The 30 Best Wilco Songs

From A.M. to Schmilco, and everything in between.

Music Features wilco
Share Tweet Submit Pin

10. “Pot Kettle Black”
Named for its eponymous epithet, “Pot Kettle Black” is a driving four-minute groove from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Like the saying goes, Tweedy calls himself out for criticizing other people for the same things that he’s guilty of doing. But by doing so, he obviously exonerates himself. It’s a tongue-in-cheek critique of being hypocritically judgmental, but allowing oneself to smile upon that realization. —Adrian Spinelli

9. “At Least That’s What You Said”
As the opening track to 2004’s A Ghost Is Born, “At Least That’s What You Said” almost comes off like it could be either the intro to the events of their previous album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” or maybe the regretful hangover. Tweedy’s somber vocals are turning panicked accompanied by slammed pianos and spastic guitar solos. The dreamy tone to “At Least That’s What You Said” sets up the experience of the whole record nicely—a strange, heartfelt beginning that shows the band’s full-on experimentation and honing of their newfound penchant for unusual combinations of styles and sounds. —Ross Bonaime

8. “Impossible Germany”
This is Nels Cline’s crowning moment as Wilco’s lead guitarist. Not only that, but this is the moment when it became clear that Cline was the right choice to move forward with the band and he’s remained with them since he first appeared on Sky Blue Sky in 2007. “Impossible Germany” is a staple at Wilco shows, namely because of just how silky Cline’s work is. Credit to Tweedy for writing an incredible song that addresses the expectations within a grounded relationship, juxtaposed with how America felt about our place in the world in the pre-WWII era. —Adrian Spinelli

7. “Hate It Here”
No one has ever sounded so agonized about checking the mail than Tweedy on “Hate It Here.” A cut from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, in which guitarist Nels Cline has never shined brighter, “Hate It Here” features his velvet tones morphing into jagged wails and back again. Tweedy sings about homebody minutia—cutting the grass, doing the laundry, checking the phone and the mail for messages—waiting for his lover to return until he screams, “I hate it here,” pausing for a stomp, “when you’re gone.” And it’s true: You can really start to hate a place you love when the person you love is gone. —Hilary Saunders

6. “Via Chicago”
Despite its ominous opening lines (“I dreamed about killing you again last night / And it felt alright to me”), “Via Chicago” immediately unfolds as a tender ode to the city that gave the band their start. Culled from the album Summerteeth, it’s bathed in wistful reflection, but ultimately comes across as another in a long line of Wilco escape songs, an expression of passive acceptance that finds resolution simply by returning to the place where comfort was found early on. The passive melody is eventually entangled in dissidence that surfaces and then fades as the song works its way to an otherwise unobtrusive exit. Even so, it remains one of the band’s most elegiac entries. —Lee Zimmerman

5. “She’s a Jar”
Throughout Wilco’s entire career, Jeff Tweedy uses outlandish imagery to convey the complexity and randomness that stems from loving someone, and “She’s a Jar” may represent the most surreal, yet straightforward. “She’s a jar with a heavy lid” is one of Tweedy’s best metaphors to date; like opening a container that just won’t budge no matter how much muscle you put into it, the mysterious “she” won’t let Tweedy in on her deepest secrets. Over a hypnotic drum beat with sleepy harmonica and keyboard interludes, Tweedy struggles to make sense of his relationship becoming frustrated to the point where his partner has to beg him not to hit her because of their mutual inability to tell, not show. —Steven Edelstone

4. “A Shot in the Arm”
Although it originally appeared on Summerteeth, the Kicking Television version of “A Shot in the Arm” offers a more raucous take on an already emotionally and musically raw song. The guitars quake louder in the intro and Tweedy’s vocals quiver less in the closing admission, “What you once were isn’t what you want to be anymore.” But the song really relishes in its rock ‘n’ roll crescendo when Tweedy screams, “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm / something in my veins / bloodier than blood” over and over again until he’s exhausted himself like a child ready to succumb to blessed rest. —Hilary Saunders

3. “Jesus, Etc.”
Tweedy is a master of American vernacular and on “Jesus, etc.”, he captures the way we speak to each other when the doors are closed and no one else is around. The way he describes a building’s sway for a breath, effectively evoking the feel of Chicago’s Marina Towers which grace the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is beautiful. And yet, for all of Tweedy’s immaculate lyrics, the orchestral arrangement of “Jesus, Etc.”—with a humble string section, John Stiratt’s perfect bass line, Glenn Kotche pacing the drums in the background and the late great Jay Bennett on lap steel—make this the most memorable song on one of the greatest albums in American history. —Adrian Spinelli

2. “Misunderstood”
The lead-off track on Wilco’s sophomore record, the sprawling double-disc Being There, “Misunderstood” made it abundantly clear that Wilco had much more to offer than the garage tunes of of A.M and Tweedy’s previous band, Uncle Tupelo. With its noisy, ominous intro and long, cacophonous ending that sounds like the song collapsing on itself, “Misunderstood” foreshadows the experimentation that would define Yankee Hotel Foxtrot five years later. But it shouldn’t be viewed solely as a stepping stone to better music: It’s a wistful, melancholy epic bidding good night to the rock ‘n’ roll era, with Tweedy essentially offering his artist credo: “There’s a fortune inside your head / All you touch turns to lead / You think you might just crawl back in bed / You’re so misunderstood.” —Garrett Martin

1. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
With a song like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” it’s almost understandable why the band’s then-label, Reprise, wouldn’t be happy with the massive change in the band’s sound. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a disorienting cavalcade of instruments, from scratching strings to inebriated pianos. This sound of chaos perfectly matches the drunken ramblings of Jeff Tweedy as narrator, whose mood swings and heartbreak bring about misplaced confidence and sorrow found in regrettable memories. Tweedy constantly comes back to the line “what was I thinking,” and the entire band similarly seems to be on different wavelengths, each in his own stupor, until they coalesce into one sound for only a few beautiful moments before swerving back into frantic confusion. The seven-minute masterpiece is a staggering accomplishment for the band that somehow finds synchronicity in its insanity and proclaims a completely new era for Wilco going forward. —Ross Bonaime

ShareTweetSubmitPinMore