This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Honourable Mention Song #13: Fifty Mission Cap by The Tragically Hip.
In our previous Honourable mention Song post about the song, “Egg Man” by The Beastie Boys *(which you can read here), I introduced you all to one of my wife’s best friends, Jackie Pepper. Well today, you are going to meet the third member of their “ladies who lunch” trifecta and that is a woman named Siobhan Percolides. My wife met Siobhan and Jackie when our children were toddlers. All three ladies enjoyed each other’s company and have been able to be there for each other as their children have grown up (all three families have two children each). As well, all three women are married and, as couples, we have been able to share some enjoyable evenings of good food and good conversation together that, in these pandemic times, allow us all to feel as though we still have a bit of a social life outside of our homes. But, for the sake of this post, the third thing that Jackie and Siobhan share in common is that they both have a similar taste in music to me, rather than to my wife…..which amuses me. Siobhan, in particular, shares with me a love of the Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. We have both seen The Tragically Hip live several times and still enjoy listening to their music, even though they stopped releasing new material in 2016, with the death from cancer, of lead singer and songwriter, Gord Downie. So, when I put out the call for Honourable Mention songs, it didn’t surprise me at all that Siobhan came back with a Tragically Hip nomination which was, “Fifty Mission Cap”. Here is the story of a song which, in itself, tells a story that is as Canadian as could possibly be. Here is “Fifty Mission Cap” by The Tragically Hip.
When most people evaluate the legacy created by The Tragically Hip, one of the most common responses about the band is that they known for celebrating Canadian stories. That assessment is undeniable. When you go through The Hip’s musical catalogue, it is filled with references to noteworthy Canadians such as Tom Thomson, David Milgaard, Hugh McLennan, Bobby Orr and, in “Fifty Mission Cap”, Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player, Bill Barilko. The other thing that stands out about The Tragically Hip is that they loved a good story. So, when a noteworthy Canadian was, also, the subject of a good story in his/her real life, that subject matter was mined for gold. In Barilko’s case, his story became the hit song known as “Fifty Mission Cap”.
I really like this song for many reasons. First of all, the song is about hockey and, despite my love for Keri, I still love hockey. *(For those unaware, my wife is not a sports fan. Prior to meeting her, I was a hardcore fan who watched every game, kept track of player point totals, participated in sports pools and so on. Then, I met Keri and all of that changed. *You can read about how I knew Keri was the one, here. It is a sports-related post with a sweet twist).
Secondly, the song is about the Toronto Maple Leafs and I still love the Leafs, even though it is been over fifty years since they won The Cup, as the song points out.
But, mostly, I love this song because of a writing technique the band employs that helps to replicate the setting of the song within the lyrics of the song. Let me explain.
If you have ever found yourself somewhere where a group (of guys, probably) are talking hockey, the structure of their conversation is often the same no matter where you go. There is usually one guy with a bigger voice than the others who tends to use it to dominate the conversation with his stories and/or opinions. Then, his friends will interject their smaller thoughts when the dominant talker takes a breath. If you listen to “Fifty Mission Cap” and, specifically, to the interplay between Gord Downie (as the big voice in the room) and Paul Langlois (as the little friend who is trying to get a word in edge-wise) you will see that they have replicated the boys-in-the-bar style of talking hockey, perfectly. So, for me, it is not always the words that The Hip use in their songs that does it for me, it is, also, the way the lyrics are structured. In this case, a hockey tale is told for all to hear, as if the boys were in a basement rec. room watching the game on TV.
In this verse of the song, Gord sings the main words and Paul whispers the words in parenthesis. In doing so, they begin to tell the story of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, Bill Barilko, who scored the winning goal in 1952 that helped my Leafs to win the Stanley Cup as champions of the league. That very summer, he was killed in a plane crash. His body wasn’t found for almost a decade.
“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer (in nineteen fifty-one)
He was on a fishing trip (in a plane)
The last goal he ever scored (in overtime)
Won the Leafs the Cup.
They didn’t win another ’til nineteen sixty-two
The year he was discovered.”
***A tiny bit of Tragically Hip trivia: Bill Barilko’s plane crashed in a deeply wooded area in the northern reaches of Canada. He was headed for a fishing lodge which was known as a fly-in lodge, accessible only via an airplane. Flash forward thirty years, when the band travelled up to Attawapiskat for a benefit concert, *(which you can read about here), they flew over the exact location where Bill Barilko’s plane had crashed. Do with that bit of trivia what you will. 🙂
Gord Downie adds an extra layer of Canadianna to “Fifty Mission Cap”, when he informs us that he “stole” the story of Bill Barilko from a hockey card that he kept tucked away in a cap. Collecting hockey cards was a huge part of my childhood. I spent every quarter I ever got for my weekly allowance (for doing chores around the house) at the convenience store at the end of my street buying Opee-Chee hockey card packs. They went for ten cents a pack and always came with eight hockey cards and one stick of rock hard pink bubble gum. The smell and feel of those freshly opened hockey cards is one of the things that most defines my childhood. And while I never had a Bill Barilko card, like the one shown to the right, I did have lots of other memorable cards, such as Wayne Gretzky’s Rookie Card, which is now worth several thousand dollars but, to me at the time, it was just another card to trade and play with and, eventually, to lose like it was no big deal. In fact, the story linked above about my wife and hockey is about a hockey card. It is one of my favourite stories of all time. Well worth checking out, if you haven’t read it already.
In closing, I am always grateful to live in a country like Canada. I live a safe and peaceful life here. I am safe and free to roam around without restriction or limitation. I, also, live in a country with a tremendous history of Art and Culture that takes many forms. One of the forms I like the best…..and Siobhan, too……is listening to storytellers like Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. So, Siobhan, I thank you for nominating “Fifty Mission Cap” as your Honourable Mention Song. It fills me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, on multiple levels. I, also, want to thank you for all of the stories shared and comments made all throughout this musical countdown journey of ours. Your input was gratefully appreciated and helped make things way more interesting for me as this process unfolded.
So, without further delay, here is the classic Canadian song, “Fifty Mission Cap” by Canada’s own, The Tragically Hip. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Fifty Mission Cap” by The Tragically Hip, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Tragically Hip, can be found here.