The 20 Best Strokes Songs

Music Lists The Strokes
The 20 Best Strokes Songs

The Strokes are one of the most repeatedly argued-about bands of the last 25 years. They’re also one of the most speculated: Their rise to mid-tier fame and rock success is practically lore now. They emerged from a burgeoning NYC scene in the late ’90s, and they radiated a kind of cool no one had seen in the city’s music scene for years. The band’s core members—perpetually shaggy frontman Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti—got caught up in all the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of it all (as was famously documented in Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 oral history of the early-2000s NYC scene, Meet Me In The Bathroom) and were embroiled in label disputes. In the 20-plus years since their original inception, they’ve released albums both adored and detested by critics, branched off and made solo projects and, no matter how long it’s been since we last heard from them, they always seem to be lingering somewhere at the back of our minds. To celebrate the release of their sixth LP and first in seven years, The New Abnormal (out Friday, April 10), we polled our staff for the best Strokes songs.

20. “Call It Fate, Call It Karma”

The first time I ever heard “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” I didn’t even realize it was a Strokes song. It’s a song so mystical, so completely in its own category that I wouldn’t even list it under the alternative rock genre. It’s slow, simple and sounds like what falling in love would sound like if it had a theme song. “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” is a song fit for a late-night drive, with no destination in mind. —Daniella Boik

19. “Taken for a Fool”

While slightly cryptic, the lyrics in this track supposedly refer to Casablacas’ various romantic experiences. It also serves as a double entendre for some of the stressors of his career: “I hope this goes over well / on the toxic radio, yeah.” —Jarrod Johnson II

18. “Bad Decisions”

“Bad Decisions” is a slick rocker built around an anthemic, New Order-esque guitar riff. The retro infomercial-style “Bad Decisions” video, directed by Andrew Donoho, sends The Strokes back to the ’70s scene Julian Casablancas’ lyrics set (“Dropped down the lights, I’m sitting with you / Moscow 1972”), imagining a world in which anyone can order their own cloned iteration of the band, customizing The Strokes’ looks and personalities to fit their exact specifications. —Scott Russell

17. “Games”

“Games” is a rejuvenating turn after the sour scoffs on “Taken For a Fool.” Angles signified the band’s return after a three-year hiatus, but not all critics were on board with it. Considering Casablancas played less of a role in writing this album and just sent his vocals electronically to the other members, the band might not have enjoyed this LP as much, either. —Jarrod Johnson II

16. “Machu Picchu”

“Machu Picchu,” track one on Angles, is far from New York City garage rock—instead, it channels sharp new wave and reggae-pop. You might not think of reggae when you think of The Strokes, but they’ve slid hints of it into their music for years (all those down strums weren’t a fluke), and this is one of their best examples. It also contains possibly their catchiest bridge, which gets stuck in my head almost twice as easily as the chorus. Casablancas’ bridge vocals are mostly subtle (apart from his occasional funky high notes), but when his melodies mirror the bold guitar lines, it’s utter bliss. —Lizzie Manno

15. “Ize of The World”

First Impressions of Earth broadened the band’s sound, but reviews were mixed. “Ize of the World” is a mildly camp example of that experimentation. The guitar riffs and solo take some laser-y tones to create the foreboding dystopian dream Casblancas sings about. —Jarrod Johnson II

14. “Chances”

The UFO landing sound effect that starts this song signifies its role on the album. “Partners in Crime’’ is high-energy, so “Chances” brings us back down and coaxes us into a peaceful conclusion. It’s the solitary smoke on the back patio after a night out drinking—“Happy Ending” is the five minutes of tripping and stumbling into bed and “Call it Fate, Call it Karma” is the last few minutes of peace before inebriated sleep. —Jarrod Johnson II

13. “Automatic Stop”

“Automatic Stop” is a rare co-written Strokes track, this time by guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. And, given his role in the band, perhaps it’s not a surprise this song has several of their best guitar riffs, as well as an extended locomotive entry into its boppy chorus. Lyrically it’s simplistic, but as delivered with Casablancas’ trademark vocal shrug, it makes the statement “I’m not your friend, I never was” all the more satisfying, especially in the song’s last soaring moment. —Allison Keene

12. “Vision of Division”

As far as sheer force and aggression go, “Vision of Division” is the climax of First Impressions of Earth (with “Juicebox” coming in at a close second.) The guitars pound, and Casablancas’ voice is extremely shrill while driving the question, “How long must I wait?” —Jarrod Johnson II

11. “Drag Queen”

The Strokes’ 2016 EP Future Present Past tends to fly under the radar, but it has some of the band’s catchiest, most driving songs since Room On Fire. “Oblivius” benefits from casually cool drum machines and droning speak-sing, while the much more colorful “Drag Queen” possesses a beat so contagious you’ll want to get up, go outside and run around the block a few times. Lyrically, it’s a bit of mess—this song overflows with Julian Casablancas’ unorganized political frustrations—but sonically, it’s just a jam. —Ellen Johnson

10. “You Talk Way Too Much”

“You Talk Way Too Much” doesn’t make us wait through a slow verse or a build to hit its emotional high. Julian Casablancas is already yelling before the song’s first minute, and then settles into an unconventional chorus that slips into a neat guitar riff. The song’s unique structure is held together with the pure chaotic energy of a breakup. “Give me some time, I just need a little time!” he implores before a more staid declaration of “You talk way too much.” Like the best Strokes songs, this one is over before you can quite catch hold of it, concluding with a ponderous “Is this how it ends?” that lingers long after the track is done. —Allison Keene

9. “Under Cover of Darkness”

Though Angles leaned more on synths and drum machines than any Strokes album up until that point, it still had plenty of the messy-yet-clean rock songs that made them such an adored band in the first place. “Under Cover of Darkness” is pre-chorus gold: “Don’t go that way / I’ll wait for you,” Casablancas sang 10 years after the release of Is This It (Casablancas slips in a reference with the line, “Everybody’s been singing the same song for 10 years”), and rarely has he ever sounded so sincere. So many Strokes songs center on doomed-to-fail relationships between turbulent people, but as it turns out, it’s nice to hear Casablancas admit that he’s invested in someone, even if he has to survive combat before reuniting with them. —Lizzie Manno

8. “Someday”

If you’re picking a Strokes song for karaoke, “Someday” is undoubtedly the move—as long as you’re okay with picking something a tad obvious. Though marked by driving, happy-go-lucky power-pop strums, it tracks a rather sad breakup of a couple that tried to make their relationship work, but now has to swallow the hard truth that they’re not good for each other. Casablancas keeps his cards close (as he often does), but he still manages to capture the pair’s sunny nostalgia and tragic ending, particularly with lines like, “Promises, they break before they’re made / Sometimes, sometimes.” It might be a bit too on-the-nose to literally use the phrase “the good old days” when looking back at one’s highlight reel, but sometimes it’s best not to beat around the bush. —Lizzie Manno

7. “You Only Live Once”

The Strokes’ 2006 album First Impressions Of Earth is among their most popular to sack—and that’s probably because it’s about as even as a mountain biking trail. The album has plenty of rocky moments, but it’s at its most poised and clear on album opener “You Only Live Once,” a petty and choppy rock song that flirts with classic rock elements à la Strokes’ contemporaries The White Stripes. At this point, the Jack White-fronted duo were at the peak of their popularity, and as Casablancas and co. fought to stay relevant, they actually released a few new classics, including the ever-bouncy “You Only Live Once.” —Ellen Johnson

6. “Reptilia”

Placing “Reptilia” so high on this list could be controversial, but bear with me: Does any song sound more like The Strokes than this one? It’s like someone took the sonic elements that make The Strokes The Strokes and went into a lab to concoct the perfect Strokes-ian formula. Like many Strokes songs, it regards a failed relationship from the rearview, but it also bears a few more far-reaching nuggets of wisdom: “Our lives are changing lanes, you ran me off the road,” Casablancas sings in a raspy rage. “Reptilia” is everything beautiful and wonderful about The Strokes. —Ellen Johnson

5. “The Modern Age”

One criticism frequently leveled at The Strokes was that they took themselves too seriously. Their image was rooted in a timeless romanticism and unironic cool, and where they sometimes lacked emotional nuance in their lyrics, they often made up for it in their longing guitar work. “The Modern Age” is filled with fragmented observations, none of which are particularly vulnerable, but what fills out the emotional core of the song are Nick Valensi’s simple yet deeply poignant plucks. Even though the song is largely rooted in punky garage rock, that solo is possibly their best and most unabashed classic rock moment, plus Julian Casablancas’ raw performance of the line, “don’t want you here right now, let me go,” is almost Dr. Feelgood-esque—not to mention possibly the most satisfying delivery of any line in the entire Strokes discography. —Lizzie Manno

4. “Under Control”

“Under Control” begins with the repeated lyric “I don’t wanna waste your time,” and, in this case, they don’t. “Under Control” is a rare breather in The Strokes’ frantic catalogue, a moment to sit back and sip a frozen drink through a pink straw—maybe the only time in the history of this band in which that would feel appropriate. But there’s just something laissez-faire about this Room On Fire tidbit, and the simplicity of the lyrics allows the precise drumming and calculated guitars to shine through. —Ellen Johnson

3. “Meet Me in the Bathroom”

This short track is quietly one of The Strokes’ best. With the typical mumblecore of Casablancas’ lyrical stylings over an upbeat melody, “Meet Me in the Bathroom” is another Strokes song that hides its angst in apathy. “Anywhere is fine, just don’t waste my time,” Casablancas sings, but later (with more bite) adds “You trained me not to love / After you showed me what it was.” Few songs evoke such a complicated nostalgia for grungy encounters tied up with uncertain emotions. A track purely distilled in the early-aughts, it provides the band’s most iconic garage rock sounds, particularly in live performances. —Allison Keene

2. “Last Nite”

“Last Nite” was one of three songs on The Strokes’ debut EP, The Modern Age, which famously sparked a label bidding war, and despite the song’s simplicity (and Tom Petty rip-off), it’s easy to see why it created such a stir. Julian Casablancas howling over distorted, staccato guitars practically sums up the entire appeal of the 2000s garage rock revival—it’s slightly dumb and primitive, but overwhelmingly fun. Casablancas’ delivery is at times, disinterested and slightly waggish, and other times, wildly passionate—a combination which, if executed effectively, always draws people to you. And its status as an indie anthem wouldn’t be complete without Nick Valensi’s flaming blues solo that temporarily brings the ’50s hot rod out of their garage for a joyride. —Lizzie Manno

1. “Hard To Explain”

There’s no denying the magic of Is This It, The Strokes’ debut on the alternative rock landscape that turns 20 next year. The relentlessly punchy guitars on “Hard To Explain” are a perfect example of what made The Strokes an object of interest to begin with. This song in particular may have unwillingly garnered some mainstream fame thanks to the infamous mashup with Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle” (it’s a truly unfortunate combination), but withdraw the smoke and mirrors and what’s left is a new kind of classic rock song for the new millennium: fueled, shaggy and angry. It was so good, in fact, that they’ve never really topped it. —Ellen Johnson

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