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:
- “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.
- “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!
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “Table For Glasses” (Clarity, 1999)
Historically, Jimmy Eat World does not give much public information on 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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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 originated. 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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “Cautioners” (Bleed American, 2001)
“Cautioners” is perhaps BA’s most underrated song. It’s one 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, and the lyrics of longing make it a classic. It also happens to be one of my favorite JEW songs to play on guitar. 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, but it was good to know I wasn’t the only person in school who felt strongly about the band. 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.
- “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.
- “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 shows 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.
- “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.”
- “A Sunday” (Clarity, 1999)
Through their tenure, JEW has taken a decidedly 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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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 it has never been played live). It feels like a dream, something conjured while wafting off to sleep, as if 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.”
- “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.
- “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 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.”
- “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.
- “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.)
- “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.
- “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.
- “What I Would Say To You Now” (Jejune | Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 1997)
As you’ve probably noticed, with the granular view I’m taking on the music of one band, I’ve called out a lot of songs that signaled shifts in their sound over time. After Static flopped, there was more than a good chance they’d end up going nowhere. Instead, they kept honing their craft. Where “Anderson Mesa” points 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 indicating 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.
- “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.
- “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; a hymn about not getting what you want in life. But perhaps no song of theirs 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: more produced, bigger sounding, generally more in line with the rest of the BA sound (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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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 big 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.
- “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 a 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.
- “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 decision had anything to do with the initial reaction to “Get Right,” but needless to say, I changed my tune for 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 me who Jimmy Eat World still was, 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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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. In fact, in one of the journals I kept during my middle and high school years, I wrote at the end of an entry from September 2002 about laying on my trampoline on a Friday night, listening to “Just Watch the Fireworks” on my Discman, dreaming about the person I wanted to be, and where I wanted to get.
“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.
- “The Middle” (Bleed American, 2001)
It’s the one everyone knows. It’s the one 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.
- “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.
- “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.
The lyrics to “23” written on the inside back cover of my HS senior year World Lit binder, c. 2004.
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.