The Tragically Hip
Road Apples 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
I have to give the Hip props for naming their second album, essentially, horse shit. They originally wanted to call the album Saskadelphia (a mash up of Saskatoon and Philadelphia). The record label vetoed the name saying it was too Canadian. Their original choice for an album cover was a horse’s ass. Take that, marketing department.
Road Apples was a Number 1 hit in Canada. Tragically Hip was never that big in the U.S., but they were one of the most beloved bands in the Great White North. When singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, they did a final tour across Canada as a kind of farewell victory lap. The film, Long Time Running documents the Hip’s final tour. Their final concert in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario was broadcast live on CBC television and radio.
The 30th anniversary edition of Road Apples includes the newly remastered album, the Saskadelphia EP, Hoof-Hearted, a CD of outtakes and demos, and The Tragically Hip Live at the Roxy, Los Angeles, May 3, 1991.
Road Apples was recorded at Daniel Lanois’, Kingsway studio in New Orleans to soak up some of the musical mojo of the city (they recorded their first album in Memphis for the same reason). The original plan for the album was to make Road Apples a double album. That idea was also vetoed by MCA, and the songs that were cut from the album were finally released in 2021 under the original title, Saskadelphia.
The record captures the young Hip at their scrappiest. They lean into the swampy blues vibes of Louisiana with some gutsy slide guitar and funky rhythms. “Twist My Arm” has a percolating guitar and propulsive drums and bass. “Three Pistols” and “Little Bones” have a hard hitting, Stones-y feel. The contemplative “Fiddler’s Green” and “Long Time Running” anticipate the more streamlined sound of future albums.
The Saskadelphia EP features songs that were left off Road Apples when their record company wouldn’t buy the double album idea. The songs were thought to have been lost in the Universal Music warehouse fire in 2008. Drummer Johnny Fay found most of the original tapes after he learned the tapes had been sent back to Canada before the fire. The EP has some great rockers, including “Reform Baptist Blues,” “Crack My Spine Like a Whip,” and “Not Necessary.”
The highlight of Hoof Hearted is a stripped down rendition of Gord Downie and Rob Baker playing “Fiddler’s Green.” The stark rendition underscores the emotional rawness of the song that was written for Downie’s young nephew, who died while they were recording Road Apples. The acoustic version of “Little Bones” features Downie almost whispering the lyrics over delicate guitar. It’s very different from the rocking version that made it onto the final record. “Angst on the Planks” is an early version of what would become “Cordelia.” The outtakes give a peek behind the scenes at the band refining and evolving their ideas.
The Live at the Roxy disc was originally recorded for the Westwood One radio show. The show captures the Hip as young road warriors. It’s been a popular bootleg for decades and is now available in pristine audio.
Like any box set worth its salt, the package includes a booklet with essays from associates, musings from the surviving band members, rare photos, and Downie’s handwritten lyrics. Hip fans will enthusiastically embrace the entire set.