I was all hopped up to do a list of the ten best Wilco songs in honor of us seeing two shows in four days*, but the lovely and talented twinkly has beaten me to the punch with a fine list of her very own.
2. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
3. Handshake Drugs
4. Radio Cure
5. Airline to Heaven
6. Passenger Side
7. Born Alone
8. One Sunday Morning
9. A Shot in the Arm
10. California Stars
It’s a tough list to argue with. Except for one thing: reasonable people can disagree as to which songs should fill out the 2-10 slots but it is entirely beyond dispute that “Handshake Drugs” is not only the best song by Wilco but the greatest song by any rock and roll outfit ever world without end amen. It’s the “Freebird” of our generation. It’s something about the way “Handshake Drugs” starts out as one thing and then becomes something else entirely, something about the interplay among Jeff’s aw-shucks lyrics, the keep-on-chooglin’ rhythm section, and the blistering guitar fills, something about the way it resolves from chaos back into melody several times before finally succumbing to the encroaching sonic assault that rounds out the song’s last minute or so. There are many great versions but this one from the Ashes of American Flags DVD is one of my favorites, as Jeff dons his best Gram Parsons tribute suit and Nels Cline genuflects to Tom Verlaine’s legendary lead on Marquee Moon at 1:30.
Also, I would also find a way to squeeze in the following two songs. Not sure how exactly, as that’s a solid list. Maybe I’d get lawyerly and argue that the two Woody Guthrie songs (Airline to Heaven and California Stars), great as they are, have to come off on a technicality.
* Essex Junction, VT on Sunday and Hartford, CT on Wednesday (couldn’t get tix to the Mass Moca show on Tuesday)