,” and “Cordelia” were going to make it, then it wouldn’t be prudent to include songs that were constructed the same way and with a similar sort of groove and feel. Makes sense, right?
Twelve tracks were chosen, Road Apples was a huge hit (it was the first Hip album to reach #1 in Canada), and it eventually sold more than a million copies. Job well done, then.
But what of these orphaned songs? This is where it gets interesting.
The master tapes featuring these tracks–big 2-inch tapes containing pure analogue material–were kinda…misplaced. For about 30 years.
Even the band didn’t know of their whereabout or existence. And get this: the tape boxes weren’t even labeled! (Not the band’s fault, but whatever.)
A couple of years ago, a series of strange events led the band to start a search for these tapes. Johnny Fay, the band’s drummer, was like a dog on a bone, scouring North America for the missing Road Apple tapes. When most of them were found (a few are apparently still AWOL), they were carefully rehabilitated, digitized, and mixed to 2021 standards.
The result is a new album of old unreleased Hip songs called Saskadelphia. It contains six of the (at least) 65 documented unreleased Tragically Hip songs from over the decades.
Here’s the tracklisting.
- Ouch (Let’s call this one the single)
- Not Necessary
- Montreal (Written for Road Apples but this is a live recording from the Bell Centre in Montreal in 2000).
- Crack My Spine Like a Whip
- Just as Well
- Reformed Baptist Blues (One of the oldest Tragically Hip originals)
By the way, the name Saskadelphia was the original name of Road Apples, but that was nixed by the band’s American record label. “Too Canadian,” they said. So as a way of getting back at the label, the Hip went with Road Apples, an even MORE Canadian reference. As Rob Baker told me “Road apples are what a horse leaves behind. In my parents’ generation, they used to play hockey using frozen horse shit. So we decided beat the critics to the punch and call our album ‘horse shit’ first.”
Last week, I sat down with all four surviving members of the band to talk about the album. That conversation will be broadcast as part of a special edition of The Ongoing History of New Music this weekend. I think the first station to run it will be Q107/Toronto at 7 pm EDT Friday.
Gee, a new Hip album in time for the May long weekend? Nice timing, huh. But I’m warning you: Prepare for a flood of emotions when Gord Downie appears in your ears with new material from an era when the Hip was approaching their prime.
Here’s a preview.