It was something of a surprise to learn that The Hockey Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame this weekend. It was a surprise in that there actually is a Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Is that a real thing? (It is. On its website, the map with directions to it use a guitar pick to point to the location. That’s cute.) And a bigger surprise is that if the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame actually exists, what took it so long to induct the best hockey song ever written?
Of course, being anointed the best hockey song of all-time is a little like receiving the award for best dressed at a leisure suit convention. This sport has The Hockey Song, Big League by Tom Cochrane, the theme from Hockey Night in Canada and…and…anyone? A little help here?
Truth be told, there has been a lot more bad music written about hockey than good. Baseball has Centerfield by John Fogarty and Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. We have Hockey Monkey by The Zambonis. So this is a challenge to the likes of Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Drake, Justin Bieber, Blue Rodeo, Michael Buble, Shania Twain, Great Big Sea. Anybody. We’d even accept Nickelback at this point. Write and record a song about your country’s sporting passion that we can play and sing with pride.
It should be very easy for it to become and instant classic. Judging by what’s out there, the bar hasn’t been set very high. Here’s a sampling of some of the hockey songs that have polluted the airwaves over the years:
50 Mission Cap by The Tragically Hip: I realize it’s sacrilege – particularly among those who sport mullets and refer to each other as ‘brah’ – to disparage anything recorded by The Hip. The group produced some off-the-charts brilliant stuff over the years, but 50 Mission Cap was not one of them. You know what comes to mind when you listen to 50 Mission Cap? Garth and Kat, the characters played by Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen on Saturday Night Live, the duo that simply makes it up as it goes along. Listen to the lyrics sometime and tell me I’m wrong. “Bill Barilko disappeared (pause) that summer. He was on a (pause) fishing trip. The last goal he ever scored (pause) won the Leafs the Cup…”
Hit Somebody! by Warren Zevon: Again, another brilliant musician and performer who chose to do his worst work about hockey. This song, about a Canadian farm kid who is forced to become an enforcer because he sucks at hockey, is just trying too hard from beginning to end. It opens with the line, “He was born in Big Beaver by the borderline…” Ugh. Then it comes up with this beauty line: “Through peewees and juniors, midgets and mites, he must have racked up more than 600 fights.” OK, let’s unpack that. Let’s say he started playing hockey when he was six and finished junior hockey when he was 20. That’s 15 years, which means he averaged 40 fights a year, even as a little kid. Yup, that’s really believable. So Buddy, the character in the song, comes to grips with the fact that he’ll have to fight if he wants to make a living playing hockey. “But what’s a Canadian farm boy to do? What else can a farm boy from Canada do?” Zevon writes. Oh, I don’t know. Farm, maybe?
Can’t Touch a Flame When it’s Red Hot by the Calgary Flames: It’s kind of tough to be hard on this effort because it was for charity and all, but this song by the members of the 1985-86 Calgary Flames is every bit as uncomfortable to watch as a British sitcom, even when measured by mid-1980s standards. Try to watch Ric Nattress lip-sync with his eyes closed and not cringe and want to turn away. Hell, try to get through the first 10 seconds of the video without feeling embarrassed and shameful for reasons you can’t even figure out.
Me Like Hockey by Arrogant Worms: This ditty is two minutes and 53 seconds of sheer hell, something that makes you ponder drilling knitting needles into your eardrums rather than ever have to listen to it again. It pretty much consists of a couple of guys grunting “Me like hockey!” repeatedly with guttural noises added to enhance the entire experience. It’s almost as though these guys were intentionally trying to be bad. The only problem is they overachieved in a very big way.
And that’s about it. As you can see, the hockey song landscape is a rather barren one. So come on, Gordon Lightfoot, make us proud. Don’t tell me that the same person who wrote Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and Canadian Railroad Trilogy can’t pen a decent song about hockey. And if he does, there’s a good chance it will get into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, whatever the hell that is.