The 30 Best Wilco Songs

Music  |  Lists  |  Wilco
Text
The 30 Best Wilco Songs

It’s no secret that we at Paste have long been fans of Jeff Tweedy and company. With the band’s wide-ranging catalog growing ever deeper, we thought it’d be nice to pare it down to our favorites. Here are the 30 best Wilco songs.

We like the sound of what Mr. Tweedy and company have in store for us. Whether it’s pop irreverence or serious experimental compositions, an affinity for Wilco runs deep in Paste’s veins. We featured a Wilco song way back in the day on our first-ever CD sampler, and our love for these Chicago rockers has continued ever since. We’re far from the only ones inspired by what Wilco does—as Tweedy’s song titles and lyrics have spawned numerous other journalistic outlets (we’re looking at you No Depression and Aquarium Drunkard) and various band names (including Raleigh rockers American Aquarium).

After 17 years of rolling with the punches and making fantastic music along the way, we’re pretty convinced that Wilco can do no wrong. As we anxiously await the group’s forthcoming LP, we decided to take a look back at their greatest songs to date. Check out our picks below, complete with our explanations for each song, accompanying streaming audio and even our favorite lyrics from each of these works by Wilco.

30. “She’s A Jar”
Album: Summerteeth
Reason: A subtle series of statements that evoke a particular sadness previously unseen in Tweedy’s words before this record.
Memorable Lyric: “She’s a jar / With a heavy lid / My pop quiz kid / A sleepy kisser / A pretty war / My feelings hid / She begs me not to hit her.”

29. “Hate It Here”
Album: Sky Blue Sky
Reason: Dad-rock never sounded so good.
Memorable Lyric: “I try to stay busy / I take out the trash. I sweep the floor / Try to keep myself occupied /Cause I know you don’t live here anymore.”

28. “Wilco (The Song)”
Album: Wilco (The Album)”
Reason:   Wilco (A reminder that this band is awesome).
Memorable Lyric:Wilco will love you, baby.”

27. “Casino Queen”
Album: A.M.
Reason:   Wilco channels its alt-country roots from its Uncle Tupelo days on this unsuccessful visit to the casino.
Memorable Lyric: “I hit the second deck and I spend my paycheck /
And my wife that I just met, she’s looking like a wreck.”

26. “Handshake Drugs”
Album: A Ghost Is Born
Reason: Tweedy questions himself and who he has become on this druggy tune that morphs from a lighthearted jaunt into a hazy affair at a moment’s notice.
Memorable Lyric: “I looked like someone I used to know, I felt alright / And if I ever was myself, I wasn’t that night.”

25. “Theologians”
Album: A Ghost Is Born
Reason: A religious reflection by these skeptical Chicago rockers.
Memorable Lyric: “I’m an ocean / I’m all emotion / I’m a cherry ghost.”

24. “Red-Eyed and Blue”
Album: Being There
Reason:   Wilco whistles to the tune of sadness and sorrows one of their earlier tracks.
Memorable Lyric: “We’ve got solid state technology / Tapes on the floor / Some songs we can’t afford to play.”

23. “I’m Always In Love”
Album: Summerteeth
Reason: We’re always in love with this sizzling Summerteeth love declaration.
Memorable Lyric: “Why, I wonder, is my heart full of holes / And the feeling goes but my hair keeps growing.”

22. “Impossible Germany”
Album: Sky Blue Sky
Reason: Nels Cline at his finest.
Memorable Lyric: “This is what love is for / To be out of place / Gorgeous and alone / Face to face.”

21. “I Must Be High”
Album: A.M.
Reason: On Side 1, Track 1 of Wilco’s catalog, Jeff Tweedy takes a swipe at Jay Farrar’ after their falling out in Uncle Tupelo.
Memorable Lyric: “And you never looked in my eyes / Long enough to find any piece of mind / But now you got it.”

20. “Ashes of American Flags”
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Reason: A haunting post-modern depiction of post-modern America.
Memorable Lyric: “All my lies are only wishes / I know I would die if I could come back new.”

19. “One Wing”
Album: Wilco (The Album)
Reason: A demonstration of the tightly-run ship that Wilco has become in recent years.
Memorable Lyric: “I always knew this would be our fate / This is what happens when we separate / This is what happens to all dead weight, eventually.”

18. “One by One”
Album: Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 1
Reason: Tweedy takes the words of Woody Guthrie and infuses his own emotion behind these lyrics in a way that few can top.
Memorable Lyric: “One by one my dreams are fading in the twilight / One by one my schemes are fading fast away.”

17. “Poor Places”
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Reason:   Wilco puts on a clinic in their use of dynamics as this fragmented experimental rocker slowly builds up before fading into dissonance.
Memorable Lyric: “There’s bourbon on the breath of the singer you love so much / He takes all his words from the books you don’t read anyway.”

16. “I Got You (At the End of the Century)”
Album: Being There
Reason: This infectious rock moment on Being There captures the band right before their dive into the experimental portion of their career.
Memorable Lyric: “It’s the end of the century / I can’t think of anything / Except you.”

15. “At Least That’s What You Said”
Album: A Ghost Is Born
Reason: After Jay Bennett’s departure, Jeff Tweedy takes the lead on this album opener with his powerful guitar work.
Memorable Lyric: “You’re irresistible when you get mad /
Isn’t it sad, I’m immune.”

14. “War on War”
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Reason: This song was featured as the first track on Paste’s first-ever sampler CD.
Memorable Lyric: “You have to learn how to die if you wanna be alive.”

13. “Hummingbird”
Album: A Ghost Is Born
Reason: This orchestrated jangly-pop number sounds great, cuts deep and feels effortless for a band firing on all cylinders during this period of their career.
Memorable Lyric: “Remember to remember me / Standing still in your past / Floating fast like a hummingbird.”

12. “How To Fight Loneliness”
Album: Summerteeth
Reason: A satirical and despondent example of Tweedy maturation as a songwriter.
Memorable Lyric: “How to fight loneliness / Smile all the time / Shine your teeth to meaningless / And sharpen them with lies.”

11. “Monday”
Album: Being There
Reason:   Jeff Tweedy and company summon their inner-Stones on this rollicking number.
Memorable Lyric: “Ewww, I shot ya, yeah, I know / I only wanna go where my wheels roll ”

10. “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”
Album: A Ghost Is Born
Reason: This momentous kraut-inspired rocker ebbs and flows with limitless energy during the course of this 10-plus minute track.
Memorable Lyric: “Why can’t they say what they want / Why can’t they just say what they mean.”

9. “California Stars”
Album: Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 1
Reason: The greatest song to emerge from the Wilco-Billy Bragg collaboration that brought Guthrie’s written work to life.
Memorable Lyric: “So I’d give this world / Just to dream a dream with you / On our bed of California stars.”

8. “Passenger Side”
Album: A.M.
Reason: This early Wilco deep cut perfectly encapsulates the band as they blazed trails for the alt-country genre to follow.
Memorable Lyric: “You’re gonna make me spill my beer / If you don’t learn how to steer.”

7. “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”
Album: Being There
Reason: The first rendition of its this song is one flat-out rocker. Skydiving during the song doesn’t hurt either.
Memorable Lyric: “I know we don’t talk much / But you’re but you’re such a good talker.”

6. “Via Chicago”
Album: Summerteeth
Reason: This Henry Miller-inspired murder ballad is a force to be reckoned with.
Memorable Lyric: “I dreamed about killing you again last night / And it felt alright to me.”

5. “Heavy Metal Drummer”
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Reason:   Wilco dares listeners to not succumb to this three-minute tongue-in-cheek pop classic.
Memorable Lyric: “I miss the innocence I’ve known /
Playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned.”

4. “A Shot in the Arm”
Album: Summerteeth
Reason: A perfect combination of Wilco’s early abilities to meld dark lyrics with bright pop sensibilities.
Memorable Lyric: “What you once were isn’t what you want to be anymore.”

3. “Jesus, Etc.”
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Reason: One of the band’s most poignant musical moments, creating a sense of unifying solidarity few other songs can match.
Memorable Lyric: “I’ll be around / You were right about the stars /
Each one is a setting sun.”

2. “Misunderstood”
Album: Being There
Reason: With this track, Wilco embarked from their alt-country roots towards making some of their most important pieces of experimental indie rock.
Memorable Lyric: “I’d like to thank you all for nothin’ at all.”

1. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Reason: One of the past decade’s most important songs. From the lyrics of this song alone, a documentary, an influential music website and a band have all been named as well—and with good reason.
Memorable Lyric: “I am an American aquarium drinker / I assassin down the avenue.”

Recently in Music