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The Best Wilco Songs

By Deborah Crooks

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For more than 30 years, Jeff Tweedy has led Wilco away from any established musical path - veering from alternative country to experimental music to neo-folk over twelve studio albums - without losing its identity or relevance.

Whether musing about long-term relationships or Star Wars, handshake drugs or the pulse of America circa 2022, love - for music, for life, for the creative act - remains in its ever-expansive, always authentic work.

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Wilco - Wilco (The Album) Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007

Wilco (The Song)

“Wilco, Wilco, Wilco will love you, baby,” Tweedy croons with a big wink and a lot of rock.

This hilariously self-referential track opened their seventh studio album and serves as a mission statement of sorts for this band of survivors.

More than most, they understand that music is often the best medicine for life’s challenges.

Wilco - Wilco (The Album) Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2002

I'm The Man Who Loves You

Tweedy managed to win the hearts of music critics and fans alike with this earnest declaration from the now–legendary 2001 Yankee Hotel FoxTrot about a failure to write a love letter.

“If I could you know I would / Just hold your hand and you'd understand” is bracing in its directness.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2002 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - A.M. Album Cover

Sire | 1995

Passenger Side

Taken from their first studio release, 1995’s A.M., 'Passenger Side' has withstood the test of time.

Vividly portraying a down-and-out alcoholic in search of a ride to the bank because his driver's license has been revoked, Tweedy, with humor and pathos, renders a dark character who is awaiting a court date to be entirely relatable.

Wilco - A.M. Album Cover

Sire | 1995 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Ode To Joy Album Cover

dBpm | 2019

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

This folky, guitar-driven ballad about love’s fragility and resilience serves as a balm for world-weary souls. They may just be better served by waking up their hearts rather than their outrage.

“Right now, right now / Love is everywhere,” Tweedy reminds us, the “beware” more about staying aware to the best of humanity, while it's still there.

Wilco - Ode To Joy Album Cover

dBpm | 2019 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

Nonesuch | 2005

Hummingbird

Taken from 2004’s A Ghost is Born, 'Hummingbird' finds Tweedy at his most empathetic and erudite as he evokes heartbreak and memory.

“His goal in life was to be an echo /The type of sound that floats around / And then back down like a feather”, he sings over Beatle-esque piano …and kazoo.

Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

Nonesuch | 2005 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

10
Holler Country Music

dBmp Records | 2022

Tired of Taking It Out On You

Wilco turned back toward its roots on its most recent release, 2022's Cruel Country, embracing both the country music genre and its native terrain.

Recorded live in-studio, the six-man band creates a sonic campfire as Tweedy sings of the challenges of loving his country, himself and his nearest and dearest.

Holler Country Music

dBmp Records | 2022 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Wilco (The Album) Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007

You and I

A rare recorded duet, Tweedy is joined by Feist on this gentle, jangly track about the complications and mystery of long-term relationships.

A grown-up version of ‘I’m the Man Who Loves You,’ Tweedy is once again contending with how hard it can be to communicate, even when you wear your heart on your sleeve.

Wilco - Wilco (The Album) Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

Nonesuch | 2005

Handshake Drugs

Tweedy was battling a drug problem when ‘Handshake Drugs’ was released on what would be Wilco’s Grammy-winning album A Ghost is Born.

Here, he and the band encapsulate the tense pull of addiction with a steady groove and a kaleidoscope narrative about looking for a fix via taxicab.

Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

Nonesuch | 2005 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Star Wars Album Cover

dBpm | 2015

Random Name Generator

‘Random Name Generator’ exemplifies the tricky balancing act between playfulness and profundity, something of which Wilco are masters.

A sonically-rich romp from the relatively light-hearted Star Wars record, an oddball phrase is transformed into a hooky chorus while the verse lyrics — “I belong to the stars in the sky”— hint at the metaphysical.

Wilco - Star Wars Album Cover

dBpm | 2015 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Wilco (The Album) Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007

You Never Know

Cognizant of generational divides while being catchy, sing-alongable and evocative of George Harrison’s post-Beatles work, ‘You Never Know’ was Wilco’s first no.1 hit on the AAA charts.

“Come on, children, you're acting like children / Every generation thinks it's the end of the world,” Tweedy scolds, having found life manages to go on.

Wilco - Wilco (The Album) Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Sky Blue Sky Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007

Impossible Germany

‘Impossible Germany’ finds the perfect marriage between Tweedy’s spare and powerful poetry and Nels Cline’s impeccable guitar playing.

Taken from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, it considers the inevitable imperfections and contradictions of compromise, be they personal or political: “This is what love is for / To be out of place/ Gorgeous and alone / Face to face”.

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2007 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2009

California Stars

With its “starbeds” and “friendly wine”, ‘California Stars’ - a gem from the first of Wilco’s vintage Woody Guthrie lyrical collaborations with Billy Bragg, the Grammy-nominated Mermaid Ave - is on its way to becoming a ‘traditional’ for its timeless classicism.

It's played at nearly every Wilco show and has been covered by countless other musicians since.

Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2009 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Summerteeth Album Cover

Reprise | 1998

A Shot in the Arm

‘A Shot in the Arm' provides listeners with just that.

It offers stark, evocative imagery about the darker nights of the soul and the pull of addiction - “The ashtray says you were up all night / When you went to bed with your darkest mind” - only instead of self-destruction, Wilco gives us musical catharsis.

Wilco - Summerteeth Album Cover

Reprise | 1998 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2002

Jesus, Etc.

The musical equivalent of a good friend giving you a hand after you’ve fallen.

‘Jesus, Etc.’s opening strings and invocation to not cry introduces a gentle country song gilded by pedal steel that somehow finds the silver lining in the mess.

Released in the wake of 9/11, the song provided a well-timed salve for many bruised spirits.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2002 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2002

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

Ground-breaking and band-making, ‘I am Trying to Break Your Heart,’ from 2001’s iconic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, stunned and delighted the critics.

With its evocative imagery (“aquarium drunkards” and “Bible black predawn”), sophisticated soundscape (an artful mix of pianos, noise, percussion, bells, whistles and distortion) and sincere emotionalism, it signalled to the world that Wilco had arrived.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album Cover

Nonesuch | 2002 ? videoThumbnail.image_asset.caption : ''}

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