54-40 is a well-known Canadian band that blends alternative and folk influences. Like many Canadian outfits experience, finding success in the larger American market has been challenging.
Their 1986 song was covered, near note-for-note, by Hootie And The Blowfish, 14 year later:
The American band had a hit with it. The song made the Friends TV show soundtrack, and is on one of their great hits compilations. Does 54-40 feel cheated? Their song could have been the hit, and breakthrough they desired.
The band took their name from this very problem.
“54-40 or Fight,” refers to 19th century expansionist tendencies or plans of the USA, into Canada. The numbers relate to territory between Oregon, and up to Russia’s Alaska. In between, of course, this would be what would become Canada. Americans appeared to want the land and might go to war for it.
U.S. Presidential candidate James Polk campaigned on winning all this territory, in 1844. His slogan: 54-40 or fight.” Polk won, but diplomacy and compromise created the present boundaries.
Likewise, 54-40, the band, no doubt still benefits from the royalties of Hootie And The Blowfish singing their song.