Top 10 Wilco Songs



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Plenty of critics call Wilco the best or most important American rock band today, and you can add my name to the list. In leading a band that has consistently befuddled the musical marketplace by constantly exploring new sounds and styles, Jeff Tweedy has grown into one of the great rock songwriters of all time.

I’d put him right up there in the hallowed “second tier” alongside guys like Pete Townshend and Ray Davies.

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But Wilco is a musical collective, and Tweedy has surrounded himself with some of the best rock musicians playing today, in particular drummer Glenn Kotche and lead guitarist Nels Cline. In my eyes there’s nobody better today than these two.

Add it all up and you get some spectacular music. Tweedy’s lyrics sometimes tend towards free-association obscurity, but they are never trite, and sometimes they are breathtakingly powerful. Many Wilco songs are brilliantly and unusually structured, meaning that a musical break or transition between verses becomes as important to the song’s identity as do the words and melody.

That’s what happens when you combine great songwriting with great musicianship. And great musicians also mean great live performances. You really have to see Wilco live in order to really “get” the band. Over time, some songs get honed and actually improved through the live performance, and I will include the live version in those cases.

10. Poor Places

Here’s an example of a distinct Wilco song structure, where the payoff doesn’t come in a chorus but in a go-for-baroque piano trill that takes the song to its conclusion.

9. Impossible Germany

Steely Dan-esque chords smoothly carry the familiar Tweedy theme about the need for human comfort and support. Nels Cline at his best.

8. Art Of Almost

Need proof of Glenn Kotche’s drum skills? This one devolves, as the band is wont to do, to a place where you couldn’t possibly rock any harder.

7. Hummingbird

“Remember to remember me, standing still in your past, floating fast like a hummingbird”. Such incredible imagery in this song, it’s like John Keats on OxyContin.

6. Handshake Drugs

One of the simpler Wilco songs, it’s got a deceptive, runaway train relentlessness to it that kicks every Wilco concert into overdrive.

5. You Are My Face

Wilco in a nutshell. Neither major nor minor. Sweet harmonies, chunky middle breakdown, and a very moving meditation on the meaning of family.

4. One Wing

From a pure songwriting standpoint, it’s simple and strong, and certainly one of Tweedy’s very best. I can’t understand how anyone wouldn’t appreciate it.

3. Shot In The Arm

Another example of a song that’s grown so much it’s practically a different song than the recorded version. “What you once were isn’t what you wanna be, anymore.”

2. Ashes Of American Flags

From the mundane to the profound, from fear to redemption, from self to country to the collective spirit, this song finds hope among the fallen leaves.

1. Jesus, Etc.

Perhaps their most popular song, maybe only “Jesus” kept it from becoming a hit. I call it a pop masterpiece.

Photo credit: “Wilco MassMoca AustinNelson” by Austin Nelson – Sent to me personally. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

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One comment to “Top 10 Wilco Songs”
  1. Pingback: Wilco Drops Surprise New Album | Rocknuts

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