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The 10 best Tragically Hip covers

Holly Gordon

Fan dedication to the Tragically Hip borders on overwhelming. Hip super fans shout all the words to every song. They go to concert upon concert. They build sites dedicated to the lyrics and stories behind the songs. For some people, this is what love looks like.

But others express their affection and dedication from a different vantage point: behind the mic.

The Hip isn’t the most covered band, but over the group’s 30-year career, a few musicians and fans have attempted to pay tribute — and never more so than when Hip frontman Gord Downie announced his terminal diagnosis in May of this year.

Below, we look at 10 of the best, from songs recorded years ago to this summer’s tributes.

1. J.P. Cormier, ‘Nautical Disaster’

“I might be an old folky, but I’ve been a Hip fan from the beginning.” Folk mainstay and Cape Bretoner J.P. Cormier posted this simple video right after Downie’s diagnosis was announced. It’s Cormier’s first Hip cover, and he gives “Nautical Disaster” a beautiful folk narrative. It’s tough to keep your eyes dry for this one.

2. Sarah Polley, ‘Courage’

May as well get the punches to the heart over with. Sarah Polley’s cover of “Courage” for Atom Egoyan’s film The Sweet Hereafter (in which Polley also starred) is the most haunting version you’re likely to hear. The film is about the event and aftermath of a school bus accident that kills 14 children. From rock song to eerily sung dirge, this version of “Courage” makes the hair stand on the back of your neck.

3. Hey Rosetta!, ‘Ahead by a Century’

Hey Rosetta! headlined our music festival at the end of May 2016, nearly a week after Downie’s news. Near the end of the set, the band knocked “Ahead by a Century” out of Echo Beach, with the crowd belting out the chorus over those lovely harmonies. “This one’s for Gord.”

4. Justin Bieber, ‘Wheat Kings’

OK, so Bieber’s cover of “Wheat Kings” does dovetail into his own debut single, “One Time,” but just listen up to the one-minute mark and you’re golden. This cover brings us back to what catapulted Biebs to (a rushed) stardom: his voice and a guitar.

5. Feist, ‘Flamenco’

From Trouble at the Henhouse, the Hip’s “Flamenco” is a slow yet full lament, and Feist released her own stripped-down, heartfelt version after Downie’s diagnosis. “Walk like a matador/ don’t be chicken shit/ and turn breezes into rivulets,” she echoes Downie, in the second verse. It’s a tribute, but also a hand to hold steady.


6. Arkells, ‘Music at Work’

Hamilton’s Arkells recently did a sweaty house session for The Strombo Show, including a loud and loving Hip cover of “Music at Work.” Instrumentally true to the original, frontman Max Kerman’s vocals and dance moves are the life of the party. Arkells know this song to its heart and back. The cover starts at 16:40.

7. Justin Rutledge, ‘Grace, Too’

Justin Rutledge released a Hip covers album in 2014, called Daredevil, so he’s got a head start on perfecting his take. It’s tough to choose a song from that album — which features tracks like “Courage,” “Fiddler’s Green” and “Long Time Running” — but “Grace, Too,” is so haunting that it couldn’t be left behind. In a story we published when the album was released, Rutledge explained his attraction to it:

"It's such a creepy song and it’s always confused me. As Canadians, how does a song like that, and I mean this with all respect, but it’s a dark song, it’s very creepy, it’s really enigmatic, but it’s one of the biggest Canadian songs of all time. Another difficult one to do. The version we do is almost like a duet, with myself and Julie Fader, who sings with me on the whole album. It’s a conversational song between a man and woman who are in this strange dark place. Having Julie helped me understand that more."

8. Hayden, ‘Ahead by a Century’

This track off of Trouble at the Henhouse seems to be the most oft-covered, and sad-song expert Hayden puts an extra sombre spin on the classic. At times, particularly at the beginning of this video, it’s hard to hold out over all the fans whooping (and singing), but it’s worth the time.

9. Sarah Kett, ‘Long Time Running’

The delightful stampeding of children piqued my interest originally, and the strength of fan Sarah Kett’s voice kept me seated. One of the most heartbreaking Hip songs, Kett’s cover makes the most sense, with arresting vocals and a keyboard.

10. Newcastle Public School, ‘Ahead by a Century’

It’s a gymnasium full of children. With harmonies. Some of them are singing via signing, others are acting out being stung by a hornet just for fun. It’s too adorable not to cry.


More to explore:

Meet the Tragically Hip's biggest fan

Rick Mercer on why the Tragically Hip isn't famous in the U.S. 

Hip Check: a Tragically Hip listening party

Do the most Canadian song lyrics belong to the Tragically Hip?

The road to Kingston: a Tragically Hip tour diary