A perfectly good Wilco love song. In that sense it’s not particularly notable, but the important part is to pay attention to the background, which is first-class studio work, on an album that had a self-imposed one day per song rule none the less.
The alt-country tone, drums, perfect guitar grit…that’s not even the noteworthy stuff. The steel string that wanders around the entire song is both perfectly mixed and perfectly balanced. If you’re not paying attention it’s simply hiding behind the piano. But then they manage one more layer — a harmonica that also picks up and drifts off and, in a sense, is playing dueling banjos with the steels string.
It’s all fantastic, frankly. This song should be ranked much higher. It probably would be if it wasn’t sitting on such a great album.
This song managed a 32 ranking without actually getting a 32 or better score from any of us. Chalk this up the subconscious torpedoing of every song any of us likes by someone else.
This is a title track, and if a title track is at it best with I Walk The Line, or Highway 61 Revisited, I guess we call this the paramount moment in which Tweedy mellowed into middle age. He’s survived long enough to license a big chunk of this album into VW commercials and play the big stage at an entirely overdone 2007 Bonaroo (I know because I was there).
This song got in the 30s because it was too uneventful for any of us to even notice.
I’m a sucker for a song about the complex relationship between musician and fans, not to mention the complex relationship between self-aware musician and self. Tweedy explored these themes often on Being There, including on “Hotel Arizona”.
Is this a lyrical milestone? Not even close. However, the last two minutes of this song slay me, and I wish they’d last forever. It’s the repetitive piano/keyboard, haunting organ, intensifying drums and guitar — all building to a solemn "One more worried whisper, right in my ear…"
Slow States Wilco Project #34: When You Wake Up Feeling Old
I suppose it’s my turn to get back in the fray here — I’ll save the discussion of #33’s preposterous rating for Grovich — by stating that I am right between Kevin and Chris on rating this rather pleasant if unassuming ditty from Summerteeth. ”When You Wake Up Feeling Old” is sort of odd, in that it’s a simple concept in both lyrics and melody, and Tweedy does his best to stay out of the way of both, but it leaves verses that are strange and devoid of any apparent meaning (a fact that Tweedy impliedly acknowledges with his “Sing some strange verse/from some strange song of vines” line).
So the song doesn’t extend far past “Can you be where you want to be?” as the eternal question for anyone who has reached the stage in their life when the journey is dwindling. The destination is what holds the promise at that moment.
Slow States Wilco Project #35: Outtasight (Outta Mind)
It’s hard to get past the video.
This was voted 25, 42, 53 — a further embodiment of Patrick and I taking contradictory angles on a song.
I’ll concede it’s not the most Wilco song Wilco ever put out. But it’s got an organ. It’s got “okay alright okay alright,” which is a fun thing to shout along to. The irreverence is fun too: that’s okay with me.
And here’s the ironic part: this is the closest thing Wilco ever had to hit. It peaked at #22 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart*, and would have been an interesting jumping off point to Wilco, the pop band. That would have been horrible, but interesting.
*As a side note: how un-late-’90s is something called the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart?
There are eight songs just on this albums that The Slow States Committee prefers, but that’s how hits work — they’re broad enough to achieve broad success, and not delivery anything especially inspiring to anyone. Without actually knowing, I’ll call this one part of the ex-girlfriend dig catalog of American Rock. It’s also part of the “this video has nothing whatsoever to do with the song” trend, a popular play in the late ’90s when this was released as a single.
But hey, let’s go skydiving on the record label’s tab. Maybe this should have been a sign of YHF things to come.
There’s a scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack is talking about the important rules of a good mix. I’ve always wished that scene was an hour long. One of the few details given is that you always have to take it back a little on the second song. ”You Are My Face” is the second track on the album and nails the spirit of that rule. It stars off as a calm spring day, windows down drive, then gets Tweedy Soulful at the two minute mark with a shout of “I have no idea how this happens.”
It then cuts back down to mellow, and drifts away with only an ode to — and not the insane pain of — A Ghost Is Born outros. This is a good track.
Devon Edwards (@Devon2012) just picked up Wilco, which inspired me to post one more of these. Maybe two, even. It’s not like there’s a lot to write about on the football front, anyway. Slow States!
Anyway, “Pot Kettle Black” is one of the few songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that I don’t have ranked higher than everyone else. Grovich has it higher than anyone, probably because it’s as close to the melodic pop of Summerteeth that YHF gets. There’s not a whole lot here that is particularly revelatory, but it somehow manages to bridge the gap between the band’s AM radio sensibility and bleepy-bloopy tendencies better than anything else. It’s also a genuinely entertaining song. Good enough.
Slow States Wilco Project #38: Side With the Seeds
Nels is really good at playing guitar. I want to start from that basic premise.
There’s a basic structure to most of his studio solos, though (this does not always apply live, as anyone who has seen the Nels Cline iteration of Wilco live can attest). He starts with an intricate countermelody, for lack of a better term, built on the chord progression of the underlying song. It builds slowly from there, until the entire thing explodes into either the melody or a new, elongated harmony built octaves above the band. It goes and goes and goes until it runs out of room, and it collapses from there.
This is one of those solos, and a completely fucking awesome one at that. The band plays along, chugging beneath Cline’s rocket blasts, just trying to keep the damn car on the road. It works, in the same way that so many Nels songs on A Ghost Is Born and the newest album work. It works because Nels works with Tweedy as well as any musician Wilco has ever had.
Slow States Wilco Project #39: Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)
Jeff Tweedy spent some time producing Mavis Staples in 2009, and this song seems to make the concept incredibly less surprising. I don’t find this tune very Wilco, if I can say that, in part because of the Beach Boys thing going on that I’ve talked about before, but also because of it unapologetic optimistic take on life.
“I hadn’t heard some of those songs since I was a little girl,” she said. “I said to Tweedy, ‘Where did you get these?’ He took me back to my childhood with those songs, and I would think back to when I was walking around the house with Mom and Pops playing them. I told him, ‘Tweedy, I love those songs, but I never thought I’d be singing them again.’ ”
Without knowing for sure, Tweedy is probably well versed in that kind of music, and “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again)” is the kind of song you’d sing along to with your folks.
I was the hater on this track — a 64 ranking to Patrick’s 49 and Chris’s 12, but now that we’re well past the half-way point on the average I’ll put my Summerteeth bias behind me and appreciate the growth here, taking old and new and doing something different.
There’s something about Jeff Tweedy unabashedly chasing after a woman in verse. At least once an album, something like “Someday Soon” pops up, and it’s sweet and charming and wonderfully straightforward.
At one point in “Someday Soon”, Tweedy sings, “I won’t even make a scene/It all will be just like a dream/Cash will flow down by the old mainstream/Someday soon”. It’s an innocuous lyric, except “Down By the Old Mainstream” became the title of an album by Golden Smog, a side project between Tweedy, the Jayhawks, and a couple of the guys from Soul Asylum. And on Down By the Old Mainstream, Jeff sings “Pecan Pie”. And “Pecan Pie” is perfect, in the same mold of “Someday Soon”.
A Back-of-Napkin List of Best Tweedy Songs not on a proper Wilco release:
It’s easy to forget, now that Wilco finishes all of its tours in Chicago and plays repeat appearances in the Windy City and has a recording loft there and puts the Marina City towers on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, that the band was not originally a Chicago group. Wilco was an offshoot of Uncle Tupelo, which was a downstate Illinois band. And anyone who has ever been in downstate Illinois can tell you St. Louis has as much draw as Chicago.
Hence “Casino Queen” from Wilco’s first album post-Tupelo, an ode to a semi-shitty riverboat casino in St. Louis that probably wasn’t as shitty back when they made this record. There’s nothing particularly special about it musically, but there is also no doubt it rocks your socks off, so much so that the band frequently includes is in set lists now — nearly 20 years after its creation — and clearly enjoys playing it. The lyric “I always bet on black/blackjack/I’ll pay you back” clearly shows Jeff Tweedy knows nothing about how blackjack is actually played and/or believes roulette to be “blackjack” because there’s a square on the board for betting black. In related news, Tweedy is apparently really bad at gambling.
Nothing fancy. Just a straight-ahead rocker from a band that makes remarkably few of them anymore, and a good one at that. It’s enough to make “Casino Queen” the third-highest rated song from A.M. on this list.
Three things about “Pieholden Suite” from Summerteeth:
(1) It is the highest-ranked song that one of the voters ranked next-to-last. That voter was Kevin. The other songs ranked 92nd were “I’ll Fight” (that was me) and “Dash 7” (by Chris). So yeah, Kevin really hates this song.
(2) So much of Summerteeth feels like connected songs. We talked yesterday about “We’re Just Friends” and “I’m Always in Love” filling a call-and-response role with each other. The same can be said for “She’s a Jar” and “A Shot in the Arm”, with their character study themes. In an album that is so thematic and structured from song to song, I suppose it makes sense to throw in a full-on suite.
(3) “In the beginning we closed our eyes/whenever we kissed/we were surprised/to find so much inside” is really all you need from this one.
If you forgot about the Slow States Wilco project, don’t worry. We kind of did too. But, seeing as how this was my baby at the outset, I see the need to finish it up. Here’s where we left off. The premise is simple: Count down the Wilco catalog from worst to best. We started back before The Whole Love came out, and so it’s not included.
We had been doing these ten songs at a time, but we’re in the top 43 now, so might as well enjoy them one by one.
Wilco albums always seem to have songs that are coupled, songs that fit together thematically and musically to where they become intertwined in the listener’s brain. The obvious selections are “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” and “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)” from Being There. In context, the back-to-back “We’re Just Friends” and “I’m Always in Love” from Summerteeth read like a book. On A Ghost Is Born, it’s impossible to hear “Muzzle of Bees” without its sister, “Hummingbird.” And, for some reason, “Kamera” and “Jesus, Etc.” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot just fit together. They’re straightforward rockers on an album full of computerized static, and they manage it without the overt cheekiness of “Heavy Metal Drummer”.
At its heart, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an album about communication, both interpersonal/inter-relational and broadcast, and the static that gets in the way of that communication. ”Kamera” is the story of the story, of the stack of lies upon which a relationship is built, the things that need to be protected to preserve the peace, and the idea of letting the falsehoods go. That it is so obscured is typical Wilco and especially typical of YHF. That’s sort of the point, that imperfect communication is supposed to lead to perfect knowledge and desire and love, and that equation simply does not work.
There are about 85 different covers of this on YouTube, but Dylan’s dollar folks have done a solid cleanse of the original recording from said site as it’s nowhere to be found. I can’t even find a live Dylan version of the song with the harmonica, which, as I’m getting to, is the song for me (although one with a screaming guitar in its place can be found here).
As rabidly as I have been into parts of Dylan’s work, he loses me entirely in 1970. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Nashville Skyline except that I don’t like it, and then the chord is completely cut with his “What is this shit?!” Self Portrait.
Unlike the majority of responses — about how he’s betraying himself or squandering gifts or whatever else — I not only understand the turn but actually appreciate it. People wanted their socks blown off over and over again, with music that was both in there genes and refreshingly cutting to the core of current events and sensibilities about a world that was morphing in a very weird way. Nothing good every lasts and, besides, it’s a good less in people’s right to self determination (The Marinovich Project, now on Netflix, is another). Besides, his popular success meant living in a different universe from the one he was in shortly before that, stealing folk records and passing hats in Greenwich Village. The environment made the music and both changed, which makes sense.
What’s interesting, though, is that he still shows glimpses of his old self in a way that very clearly strikes at my subconscious. The song above is linked only because, during the harp section at the end, I walked by someone playing it on speakers, and knew it was either something I’ve known very well or would like to. It was the latter, although only the part after the final verse.
So some of the same colors of paint are still there, even if I only seem to get them in pieces of songs instead of spread all over entire albums.
“It was, in its best moments, utterly endearing, especially when he was so obviously the kid who wore a tie to middle school and carried a briefcase dreaming of sweet, burdensome adulthood.”—From the one countdown series worth reading — Spencer on Manning FTW.
“If you had something to say, that was basically the way people were rating the others. You know they said “Have you seen Ornette Coleman? Does he have anything to say?” And it was the same for anybody else. Do they have anything to say or not.”—Bobby Neuwirth, “No Direction Home”
“As the War of 1812 entered its second year, the Jamaica Magazine comically captured the essence of why the conflict continued even after the Americans’ stated reasons for declaring war had become redundant. “The people of those [United] States have long been in the habit of viewing their own political importance through a medium similar to that by which a man comprehends the magnitude of his own nose.”—
Everything is background and nothing can be removed from context. It’s mostly deadly and at the very least makes modern fandom and recreational distraction incompatible concepts. This is in large part what’s been so disillusioning about the Penn State ordeal — the events were so tragic, the response was so batshit on all sides, and the long term prospects are so bizarre I’m finding myself involuntarily distancing from the pack and having to look at Saturday with a kind of out-of-body mentality. I assure you it’s less fun.