May 23 – Gord Speaks From Beyond The Grave?

Earlier this month we heard a band paying tribute to a deceased member, the new Stranglers single “If You Should See Dave”, for their late keyboard player Dave Greenfield. Today we have an even spookier sort of shout-out from beyond the grave. Two days ago Canada’s eternally-popular Tragically Hip released a new record – Saskadelphia. The six song album/EP comes almost four years after the sad death of the band’s charismatic singer/lyricist, Gord Downie.

Now, this came as a surprise to the legion of Canadian fans, in no small part due to the fact that the remaining quartet of the Hip clearly stated upon Downie’s death due to cancer that it was the end of the Tragically Hip. They’d had a great run of over 30 years, putting out 14 platinum-selling albums there, winning 16 Juno Awards and performing in front of the Prime Minister in a nationally-televised concert. But without Downie, there was no Tragically Hip. So just how do we have a new album?

Well, turns out it’s an honest release, not some change of heart cash-grab with a new singer. The songs on Saskadelphia were recorded in 1990 in New Orleans as part of their recording session for the album which became Road Apples. Diehard fans might recall that the former was actually the band’s choice of album names, but the record company thought it too hard to spell and too Canadian-sounding, so Road Apples – another very Canuck term – was used instead. At the time, the band had a huge amount of material and wanted to put out a double-album but MCA quashed that idea. After all, at the time, they were still a young band whose debut album, Up to Here, had done fairly well (cracking the top 10) at home, but they were still a long ways from being a household name yet. They whittled it down to a single album. Canadian music historian Alan Cross suggests that some of the last tracks used came down to a coin toss by the band. That single album became their first #1 hit. Needless to say, this meant there were unreleased tracks left behind.

Which is where the story gets a bit odd. They likely didn’t think much about those songs when they were rolling along with a string of new hits, Fast forward about 17 years and there was the gigantic Universal Studios fire which wiped out thousands upon thousands of original recordings stored by Universal Music. The Hip were told their masters, including these outtakes, were among them. Gone forever.

However, as it turns out for some odd reason Universal in California had sent the Tragically Hip material back to Canada in 2001, which probably gives you an idea of the parent company’s appraisal of the band’s worldwide commercial appeal. Somehow, the band found out about this and went looking. According to Cross, who has an interview with the four remaining members coming up soon, the boxes weren’t labeled at all so it was a tedious process to find any new songs. Then the tapes had to be “baked” before using to keep the 30-year + old tapes from breaking up when played. Eventually they were usable and digitized, with five of the originals appearing on the new record. One track though, “Montreal”, was a part of that recording session, but they couldn’t locate the original master. The version on Saskadelphia was recorded live, in Montreal appropriately enough, in 2001. They were appearing on the 11th anniversary of a horrific college shooting in the city, which opaquely inspired the song. They remembered the tune and decided to play it there. Johnny Fay of the band says “Downie wasn’t quite sure about the lyrics” but remarkably they found them online and “he did a quick once over and said, ‘OK, we got this!’”.

Hearing the “lost” songs was quite an experience for the band themselves. Rob Baker says “I went ‘wow’ when I heard ‘Ouch’ (one of the new tracks) after all this time. We were a pretty good little band!”

Fans will no doubt agree when they hear Saskadelphia, which was released on Friday on vinyl, CD or digital copies.

Initial listens suggest that the six, including “Ouch”, “Not Necessary” and “Reformed Baptist Blue” sound quite inline with the band’s early-’90s work we’re familiar with, a jaunty blues rock sound with poetic lyrics, little surprise given the history of the recording. But for fans, it’ll be a great reminder that indeed, they were a “pretty good little band.”

21 thoughts on “May 23 – Gord Speaks From Beyond The Grave?

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    I wonder how much more they have with him? You would think they would have some more after the long career they had…but they could have already released everything. I know this is great for the fans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read they figure 65 unreleased tunes recorded, so I might guess another album or two might arrive. I’d like to hear later outtakes…they expanded their range of sounds some by about ’94

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I would release it one album at a time and not a box set since more could get it that way. That is good that they have that many.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s true, box sets are a little prohibitive for many of us or for the more casual fans, plus they could take their time and maybe find and remaster six to ten a year for a little while and keep putting out “new” albums semi-regularly.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. one would think so… I don’t really know how royalties on big box sets go, compared to individual album sales, but it seems like it’s quite rare to have a real big-selling box set for obvious reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. back in ye olde days of yore, even merchandising came into the question – if it wasn’t a hot new release at the front of store, where are you going to put a box set (except for those packaged in jewel-case size cases)? It was difficult to keep big Lp-size or coffee-table size thick packages in racks with ordinary CDs. But now, with more LPS out there again, it might be more plausible and besides… who buys in brick and mortar stores anyway?

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    1. The ones I listened to didn’ t jump at me but they also sounded professional enough , not throwaways, and indeed it was made that way- band wanted them heard then so it’s great they were unearthed & put out. LOL…Universal – were they taking up that much prescious space in their warehouse? Ended up good that they got sent away though

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  2. This is a fantastic release Dave. Caught them here in Tbay in early 1990 as Crack My Spine Like A Whip was the opener. When Road Apples came out in early 91 I was like where is the Spine tune?
    lol
    All in all an awesome little 20 minute release. Such a brilliant sound coming from them 30 years ago.
    Great writeup!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, and thanks for giving it some love on your site too!
      That’s neat that you already knew at least one of the songs… do any of the others ring a bell?
      One of the articles I looked at says they have around 65 unreleased tunes, so I would imagine there might be one or two more “new” ones coming along

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Crack my Spine was the only one I was familiar with Dave. Such a great song. Actually all 6 songs on the EP are stellar. Can’t believe that they didn’t make the cut the first time round…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll have to give them a couple more listens. Alan Cross may be right when he says it came down to a coin toss for figuring out some of the songs to keep or drop from the record…which is far better than having to paste in some real throwaways to hit a 40 minute guideline from the record company.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: May 23 – Gord Speaks From Beyond The Grave? — A Sound Day | Thunder Bay Arena Rock

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