We’ve had a couple of slow weeks here at TUiW, so what better way to break up late summer doldrums than with a list! Today, we present to you a list of musicians singing about themselves, both literally and figuratively. Without further ado…
1. “Wilco (the song)” – Wilco
Wilco has always been a band of the people, and the lead-off track from their seventh LP makes that abundantly clear, with the chorus, “Wilco will love you baby.” Kicking off Wilco (the album), the song introduces the record as “an hour of arms open wide/ a sonic shoulder for you to cry,” it’s Jeff Tweedy at his loosest and is the anthem for the band’s loyal fan base.
2. “Death to Los Campesinos!” – Los Campesinos!
After a few singles and EPs, Cardiff’s Los Campesinos! introduced themselves to a larger audience with this first track off of their debut LP, Hold On Now Youngster. Bursting at the seems with energy, “Death to Los Campesinos!” shows off all the great elements of the band: the boundless energy, great guitar playing, moments of group participation, and fantastic banter between Gareth and Ellen Campesinos!
3. “Everything Thermals” – The Thermals
A short and sweet early track from the Portland rockers, “Everything Thermals” features great lines like “The Thermals go right to your head/The Thermals have sex in your bed.” It’s hard to argue with, as this is a song that gets stuck in your head and doesn’t come out. “Everything Thermals” lacks the power of a song like “Pillar of Salt,” but it has the kind of lighthearted lyrics that make the Thermals so fun to listen to.
Download “Everything Thermals” for free at Daytrotter here.
4. “Titus Andronicus” – Titus Andronicus
On their terrific debut record, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus unveiled this self-titled tune about how everyone will tell you when you’re young that being in a rock and roll band will destroy your life, repeating, “Your life is over!” The track packs a ton of power into a short 3:13, and it acts almost as a mission statement for a band that seems to have limitless potential.
5. “Free Energy” – Free Energy
If you’ve never heard of Free Energy, you’ll get hooked on the eponymous first track on their first LP. The song is a soundtrack to summer nights, with catchy hooks and guitar solos that will set a room on fire. It’s a fitting introduction to the band, a song that will keep you from forgetting them anytime soon.
6. “Crystal Stilts” – Crystal Stilts
If you’re going to write a song that shares your band’s name, you should probably write one that exemplifies your sound, which is exactly what Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts did. The dark, moody tones and reverb soaked drums of “Crystal Stilts” are in every one of the band’s song, a sample of their trademark sound.
7. “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” – Bob Dylan
With its false start that ends in laughter, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” fits in nicely with the other tracks on Bringing It All Back Home and like “Maggie’s Farm,” features a little personal commentary. Most notably, Dylan relates a story with a man and a war saying, “I said, “You know they refused Jesus, too/He said, “You’re not Him,” perhaps a parable on Dylan’s own reluctance to be accepted as more than a man with a guitar.
8. “Clash City Rockers” – The Clash
Leave to Joe Strummer to write a song about his own band with this much vitriol. While declaring that “nothing stands the pressure of the Clash city rockers,” he takes stabs at David Bowie and Gary Glitter, en route to making it clear that the punk icons the only band to bring the power and “electrical shockers” to the masses.
9. “(Theme From) The Monkees” – The Monkees
The classic self-titled song, “(Theme From) The Monkees” kicked off the 60’s show that looked to cash in on Beatlemania. While the Monkees were a band put together purely for the spectacle, their theme song is about as catchy as any other song of the time.
10. “Okkervil River Song” – Okkervil River
“We have come from ugliness to find some refuge here,” sings Will Sheff on his band’s lovely eponymous song, a line that is characteristic of a band that loves ballads of murder, groupies, and sad rock stars. The song makes a great live sing-a-long, featuring all the early trademarks of a band that just got better and better.
11. “We’re From Barcelona” – I’m From Barcelona
During the Sweedish invasion of 2007, the gigantic group I’m From Barcelona made sure to introduce themselves with the song “We’re From Barcelona.” While they haven’t been able to capitalize on their much buzzed about debut, “We’re From Barcelona” is full of sing-a-long lyrics and playful melodies that take a lot to get gout of your head.
12. “We Are The Pipettes” – The Pipettes
With its introduction of the members of the band right at the start, “We Are The Pipettes” introduces the modern girl group as a trio of space invaders that will take over the land. Declaring themselves “the prettiest girls you’ve ever met,” the song is a pretty good introduction to an album by a band that ultimately, has been a big disappointment.
13. “I Was Born a Unicorn” – The Unicorns
The Unicorns remain a symbol of early 2000s indie rock, and this track from their record Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is one of the few straightforward rock tracks they made. Lines like, “We’re the Unicorns/We’re more than horses” make the song the perfect introduction to band that was gone too soon.
14. “The Story of Yo La Tengo” – Yo La Tengo
Few bands can rip a song wide open into sprawling feedback and guitar the way Yo La Tengo can, and “The Story of Yo La Tengo” might be one of the best songs of their career. Topping the 10-minute mark, it’s a song full of guitar wails that embodies the sound of the band all the way.
15. “Public Image” – Public Image LTD
Supposedly written about former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, “Public Image” finds John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) wailing over sharp guitar riffs, “The public image belongs to me!” The song is not just a blow to McLaren for “using” the Sex Pistols for his own gain, but for the public and critics that made them out to be a threat to society.
16. “Lifter Puller vs. The End of the Evening” – Lifter Puller
Before the Hold Steady, Craig Finn was in Lifter Puller, a band that loved to stay up all night drinking, and this song from their Fiestas & Fiascos album offers the sonic version of a night on the town. Starting with a line like, “we hit the nightlife like a deer in the headlights,” the song is Finn’s pre-Hold Steady party anthem that’s great to put on in the waning hours of a fun evening.
17. “The Ballad of Mott the Hoople” – Mott the Hoople
Rounding out our list is Mott the Hoople’s introspective song that details the near break up of the band and disillusion with the rock business. Ian Hunter tells his listeners that “somehow we let you down” and that “rock and roll’s a loser’s game,” but the epic song ends with Hunter saying that he just “can’t erase the rock n’ roll feeling from my mind.” Sadly, the troubles detailed in the song overtook the band, and they only released one more studio album.