It was 17 years ago when Jimmy Eat World entered my life and never left.
My introduction to the band was “The Middle.” I know that doesn’t make me different from a lot of people. But it hit me in a very particular way that winter. As a 15-year-old high school freshman, it was the perfect go-for-it rocker that combined everything I wanted from a band. It’s still their most enduring song, the one you still hear on the radio or at a wedding or in a Taylor Swift Apple ad.
But that was just the start. I couldn’t know at the time what Jimmy Eat World would end up meaning to me in the intervening near-two decades.
They started as a punk band in Mesa, Arizona in the early ‘90s, eventually releasing albums both commercially and critically-acclaimed, and today still play before thousands of adoring fans every year. The band, comprised of Jim Adkins on lead vocals and guitar, Tom Linton on vocals and guitar, Rick Burch on bass and Zach Lind on drums, is still creating music that perfectly blends power-chord driven alternative rock and an unrivaled pop-rock sensibility imbued with pure, unadulterated human emotion.
At almost every step of my adulthood, they’ve been there. On the day in August 2018 when I drove all of my belongings to my first, newly-purchased house, “The Middle” came on the radio 5 minutes prior to my arrival. It was serendipitous, but not unexpected. Jimmy Eat World, after all, had guided me for my entire adulthood. It made all the sense in the world for them to be there for me at that moment.
“The Middle” isn’t solely the subject of this post, though. Neither is the masterpiece of an album from which it originated, 2001’s Bleed American.
This post is about their music, and all it has meant to me.
Because “The Middle” was the gateway for me to the rest of Jimmy Eat World’s discography, I learned they had two previous major-label releases: 1996’s Static Prevails and 1999’s Clarity. Static is a gem with indelible songs but was clearly the work of a band still trying to figure out who they were.
Clarity is a much different story. It took me a little while to really get into it, but that summer of 2002, around the time I saw them live for the first time at Portland’s State Theatre, I fell hard for it. Suddenly Jimmy Eat World was no longer just a band with a hit record and a few other good songs. They were artists who had made something that was ostensibly a pop/punk rock record but had so much more to it. There was a sophistication to the sound, a maturity and sincerity to the approach in this style that went beyond anything I’d ever experienced as a listener. It’s essentially a perfect album and has aged beautifully over the last two decades.
But in 2002, these songs blew my mind: the idea of a rock band with punk roots being able to do this wasn’t something I thought possible.
From there, I learned about the treasure trove of deep cuts they’d done dating back to their first album in 1994. I pored over Singles, their 2000 release of B-sides. The Portland show would mark the first of 11 times seeing them live in the intervening years, including a show earlier this year back in Portland. My high school years ended with the much-anticipated release of Futures in 2004, followed by the Stay on My Side Tonight EP during my freshman year at UNH and Chase This Light in 2007.
To date they’ve put out three stellar albums since I left college: Invented in 2010, Damage in 2013 and Integrity Blues in 2016. A new album, their 10th, is called Surviving and will be out this month.
While so many bands that hit it big around the turn of the century have floundered creatively, outright disappeared or turned into eternal punchlines, Jimmy Eat World keeps going, the way they always have, with no signs of stopping.
They’ve taken cues from a vast array of influences, including but not limited to: Bruce Springsteen, the Cure, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Fugazi, the Pixies, Pavement, Metallica, Elliott Smith, Def Leppard, Rocket from the Crypt, the Buzzcocks, the Velvet Underground, Tom Petty, Archers of Loaf, Jawbreaker, Nirvana and Built to Spill. They’ve covered the likes of Wilco, Superchunk, Prodigy, George Michael, Guided by Voices and…Taylor Swift. And in the end, they’ve created a polished, emotionally-driven pop-rock sound all their own, one that has led to commercial success for many but can easily be traced back to “The Middle” hitting it big.
With each release, they’ve constantly challenged themselves and their listeners, never sticking to a cookie-cutter formula of what they’re supposed to be. They’re a much different band now than they were in 2002 when “The Middle” hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and thankfully for them and their fans, they’ve never tried to make the same record over and over again.
I know many think of them as the band that did “The Middle” and they maybe know “Sweetness” too, but I firmly believe them to be one of the most important, influential and consequential rock bands of the last three decades and the proof is in their dedicated legion of fans and all the bands who say they wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for them. I could give myriad examples of their influence, but one has stood out recently: one of this year’s most critically-acclaimed rock records, Oso Oso’s basking in the glow, owes a debt of gratitude to Bleed American-era Jimmy Eat World.
The journey for nearly two decades of following this band has been an incredibly rewarding one for me personally. They’re the only band that I fell in love with from my teen years that I still keep up with religiously, that I will always go see live whenever they’re in town, and that I’ll always greatly anticipate every time they’re coming out with new music. And I am rarely if ever disappointed by any of it.
Their music has always given me strength and the belief, when I need it, that I can be a better person. In short, being a fan of their music has helped make me the person I am today.
So, in honor of their upcoming 10th album, and 25 years since the release of their first album, I’m presenting the following list of what I believe to be the 100 best songs from Jimmy Eat World. Because of how long this ended up being, I’ve decided to split this up into two posts, with 100 to 51 today and 50 to 1 at a later date.
Usually with these lists I parse between “favorite” and “best” and while I try my journalistically-trained best to be objective, there was a lot of sentimentality and emotionality to this project for me. So I will just say these are the ones I think are the best. These types of things are supposed to spark discussion anyway.
I didn’t really have much criteria for this. These are all songs that Jimmy Eat World have done in some form or another, released officially or unreleased. One song will actually appear twice in different forms. I included all the songs from three different albums, but that first self-titled record doesn’t have anything here because, well, it’s not very good. Sorry guys.
The one thing I debated was whether or not to include cover recordings. They’ve done so many, and so many great ones, that I figured the list would be incomplete without them. So they’re in there.
Next to each song I included where and when each song was initially released and I relied on information from Discogs.com for many of them. I am not 100% positive how accurate that is, but I figured it was better than nothing. You can also listen to each song in the YouTube links in each entry title.
Also, for shorthand in many places, I refer to the band by their initials. I had some consternation about this, and I know the band regrets their name because that abbreviation could be construed as a slur (none of the guys in the band are Jewish). But understand that I don’t mean any disrespect by it, this is a very lengthy piece and that shorthand has been used by fans of the band for many, many years.
Lastly, I made a Spotify playlist here of as many of the below songs as I could find on that particular service. It will also be embedded at the end of this post.
I’d say that’s enough yammering from me. Now, onto the list. Enjoy.
- “Jen” (Futures promotional/international bonus track, 2004)
I had to start this with “Jen” in tribute to my fellow longtime fans who have used it as an inside joke for 15 years. This completely absurd pop/punk marvel was incredulously supposed to be on Futures but apparently lawyers stepped in and said it sounded too much like “Pop Goes the World” by ‘80s shitpop safety dancers Men Without Hats. It’s too bad only because that meant “Jen” missed out on its ultimate destiny: to be played over the closing credits of a straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel. All joking aside, this song is a ton of fun and seeing them play it live someday would be unreal.
- “Christmas Card” (Blueprint/Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 1996)
I wish “Christmas Card” had made it on Static Prevails. It’s an early example of them lending their hand at the Pixies-inspired loud/soft dynamic that was a staple of their ‘90s recordings. Plus, Jim goes places with his voice on this one that hint at the kind of singer he’d become. It’s also the earliest example of an interesting and not-entirely-expected theme in the band’s music: Christmas, and the impact it apparently had on Jim’s life, is a thread through the early years of JEW’s catalogue. I’m guessing Jim got dumped around Christmas one year, but I’m not sure he’s ever talked about it (the reference here to “December 23” will pop up again in a song that’ll show up later on here).
- “Nothingwrong” (Futures, 2004)
I have a lot to say about Futures on the whole. It was a real departure for the band, an interesting career pivot right after their most popular record. One of the songs that most exemplified that pivot was “Nothingwrong.” You could argue that during their post-Clarity popular phase, “Nothingwrong” was the closest thing they’ve ever done to actual metal, at least over the course of an entire song. The opening pounding drums and heavy guitar riff of “Nothingwrong” represent some of JEW’s hardest rock sounds of their career. Also: the “Nothingwrong” demo from the Trombino Sessions includes Jim screaming unintelligible nonsense before the last chorus, and had that made the final mix this song would have ranked much higher here. It’s hilarious, terrifying and amazing all at once.
- “World Is Static” (Static Prevails, 1996)
Every song from Static Prevails is on this list. That’s not to say it’s a great record, it’s really more because the songs have been with me for so many years. “World Is Static,” for example, isn’t really the worst song on Static Prevails and while it doesn’t do a ton for me, it does have its merits: an outstanding guitar performance by Jim and Tom, and a fun understated chorus. However, this is also One of Those Early JEW Songs Where Jim Screams Through Whole Sections and You Can’t Really Understand What He Says (there’s an acronym there but I’ll spare myself figuring it out and you reading it). Anyway, “World is Static” is fine and I’m glad it exists, because I’m glad SP exists in general. I’ll have more to say about it shortly.
- “Movielike” (Invented, 2010)
Part of what made Invented such a cool record was the band’s decision to present the songs from a young woman’s point of view. One of the most vivid examples of this comes on “Movielike,” which kicks off with stomping percussion before acoustic guitars take over and Jim spins the tail of a young lady down on her luck in the big city. People can get swept up in the romanticism of a new start, a new person, a fresh way out, but as Jim sings in “Movielike,” it doesn’t always work the way you want. “Nothing movielike / Nothing magic / People just tire to fight / The constant battle.” It’s not the most hopeful song, but it’s a good track from an underrated record.
- “77 Satellites” (Opener 7”, 1995)
This is one of the band’s first polished products. It’s really incredible the velocity at which they went from being so raw on their first record to being a band that genuinely sounded like they belonged on Capitol Records. This, then, may be a good opportunity to give a brief history lesson on these guys: the band got together in Mesa in 1993 with Jim, Tom and Zach along with bassist Mitch Porter. Porter left the band sometime after they recorded their first self-titled record and Tom’s childhood friend, Rick, joined thereafter. The lineup hasn’t changed since then. As Jim tells it, the guys tried to get their name out there as promoters and after booking Christie Front Drive to play a Phoenix gig, they recorded a 7” with them that was discovered by an A&R guy from Capitol. So, while the guys were still teenagers, they had a record deal with a major label. Anyway, “77 Satellites” rocks and has an accordion on it which shows the band was willing to try weird stuff even early on.
- “Pain” (Futures, 2004)
I felt obligated to include “Pain” on this list because it was the lead single from their second-most popular album and a semi-popular song in its own right. The choppy guitar work is a highlight and exemplifies some of the darkness Futures is best remembered for. They still play it live at almost every show, and as far as JEW songs in the greater pop/rock lexicon it’s one of their most well-known. But…I certainly don’t love “Pain” and never really have. “IT TAKES MY PAIN AWAY!!!” was sort of a running joke among my friends for years. I never really bought the emotion they brought to the song. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about “Pain.”
- “Distraction” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)
Political songs for JEW can often be hit or miss. Their best one will show up in Part II. “Electable (Give It Up),” which appeared on the proper CTL album, is probably their worst. It so happened they succeeded much better with bonus track “Distraction,” a skittery rocker with a stark message about the fakeness of our politics. “Always have a good distraction,” Jim blasts out. The lyrics also make the George W. Bush era of political discourse seem quaint by today’s standards. And, what a rocking solo riff during the breakdown over a typically-great drum track from Zach. Just a great rock song that a lot of people probably never heard when it came out. We are far from done with the songs that should have been on CTL but didn’t make it.
- “Thinking, That’s All” (Static Prevails, 1996)
Here’s the first JEW song ever heard on a major-label release. From that prickly intro to Jim’s pronounced wails, “Thinking, That’s All” pops immediately and sets the tone for the rawness of the overall sound of Static Prevails. I’ve always had an affinity for Jim and Tom’s vocal interplay during the choruses, with Tom’s even-keeled pronouncements juxtaposed against Jim screaming at the top of his lungs. And, the song has one of the most affecting, thought-provoking and extremely true lyrical couplets from the band that endures to this day: “Hate wins / Don’t stop.”
- “Splash, Turn, Twist” (Salt Sweat Sugar single, 2001)
I always felt bad for “Splash, Turn, Twist” that it didn’t actually appear on the proper BA album, because it was probably good enough to be there. It’s got a great, driving groove with Zach hitting the hi-hats and cymbals at just the right times, those fun melodic guitar bits galore and “ahh-ahhs” in the breakdown. There’s room for Jim’s usual invective here too: “so much for ‘see you around’” he sings. “Splash, Turn, Twist” is an overall solid JEW song from probably their best era. Also: this one showed up a few years later on the “Wedding Crashers” soundtrack, although I can confirm it isn’t actually in the movie, because one of the times I paid to see it in the theater that summer was solely to see if it was there. I was disappointed, but fuck is Vince Vaughn funny in that movie.
- “Just Tonight” (Futures, 2004)
You’ll notice three songs already on this list from Futures. It’s probably the most polarizing (pardon the song name pun) album they have for me. My general opinion all these years later is it’s the album where some of their highest highs are accompanied by some really low lows. Now, that’s not to take anything away from “Just Tonight.” It fucking rips. It’s a tour de force performance especially by Zach, who I don’t know has ever used more drum fills in any one song. The solo isn’t anything too special but gets the point across. The anger that became the hallmark of this album’s sound is apparent in just about everything on “Just Tonight.” It also has its share of cringe-worthy lyrics (“A little water please / I taste you all over my teeth”), but like much of Futures itself, the good far outweighs the bad.
- “Love Never” (“Love Never” single, 2018)
JEW put out two new songs in 2018 as they prepared to record their 10th album. “Love Never” and its B-side both made the list, and while the B-side is in my opinion much better, “Love Never” is a fun power-chord driven rocker that would have fit just about anywhere in the band’s history. “Love ain’t never been your friend / Love never gonna hear what you’re demanding,” Jim warns his subject. Ultimately, this one is a “Middle”-esque song about picking yourself up and not letting the things that happen in life get you down. It’s also got a fun solo late, which the band hasn’t done a lot in recent years. “Love Never” will appear on Surviving, giving it a second life when the new album is released this month.
- “Caveman” (Static Prevails, 1996)
I’ve already talked about “77 Satellites,” on which Tom sings lead vocals, but the first of his lead performances from Static Prevails to appear here is a good time to drop this little bit of news that might be a surprise to some fans of Jimmy Eat World: Tom was the band’s primary lead singer up through SP. There are many Tom songs to come on this list, and “Caveman” represents a nice mid-album vehicle for Tom. Quiet guitar lines and crickets chirping over the intro give way to Tom singing about monsters living in backyards and some great palm-muted riffs later on. Tom doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world but he always but everything he had into all his songs. Much more to come on Tom’s songs.
- “Heart is Hard to Find” (Invented, 2010)
The hand-claps! You have to love the hand-claps here. I can safely say this is the only JEW song to feature liberal use of hand claps as a rhythmic instrument. (People who used to frequent the JEW message boards back in the day will remember some jokes about “timely hand-claps” in songs but I can’t remember the genesis of that. [UPDATE: My old friend Bridget from the JEW forums reminded me that two guys were credited for performing “timely handclaps” on a Bleed American song that will be discussed in the 2nd part of this list. So there you go. Thanks Bridget!]) “Heart is Hard to Find” kicks off Invented with a renewed energy after the sheeny filler that made up so much of Chase This Light. “Heart is Hard to Find” almost has a folky sing-along feel, not exactly a typical approach for these guys. Jim goes for it with the vocals and it’s one of the few songs they’ve done with both a full chorus and full orchestra. Also: I’m pretty sure this is the only JEW song to include a variation of the word “fuck” in it.
- “Softer” (Jimmy Eat World EP, 1998)
I find it hilarious all these years later that Jimmy Eat World did a fucking EP for Fueled by Ramen (the label that produced early success for Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Academy Is… and others). But, the guys took advantage while Capitol was refusing to release Clarity. Besides a couple songs that ended up on that LP, there were two other songs used as B-sides that both have a lot of merit from that great era of the band, and they landed back-to-back on the list. “Softer” is a creeping, angry jam, utilizing an array of keyboards and a bazillion different guitar sounds. It’s ultimately a fun one and it’s easy to lose yourself in the hypnotic guitar, keyboard and vocal breakdown in the song’s second half. Jim can’t keep down the medicine in “Softer” and it’s equally hard to keep down this awesome, little-known jam.
- “Roller Queen” (Jimmy Eat World EP, 1998)
“Roller Queen” also appeared on the aforementioned Fueled By Ramen EP. (In the course of my research I discovered that this EP was actually their first successful release and allowed them to move into their first office space in Tampa. So there’s that.) It’s a much different song than “Softer” and without a doubt hinted at the weird studio places they were about to go with Clarity. The extended, repetitious outro of “Roller Queen” could be viewed as a precursor of another, more famous song with an extended, repetitious outro they were about to release that I will discuss in depth in Part II.
- “You Were Good” (Damage, 2013)
Damage is the only major-label JEW album that doesn’t feature an “epic” closing song. Instead, “You Were Good” is mostly just Jim and his acoustic guitar, summing up this “adult break-up record” with a devastating accounting of a relationship’s death. It doesn’t go for the jugular: “You Were Good” just lets the world know quietly how Jim’s narrator feels about the other person at the end of their road. “Either you’re just bad at cheating / Or there’s something in your heart you wished I knew,” Jim sings matter-of-factly. “Yeah it’s sad / But baby, here we are.” I guess a song doesn’t need huge sounds and lots of instruments and voices to be epic.
- “Pass the Baby” (Integrity Blues, 2016)
Forget the first three and a half minutes of this song, which are allegedly about the “unintended consequences of manipulation” according to Jim. Whatever. Everything changes after a soft interlude when suddenly the drums start crashing and Jim, Tom and Rick launch into a bone-crushing, chill-inducing prog-metal riff that would make Tool think “fuck, why didn’t we do that?” Underneath is one of the single-best drum performances of Zach’s career. This came out of nowhere on their 9th record and is the biggest “what the actual fuck” moment of their entire recording catalogue. I still love it after many, many listens. And it’s a live show-stopper now, too, and one I suspect they will play at most shows the rest of their careers.
- “All the Way (Stay)” (Surviving, 2019)
The most recent song to appear on this list is the first dedicated single from Surviving. The band announced their 10th album and debuted “All the Way (Stay)” this year on Sept. 23, which happens to be Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. That’s appropriate because “All the Way (Stay)” could easily be a super-poppy Bruce song, all the way down to the unexpected-yet-perfect Clarence-esque sax solo near the end. I’m almost 100% positive “All the Way (Stay)” is the first JEW song with saxophone, and it’s indicative of the chances the band is still willing to take this late in their run. It also features the return of their longtime collaborator Rachel Haden, whose voice pairs perfectly with Jim’s, and who we will hear from many more times on this list.
- “Game of Pricks” (BBC Evening Session, 2001)
Here’s a cover, this one of a classic from Ohio lo-fi masters Guided By Voices. As I mentioned before, I debated if it was the right thing to include covers on this list, but I think you’ll discover that these efforts are among the best work they’ve done and can’t be ignored. For “Game of Pricks” the JEW version is slightly faster than the original and clocks in at just under two minutes. In that time, the band spun a perfect encapsulation of where their sound was as they worked on building Bleed American up. It’s got a fantastic ringing guitar line throughout and doesn’t hold back in his rendition of Robert Pollard’s simple rocker.
- “Appreciation” (Damage, 2013)
Kicking things off on Damage, “Appreciation” lives over a rocking riff and sets the tone lyrically for the record on the whole. In the lead-up to its release, Jim referred to Damage as “an adult break-up record,” and there’s a lot of that sense within “Appreciation.” The chorus starts with “we build, we box, we carry on,” there’s an acknowledgement about the small things that get missed over the course of a long-term relationship, and before you know it, you’re living a life you don’t want to live. “You know I want time / I know you want space,” Jim adds in the second verse. “Appreciation” is a long way off from many of the songs on Futures that still seemed to be about high school dramas, and the band was better off with a more mature lyrical approach through a record like Damage.
- “Dizzy” (Chase This Light, 2007)
One of the staples of Jimmy Eat World: as mentioned before, all but one of their major-label releases ends with a grand, epic-sounding closing song. The first of the “epic closers” to appear on my list is “Dizzy.” “Dizzy” gets a bad wrap for not being as good as some of the others to come on this list (it had a very tough act to follow as you’ll find out later), but it still gives me chills after many listens. It will always take me back to my junior year of college and the Red Sox winning the 2007 World Series a few days after CTL was released. It still feels so huge after all these years. JEW doesn’t play this one live much anymore, but when they used to, Jim would scream the “Jesus, is there someone yet” part at the top of his lungs. It was pretty chilling. (Go to about the 3:30 mark of this video and you’ll see what I mean.)
- “Action Needs An Audience” (Invented, 2010)
When I met Tom before a show in Boston in 2007, I asked why he hadn’t had a lead vocal performance on any JEW record since Clarity in 1999. He responded simply: it was band policy that he could only sing lead for songs he wrote. So, in the three years between then and Invented, he apparently wrote “Action Needs An Audience.” The first live appearances of the song in the 2009ish range actually had Jim on lead vocals. It was surprising, then, that when Invented came out and Tom was singing it. It’s a complete rocker, with a kick-ass main riff, and overall a song that would have fit perfectly on the early JEW records. Any song with Tom singing about the illuminati and prophesying about the end of the world is exactly what I would want from a song of his. “Action Needs An Audience” was apparently all Tom could muster so far this century because it’s the only song he’s written for 20 years now and there is no indication he wrote anything for Surviving. And, that’s OK! Because Tom is the man and this song rocks.
- “Take ‘Em As They Come” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)
I wish more bands would do things like this: cover little-remembered songs by major artists and effectively make them their own. You’d have to be a pretty big Bruce Springsteen fan (and in turn, a pretty big Jimmy Eat World fan) to know this one ever existed. “Take ‘Em As They Come” was originally recorded during The River sessions but never made the album, and wasn’t released until 1998 on the Tracks box set. The guys in JEW have never exactly hidden their affinity for the Boss and his impact on their sound (in particular his influence on their most popular song) and they paid tribute with this fantastic cut from the CTL sessions. They brought their trademark energy, phenomenal guitars and an all-time Jim vocal performance, and did their hero proud with this one. In fact, I’d argue their version is better than the original.
- “Big Cars” (Futures Trombino Sessions, 2004)
In an attempt to capitalize on the success of BA, the guys got back into the studio for a new record with Mark Trombino (who had produced Static, Clarity and BA and had been the drummer in one of their favorite bands, Drive Like Jehu) a little faster than they should have. They wound up scrapping those sessions, there were hurt feelings, Trombino called Jim “a pussy” in print, but years later they smoothed it over and Trombino produced Invented. Several of the songs they worked on for Futures ended up on the Stay On My Side Tonight EP. Demos from the sessions leaked and “Big Cars” is the best of the unreleased songs that came out of it. It’s the only song on my list to never have any kind of official release (even “Jen” was released internationally). I enjoy it because of how diverse the music is here despite it clearly not being a fully-baked and finished mix. Lyrically, I think this was an attempt by Jim to come to grips with the sudden fame “The Middle” and Bleed American brought them (“Camera’s on / Fixed on one face and all tears / What a scene / Fly us in and they’ll all cheer”) that they never actually tried to do on record. I’m not sure why “Big Cars” never actually got released; it’s certainly good enough. Maybe they’ll revisit it someday.
- “Pol Roger” (Integrity Blues, 2016)
The epic closer of Jimmy Eat World’s most recent LP is “Pol Roger,” and no, the song isn’t about expensive champagne (for the record, Jim quit drinking sometime before they made Damage). It’s instead named after a room in a hotel, allegedly in Scotland, where all the rooms are named after wine or champagne. At this point in their career, the band had been around and touring for over two decades, so it’s not like hotel rooms are alien to them. I always took “Pol Roger” to be about life on the road. Jim told Kerrang! that the idea behind the song is that when you can be alone without being lonely, “then nothing can really touch you.” That feeling of untouchability permeates through the song because, as an epic closer, it feels huge and that feeling is earned from the first second. “Pol Roger” is an amazing way to end a truly amazing record.
- “In The Same Room” (Static Prevails, 1996)
The guys in JEW got an incredible opportunity to record their first major-label album at a very young age. And, in getting work with Trombino for the first time, they explored a lot of the studio space with songs like “In The Same Room.” It’s sort of a slur to use the “e”-word with JEW, but it’s hard to describe a song like “In The Same Room” as anything other than, well, that “e”-word we aren’t supposed to say when talking about the band. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Because it’s a really solid song, Jim doesn’t really scream, and the radio-transmission touch at the end was a cool departure for them that they called back later in the song. So much of SP is the band figuring out who they were, and “In The Same Room” is a great example of where they were going.
- “Sparkle” (German compilation, 2004)
I had a hard time finding an official release for “Sparkle,” which the band started playing live in the Bleed American era. I had a bootleg recording of the band playing it around this time, with Jim saying something about how they decided to play it after “a last-minute change in their gameplan.” I never figured out exactly where the recording came from, but it showed the potential that song always had. Eventually, the band recorded a proper version of it that ended up initially appearing on a German compilation the same year Futures came out. The syncopated guitar lines, big-sounding choruses, and Jim singing about catching the sparkle fading from behind his subject’s eyes make “Sparkle” a highlight from this era.
- “Integrity Blues” (Integrity Blues, 2016)
As I hinted at this during the “Pass the Baby” entry, an amazing thing about JEW at this point in their career is their relentless desire to challenge themselves, to reach for new places with their sound, to not settle for the same thing every time out. On the title track to Integrity Blues, the guys go for something they’d never tried before: a full-on symphony providing the only music. Besides Jim’s voice, I don’t think anyone from the band appears on this song. It’s sort of like their version of “Eleanor Rigby.” You can’t really call this rock: it’s effectively a piece of chamber music, and an amazing one at that. It’s also a singularly great vocal performance by Jim, especially during the final stretch. I remember hearing this one for the first time (which Jim would do solo acoustic) and being so grateful this band was still so willing to try stuff like “Integrity Blues.”
- “Episode IV” (Static Prevails, 1996)
This is probably my favorite individual vocal performance by Tom. It’s so understated and soothing, and is probably the best register for his voice overall. It’s sort of an early Matt Berninger thing he has going on in “Episode IV.” The lyrics aren’t earth-shattering but nonetheless showcase some depth from Tom: “Let’s disappear / We’ll take a trip / With no return / To outer space”; “We’ll dance off time / To the songs we’ve never liked.” It also builds up before the final chorus with some strong mid-’90s guitar sounds.
- “Over” (Stay On My Side Tonight EP, 2005)
Arriving at college in the fall of 2005, I didn’t have the easiest time adjusting to my first taste of life away from home. Luckily, I had some new JEW songs to keep me company when SOMST was released in early October. I dutifully went to my local music shop, bought a copy and didn’t stop listening to it. The EP had three new original songs (plus a Heatmiser cover and a truly bizarre remix of a Futures cut that didn’t make this list) and I felt an immediate sonic kinship with all three of them. “Over” is a faithful rocker with winding guitar lines and some typical great Jim lines about a break-up. “I really need to hear how great I am / Because I can’t even get up out of bed”, “Last words from a dying scene / You’re over me”, and this killer breakdown part: “Before you’d have a chance to call / I’ll be on the next train home / Add it to the endless list / Of all the things we’ll never, ever know.” This is Jim at his most self-loathing, which often makes for his best art.
- “Cut” (Invented, 2010)
For a long time, “Cut” was my favorite song from Invented. I don’t feel that way anymore but it doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by what they were able to accomplish with it. “Cut” is so different from anything the band had done to that point, and with a very slow build up towards the end (the song sounds melodically very much like a slowed-down version of George Michael’s “Faith”). Jim’s voice does uncharacteristically strain a little bit during the chorus, but that makes it all the more real. “I’m not cut for this no more,” Jim sings throughout, and you can feel his strain from beginning to end.
- “Get It Faster” (Bleed American, 2001)
The angriest of all the BA songs was a portend of what was to come on Futures, and the type of searing, blistering venom that has shown up sporadically through the rest of their records. After so many pop-rock songs come and go on BA, there is suddenly this brooding, space-alien creeper, the opening of which should have soundtracked Spock and Kirk landing on a desert planet. Then Jim starts singing about cheating getting it faster, not caring if his subject is angry and wanting to do right but finding out that CHEATING GETS IT FASTER amid pissed-off guitars and drum crashes. But, what’s the best part of the song? No doubt, it’s the call-and-response guitar breakdown, one that was always so fun to hear Jim and Tom recreate live back when they used to play it regularly (and man, do I wish they would go back to playing it). Anyway, CHEATING GETS IT FASTER!!!!
- “Open Bar Reception” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)
Here’s another of the excellent CTL-era non-album tracks, many of which are better than songs that actually appeared on the album. “Open Bar Reception” continues a lineage of songs with interesting percussion, cutting things here and there and moving around to make a collage of different sounds. I’ve never really been able to tell if this song is just about hooking up at a wedding or something more significant. (Is it from the perspective of the groom? Because why would someone randomly at the wedding have hired a band they wished was a little better? There are a lot of ways this one could go.) But the lyrics are fantastic: “Why should we be anything but strangers / In clothes that we don’t own?” and an unexpected reference to an early Prince song, one that I don’t really think would be played at a wedding. I love “Open Bar Reception” and wish more people knew it existed.
- “When I Want” (Futures bonus track, 2004)
Leaving “When I Want” off the proper Futures release was probably a good call. The cheery acoustic guitars throughout “When I Want” would not have really fit alongside all the brooding darkness of that particular record. I could have seen this one saved for CTL, though (it probably would have helped make that one a better listen overall. I know I’m ripping CTL a lot in this piece so far, but I love it like I love all JEW albums and will have a lot more positive things to say about its songs coming up). “When I Want” is in the great line of songs by the band that sound happy on every level musically but lyrically are just devastatingly sad. This number depicts what is probably about to be the end of a relationship, and one that doesn’t sound like a particularly healthy one to begin with. But of all the extra songs in the Futures era, this might be the best one.
- “Hear You Me” (Bleed American, 2001)
One of the B-sides from Weezer’s 1994 Blue Album was titled “Mykel and Carli.” It was about sisters Mykel and Carli Allan who were Weezer superfans. Sadly, they lost their lives in a car accident traveling to a show in Salt Lake City in 1997. They had befriended the guys in JEW sometime before that, giving the band a place to stay in LA. They were the inspiration for “Hear You Me,” the first thing the band ever did that could be classified as an acoustic ballad (that original Weezer song features the words “hear you me” throughout). It’s the song at every show where everyone used to hold up their lighters, and now hold up their cellphones. Jim’s plaintive vocal, highlighted by Rachel Haden’s beautiful harmonies, add a perfect touch to the poignancy here. When someone I know or respect passes away, I sometimes find myself saying “may angels lead them in” as my own prayer. This song is a beautiful gift, the kind of tribute anyone would want.
- “Claire” (Static Prevails, 1996)
It’s almost unfair to untether “Claire” from “Call It in the Air,” which comes up later on this list. They are back-to-back on Static Prevails (I actually got to see them performed back-to-back at that first Portland show) and have lived a combined life for all these years. But I couldn’t really do that for this list, so this is where we find “Claire.” It’s another loud/soft rocker for the band who, as I have said and will say a lot, were still trying to figure out how to be band when they were making this record. So, the lyrics overall to this song are kind of nonsensical, mixing in profundity (“One last goodbye / May last the rest of your life”) with WTFness (“Learn your restricted ropes / Paint a cross on your left hand”). But, “Claire” is a sign of the band trying out a sound they would soon perfect.
- “The Most Beautiful Things” (Jebediah & Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 2000)
I’d argue the band’s most prolific stretch of musical output were the four full years from the start of 1998 until the end of 2001. Not only did they release their two best albums, but they put out several EPs and 7-inches with indelible, lasting songs. One of those is the appropriately-named “The Most Beautiful Things” from a split 7” they did with Jebediah (another song from that single will appear closer to the end of this list). At turns hard rock and at times melodic-based and almost dream-poppy, “The Most Beautiful Things” is a joy through and through, marked specifically by the high-harmony breakdown with dramatic xylophone strikes. Also: when I was in high school I put together a mix of non-album JEW songs, burned it on a CD and called it “The Most Beautiful Things.” I suspect it is kicking around my dad’s house somewhere. Many, many songs on this list were surely on that mix CD.
- “Always Be” (Chase This Light, 2007)
The finger-snaps! Those freakin’ finger-snaps! One of the catchiest songs on an album teeming with them, “Always Be” leapt out of the speakers the first time I heard it. It’s a pop-rock marvel, the kind of highly-produced song that CTL was knocked for, but it’s still masterfully done and a very fun listen after all these years. I love the visual of the first few lines: “One of us has to drive / One of us gets to think.” Also: I’ve never been able to decide if the music video for “Always Be” (link above) is brilliant or ridiculous. I lean towards ridiculous (Jim singing by himself on a museum bench was definitely a choice; I am pretty sure this is also the last music video they appeared in themselves) but I hope those kids eventually got together.
- “Lean” (Damage, 2013)
“Lean” is a simple rock song on an album full of simple rock songs (it literally starts with the lyrics “you keep it simple at the start) but it stands out among the others on Damage because of how frantically it moves, with the huge choruses and bigtime guitars throughout. From a lyrical standpoint, I have a theory as to what “Lean” is about. As mentioned before, Jim said he stopped drinking around the time Damage was made. So, while I don’t specifically know if “Lean” is about Jim’s efforts for sobriety, there are hints at universal themes of needing to lean on partners for help in times of trials and tribulations. “I’m not asking for a fix / I just need you close to reach,” Jim says, as well as, “When I think I’m so messed up / And when you think you’re so messed up / Gotta keep in mind that we’re just us.” Damage might be an adult break-up record, but “Lean” is about finding that person to lean on and not letting go.
- “Rockstar” (Static Prevails, 1996)
Another strong Tom-helmed rocker on SP with some fun guitar runs. “Rockstar” showed their early proficiency at putting together intricate guitar rock songs (remember, at this point the guys in the band were all about 21). They were still finding their way on SP but “Rockstar” is a good example of them starting to find that path. I don’t have a ton more to say about this one other than that the music video (linked to above), which was probably the first one they ever did, is absolutely hilarious to watch now because of how fucking young they look. Hopefully they got off the set in time to get back for their Blockbuster shifts.
- “12.23.95” (Clarity, 1999)
It took just over 40 songs but we have finally entered the Clarity portion of the program. Spoiler alert: we’ll get to all 13 of Clarity’s songs before we’re done with the full list. We start with “12.23.95,” which despite being the lowest Clarity song here is still an incredible piece of music and one that’s grown on me significantly through the years. It’s the first genuinely weird song in their chronology, with distorted feedbacky guitar loops, mechanized drum beats and what really sound like Casio keyboard notes (Jim later admitted video game music was influential on the sound here). The lyrics in “12.23.95” are scant, pretty much just a few lines sung over and over before Jim finishes with “Merry Christmas, baby” a few times. Remember how I said there was a Christmas theme running through some of their earlier songs? On “Christmas Card,” Jim makes a reference to “December 23.” So, there clearly was something there. It remains a mystery to this day.
- “Firefight” (Chase This Light, 2007)
Some of the early criticism of CTL involved the lyrics. Generally, JEW’s lyrics are pretty straight-forward. Everything will be just fine, I promised I’d see it again, let’s get out of this place…you know the drill. But then you have a song like “Firefight” with some really out-of-left-field stuff. For example, anyone want to guess what the hell “love is quartz and breath the second hand” means? Why is there spit in Jim’s blood? “Are these still the eyes of a temptress”? Huh? Anyway, this song as a terrific propulsive guitar riff through the choruses and is a highlight on an album that could have used a few more of them. Just don’t try to make sense of the lyrics.
- “Last Christmas” (“Last Christmas” single, 2001)
Covering George Michael’s “Last Christmas” shortly after BA dropped assured JEW of one thing: their affinity for Christmas in their songs would at least result in getting airplay during the holiday season for the rest of time. It helps that their version of “Last Christmas” is such a strong effort. You’ve probably heard this and didn’t even know it was them. They take the ‘80s Christmas classic and add their own touches of mechanized percussion, acoustic flashes and winding electric lead notes. Now, when you walk into Macy’s in December, there’s at least a chance you’ll hear some Jimmy Eat World while shopping for your aunt or cousin.
- “My Best Theory” (Invented, 2010)
The lead single from Invented doesn’t have a ton of correlation to the rest of the album, but regardless, it rocks pretty hard and is generally the only song the band still plays live from it. When I think of the general sound the band stuck to for a solid majority of their songs in this decade, I’d say “My Best Theory” set the tone for all that followed. Jim has said the song is about “finding individuality in a world where extremes are more and more presented as your only option.” So, there’s that. Also: what the earthly fuck is happening in the music video I linked to above? This is around the time the band stopped appearing in their own music videos, and this is what we get as a result. It is seriously nightmare fuel. The weirdest part is the Daft Punk-looking dudes with beaks. Let’s just move on.
- “Believe In What You Want” (Clarity, 1999)
You’ve probably noticed to this point I haven’t said much of anything about Rick. It’s not his fault, but JEW’s sound doesn’t rely on bass guitar to be its fulcrum on like 99% of their songs. It is much more about the interplay and power of Jim and Tom on guitar and Zach on drums. But, Rick has had a few moments through the years to shine, and perhaps the best of those early moments comes on the rumbling bass line of “Believe In What You Want.” Also: “Believe In What You Want” was the name of the band’s making-of documentary for BA, which has several hilarious bits including Tom telling an interviewer his name was “Switchblade” and spelling it out after the other three guys had truthfully followed the interviewer’s instructions. The guys have always said Tom was the funniest guy in the band for a reason.
- “Your House (2007)” (Bleed American Deluxe Edition, 2008)
There is only one song on this list that will technically appear twice, although the versions are different enough that I don’t feel wrong about including them both. I purposefully didn’t listen to the studio version or leaked live audio of “Your House (2007)” before seeing them live in Boston that fall, and my patience was rewarded. That was one of my favorite times seeing the band, a true fan’s set at a small venue shortly after Chase This Light was released (that was the aforementioned show where I met Tom beforehand). Both “Your House” versions are based on lush acoustic guitar, but “Your House (2007)” takes a more complex approach to the overall instrumentation and adds some different vocal touches. There were a lot of ways this could have gone wrong, but this song was always in the right hands. Also: I once asked Zach on Twitter why they picked this song to re-do for the deluxe BA release and he said there…wasn’t a reason. They just went for it. Now, you know.
- “The World You Love” (Futures, 2004)
Jim has spun some excellent opening lines in his career, and on “The World You Love” he spun perhaps his greatest: “I got a story, it’s almost finished / Now all I need is someone to tell it to / Maybe that’s you.” It was the start to one of the most beautiful songs they’ve ever done, one with a high school sensibility (“I fall asleep with my friends around me”) but hints at sadness about letting go. That guitar solo hits and it’s hard not to feel something immediately, those pangs of nostalgia. This may be a good time to mention “The World You Love” also happened to be a big deal to me around my graduation from both high school and college; “the world we loved forever gone” felt so real to what I was going through. But, at the edge of some despair, Jim digs in, and says he won’t give in for any amount, as Zach drives the song to a different level of euphoria in the last chorus. Now, don’t that feel like sunshine, after all?
- “Here It Goes” (Chase This Light, 2007)
If you fed “The Authority Song” meth, you’d get “Here It Goes.” Imagine my surprise, as a 21-year-old hearing CTL for the first time in my dorm room, and getting to the point late in the album when “Here It Goes” came across my speakers. It’s the closest thing to EDM this band has ever done or will ever do. It’s a dance song (there literally are dance moves described in the chorus) and the lyrics are mostly gibberish, but good lord is “Here It Goes” a blast. The eternal question about “Here It Goes” has always been: what if they put it out as a single? They haven’t really released another song like it since, so I guess that wasn’t a question the band ever wanted to answer.
- “Your New Aesthetic” (Clarity, 1999)
I know I said “Get It Faster” was the portend of what was going to come on Futures but if you want to go even further back you can look at “Your New Aesthetic” as the real spiritual grandfather of that angry, metal-inspired style. When you listen to the post-hardcore influences JEW had, like John Reis’ bands or Fugazi, what the band was going for with “Your New Aesthetic” makes a lot more sense. This was about as close to that post-hardcore style as the band ever got on an official release, and did they ever rip it. Lyrically, the band had clearly been disillusioned with their experience at Capitol Records and how bands actually get famous, and that comes through in spades. And the song’s stark, overall message is summed up in the line over the final pre-chorus rush: “Sing now while you still can.”
Stay tuned for Part II, songs 50 to 1 on my list, coming soon. Thanks for reading.