Between the Headphones: Wilco combines country, rock to create a unique, awesome sound

Between the Headphones: Wilco combines country, rock to create a unique, awesome sound

Amy Morrill

by Amy Morrill
Sometimes, albums or artists can become something more than just their music in our hearts; they become a window into a previous time or a past version of ourselves, that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
Wilco exemplifies that for me. Growing up, from as young an age as two, my parents would play Wilco music in car rides and in the kitchen as they cooked dinner. After taking a hiatus from it–as my sister and I grew older, we started to control the radio, preferring Kiss 108 to my parents’ old-timey music–I was reintroduced to it this year when I purchased tickets to their concert for my dad for Christmas. I knew that they were his favorite band, so I decided to splurge.
Leading up to the concert, I started listening to some of their music. I began with their first album, AM, which was released in 1995. Right away, I realized that I loved the album; it consisted of thirteen amazing songs, all of which held their own and kept me wanting more. Jeff Tweedy, the frontman of the group, used both country and rock influences to create a multi-genre mix of songs, ranging from heartbreaking to fun and satirical.
There are almost too many great tracks on the album to pick favorites, but one of the best and most iconic Wilco songs is Box Full of Letters. The simplistic melody combined with layers of distorted guitar and a cymbal heavy drum track create a song that perfectly portrays the sadness and frustration of a bad breakup. In a lyrical stroke of genius, the chorus says, “I just can’t find the time to write my mind the way I want it to read,” a line that exemplifies not being able to find the right words for what you need to say. In a classic-Wilco-way, the song ends on a melancholy chord, keeping listeners guessing at the end of the story told throughout the lyrics.
Another one of the near perfect songs on the album is Passenger Side. In this poignant piece about a man who lost his license in a drunk-driving accident, Tweedy painstakingly drags emotions of shame and sadness through the music and to the listener.  Both the guitar and lyrics of this song are simplistic, giving just enough away to convey the helplessness of the man.
Proving their versatility as a band, Casino Queen is a fun upbeat song making fun of gamblers. One of my favorite lines, “and my wife that I just met, she’s looking like a wreck,” shows just how satirical the song is. A rocking guitar lick and catchy melody makes this song a fun listen.
Finally, my personal favorite song off of the album, and possibly my favorite song of all time, is Pick Up The Change. While on the surface, it seems like a simple love song, it delves into the complex idea of loving someone but losing the spark. Somehow, even though the melody and words of the song are sweet at first listen, the song shows a lamentation and desperation; Tweedy sings “aw honey help me pick up the change,” asking his partner to help him salvage their relationship. Pick Up The Change show the country origins of Wilco, a refreshing change from the rock-infused tracks that precede it.
Although A.M. will always have a special place in my heart, and brought Wilco onto the alternative-rock scene, the band has had so many amazing songs that it is impossible to mention them all in one post. Their preceding albums all included great songs as well, and definitely are worth listening to.
Beginner Wilco Playlist:
For those of you that are interested in listening to Wilco, here are some songs you should start with:

  • Jesus, Etc.
  • Monday
  • Outtasite (Outta Mind)
  • The Lonely 1
  • Passenger Side
  • Should’ve Been In Love
  • Heavy Metal Drummer
  • Casino Queen
  • Secret of the Sea
  • That’s Not the Issue
  • Box Full of Letters
  • Pick Up the Change

If you’re looking to go further into the band:

  • Misunderstood
  • I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
  • Ashes of American Flags
  • The Late Greats
  • Why Would You Wanna Live
  • Airline to Heaven