100th Post = The Tweedy 100 v.1
Tonight, after almost 15 months of running this blog, I've reached that fabled blog milestone: this is my 100th post. Now, I've been debating the logistics of this because I wrote one Pimps of Gore post last year that never "aired," on the merits of The Who's Live at Leeds. After uploading the tracks and doing most of the writing, I decided that pretty much no one in the world needs to be told that Leeds is one of the best live albums ever recorded. If you hadn't already heard that, you're hearing it now, so go check it out.
Besides, it's a much more romantic notion that I ring in my 100th post with the beginnings of my tribute to one of my favorite living songwriters, JEFF TWEEDY, currently of WILCO and formerly of UNCLE TUPELO. Much like I did with the GUIDED BY VOICES 100, I'm (hopefully) going to be able to do a series of posts throughout the rest of the year where I pick out my 100 favorite songs from Jeff's career and bore you endlessly with my own trivia, interpretations and extrapolations.
Just last night I just had the extreme pleasure of seeing Wilco again (I hadn't seen them since before A Ghost is Born was released) as they concluded their tour at the Val-Air Ballroom in Des Moines, Iowa. I've lost count at this point, but this show was anywhere between my 12th and 15th seeing the band, and easily one of their best performances. Many of the songs on tonight's list were performed at the show, so it was nice to get a kick in the pants from the concert to start publishing this list.
Like the GBV list, these songs are in no particular order of preference.
THE JEFF TWEEDY 100 - Volume 1
"At Least That's What You Said" from A Ghost is Born: While I realize that I just said that these songs are in no real order, if I were making you a Wilco/Tweedy mix, this would probably be the opening track no matter what. "ALTWYS" is also the opening track of Ghost, and it's a perfect starter for a record because it starts out as quiet as a whisper before exploding into a fantastic Neil Young and Crazy Horse guitar freakout. Plus, it's immediately off-putting and creepy, with lyrics that hint at an abusive relationship ("You're irresistable when you get mad" or "I thought it was cute / for you to kiss / my purple black eye / Even though I caught it from you").
"Sunken Treasure" from Being There: One of the two noisy epics from Wilco's second album (the other being "Misunderstood") which really started to hint at the more avant-garde direction the band wouldn't start heading into until the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot over half a decade later. This song was like a punch to my gut when I was a depressed college student who was gradually realizing what the real world was all about. "There is no sunken treasure / rumored to be / wrapped inside my ribs" is one hell of a heartbreaking lyric. "Music is my savior." I just recently saw Tweedy play a solo show in Lincoln, NE, and he opened with a solo version similar to this live take.
"Far, Far Away" from Being There: I'm only three songs in, but I'm beginning to realize that a lot of the songs I've picked for tonight's list are easily filed under B for Bummer. That's okay; I love a good bummer. "Far, Far Away," is no exception, telling the simple "story" of a man who feels like he's on the other side of the world from the one he loves. The "kiss and ride on the CTA" is a reference to train stops on the Chicago Transit Authority where there are spots for people to drop passengers off.
"Acuff-Rose" from UNCLE TUPELO's Anodyne: This is as country as it gets: a fiddle-laced country song about two of the greatest songwriters in the history of country music, Roy Acuff and Fred Rose. The two men started a publishing company together (hence the joining of their last names) and put together an incredible songbook that featured both their own works and songs from pioneers and geniuses like Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers and more. As Tweedy says in one of the songs most clever lyrics, "Name me a song that everybody knows / and I'll bet you it belongs to Acuff-Rose." The song is not only a tribute to the two men, but also to the power of song itself. "Everything cuts against the tide when I hear that side." I posted it once before, a long time ago, but here is a live version of "Acuff-Rose" from Uncle Tupelo's final concert in St. Louis.
"Cars Can't Escape" from ?: As far as I know, "Cars Can't Escape" has never had a commercial release, unless it popped up on a European single somewhere. I got my version directly from the Wilco website, WilcoWorld.net, in their Road Case section (which often features rare live recordings). The song has been around in various forms since 1999, and even appeared in a sparse, barren version on a bootleg collection of demos for the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album under the name "Rhythm". "So I tap my glass and nod my chin / and wonder who you've been in rhythm with," is a far more poetic way to express the sentiment "I wonder who she's fucking now."
"Poor Places" from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: This is one of those songs where I, as a fan, realized that Jeff Tweedy's songwriting - along with Wilco's production - was going places I hadn't really seen or heard before. It was also a song I never thought could be successfully pulled off in a live setting until a guitarist like Nels Cline and a drummer like Glen Kotche were added to the band. There are so many stellar moments in this song that I can't begin to list them all. Just listen for that great droning, fuzzy piano at the beginning, and that beautiful mystery instrument that pops in after the "Someone ties a bow in my backyard" line. You know in the movie American Beauty, where Ricky Fitts talks about how that plastic bag flying in the wind was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen? "Poor Places" (and another Wilco song not on tonight's list, "Muzzle of Bees") is my plastic bag. For a somewhat surprisingly different version, check out this upbeat demo of "Poor Places".
Handshake Drugs from the More Like the Moon EP: While the album version of "Handshake" can be found on A Ghost is Born, I have always preferred the version that appeared on the promotional EP released with the Australian version of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I've always been a big fan of Wilco's bassist, John Stirrat, and his bassline on that EP version almost takes center stage. Wilco opened with this song the other night, and it was a great way to start the show and to let Nels Cline's guitar loose on the crowd. For a somewhat approximated effect, check out the live version from the band's recently released live record, Kicking Television.
"Via Chicago" from Summerteeth: Back when I lived in Philadelphia, I did acoustic shows at a coffeeshop near my apartment. A huge chunk of my material was Wilco/Tweedy/Uncle Tupelo related, and "Via Chicago" was one of the songs I loved playing. Tweedy's lyrics here immediately send a chill up your spine with the opening declaration that he "dreamed about killing you again last night / and it felt alright" to him. Summerteeth was a lyrical step forward for Tweedy, whose words on previous records were far more straightforward and less poetic. With phraseology like "crumbling ladder tears" and "the crush of veils and starlight," he enters more impressionistic, almost word-collage territory. Great use of harmonica here, as well. For the Wilco completist, here's a demo version.
"Wherever" from the re-release of Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne: If I'm not mistaken, "Wherever" was unreleased until the Tupelo albums were remastered with bonus tracks a couple of years ago. I had a poor-sounding bootleg of the track for a while, but never noticed how great of a song it was until I heard it on the remastered edition. Apparently, Wilco even performed this song live in its earliest setlists. I can't tell you why this didn't make the cut for Anodyne, but it's such a good album I couldn't begin to tell you what song to take off of it to put this in its place.
"Wait Up" from Uncle Tupelo's March 16-20, 1992: It may not seem that groundbreaking now, but March was a somewhat controversial album when it was released, disappointing the band's more punk rock following with a traditional folk album. Even I was admittedly put off at first, since I was a young teenager with a huge skepticism toward country music who had fallen for the band because of those aforementioned punk leanings. It wasn't long before I was sucked into the record, first by Jay Farrar's dark protest songs like and then by the more emotional, vulnerable Tweedy-sung tracks like "Wait Up." TRIVIA: March was recorded entirely live (the band would continue that tradition on Anodyne) and produced by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck between the days of. . . you guessed it. . . March 16th and the 20th, 1992.
- Find all kinds of crazy Wilco information, from song lyrics to setlists and more, at Wilco Base
- Wilco geeks abound over at ViaChicago.org
- Add Wilco World to your Favorites and check often for added shows, photos and Road Case material.
- Here's a Wired interview with Tweedy regarding his opinions on sharing music via the Internet. ("Stop trying to treat music like it's a tennis shoe, something to be branded. If the music industry wants to save money, they should take a look at some of their six-figure executive expense accounts. All those lawsuits can't be cheap, either.")