Guitarist picks fave Hip tracks

Nick Lewis, CanWest News Service

Guitarist picks fave Hip tracks


Published: Friday, July 13, 2007

In 2005, Canada’s most beloved band, The Tragically Hip, released a two-disc retrospective collection entitled Yer Favourites, a set of the Kingston, Ont., act’s most popular tunes.

Well, those were your favourites. We wanted to know what their favourites were. And so we chatted with lead guitarist Rob Baker and went through each one of The Hip’s 11 studio albums, asking him for a tidbit about each, as well as asking him for his favourite song from them.

Until a new Hip record hits stores sometime around late-2008 (they’re hoping), these records are going to have to satiate you.

The Tragically Hip EP (1987)
Singles: “Last American Bringdown”
About the album: “Ken Greer from Red Rider produced this. It was intended as a demo tape, so we just recorded our five most recent songs, not even realizing we were making a record. When they told us they wanted a record, we went into the studio and recorded 22 songs in two days, just live to two-track. They picked two and stuck them on the end to make an EP. Somewhere out there is a tape with 20 unreleased Hip songs, and damned if we can find it.”
Baker’s favourite: “I’m a Werewolf Baby.” “It’s a ripoff of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ but it’s a live staple that led to some good theatrical stuff on stage.”

Up To Here (1989)
Singles: “New Orleans is Sinking,” “Blow at High Dough,” “38 Years Old,” “Boots or Hearts,” “Trickle Down.”
About the album: This features The Hip’s most popular song, “New Orleans is Sinking,” which has a famous live version in which singer Gord Downie goes off into an anecdote about working with killer whales. “We never know what Gord is going to say. Never. It’s strictly off the cuff. He’s never worked with killer whales. He never does repeats, and people keep shouting at him to do the ‘killer whale tank’ version live. He repeated it once only.”
Baker’s favourite: “Opiated” or “New Orleans is Sinking.” “I’ve spent more time in New Orleans than any other city, and anyone who has, knows that it was sinking. The city is not well taken care of and it’s below sea level. I hate to say it, but anyone could see that (the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) was going to happen. Just like anyone living in California should know that one day it’s going to be a free-floating island.”

Road Apples (1991)
Singles: “Little Bones,” “Twist My Arm,” “Cordelia,” “Long Time Running,” “Three Pistols,” “Fiddler’s Green”
About the album: “One of the possible album titles for this was Saskadelphia, but we were signed to an American label at the time, MCA out of Los Angeles, and they didn’t like that. They said, ‘The “delphia” part is okay; what’s “Saska?”’”
Baker’s favourite: “Fiddler’s Green” and “Long Time Running.”

Fully Completely (1992)
Singles: “Courage,” “Looking for a Place to Happen,” “At the Hundredth Meridian,” “Fully Completely,” “Wheat Kings,” “Fifty Mission Cap,” “Locked in the Trunk of a Car.”
About the album: “For the album cover, we brought a Canon laser colour copier into the studio and photocopied our body parts. We had a Dutch artist (Lieve Prins) come in whose work I had seen. I spoke with her at length about a concept, and away she went at making a collage over a weekend. We actually own the piece, the original life-sized piece, in our studio in Bath (Ont.)”
Baker’s favourite: “Pigeon Camera.” “Some of the songs we didn’t have finished by the time we got into the studio, and that one just sprang to life. I had two days to do all my guitar parts on that record. And I had one crack at doing a solo. So when I go back and listen to that, I think, ‘I was pretty good back then. What happened?’”

Day For Night (1994)
Singles: “Grace Too,” “Greasy Jungle,” “So Hard Done By,” “Nautical Disaster,” “Scared.”
About the album: “My name was Bobby Baker on all the records until this. It was a little dig at my parents who hated the name Bobby. They always called me Robbie or Robert or Rob. So when we put a record out, I had to put ‘Bobby Baker’ down. And people who knew me from my personal life called me Rob and people who knew me from music called me Bobby. For a while, it helped me place in context different people depending on what they called me. But by 1994, it didn’t matter.”
Baker’s favourite: “So Hard Done By.” “This was an outtake for Fully Completely. And it was very different-sounding. A lot more chords, a lot more parts, very Midnight Oil-sounding. And we were sitting around late at night with candles and incense, and one of the road guys, Billy Ray, said ‘Why don’t you play ‘So Hard Done By?’’ Of course no one could remember what the arrangement went like. So Gord sang the lyrics and we all just faked it. And it’s way better.”

Trouble At The Henhouse (1996)
Singles: “Ahead by a Century,” “Gift Shop,” “700 Ft. Ceiling,” “Flamenco,” “Butts Wigglin’.”
About the album: “We were leafing through old photography magazines in the studio late one night, and I came across the photo that became the cover and showed it to the guys. And the photo was called ‘Trouble a the Henhouse’. It just seemed fitting.”
Baker’s favourite: “Ahead by a Century.” “Halfway through the recording of Henhouse, that song was at the bottom of the pack and probably wouldn’t have made the record. It was a straight-ahead country song and no one was happy with it, except lyrically. Johnny (Fay) and I stayed late one night at the studio and worked out the song, and when we played it for the guys the next day, it jumped up into the contenders batch.”

Phantom Power (1998)
Singles: “Poets,” “Something On,” “Bobcaygeon,” “Fireworks,” “Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man.”
About the album: “That was a record we did with Steve Berlin from Los Lobos. Los Lobos had toured with us the previous summer, and they were a band we really admired. And we sort of thought, in some ways, that we were like Los Lobos, a rootsy band trying to carve our own niche, operating just out of the spotlight. They were wonderful people, so we enlisted Steve to produce the record.”
Baker’s favourite: “The Rules.” “We had invited Bob Egan, the pedal-steel player from Wilco, to play on a couple of tracks. And he found he really loved Canada, and he decided he wanted to stay, and now he’s a charter member of Blue Rodeo. Good on him.”

MusicWork (2000)
Singles: “My Music at Work,” “The Completists,” “Lake Fever.”
About the album: “I come across some people who say this is their favourite Hip record, but I often hear people say it is our weakest effort. I would say the songs on it are strong, but it’s not a focused record. It’s really diverse and eclectic. But personally, I like that. I like that it covers some wider elements than our other records, which may be to its detriment.”
Baker’s favourite: “The Bear.” “We’ve never played it live. But I’ve always liked it.”

In Violet Light (2002)
Singles: “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken,” “The Darkest One,” “Silver Jet”
About the album: This album was the first after lead singer Gord Downie’s 2001 solo project, Coke Machine Glow. “Were we worried that if Gord was a success that the band would dissolve? Sure. That thought crossed everyone’s mind. I think it crossed Gord’s mind too. ‘What happens if this takes off?’ And, you know, no one really knew. But Gord came back from the experience of a solo record being more focused on the band. Sometimes these things help clean the creative pipes. Like mental Drano. But I would say that In Violet Light is probably the band’s weakest effort. I like some of the songs on it and I enjoyed the process, but I don’t think the timing was right. We were still very much in the writing process. Normally we would write 30 to 40 songs and pare it down to 15 to 17 before going to the studio. And this time, we had 15 to 17 songs, and just went to the studio. There wasn’t much to draw from.”
Baker’s favourite: (None picked).

In Between Evolution (2004)
Singles: “Vaccination Scar,” “It Can’t be Nashville Every Night”
About the album: “We wanted to get less of a studio sound on this. You always want the essence of a live record, and Up to Here and Road Apples were basically recorded as live albums. You know, in the studio, playing live. And we set up a studio inSeattle and tried, as much as possible, to record live off the floor. So, like “Gus, the Polar Bear from Central Park,” that was all recorded live, all of us playing at the same time.”
Baker’s favourite: “Gus, the Polar Bear From Central Park.” Is it about George Bush? “Sure. It’s about a polar bear in Central Park. But if it fits, sure, it seems appropriate.”

World Container (2006)
Singles: “Fly, Pretend,” “The Drop-Off,” “World Container”
About the album: It’s the best Hip album in a decade, I tell Baker. “Absolutely, I would agree. (Producer) Bob Rock was instrumental on that record, just making us feel confident that The Hip has its own sound, and that we could stretch out and do anything we wanted to do, and still sound like us. He’d say, ‘Imagine this song as if it were The Clash playing Fleetwood Mac.’ And it’s a fun way to be able to draw on your influences and not be afraid to show them. This was coming off the Canada’s Walk of Fame induction, and a greatest hits record, which we never wanted to do, and the Juno Hall of Fame, and all that stuff. It was all retrospective. It made us go, ‘We’ve made 10 records. Let’s make a good one now.’ Everyone felt focused on it.”

Baker’s favourite: “The Lonely End of the Rink.” “I get off on that song, it’s just a gas to play. It started off as a folky tune, but that’s not how it ended up.”

© CanWest News Service 2007


One thought on “Guitarist picks fave Hip tracks

  1. That’s a very interesting article. Cheers for that. I can’t believe that Rob doesn’t like In Violet Light though! That’s a great album! I’d love to hear ‘The Bear’ live as well. I agree it’s definitely one of the strongest tracks from Music @ Work.

    “Somewhere out there is a tape with 20 unreleased Hip songs, and damned if we can find it.”

    …You wanna get over to The Hip Tracker, Rob!

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