Liz Phair broke through the scene in 1993 with her debut Exile in Guyville, blending her indie rock sound with a blunt lyricism that didn’t shy away from subjects that made others uncomfortable. Phair’s unabashed honesty throughout her discography made her one of the defining artists of the ’90s, and she continues to inspire younger generations who stumble upon her records. Despite the range of critical reception for her albums, Phair paved the way for artists like Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail and many others, making her impact on modern music hard to ignore. Now, in honor of the 15th anniversary of Phair’s 2005 album Somebody’s Miracle, we reflect on the 10 best songs of her discography—from the underrated gems to ones that all Phair fans know and love.
“Shitloads of Money” probably isn’t what listeners would expect from Phair. This gangster tale flows like a ballad at the end of a movie soundtrack — which is fitting as it’s one of the last songs on Phair’s 1998 album Whitechocolatespaceegg.
This song beautifully encapsulates the specific feeling of being too afraid to commit to something and turning to music instead. With lines like “Playing on both sides of the net / Too many people want too many things,” Phair takes a somewhat critical view of relentless go-getters and instead, celebrates moments of calm indecision. It also ends with a killer guitar solo, so it shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Why Can’t I?” defined Phair in the early-aughts by introducing her to a new generation of listeners, particularly through mainstream radio play. Over a decade later, this song is still a classic—both in Phair’s discography and any karaoke session.
Phair’s debut album single “Never Said” helped introduce her to the world, grabbing listeners with her catchy refrain of “I never said nothing.” Phair’s quieter verses also gave a glimpse into her unceasing lyrical potential.
Also from Phair’s groundbreaking 1993 debut album Exile in Guyville, “Fuck and Run” openly displayed her sexuality. Phair was part of the wave of ’90s female artists who pushed the envelope of song subjects and perspectives, and that bluntness is what makes Phair’s music so appealing.
“Strange Loop” is the last song on Exile, but it’s arguably one of the most intriguing. The layered guitar stands out just as much as Phair’s voice. The pacing shifts throughout, which keeps it interesting on every listen and fits with the track’s title.
Phair didn’t care about what female artists were expected to write about. “Flower” was radical and cemented Phair as an unflinchingly sensual singer/songwriter. Lines like “I want to fuck you like a dog / I’ll take you home and make you like it” and “I’ll fuck you till your dick is blue” truly speak for themselves.
“I asked Henry, my bartending friend, if I should bother dating unfamous men,” Phair sings on “Polyester Bride.” The song paints “Henry” as an almost guardian angel figure, and the chorus won’t leave your head. The layered vocals in the outro also make it one of Phair’s best.
The best track on Phair’s sophomore record, 1994’s Whip-Smart, was “Supernova”—a single that opens with a heavy rock instrumental and features some of her most badass vocals and lyrics. The song doubles as Phair’s most mosh-able release—basically put, “Supernova” rules.
As one of the primary standouts from Exile In Guyville, “Divorce Song” showcases Phair at her songwriting peak. Phair sings in characteristically biting fashion, “It’s harder to be friends than lovers / And you shouldn’t try to mix the two / ‘Cause if you do it and you’re still unhappy / Then you know that the problem is you.”