Narrowing down the catalog of the Old 97s to just five songs is a fools errand everyone has their favorites, and everyones favorites, give or take a couple unimpeachable cuts, are different. (For instance, it pains me to leave off Barrier Reef, from Too Far to Care, if only because the highlight of any 97s gig is hearing the crowd scream the indelible line My names Stewart Ransom Miller/Im a serial lady-killer.)
Nevertheless, if youre new to the band and would like a sonic sampler platter to get you started, here are five tracks that best encapsulate the singular Old 97s sound.
Arguably the Old 97s calling card, this rowdy rave-up which opens 1997s Too Far to Care with a bang I got a timebomb/In my mind, Mom, Rhett Miller howls, hanging on for dear life still kicks like a mule nearly two decades on. Its a giddy blast, and one that gives listeners a good idea what theyre in for live.
Miller and the fellas arent always running at full tilt, as this comparatively tender ballad, also from Too Far to Care, demonstrates. An almost tangible romantic longing threads through the bleak, beautiful lyrics Its over now/Yeah and so are we hits with all the finality of the grave.
Buick City Complex
A gorgeous slice of mid-tempo aimlessness, this gem from 2001s underrated Satellite Rides finds Miller lost in the woman he loves, with the outside world all but falling away. Theyre tearing the Buick City Complex down/I think were the only people left in town, he sings on the soaring chorus, which is spiked with a faintly lecherous twist: Do you wanna mess around?
Im a Trainwreck
Im a trainwreck/Im a mess/But Im gonna take you dancing/Put on your party dress, sings Miller in this cut from the second installment of The Grand Theatre (released in 2011), a collection that was honed over a week spent at Dallas Sons of Hermann Hall. Although the lyrics suggest frivolity, theres a burned-out indifference in Millers voice, a resignation to the idea that Friday night has rolled around again. Intentionally or not, it indicates the direction the 97s would take with their next record.
Longer Than Youve Been Alive
The fuse thats lit at the beginning of the newest 97s LP, Most Messed Up, Longer Than Youve Been Alive catalogs 20 years spent jumping off drum risers, drinking way too much and earning your stripes, one gig at a time. You should know the truth/Its both a blast and a bore, Miller confides, although its hard to imagine him and his bandmates doing anything else.