Hillbilly Highway – Top 5 tunes about Hockey


by Sheldon Birnie

It’s playoff time, folks! If you haven’t been utterly bummed out by the results thus far, keep your chin up; the Sharks are bound to go all the way. Right?

With the Jets dead in the water by the third period of their final game, three out of four Canadian teams out of the running in the first round, and summer bearing down on us like a freight train, it’s understandable that many are losing interest. But not the hockey diehards!

Last week, we spoke with Canadian songwriter Jay Aymar on his way down the Hillbilly Highway. Aymar has written one of the best hockey songs going, and it got me thinking that the time is right for a Top 5 Round-Up about the Best Game You Can Name. So here goes. Game on!

# 5 – My Cherry Colored Rose

This tune, which I first heard by way of Ian Tyson, is as moving a portrait as has ever been painted in song of national treasure / running joke Don Cherry.

Like most other Canadian boys, I grew up watching Grapes on Hockey Night in Canada and trying to recreate the best scenes of the Rock Em Sock Em series on backyard and backwoods rinks. As much as Don puts his foot in his mouth, he’s still an undeniable beauty (just peep the picture at the start of this article if you have any doubts) and as much a part of the Canadian cultural landscape as Anne Murray or Stompin Tom.

As for the tune itself, Aymar described the writing process last week,

I was with my ex, my girlfriend at the time and she lived in North Carolina. We were in a NASCAR sports bar, just having a beer or two on the weekend. I found myself asking the owner if he could put on Hockey Night in Canada on the satellite feed, because I love hockey. Grapes came on, and I found myself trying to explain to all these NASCAR guys who Don Cherry is. Kind of through that being out of context, why that guy’s wearing a rose suit for his wife Rose who had passed away; his dog Blue and all that stuff. The symbols just came to me very quickly, I think I wrote it in about half an hour. I mailed it to the CBC, and Grapes got back to me saying “I’d like you to record it.”

# 4 – Dear Coach’s Corner

We couldn’t have a song about Grapes without offering this face-melter from local rec hockey rockers Propagandhi. Appealing to Don’s long suffering co-host and all around good guy Ron MacLean for some sanity, Hannah here speaks to the unspoken thoughts of countless parents who would love to share the beauty of a game of hockey without having to listen to militaristic ramblings of an out of touch old man. Fuckin’ rights, boys!

# 3 – Hockeytown

This song is just a pure beauty. Tim Hus apprenticed under ol’ Stompin Tom, and clearly draws inspiration from the Legend. But this tune is all his own. If it doesn’t make you want to lace up the old skates, hit the rink, and crush about a dozen Cold Ones, I don’t know what will.

As a side note, Tim Hus is rumoured to have a new album coming out in September. We’ll try to reconnect with him the next time he makes his way Winnipegwards on the Highway.

# 2 – The Hockey Song

Well this one’s a no-brainer. As Corb Lund said, you “gotta give honours to Stompin Tom Connors.” The granddaddy of all hockey tunes, THE Hockey Song is just a classic, plain and simple. Without it, tunes about hockey would no doubt still exist. But they might just suck hard, like the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. Cheers, Tom.

# 1 – Big League

If you don’t like this song, too bad. Tom Cochrane & Red Rider are the bomb. Me and my buddy Squirrelman saw Tom at the Red River Ex last year, and when he introduced this tune he told a story about having a beer with Bobby Orr, talking about getting out of small towns and hitting the “big leagues.”

Tom looked to Bobby and said, “Bobby, this song isn’t about us. It’s about all those guys who never made it out.” And then Burton Cummings came out for the encore.

Beauty, Tom. Chances are, that’s you and me, dear reader.

If you’ve had a beer with Bobby Orr, talking hockey or fucking anything else, then sure, maybe you got the right to diss on this tune. If not, and the chances are you haven’t, then fucking shut it. This song’s for you and me. Crank it up.

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