The Tragically Hip's Road Apples

Generally the Record Breaker Series focuses on a talented band's most overlooked album. This time however we look at the absolute best recording from an artist that has largely been overlooked by the media and fans outside of their native Canada. The Tragically Hip's magical second album, Road Apples - released in 1991, is one of my favorite rock releases of all time. Here is why it should be in your music collection:


Little Bones
Twist My Arm
The Luxury
Born in the Water
Long Time Running
Bring it All Back
Three Pistols
On the Verge
Fiddler's Green
The Last of the Unplucked Gems

This incredible record made my top twenty list all through college and threatens to remain there. Why such dedication from one such as I? Simple - superb guitar, intelligent, well-written lyrics, great use of classic rock instrumentation and a great singer. (And one can't forget the added plus - that the Tragically Hip allow tapers at most of their shows. This has resulted in some excellent live recordings and a lot of good karma out there.) Basically, I'm telling you to go out and buy this album. You won't be disappointed. 


Little Bones is probably the Tragically Hip's most rockin' song. They play the song in sets regularly - generally near or at the end of the night. The song is important for its significance to the band. Unlike the majority of the songs on the Road Apples album, Little Bones was written during the recording of the album and kind of acts as a snap shot of where the young band was in 1991. Little Bones was written in New Orleans, where Road Apples was recorded in studio. The band took the trip down from Nova Scotia and found themselves in the Bayou heat. (Which is mentioned on this track.)

Little Bones was written for a local cab driver of note, presumably an older man - friendly and extremely knowledgeable - who cannot retire because of his passion for gambling. The man takes on epic if not dramatic proportions in the song. The use of guitar is amazing. This is an immense classic.

So regal and decadent here
Coffin-cheaters dance on their graves music,
All it's delicate fear
Is the only thing that don't change
Two-fifty for an eyeball
And a buck and a half for an ear happy hour,
Happy hour happy hour is here

Fiddler Green is an all-time favorite song from the Hip and appropriately it may be one of the most mythically charged. Fiddler's Green is an old Irish folk lore based on the sentiment that old die-hard sailors and roving Irishmen never truly find their place. There are several old folk songs about sailors, one retired from the sea, trying to find their lot and place on solid ground. The story is that sailors are supposed to place an oar over their shoulder and walk inland until someone asks them what it's for. There - is Fiddler's Green. The song is a metaphor for many Irish as well - as a great many had to find their way through Canada to finally gain entrance into the US and finally a future for their families. A great many Irish whom entered Canada never crossed another border - they staked lives for themselves and found their place in Canada. (Like my great-great-grandparents did.)

The lyrics for Fiddler's Green interestingly mentions Falstaff. He is a literary figure used in three of Shakespeare's plays - acting as an adviser or overseer to the Prince or King. Shakespeare used Falstaff, a jolly but prideful fellow, as a comedic vessel to show that incompetence and vanity often go unpunished.

September seventeen
For a girl I know it's Mother's Day
Here son has gone alee
And that's where he will stay
Wind on the weathervane
Tearing blue eyes sailor-mean
As Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain
For a boy in Fiddler's Green

Cordelia is Shakespeare's second reference on the album. It's an amazing song. Cordelia was the third daughter of King Lear. The youngest and most hopeful of the lot, she was disowned by her father for refusing to flatter him as her sisters had. Cordelia is held in extremely high regard by all of the good characters in the play—the king of France weds her for her virtuousness, overlooking her lack of dowry.

Angst on the planks, spittin from a bridge
Just to see how far down it really is
Robbing a bank, jumping on a train
Old antiques a man alone can entertain
It takes all of your power
To prove that you don't care
I'm not Cordelia. I will not be there
I will not be there, I will not be there

As with most Tragically Hip albums, Canadian themes appear in the Road Apples lyrics. "Three Pistols" is an English translation of the name of the Quebec town Trois-Pistoles. "The Luxury" refers to the fleur-de-lis - the provincial symbol of Quebec - the most independent of the Canadian provinces. "Born In Water" concerns itself with a Canadian drama of the early 1990s; of whether the Canadian territories should be English-speaking only - or decide for themselves. 


Anonymous said…
Great review! This band has been one of my favorites of all time since I first heard them in the early 90's. I'm off to see them at Avalon in Boston on April 20th. The concert sold out, which surprised me since it is virtually impossible to hear them on the radio here. I expect a lot of maple leaves at that concert!

To those who like the samples above, check out New Orleans is Sinking, 50 Mission Cap and 100th Meridian on their other albums.

Anonymous said…
Hey...interesting blog...TTH are one of my favorite bands...about the song Fiddler's Green - did you know that it was written about Gord's young nephew - Charles Gillespie - who died from heart troubles... Falstaff - a comedic character from Shakespeare - is mentioned as singing "a sorrowful refrain" to show how truly tragic the situation was. This is definitely one of my favorite Hip songs and I would say Road Apples is probably my fave album - it's the first one I ever bought!
Anonymous said…
Great Album. I bought it back in 1991 when my then prefered music magazine chose this record as "the record of the month". Still one of my favourite albums. It's a pity that they are so overlooked outside of Canada. I remember when I mentioned this band in 1993 when I spent some in the US (I'm from germany) and everyone asked "The tragically Who"? Is this a hiphop band?" Cheers, Greg

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