I’m fairly certain that the first time I heard My Morning Jacket was almost twenty years ago when a friend of mine lent me a Bonnaroo CD featuring performances from the most recent festival. Don’t bother me with specifics because I don’t know. Ballpark? I’d have to guess sometime around 2004. So yeah, almost twenty years ago.
The version of “Dancefloors” that appeared on the album was a monster and didn’t really sound like anything I had ever heard before. It was beautiful, rowdy, madness; a shit-kicking, rabble-rousing, boom-stomping delight and I couldn’t get enough of it. From there, I dove into the band’s 2003 album It Still Moves. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into the album. I liked the big rockers but couldn’t wrap my head around the softer tunes, tunes that I would later learn drew a straight line to the band’s earlier albums. I had gotten into Kings of Leon around the same time and of the two southern rock bands, Kings of Leon seemed like more accessible of the two and I subsequently leaned on them more.
Soon though, the scales tipped and with the release of Z in 2005, it was clear that Kings of Leon might be an easier hang, but My Morning Jacket was ultimately a more worthwhile one. Jim James and company were a moving target stylistically with the designation of southern rock being an easy way to describe them but not a wholly accurate one as on Z they started incorporating different sounds and styles, a trend that would certainly continue in 2008 when they released Evil Urges.
Speaking of twenty years, we’re now more than two decades into the band’s career, as this year marked the 20th anniversary of their second album At Dawn with their first album, The Tennessee Fire coming out two years earlier. At Dawn tends to feel more like the band’s first album and The Tennessee Fire sounding more like a trial balloon but at this point, we’re not interested in splitting hairs. In the band’s second decade, they have remained prolific and musically adventurous while also realizing what works and more importantly, what doesn’t (i.e. getting too funky.) They course-corrected with 2011’s Circuital and four years later released the excellent album The Waterfall in 2015. Five years later, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, they revisited the album, putting The Waterfall II together from songs that didn’t make the cut in 2015. Next up, the band is releasing their ninth album on October 22nd.
As we continue to go forward with My Morning Jacket, let’s take a minute (or more than that depending on if you’re skimming, reading or some combination of the two) and “run thru” the band’s 40 best songs. (A list you can take with you if you’re so inclined.)
40. “Circuital” (2011)
Following 2008’s exploration and experiment into the world of low-lit funk and soul, the band seemed to make a conscious decision to get back to their bombastic, guitar-heavy ways on Circuital. It was a move I am thankful for because I’m certainly more partial to that version of the band. Circuital’s title track isn’t doing much more than setting the stage for the album but that’s enough. It would go on to become a highlight in the band’s live shows, which might have been the point all along.
39. “Magic Bullet” (2020)
My Morning Jacket is a rock band. That’s not up for debate. But we’d be remiss to ignore their ability to include some low-key, rock-solid grooves with their rock songs. On a better version of Evil Urges, you could imagine “Magic Bullet” being included. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to google “magic bullet JFK” because I’m pretty sure there’s a connection there. See you in a few.
38. “Evil Urges” (2008)
Speaking of songs that could have appeared on a different album, “Evil Urges” sounds more like something off of Z than the album it shares a name with. And I would like to make it clear that I’m not going to disparage or hate on Evil Urges. I could feel myself trending in that direction. It’s just that if we were ranking the band’s albums, it’d be closer to the bottom than the top or even the middle for that matter. Yet while the album as a whole is kind of a hot mess, it at least gets a strong start thanks to this tune.
37. “Victory Dance” (2011)
I’m a sucker for a good opener so therefore, I’m all in “Victory Dance.” But I also love the performative element Jim James always brings to this song, as he inhabits this role of almost a mystic shaman sent from the future to spread the word of…something. I’m not sure what it is but I’m here for it.
36. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, pt. 1” (2008)
I don’t like driving at night. Never have. But if I am driving at night, I like a song like this one to be playing. It’s not too high, not too low; staying steady and staying the course throughout. You can lose yourself in a song like this but not lost in the way a Phish jam can lose you. You’ll at least always know what state your in, which is helpful, especially if you’re driving. #safetyfirst
35. “Run Thru” (2003)
The way this song downshifts about two and a half minutes in but doesn’t seem to lose any of the sense of reckless abandon from what came before it is wild. As far as songs to hear live, it’s much higher than where it is here. The studio version is still good fun, but it picks up some mustard when played live.
34. “Tropics (Erase Traces)” (2015)
Levels, baby. My Morning Jacket operates on levels and their songs contain ’em. It’s how they can write a song like “Tropics,” that feels like you’re flying through clouds and stomping through the mud at the same time. The first part of the song is so light and ethereal but by the time it’s rounded third and headed home, it’s gnarly and almost menacing, so much so that that lightness of being you felt early on is almost completely forgotten.
33. “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” (2011)
There’s nothing like a loving ode to black metal, huh? More importantly, did you know there’s a metal subgenre called pirate metal? Yeah, it’s true. Big, sweaty metal combined with old pirate tales and pirate mythology played by bands like Alestorm, Swashbuckle, and Lagerstein. It’s wild and weird but life is wild and weird so sure, pirate metal. Oh, and black metal. Great. I do really love this song and think it sounds fantastic played super loudly.
32. “Compound Fracture” (2015)
My Morning Jacket has a lot of good driving songs. As has previously mentioned, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 1” is a killer late-night driving tune, and then “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” is a nice all-purpose driving song. “Compound Fracture” is begging you to take a nice, scenic drive on a pleasant late spring/early summer day. Its best friend would be blue skies, iced coffee, and windows open.
31. “Sec Walkin” (2008)
Maybe it’s the tea I’m drinking but when listening to this song, I feel like everything around me should be cartoons, and wait, this was supposed to be green tea. You know. I got the sniffles and ah, shit.
30. “Smokin From Shootin” (2008)
At some point, My Morning Jacket got brought up in the quest to find an American version of Radiohead. For starters, why? We already have one Radiohead. I’m not sure why we need an American version. Oh well. That doesn’t make much sense, nor does My Morning Jacket being considered to take that title. However, if we were playing along, you could see a song like “Smokin’ From Shootin'” serving as backup for any kind of claim as to why they should be christened the American Radiohead. It does kind of have a Radiohead vibe to it. But like Americanized, I guess. Ah, whatever. Some debates are dumb.
29. “Heartbreakin Man” (1999)
Early on, James’ vocals had a distinct feel and sound to them. Scientists have referred to it as “reverb.” Non-scientists have as well. It may or may not have something to do with the band recording in a grain silo, which if true, is super on brand. But it might not be true. It probably isn’t true. But it’s fun to think that it is true and it’s also fun to just sit back and enjoy this little sip of sunshine from baby My Morning Jacket.
28. “Steam Engine” (2003)
I was initially drawn to My Morning Jacket for the rockers; the songs that demanded to be played at high volume and merited some sort of reckless activity because it was just so much damn fun. But once the dust settled, there was a song like “Steam Engine,” which has a delicateness to it and blissful quality that makes it the perfect after-dinner companion after feasting on some of It Still Moves more ear-catching songs.
27. “Dondante” (2005)
The nearly eight-minute-long closer on 2005’s Z is plodding and mesmerizing, almost trance-like, especially when James goes into the guitar solo about halfway through minute three. The song then picks up and goes up a few levels but that ominous vibe remains. It’s almost as if the first part of the song is warning you of potential dangers and the second half is the dangers you were warned about.
26. “Easy Morning Rebel” (2003)
One of my favorite subgenres out there is one I affectionately call “shit-kickin’ rock.” It’s rock, got a little country to it, a little twang but also a little whiskey and trouble mixed in. My Morning Jacket most definitely dabbles in some shit-kickin’ rock, especially earlier in their career and one of the best songs of this extra-special variety is “Easy Morning Rebel,” complete with massive horns and a thumpin’ ass beat. This song just thrashes in such a beautiful, shit-kickin’ way and the outro is like when you’re out drinking with buddies and think maybe you’ve had enough and someone suggests another round of shots and IT’S THE BEST IDEA IN THE WORLD. Sometimes good times just shouldn’t end, kid.
25. “The Way That He Sings” (2001)
I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t really know the names of the dudes in My Morning Jacket. Well, I know Jim James obviously. I even know his solo-project-wielding alter ego Yim Yames. But after that, it’s a little fuzzy. I’m pretty sure their drummer’s name is Patrick something or other and the guitarist might be Carl. Or Karl. One of the two. But the names of the other two dudes, the bassist and the keyboardist are a mystery to me. However, the appeal of a song like “The Way That He Sings” is most definitely not a mystery. This song is like Dr. Pepper in a can. It’s perfect.
24. “First Light” (2011)
The band’s bassist’s name is James Jamerson. So there. Maybe by the top ten, I’ll have a handle on some last names for Patrick and Carl/Karl and the full name of the keyboardist. Stand by on that one.
23. “Rollin’ Back” (2003)
My Morning Jacket has always had a little Beach Boys to them, mainly in the harmonies and the soaring vocals, a highlight of “Rollin’ Back.” The song has a California vibe to it, but probably more northern California than the more common from a stylistic standpoint SoCal leanings. This is wandering through the redwoods or trying to find the houses from Big Little Lies music. And I’ve been to California like, three or four times, so I obviously know what I’m talking about.
22. “Big Decisions” (2015)
“Big Decisions” seems to pull from both early My Morning Jacket and second decade My Morning Jacket. There’s a rawness to it but also an etherealness and tranquility that has come about in the band’s more recent work. It also goes back and forth between a solid stomp throughout the verse and a reach-for-the-heavens tip in the chorus. Oh, and it sounds sweet played super loud.
21. “Bermuda Highway” (2001)
Sorry, I got caught staring off thinking about the inherent beauty of the universe. “Bermuda Highway” will do that to you. Wait, did he just say “Your ass it draws me in/Like a Bermuda highway?” Huh. That’s kind of weird. Does Bermuda have highways? And is comparing someone’s posterior to one imply it’s a good thing or a bad thing? Okay. I’ll move on now.
20. “Anytime” (2005)
Look, another killer driving song. I told you that they have a lot of them. Unfortunately, they haven’t dabbled in songs like this in recent years, which is a shame. Also, sometimes the band’s drummer looks like a wooly mammoth back there. My man (or mammoth) has definitely busted his fair share of snare drum heads.
19. “Believe (Nobody Knows)” (2015)
Okay, so maybe My Morning Jacket has completely abandoned the uptempo rocker as demonstrated by this delightfully, wild rock from 2015’s The Waterfall. I stand corrected and to make amends, I looked up the names of the band members. My Morning Jacket is vocalist/guitarist Jim James, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, guitarist Carl Broemel, and keyboardist Bo Koster. So, are we good now?
18. “Lowdown” (2001)
I don’t know if you’re paying attention to the videos included here but if you’re not, take four minutes and nineteen seconds and watch young My Morning Jacket play “Lowdown” at Bonnaroo 2003. Appreciate the hunger on display, most notably from James and Hallahan. Appreciate the many white dudes bobbing their head along. Appreciate the fact that that’s not our boy Carl on guitar and that’s not Bo on keys and appreciate that it’s hard to cycle members in and out of a band and we can only hope guitarist Johnny Quaid and keyboardist Danny Cash have gone on to lead happy and fulfilling lives.
17. “Gideon” (2005)
Now check out this video of the band playing “Gideon” at Bonnaroo over a decade later and yeah, in both videos it’s the same bass player. It’s old Tommy Blankenship. Say it with me now!
Also man, I fucking love “Gideon.”
16. “The Day Is Coming” (2011)
I love when a band has established their own sound to such an extent where they can push other sounds and genres through their own particular sonic grinder and out comes their own special take on the sound or genre in question. For instance, there’s “The Day Is Coming” off of Circuital, a song that looks like neo-soul and sounds like neo-soul but run through the band’s hands, it comes out as something overly familiar but also uniquely their own.
15. “Phone Went West” (2001)
It pays to go see a band after they’ve been around for a while, even if you’ve already seen them before because you might get surprised. For instance, I saw My Morning Jacket at the Mann Center in Philadelphia in the summer of 2011 and this was almost a decade into my relationship with them. The show was fantastic but then they ended it with “Phone Went West” and I have to be honest and say that I had never heard the song before. Or if I had, it had never really registered. But I came away from that show pretty much only thinking about it and thus, it ends up so high on this list.
14. “Still Thinkin” (2020)
Sometimes you eat a nice meal and really the only thing you can say about is “that was really good.” No elaboration is needed. You got your point across. “Still Thinkin” off of the second Waterfall album is really good.
13. “Librarian” (2008)
This is not a good driving song. But that’s fine. My Morning Jacket, as has been previously discussed, has plenty of those songs. “Librarian,” a haunting number off of Evil Urges is more of a late-night campfire song, some solid musical accompaniment to staring into the flames and contemplating your life. Or staring into a body of water and doing that. Flames or water. It’s up to you, both are equally effective.
12. “Honest Man” (2001)
Google, find me a way to express how I feel about this song.
11. “Mahgeeta” (2003)
I can’t prove it by any means, but it does seem like My Morning Jacket has done some of their best work live when playing shows at Bonnaroo, just a stones throw from their home of Kentucky. The band is always good live but when searching YouTube for live clips, the Bonnaroo ones always seem to stick out. Almost as much as James’ white boots do. They look comfortable but also really hot and hot, sweaty feet are the worst whereas the break in the middle of “Mahgeeta” (I think he’s talking about his guitar) is the best.
10. “What A Wonderful Man” (2005)
All right, back to driving songs. Be careful though because this one will make you start driving faster and you won’t even notice it. You’ll be busy screaming along with the lyrics and smiling and screaming and smiling and waving to people you pass and more screaming and more smiling and oh shit, it’s the cops.
9. “Xmas Curtain” (2001)
Again, early My Morning Jacket songs can have such a wonderful, carefree swing to them. And they still have some country twang to them, something the band would start to drift away from as the years would go on, and presumably, they saw more of the world and with it, were exposed to things beyond the wilds of Kentucky. But roots are important in life and on “Xmas Curtain,” there’s a purity to it and provides folks with a loving picture of a young band honing their craft.
8. “Wordless Chorus” (2005)
There are also a lot of clips of My Morning Jacket playing on Letterman and it makes me wonder how many times they appeared on the show; if maybe like the Foo Fighters, they were a favorite of the show’s host. I’m not going to look it up though. It’s nice out, unseasonably warm and there’s time for that later. It does seem like they stopped by the Ed Sullivan Theater at least ten times over the years though. This performance of “Wordless Chorus” from 2005 is especially entertaining as it’s James at his celestial, soul-stirring ring leader as rock band frontman best.
7. “I’m Amazed” (2008)
Sometimes you just have to clear the lane for a hell of a rock song and “I’m Amazed” is a hell of a rock song.
6. “Dancefloors” (2003)
Ah yes, the one that started it all; the one I will always come back to and the one that has appeared on so many playlists and before that, mixed CDs. “Dancefloors” is for jumping off rooftops and flipping tables and screaming tires; making an entrance that no one will dare forget. It’s a rock song as a mission statement or possibly even a declaration of intent with both being summarized clearly as “Dancefloors, headlights, in my blood there’s gasoline.”
5. “Aluminum Park” (2008)
With Evil Urges, the band had clearly decided to move past their burgeoning reputation as arena rock darlings but that didn’t mean they still didn’t have some arena rockers in their back pocket. I don’t know if their whole heart was into the song and if maybe it was catnip sprinkled out for fans as they tried to incorporate new styles and sounds but either way, it’s a fun reminder of the band’s wild early days, and yes, another killer driving song.
4. “Spinning My Wheels” (2020)
If memory serves correct, James was wandering the streets one day during the pandemic, listening to music when “Spinning My Wheels” came on, a track recorded during sessions for The Waterfall a few years earlier. Being reminded of the song and realizing how it resonated amidst the current state of affairs (i.e. lonely and isolated,) James and company felt compelled to revisit the tracks that didn’t make the cut, paving the way for the release of The Waterfall II, an album that was a delightful surprise amidst the very much not delightful pandemic sponsored lockdown of 2020.
3. “Off The Record” (2005)
My Morning Jacket dabbling in reggae should have been like me dabbling in cooking- not great. But you know, sometimes I surprise myself in the kitchen and sometimes a bunch of burly-looking white dudes from the country can pull off the unexpected.
2. “One Big Holiday” (2003)
After two decades plus of being out there, doing their thing, My Morning Jacket has a few anthems that will most definitely live on well after their gone. “One Big Holiday” is one of those songs and what makes it so special is how raw and real it sounds. A young band with nothing to lose proudly saying fuck it and going for it, putting a song together that was bigger than they were but much like with a high tide, brought everything around it along for the ride. More young bands should take such chances and risks. Play it safe later on. When you’ve got nothing to lose is when you should throw the most caution to the wind and unleash a song like “One Big Holiday.”
1. “Golden” (2003)
I will always love summer. I will always love beer in a bottle and I will always love flip flops. I will always love going home to Maine, will always love pizza nights, and will always love driving with all the windows down and the music turned up loud.
And I will always love “Golden.”
There is really nothing more to say on the matter.