The story of the Black Lips reads like the permanent record of some delinquent punk. Hailing from outside Atlanta, Georgia, two of the members got thrown out of high school and the original guitarist died shortly before the debut album was released. The band was chased out of India after exposing themselves on stage. The foursome has been thrown out of multiple clubs and arrested multiple times. The live shows feature vomit, urination and make out sessions. One time I saw Ian St. Pe use his guitar as a baseball bat, hitting half full beer cans into a raucous crowd.
Antics aside, the band has made a huge musical impact in the modern garage rock/punk rock sphere. The Black Lips self-dubbed their sound “flower punk,” as the music is too soft to be considered punk, but too rough to be considered pop or remotely mainstream. The lack of categorization is mostly due to their sprawling sound. Over seven albums the band has explored almost every imaginable rock subgenre. Some songs are five minute-plus psychedelic trips. Others are short explosions of noise. The Black Lips have recorded an album within a month using a tape recorder. They’ve also hired Mark Ronson and spent more than a year making a pop-focused LP. The band is fearless, always looking for something new to create and somewhere new to play (as shown by their gigs on six of seven continents).
Over the past 15 years, the Black Lips have created a vast discography, and while certain songs couldn’t be farther apart sonically, all contain that same brash revelry. All project an inability to give a fuck. Here are the 10 best songs by these Atlanta flower punks.
For some fans, 2005’s Let It Bloom is the Black Lips at their purest. Let It Bloom is certainly the Black Lips at their messiest and loosest. “Sea of Blasphemy” is just a minute and half, but packed full of noise. It crunches, squeaks and screams. The drumming exists in its own world. The vocals are slurred and the guitar is barely in time. Yet, it all fits together to create a tune so catchy that you could listen to it over and over again.
The Black Lips are nothing if not fun. “Go Out And Get It” is one of the more light-hearted, positive-thinking songs the band has written. Melodically, it’s calm. Vocally, it’s like some summer anthem you play to pump yourself up before a day of adventure. “If you want it, go out and get it,” proclaims drummer and singer Joe Bradley. In true Black Lips fashion, it’s short and sweet, saccharine almost—with lyrics about sunny beaches and ice cream and impulsive pet purchases—and manages inspire you as you dance along to it.
After touring most of the world, including a documented stint in the Middle East, the Black Lips came back with Underneath the Rainbow and the swampiest single possible, “Boys In The Wood.” Accompanied by a NSFW video, this song shows off the Black Lips’ Southern, party-boy roots. “Boys In The Wood” is bluesy, swinging, and lyrically full of all the debauchery one expects from this band. All in all, this song is a proclamation that after a decade-plus of playing, multiple albums and worldwide tours, the Black Lips are still the same old beer-chugging, cough syrup-swilling, law-scoffing boys in the wood.
For the 2011 release Arabia Mountain, the Black Lips decided to make a pop album. The group has always had pop elements, so it enlisted famous producer Mark Ronson. It could have easily been a disaster, but the concept works wonders. The songs on Arabia Mountain are certainly cleaner and softer than other albums, and there are a handful of stand-outs, including “Modern Art.” It’s a simple, punchy track about taking drugs at an art museum, because even when working with a Grammy award-winning producer, those Georgia boys won’t stop their juvenile and sometimes illegal adventures.
Getting Mark Ronson to produce Arabia Mountain didn’t change the Black Lips core sound, and “Family Tree” is proof. It’s dark, fast and loud. Despite slight undertones of a saxophone, this song is menacing and hurtles forward with every passing note. It also features a shout-along chorus (an essential to any strong Black Lips song), as well as a chaotic, destructive guitar solo. After 2009’s 200 Million Thousand flopped, the Black Lips came roaring back with something to prove, and all but decimated any nay-sayers with “Family Tree.”
“Dirty Hands” is surely a joke song. It’s not inherently funny, but the lyrics about building sand castles and getting a tattoo and falling in love were surely something created after a bit of alcohol and drugs were ingested and many laughs were had. The Black Lips rarely sing about the topic of love in a straightforward manner, so it makes sense the band would disguise a love song (with lyrics like “whatever / all I really want is you, we’ll be together), in this 1950’s sounding meandering song with a chorus about gross hands. It’s a hilarious concept and a fantastic song.
“Veni Vidi Vici” might be one of the strangest Black Lips songs out there. Blasting guitars are traded for tribal drumbeats, and the lyrics are particularly thoughtful—discussing the pitfalls of religion. Of course, the Black Lips put a Southern, pedestrian twist on the famous Latin phrase, repeating “I conquered y’all / all y’all” over and over. The band loves psychedelic music, and while “Veni Vidi Vici” is certainly not the most psychedelia-influenced tune from the discography, it does show new sounds the band was starting to explore back in 2007.
“Not A Problem,” from Let It Bloom is a perfect example of all the different elements the Black Lips incorporate into music. Like the band, it’s anything but straightforward. It has a quiet guitar riff and rambling verse that just list a series of activities, before the punk-fuzz sounds kick in and the band members alternate singing a fist punch of a chorus. “They can’t tell me what I can and cannot do / and I won’t a cold dead hand” is about a succinct explanation of the Black Lips ethics as any.
“O Katrina! / Why you gotta be mean?” bassist and singer Jared Swilley howls repeatedly in this stand out single from Good Bad Not Evil. The song, which personifies Hurricane Katrina as a woman, was written by New Orleans native and guitarist Ian St. Pe as he watched the storm descend on his hometown. It’s the band’s angriest and grittiest, a serious departure from their often silly and psychedelic sound. If any more proof was needed in 2007 that the Black Lips had arrived, the band performed this on their first TV appearance—Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and it was featured in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Good Bad Not Evil, the fourth Black Lips album, is inarguably the record that put band on the map. Multiple tracks made their way onto big film soundtracks, (“Bad Kids” was in 500 Days of Summer). Towards the end of this album lies “Bad Kids,” the anthem for snotty-punks everywhere. With a raucous guitar melody, a shout-along chorus, and lyrics about kids who hate authority, steal, do drugs and revel in all kinds of shenanigans, the song hits any screw-up (or wannabe screw-up) right in the feels. It launched the careers of the Black Lips because this song is highlights the band at its best. It’s simple, loud, dance-worthy and perfect for moshing and shouting along with every fellow bad kid in the audience.