Wednesday, 24 October 2018

An Honour Worth Singing About

There may not be an adult in Canada who doesn't know who Stompin' Tom Connors is. It's not because he was a man of great fame or wealth. Tom Connors was neither overly famous nor was he extravagantly wealthy by any means, but his name is synonymous with hockey across this land thanks to his wildly popular tune The Hockey Song. Nearly every adult in Canada knows the opening lines of "Hello out there. We're on the air. It's 'Hockey Night' tonight." I would wager that a vast number of American adult hockey fans know this song as well. It's taken a while, but The Hockey Song will finally receive some well-deserved recognition within Canadian culture when the song is inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame prior to the Jets-Maple Leafs game on Saturday.

In a release today, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame called the tune "a quintessentially Canadian song about a quintessentially Canadian game, the best-known example of Connors' unique brand of fervent nationalism. Its up-tempo style with a cowboy-booted backbeat reflected the swift pace of the game, and in Tom's typical catchy novelty-song style, his three verses corresponded to the three periods of a hockey game with each verse calling the action like a play-by-play announcer."

The fact that Connors' song will be honoured five years after his death seems a little wrong. The man was an accomplished musician, having won six Juno awards between 1971 and 1975, and, with all due respect to John Fogerty's Centerfield, Connors likely wrote and performed the most famous song about a sport that the world has ever known. Artists such as Avril Lavigne, Great Big Sea, and Del Barber have covered the song, and it's been sung by thousands of fans each and every night at rinks around North America as hockey teams play the song night-in and night-out.

Back in 2009, Perry Lefko asked Stompin' Tom Connors where the song ranked in terms of his own songs, and he had an interesting answer considering how well-known the song is.
Q: Where does the song rank among the many you’ve written and recorded? Is it among the top five or top 10? It means so much to Canadians, but what does it mean to you?

A: That's kind of a tough question because when you ask the writer... I put everything into every song that I write, so I don't know if I can say I like one song better than another. I have a lot of what I consider good songs or I wouldn't have put them on albums. I don't hold preferences like that, but it's up there with the Bud The Spuds and Sudbury Saturday Night and Tillsonburg's. It's right up there with all of them.
I find it refreshing that Connors doesn't rank it ahead of more critically-acclaimed songs that he wrote, but The Hockey Song is to hockey rinks as Take Me Out to the Ballgame is to Wrigley Field. It's the musical equivalent of Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater. It speaks to the nostalgic way we reminisce about hockey with voices like Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan, and Bob Cole being the voice to our Saturday nights. It speaks to our national protectionism of the game when Connors sings about "the best game you can name".

While there are few details about the ceremony to honour this great song prior to the game, we do know that Tom Connors Jr. and members of the Connors family will be presented with a plaque recognizing the song's induction to the Hall of Fame while country star Tim Hicks will perform it. I have no doubt that Hicks will ensure this is one of the best performances of his career, and I look forward to seeing The Hockey Song finally honoured by his peers.

As happy as I am for this first induction, it might be time to recognize the cultural significance of the song and get it inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. While we wait for that to happen, let's celebrate the song and its creator in Stompin' Tom Connors with the video below. Enjoy!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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