For many people, there was no better representation of the Garage rock movement of the early aughts than the could care less cool of NYC punks the Strokes. Five trashyish fellas who could also play turned out to be one of the defining bands of the decade, and along with Casablancas and Hammond, Valensi, Fraiture and Moretti managed to not care all the way to the top. Now, some albums are stronger than others, but this is a band that has managed to strive even when albums sometimes fall flat. Here’s their ten best tracks, from ten to one. Enjoy
10. Juicebox, First Impressions of Earth
I first remember being pumped about this record because at the time, I thought that “Room on Fire” was garbage(More on that later), and I was really pumped to see them bounce back. Anyway, the song has a really nice and thick guitar part, and while the drums aren’t full in your face, they measure up nicely and enhance the track, especially during the chorus. Hammond and Valensi both really do well on guitar here, and because of the back and forth, it’s able to make the song all it’s meant to be.
9. What Ever Happened, Room on Fire
So yeah I hated this album for some reason for years, and then one day shortly after seeing them at Shaky Knees I tried again. And I was blown away. This entire record is dope as fuck, but there’s no other way they could have started this record and had it been any better. Again the guitar parts glisten in the gutter, and Julian’s worn and husky voice belts out the vocals like noone else in modern rock can do. The bridge near the end of the track during the “You don’t miss me part” is wonderful, and makes you shake your hips while I remember that “I want to be forgotten and I don’t want to be reminded.”
8. Machu Picchu, Angles
The opener from one of their least lauded albums, “Machu Picchu” is a departure of sorts, but it still manages to sound like the Strokes. I don’t honestly think they can make themselves sound un-strokes like, but this song and record as a whole really serve as a good departure and reminder that they can actually do more than a few things well. The beat prevailing through the background and the slightly filtered vocals add to the 80’s feel of the song, and even though Julian’s vocals are a little muddled, it genuinely feels like the band is spreading their wings and making an album that was out of the ordinary.
7. Under Cover of Darkness, Angles
From the opening guitar chords and the pounding drums, this track has classic Strokes written all over it. One of the best songs on this often overlooked record finds us at number seven on the Top ten countdown of the best Strokes songs, but it’s true beauty lies in the chorus. Seriously it’s perfect. It’s a track that remains for me a song about lost love, and the mistakes you make during your life. You can feel the frustration throughout the song, and when the chorus kicks in again, the notes Casablancas is able to hit really set the song up to be great. I just picture someone bidding adieu and vanishing “”Under Cover of Darkness.”
6. Reptilia, Room on Fire
Opening with this song at Shaky Knees without a doubt had a major role in me surrendering to the brilliance that is “Room on Fire,” but the song is so much more than that. So many of the lyrics see JC at his off the wall best, and lyrically it might be my favorite song. When he bellows out “I thought I told you this world is not for you,” you really feel the tension in one of the murkiest of situations, but even on top of that the instrumentation kills it repeatedly. It’s a great song, full of massive hooks, and when this record came out, even though I wasn’t a super fan, people were rightfully thrilled that the Strokes were back with vengeance.
5. You Only Live Once, First Impressions of Earth
Another one that may not always be mentioned among their best sees us at Number five. For me it’s a track that’s musically chipper and upbeat while still maintaining somewhat dark lyrical content. The drums are on point throughout, and the guitar parts only help to move the song along on a upbeat rollercoaster. This album isn’t their best, but it’s certainly not their worst. Quite a few songs on this record have become standards, but I think more than any other song, “You Only Live Once” stands as the best.
4. Someday, Is This It?
It’s very hard to figure out how to mix songs and still be fair when making these lists, and it’s doubly hard in regards to a band who made two albums back to back that are utterly brilliant. “Someday” kick off the “Is This It?” phase of the countdown with a jingly arrangement and gravely lyrics that all play a part in marking the importance of the Strokes. One of the smallest but best parts of the song without a doubt is the minimal yet funky bass hook in between the first and second choruses. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it section, but it works brilliantly in keeping the spirit of the song on course while the band transitions.
3. Taken for a Fool, Angles
No idea why, but when I first heard “Taken for a Fool,” off of 2011’s “Angles,” I was completely blown away and as you can see by it's placement on this list, it’s easily one of the best songs they’ve ever written. As a person who’s worked in the service industry I can perfectly relate to the “Monday and Tuesday is my weekend” line, and throughout the song I can’t help but think the lyrics and the way the vocals are mixed really have a sweet, charming quality to them. This album is a bit more polished than other releases, but when it plays into the album in the way it does, you can’t really complain.
2. the Modern Age, Is This It?
This was a hard choice between one and two, but since I can’t do a tie, this song remains at number two. The marching quality of the song is there from the offset, and the drums are the major star of the opening section. Quite simply everything works here. From the drums, to Hammonds guitar and Julian's squirrely voice it all fits in a nice midnight NYC bow that permeates with classic hooks and a sense of I give no fucks I’m here to play rock n roll. This song exemplifies what they as a band do so well. One of the best parts of the track is the chorus, and what makes it so great is how easy it is to sing along to. That doesn’t happen in every Strokes song, so when it does happen you have to rock it out.
Hard to Explain, Is This It?
I’m sure many people will gripe at the absence of ‘Last Night” and “New York City Cops” at the top of the list, but for my money no song the band has ever created stands as tall as the perfect in every way “Hard to Explain.” Years ago I had a friend who told me he was speeding down the interstate on New Year's Eve and as he was viewing the fireworks filling the sky, this song was playing and rocking his world. I still think about this nearly every time I hear the song, and while it’s not my memory, it perfectly describes the intensity and driving nature of the song. Musically it’s brilliant, but lyrically it’s perfect in almost all ways. The play on words is great and when Julian sings “I like it right here but I can not stay,” you feel the pain of leaving a wonderful place, and while you will always love it, it’s time to depart and continue on your journey. Sometimes life is just “Hard to Explain,” which is why we have music. Thanks for reading, see you Monday.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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