This month marks the 16th anniversary of Fall Out Boy’s renowned album From Under The Cork Tree. To celebrate, we’re revisiting the Chicago band’s journey from jaded teenagers to rock radio dominators. The group has made plenty of sonic stops along the way, from their early, noisy roots to their genre-defining pop-punk, and all of their fearless experimenting with brass, soul, rap and electro-pop that’s come since. Though it’s not easy to encompass a two-decade career with such vastly different sounds, here are our top picks for the 15 best Fall Out Boy songs.
For a song called “Favorite Record,” streaming numbers for American Beauty/American Psycho say otherwise—it’s the least-played song on the record, and that doesn’t sit right with me. It utilizes the same sort of electro-pop/EDM sounds that the band would go on to dive headfirst into on Mania, but it does so in a way that’s infinitely more likable. “Favorite Record” taps into the nostalgia factor that has engulfed similar pop-punk/emo bands without being a pop-punk song at all. An ode to youth and summertime romances, the song still contains subtle nods to past lyrics (Stump sings about not being someone’s favorite record on “Dead On Arrival”) while showing that Fall Out Boy have grown up and embraced their place in the mainstream.
“Growing Up” is easy to miss if you’re not a hardcore Fall Out Boy fan: It’s one of the few songs the band seems to acknowledge off their basically disowned EP Fall Out Boy’s Evening Out with Your Girlfriend. The song’s appearance on Believers Never Die – Greatest Hits makes it the only track from the record to be streamable on all major platforms, and we’re grateful to have it—despite its low budget and rushed time frame, the breakup track is a truly underrated gem of rambunctious pop-punk. “Growing Up” walks the line between cheesy angst and biting wit that the band often narrowly misses with lyrics like “Where winning looks like losing / And I’m winning every time” and “Forget it / I’ll go out tonight and piss on her doorstep.” If you have “Fall Out Boy name-dropping Chicago” on your bingo card, now’s as good a time as any to mark it off.
In the eight years that have passed since Fall Out Boy’s return from hiatus, the band hasn’t shied away from penning some pop-saturated hits that have since been played on the radio to the point of exhaustion. “Young Volcanoes” is by no means a deep cut or total exception, but there’s something in its simplicity that keeps this track vibrant and refreshing. While the song certainly pulls from its contemporary chart-toppers like the fun. hit “We Are Young,” it does so with the same sardonic wit that fans keep going back for.
Fall Out Boy seem to enjoy giving us some compelling reasons not to skip over their Greatest Hits compilation albums. If you did, you might miss gems like “From Now On We Are Enemies” and other tracks that are difficult to stream elsewhere. This song is the only one that was newly written for the 2009 album, though it thematically follows the band’s struggle to cope with fame and their label as big players on “the scene” that they toil with throughout their previous three albums. The band makes use of religious imagery to make sense of celebrity, referring to themselves as a papal “man on the balcony” and questioning their status as either “Lunatic of a God or a God of a lunatic.” While the chase for authenticity and rejection of the fame that allows them to be successful could become a tired topic for Fall Out Boy, their exploration of the matter is done with exceptional lyricism on “From Now On We Are Enemies.”
It’s loud, it’s catchy and it’s a classic relic of the band’s ridiculous song-naming tendencies in their early days. “Reinventing the Wheel” poignantly taps into those teenage insecurities and struggles with mental health that have colored so much of Fall Out Boy’s career with the lyric, “A failure at everything, 18 going on extinct,” but the real joy of the song comes with its refrain. “Whoa, can’t do it by mys-yea-yea-yea-yelf” taps into a style of over-enunciation reminiscent of early Blink-182, and it’s nearly irresistible to emphasize and poke fun at during a good old-fashioned singalong.
An under-appreciated song from Infinity on High, the finale track is one of Patrick Stump’s most honey-sweet vocal performances—his take on an earwormy refrain “The truth hurts worse / than anything I can bring myself to do to you” only improves with each repetition. Infinity on High found the band experimenting with their sound as they moved away from the raucous punk of their earlier records, with JAY-Z offering a cameo and Babyface producing two songs. Besides some hip-hop and R&B influences, Fall Out Boy embraced something of a big-band song on this closer, with tense strings and a horn section playing with Joe Trohman’s shredding guitar. Concluding with a robot voice that hearkens back to the old days of having to press repeat on your CD player, few songs polish off a Fall Out Boy record as well as this one.
From Under the Cork Tree remains one of the band’s finest albums to date, and “A Little less Sixteen Candles” is one of many off the record that show their mastery of bright and catchy hooks. The balance between jaunty rock and the song’s rueful lyrics is perfectly complemented by the plot-heavy music video. Dramatic and campy, the band hopped on the vampire craze early—the first Twilight book had only come out a year before—to transform into monster hunters with a cameo from Brendon Urie. The effusive fun of the song and video make it a mainstay in the Fall Out Boy canon.
Fall Out Boy have proven time and time again that they, at least early on, had enough anxiety towards growing older to fill up several albums. “Sophomore Slump’s” hook certainly continues with the old hat, but the first verse also makes some astute observations on the role their fans assign to them. It’s pretty typical in the realm that Fall Out Boy exists within to hear fans say that their favorite band’s music saved their life, hence the group becoming “therapists pumping through your speakers / Delivering just what you need.” Yet their own view of this role is something more grim and scientific as they sing about formulas and lies. Besides being a great piece of music, “Sophomore Slump” stands out in the level of communication with their fans—often, Wentz’s lyrics are highly personal to his own situation, and fans can either connect with what he’s going through or just headbang along. But as the band worries about following up the success of Take This To Your Grave, they refocus their discussion of the music industry on their dedicated followers and ask them to sing along.
Fall Out Boy are doing a lot on this song—there’s the fascination with the drug Benzedrine, the criticism of the George W. Bush administration, the Brendon Urie cameo and, of course, a good old-fashioned Pete Wentz slam poem to close the whole thing out. For all this track has going on, it all works beautifully, thanks to Patrick Stump’s expert vocal runs and bright brass accents. When taken as a whole on Folie à Deux, it’s got one of the most satisfying transitions from the band to date as it flows into “West Coast Smoker.”
“This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” feels so long ago in the span of Fall Out Boy’s career at this point that it’s shocking how much lore there was to fit into one music video. Besides the video being chock-full of nods to the band’s past music videos, scandals and rise in popularity, their funk-infused hit skyrocketed their commercial success even as it critiqued their increasing role in “the scene.” Lyrically, the track is an interesting study in the cognitive dissonance of trying to be a successful band while still pursuing authenticity and avoiding the “sellout” death sentence, apathetically saying the “bandwagon’s full, please catch another” even as they admit they “don’t really care which side wins / Long as the room keeps singing, that’s just the business I’m in.” Though Infinity On High is by nearly all accounts a high-water mark for the band, it’s interesting to look back on their anxieties on rising to fame while moving in a new, more polished sonic direction.
Is there a song in Fall Out Boy’s discography more legendary than “Sugar, We’re Goin Down”? Even if you’re still fatigued from hearing it constantly in 2005, the song is undoubtedly deserving of its place in the emo hall of fame. From Patrick Stump’s novocaine-styled pronunciation of the lyrics to its heavy guitar, the inescapable colorization of nostalgia makes the heart grow even fonder of this hit. If you haven’t seen the music video in a while, it’s always a delightfully weird rewatch, and its half-boy, half-deer lead (Donald Cumming of The Virgins) has made sneak appearances in other Fall Out Boy works since.
The biggest hit off of Fall Out Boy’s debut album, “Grand Theft Autumn” is a sweet walk down memory lane that checks a lot of important pop-punk and early Fall Out Boy boxes: hating your hometown, yearning for a girl and a play on words in the title (though this one isn’t a hall-of-famer in terms of title length). The specific brand of teen angst on Take This To Your Grave holds a certain level of innocence in retrospect, crafted before their major breakout into the mainstream. The heavy bass and crashing breakdown are hallmarks of Fall Out Boy’s early days, and the wide-eyed Patrick Stump that opens the song’s music video completes the picture of a band just about to hit it big.
“I Don’t Care” could make it near the top of this list just on music video alone, but it helps that the song is also some of Fall Out Boy’s finest work. A critique of the narcissistic nature of pop culture, the track embodies the classic rock star persona even as it points out the ridiculousness of the very idea. A give-them-hell attitude pervades the instrumentals and backing vocals, even without help from the Nirvana-borrowed lyrics: “I don’t care what you think / As long as it’s about me.” The video finds the band engaging in comically awful behavior after Guns N’ Roses’ Gilby Clarke mourns the state of rock and roll, from hiding stolen goods in a nun’s habit to Andy Hurley’s smashing a little girl’s ice cream cone into the ground. Fall Out Boy also continue their habit of packing in as many celebrity cameos as possible, including Mark Hoppus, Pharrell Williams and a fake Sarah Palin—and who could forget that random second of silence with 2008’s spaghetti cat meme?
“Saturday’’ is a track penned mostly by Patrick Stump, a noticeable difference from the band’s other songs with Pete Wentz as the primary lyricist. The track off of Take This To Your Grave finds Stump singing in first person about his life and friendship with Wentz as Fall Out Boy was making bounds towards their big break, and his excitement and fear is palpable in the lines, “I’m good to go for something golden / Though the motions I’ve been going through have failed / And I’m coasting on potential towards a wall / At a hundred miles an hour.” The band explodes with hope and energy on the song, with a rare Wentz screaming vocal backing some truly angelic falsetto moments from Stump. Their energy is boiling and infectious, even if slightly hindered by a video with the potato quality of a 2006 YouTube upload.
In a long line of anthemic Fall Out Boy songs, few tug on the heartstrings quite as hard as “What A Catch, Donnie.” The ballad’s title draws on the suicide of blues musician Donny Hathaway with references to his writing partner in the song’s lyrics (“Miss Flack said ‘I still want you back’”), as well as self-referential reprises culminating in the band’s grand finale before going on hiatus. The song would be legendary on the basis of its cameos alone, with the ending medley of snippets from the band’s biggest hits being sung by everyone from Brendon Urie, Travie McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, and Elvis freaking Costello. While the band eventually returned from their hiatus, “What A Catch, Donnie” was a perfect and theatrical conclusion to the first chapter of Fall Out Boy’s career.
Carli Scolforo is a New England journalist and intern for Paste Magazine. She loves late-night TV and reading celebrity memoirs, and never truly left her emo phase. You can follow her on Twitter @carli_sco.