RED SOX

RED SOX: Making Sense of Trading Away Mookie Betts and David Price

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Rambling, incoherent bullet-point thoughts on the Red Sox’s not-shocking-but-still-shocking decision to trade franchise cornerstone Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers:

    • The rumblings about a Betts trade picked up over the last few weeks, with Chaim Bloom creating a market for such a trade by playing NL West rivals the Dodgers and Padres off each other. The last few days made the trade seem like a fait accompli, with the Dodgers emerging as the frontrunner only real question being if Price’s salary was going to be included in the trade. I was afraid including Price would dilute the return for the Red Sox, and while we don’t know yet exactly how much salary they’re eating, it did reduce the overall number of players the Red Sox got back but didn’t necessarily lower the quality of talent. I’ll get to the two newest members of the Red Sox shortly.

 

    • I was across the street from Fenway when the deal went down, at a Rex Orange County show at the House of Blues. The show was excellent, but it was a bit hard to be torn away from my phone while it was happening. Sorry, Rex.

 

    • So, needless to say, this sucks. Mookie is one of the Red Sox best position players in the last 50 years. I loved watching him play. I remember first hearing his name early in his minors career, and following the Alex Speier-inspired hashtag #featsofmookie as this smallish kid started putting up completely absurd, out-of-nowhere numbers. It was a joy to follow him all these years, and he brought every kind of tool to the table as a player. He played RF better at Fenway than anyone in my lifetime. His 2018 season is probably my favorite for any Red Sox player in recent history, with his grand slam against JA Happ representing a turning point for the year one of the greatest regular season moments in franchise history. It really pisses me off he won’t be here this year.

 

    • As for Price, I genuinely hope he finds in LA whatever will make happy, because he was pretty miserable the entire time he was in Boston. He gladly took the Red Sox $217 million and opted into the rest of the deal after shedding the October bugaboo after a glorious 2018 postseason run, one where he should have been World Series MVP. But, Price was never comfortable here and his on-again, off-again feuds with Dennis Eckersley and some other media members were bewildering, pointless and mostly infuriating. I don’t think Price is a bad guy, he had his moments here and by all accounts he’s beloved as a teammate. But Boston was never a fit, and with three straight years of arm injuries this was the right time to get off his money, even if it means paying down half the $96 million he’s owed the next three years.

 

    • Perhaps the biggest thing I don’t like about the trade is the fact that the Red Sox decided to effectively punt the 2020 season in the name of being successful beyond that. Had Bloom and others decided to keep this team together there’s no reason they couldn’t compete with the Yankees and Rays for the division title, especially if the pitching returns to its 2018 level. When you have this much talent, it is really tough to punt on being competitive. But in the aftermath of Alex Cora’s firing, I do wonder if the Red Sox decided this would be a good time to move on and transition to the future. The Red Sox still don’t have a manager, by the way.

 

    • None of us know if the two players the Red Sox got back will pan out. But, they are the types of guys this current farm system has failed to pump out in recent years, and I have hopes they’ll produce for the big league club this year. Alex Verdugo is in the unenviable position of filling Mookie Betts’ shoes, but going into last year he was a consensus top-30 prospect in the game and acquitted himself very well as an everyday contributor on a 106-win team before getting hurt and missing the final two months. He has tools galore and a fabulous lefty stroke that should play well at Fenway. In Brusdar Graterol, the Sox have a top-60 prospect going into the year and the precise kind of pitcher that seemingly every team except Boston has been producing: a flamethrower with the ability to be either a long-term starter or closer. He has a 100 mph two-seamer and I have every expectation the Red Sox will find a way for him to contribute, fast. In total, the Red Sox used their position to acquire 11 years of big-league control for two guys who are locks to be MLB regulars right away. In a vacuum, that is an objectively great move for one year of an elite OF and three years of a distressed asset pitcher. But, this is not a vacuum.

 

    • So, why did this happen? For several years now, Mookie has given every indication he would test the free agency waters after the 2020 season. We don’t know the specific details of extension talks between the club and the player, but at least three times Mookie has declined such overtures. A local radio host recently said that last winter the Sox offered 10 years and $300 million and were countered with a 12-year, $420 million proposal that would put Mookie in league with Mike Trout and basically no one else. That report hasn’t been corroborated by any other reporting, but it’s in league with how far apart the sides were in previous discussions (we don’t know any details on how those discussions went this winter either). Mookie also knows how important he is to the players union and likely wants to get the biggest free agent contract ever handed out. You can only do so much as a team to get a player to sign. His agent may have told the Red Sox that no number from the Red Sox would be high enough, and that he wanted to go to the market regardless. If that’s the case, you cannot blame Bloom and the Red Sox for making this move. While their AL East rivals are pleased for what this trade will mean for their chances in 2020, I am positive Brian Cashman and Erik Neander and Ross Atkins are not pleased the Red Sox picked up those aforementioned 11 years of big league control for quality young talent they would not have otherwise gotten had they let Mookie walk and held onto Price.

 

    • The takes, they are hot. One of the most incorrect hot takes I’ve seen so far is this deal is a straight-up salary dump. Had the Red Sox not included Price’s deal in this transaction, I don’t know if people would feel that way. I think it’s basically a half-salary dump, with Price as the part getting dumped. CBT concerns were not why Mookie was traded. If the Red Sox goal in 2020 was to get under the $208 million CBT threshold, they could have done that anytime between now and the end of the regular season, and they did not need to trade Mookie to do it. They could have seen if Price was going to be healthy and traded him midseason, or moved on from expiring deals such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and others. They traded Mookie because they didn’t want to see him go elsewhere for nothing after 2020, with the moving of his and Price’s salaries a bonus to get under the CBT.  But the idea the Red Sox traded away Mookie Betts for the sole purpose of getting under the CBT is absurd and anyone who tells you different doesn’t know what they are talking about. I do worry that the longer this goes on before an official announcement takes place, the Red Sox risk losing control of the narrative for why this happened. They owe the fans an explanation for why their best player was just dealt with a year left on his deal, the kind of thing a team like the Royals or Pirates might do but seldom ever the Red Sox.

 

    • I also saw the take that the Red Sox should have just given Mookie a deal with a $37M AAV and that would have taken care of everything. Well, we don’t know if that was offered or not, or if Mookie would have taken it. But that $37M AAV number is exactly what Mike Trout is going to make until he turns 38. Just for the sake of comparison, over roughly the same number of games in their first six seasons (which is well before Trout signed his current deal), Mookie’s quadruple slash was .301/.374/.519/.893 with a 134 OPS+, while Trout was .306/.405/.557/.963 with a 170 OPS+. Also, why would the Red Sox give out that size of a contract to someone who hasn’t proven themselves at that level when they’d only be bidding against themselves? I don’t think that is how most smart teams operate. If you don’t believe me, look at the Dodgers’ contracts on Spotrac for 2021.

 

  • Interestingly enough, the Red Sox will find themselves next offseason much better prepared to acquire someone like Mookie in the free agent market, and I would be surprised if the two sides have shut the door completely on that possibility. As long as the sides operated in good faith, and there were no hard feelings involved in the negotiations, I don’t see why a deal couldn’t be revisited. The timing, right before spring training, isn’t great for anyone involved, but I can’t imagine getting to live in LA and be on probably baseball’s best team is going to make Mookie terribly upset the same way Jon Lester wasn’t thrilled to go to Oakland in the middle of the 2014 season. The Red Sox tried, and failed, to bring Lester back. But other teams have been successful in similar circumstances, including the Phillies bringing back Cliff Lee and the Yankees doing the same for Aroldis Chapman.

All the best to Mookie and David in LA. What comes next for the Red Sox is a mystery. This is a sad day. That’s all I got.

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 50 Favorite Albums of the 2010s

Last week, I posted my 100 favorite songs of the decade coming to a close. Now, I’m presenting my 50 favorite albums since the start of 2010.

It’s been a phenomenal decade for new music, with some of the best, most innovative and most essential art of the popular music era (dating back to post-WWII) coming out in the last 10 years.

While 2019 was a bit of a letdown for new music, I’m incredibly optimistic about the future as we head into 2020. There is something for everyone, if you know where to find it.

I’m not writing about these records now, but I have written about most of them since starting this blog in 2011, and mostly in my year-end albums posts. You can find links to all of those in my 2019 albums post.

Thanks for reading. On to 2020!

50. Sky Ferreria – Night Time, My Time (2013)

49. Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix (2011)

48. Boygenius – Boygenius EP (2018)

47. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)

46. Jay Som – Anak Ko (2019)

45. Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)

44. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (2013)

43. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)

42. Deerhunter – Halcyon Days (2010)

41. Beach House – Teen Dream (2010)

40. Spoon – They Want My Soul (2014)

39. Local Natives – Hummingbird (2013)

38. The National – Sleep Well Beast (2017)

37. Clairo – Immunity (2019)

36. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues (2016)

35. Pinegrove – Cardinal (2016)

34. Cut Copy – Zonoscope (2011)

33. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe (2013)

32. Arctic Monkeys – AM (2013)

31. Lucy Dacus – Historian (2018)

30. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

29. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (2010)

28. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (2012)

27. Wild Nothing – Nocturne (2012)

26. Local Natives – Violet Street (2019)

25. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

24. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake (2016)

23. Beach House – Bloom (2012)

22. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love (2015)

21. Real Estate – Days (2011)

20. Haim – Days Are Gone (2013)

19. Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012)

18. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor (2010)

17. D’Angelo & the Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

16. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)

15. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. (2011)

14. Beach House – 7 (2018)

13. Real Estate – Atlas (2014)

12. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (2012)

11. Jay Som – Everybody Works (2017)

10. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

9. Passion Pit – Gossamer (2012)

8. Charly Bliss – Young Enough (2019)

7. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (2016)

6. Tame Impala – Currents (2015)

5. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014)

4. Snail Mail – Lush (2018)

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

2. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (2017)

1. The National – High Violet (2010)

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 100 Favorite Songs of the 2010s

The decade is at an end. Every year I keep track of all my favorite songs and albums, and with 10 years gone, it’s time to share the best of the best this decade. I hope you enjoy.

First up, my favorite songs from across this decade. My top albums post will follow. UPDATE: Here is a Spotify link to the list (it is missing the My Bloody Valentine song below).

100. WILCO – “DAWNED ON ME”

99. DIVINE FITS – “WOULD THAT NOT BE NICE”

98. SZA – “THE WEEKEND”

97. SKY FERREIRA – “I BLAME MYSELF”

96. DUM DUM GIRLS – “HEARTBEAT”

95. KENDRICK LAMAR – “BACKSEAT FREESTYLE”

94. COURTNEY BARNETT – “NOBODY REALLY CARES IF YOU DON’T GO TO THE PARTY”

93. LOCAL NATIVES – “COLOMBIA”

92. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – “WHITEOUT CONDITIONS”

91. SOLANGE – “LOSING YOU”

90. FRANK OCEAN – “SWEET LIFE”

89. TOBIAS JESSO JR. – “WITHOUT YOU”

88. M83 – “REUNION”

87. KANYE WEST – “POWER”

86. SUNFLOWER BEAN – “EASIER SAID”

85. TV ON THE RADIO – “COULD YOU”

84. JULIEN BAKER – “TURN OUT THE LIGHTS”

83. SOCCER MOMMY – “COOL”

82. FRANK OCEAN – “PINK + WHITE”

81. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “HALF HEART”

80. JAY SOM – “SUPERBIKE”

79. REAL ESTATE – “IT’S REAL”

78. FUTURE ISLANDS – “SEASONS (WAITING ON YOU)”

77. THE WAR ON DRUGS – “RED EYES”

76. ARCTIC MONKEYS – “ARABELLA”

75. BLOOD ORANGE – “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH”

74. SNAIL MAIL – “HEAT WAVE”

73. THE NATIONAL – “THE SYSTEM ONLY DREAMS IN TOTAL DARKNESS”

72. KANYE WEST – “REAL FRIENDS”

71. SMITH WESTERNS – “WEEKEND”

70. JAPANDRIODS – “THE NIGHTS OF WINE AND ROSES”

69. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – “HEART IN YOUR HEARTBREAK”

68. DUM DUM GIRLS – “SEASON IN HELL”

67. BON IVER – “BETH/REST”

66. CUT COPY – “PHARAOHS & PYRAMIDS”

65. ROBYN – “DANCING ON MY OWN”

64. BEACH HOUSE – “WILD”

63. TAME IMPALA – “REALITY IN MOTION”

62. THE NATIONAL – “GRACELESS”

61. CYMBALS – “EROSION”

60. CLAIRO – “BAGS”

59. FOALS – “BAD HABIT”

58. DEERHUNTER – “BREAKER”

57. DESTROYER – “DREAM LOVER”

56. HATCHIE – “SUGAR & SPICE”

55. WAXAHATCHEE – “SILVER”

54. LORDE – “GREEN LIGHT”

53. THE KILLERS – “RUNAWAYS”

52. LUCY DACUS – “PILLAR OF TRUTH”

51. CAR SEAT HEADREST – “DRUNK DRIVERS/KILLER WHALES”

50. THE WAR ON DRUGS – “PAIN”

49. PINEGROVE – “NEW FRIENDS”

48. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “DELIVERY”

47. CHVRCHES – “CLEAREST BLUE”

46. MIGUEL – “WAVES”

45. SURFER BLOOD – “FLOATING VIBES”

44. HAIM – “FALLING”

43. WHITNEY – “GOLDEN DAYS”

42. SLEATER KINNEY – “A NEW WAVE”

41. BEACH HOUSE – “DIVE”

40. CHARLY BLISS – “CAPACITY”

39. JAPANDROIDS – “NEAR TO THE WILD HEART OF LIFE”

38. ARCADE FIRE – “SPRAWL II (MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS)”

37. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “STOP”

36. MY BLOODY VALENTINE – “SHE FOUND NOW”

35. BEACH HOUSE – “LAZULI”

34. THE NATIONAL – “CONVERSATION 16”

33. SPOON – “DO YOU”

32. JAY SOM – “BAYBEE”

31. KANYE WEST – “ALL OF THE LIGHTS”

30. ARCTIC MONKEYS – “THAT’S WHERE YOU’RE WRONG”

29. BEST COAST – “FADE AWAY”

28. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – “BEAUTIFUL YOU”

27. ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER – “MAINLAND”

26. TAME IMPALA – “PATIENCE”

25. DIIV – “UNDER THE SUN”

24. D’ANGELO & THE VANGUARD – “ANOTHER LIFE”

23. JULIEN BAKER – “RED DOOR”

22. THE WAR ON DRUGS – “BURNING”

21. BOYGENIUS – “SALT IN THE WOUND”

20. BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB – “TAKE THE RIGHT ONE”

19. DEERHUNTER – “DESIRE LINES”

18. THE NATIONAL – “SEA OF LOVE”

17. THE WAR ON DRUGS – “STRANGEST THING”

16. WILD NOTHING – “NOCTURNE”

15. MADEON FT. PASSION PIT – “PAY NO MIND”

14. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – “CALL THE POLICE”

13. LOCAL NATIVES – “GULF SHORES”

12. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – “ALL I WANT”

11. REAL ESTATE – “CRIME”

10. TAME IMPALA – “LET IT HAPPEN”

9. CYMBALS – “THE NATURAL WORLD”

8. PASSION PIT – “IT’S NOT MY FAULT, I’M HAPPY”

7. JOHN MAYER – “A FACE TO CALL HOME”

6. LOCAL NATIVES – “WIDE EYES”

5. THE SHINS – “SIMPLE SONG”

4. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “SURE AND CERTAIN”

3. SNAIL MAIL – “PRISTINE”

2. THE NATIONAL – “BLOODBUZZ OHIO”

1. M83 – “MIDNIGHT CITY”

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 10 Favorite Albums of 2019

After posting my favorite songs of 2019, I’m now ready to unveil my 10 favorite albums of the year. For your reference, here are my favorite albums lists from: 2011, 20122013201420152016, 2017 and 2018.

I’m sorry if this disappoints anyone, but this year’s albums post is going to be significantly abbreviated compared to every other year I’ve done it. I usually get started writing this post in November, but this year I didn’t even start drafting until Dec. 14.

It’s been an extremely busy fall for me, and since I spent 21,000 words writing about music already this fall, I just didn’t have the full albums post in me this year. Again, I’m sorry, but this was the only way I saw getting this out the normal time this year.

Before I get to my long-form thoughts on the 10 best albums I heard this year, here are albums 20 through 11 on my list, accompanied by one song from each.

20. Solange – When I Get Home (“Stay Flo”)

19. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (“Comeback Kid”)

18. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (“There Goes My Miracle”)

17. Wilco – Ode to Joy (“Love Is Everywhere (Beware)”)

16. DIIV – Deceiver (“Blankenship”)

15. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (“The Greatest”)

14. Bon Iver – i,i (“Hey, Ma”)

13. Taylor Swift – Lover (“Cruel Summer”)

12. Hatchie – Keepsake (“Secret”)

11. Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary (“What Chaos Is Imaginary”)

Here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2019:

10. Nilufer Yanya – Miss Universe

I discovered the music of Nilufer Yanya this year, a young London native with a penchant for melding styles. Her full-length debut, Miss Universe, has elements of pop, rock, R&B, jazz, dance and so much more. There’s diversity across so much of the album: “In Your Head” has crashing guitars in symbols while “Tears” could be mistaken as an early Whitney Houston song. The sky is the limit for Nilufer and her crew.

9. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

The first Vampire Weekend album without Rostam Batmanglij playing a significant role came with much fanfare this year. Father of the Bride is a very different record for Ezra Koenig and company, and while the pop-related strictures Rostam brings to his music are missed in some spots, the band plays with more of a care-free, loose style throughout the record. “Sunflower” feels almost Grateful Dead-like, “This Life” is beyond a joy, “Harmony Hall” is one of their most massive songs to date. Father of the Bride isn’t their greatest record, but their new direction is more than intriguing.

8. The National – I Am Easy to Find

The biggest surprise musically of 2019 was the arrival of a new National album. I Am Easy to Find caps off a decade of domination for Matt Berninger, the Dessners and the Devendorfs with an incredibly unique record. The most unique thing is how little Berninger actually appears on the album, his monotone grumbles replaced by a cadre of women voices. In the end it’s still a National record, and that’s always going to deliver. But my favorite thing about I Am Easy to Find is the band finally found a home for “Rylan”, a banger that has been kicking around since the High Violet days.

7. Whitney – Forever Turned Around

Whitney’s 2016 debut, Light Upon the Lake, was one of my favorite albums of 2016. Emerging from the ashes of Smith Westerns, Julian Erlich and Max Kakacek developed a massive following for their psych-tinged indie rock stylings and became heroes in their hometown of Chicago. Forever Turned Around came this year with bigtime expectations and mostly met them. While the album doesn’t have as many fast-moving tracks as Light Upon the Lake, it qualifies as a grower, with “Giving Up”, “Used to Be Lonely” and the title track among the highlights.

6. Oso Oso – Basking In the Glow

Yeah, I know. It’s an emo record. But, emo has made an honest-to-goodness comeback these last few years, emerging from the cringy-er elements from the previous decade into something better if you know where to find it. That’s what led me to Oso Oso this year, and their third album Basking In the Glow. Frontman Jade Lilitri has the nasally voice familiar to the genre, but instead of whining about the same old woe-as-me garbage as his forebears, he takes a much more mature approach on standouts like the title track, “One Sick Plan” and “A Morning Song” among so many others. All the while the band sticks to a full, lush sound that’s easy to love.

5. Jimmy Eat World – Surviving

So, you may be aware I wrote a few words about Jimmy Eat World already this year. That long project didn’t include much about Surviving, their 10th album, for reasons I outlined in Part II (linked to above). But, I can’t wait to eventually update it with all the fantastic songs from their decade-closing record, an exciting collection bringing their pop-rock best while also finding room to find new things. “Surviving” starts things with a bang; “Delivery” could fit on almost any record of theirs; “555” is unlike anything they’ve ever done; “Diamond” cuts deep; “Congratulations” is an epic on a level we’ve rarely seen from this band. The best thing about Surviving is what it portends for a band closing in on three decades together as the 2020s begin.

4. Jay Som – Anak Ko

Melina Duterte released one of my favorite albums of the decade with her 2017 full-length as Jay Som, Everybody Works. She recorded the album almost entirely by herself, playing all the instruments and expertly blending a myriad of different styles. It put her on the map and created lots of excitement for what was to come next. With Anak Ko, she did it again, but differently. This time Duterte enlisted more contributors to augment her sound with excellent results. Lead track “Superbike” dips into ’90s nostalgia with a huge guitar sound and beautiful melodies; “Devotion” has an innovative and fun vocal treatment; “Tenderness” has an almost lounge-y quality to it and feels straight out of 1977. Anak Ko, which means “my child” in Tagalog, is another sign of growth for Duterte, who has certainly come far in just a couple years.

3. Clairo – Immunity

Let me give you sense of what Boston suburb Carlisle, Mass., is like: a former coworker of mine lives there, has a barn on his property, and every year hosts a barn party. From that enclave comes 20-year-old Claire Cottrill, known to the masses as Clairo, who after going insanely viral with her 2017 bedroom pop song “Pretty Girl” released her Rostam-produced debut Immunity this year. It’s a spectacular pop achievement, one that successfully blends so many different styles appealing to different audiences. (I immediately loved the record because the first song is named after the Red Line T stop I lived next to when I first moved to the Boston area.) The album’s emotional fulcrum, “Bags”, is an incredible expression of both musical and lyrical maturity as Clairo imagines the end of a relationship right as it’s starting. Few new artists have a brighter future ahead than Clairo. Pretty good for a young lady from Carlisle.

2. Local Natives – Violet Street

The guys in Local Natives needed a boost. Their third album, 2016’s Sunlit Youth, wasn’t up to par with their first two. It took a lot of synth pop elements and tried to fit them into their well-established sophisticated indie rock sound. For the most part it was fine, but something was missing. When Violet Street arrived earlier this year, I knew they had recaptured the magic of Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird. This one is a mover, tight and concise with a clear sound and purpose, and the results are incredibly rewarding. “When Am I Gonna Lose You?” is a Taylor Rice-led singalong, followed by the Kelcey Ayer-helmed groover “Cafe Amarillo.” There are songs here about the coming climate apocalypse (“Megaton Mile”) and wistful memories of youth (“Garden of Elysian”). Throughout the band brings their best on every track, but best so on penultimate wonder “Gulf Shores”, an epic showstopper representing some of their best work to date. Local Natives are one of our best bands, and they’re back to living up to it on Violet Street.

1. Charly Bliss – Young Enough

I’m just going to say it: I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that part of the reason why I didn’t write as much in this post is because 2019 was not as strong a year for new music compared to at least the previous three. Sometimes it just happens. But that takes nothing away from the very best of this year, and that for me counts as Young Enough, the second full-length record from Connecticut upstarts Charly Bliss. Led by angel-voiced Eva Hendricks, these songs feel like anthems for a generation figuring out their way in the world, and the pains and lessons that come along the way. On standout track “Capacity”, Hendricks opines about trying to be everything to everyone (“I’m at capacity / I’m spilling out of me”). “Chatroom” recounts an abusive relationship; “Camera” rocks from start to finish; the title track displays stunning clarity on heartbreak (“We’re young enough / To believe it should hurt this much”). Throughout, the band exhibits their chops creating shimmering, ’80s-style pop/new wave/punk inspired sounds that don’t overwhelm and accentuate Hendricks’ supreme abilities. Young Enough is a left-field revelation from Charly Bliss, proving them a force to be reckoned with going forward.

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 25 Favorite Songs of 2019

All year, I keep track of my favorite music and now that it’s December, I’m ready to share with you what made the cut for my favorites of the year, starting with my 25 favorite songs of 2019.

I’ll let the songs speak for themselves in this post and reserve longer thoughts for my 10 favorite albums post later this month.

I considered songs for this list that had any kind of release (be it on a single or an album) in 2019. And, as always, I only included one song per primary artist to ensure no one artist dominated the list.

Here are my favorite songs lists for 2012201320142015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

I created a Spotify playlist of these songs here and embedded at the bottom for your listening pleasure (the playlist is meant to be listened to as a 25-1 countdown, despite the numbers next to each song).

I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming feedback on my recent Top 100 Jimmy Eat World songs project (read Part I and Part II here). It is the most ambitious writing project I’ve ever done, and I’m so glad it’s resonating with so many.

Lastly, in addition to my 10 favorite albums of 2019 post (likely next week), I will be doing a post, probably just before Christmas, where I reveal my 100 favorite songs and 50 favorite albums of the decade.

Enjoy these awesome songs and stay tuned for what’s to come!

25. EX HEX – “TOUGH ENOUGH”

24. DOGLEG – “FOX”

23. BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER – “DYLAN THOMAS”

22. SLEATER-KINNEY – “HURRY ON HOME”

21. GIRLPOOL – “HIRE”

20. LANA DEL REY – “NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL”

19. BON IVER – “SALEM”

18. SOCCER MOMMY – “LUCY”

17. TAYLOR SWIFT – “LOVER”

16. SHARON VAN ETTEN – “SEVENTEEN”

15. DIIV – “SKIN GAME”

14. VAMPIRE WEEKEND – “THIS LIFE”

13. WHITNEY – “GIVING UP”

12. HATCHIE – “OBSESSED”

11. NILUFER YANYA – “IN YOUR HEAD”

10. OSO OSO – “BASKING IN THE GLOW”

9. HAIM – “NOW I’M IN IT”

8. THE NATIONAL – “RYLAN”

7. JAY SOM – “SUPERBIKE”

6. CLAIRO – “BAGS” 

5. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “DELIVERY”

4. CHARLY BLISS – “CAPACITY”

3. TAME IMPALA – “PATIENCE”

2. JULIEN BAKER – “RED DOOR”

1. LOCAL NATIVES – “GULF SHORES”

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LISTS, MUSIC

Sing Me Something That I Know: Jimmy Eat World’s 100 Best Songs, Part II

Welcome back to my list of Jimmy Eat World’s best songs, where today I’ll reveal my Top 50. In case you missed Part I, you can find it here.

Before I get to the final selections, I’ll address the elephant in the room: since Part I posted, JEW released their 10th album, Surviving, which means an additional eight songs for potential consideration (the two Surviving songs released before the album, “Love Never” and “All the Way (Stay)”, are in Part I) are now in the world. But you won’t find any of those in this Top 50, for a few different reasons.

I started working on this project after a scuttled attempt at a song-by-song breakdown of Clarity for its 20th anniversary back in February, similar to this post I did in 2016 on Pet Sounds. I didn’t finish it in time. But since I’ve always wanted to do some kind of Jimmy Eat World tribute blog, I figured doing a Top 100 in advance of their 10th album would be perfect.

So, I put together a list of songs and got to work on writing. I realized pretty quickly this was going to be a sprawling, long, verbose project. My only goal was to have it completely done and finished in advance of the 10th album release. I also imposed a soft October deadline to get it done because of my wedding and honeymoon.

All through the summer I methodically worked on writing while the band was very quiet about the actual plans for the 10th album. When I saw them in Portland in July, Jim said the album was coming out in the fall. But since there was no announcement even into mid-September I figured I was fine to keep working at my deliberate pace. At that point, there was no way the album would be released before mid-November, right?

And then…the band announced on Sept. 23 that Surviving would drop Oct. 18. I was nowhere near done with the piece, so completing it in time the way I wanted was not going to be feasible. So, I had a decision to make: should I completely scrap large swaths of what I had already written just to get the piece done in a truncated, not-as-I-intended form, or stick to my plan and write it the way I wanted even if Surviving’s release would beat me to it?

I ultimately chose the latter, but with a caveat: in an effort to get something out the door, I elected to split the project in two and rallied to get Part I out a few days before my wedding. Since Part I is a 36-minute read all to itself, I think structurally doing that made more sense anyway.

But what to do now about the Surviving tracks not in Part I? Well, maybe someday I’ll update this list, but for now I’ll leave them out. I will say that two songs from Surviving are easily top-25, with another three likely in the Top 50 and all but maybe two scattered through the rest of the Top 100. It’s a great record, equal in quality to Integrity Blues. But, you’ll have to wait until my top albums of 2019 post learn more of my thoughts.

Here is this Top 50 in Spotify playlist form. There are only a few songs Spotify didn’t have this time around. It’s also embedded at the end of this list.

Thanks to everyone who read the first part of my list and reached out to say they liked it. Hope you’ll like the rest just as much. Now, my Top 50 Jimmy Eat World songs:

  1. “Call It In The Air” (Static Prevails, 1996)

The second, stronger, and tighter half of the “Claire” / “Call It In The Air” coupling on the front side of SP that I mentioned in Part I is “Call It In The Air.” It’s a burst of wild energy, an expression of unrest. I always liked the semi-experimental way they record the vocals in the chorus sections, with what sounded like Jim singing over his own voice. The guitar sound is rocking from the very outset. Jim and Co. were still figuring things out from a lyrical standpoint (“Become your dad / Live unquestioned.” Come again?) but “Call It In The Air” is a scorcher, and a fun one at that. 

  1. “I Will Steal You Back” (Damage, 2013)

The first song to appear from Damage in 2013 was the acoustic-fueled, hook-laden “I Will Steal You Back.” I remember the lyric video above showing up that spring and being so happy to have the guys back in my life. In a video posted by NME later that year, they talked about how difficult it was to put this one together at first. Initially, the palm-muted guitars you hear throughout were the dominant sound over the grooving rhythm, something that didn’t quite click. Instead, as Jim states, the acoustic guitar ended up being the thing that kept everything together, and “I Will Steal You Back” is better off for it. Lyrically, Jim says the song is more about “decisions than resolutions,” and while it could literally be taken as being about trying to win back a lost love, it’s more about winning yourself back. “Funny how the smallest lie / Might live a million times.” Ponder that one!

  1. “Ramina” (Libations Unlimited: Phoenix ’97-’99, 1999)

“Ramina” first appeared on a local Phoenix compilation record in 1999 and subsequently reached a greater audience on Singles. It’s the only instrumental to appear on this list and, I believe, the only instrumental they’ve ever released. It’s an excellent encapsulation of where they were as a band musically during the incredibly-fertile ’98-’02 stretch where they did almost nothing wrong. Hard-charging power chords intertwined with their signature melodic touches, perfectly-honed bass notes, Zach bashing away at the drums, weird alien-like feedback noises late in the proceedings: this is a band refusing to punt musicianship in the face of mounting pressure to be commercial, and it shows here. Jimmy Eat World didn’t need to do instrumentals, since Jim is such a great singer and lyricist. But “Ramina” is an interesting window into what the band may have been if Jim never turned into, well, Jim. 

  1. “My Sundown” (Bleed American, 2001)

When I first saw JEW live in Portland in the summer of 2002, they played not one but TWO encores and for the second one, they played “My Sundown,” the epic closer for Bleed American. I got really close to the stage and Jim’s hair was so drenched in sweat it was like a wet mop, so much so that audience members were getting hit every time he moved his head rapidly. (I awkwardly recounted this story to Jim when I briefly met him backstage at the Portland show this year. I couldn’t tell if he liked the story or was horrified. Let’s just move on.) It was a powerful performance of a powerful song. So much of BA is straight-up power pop, but “My Sundown” is different, so different that there’s never been any other song quite like it in their history. The music is far from overwhelming, and Jim doesn’t sing as much as he simply intones, with Rachel Haden supplying the perfect harmonies in spots. “I’m gonna be so much more than this,” he sings over and over the shuffling drums, feedback guitars and looping keys, adding “no one cares.” As for its meaning, there are a lot of interpretations, some of which can get pretty dark if you think about it. But I choose for it to be a not-quite “The Middle”-level story of telling yourself things can get better, even if no one else notices it but you. And, it’s just the right ending to an album filled with unforgettable songs.

  1. “Through” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

Purely based on guitar work, “Through” is one of the standout tracks from Integrity Blues. If I had to rank my favorite guitar parts of “Through,” I’d go with the chorus power chords/chiming harmonics, the post-chorus take on the main riff, the opening main riff, the guitar solo and then the creeping verse guitars. That’s a lot of really great guitar parts, all in under three minutes! But, “Through” is a lot more than just the sum of its guitar parts. It’s a breakup song where Jim’s speaker isn’t mincing words on how he feels: “Go get mad / Have a child’s tantrum / So everyone knows how wrong you’ve been”; “There’s a big, big difference / Between letting go and running away.” Sonically, “Through” is classic JEW, containing their signature sounds; the kind of song only they’ve been able to make through these years. “Through” always struck me as the type of song that could have been on virtually any album they’ve done, and we’ll come across a few more of those before this list is over.

  1. “Chase This Light” (Chase This Light, 2007)

I have a feeling more than a few love-struck young folks prominently featured this song on late-2000s CD mixes shared with their special someone. The title track to Chase This Light shows up later in the proceedings of the album, nestled among a couple other excellent songs following its rather forgettable middle section. “Chase This Light” has an outstanding vocal performance by Jim and a full-band effort to make what could have been a saccharine and trite love song genuinely beautiful. “I’ve seen the best of love / The best of hate / The best reward is earned / And I’ve paid for every single word / I’ve ever said,” Jim emotes over the bridge section. The concept of “chasing this light” is such a great one when you’ve found that person with whom you want to chase it. Also: an early version of “Chase This Light” leaked before the album came out and while it was functionally the same as what’s on the record, it had slightly more sparse production and also didn’t have the “yeaahhhhhhh” backing vocals during the choruses. I prefer this to what actually was released, as this was yet another example of the overdone production on CTL.

  1. “Seventeen” (Static Prevails, 1996)

Tom was the star of Static Prevails, and songs like “Seventeen” are what made that happen. It’s the best of what you might call the “classic emo” songs on the record, of which there are many. The songs still to come from SP on this countdown are the ones that don’t quite fit that mold. “Seventeen” is replete with awesome loud/soft dynamics, hard-charging drum work, spectacular guitar melodies, and a great vocal with Tom practically screaming the refrain: “They’ll take you / Where you won’t come back to me.” All these years later, “Seventeen” really stands out as the band was trying to find their voice. Also: an early, alternate demo of “Seventeen” appears in the film Never Been Kissed with a different chorus of “You’re only / You’re only seventeen.” It’s not actually on the film soundtrack, which explains why I don’t have a link to the audio of that version and have personally never heard it myself. Another song still to come on this list has a more prominent connection to that movie, and in turn, a more prominent place in the band’s lore. 

  1. “Mixtape” (Invented, 2010)

“Mixtape” first surfaced when Jim performed a few solo acoustic shows in 2009. Utilizing the looping device the band used on their previous tour, Jim layered in several tracks of his voice and guitar on the soft acoustic ballad about trying to salvage a dying relationship. “It’s too late / You can’t walk away / Walk away now.” A year or so later, “Mixtape” showed up as the epic closer of Invented in a very different form. It was, for lack of a better term, “epic-ified” by the band and Mark Trombino. As much as I adore the full band version, with the full weight of instrumentation and big voices near the end that gives it the epic closer status it richly deserves, I always loved that original solo acoustic version more. The addition of the “Where went all the takers, baby…” part on the record version I thought detracted from what made the original so powerful on its own. But no matter what, “Mixtape” is a more-than-worthy entry in the list of JEW album closers and stands as one of their most affecting lyrical journeys. 

  1. “Let It Happen” (Chase This Light, 2007)

Chase This Light is a pop record, perhaps the poppiest one they’ve done…yes, even poppier than Bleed American. In some spots that wasn’t great (*cough* “Feeling Lucky” *cough*) but the highlights  all contain their impenetrable pop sensibility. One of the best pop songs in their entire repertoire is “Let It Happen,” with its “ha-ha-has” and palm-muted guitars, and Jim singing with an angsty edge throughout despite the chipper musical stylings. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose (I mean, the opening lines are “I have a ringing in my head / And no one to help me answer it”), but “Let It Happen” is ultimately about a relationship going wrong in what feels like a very public, visible way. “Talk, talking a lot / But it’s still talk / Gotta love how it’s somehow all on me,” with further musings about petty scenes and pretty things. Meanwhile, all the intricate guitar parts come together so spectacularly. “Let It Happen” is this band doing pop at their finest.

  1. “Table For Glasses” (Clarity, 1999)

Historically, Jimmy Eat World does not give the public a lot of information about what their songs are about. But, in the run-up to the incomparably great Clarity x 10 tour, Jim and Zach spilled the tea about the songs on their greatest record. One of the most fascinating revelations came for the opening track, “Table for Glasses.” Jim said the lyrics could be taken literally: it’s about an avant garde art installation he saw in Mesa where the artist used the hem of her dress to “sweep the dirty steps” and rang the dirt into some glass tumblers on a table. For the band that had just done Static Prevails, “Table For Glasses” itself was about as avant garde as you could get, and certainly showed maturity on many levels. This wasn’t hard-rocking emo-tinged post-punk stuff. It was something else, something the band was creating all its own. “Table For Glasses” set the table for all the amazing songs to come on Clarity. Also, the pre-chorus refrain of “It happened too fast / To make sense of it, make it last” was one that I kept going back to in the weeks leading up to my college graduation the same year of the Clarity x 10 tour. 

  1. “Your House” (Bleed American, 2001)

And now, the original “Your House,” the only among the first five tracks on Bleed American that didn’t become an alt-rock radio staple in the early ‘00s. Despite that fact, I believe “Your House” played a critical role in the band’s history and the relationship fans would have with them over the long-term. “Your House” is sandwiched between “The Middle” and “Sweetness” on BA‘s track sequencing, and for people (like me) who came to discover the band because of “The Middle,” the appearance of “Your House” so early could seem surprising. That’s because on the surface level “Your House” doesn’t fit with the power alt-pop of what surrounds it: the acoustic guitar backing, what sort of sounds like organ providing a lurking backing, an otherworldly drumline march engineered by Zach and Trombino, and Jim’s yearning vocals, highlighting the band’s emo sensibilities: “I’ve thrown away everything I’ve written you / Oh anything just keep my mind from thinking / How I’ve had you once / Oh I can’t forget that / Sometimes I wish I could lose you again.” Songs like “The Middle” and “Sweetness” made people Jimmy Eat World fans in 2002. But songs like “Your House” kept them fans for much longer.

  1. “Closer” (Stay On My Side Tonight EP, 2005)

The three best songs from SOMST, along with a solid chunk of the best songs from Futures (most of which we’ll get to shortly) represent Jim’s absolute apex as a lyricist. The fame he’d experienced after “The Middle” caught fire might have given him a different perspective, on his relationships and on himself. “Closer” is a song that possibly explores those themes as the emotional center of SOMST and one of their most underrated songs. It seems to be about a long distance relationship that isn’t working as either person intended. “Touch and taste / Fades with space / I’ll never be / Who you dream”; “You’ll have yours / I’ll have mine / No one guilty / No one right;” “I’m gonna drive fast all night until I get there” Beyond the lyrics, “Closer” is a titanic achievement of JEW’s overall guitar sound, with Jim and Tom putting in some of my favorite guitar work here that they’ve ever put to record. I love the ringing guitar intro, which repeats in the outro as a nice bookend. I love the way the guitars build after the second chorus, through the breakdown, before exploding in euphoria for the solo. There’s so much guitar it’s hard to keep track. And, I’ve loved “Closer” since that first fall at college when I first heard it, and I love that all these years later I keep finding amazing things in it.

  1. “Ten” (Clarity, 1999)

If I haven’t already been doing it, I’ll be gushing a lot about Clarity the closer we get to the end of this list. I celebrate the entire record; there isn’t a second of it I don’t absolutely adore. The best part of the album, however, is the second half, which I define as everything that happens after “12.23.95.” And that starts with “Ten,” a jumpy-rhythm jaunt the guys have said was built over a series of tape loops of different drum tracks. I have talked, and will continue to talk, about the unparalleled ability for Trombino to get the best work out of these guys and especially Zach (Trombino was Drive Like Jehu’s drummer). That ability turned “Ten,” a fairly straightforward track, into something more special. I’ll mention Jim’s battle with substance abuse in more detail soon, but there are some hints at that battle in the lyrics here: “Our weakness is the same / We need poison sometimes”; “I can’t bring myself to say it / it’s my own advice I need / Nowhere and then nowhere / Living trapped inside the chase.” The piano work by Jim throughout, as well as the choppy guitar work, make “Ten” really stand out, and kick off the finest stretch of songs in their catalogue.

  1. “Digits” (Static Prevails, 1996)

This is Jimmy Eat World’s first true creative accomplishment. In fact, all these years later, there really isn’t a song they’ve done like it and at this point I’d be surprised if they ever do again. What makes “Digits” so different is its three distinct movements over seven-and-a-half minutes. The first 2:30 or so is all instrumental, building throughout with creeping dread. There’s a brief breakdown and then, out of nowhere, Jim screams “PAYYYY ATTENTION!!!” and it’s virtually impossible for the listener not to heed that command. That starts the second movement, which could have stood on its own as a regular emo-influenced rock track from SP. Jim really goes for it with the vocals, while he and Tom trade guitar licks (Tom even gets in the act with the vocals, creating a nice call-and-response in parts). After a few minutes of this, it feels like the song ends…before the soft arpeggios of Jim and Tom’s guitars come back, and Jim puts his most vulnerable, naked vocal performance to this point in his career on record to finish out the song. “I really want to care / When you say / ‘I’ll change that'” he practically whispers. “I just don’t feel a thing / When you say / ‘We’ll get there, someday.'” The easiest thing in the world the band and Trombino could have done was just make a simple emo song out of that middle part and forget about the other stuff. Instead, they turned “Digits” into a masterpiece of the form, and didn’t really care if people might find it weird. It is weird, and it is wonderful.

  1. “Evidence” (Invented, 2010)

There are a lot of bitter breakup songs JEW has done over the past quarter century, and this might be the most bitter. “Hang up the sheets / Between our things / You won’t have to see / Evidence.” Yikes. Hammering the point home are the power chords after the choruses, and these come together beautifully late in the song when Jim sings the chorus over those same bashing power chords. Augmenting Jim’s vocals on “Evidence” and throughout most of Invented is Courtney Marie Andrews, who was 19 at the time it was recorded but in the intervening years has become an accomplished country artist in her own right. Her voice perfectly accents Jim’s all over “Evidence,” adding the right touch to that song’s inherent drama. Also: here are the guys playing “Evidence” with Andrews at KROQ in LA around the time Invented was released. Hilariously, they brought more equipment than could fit in the small room where they usually have bands play, and as a result it looks like they stuck Tom in a hallway. Poor Tom.

  1. “If You Don’t, Don’t” (Bleed American, 2001)

Now we’re starting to get into the really good stuff. Jim said “If You Don’t, Don’t” originated from meeting up with a friend who was into Britpop, and that’s where the bright, clean, downstrokey (this piece is so long that I’m now starting to make up words) guitar melody that ripples throughout came from. It started out in a little bit more of what Jim called a “frantic” format before the guitar parts were more evened out and layered, producing one of their most jangle-pop songs, reminiscent of bands like the La’s. It’s also one of the band’s more intricately-recorded songs: Jim physically toyed with the delay on Tom’s parts to create that swirling effect you hear throughout. Those palm-muted notes in the choruses really take things to another level. Lyrically, Jim is talking about a relationship that either never happened or never went anywhere, and harkens back to possibly some the demons from his past: “I’m sorry that I’m such a mess / I drank all my money could get / I took everything that we have / And then I never loved you back.” “If You Don’t, Don’t” is such a memorable BA song, but one many people don’t know or may not realize is by them.

  1. “You Are Free” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

One of the very best things about Integrity Blues is the lack of filler. Typically Jimmy Eat World records stack the best songs in the front half before finishing strong. That isn’t the case with Integrity Blues (nor would I say it’s the case with Surviving upon these first listens). “You Are Free” is a true standout from an album with many such standouts, a song like several coming up that I can faithfully and truly say could have appeared on any JEW album. Lyrically, Jim has gotten more philosophical as the years have gone on, as he, the band, and their fans have grown together. One of the best recent examples of this is “You Are Free.” “Amazing the emotional bridges / Tunnels, roads and ways / We go around / What’s one step from our face.” Even when Jim tells his subject they’re free, it’s with the kind of qualifiers we so often put on any given situation. You’re free, as much as you can stand to be. Or, whatever you think being free actually means. He proclaims all of this over typically amazing Zach drums and so many great guitar parts. This is one of those songs, when it came out, that made me feel so lucky to still be a fan of this great band after all these years.

  1. “Better Than Oh” (Jimmy Eat World/Emery Split 7”, 1995)

I believe this is the oldest song on this list, and the first one that really pointed to any modicum of the promise the band achieved a few years later. As I noted in the first part of this list, I didn’t include anything from their first, self-titled, independently-released and out-of-print record because it isn’t very good (you can listen to it here). “Better Than Oh,” released on a split 7” the next year, is their first good song. The opening seconds of “Better Than Oh” feature the laughter of the guys, including Jim’s unmistakable cackle. It was a harbinger of the ease they’d use to approach “Better Than Oh,” a rocker with a fine punk rock vocal performance by Tom, and generally one of their best early punk guitar performances. If there was an question all these years later about this band’s punk roots, look no further than this old chestnut with a chorus this is mostly just Tom screaming “DEFY!!!!” at the top of his lungs.

  1. “half heart” (“Love Never” single, 2018)

I’m following the oldest song on this list with one of the newest. The “Love Never” single was released in 2018, the first new music from the band in a couple years, and while I praised the A-side in Part I, it’s “half heart,” the B-side, that is far superior. It’s an acoustic ballad, a tender expression of beauty, a grand, sprawling piece that befits a band who’s seen it all and isn’t afraid of its future. “There’s peace out there somewhere in time / But I’m as real as you will find.” And it ends with the simple, plaintive statement: “Either you’re hear or you’re not.” There is a degree of soft emotionality this band can get to that they first really explored on Clarity and spent the interim 20 years perfecting. “half heart” is proof that all these years later, they can still find that place, a place few bands can ever get to. Jimmy Eat World elected not to put “half heart” on Surviving, which is understandable, as it may not have fully fit on such a hard-charging record. It probably would have made more sense to appear on Integrity Blues. But I’m so glad “half heart” exists and that we got to experience it mostly on its own.

  1. “Futures” (Futures, 2004)

I voted for the first time a couple weeks after Futures’ release. It’s sort of weird today to think this song was effectively about pinning the hopes of the world on John Kerry (not unlike the National’s “Mr. November,” released about a year later). But “Futures,” anchored by an absolute motherfucker of a guitar hook that explodes from the first second, is far and away the best political song in JEW’s catalogue. (Well, at least their best overt political song. “Congratulations,” the epic closer of Surviving, is among their best political songs that isn’t overtly political. But I digress.) This one has so many great lines about our solemn civic duties, ones I took to heart at 18 and continue to take to heart today. “We’re wide awake and we’re thinking.” “Believe your voice can mean something.” These are lines that play in my head every Election Day and remind me of how important the privilege of voting really is, and it’s why the right to vote remains my most passionate issue. I have to say “Futures” at least played some role in that being the case for me.

  1. “Cautioners” (Bleed American, 2001)

“Cautioners” is perhaps BA’s most underrated song. It’s one that only this band could have pulled off at this particular time in their history. It took the innovation they’d explored on Clarity and mixed it with the polish of BA. That super-cool drum effect that Zach created no doubt with Trombino’s guidance. The lyrics of longing not to mention one of my favorite JEW songs to play on guitar. They did redo it some years later, but “Cautioners” is up there among their most perfect songs. Also: shortly after I fell in love with BA, I was sitting in study hall one day and someone had left a note with the lyrics to the chorus of “Cautioners” in a very ornate design on the floor. I wish I figured out who that person was. Also, also: in 2007 the band played a hometown show in Mesa that was recorded via the soundboard and included a truly phenomenal acoustic version of “Cautioners” for which I can’t find a link. You’ll just have to trust me that it was amazing.

  1. “No, Never” (Damage, 2013)

Damage is a good record. I’ve littered this list throughout with its songs. It’s a perfectly pleasant collection of the kind of melodic guitar-based rock tunes these guys have been doing for years. But six years later, it feels…I don’t know…inconsequential, as a whole? There are a few filler songs here and there, ones that just aren’t all that remarkable. And that’s…OK! JEW is one of my favorite bands ever and you already know from what I’ve said about CTL that I don’t think everything they’ve done is perfect. Even a great band like them isn’t going to knock it out of the park every time. That’s sort of what makes “No, Never” stand out. For late-period JEW, it’s extremely straightforward with few frills (there are some synths in the background of the breakdown but that’s about it). However, it’s a song with a perfectly plotted-out beginning, middle and end. But it rocks, it moves and paints a very vivid portrait of a relationship’s demise. Also: I once pointed out to Zach on Twitter that the lyrics to “No, Never” seemed to perfectly spell out a potential conversation between Walter and Skylar White and he agreed, albeit acknowledging it’s just a coincidence. Check out the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean.

  1. “Robot Factory” (Static Prevails, 1996)

All these years later I still have no idea what the hell is happening in “Robot Factory.” It has some of the best punk-inspired guitar work of the band’s entire career. And it is probably Tom’s all-time best (and certainly most memorable) vocal performance. It’s a spellbinding, all-out rocker and showed a glimpse of the kind of band and musicians these guys would ultimately turn into. But, like, what the fuck is going on here? Did Tom really write a song from the perspective of a robot who wants to destroy the people who created him? Seriously? I can guarantee you this is the only song on this list that may or may not be about a robot apocalypse. Anyway, “Robot Factory” is heavy as a motherfucker and I can’t listen to it enough.

  1. “Clarity” (Clarity, 1999)

If I could pick a specific set of songs that identifies what I want out of music, I would look no further than the 13 songs on Clarity, because they have everything. Hard rock, soft rock, experimentation, weirdness, emotional rawness, songs of want and yearning, otherworldly musicianship and an all-time vocal performance by one Jim Adkins. Virtually all those things appear on the title track. “Clarity” is a revelation, the platonic ideal of a powerhouse emo song. The guitars swirl, swish and slam, the drums and bass rumble, and the screeching power chords over the final pre-chorus breakdown represent some of the most chill-inducing work they ever did. As if that wasn’t enough, “Clarity” also has  some of the best lyrics of any Jimmy Eat World song. “And with pride / Keep every failure in / And with pride / Hold onto your sinking”, “Wait for something better / Maybe that doesn’t mean us?”; “Pull one excuse for another / This time it means stop.” But in the end, the overall emotion of “Clarity” is fairly simple, like so many of their best songs: “I don’t know how / But I know I want out.” Clarity has everything. And so does “Clarity.” 

  1. “A Sunday” (Clarity, 1999)

Through their tenure, JEW has decidedly taken an anti-drug stance where applicable. “A Sunday” was the first stark pronouncement of this. Jim’s been public about his struggles with alcohol, and his decision to stop drinking earlier this decade has been mentioned a few times in this piece. Given that, “A Sunday” has taken on a special significance, and feels particularly poignant now. Musically, “A Sunday” is one of the band’s most advanced pieces, with the drama building throughout before blowing up in the final chorus. The use of strings added the perfect touch. Jim’s voice carries the emotion of the song so well. And the lyrics bring a little something for everyone: “The haze clears from your eyes / On a Sunday” could be taken any number of ways; I’m sure the more religious among us have used this song as a hymn of sorts. No matter what way you look at it, “A Sunday” is one of the true highlights from their greatest album, the kind of thing that’s hard to fathom coming from a bunch of dudes in their early 20s. Also: a long ass time ago the band posted a video on their website of Jim walking through the streets of Tokyo singing “A Sunday” over a digitized rendition of the music. This was before YouTube was really a thing. It took me a while to find it, but here it is. Based on Jim’s hair, I would say this was during the Futures touring timeline.

  1. “The Authority Song” (Bleed American, 2001)

It’s that riff. That opening, bouncy riff that goes over and over through most of the song. It brings a smile to my face every damn time, and we’re coming up on two decades of this one being in my heavy rotation. “The Authority Song” is a pop rock jaunt, the kind that became the enduring memory of everything we remember about Bleed American all these years later. It’s loaded with references to past musical heroes (the title is a direct reference to the John Cougar Mellencamp song of effectively the same name), but is mostly about awkwardly trying to impress someone you like (something we have mostly all experienced). Musically, it’s such a blast: the way Jim and Tom bend that guitar note right at the end of the breakdown is a memorable coda on a memorable song. I love everything about “The Authority Song,” a genuine expression of joy, the perfect song for that era. It will never not remind me of being young, having a modicum of freedom and not a lot of responsibilities. That’s a pretty cool thing to have in a song.

  1. “Disintegration” (Stay On My Side Tonight EP, 2005)

Here’s a fun thought experiment that will drive you completely insane if you’re like me: if you replaced the three worst songs on Futures (“Drugs or Me,” “Night Drive” and “Nothingwrong” or “Pain,” take your pick) with “Disintegration,” “Over” and “Closer,” would that make Futures JEW’s best album? Don’t answer that. SOMST stands powerfully on its own, thanks in part to “Disintegration,” perhaps the angriest and moodiest song in their entire catalogue. The brooding guitars, Jim’s creeping, searing vocals and Zach’s minimal but pounding drum track set an unreal scene for a song unlike any other in their history. The choruses forge onward like a death march (“Wonder why I’m so caught off guard / When we kiss / Rather live my life in regret / Than do this”), and the song hits its outro coda with a bazillion Jim voices singing the same lines over and over like a zombie mantra. “Disintegration” is fucking wild, and I can’t tell you how glad I am the guys ended up releasing it. Also, I suspect this song’s title, and overall feeling, is a nod to the Cure, whom all four members of the band have publicly cited as an influence.

  1. “Big Casino” (Chase This Light, 2007)

It was late summer 2007 and I was preparing to hit the road for my junior year of college when “Big Casino” arrived. Besides SOMST the band had been fairly quiet as far as new music was concerned for much of the previous three years. So, that opening guitar rush, Jim plaintively saying “steady” and the huge intro power chords were a welcome addition to my August driving playlists. As a fan, I’ve become used to these big-sounding alt-rock smashes as the first JEW songs to appear from their records. But, “Big Casino” was really the single that ushered in this style, and for the most part, none of those early album tracks have stacked up to what they accomplished with “Big Casino.” To say the guitars sound massive on this song is a disservice: they’re gargantuan, mountainous. Zach does a simply masterful job with the drumming on this one. And it’s yet another song about trying to pick yourself up despite the odds. “There’s still some living left when your prime comes and goes,” Jim opines before the last chorus. The intervening dozen years have proven that eminently true for these guys. Also: the title of this song is an oblique reference to Jim’s solo project Go Big Casino, which I will discuss in more depth regarding a song near the end of this list.

  1. “Polaris” (Futures, 2004)

More than any other album they’ve done, Futures has an extremely specific feel, a feel summed up perfectly by two things: the cover art, and “Polaris.” The word that comes to mind most with “Polaris”: sinister. Everything about it, from the lurching background guitars, the creeping twinkle of the melodies, the blistering main guitar notes, Jim’s half-whispered verse vocals, and the topper of the chorus: “You’re killing everything in me.” Shit, this one might be more sinister than even “Disintegration” and that’s saying something. “Polaris” is an encapsulation of the band’s conscious decision to not follow up BA with BA 2.0, but instead do what they wanted with Futures. You could argue this wasn’t the greatest monetary decision they ever made, but it’s what got us songs like “Polaris” and several others still to come here. Also: there is a reference toward the end of the breakdown to Gare du Nord, a train station in Paris, that I briefly stopped in during my honeymoon this year. I have to say, though, it wasn’t until researching this piece that I realized that was the lyric. 

  1. “Be Sensible” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)

I loved CTL when it came out. But how do I really feel about it now? Despite having several spectacular songs, it’s their weakest album since their debut. There’s just too much filler. It sounds too clean, too slick, too meticulously put together. Their decision to basically produce the album themselves with a supervisory assist from Butch Vig was a mistake and one they haven’t repeated on subsequent albums. It should say something that I’m ranking “Be Sensible” higher than all but one song on CTL proper. But, enough about my misgivings on the album: “Be Sensible” is a masterful accomplishment and perhaps their best song that the fewest people have heard (as far as I know this song has never been played live). It feels like a dream, something conjured while wafting off to sleep, as if it had been created by cherubs and otherworldly beings. The sparkling and sparse instrumentation, the high harmonies in the breakdown, Jim’s tender vocals: almost everything about “Be Sensible” is a revelation, making it one of the band’s very best non-album tracks. “Swing with all you have,” Jim coos in the chorus, “stop me if you can.” As soon as the hardcore fan community got wind of its existence, it vaulted into something of a legendary status, and caused some wistful feelings, including one I still feel today: if only all of CTL had sounded like “Be Sensible.”

  1. “Lucky Denver Mint” (Clarity, 1999)

“The Middle” truly broke Jimmy Eat World, but the first song that gained them any kind of recognition and forced Capitol’s hand to actually release Clarity was “Lucky Denver Mint.” Zach recently recounted the story on Twitter: Craig Aaronson signed JEW to Capitol and never stopped believing in them despite the label’s horrible handling of the young band. Once Clarity was finished, the band strongly suspected Capitol would never release it. Aaronson, who passed away a few years ago, took “Lucky Denver Mint” and gave it to LA’s iconic KROQ, it connected with the audience, and Capitol then had to release Clarity. “Lucky Denver Mint” made its way onto the soundtrack of Drew Barrymore’s rom-com bomb Never Been Kissed, and suddenly people knew who these guys were. With “Lucky Denver Mint,” the band started the process of melding fast-paced, heart-on-your-sleeve punk with shimmery pop. There’s no question this laid the groundwork for the pop-rock mastery of Bleed American, but it also stands on its own as a phenomenal achievement, something so fun to enjoy all these years later. Oh, and then there’s the music video. No more words need be said.

  1. “No Sensitivity” (Jebediah & Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 2000)

In between their two best albums, Jimmy Eat World released “No Sensitivity.” It’s a song worthy of being on either Clarity or Bleed American, but on its own, as part of the split 7″ that also gave us “The Most Beautiful Things”, “No Sensitivity” got the chance to shine and be remembered by itself. Those who know it have been rewarded for nearly two decades as a result. It starts with a bang, some of the most expressive and punk-inspired guitar work they’ve done. Lyrically, Jim usually says he doesn’t write songs from his own perspective, but whoever or whatever inspired “No Sensitivity” must have done something to him to warrant such sentiments of bitter invective: “I’m taking my kisses back from you / I want my kisses back from you”; “The world don’t spin without you / I’m amazed you’re standing still”; “Cry if you want / The return of no sensitivity / You don’t have to scream / To say something you honestly mean.” The band has not regularly played “No Sensitivity” live in many years, but it was part of the encores for the Clarity x 10 tour and was a fan favorite. They may not have rocked it as hard as they did on the original 7″, but it was still great and still drove home the feeling from a decade earlier. The world still don’t spin without “No Sensitivity.”

  1. “You With Me” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

Before convening to record their 9th studio album, JEW asked themselves an honest question: “Why should we make another record?” Not many successful bands with over two decades under their belts would ask such an audacious question, but they were honest about it in their media interviews leading up to the release of Integrity Blues. Speaking about the idea of continuous improvement, Jim told an Arizona radio station, “I think every day you’re not asking yourself that, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to grow. Why do any of this right now? If you’ve got an answer for that, then nothing can touch you. If you don’t have an answer, then you’ve got your marching orders for the day.” Ever the introspective group, they took their perspective and cranked out their best album in over a decade and the massive-sounding table setter “You With Me” signals that recommitment to excellence immediately. Exhilarating, life-affirming, bright and exciting at an almost heavenly level, “You With Me” is everything that was missing from Damage and a good chunk of Invented. From the opening acoustic strums and high harmonies, to the frantic drumming and massive-sounding choruses, “You With Me” is everything you’d want from a Jimmy Eat World song and such a memorable opening to a great record. It is the supremely confident sound of a band using over 20 years of experience to show their capabilities, and to say they weren’t going anywhere.

  1. “Blister” (Clarity, 1999)

Mr. Linton’s Opus. “Blister” is the one they still play live every show to give Tom his much-deserved spotlight (and always gets a huge crowd response no matter what). Musically, “Blister” is exactly what you’d expect from the band at that particular point in Clarity‘s phenomenal rundown, a pop-punk marvel on an album full of them. But if songs are supposed to be about painting pictures with words, there is no more vivid image in JEW’s entire catalogue than the idea of Tom, in a last-man-on-Earth scenario, walking across America to get away from the traumatized West Coast. Tom thinks he’s the only one still alive, but is that a reference to the end of a relationship or an actual humanity-destroying apocalyptic event? Given what I’ve already surmised about “Robot Factory” I guess the latter can’t be ruled out. Either way, “Blister” rocks my face off and has for nearly the last two decades. Also: am I though only one who for years thought Tom was singing “And I’m drinking a beer” instead of “In a blanket of fear” during the bridge? No? OK, me neither. Also, also: one of the YouTube videos for “Blister” includes the song over a still image of Forrest Gump and Jenny which is a pretty clever reference to one of the more enduring parts of that movie. (Does Forrest’s cross-country run end in Arizona? Hmm.)

  1. “Bleed American” (Bleed American, 2001)

After what happened with Clarity, Jimmy Eat World had a right to be pissed off. They’d poured their souls into an incredible record, been mistreated by their label, kicked to the curb and left to fend for themselves. Some of that anger and venom comes across on the opening and title track to what would be their most popular record. This is the highest-ranking album-opener here, and does it ever make a statement. The opening riff of “Bleed American” hits like a battering ram breaking down a door and knocking everyone over. Jim sings about staving off insanity (“I’m not crazy cuz I take the right pills / Everyday”) before the yells of the chorus: “SALT SWEAT / SUGAR ON THE ASPHALT! / OUR HEARTS / LITTERING THE TOPSOIL!” They totally go for it with the solo as Zach bashes away on the drums. The band would try to recreate this type of song again in the future (see my entry for “Pain” in Part I) but would never quite hit the visceral high of “Bleed American” again in their career. Also: as I’ve mentioned, and will mention much more as we get to the end of this list, I spent almost all of my high school years loving this band above all others. After graduation, our class went on an overnight trip to Boston and when we got back to school the next day, some kids from our graphics program had put together a video that we watched in our school’s lecture hall. Part of the video was a montage of sporting highlights from our class and it was soundtracked by…”Bleed American.” My jaw hit the floor. I had nothing to do with putting it together, but it almost felt like divine intervention.

  1. “Anderson Mesa” (Static Prevails, 1996)

Static Prevails doesn’t get much love these days. It’s incredibly, exceedingly rare for JEW to ever play anything from it live anymore. It’s also true it isn’t their strongest album. It’s evident they were trying to figure a lot of things out while they were making it. The guys have said on many occasions they were signed to Capitol before they really knew how to be a band. In a recent interview, Zach told Ian Cohen that when he hears SP these days, “he compares it to looking at a past version of himself ‘wearing a Jimmy’z hat.'” Commercially it was a spectacular failure and left them with a lot to prove. But there were definite signs of who they’d become, and that’s clearest on “Anderson Mesa,” the band’s inaugural epic album closer. There isn’t much here lyrically: Jim seems to be talking about a friend leaving home, (“Don’t leave without intentions / Of ever coming back”) but it’s a lot of the same lines over and over. This one is more about the feeling of Jim’s singing, the general epicness of the guitars, drums and strings, and the band showing where they’d be going as they signed off from SP. An all-around awesome effort by a bunch of dudes who were like 20. Also, because I cannot possibly get enough of live ‘90s Jimmy Eat World footage, here are the guys playing “Anderson Mesa” in Tempe in 1999. You’re welcome.

  1. “What I Would Say To You Now” (Jejune | Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 1997)

As you’ve probably noticed, with such a granular view that I’m taking on the music of one band, I’ve called out a lot of songs that signaled shifts in the band’s sound over time. After Static flopped, there was more than a good chance the band would end up going nowhere. Instead, they kept honing their craft. Where “Anderson Mesa” pointed to something bigger for their capabilities, “What I Would Say To You Now” shows their mastery of the short, punchy, emo-punk rocker. This is the post-Static work that indicated Jimmy Eat World were figuring out who they were. (Side note: for years there was debate among fans on whether this song was actually titled “What I Would Say To You Now” or “What Would I Say To You Now.” I’m not sure how this happened because I have only ever seen the former on official releases, but it was a debate nonetheless. We had a lot of very interesting things to talk about, and time on our hands, back then.) Amidst ripping guitar and drums, Jim spins a tale about a relationship falling apart over a lack of communication: “It’s all the wrong I’ve done / All the wrong I’ll do / Keeps me from trying / It keeps me quiet”; “And when we talk / Think what we say / There’s questions / Then silence”; “Hope makes you so strong / Strength keeps you alone / Far away.” I don’t believe the band has played this one live in about 10 years and when they did on the Clarity x 10 tour, like with “No Sensitivity,” Jim didn’t really go for it vocally, which was understandable given they usually played it near the end of their set. But musically, it still packed a wallop, and that feeling hasn’t subsided in the 20+ years since it was released.

  1. “Goodbye Sky Harbor” (Clarity, 1999)

Jim and Zach have said the band threw the kitchen sink into the recording process for Clarity because they never expected to get to make another record. The kitchen sink approach is best exemplified on Clarity’s epic closer. Not only does it not make any sense that this song ended up being so good, so memorable and so successful, the song itself barely makes any sense. Yet, here it is. “Goodbye Sky Harbor” starts out as a relatively straightforward rocker with heavy guitars in the verses, quiet acoustic strums in the choruses and lyrics based on John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. The song begins to break down after nearly three minutes, with Jim singing about flying “above palm trees” before breaking into a beautiful, looping instrumental round. Then, things start to get weird. Voices start jumping in from unexpected places. Organ notes appear. Guitar sounds fly in and out. It’s a marvel of vocal layering in the recording process. Then, at about the 13-minute mark things start to get REALLY weird. The drums start up and eventually speed to a breakneck pace. Wait, are those marimba notes played backwards? Is that actually a human’s voice? Then a veritable disco jam breaks out. The song is 16 frickin’ minutes long, before it warps to a finish. What a ride, and what a song. Also: when doing “Goodbye Sky Harbor” live through the years, the band typically plays those first five minutes or so, does a ripping reprise of the chorus and that’s pretty much it. But on the Clarity x 10 tour, they did something very different, utilizing delays and layering technology to recreate a good chunk of the end of the recorded version of the track. What a treat that was to see, and one of my all-time favorite live performances of any song. Here they are doing it in New York, a few days before I saw them.

  1. “Sweetness” (Bleed American, 2001)

“The Middle” is the JEW song everyone knows. But, I’d argue “Sweetness” is their best live song, the one that always gets the crowd going most, usually either right before or after they play “The Middle” (for years, the band played “Sweetness” last at every show, but they’ve gone back to doing the “The Middle”). “Sweetness” isn’t really the sugary sweet pop song the title suggests: it’s really kind of sad and is about not getting what you want in life. But perhaps no song they have packs as much energy into just a few short minutes. Despite its popularity, “Sweetness” has long divided the fanbase: the band posted an early demo themselves and started playing it live in the Clarity era almost immediately. The version that ended up on BA is pretty different (although not different enough for me to separate them out for this). However, the live version the band has played for about 20 years is closer to the demo than what’s on BA, and that’s why I think most longtime fans prefer the demo (I’m agnostic on this myself). In a live setting, “Sweetness” is unassailable, with all four guys always bringing their best. The perfectly-timed “Oh-ohs” from the crowd are such a blast. And every time they finish it, “Sweetness” leaves you wanting a little bit more. What a sweet thing that is.

  1. “Kill” (Futures, 2004)

Of the vaunted Futures fan favorites, I feel like “Kill” gets the least love. Maybe that’s because I have an inflated opinion of it compared to some. But it checks so many of the boxes of things I want from a phenomenal Jimmy Eat World song: lyrics of longing and heartache against a cheery-sounding musical background, acoustic and electric guitar melodies, a driving rhythm, and even an Elliott Smith reference (“Like your favorite Heatmiser song goes / It’s just like being alone.” The guys would go on to cover that exact song for SOMST.) But, unlike almost every JEW song, “Kill” doesn’t really have a chorus, unless you count the “I know what I should do / But I just can’t walk away” at the end of several of the verses. That goes to show just how much Jim wanted to get across on “Kill.” This song is packed to the gills with tormented feelings of love lost and the confusing fallout from giving yourself over to someone and not having it turn out the way you intended. Funny how I’m nervous still / I’ve always been the easy kill / I guess I always will”; “Oh God, please don’t tell me / This has been in vain / I need answers for what all the waiting I’ve done means.” In the breakdown, after seeing his beloved’s face in the mirror of his hotel bar, he’s despondent and feeling hopeless: “I loved you / And I should have said it / But tell me / Just what has it ever meant?” All the while, the music keeps building and building with more and more drama; the way the instruments drive during that last verse is just spellbinding. Also: during senior year of college I used this song for an English assignment where we were supposed to analyze a popular song’s lyrics and compare it to love poems of the Victorian era. I got an A, because Jimmy Eat World has never steered me wrong.

  1. “A Praise Chorus” (Bleed American, 2001)

For all the years I’ve seen JEW live, only one thing has been constant: they play “A Praise Chorus” within in the first three songs of every show. And that’s with good reason. It’s such a kick-ass, energetic mover, driven by an otherworldly Zach drumming performance, power chords galore, Jim’s hair-on-fire vocals, and hell, even Rick has a chance to shine on this one. “A Praise Chorus” has just an absurd number of touchstones that make it such a key part of their history: Jim’s pre-chorus stutters, the Promise Ring’s Davey von Bohlen showing up to sing the lyrics to “Crimson and Clover” while Jim interpolates “Our House” almost like a rap, followed by von Bohlen getting his own shoutout in the last chorus (“Come on Davey / Sing me something that I know”), and general lyrics with a feeling of picking yourself up and believing in yourself that would be repeated on the next song on BA, which happens to the next BA song on the list. “A Praise Chorus” kicks a significant amount of ass, and it’s one of the songs I always look forward to rocking out to every time I see them. And, it never disappoints.

  1. “Stop” (Invented, 2010)

I don’t know if what I’m about to say is true, but it’s always been my theory (my best one, you could say) and I’m sticking with it: at the turn of the decade, and after CTL didn’t yield any major widespread hits, I believe Jimmy Eat World decided to stop chasing the fame/money/airplay dragon, always make whatever album they wanted to make at that moment, and trust their instincts that it would be good and their fans would be on board. That started with Invented, an underrated record that was certainly a major bounceback after CTL. To look forward, they had to look back: patching things up with Trombino was the right call, and the result was creative, exciting and, well, inventive. In the midst of all this is “Stop.” When I think of this band, and the sound they’ve tried to cultivate for the last quarter century, it’s hard not to conjure “Stop,” and I can’t help but feel Trombino’s touch had at least something to do with it. It’s the kind of song that could parachute into virtually any album in their catalogue (it was first recorded for CTL but saved for Invented). With their pal Rachel Haden supplying sublime backing to Jim’s yearning vocals, “Stop” is a full-band effort: soft and then hard, sad and hopeful, a great guitar solo and heavenly vocal sounds. “You want to make me mad? / Stop, ‘cuz I am.” When that signature feedbacky guitar comes in at the end, you know you’ve heard something special, something unforgettable. “Stop” signaled the start of an unexpectedly great decade for the band, one that’s carried them through Surviving and hopefully into the 2020s.

  1. “Work” (Futures, 2004)

Context is key for me when it comes to “Work,” the best of what you’d call classic JEW songs on Futures. It was essentially the perfect song for me at the perfect time in my life. Imagine this scenario: it’s fall 2004, I’m a high school senior living in the same town with the same kids for my entire existence. I’m *this close* to leaving that behind for greener pastures (don’t get me wrong, I was one of those weirdos who loved high school, but like everyone else, moving on was a pretty exciting proposition). So, in the middle of this, my favorite band puts out an album that just so happens to have an effectively-perfect guitar pop rock song with Jim Adkins and Liz Phair singing “Can we take a ride / And get out of this place while we still have time?” over and over in the chorus? And they put out a music video for the song (linked above) centered on kids going through the EXACT THING I was going through? Yeah, there was no way I wasn’t going to love “Work.” The ascending/descending guitar riffs put it over the top. It’s great song from a great record that came along at the exact right moment for me. Also: for fans of “The Office”: someone made an incredible YouTube montage of Jim (Halpert) and Pam’s story set to “Work,” but it has sadly disappeared from the Internet. I would like to think Jim and Pam were Jimmy Eat World fans, but who knows.

  1. “Sure and Certain” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

The first song released from Integrity Blues was “Get Right.” It didn’t make this list because, well, it isn’t very good. It’s sort of a pale version of “Pain,” which personally is not what I want from Jimmy Eat World at all. I recall cringing hearing “Get Right” for the first time. Was Integrity Blues just going to confirm my worst fears about the forgettable parts of Damage, and signal a late-career decline? About a week later, they released “Sure and Certain.” I don’t know if that had anything to do with the initial reaction to “Get Right,” but needless to say, I changed my tune what the band had in store. It became my favorite song of 2016 and will always remind me of a great time in my life that fall. That big, brassy opening guitar riff always makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but that’s the first of so many great guitar parts throughout “Sure and Certain,” backed up by another fantastic Zach drumming performance. Lyrically, “Sure and Certain” touches on growing up, getting older and taking a look at who you are. “The clever ways I try to change / Happen and pass / Leaving me the same”; “What you do works for a time / Until you pass without a warning sign.” All along, the music keeps driving, keeps building, keeps moving. I think some fans loved “Sure and Certain” because it reminded them of what the band was once upon a time. To me, I loved it because it showed to me who Jimmy Eat World still was and who they could still be, and who they hopefully always will be. Without a doubt, the guys completely nailed “Sure and Certain,” and 23 years into their career, they released one of their greatest songs, and one of my very favorite songs released by anyone this decade. Not exactly an easy trick to pull off.

  1. “Crush” (Clarity, 1999)

When I first got into Jimmy Eat World, it took me a little time to warm up to Clarity in its totality. It wasn’t until that initial summer that I understood it to be a modern masterpiece. However, from the first time I heard the album, I immediately loved “Crush.” It was the hint of everything the band was about to become on Bleed American while still hanging onto the rawness of where they’d come from. What these guys started in shaping the sound of emo with the best parts of Static Prevails realized its potential with “Crush.” It contains some of their most lasting, most affecting lyrics: “my lungs are so numb from holding back” and “simple discourse breaks you clean in half” among them. It has one of the best combined Jim-Tom guitar performances they’ve ever done, especially the solo/breakdown before the final chorus. When they played this one live on the Clarity x 10 tour, I believe it elicited the biggest crowd reaction of nearly all the songs. I think everyone identified with it similarly to the way I had. While “Crush” might not be the best song they ever did, it paints a complete picture of the band they were trying to be in the late ‘90s. It’s the one song that is no longer in the band’s live repertoire that I most wish they’d bring back.

  1. “Carry You” (Chase This Light, 2007)

Man, did this one ever cause waves among hardcore fans when it came out. Jim first released a very soft song called “Carry You” as part of his side project, Go Big Casino, some years before CTL. JEW put out a song with the same name on CTL, but besides the melody and lyrics of the first verse, they’re entirely different songs. I always found the debate confounding and unfortunate (I wish they’d just called the band version something else), because the CTL “Carry You” is an unflinchingly beautiful piece of acoustic-driven pop rock. Jim’s voice soars in the choruses to a rare level, the lush guitars and wall-of-sound approach enveloping the listener fully.

Lyrically, “Carry You” is one gut punch after another. Going back to what I wrote about “Kill,” and have mentioned several times during this piece, this is the single-best song with happy (almost downright jolly) sounding music set against devastatingly sad lyrics. You’d think this would be hard to do, but the band has done it over and over for more than two decades. This list is heavily populated with breakup songs; “Carry You” is their best song overtly about a breakup. “Maybe a lie is what I need sometimes / You told the most and best of anyone.” “I pace around the room to spend the time / Waiting while the burning pictures fade.” And then the incredible final pre-chorus verse: “Roll down the windows / Let the cold air come in / Slap my face just feel you somehow again, again.” (The way Jim sings that second “again” on that last line is the best anyone has ever said, or sang, that word in history. For the record.)

It sort of goes without saying that I’ve been critical of CTL in this piece, and specifically its overproduction. But the attention to detail and soaring beauty was a significant strength for “Carry You,” making it an indelible album cut and far and away their best song of this era. “Carry You” also will always take me back to walking around the UNH campus during the fall semester of my junior year, a particularly fun time of my college years.

  1. “Just Watch the Fireworks” (Clarity, 1999)

“Here, you can be anything / Anything that scares you / I think that scares you.” I consider myself in something of a minority to say that I really enjoyed my high school years. I went to a small regional high school, had lots of people I considered friends, loved playing sports and generally have almost all good memories from my time there. At the same time, I was a loner, a kid with varied interests that didn’t always jibe with the people I was around everyday. I found solace in music. Discovering Jimmy Eat World freshman year was a seminal event (obviously). Here was something that spoke directly to where I was as both a fan of music and as a person. I mentioned in the “Crush” entry that it took me some time to really get into Clarity. By the time sophomore year came around, I was enamored with it. In particular, I could not believe that a song like “Just Watch the Fireworks” actually existed.

“Here, I’ve been here before / But only by myself.” For a band that just a couple years before was mostly doing straightforward punk songs with an emotional edge, “Just Watch the Fireworks” is a stratospheric leap. I don’t think you could call it baroque pop, but the level of sophistication, in the music, vocals and production, is just astounding. The strings that come in over the last breakdown take it to a level unimaginable for most early-20s punks. That leads into the lyrics, and they’re just as beautiful as the music. A very literal reading of “Just Watch the Fireworks” is it’s about making out with someone under fireworks. But it’s much, much more than that. For years, I’ve felt it was about going someplace with someone you care about, some kind of a journey, and feeling the connection of experiencing that journey together. It doesn’t matter if the destination is a physical place, a goal, or a concept. It’s about knowing in your heart that you’ve gotten to that place, with someone.

“I promised I’d see it again / I promised I’d see this with you now.” For a kid trying to figure out who they were, a song like “Just Watch the Fireworks” provided that solace I was talking about earlier. It provided me the space I needed. Just enough space to fit, even. More on Clarity, and the incredible part of that album featuring this song, coming very shortly.

  1. “The Middle” (Bleed American, 2001)

It’s the one everyone knows. It’s the one that we’ll be hearing in some form or fashion for as long as we live, and it will be around long after we’re all gone. In preparing their last-ditch, self-funded effort to save their careers, Jimmy Eat World wrote a song that will last forever. Have you ever heard anyone say “God, I HATE that song” about “The Middle?” Admit it, you smile every time you hear that opening riff, every time Jim starts telling his subject not to write themselves off yet, every time the choruses crash, every time Jim launches into that Springsteen-style solo. Maybe it brings you back to where you were when it dominated the airwaves, or whenever it first entered your life. I know for me, as a high school freshman, it was exactly what I needed in every way.

It’s become something of a trope for serious fans of JEW to drag on “The Middle” a bit. It never really had anything to do with whether or not the song was good. It was more that familiar resentment when an unknown band you feel possessive over suddenly gets famous. I know back in the message board days, I felt a bit inadequate because I discovered the band through of “The Middle” and only listened to Clarity after I knew Bleed American front to back. But, in the end, “The Middle” is why the band was able to keep making records after Bleed American, why they’ve maintained their place in the music scene for so long, and why people around the world know them. I think fans of all stripes can and do appreciate that. Certainly for me personally, I wouldn’t have written over 20,000 words about this band if it wasn’t for “The Middle.”

With this song, JEW managed to combine an insanely-tight, early-aughts power pop sensibility with a universal message of perseverance and advice for when you need it the most. “The Middle” is a veritable hook factory, sure, but the lyrics are why it has persisted in our culture, and why almost every kid born since 1985 knows all the words. It changed my life forever, and I still love it just as much as I did on that cold morning when I saw the video on MTV for the first time. That’s an awfully special thing.

  1. “For Me This Is Heaven” (Clarity, 1999)

It’s been 20 years since Clarity first appeared, and 17 since I first fell in love with it. It’s an album that despite its 64-minute running time and the thousands of listens through the years still gives me chills every time I put it on. It does take me back to the best of my high school memories but it doesn’t just color that one period of my life. These are songs that have always stayed with me and are always there for me when I need them. No song exemplifies this more for me than “For Me This Is Heaven,” which forms an unreal pairing right after “Just Watch the Fireworks” during Clarity’s knockout second half. It’s like, not even fair that they put those two songs that always bring tears to my eyes back-to-back on one of my favorite albums of all time.

It’s true that “For Me This Is Heaven” is, like “Just Watch the Fireworks,” ultimately about making out with someone under a starry sky. But at just about every turn of my life for the last 17 years, some part of “For Me This Is Heaven” has spoken directly to me. “If I don’t let myself be happy now then when? If not now, when?” “Can you still feel the butterflies? Can you still hear the last goodnight?” “I close my eyes and believe / That wherever you are / An angel for me.” And then there’s the perfect arpeggio guitars, the piano driving things forward, the feeling of yearning for what you want but may not always be able to reach. I’ve always found it to be an amazing distillation of everything the band has always done well. And I know avowed superfan Taylor Swift agrees with me.

One of the best moments of my life came in 2018 when I took my then-fiance and now-wife to her first Jimmy Eat World show, and I got to hold her while the guys played another perfect rendition of this song. I got to share “For Me This Is Heaven” with the “angel for me” I had always known was out there. Yes, there were tears. But that’s what “For Me This Is Heaven” has meant to me for nearly two decades. I will feel the butterflies forever.

  1. “23” (Futures, 2004)

Futures came out in October of my senior year of high school. I had spent most of the prior three years obsessing over everything Jimmy Eat World had put out. To say I was anticipating great things would be an understatement. Futures was released the same day as Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. You know, the series when the Red Sox came back from down 3-0 to beat the Yankees on their way to their first World Series win in 86 years. That one. It was also released during an undefeated regular season for my high school football team. So, it was sort of a momentous time in my life anyway, and my favorite band happened to release a new album right in the middle of it.

I will never forget going through that first listen of Futures and getting to the end and hearing “23” for the first time. I knew it would stick with me forever. And I was right. The epic album closer to end all epic album closers, Jim Adkins, Tom Linton, Rick Burch and Zach Lind poured every ounce of their musicianship into the seven minutes and 23 seconds that make up “23.” Lyrically, it’s a Jim classic: it’s about someone hitting a crossroads in their life and realizing the right thing to do is move on, even though sticking it out would be easier. And those vocals, which often sound like Jim is the last man on earth, always make my hair stand up on end.

Jim’s vocals lay over a bed from the band that includes a feeling guitar solo, Zach’s perfect drumming, and so many dramatic, tear-inducing guitar hits. The key/chord change on the final post-solo chorus is perhaps their single-greatest, single-most impressive musical touch, one that just makes the song. “23” was great without it: it became perhaps my favorite song ever because of its inclusion.

I’ll forever associate “23” with that aforementioned era of my life, colored by the euphoric celebration of the Red Sox to the deep sadness of that football season ending in defeat. After that last game, I sat in my car overlooking the football field and blared “23” while I cried incessantly. I then drove a half hour home in complete silence. Given that history, you might be surprised at how much I love the song. But at this point, it’s become part of my life, just like the band has. It is a source of strength and inspiration for me through the intervening years. “23” has been so important to me in my life that I used the “I’m here, I’m now, I’m ready” line from the chorus as part of my wedding vows.

I look forward to listening to it, and this band, for as long as I can. Thanks for reading this.

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LISTS, MUSIC

Sing Me Something That I Know: Jimmy Eat World’s 100 Best Songs, Part I

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.

Jimmy Eat World Live

Jimmy Eat World, Boston MA, 2018.

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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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).

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.”

  1. “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.

  1. “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.”

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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. 

  1. 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.

  1. “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.

  1. 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.

  1. “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. 

  1. “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.

  1. “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.)

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.”

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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!!!!

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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.

  1. “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? 

  1. “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.

  1. “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. (UPDATE: Here’s Part II.)

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