The return of the Tweedy 100
About fucking time, right?
It has been nearly five months since I dropped Volume 1 of my 100 favorite Jeff Tweedy songs on all 14 of my readers. I'm sure half a dozen of you were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to continue the task. Well, fear not, fellow readers (Mom, Dad, that guy from high school who still wants to kill me), the list is back. I'm still hoping to get this completed by year's end, so expect a few more of these in the coming months.
THE JEFF TWEEDY 100 - Volume 2
"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: You've all probably heard the story by now. If you haven't, it's well documented in a documentary with the same title as this song. When the executives at Wilco's record label, Reprise, heard the somewhat experimental material on YHF, they pretty much lost their shit. Here was this band that they'd hoped to market as the next Wallflowers turning in a record full of hushed vocals (aside from maybe Tweedy's yelling "Disposable Dixie Cub drinker. . . " here), dark, introspective lyrics and elongated bursts of static and dissonance. The label dropped them like a hot potato, and the rest is history. Sometimes when I hear this song, I like to think about the looks on those executives faces. How do you market this, especially when you consider the state of radio and of popular music in general? Luckily for Wilco, their new record label (which wound up being a subsidiary of the label that dropped them in the first place) found a way (HINT: the Internet and great reviews), resulting in the band's highest charting album at the time.
While the aforementioned documentary follows the ejection of multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett from the band, filming began just after Wilco had fired their original drummer, Ken Coomer. The story goes that Tweedy saw the band heading in a new direction and didn't feel like Coomer's more straightforward style of rock drumming fit the band anymore. Decide for yourself by listening to Coomer's drumming on this demo version of the song, and comparing it to new drummer Glenn Kotche's work on the album track or this live version from Wilco's live album, Kicking Television.
"Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" / "Outtasite (Outtasight).mp3" fromBeing There: These two songs appeared singularly on each disc of the double album Being There (the title is a reference to the Peter Sellers movie). Tweedy intended both discs to feel like separate albums, going so far as to sacrifice thousands of dollars in royalties to cover the extra packaging costs. I think it's kind of interesting that these songs are almost meta-songs. Both versions are sort of the template for the kind of sound they're paying homage to, whether it's the former's nod to the Beach Boys and Phil Spector or the latter's country rock spin on the Faces. Plus, I've always liked the idea that there doesn't have to be one definitive version of a song.
"Black Eye" from March 16-20, 1992: God knows I luvs me a good sad song, and this one is as bleak as they come. It's unbelievable how much John Keane, the session guitarist who is picking the guitar in your right ear (if you're wearing headphones), adds to this song.
"We've Been Had" from Anodyne: One of the few Uncle Tupelo songs that still finds its way into Wilco's setlists, "We've Been Had" is rumored to be about an uncomfortable encounter Jeff Tweedy had with one of his rock idols, Paul Westerberg. True or not, it's still a great song about the disappointment that comes with being able to see behind the curtain of something or someone you once saw as infallible. The fact that this song appears on Uncle Tupelo's swan song, a record packed with allusions to the band's inevitable break-up, is telling. "Every star that shines in the back of your mind is just waiting for its cover to be blown."
"I'm Always in Love" from Summerteeth: Has anyone used this title as their blog name yet? It was on the short list of names for what you read here, and I've always thought the title would be great for my headstone. Hands down one of my favorite songs, and not just by Wilco. I know it's bizarre, but that high pitched Moog-y keyboard thing hits me between the eyes like those crazy noises you find in Public Enemy songs. It's songs like this one that remind me of how great Ken Coomer and Jay Bennett were. I guarantee you a lot of the Elvis Costello influence you hear on this record comes from Bennett's general direction. "When I fold the cold in my jet-lagged palm / and I soak so long I forget my mother," is a fantastic couple of images. Here's Jeff performing the song live at Chicago's now defunct Lounge Ax.
"Please Tell My Brother" from Weird Tales: While we're on the subject of headstones, why not play this song at the funeral? The first time I heard this track, I wept like a goddamned baby and probably played it on Repeat another dozen spins. "Please Tell My Brother" is from Golden Smog, a side-project/collaboration Tweedy shares with members of The Jayhawks, Big Star, Soul Asylum and others. The band just released its third record, and I have absolutely no idea why I haven't bought it yet. As a little bonus, check out Tweedy and Gary Louris performing the song live. Sorry about the chatter at the end.
"Muzzle of Bees" from A Ghost is Born: I have a real hard time not declaring this song my favorite in the Wilco/Uncle Tupelo/Tweedy discography. I was going to save this for the last of these lists, but I just couldn't resist putting it out here as soon as possible. It's a magnificent, delicate piece of songwriting, with some incredible lyrics. Some favorites: "When dogs laugh some say they're barking / I don't think they're mean," or "The sun gets passed from sea to sea, silently, and back to me." And, oh, that guitar solo. It only gets better in concert.
"Walken": Currently only making appearances at Wilco concerts, Walken has already made its way into the 100. I can only assume this will pop up on the next Wilco album. For now, you'll have to make do with this recent live performance from Toronto's Massey Hall. Play this as loud as possible.
"Airline to Heaven" from Mermaid Avenue Volume 2" / "Airline to Heaven" from the soundtrack to Jesus' Son: While not solely a Jeff Tweedy song (the lyrics, like all the lyrics on the two Mermaid Avenue albums, are unreleased writings by Woody Guthrie), I think it's fair to treat these songs as collaborations in the same vein of Golden Smog or Loose Fur. In this case, the songwriting partner just happens to be one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. And dead. Here's a link to an interview with Guthrie's granddaughter, where she discusses the making of the two Mermaid albums, where Wilco collaborated with Billy Bragg.
"Dash 7" from A.M.: Probably the most solemn and mournful song about having a terrible flight in recent memory. Almost singlehandedly made lap steel one of my favorite instruments.
Anyone out there know how I might retrieve the html for my first Tweedy posting back in March? I just made an error in Blogger and wiped out the copy for that with this posting. Any help would be appreciated.
Image by Miya Masaoka