The Ten Best Wilco Songs

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.

twinkly’s top ten Wilco songs:

1. Misunderstood
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)

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7 Responses to The Ten Best Wilco Songs

  1. pt dismal says:

    ok, kamper, i’m pretty fried cause i been working in the backyard all day, putting it back together after some big plumbing work (termites, gas leak, water heater, washer/dryer, etc.), but, fer chrissakes, you make a big claim there. greatest rock’n’roll song ever!?!?! dude, greater than ziggy stardust, loving cup, road runner, born to run, highway 61 revisited, blue suede shoes, all shook up, you really got me, etc. etc. etc. (this list just off the top of my fried head). i’m gonna think about it and then get back to ya.

    twink’s wilco list is quite good. agreed.

    ptd

    • kamper says:

      I say this without hyperbole: those songs are all toxic radioactive garbage compared to the grandeur that is Handshake Drugs. My desert island disc is 15 tracks of Handshake Drugs. This song has the power to set broken bones and heal wounded nations. It comforts the afflicted and also comforts the comfortable. Trampled Underfoot was trampled underfoot by this song. Sister Ray went straight when she heard it, and Johnny B. Goode quit the guitar. Even the mighty Marquee Moon is eclipsed.

  2. born to run? you really are fried, pt.
    gotta say, I’m becoming a big fan of hate it here. dang that’s a good one.

  3. pt dismal says:

    just back from a week in the high sierra . . . you guys have really drank the wilco kool-aide–which is ok with me. deadheads, phish-o-philes, wilco-nuts–all harmless enough. tweedy is god, ok, ok.

    but, really, twink, you don’t think born to run is a great rock song? i might lean a little more toward rosalita, but the boss’s working class anthem is among the greatest.

    ptd

    • kamper says:

      1. I believe the proper term is Wilcoholic.
      2. ‘Born to Run’ is a great song and it never gets old. I’m sure you recall that WMMS in Cleveland used to play BTR every Friday at 5:00 to signal that the weekend had officially fuckin’ begun. Actually, Handshake Drugs would have been more accurate on a purely content basis.

  4. pt dismal says:

    if you’re a wilcoholic, does that mean you can stop listening to wilco but still be a wilcoholic?

    yeah, what was that deejay’s name? rocco something? he would also play friday on my mind (? blue cheer? can’t recall) and another song. the threefer that signalled the beginning of the weekend–whoohoo!

    ptd

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