(Un)Covered: My Music at Work

The Tragically Hip vs Arkells By | September 7, 2016 at 1:00 PM

“My Music at Work”
Writers: The Tragically Hip
Original Release Date: May 4, 2000

A couple of weeks ago, 75% of Canadians stopped what they were doing to watch a broadcast of The Tragically Hip’s final concert. The Hip has been a staple of the Canadian alternative rock music scene for over thirty years, and their career is officially coming to a close this year—not because of fighting or drama or exhaustion, but because lead singer Gord Downie was recently diagnosed with incurable cancer. They embarked on a final tour of the country to play some of their most beloved songs one last time, and it’s inspiring to see how strong they’ve been when faced with such personal tragedy.

It’s okay if you have no idea who I’m talking about—The Tragically Hip is more Canadian than maple syrup (and not nearly as popular outside of our borders). It would be difficult to give you a concise description of what they’ve accomplished over three decades, so I chose one of the few Hip songs I genuinely enjoy to share with you. I’ve always liked the guitar riff at the beginning of “My Music At Work”; as the first track on their seventh album, Music @ Work, it has to have a bit of a punch, and it propels you right into the album. I always thought the song referred to the type of music you listen to while at work compared to what you listen to at home/in your free time, but looking at the lyrics—“Avoid trends and cliches/Don’t try to be up to date”—I feel like Downie is referring to the process of making his music work, both for himself and for listeners. If you like having to dig deep into the liner notes to understand what a song is about, you’ll probably love The Tragically Hip.

As if this post couldn’t get any more patriotic, the cover I chose is by none other than Arkells. Fun fact: I went to the same university as the band members, McMaster, which is a couple of blocks away from Arkell Street…where they got their name. The band has toured with The Tragically Hip in the past, and credits the older band as being the first to get them on an arena-sized stage. So it was only natural that Arkells performed “My Music At Work” at WayHome Festival in late July. Since they’re sonically quite similar to The Hip, they didn’t have to make a big effort to adapt the song to their sound. At the same time, not changing it too much shows the respect they have for the original band. You can hear the emotion in singer Max Kerman’s voice, especially when he chuckles “Aren’t we lucky to be from Canada?” before the final verse. Arkells clearly had fun adding pounding piano and exuberant drumming to the end, but ultimately, they paid a beautiful tribute to a band they looked up to.

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