I assassin down the avenue
I'm hiding out in the big city blinking
What was I thinking when I let go of you?"
Wilco is an American Alternative Rock band from Chicago, formed in 1994 from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo. (After that pioneering Alternative Country outfit broke up, its two principal singer-songwriters moved on to form their own bands: Jay Farrar started Son Volt, while Jeff Tweedy and the remaining ex-Tupelo members started Wilco.)
While their debut album, A.M., showed a heavy alt-country influence in its own right, Wilco soon evolved their sound in a more eclectic direction on subsequent releases, becoming one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the '90s and '00s in the process even as their lineup changed dramatically over time, with multiple members (including Ken Coomer, Max Johnston, Leroy Bach, Bob Egan, and most prominently the late Jay Bennett) shuffling in and out between 1995 and 2004. Besides with their original work, Wilco has also recorded the Mermaid Avenue series of albums in collaboration with English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, in which they took previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics and set them to music.
Their official website can be found here.
- A.M. (1995)
- Being There (1996)
- All Over the Place (1997) – EP
- Summerteeth (1999)
- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
- More Like the Moon (2003) – EP
- A Ghost Is Born (2004)
- The Wilco Book (2004) – EP
- Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (2005)
- Sky Blue Sky (2007)
- Wilco (The Album) (2009)
- The Whole Love (2011)
- iTunes Session (2012) – EP
- Star Wars (2015)
- Schmilco (2016)
- Ode to Joy (2019)
- Cruel Country (2022)
- Cousin (2023)
with Billy Bragg:
- Mermaid Avenue (1998)
- Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (2000)
- Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (2012), which includes both of the above plus the previously unreleased Vol. III
- Man in the Sand (1999)
- I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002)
- Ashes of American Flags (2009)
A Trope Is Born:
- Album Title Drop: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in "Poor Places", A Ghost Is Born in "Theologians".
- Alliterative Title: "Someday Soon", "Forget the Flowers", "War on War", "Poor Places", "Art of Almost", "Capitol City"
- Animated Music Video: The music video for "Dawned on Me", featuring none other than Popeye and the band itself.
- As the Good Book Says...: "Theologians" paraphrases John 8:21-23 ("I'm going away, will you look for me/ Where I'm going, you cannot come") and John 10:17-19 ("No one is ever gonna take my life from me/ I lay it down").
- Audience Participation Song: Interestingly, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" has become one over the years. In more recent performances of the song, Jeff will get the audience to clap along and sing the guitar riff.
- The Band Minus the Face: While Wilco's face Jeff Tweedy has never left the band, the very first incarnation of Wilco was just the final line-up of Uncle Tupelo, except without lead singer/guitarist Jay Farrar.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: "Theologians":No one is ever gonna take my life from me
I lay it down, a ghost is born, a ghost is born, a ghost is born...
- Big Rock Ending: "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" ends with one of these... until Jeff Tweedy starts playing a different guitar riff, with the band continuing for another 45 seconds.
- Casino Episode: "Casino Queen", which was inspired by a real-life riverboat casino that Jeff took his father to. According to Jeff, his father suggested that he write a song about the experience.
- Cover Version: The first song the band recorded together was Ernest Tubb's "The T.B. Is Whipping Me", for the Red Hot + Country compilation album.
- The band has recorded several other covers for compilations, soundtracks, tribute albums, and b-sides, such as "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" by Steely Dan, "Thirteen" by Big Star, "I Love My Label" by Nick Lowe, "True Love Will Find You in the End" by Daniel Johnston, and "I Shall Be Released" by Bob Dylan.
- Curse Cut Short: "Monday" ends with a shouted "Son of a...!"
- Digital Piracy Is Okay: They encourage recording of their live shows.
- Drone of Dread: "Less Than You Think"
- Early-Installment Weirdness: A.M. and Being There have a straightforward country-rock sound, in contrast to the eclectic sound the band would become known for.
- Epic Rocking: Particularly on A Ghost Is Born and The Whole Love. "Art of Almost" clocks in at seven minutes, while two songs from Ghost are ten minutes and fifteen respectively ("Spiders" and "Less Than You Think"). Subverted with "One Sunday Morning", which, at 12 minutes, is certainly epic, but is almost entirely acoustic, and "Less Than You Think", which contains about three minutes of acoustic piano and vocals, followed by twelve minutes of feedback.
- Sky Blue Sky has "Impossible Germany", which isn't as long as the other examples, but is a more conventional form of Epic Rocking due to a guitar solo occupying its last several minutes.
- Being There has "Misunderstood" (6:28), "Sunken Treasure" (6:51), and "Dreamer in My Dreams" (6:43). Additionally, the band's live performances of "Kingpin" would frequently stretch pass the 7 minute mark.
- Cruel Country is the band's longest album to date at 77 minutes, barely surpassing Being There as their longest album to date. The second disc starts with a track surpassing six minutes, "Many Worlds" (7:52).
- Fun with Homophones: "Kingpin":I caught the flu and away I flew
- Generation Xerox: Tweedy's son Spencer is a talented musician in his own right.
- Genre-Busting: The band is known for their diverse influences, taking elements from rock, country, folk, pop, and electronica.
- Greatest Hits Album: In 2014, Nonesuch Records (the band's former label) released What's Your 20?: Essential Tracks 1994-2014, spanning the first 20 years of the band's career.
- Harmless Electrocution: The comic panels on the cover of Schmilco depict a man using himself as an electrical conduit to power a record player for a young girl to listen to. It's not exactly harmless, as seen by the nosebleed he gets, but since the music continues to play and the girl doesn't seem bothered by it, we can infer that it wasn't deadly.
- Heavy Meta: "Heavy Metal Drummer". Subverted in that it's not a heavy metal song.
- "Wilco (The Song)" probably counts too, due to being self-referential.
- Hidden Track: The original CD version of Summerteeth featured a 23-second gap after "In a Future Age", followed by two hidden tracks: "Candyfloss" and a remix of "A Shot in the Arm". The gap (later dubbed "23 Seconds of Silence") and both hidden tracks were subsequently made visible on download and streaming services.
- Instrumentals: "EKG"
- Instructional Title: "How to Fight Loneliness"
- Just a Kid: "Just a Kid", obviously, which fits the theme of the movie it was made for, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
- Just Friends: The narrator of "We're Just Friends" has recently been told by his partner that they are "just friends"; the narrator, still in denial, refuses to accept it and attempts to salvage their relationship.
- Kids Rock: "Just a Kid" features backup vocals from The Blisters, a pre-pubescent rock band which featured Jeff's son Spencer Tweedy (who was 8 years old at the time) as their drummer.
- Last Note Nightmare: Several tracks on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born degenerate into white noise at the end.
- "Ashes of American Flags" combines this with Call-Forward, as warped snippets of the piano from "Heavy Metal Drummer" can be heard near the end of it.
- "Poor Places" actually includes an Album Title Drop in the middle of its concluding noise freakout.
- "Less Than You Think" might be the most notorious example, tacking upwards of ten minutes of hellish noise onto the end of an otherwise soft and unassuming acoustic song. Might also be a case of Exactly What It Says on the Tin, since the actual song ends less than a third of the way into the track.
- Lighter and Softer: Sky Blue Sky was noticeably more relaxed and soft than its predecessors, which definitely had their quieter and sparser songs, but were much more experimental and noisy overall. Schmilco seems to also follow in this vein, coming on the heels of Star Wars.
- Likes Older Women: Tweedy's wife is almost exactly ten years older than him.
- Live Album: Kicking Television
- Local Reference: In "Far Far Away", the line "Kiss and ride on the CTA" is a reference to "Kiss and Ride" signs located on Chicago's rapid transit system, the Chicago L. The signs are meant to provide locations where customers can pull up their cars and drop off passengers.
- Long-Runner Line-up: The band's lineup has been Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Mikael Jorgensen, Nels Cline, and Pat Sansone since 2004.
- Longest Song Goes Last: Happens on two occasions:
- "Reservations" (7:23) closes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
- "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" (12:03) closes The Whole Love.
- Lyrical Cold Open: Happens on a few occasions, including "Pick Up the Change", "The Joke Explained", "Let's Not Get Carried Away", "Capitol City", and "What's the World Got in Store".
- Minimalistic Cover Art: A Ghost is Born and Ode to Joy.
- Miniscule Rocking: Only one song from their studio albums qualifies, the dissonant opening instrumental "EKG" (1:15) from Star Wars.
- Mythology Gag: The music video for "Everyone Hides'", which features the band members playing a game of hide-and-seek across their home city of Chicago, features two mythology gags. First, Pat Sansone hides in the Music Box Theatre, which is showing the Peter Sellers film Being There, the movie that inspired Wilco's album of the same name.
- Secondly, Glenn Kotche hides in the Marina City apartment complex, the buildings featured on the album cover for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Summer Teeth", "You Are My Face", "Solitaire", "One and a Half Stars"
- Nonindicative Name:
- One-Word Title: Summerteeth, Schmilco, "Kamera", "Reservations", etc...
- Performance Video: The three music videos made for A.M. ("Box Full of Letters", "Casino Queen", and "I Must Be High") all qualify.
- Perishing Indie Rock Voice: Prevalent on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, especially in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart".
- Posthumous Collaboration: The Mermaid Avenue project.
- Precision F-Strike: In "Ashes of American Flags":I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck
- Protest Song: As you might suspect from the Guthrie/Bragg connection, the Mermaid Avenue albums have a few of these: "Christ for President", "The Unwelcome Guest", "All You Fascists", etc.
- Rearrange the Song: The band recorded an acoustic version of "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" for the movie This Is 40.
- Revisiting the Roots: Cruel Country has a style much closer to the band's first two albums.
- Revolving Door Band: Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt have been the only constants in Wilco's history, with multiple members entering and leaving the band during its first decade. Since 2004, however, their lineup has been static.
- Rockumentary: Man in the Sand is about Wilco's collaboration with Billy Bragg on the Mermaid Avenue project, while I Am Trying to Break Your Heart chronicles the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the tensions that led to Jay Bennett's departure from the band.
- Sampling: The British female voice repeating the phrase "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" from "Poor Places" is sampled from a recording of a numbers station that was featured on a compilation of shortwave radio recordings called The Conet Project, which Jeff Tweedy listened to multiple times prior to recording the album. The sample prompted the compilation's record label, Irdial-Discs, to sue the band; the band decided to pay royalties and settle out of court.
- Self-Titled Album: Wilco (The Album), which contains the song "Wilco (The Song)".
- "Sesame Street" Cred: They contributed "Just a Kid" to the soundtrack of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
- Skydiving: The band members skydive and play their instruments at the same time in the "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" music video.
- Solo Side Project:
- Jeff Tweedy formed a side project with his son Spencer (a drummer) called Tweedy, releasing one album, Sukierae. Additionally, Jeff has released Together at Last (an album consisting of solo acoustic reinterpretations of his older material), Chelsea Walls (his original soundtrack for the 2001 film of the same name), and three solo albums' worth of original material, WARM, WARMER, and Love is the King.
- John Stirratt founded a side project band with Pat Sansone in 1999, called The Autumn Defense. The group was founded five years before Sansone became a Wilco member.
- Glenn Kotche has released five albums' worth of original material, mostly consisting of abstract drum and/or percussion compositions.
- Tweedy, Stirratt, and Glenn Kotche also teamed up with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck's band The Minus 5 for the 2001 album Down with Wilco.
- Tweedy, Stirratt, Kotchke and Sansone all contributed to the 2009 album The Sun Came Out by 7 Worlds Collide, a multi-artist charity project headed by Neil Finn.
- Special Guest:
- He's technically a coequal collaborator rather than a guest, but Billy Bragg sings lead vocals on nearly all of the Mermaid Avenue songs he composed the music for.
- Natalie Merchant sings backing vocals (for Bragg) on "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key", and lead vocals on "Birds and Ships" and "I Was Born".
- Corey Harris sings lead vocals on "Against th' Law".
- Feist sings backing vocals on "You and I".
- Step Up to the Microphone: John Stirratt sings lead vocals on "It's Just That Simple" from A.M., which he wrote; it is the only Wilco song (outside of the Mermaid Avenue albums) to not be co-written or sung by Jeff Tweedy.
- Textless Album Cover: Sky Blue Sky
- Title Track: "Summer Teeth" (from Summerteeth), "Sky Blue Sky", "Whole Love" (from The Whole Love), and "Cruel Country".
- Vocal Evolution: Jeff Tweedy's voice has gradually shifted from a deeper, raspy timbre to a lighter, breathier sound; Jeff has also made more frequent use of the falsetto in songs like "Walken", "Dawned on Me", and "Everyone Hides".
- Welcome to the Big City: "Capitol City" describes the strain that one person's move to the big city puts on a relationship, due to the other person not being likely to enjoy life there.
- Wham Line: "Hate It Here" sounds like a song about a man who is pining for his wife or girlfriend while she is away on a business trip (or something similar). However, the last line reveals that the reason he misses her is because their relationship actually went south:I try to stay busy
I take out the trash, I sweep the floor
Try to keep myself occupied
'Cause I know you don't live here anymore...
- "She's a Jar" combines this with Lyric Swap – it starts out seeming like a straightforward love song, but then the line "she begs me not to miss her" from the first verse is echoed at the end with "she begs me not to hit her".
- Word Salad Lyrics: According to Tweedy himself, the lyrics to "Born Alone" were inspired by picking out random words from a book of 19th-century American poetry.
- Many of Wilco's songs have bits and pieces of this. Take the opening lyrics to "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart":I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
- "Hoodoo Voodoo" from the first Mermaid Avenue album – Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics as pure Word-Salad Humor to entertain his kids, but the Billy Bragg and Wilco version turns them more into playful psychedelia.
- Many of Wilco's songs have bits and pieces of this. Take the opening lyrics to "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart":
- Word, Schmord!: Their 2016 album is titled Schmilco.