28 Essential Songs By Wilco Ahead Of Their New Album 'Cruel Country'

Photo: Charles Harris


28 Essential Songs By Wilco Ahead Of Their New Album 'Cruel Country'

From "I Must Be High" to "Reservations" to "Love is Everywhere (Beware)," here's a list of 28 essential songs to help get into Wilco ahead of their upcoming double album, 'Cruel Country.'

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2022 - 03:20 pm

A critic once noted that Wilco is "always thinking they're weirder than they actually are." And if you're wondering why more than two million listeners have fallen in love with them, that's as accurate a read as any.

Their most celebrated album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, might be subsumed by static and noise, but beneath the maelstrom are relatively simple songs about communication breakdown. Beyond its schizoid motorik jam and 12-minute migraine simulation, the lion's share of A Ghost is Born is swoony and melodic.

Even at the most extreme end of their critically acclaimed deconstructionism, Wilco can't help but remain fundamentally listenable and accessible. (OK, the delightfully bizarre "Common Sense" might push that envelope.)

Part of this is due to Wilco being a band of musical wizards — guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone, bassist John Stirratt, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, and drummer Glenn Kotche can gracefully toggle from sweet and sophisticated to white-knucklingly chaotic at the drop of a hat. But the core, of course, is Jeff Tweedy's emotionally and psychologically incisive songwriting and prickly-pear voice.

Time (and sinus surgery) has imbued Tweedy's once-nasal pipes with luxurious new dimensions; his one-liners puncture deeper than ever. (Here's a good one from their next record: "Everything can shine/ Even the devil sometimes."

That line's from "Ambulance," a gem from Wilco's upcoming album, Cruel Country — out May 27. Their first double album since 1996's Being There, the 21-song collection is pitched as being a whole-chested embrace of a genre tag critics pigeonholed them with early on. (Hint: it's in the title.)

And the sound of lead single "Falling Apart (Right Now)" — as well as track names like "Country Song Upside-Down," "Sad Kind of Way" and "The Plains" might conjure this hyper-eclectic band donning Nudie Suits and committing themselves to one thing.

Spoiler alert: there's barely any country in it at all. In fact, it's often more far-out and psychedelic than its one sheet suggests. which proves this almost three-decade-old band remains agile with curveballs, fake-outs and fresh twists. Perhaps Cruel Country represents a reversal: For once, Wilco proved to be weirder than their self-projection.

To ring in the impending release of Cruel Country, here are 28 past songs to help beginners get into Wilco — one for every year they've graced the universe.

"I Must Be High" (A.M.)

Debut album, opening song, first take, first-ever performance by Wilco: what better place to start?

"Box Full of Letters" (A.M.)

Much of A.M. feels like an offshoot of their twangy mother band, Uncle Tupelo — naturally so, because all of that band, pointedly excepting co-leader Jay Farrar, made it into Wilco's first lineup. "Box Full of Letters" is a highlight for its distinctive tint of '70s power pop, like Big Star.

"Misunderstood" (Being There)

Lashings of tom-toms and feedback give way to one of the finest small-town underdog anthems of the '90s, climaxing with Tweedy's hollered "I'd like to thank you all for nothing / Nothing! / Nothing!" (The live version from Kicking Television contains 35 "nothings.")

"What's the World Got in Store" (Being There)

The band's Rubber Soul to a degree, Being There was a giant leap into sophistication and stylistic diversity — and far from their last. This is a low-key highlight among many, hung on aching banjo.

"Sunken Treasure" (Being There)

Tweedy eventually developed a straighter, Travis-picked variation of "Sunken Treasure" live. But there's something to be said about the more languid approach on Being There — this "Treasure" is a hangdog masterpiece.

"She's a Jar" (Summerteeth)

"There wasn't really a band, just two guys losing their minds in the studio," then-drummer Ken Coomer once said of Summerteeth, helmed by Tweedy and his then-foil, the late Jay Bennett. The result was sunshine-pop with fangs: in the elegant "She's a Jar," the line alluding to domestic abuse still shocks.

"A Shot in the Arm" (Summerteeth)

Wilco's been pointedly opening post-lockdown shows with this tune, but there's way more to it than that easy joke. Not only was it a quantum leap from Americana into radiant pop, but every line is perfect — from "the ashtray says you've been up all night" to the "C/sea/D/sea" rhyme to the quietly harrowing "bloodier than blood" section.

"Via Chicago" (Summerteeth)

The band's ultimate hometown ode is just three cowboy chords, a dreamt murder scene. a waterfall of exquisite verses, and a torrent of noise like two planets colliding. Arguably the most tactile yet inscrutable line: "Crawling is screw faster lash."

"My Darling" (Summerteeth)

Lest you think Summerteeth can be pigeonholed as the Beach Boys gone bloodthirsty, "My Darling," a bedtime song from parent to child, exudes tender, uncomplicated affection.

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

How does Wilco nail that nexus between outré and open-hearted? "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is a case study: beneath the dadaist lyrics and between-nine-radio-stations production is a melody and progression that couldn't be simpler.

"Jesus, Etc." (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

Many Wilco fans consider this the time-capsule song for a reason: Pitchfork nailed it 20 years ago when they deemed it "sad, celestial and lovely." (Today, you can hear its influence in Japanese Breakfast's "Kokomo, IN" — which Tweedy covered.)

Read More: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For Jubilee At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards

"Ashes of American Flags" (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

This windswept, devastated ballad acts as something of a centerpiece to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "I know I would die if I could come back new," Tweedy confesses in the chorus — and the instrumentation all but drops out, leaving spectral howls in its wake.

"Reservations" (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an album of garbled and obfuscated transmissions — it doesn't contain elements of the mysterioso Conet Project for nothing. But at the end, Wilco cuts through the haze with "Reservations," an arresting song of naked vulnerability.

Listen on decent headphones in the dark, and you’ll never forget it: aside from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," it's hard to think of another song that decays like this.

"At Least That's What You Said" (A Ghost is Born)

Praise be to Tweedy, the undersung lead guitarist: before Nels Cline joined in 2004, Tweedy snarled Wilco songs with angular clusters of notes. And at the end of the raw-nerved opener to Wilco's most tormented record, Tweedy throws down with a "musical transcription" of a panic attack.

"Hummingbird" (A Ghost is Born)

The paranoid chemical fog of A Ghost is Born gives way to a sunburst: "Hummingbird" is a bouncy piano shuffle — and bittersweet story song — reminiscent of Randy Newman or '67 Beatles.

"Handshake Drugs" (A Ghost is Born)

A circuitous Möbius strip of vagueries about bad habits and burning daylight, "Handshake Drugs" is the kind of tune you grasp instinctually rather than literally — and you won’t want it to end.

"Wishful Thinking" (A Ghost is Born)

The essence of A Ghost is Born is jagged edges juxtaposed with gossamer moments — and "Wishful Thinking" is delicate, sensual and probing.

"Impossible Germany" (Sky Blue Sky)

In the 15 years after Sky Blue Sky was hit with unfair "dad-rock" characterizations, Wilco has made their critics eat crow with night after night of spectacular, inventive Nels Cline solos on "Impossible Germany." The pejorative implies clichéd blues licks with pinch harmonics; rather, this is the next evolutionary step from Television.

"Side With the Seeds" (Sky Blue Sky)

Ditto on the Tom Verlaine tip, with one of Tweedy's finest-ever vocal performances and a flabbergasting solo. Most prescient line for today: "You and I will be undefeated/ By agreeing to disagree."

"Wilco (The Song)" (Wilco [The Album])

Wilco's sorta-self-titled kicks off with this barrelling theme song, more of a cheeky commercial for the band than anything deeper. But it not only works, it endures — if you feel oppressed or repressed or downright down in the dumps, you have at least six friends in your corner.

"You Never Know" (Wilco [The Album])

"I know it sounds like someone else's song/ From a long time ago,” Tweedy sang in an old deep cut from Being There. In the best way possible, that applies to "You Never Know," a jubilant rip of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" with an irresistible, kiss-off chorus. Among other things, Wilco excel at making the old brilliantly new.

"Art of Almost" (The Whole Love)

After the somewhat divisive Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album), Wilco offered some prickly, experimental moments on The Whole Love. Opener "Art of Almost" sets the bar high, offering almost everything there is to love about left-field Wilco in seven minutes — with distinct fingerprints from all six band members.

"One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" (The Whole Love)

Also bookending The Whole Love is an astonishing first for the band: a 12-minute, autumnal, cyclical meditation on the fraught relationship between a father and son.

"Taste the Ceiling" (Star Wars)

Surprise-released for free, the zippy, concise, sometimes sarcastic Star Wars was a breath of fresh air for Wilco. Gems abound, but the breezy "Taste the Ceiling" is worth highlighting for its effortlessness — you get the sense it just fell out of Tweedy's voice and hands.

"Magnetized" (Star Wars)

A less-discussed aspect of Star Wars is its occasionally morose lyrics, hinting at relationship discord. The thrumming, tick-tocking "Magnetized" provides resolution at the end: "I sleep underneath a picture that I keep of you next to me/ I realize we're magnetized."

"If I Ever Was a Child" (Schmilco)

This subtle highlight of Wilco's creepiest, most casual album shows how they don't need to erupt into guitar histrionics — or even toss out a particularly spicy line — to stun you.

"Before Us" (Ode to Joy)

Hushed and shellshocked, Ode to Joy was a deeply personal response to political hysteria, blowing on the remaining embers of brotherhood and decency. 

"Alone with the people who have come before us," Tweedy and company intone over a death-march by Kotche, sounding haunted by time and ancestry.

"Love is Everywhere (Beware)" (Ode to Joy)

"I was thinking a lot about how to maintain hope right now, how to not feel guilty for having joy in my life," Tweedy told Uncut amid the horrors of the late 2010s. "How do you deal with having personal feelings when you know something very destructive is going on and there are real people being hurt every day in awful ways?"

Tweedy explains how in "Love is Everywhere (Beware)," a song about holding onto what's important without growing complacent, insulated or blasé. "Sadness wants me/ Further away from the scene," he sings.

This line seems to sum up Tweedy's and Wilco's vital art, which was weathered addiction and loss and interband strife to create one of the most intrepid, elusive and poignant songbooks in American music. To quote a famous artist important to Tweedy and his loved ones: beware of darkness.

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards