10. “How Do You Sleep?,” American Dream
Choosing a song title that references one of John Lennon’s most acidic jeremiads against his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney was, like everything in Murphy’s musical career, no mistake. This epic-length track that sits at the center of American Dream is a pointed bit of commentary about his fractured personal and professional relationship with former DFA Records co-founder Tim Goldsworthy. The throbbing tune swirls around Murphy’s fury at his ex-friend’s cocaine addiction and the lack of empathy he seems to have at the fact that they’re no longer on speaking terms. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure.
9. “All I Want,” This Is Happening
The beginning of This Is Happening’s two-part breakup drama, “All I Want” encapsulates the moments felt right after the end of the relationship, a desire to feel pity and for others to feel just a fraction of the pain that you’re enduring now. As the wobbly guitar comes in, it’s almost like it’s tracking the movements of the protagonist’s brain, running a mile a minute and all over the place, dealing with the blow it has just received. “All I Want” presents a person who just wants the other person to understand how he’s feeling to the point that he wants absolutely nothing more, simply to be understood and for the other person that ended the relationship to feel a part of that. “All I Want” might be LCD’s most heartbreaking song, since it not only deals with the loss of love, but also succeeds in creating the idea of wanting to just not feel alone in the pain that comes after.
8. “Tribulations,” LCD Soundsystem
With its in-and-out beat and Murphy’s vocals perfectly blending with it, “Tribulations” is perhaps one of the catchiest songs on LCD Soundsystem’s debut album (which is strange since it also feels like one of the simpler songs from that album). Murphy wrote “Tribulations” as an example as to how easy writing a pop song is, and despite the basic nature of it, “Tribulations” excels. It’s impossible to get out of your head—especially with that completely captivating beat—and Murphy does it seemingly without even trying.
7. “Someone Great,” Sound of Silver
Chronologically in the discography of LCD Soundsystem, “Someone Great” is the first time we get glimpses of pain and loss in the band’s music, coming just right before the emotional wallop that is “All My Friends.” Utilizing the electronic sounds used in “45:33” and filled with so many strange, unique sounds that almost seem indefinable, “Someone Great” just comes together so beautifully in a way that shows that Murphy should’ve been writing about personal things all along. And that’s why “Someone Great” works so well: it feels incredibly personal, with hints of depression due to the loss of someone deeply important, and despite the desire to just stop for a little, everything just keeps coming and coming until the day it stops.
6. “I Can Change,” This Is Happening
On a personal note, This Is Happening came out right after I had gone through a huge breakup and I used to listen to “I Can Change” every single day, almost as an anthem to trying to become a better person in hopes that the other person will come back. Maybe the saddest thing about “I Can Change” is the hope in Murphy’s voice. He still believes that the person who has let him go will take him back once he’s become exactly who someone else wants him to be. “I Can Change” is Murphy’s ode to ‘80s synth-pop and matches that genre’s emotional core while still feeling deeply personal. There are lines here that cry of truth, such as, “Love is a murderer, but if she calls you tonight, everything is all right.” It’s coming from a person who is grasping at straws anywhere he can. “I Can Change” is Murphy at his most desperate, pleading to his lover to come back, willing to do anything to be as perfect as he believes his partner is, but not realizing that shouldn’t be what love is.
5. “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” Sound of Silver
As the last song performed during its last show at Madison Square Garden, to the surprise of no one, LCD Soundsystem busted out “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” the perfect way to conclude such a perfect night. In the documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, the song is prefaced by Murphy getting in a cab and visiting the members of LCD Soundsystem for dinner, followed by a contemplative drive as Murphy looks out at the city he calls home. It’s a beautiful moment where you can see the love in Murphy’s eyes, almost as if once LCD is done, he’ll be kicked out of the city he has embraced and criticized.
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is Murphy’s anthem for the city that has let him down, but still it’s “the one pool where I’d happily drown.” Like the kids who had borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ‘80s, Murphy never got to see NYC in its heyday and you can feel the pain in missing this moment of musical and cultural significance. He’s been promised one thing, been sold a bill of lies, but still he’s accepted what he has been given. Maybe the city at its peak still exists to someone, but not for him. The love for New York has always loomed big in Murphy’s music, from his love of The Velvet Underground and CBGB and the artists that come along with that, but “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is his love song for a love he’ll never be able to shake, no matter if it still disappoints him.
4. “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” LCD Soundsystem
“I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it at CBGB’s. Everybody that I was crazy,” Murphy uses as a point of pride in “Losing My Edge.” Murphy clearly holds Daft Punk in high regard, as his own band would mix rock and electronic music in a similar way to what Daft Punk did to pave the way. So it makes sense that in “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” Murphy’s idyllic fantasy song, the duo comes to perform at his home. But even though the illusive duo comes to his house, he still can’t keep cool, obsessed with making sure they get set up correctly, as a freak out is brewing when they descend from the bus and even considering kidnapping them at the song’s end. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” is also emblematic of Murphy’s abilities to visualize a story in fascinating ways, as it’s almost impossible to hear the song without imagining some weird kid figuring out how to get Daft Punk to play for him and his friends and of course taking the time out to celebrate by performing the greatest cowbell solo since Blue Öyster Cult.
3. “Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem
In hindsight, you can hear so much of what LCD Soundsystem will excel at over its three albums with its very first song. “Losing My Edge” starts off so simple and then increases over its eight minutes until Murphy is almost screaming over his own music like in “Dance Yrself Clean.” There’s the self-deprecating humor all over (“I’ve never been wrong, I used to work in the record store”), and the desire to stay relevant when you’re just slightly behind what’s “cool.” Murphy even gives the desperation that we’ll hear in “I Can Change,” as he ends the song rattling off bands that might make him relevant once more, before the song repeats over and over “you don’t know what you really want.” “Losing My Edge” isn’t actually about the music that Murphy lists off; it’s about the superiority that can be felt while becoming increasingly inferior. And yet, a song about being uncool made Murphy cooler than ever. “Losing My Edge” was Murphy dealing with becoming inadequate and the idea that what you love can become who you are and your own, and in projecting these fears, birthed a band that would become just as cool and important as any of the bands he name checks.
2. “Dance Yrself Clean,” This Is Happening
If you were going to listen to the entire LCD Soundsystem discography back-to-back, the middle of Sound of Silver would be quite the downer, with “Someone Great,” “All My Friends” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Considering the leap from non-personal to incredibly personal music between their first and second album, it was hard not to wonder what LCD would do with its final album. Murphy knows that not only does he have to mess with the perceptions of what people want and are expecting, while also starting over anew. At first, “Dance Yrself Clean” is a surprise—so soft, it almost demands you to turn up the volume to even hear what Murphy is saying. Then as the great LCD songs do, it builds and builds, until it abruptly makes you turn that volume right back down, but if it does its job correctly—which it obviously does—you won’t reach for that volume dial.
“Dance Yrself Clean” presents Murphy as an unreliable narrator, through blasting out your stereo and thought the lyrics. After an entire second album of introspection, he second-guesses himself saying “killing it with close inspecting, killing it can only make it worse.” After lamenting those who have gone with “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” he presents the idea that maybe your friends are actually all shitty. So if thinking too much and hating the company you keep have got you down, what’s the best remedy? Why, dancing yrself clean of these worries of course! But “Dance Yrself Clean” is also the beginning of the funeral party, the beginning of the end before LCD Soundsystem is no more. Instead of mourning the loss of LCD, “Dance Yrself Clean” asks its audience to dance for the end of an era and shocking them into the final stretch.
1. “All My Friends,” Sound of Silver
Without any hyperbole, “All My Friends” is a masterpiece, a classic, a perfect song. It is without a doubt, the greatest song that LCD Soundsystem ever made. “All My Friends” is the epitome of all their strengths thrown together into one of the most brilliant songs so far this millennium. And even with all this gushing over “All My Friends,” it still undersells just how phenomenal of a song it truly is.
“All My Friends” is everything you could ever ask for from an LCD Soundsystem, a culmination of what has made this band so great done to the highest levels. A simple part played on the piano over and over by Nancy Whang. That’s how it starts. Over the course of the song, it slips up occasionally, but it doesn’t matter, the power is there. The intensity slightly increasing until it seems like Whang’s fingers must not be anything but nubs.
But of course, LCD is phenomenal at adding elements continuously until its almost as if there’s no possibly way another sound could be added into the mix. Then Pat Mahoney comes in with a slightly more complicated drum part. They complement each other and grow in sound until James Murphy comes in. And that’s just how it starts.
Everyone knew from LCD Soundsystem that this band could create an incredibly sound, but Sound of Silver had LCD discovering just how impactful a phenomenal sound could be when melded with even more impactful lyrics, a mixture that could change lives and blow audiences away. Like LCD’s greatest songs, Murphy’s lyrics are funny, insulting to himself (“a face like a dad and a laughable stand”), incredibly personal, yet still immediately relatable.
For Murphy, “All My Friends” is about the struggle of touring and trying to get back to those people from “Losing My Edge.” But on a much deeper level, one that audiences still grasped, “All My Friends” is about aging, the inevitability of death, missing the days that have gone by and the friends that have come and gone that really matter. It’s a song about loss and pain and the understanding that everything is fleeting, the realization that this could be the last time. It’s looking at the past in the present and coming to grips with just how fast time flies.
LCD Soundsystem made three fantastic albums, and over that time, made some incredible music, but “All My Friends” is on a whole other level. For this generation, “All My Friends” could easily end up becoming the “Under Pressure” or “Heroes” that can make you feel alive and dare you want to take on the world. “All My Friends” is a testament to the power of music, LCD Soundsystem’s magnum opus. No matter how the LCD Soundsystem reunion goes, if the tour is garbage or if the next music they write is awful, they’ll always have made this perfect song, and we can still come home to this.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter or find more of his writing at his website