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.
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.
53. Shouldn’t Be Ashamed (AM) PV - 89 | CG - 43 | KP - 21 High - KP (21) - Clean acoustic draws me in. I think we can all agree it just shouldn’t ever have to be this hard. I miss direct Tweedy. If this song were a 4th grader, it would kick the asses of all his Wilco (The Album) classmates for running around all pretentious-like with their 128 color crayon boxs. Low - PV (89) - Man, do I dislike AM, because this is the most AM song of all the AM songs — gritty-voiced Tweedy vocals, disjointed guitar solo — and I put it this low solely on principle, I guess.
52. Say You Miss Me (Being) PV - 72 | CG - 9 | KP - 68 High - CG (9) - Here’s the difference between this song and the one Patrick mentions below. This one is much sweeter in every way. With “Hate It Here”, the deed’s already been done. With “Say You Miss Me”, there’s still a shred of hope. The sweetness extends to the melodies, as well. A little simplistic? Sure, but it fits the mood very well and the pieces fit perfectly. I’ll admit that this probably isn’t a top ten song in retrospect, but it’s still leagues above “Hate It Here”. Low - PV (72) - This is going to blow Chris’ mind: Listen to this song, then listen to “Hate it Here” and tell me what’s different. Pedestrian drum work supporting major-chord diddling, all backing a “I’m trying to get by without you around and I know you’re gone but I’m just going to keep to my routine and hope it gets better” lyric. They are identical, except “Hate it Here” at least has Nels for the solo. Chris ranked those two songs 77 places apart.
51. I’m Always in Love (Summer) PV - 23 | CG - 52 | KP - 71 High - PV (23) - God damn, do I love this song. First, it fits absolutely perfectly behind “We’re Just Friends” in the Summerteeth batting order, the uptempo rejoinder to the previous song’s individualized unrequited love. “I love you but we won’t say that because we’re just friends…fuck, I love everyone but can’t say it because we’re just friends.” That weird high-pitched feedback sound throughout, the drums propelling it (and the album, which at this point has already had two extremely downbeat tracks try to kill the mood), the way it gives way to “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (again)”. “I’m Always in Love” puts the summer in Summerteeth. Low - KP (71) - I’m not sure I can justify my higher rankings of other tunes for striving for pure, then turn around and stomp on this one. It’s a good track, it really is. My gripe, as far as I probably was thinking, is the same issue I have with Candyfloss, which is that’s a knock-off of a musical style Wilco doesn’t do that well, and more importantly doesn’t do anything but explicitly follow form with. Then again, I’m justify high rankings of AM for doing the same thing with folk-style songwriting, and folk-style songwriting that isn’t particularly groundbreaking, just honest and good. Patrick and to some extent Chris seem to see that kind of truth in this background-harmony stuff — both had Summerteeth in their top two albums — I find it in AM. Good for all of us, I think.
50. ELT (Summer) PV - 58 | CG - 33 | KP - 52 High - CG (33) - An airdrumming special, with some fun harmonies and sneaky good work by John Stirratt during the verses. The opposite side of the coin from “I’m Always In Love”, another great Summerteeth track. Low - PV (58) - On the other hand, this one hurts from its track position. It follows “Via Chicago,” arguably the most serious moment of the album, and precedes the spacy go-home tracks like “In a Future Age” that finish the album proper (by now, everyone has the bonus version with outtakes and extras, sure). It’s a perfectly decent song — hence it rating in the mid-50s — but it’s not markedly different or better than “I’m Always in Love” and “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (again)” and it comes later, so it gets dropped slightly.
49. What Light (SBS) PV - 16 | CG - 64 | KP - 62 High - PV (16) - It might be overly simple musically, and it might be kind of hokey in its dispensing of commands and advice about how great it would be for everyone to be an artist making art and stuff, and it might come at the end of a somewhat disappointing album. So was “Hey Jude,” and this is as close as the Beatles-obsessed mid-period Wilco came to it. Low - CG (64) - Sixteen? I got shit for “Say You Miss Me”? Funny that the Beatles are mentioned, because I always think of Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” when I hear this song. And it’s a lot like that classic Lennon song, except that it’s not very good.
48. Deeper Down (Wilco) PV - 20 | CG - 32 | KP - 89 High - PV (20) - I’ll be interested to see why Kevin hates this, because it’s one of about three actually interesting moments on Wilco (the Album). The meter is the only constant here, with the background landscape shifting repeatedly and some of the little genuinely interesting guitar work available on WTA, even if it’s done better in the next song. I will concede that it’s a bit too sputtery, but that can be said for that entire album. Low - KP (89) - So I’ll give him this: as completely unimpressive as this song is, at least it does sound like something Tweedy feels comfortable singing at whatever particular moment he recorded it. This song comes across as some kind of quiet rebellion against having to write coherent songs, though. The lyrics ramble and do that thing I despise, where you say something incoherent, then pause for just long enough to make the verse awkward, then pick back up with something that doesn’t quite tie it together. I’ll take the end of the fourth verse, which I actually like on paper, to prove the point. So this: “I adore [pause] the meaningless [mini-pause] ness of the this [double pause] we can express”. My initial reaction is to pull aside the “of the this,” lyric and call it weird, but I actually think him doing something that obnoxiously abstract, calling it meaningless, and talking about how much he adores expressing meaningless-ness…well even in the one lyric that connects with itself, I don’t know what to appreciate. Separately, the music isn’t bad and maybe 89 is too low, but without remembering for sure, it probably got there because there’s nothing in this song that justifies itself over anything else. It’s not annoying, which apparently is the song’s most redeeming quality in my ranking.
47. Why Would You Wanna Live (Being) PV - 68 | CG - 50 | KP - 22 High - KP (22) - Patrick and I seem to be tomato-tomatoing this whole series. I kind of dig the chorus, actually. It has this hopelessist ring to it, one of those depressing lyrics that relaxes me for some reason when I hear it. Low - PV (68) - This song is fine, and it’s actually pretty good live, but the herky-jerky (I MADE YOUR MASCOT HERKY JERKY LOL yeah I know) half-time chorus and the pseudo-baritone of Tweedy when singing “Why” drive me crazy. Kinda cool guitar stuff here, though.
46. Outtasite (Outta Mind) (Being) PV - 52 | CG - 20 | KP - 67 High - CG (20) - Wait, which one is this? The rock version? Okay. Yes, this one rules. By the way, in SHIT THAT EXISTS news, there’s a video for this with Jeff and the boys jumping out of what looks like the first plane ever built. Anyway, there is nothing bad about this song. No, it’s not as adventurous as what the world has come to expect from the band, but damn, I love that little, simple piano line in the last 45 seconds of the song.
It’s occurred to me that, with the exception of Kevin’s love for all things acoustic (and therefore, A.M.), our willingness to forgive certain things about certain songs depends on our respective entry points into Wilco fandom. I’m the oldest out of us, and showed up in the Being There / Summerteeth era, so I’m willing to look more kindly upon the straightforward rockers of that time. I don’t know if our actual data shows this, but it sure feels that way. Low - KP (67) - Not sure what the hell happened here. I love this song. Tweedy top five lyric: “okay alright okay alright.” That part gets me every time.
45. That’s Not the Issue (AM) PV - 87 | CG - 44 | KP - 4 Low - PV (87) - “That’s Not the Issue” is not the issue here, Kevin. It’s about drawing a line in the sand and saying “ACROSS THIS LINE YOU DO NOT CRO—” and also, Kevin, number four is not the preferred ranking. Mid-fortys at the highest, if you would. High - KP (4) - Gritty-voiced Tweedy was an honest singer, and a good man. He was one of us. He was a man who loved Uncle Tupelo… and drinking. And as a singer he explored the depths of alt-country and the folk songwriting tradition, from the traditional Moonshiner to Whiskey Bottle and… up to… Fifteen Keys. He moved on, like so many young alt-country rockers of his generation, because he and Jay Farrar killed Uncle Tupelo before its time. In your wisdom, Patrick, you hate him, as you hate so many bright flowering young men at Slow States, at Twitter, anywhere else something resembles AM. Gritty-Voiced Tweedy gave his all. And so would you, Patrick. Patrick, who loved Uncle Tupelo. And so, Jeffrey Scot Tweedy, in accordance with what I think your internet-trolling wishes might well be, in the face of adversary I commit your final interpretation of classic-folk influenced songwriting to my top 5, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.
44. Sunken Treasure (Being) PV - 62 | CG - 35 | KP - 38 Low - PV (62) - I think this song is ruined for me from overplay at the Tweedy solo shows. He almost always plays it, frequently first, and the quiet sections allow for maximum WOOOOOing from the audience, which is annoying as hell regardless of whether you’re at the show or listening to a bootleg. It’s a cool song in its proper context. High - CG (35) - It’s a pretty little thing, this sonic cousin of “Misunderstood”. I’ve probably rated it way too low. It also gives one of the first looks at Wilco’s impending affair with mid-song dissonance, which would become a rather significant part of the repertoire later in the discography. This one doesn’t get too far off-track before it’s beautifully reined in. Naturally, “I was maimed by rock and roll / I was tamed by rock and roll / Got my name from rock and roll” is a telling few lines from a still-struggling frontman with insecurity and addiction lurking beneath the surface.
63. Pick Up the Change (A.M.) PV - 57 | CG - 76 | KP - 34 High - KP (34) - You know I’m not even sure why I like these tracks so much, but I do. It’s not even A Wilco’s Top Five Lyric (TM) that shows up here in “But I know know we’re just the same.” The foot taping drum track might be it. This song does well loud and with the windows down, which makes up for what I’ll admit is a pretty muted attempt at rise and fall during the chorus.
Low - CG (76) - Again, it’s not that I hate A.M. It’s just that there’s very little spectacular about it. I’ve always loved it for being a collection of simple, well-built twangy rock songs, but it’s not much more than that in most spots. The album title was no mistake — the songs would’ve been quite at home coming through a crackling A.M. signal in the 70’s.
62. Too Far Apart (A.M.) PV - 51 | CG - 79 | KP - 35 High - KP (35) - I might have made a mistake here. It’s a perfectly good song, but now that I have to write about it right after “Pick Up The Change”, well I have absolutely nothing to say. I also have no idea how punk rock could be considered a party line.
Low - CG (79) - Okay, maybe I hate A.M. a little. No, wait, that’s still not true. This has a pleasant stomping quality about it, which I’ve always enjoyed.
61. You Never Know (Wilco The Album) PV - 45 | CG - 61 | KP - 58 High - PV (45) - How is it that I’m the writer who likes this song the most? It’s as close to an A.M. ripoff as there is on Wilco or any other album they’ve made. The jaunty beat, the “ooooooh”s in the background, the keyboard work, the sort-of-anthemic lyrics. Powers should have this in his top 10.
Mid - KP (58) - I just want to note that I wasn’t the biggest hater of at least one Wilco (The Album) track.
Low - CG (61) - And I actually rated this too high. It’s a good ripoff of a bad 70’s song.
60. Leave Me (Like You Found Me) (Sky Blue Sky) PV - 22 | CG - 62 | KP - 79 High - PV (22) - I honestly have no idea what I was thinking here. It’s a perfectly nice track, and “I sit on the couch alone/when you sit when I’m not home/and I feel so close to you” is such a wonderful little lyric, but this isn’t a top 25 song.
Low - KP (79) - This song is awesome until the 31 second mark, then it’s one long sample of a white noise machine for me. It’s kind of the contra-Wilco song, though, which normally end in what I would consider the opposite of white noise, “Handshake Drugs”-style.
59. Reservations (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) PV - 39 | CG - 58 | KP - 65 High - PV (39) - It’s beautiful - symphonic, really - for the first three-plus minutes. The piano chords. The chimes. The plaintiveness of “I have reservations about so many things, but not about you”. It’s a track full of random sounds, and yet not a thing is out of place, and it just sort of gracefully fades. And then, just before the four-minute mark, the chords come back with a thud, darker, more distant, somehow reduced by a half-life and further decaying, becoming slower, longer, more removed from each other, and then gone, replaced by muffled radio static and digital transmission. The last three minutes of “Reservations” is more spacy than anything David Bowie ever did. It’s the perfect finale to a perfect album: Floating out of the universe.
Low - KP (65) - So this is actually the last track on the album, and also the longest. That would be enough on an album that is a pretty distant 4th for me, except it’s right after “Poor Places”, which I think is a very good song. I don’t like the noise machines on the chorus, although it turns out it’s a dramatically improved song performed live.
58. Spiders (Kidsmoke) (A Ghost Is Born) PV - 60 | CG - 60 | KP - 42 High - KP (42) - I just like the laugh I get out of the line “private beach in Michigan.” Really, that’s it. I mean how do you end up at a private beach in Michigan? Did he write this song before they built an airport in Chicago or something? And how terrible must the public beaches be, since there is apparently a distinction? That aside, it might be worth pointing out this is about as close to consensus as we’ve seen so far.
Low - CG (60) - This is proof that trying to rank 100-ish songs inevitably leads to some things falling through the cracks. I like this song much more than “You Never Know”. Does it need over 10 minutes of repetitive noise? Well, no. In a Gmail chat, Patrick memorably referred to “Spiders” and “Bull Black Nova” as the band’s “tribute to migraines”. Yes, yes, but I kind of enjoy that quality about it, especially since I have no bloody idea what Tweedy’s lyrics are getting at.
57. Candyfloss (Summerteeth) PV - 59 | CG - 26 | KP - 75 High - CG (26) - To me, it’s the template for the upbeat tortured-heart song. ”We slip and slide on the stay-together landmine” has always been a favorite. I’ve said it before, I’m a music-over-lyrics guy, so the cascading organs and pitch-perfect bridges seal the deal. It’s also a fitting goodbye for Ken Coomer, who was replaced by Glenn Kotche on drums for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Low - KP (75) - I liked this song better when the Beach Boys probably wrote it in 1962 and threw it away because it wasn’t that good. I’m really at a loss of words in terms of elaborating. Candyfloss is apparently another word for cotton candy, so at least we all learned something. And just as a heads up, the irony of hating this song for being unoriginal before having to defend a formula song he wrote, and then called “Someone Else’s Song”, isn’t lost on me.
56. Someone Else’s Song (Being There) PV - 48 | CG - 72 | KP - 40 High - KP (40) - This is one of those songs that doesn’t come across very well in the studio, which becomes incredibly obvious when you hear a live version. The thing is it’s a great song, probably better than 40 if they would have just recorded this in someone’s back yard (if you want a success story, check out Delta Spirit’s “Scarecrow”). It’s got that great cowboy guitar with base notes in the opening, then a full admission — “it sounds like someone else’s song/from a long time ago” — in the lyrics. A little obvious but I guess it goes to show you how well built that style of music it — or at least how well it works on me.
Low - CG (72) - Blasting it would be pointless. It’s a fine enough song, fun to play on my guitar at home, but just not particularly interesting in any sense. Especially not on a double-album that I happen to love very much.
55. Country Disappeared (Wilco The Album) PV - 32 | CG - 67 | KP - 59 High - PV (32) - It’s probably their basic Midwesternness and mine, but Wilco is usually at their best when talking about the passage of time and the change of seasons and, above all, the weather. It’s why Summerteeth is so great — it says it’s about summer, right there in the title and the songs — and why YHF was so awesome — it’s about relationships and communication, sure, but it’s also about Chicago in the fall. And “Country Disappeared” is about downstate Illinois, and if it’s going to be about downstate Illinois, it has to be about the weather. “When the cold night shakes you like a chandelier/The snowflakes break through the atmosphere and melt on the blue breath of the auctioneers and disappear” harkens back to late-fall farm auctions. And, of course, the subject matter itself — watching the cities combust from the safety of “above” — is the lament of every farm mom who lost a kid to the hustle and bustle of the Midwestern capitals. And yet, there’s resignation to the truth: ”It’s so much worse than we feared/There’s nothing left here/The country has disappeared.”
Low - CG (67) - I underrated this, perhaps in a larger dismissal of Wilco The Album (which I have certainly not overrated). ”Fold ourselves into each other’s guts/blood” is another one of those searing Tweedy lyrics that hits home. Okay, okay, this one isn’t so bad.
54. The Late Greats (A Ghost Is Born) PV - 84 | CG - 57 | KP - 16 High - KP (16) - I don’t think it’s a terrible coincidence that I love this song and also can’t get enough of CAKE’s “Sad Songs And Waltzes”. There’s something about a good meta song that I know the band isn’t necessarily taking too seriously. Checking the importantness at the door frees up the writer to do what they want, which in a lot of cases is where the genius is anyway. “Free Fallin’” was written this way, too. Separately, the foot tapping is a good way to go out what turns out to be my favorite Wilco album, mathematically speaking.
Low - PV (84) - OK, I get it. I really do. If you’re going to do an album aping post-Revolver Beatles — the Lennon-like experimentation of “Hell Is Chrome”, the McCartney-esque tunefulness of “Handshake Drugs”, Harrison’s new age religion in “Theologians”, hell, the pale white cover art — you need a Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and “The Late Greats” is their nod to it. Legendary status given to a fake band’s fake song. Got it. Problem is, it has no real place in the album. It’s stapled to the end of the record, mostly so that the album doesn’t end with nine minutes of buzzing like the last album had. It’s a B-side, and it comes off that way in both sound and place.
High - CG (39) - Much to like here. A beautiful, reassuring song from father to child, complete with a Beatles-like transition into dreamland toward the end. Kevin hates it because he hates babies, and probably puppies and unicorns, too.
Low - KP (86) - The sound on this one throws me off. It’s too clangy at the beginning, too muddy at the end, and a total momentum buster right after a pretty traditional sounding rock song in “ELT”. I guess I should be thankful they didn’t go full-on noise machine at the end, so there’s that, but then again he probably realized there would be babies listening and he didn’t want to ruin their ear drums during a phase of important development. Oh, and unicorns suck.
72. In a Future Age (Summer) PV - 42 | CG - 59 | KP - 87
High - PV (42) - I have no explanation. It’s nothing in particular that they did here, and it’s nothing in the words, but this just feels spacey and open and…yeah, a bit futuristic, and it’s done with just a piano and a little guitar. It floats over suburbia like it was written for The Postal Service, and it does it without bleeps and bloops. It’s impressive, really.
Low - KP (87) - I can see myself, in certain situations, actually really liking this song. But you know, when I’m listening to 93 of these things rating effort and art, the chugging-along train and random, probably drunk piano rambling doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. Patrick will hate this, but it’s not far off from the same uninterrupted approach to lyrical structure as “I’ll Fight”.
71. Was I in Your Dreams (Being) PV - 79 | CG - 66 | KP - 41
High - KP (41) - This is the second best intro of any Wilco song on our list, which is both undebatable fact and awesome. That alone is good enough for the ranking, but the lyrical tone of this one is extra points. The lyrics, though, are admittedly kind of weak, and that’s why this one sinks a little. But as far as “grab a girl and drunkenly sway with her” songs go, this one is right up there, and you know what, the world needs that kind of tune.
Low - PV (79) - The plodding rhythm of this one is my only real strike against this one. Well, that and the throwaway lyric “When a dreamer dies does his dreams die too?/Do you really mind if I dream about you?/I can’t say what any of that means”. Jeff Tweedy, he don’t know nothin’ ‘bout my dreaming. “Was I in Your Dreams” is as forgettable as anything in the Wilco catalog.
70. War on War (YHF) PV - 66 | CG - 41 | KP - 77
High - CG (41) - Pretty sure I hated this song for a few years, but it must have grown on me slightly. Honestly surprised to see it at #41. “You have to learn how to die if you want to be alive” is so painfully trite, but I’ve always had a thing for the piano in this one.
Low - KP (77) - There was a time during my many non-stop music indulgences during college when I be came all-consumed by the protest song, in which the songwriter is able to use art and usually their folksiness to compellingly talk about current events. The lyrics are usually simple and often straightforward but it’s also probably one of the hardest things to do in popular music. A lot of the best songwriters we’ve seen in recent times, even ones with dozens of well-known tracks, are resigned to committing to an honest cover because it’s hard to readdress the same handful of topics that have been getting recycled for the past 300 or so years — war, abuse of power, social injustice, class warfare and all the rest.
To me this whole thing always felt like a wanabe protest song that Tweedy didn’t have the guts to commit to. Instead, he does the 8x repeat of the “chorus” and then cops out with a bunch of abstract or, as Chris mentioned, trite lyrics. It’s not even that bad, musically, but I actually wish I would have dropped this one a little lower than 77.
69. Walken (SBS) PV - 88 | CG - 78 | KP - 12
High - KP (12) - It’s not the same kind of song, but it pulls the same strings for me as “Was I In Your Dreams”. There’s a subtle reverb-type thing on the main vocal here I always really liked, kind of an ode to the low-fi age of everyone just kickin’ it in a big room, and it jives perfectly with the dirty guitar and fantastic steel. The middle break of this thing is something I could see myself really getting down to at a blues festival and that makes me feel very good inside.
Low - PV (88) - He’s walkin’ all by himself and talkin’ to himself and singin’ a song and thinkin’ about singin’ a song for you and then there’s some falsetto, and while all of that is really stupid, I don’t think that’s my problem with this song. My problem with this song is there are no transitions. There’s this bouncey part, and then there’s a jam session, and then there’s another bouncey part, and then there’s a bigger jam session (one that kicks ass, to be fair). It’s like Tweedy wrote a 20 second lyric and stretched it to four-and-a-half minutes by telling his band, “I’m going to repeat this a few times, and in between, give me the Trey Anastasio.”
68. What’s the World Got in Store (Being) PV - 55 | CG - 49 | KP - 74
High - CG (49) - Hey, it’s only #49, I don’t need a full-throated defense here. The banjo-only intro and subsequent soaring vocal harmonies are rather perfect, as is the slight delay between the harmonies and Tweedy’s first verse vocals. The interloping organ sweetens the mood rather nicely, as well. Better than solid, less than spectacular.
Low - KP (74) - I don’t really feel like blasting this one, mostly because it doesn’t deserve it. It’s pretty easy to take most song lyrics and embarrass them — hell Patrick is making a living out of it on some of what I think are Wilco’s best efforts at upbeatness — but that’s kind of the nature of poetry. This one doesn’t particularly speak to me and I don’t find anything except the banjo very interesting.
High - PV (37) - This isn’t fair, because Chris is right: On the album, it’s a brooding, rumbly Tweedy personality apology for like the 19th time. It’s just that this song kicks total ass live, and it kicks total ass on Kicking Television, and that clouds my judgment. Plus, I’m a sucker for that “Take off your dress/An embarrassing poem/Was written when I was alone/In love with you” line for some reason.
Mid - KP (47) - Another top five lyrics, the title line here in “Cause what would love be without wishful thinking”. I don’t take Chris’s interpretation, to me it’s more a realization about a only half-worthwhile relationship and all the nostalgia that goes along with evaluating those in hindsight. Tweedy will occasionally boil loaded situations like that down into a line or two and that’s part of what makes him often very good at his job.
Low - CG (89) - Seriously, guys? This is an automatic skip, every single time. Variation #38 of the “you’re so wonderful for loving a troubled man” song, and the melodies don’t save it. Blech. Pass.
66. On and On and On (SBS) PV - 50 | CG - 74 | KP - 49
High - KP (49) - The song so great they named it twice (and a half)! There’s a desperation in this one that is compelling for whatever reason. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to take all the lyrics in at once, so thanks, Chris, for the downer.
Low - CG (74) - I could be going a bit rough on this one. It’s not a bad song, it’s just unpleasant. “Please don’t cry, we’re designed to die” is a knife to the heart every time I hear it. That doesn’t make it bad, but it gives some insight to my criteria for ranking these songs.
65. I Got You (at the End of the Century) (Being) PV - 75 | CG - 25 | KP - 70
High - CG (25) - Okay, lyrically, it’s nothing. I’m guessing that’ll be the main complaint below, and it’s totally valid. But I’m a music and melody guy, not a poet, and as straightforward concert rockers go, this is a very good one. It has all the elements, droned-out harmonies, a funky bridge, and a false finish.
Low - PV (75) - Lyrically, it’s nothing. Also, I’m a total hypocrite, because this song also kicks ass live and yet I have it way down the list when I gave “Wishful Thinking” the benefit of the doubt.
64. Should’ve Been in Love (AM) PV - 83 | CG - 54 | KP - 31
High - KP (31) - So the high/low on these AMs is getting a little predictable, isn’t it? This is the theme song for well played story of guy not wanting to talk to girl. And Tweedy avoids the emo approach to this and takes a more classically romanic one, and the song is a worthwhile mp3 to have in your first generation iPod when life seems like it could shoot in 1,000 different directions with every minor decision you make (this is also known as “college”).
Low - PV (83) - I think this comes from the fact that I’m not nearly the A.M. fan that my comrades are, but I have this way underrated…wait, did he just rhyme “stinking” three times in the course of one song? Does the music really never get out of second gear? Nevermind, I was right. This song is crap.