[Throwback Sound] The Tragically Hip – “Fifty-Mission Cap”

One of the many great things about The Tragically Hip’s early albums was the way songwriter Gordon Downie incorporated such distinctly Canadian stories and mythologies into his songwriting.  On 1992’s Fully Completely he wrote about kidnapped Ministers of Labour (“Locked in the Trunk of a Car”), David Milgaard, a Canadian man wrongly convicted of murder who spent 20 years in prison before being released (“Wheat Kings”), and referenced a Canadian author (“Courage (for Hugh Maclennan)”) with equal conviction.  But it’s “Fifty-Mission Cap” that best captures Downie’s ability to tell a succinct story that had deeply affected him at some earlier point in his life.  It doesn’t hurt that the guitar-driven band is flat out airtight behind him.   

The song’s about Bill Barilko, a NHL player who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal (in overtime) for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951.  During the following off season Barilko and the plane he was flying in mysteriously disappeared while returning home from a remote fishing trip.  It was eleven years before his body was discovered, and coincidentally the Leafs won the Cup again that year for the first time since the tragedy.  Bringing home the theme of nostalgia that adults feel towards the sports stars of their youth, Downie sings of how he originally learned of the story from the back of a hockey card, which he kept tucked up under the titular cap.  It’s a small yet fascinating story that, almost like Barilko himself, might have become lost forever had Downie not found it and turned it into an anthem that Canadian rock fans have been shouting along with for the last 18 years.

MP3  ::  Fifty-Mission Cap

(from Fully Completely. Buy here)

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2 responses to “[Throwback Sound] The Tragically Hip – “Fifty-Mission Cap”

  1. jack

    Thanks for posting that. They were certainly a band on a roll at that time. Of course you have to be Canadian to care about hockey like that.

  2. Yeah, I’m not Canadian and care very little about hockey. But the story and song gripped me as a teenager and my love for the Hip, at one time, was as strong as any American’s I’d bet. Been listening to a lot from that classic era lately…

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