"Ahead by a Century" is the first single from The Tragically Hip's fifth studio album, Trouble at the Henhouse. The song reached number one on Canada's singles chart, and was nominated for "Best Single" at the 1997 Juno Awards. It is the band's most successful single in their native Canada. The song was certified platinum in Canada in 2016.
The song is one of several Tragically Hip singles which were developed from improvised bridge jams during live performances of the band's signature song "New Orleans Is Sinking".
The song begins with an image of youthful romance, with a young boy and girl climbing a tree to talk and ponder all the possibilities that life holds for them. The original lyrics, which were performed at least once live before Downie rewrote them to their more familiar form, were more overtly sexual, with the boy and girl climbing the tree solely to touch each other's "cunt" and "cock". Downie subsequently explained that the intended theme was one of innocence — "It’s two little kids, and they don’t know what a cunt is and they don’t know what a cock is—they just heard them called that" — but said that after he was convinced by the band's guitar technician that the audience would not hear that theme through the shock of the explicit terminology, he went through an intense but rewarding week-long process of rewriting the verse to communicate the idea in a more accessible way.
On the January 1, 2017 edition of CBC Radio 2's The Strombo Show, a tribute special organized to celebrate the Tragically Hip's 30th anniversary, the song was performed by both By Divine Right as a standalone song, and Barenaked Ladies as a medley with the song "Chancellor" from Downie's solo album Coke Machine Glow. Following Downie's death, Barenaked Ladies added "Chancellor/Ahead by a Century" to the setlists for several shows on their concurrent concert tour.