The Over/Under: Elliott Smith

elliott-smile5002Corey duBrowa can clearly remember two pivot points in the career of Elliott Smith: the first solo show he attended (Sept. 17, 1994, at a long-forgotten Portland, Ore., all-ages venue called Umbra Penumbra, where Smith played a combination of acoustic Heatmiser material and some new songs that would later appear on solo debut Roman Candle) and Smith’s posthumous Portland memorial (Oct. 25, 2003; the event and everything leading up to it was first published by MAGNET as a free-form essay called “The Moon Is A Lightbulb Breaking”). Throughout his career, Smith recorded way more material than ever made it to the public’s ear, some of which comprises the “underrated” portion of this week’s The Over/Under. The rest of which, we eagerly await …

:: The Five Most Overrated Elliott Smith Songs
1. “Miss Misery” (1997)

This Good Will Hunting centerpiece was the one Elliott Smith song your mom could be counted upon to know, thanks in part to his somewhat shaky appearance during the Oscars, performing the tune in an out-of-character white Prada suit and standing between Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood to take bows afterward (an experience Smith characterized as “very strange, but it was fun to walk around on the moon for a day”). But I’m not hating on “Miss Misery” just because of its relative fame. There’s actually a lot about this song to appreciate: its clever lyrical turn (is Smith talking about his love of/need for melancholy or a woman so perpetually unhappy she’s known to him as Miss Misery?), one of his patented key changes at the bridge, an ungodly amount of sweat equity invested in it since recording an early demo at Larry Crane’s Jackpot! Studios (which can be heard in a different key and with different lyrics on 2007 compilation New Moon). Unfortunately, there’s just not all that much to love. With Smith’s music, the distance between appreciation and affection, especially later in his career, would prove to be crucial.

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2. “Son Of Sam” (2000)
Figure 8, Smith’s second major-label album, was recorded, in part, at Abbey Road Studios and featured a more detailed, lush set of sonic surfaces than his sparser, early material. While some songs on the album benefited greatly from this treatment (“Everything Reminds Me Of Her,” “I Better Be Quiet Now”), “Son Of Sam”—the album’s second single and used to soundtrack the Tim Robbins cinematic backflop Antitrust—isn’t one of them. Despite its title, the song isn’t about serial killer David Berkowitz; like much of Smith’s work, it’s impressionistic, drawing together images of creativity (Hindu god Shiva) and destruction (the Shining Path) to disorienting effect. Having heard early solo acoustic versions of the song sans its ornamentation (honky-tonk pianos, a distorted electric-guitar orchestra, bashing, up-front percussion), it’s clear that Smith was struggling to walk a fine line between the small-scale charm of his first recordings and the ambition associated with his king-sized talent. Not to mention DreamWorks’ vision for how to best realize it.

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3. “Baby Britain” (1998)
Perhaps Smith’s former bandmate, Heatmiser singer/guitarist Neil Gust, put it best when we both participated in a National Public Radio program commemorating the fifth anniversary of Smith’s death: “After [1997’s Either/Or], I start to hear Elliott using his songs to attack himself and other people as his problems with alcohol and drugs—and the way he wrestled with himself—became more and more the stuff he was writing songs about. As [his career] goes on, I find it harder to listen to.” Well, Neil, me too: XO‘s “Baby Britain” can be read as one long dive into the murky waters of alcoholism: From its first line (“Baby Britain feels the best floating over a sea of vodka”) to its last (“For someone half as smart, you’d be a work of art/You put yourself apart, and I can’t help until you start”), the song charts a descent into the uneasy terrain of addiction and dependency, name-checking a Beatles album (Revolver) and applying a Fab Four 12-stringed/five-finger discount (the repeating guitar motif is almost directly lifted from “Getting Better”) to negligible effect. For many of Smith’s early fans, songs like “Baby Britain” gave birth to the meme that maybe this major-label foray wasn’t exactly the best thing for his music or career longevity.

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4. “Independence Day” (1998)
As was the case throughout much of Smith’s latter-day career, this is a terrific song saddled with a questionable arrangement. I have a bootleg recording of “Independence Day” from around the same time period it was officially released, with Smith playing it live accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, and the difference between what he originally heard in his head and what he ultimately released (this version includes a drum loop, fer Chrissakes) is like the gap between night and day. XO would sell more than 400,000 copies (more than twice that of his first two indie releases combined), but the era also found Smith talking openly of suicide and questioning just about every aspect of his career, falling in with a crowd that clearly no longer had his best interests at heart. Maybe he was already hoping for independence from that?

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5. “Pretty (Ugly Before)” (2004)
Smith’s posthumously released From A Basement On The Hill turned out to be both more and less than what was expected of his last musical will and testament. More, in the sense that fans who’d followed his career had been led to believe that the mixes he’d wanted for these songs were rough, ragged (and “raw, all he talked about was wanting to go back to before they polished him up,” says Josie Cotton, whose boyfriend at the time, Goldenboy’s David McConnell, helped Smith to track his final work). This conformed to an ideal Smith had been calling the “California frown” in interviews, meaning the tension between the sunny environs of Los Angeles (where he resided at the time of his death) and the pervading sense of doom and isolation he felt living there. Smith had been recording the album in fits and starts over the course of several years and had supposedly come to see it as something of a White Album exercise, stockpiling at least two albums’ worth of songs that veered all over the musical map. Yet it only resulted in a single album, inexplicably leaving “The Assassin,” “Brand New Game,” “Mr. Good Morning,” “Stickman” and “Suicide Machine” off the final release in favor of nonsense such as “Ostrich & Chirping” (a track Smith supposedly had nothing to do with whatsoever). “Pretty (Ugly Before)” is a late-innings Smith pop nugget that represents exactly what he purportedly didn’t want From A Basement On The Hill to be: an extension of his two previous DreamWorks records, right down to the soaring-harmony choruses and layered orchestration. In and of itself, “Pretty” is a fine song (if self-immolating, from a lyrical perspective), but it gives a false impression of an artist in complete control of his faculties, when in reality nothing could have been further from the truth. Like most posthumous releases, “Pretty (Ugly Before)” is better conceptually than it actually is to listen to.

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:: The Five Most Underrated Elliott Smith Songs
1. “Go By” (1996)

By the time Smith had signed his publishing deal with BMG in 1996, the financial cushion gave him more freedom (and time) to write. “You can see it in the reels for the music for the two albums,” says longtime friend/Smith-family musical archivist Crane. “There were three total reels for Elliott Smith and something like eight for Either/Or, some crazy jump in productivity. He was able to stop mudding drywall—or whatever work he was doing—and start writing and recording all the time.” Either/Or outtake “Go By” (later included on New Moon) is a flat-out classic completely of a piece with what ended up on the album’s final running order and soars on the strength of delicately interwoven melodies, carefully constructed lyrics (“You live up in your head, scared of every little noise/Someone’s always breaking in accidentally, using nothing but their voice”) and a chorus as heartbreakingly sad as anything in his catalog. My favorite Smith song by a country mile and one of the few I never saw him perform live.

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2. “St. Ides Heaven” (1995)
I’ll let Richmond Fontaine frontman/Portland author Willy Vlautin take over for a moment: “[Elliott Smith] always makes me think about walking around in Portland at night. I’d be wandering through these neighborhoods wondering, ‘How do you get to the point where you have kids, a boat, you love your wife, you have this really nice house? Well, how does a guy get there?’ And I’d walk down the street drunk, jealous and envious of this guy, his wife and kids, his beautiful house, his vacations. Elliott was a heavy dude. You knew he was writing in blood, that it was sucking the life out of him. He lived hard; his heart was there, all the time, it lived where he was singing. You can tell the difference when a guy really feels it, and when he doesn’t.” I couldn’t have said it any better: “St. Ides Heaven” was the song that told me that Smith meant it, man—that he was living the kind of life he was singing about, where everybody could see he was no good, walking out between parked cars with his head full of stars, high on amphetamines, the moon a lightbulb breaking (and the Spinanes’ Rebecca Gates singing in a fractured harmony behind him). His most evocative, detail-perfect song by a good, long stretch, right down to the open container from 7-Eleven, in St. Ides Heaven.

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3. “Angel In The Snow” (1995)
At this point in Smith’s career, the differences between his solo output—quiet, contemplative songs that often centered around a couple of core themes, such as making angels in the snow, an image he’d return to on “Clementine” (“Drink yourself into slow-mo/Made an angel in the snow”)—and his Heatmiser material—check out “Wake” from 1994’s contemporaneous Yellow No. 5 EP, with its breakneck pacing, distorto-riffs and Smith’s hoarsely shouted verses—were causing no small amount of tension between Smith and his erstwhile bandmates. Heatmiser may very well have represented the sound of the Northwest, circa now: a grunge-leaning combo that seemed perfectly at home on the dingy, smoke-encrusted stages of the band’s hometown. But Elliott Smith outtake “Angel In The Snow” (included on New Moon) still sounds like the shape of the Northwest’s musical future, tipping the emo-centric quietude of artists such as Ben Gibbard, David Bazan and Damien Jurado. Extraordinary, and influential.

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4. “Some Song” (1994)
To judge from its lyrical conceits (“Going down to look at old Dallas town,” indicating Smith probably wrote it sometime after moving to Portland from Texas at age 14; “Charlie beat you up week after week/And when you grow up you’re gonna be a freak,” the Charlie in question likely being his stepfather, with whom Smith had a troubled and occasionally violent relationship), “Some Song” (the b-side of the “Needle In The Hay” seven-inch) is one of Smith’s first songwriting efforts. It’s a deceptively simple two-chords-and-the-truth exercise that nonetheless bears all of his now-familiar hallmarks: slightly asynchronous double-tracked vocals, gently strummed acoustic chords that propel the song forward like a two-minute punk tune and phrasing that was equal parts Paul Simon and Johnny Rotten. (Indeed, the anger with which he spits out the words “you’re a symphony man with one fucking note” is as different from Rhymin’ Simon as Rick James is from Prince.) I remember “Some Song,” plain as day, from that first Umbra Penumbra show, serving notice that Smith’s talent—no matter how understated or buried in the mix it might be—simply wouldn’t be ignored.

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5. “Half Right” (1996)
With Heatmiser teetering on the brink of self-destruction (Quasi’s Sam Coomes joined the group after bassist Brandt Peterson was fired; original drummer Tony Lash hastily left after Mic City Sons was recorded, to be replaced on tour by now-Decemberist John Moen), it was clear even at the time that “Half Right” was a Smith solo tune in all but name. The layered, quietly seething acoustic composition with biting lyrics (“I was sticking up for my friend, and there’s nothing much to defend/It’s a lost fight”) bore much more in common with Smith’s solo oeuvre than anything he’d written for Heatmiser. This was a confusing time for Smith; previously there had been a much brighter line drawn between his Heatmiser material (more rocking) and solo songs (not so much), but now that divide was dissolving and making it more difficult for Smith to determine the appropriate vehicle with which to release all his music. In many respects, “Half Right” marks the point at which Smith made the leap to solo artist (made even clearer on New Moon, where his solo live performance makes the song’s authorship and provenance completely obvious). “It was a miracle that record made it out into the world,” Coomes once told me when asked about the tortured history of Mic City Sons, Heatmiser’s final album. “Everyone should just be happy it got that far.”

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Read MAGNET’s three Elliott Smith cover stories: “Down On The Up Side” (1998); “Emotional Rescue” (2002); and “All Things Must Pass” (2005).

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39 Comments

  1. Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Is it me or was this over-rated section lacking in any substantive/quantifiable criticism or acknowledgement on just how these songs were overrated? Seems more just like explanations/historical editorializing

  2. Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    True, commenter Matt, true indeed. And in the ‘underrated’ category, well, if for instance a song never appeared on an album (until a recent rarities collection) it seems like you could argue the song isn’t ‘underrated’, it’s actually UNrated. But Magnet is valiantly pursuing their Over/Under thing. Maybe they should change it to Over/Over: Over-hyped and Overlooked. Hmm.

  3. Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Some Song is actually a deceptively simple 6-chords and the truth exercise…
    nice to get to hear these UNrated songs, despite the wholier-than-though [sic] disposition of the journalist.

  4. Brian
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    yea I’m not a fan of this section. After the first couple artists it’s now a cut-and-paste intro. And for Elliott I thought ‘oh no, don’t attempt to stir up some forced controversy on Elliott’. It’s shameful. Maybe I’m too reverent of Elliott. And the fact that he’s gone, this seems disgraceful. Do it to some current narcissistic overpaid artist, not Elliott. By the way, this column’s top 5 are some of my favorite songs. His work was too beautiful and fragile to treat in a column like this.

  5. Phil
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, the most overrated are some of his most successful/popular. Get over it loser.

  6. Jack
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    I too do not like this format, or its purpose for that matter. Maybe just a feature for an “underrated” album would suffice. My two cents.

  7. Posted April 1, 2009 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    …. You don’t Have King’s Crossing as a list of underrated.

    THIS LIST FAILS.

  8. plimsoul
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    “Overrated Elliott Smith”: the ultimate oxymoron. Tsk to Magnet for pushing such a sad, forced concept. Tsk, I say!

  9. swade
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    It is just one reporter’s opinion who gets press. It is a pretty useless section. Jack had a good suggestion. Or a reader’s inactive poll would be more interesting..see what everyone thinks. It may draw ones attention to some new song we missed before..

  10. Posted April 1, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Fact check: “Pretty (Ugly Before)” was not a posthumous release. It was put out as a single by Suicide Squeeze while Smith was still very much alive.

  11. Me
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Pretty (Ugly Before) released as a 7″ prior to his death?

  12. Jetrain
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    These types of lists always fail ultimately because there is not enough analysis of why songs are over/under-rated. I also think they might work better with an artist who is a little more mainstream.

    Otherwise, you have to spend too much time explaining the history of the underrated songs, since many are obscure (which as others noted makes them unknown or “unrated” more so than “underrated”). And of course the overrated songs always end up being some of the artist’s most popular songs. How could they not? Nobody is going to pick an obscure b-side as an overrated song.

  13. Posted April 1, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    i’ve only been checking out MAGNET online for about a month or so but, with that said, i SOOOOO *LOVE THIS SECTION*! please, please, please, do not change one thing! reading the comments left by these, eh-em, “fans” just cracks me up everytime. first, to everyone who hates this section–why do you KEEP READING IT AGAIN AND AGAIN? you know, i don’t like FOX News and don’t find it informative or very insightful–guess what, i don’t watch FOX news. simple, right? second, with the frantic overhypization and voluminous consumption of any and everything new that seems to be the norm these days, what this column SUCCESSFULLY does is force these “fans” to remember and appreciate music and musicians that they probably haven’t been listening to lately because they just can’t get enough of Black Kids.

    lastly if you haven’t already, could you PLEASE do a Sleater-Kinney “over/under”? (god, i almost pissed myself just thinking about the potential for comments on this one!)

  14. Posted April 3, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Yikes. Come on. Baby Britain’s lyric “You got a look in your eye when you’re saying goodbye like you wanna say hi” is probably just the greatest lyric ever.

  15. maureen
    Posted April 5, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    seriously; i’d hesitate to say songs like ‘son of sam’ or ‘independence day’ are overrated, considering everyone on earth is apparently a humper of elliott’s first 3. no respect! and the underrated songs-were mostly just unheard, as everyone said. ‘say yes’ anyone? completely overrated. like number one.

  16. laksd
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    What a fucking joke.

  17. foldingben
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    These are only the opinions of one man, I am as big a fan of Elliott as the rest of you and dont agree with the assumptions I have just read but I do appreciate them.
    Elliott Smith is without doubt in my mind the best singer/songwriter who ever lived.

  18. Bill
    Posted April 26, 2009 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    I am not really insulted, though I do really enjoy all of the “overrated” songs mentioned here, but I do have a problem believing the credibility of any connoisseur who dislikes a song simply because of the production values. In fact, I believe Elliott’s continual expansion into studio experimentation was a godsend. I am a listener first, and if I enjoy the details Elliott so lovingly put into a studio version of a song, I can’t really say much about how ‘much better it was live’ or whatever. Similarly, any of his earlier albums or the countless hours of live performances I have copies of are stellar because of the ideas he is presenting, not the quality of the recording. They might sound “rougher” or (as for the live ones) tinny or muddy or sloppy or without backing harmonies, etc., but I cherish them too. I just feel that there’s this weird divide between people who like his “old” stuff and people who like his “new” stuff. I never got the true difference. He’d been known to shelf songs for years, tinker with them, and try them again; it’s not like any of his songs were rushed. They all deserve our careful attention.

    And as far as unheard/underrated goes, how about: “Taking a Fall” (*not “How to Take a Fall”), “Come to Me,” “So Many People,” “I Figured You Out,” and straight from Figure Eight: “Color Bars.”

  19. Posted April 30, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Pretty soon lists like this will say that “Say Yes” and “Waltz #2” are overrated and that “Kiwi Maddog 20/20” is the only song worth listening to.

  20. Posted May 21, 2009 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Your guys are arguing is ridiculous, it’s saying “Hey which Picasso is the best?!” They are all individual songs that are amazing in style and lyrics. I would have to argue albums, each album embodies a different set of feeling. Either/Or would have to be my most favorite because the lyrics are beautiful for one, and it’s calm and mellow; much like his other stuff, of course.

    I think an overrated album that too many want to purchase first is ‘From a Basement on the Hill’ it’s great but his older stuff is beautiful to my ears. At least it seems to be the one most kids buy these days where I live, in Portland, Oregon (name drop).

    I’ll stop right there because I could analyze every song down to a T. I’d like to invite you to stop by my myspace page and listen to my originals and my Tributes to Elliott Smith with covers from the album Either/Or.

    myspace.com/casyburnsed

  21. Posted May 21, 2009 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    p.s. who was the jackass who wrote this?

  22. amber
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    thanks for sharing and showing off your extensive knowledge of some elliott smith songs. everyone, this guy was at one of elliott smith’s early shows. it’s mentioned twice in this article. twice. holy jesus of mercy.

  23. mr_d
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    What a horrible contrivance…. This journalist has got no business in music critique. Go back to playing Xbox and snorting coke. The top 5 most “underrated” songs reviews were pure, untreated sewage! Get a life you egomaniac.

  24. mr_d
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    oh, and the over-rated section wasn’t too good either.

  25. Stephen Toogood
    Posted July 20, 2009 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Have to say, I love both versions of Elliott’s ‘Son Of Sam’…

  26. Brian Mietz
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    “I Figured You Out” and “Twilight” would go on my underrated.

  27. Posted August 27, 2009 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    I like your picks for the underrated songs. Angel in the Snow and St. Ide’s Heaven frequently battle for my favorite Elliott song. Half Right is also amazing. Some Song I hadn’t even heard before this article, so I’m glad I read it. RIP Elliott…

  28. Melissa
    Posted October 18, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Longtime obsessed Elliott Smith fan here, and I gotta say, I really agree with these picks, except probably “Miss Misery,” because the Oscar-nominated version of that song really is incredible. “Pretty (Ugly Before)” is definitely one of the worst, and the acoustic version of “Independence Day” is, indeed, better.

    But what I MOSTLY agree with about this is the pick “Go By”!!!! This is what I always list as my favorite Elliott Smith song. It’s got the most plays on my iPod. And “St. Ides Heaven” is usually my choice for a mix CD I make for someone else.

    I would have picked “No Name No. 6” (the one with the chorus “This time we can’t lose”) instead of “Some Song” but it’s pretty much the same idea. But that guitar sound in “No Name No. 6” and the harmony, it’s too good to be a b-side.

    As for “Not Half Right,” I actually like all the rockin’ Heatmiser stuff. I’d rather listen to the album “Dead Air,” because if I want to listen to Elliott Smith playing Elliott Smith-type songs, I’d listen to Elliott Smith, not Heatmiser. One lesser known Elliott Smith-like Heatmiser song is “Antonio Carlos Jobim” off Cop and Speeder, ya’ll should listen to that if you haven’t. Also, you should listen to the song Elliott did with Lois, called “Rougher.” He sings back-up and plays lead guitar, and my guess is that he had some assistance in writing the song as well, because it is soo much better than the rest of the album.

    Yeah, “Go By”!!!! Yeah!

  29. Kelly
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    All are great songs. Really, how can you rate Elliott’s songs when he only has a small handful of kind-of-bad ones?

  30. Posted November 7, 2009 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Generally speaking, is there really such thing as an over-rated Elliott song? Of course not. The one you may think is a dud is quite likely someone else’s favorite.
    As to the 5 “over-rated” tunes listed here, “Miss Misery” is a typically melodic gem with a dynamite opening line (“I’ll fake it through the day with some help from Johnny Walker Red”). Sure, the pun on miss/Miss isn’t Elliott’s most artful turn of phrase, but he turns the conceit into a complete chorus all by itself. The arrangement is gorgeous. Harmonies angelic. And it’s so fantastic to hear Mr. Misery, himself, taking a bittersweet swipe at a misanthrope of the fairer sex. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
    Regarding “Son of Sam”: how about the aggressive drive of that middle eight (at least up to “king for a day,” after which, it admittedly goes a little overboard with the electric guitars)? And I may be wrong, but I always assumed the Shiva lyric was another of the many heroin references in Elliott’s oeuvre. And of course, the songs isn’t “about” David Berkowitz. Elliott would never be interested in writing something that obvious. I think the gist of song is that Elliott self-identifies more readily with the lamentable side of humanity, confessing “I’m a little like you/More like Son of Sam.”
    This brings us to “Baby Britain” where drinking is incidental to the mute, isolation described in rather insightfully psychological detail. Yes, it’s bouncy and decidedly Beatles-esque. God forbid. But no aspect of the performance threatened the quality of this man’s catalog or his potential longevity as an artist.
    As for “Independence Day.” What does Mr. DuBrowa require . . . more cymbal crashes than the perfectly contextualized drum loop can provide? Pa-shaw. Is it possible that the title/lyrics refer to Elliott’s self-anticipated early demise?
    And finally “Pretty Ugly (Before).” This is an absolute gem of both self-reproach and self-acceptance. Again, close listeners will notice the depth of the lyrics. In a variation of the self-contempt found in “Son of Sam,” Smith describes the ugliness he sometimes felt–physically, existentially, or morally–as an all-encompassing force robbing him of all self-determination (“I felt so ugly before/I didn’t know what to do”). No wonder he was compelled to self-medicate with drugs, a fact of his life that he refers to obliquely in the line “And I’ll feel pretty another hour or two.” Once the drugs wore off, he was always back to square one. This is a bravely revealing and wonderfully crafted song. The kind that differentiates an artist from a craftsman. Notice the call-and-response of the voice and piano in the opening verse. The guitar solo is a tour-de-force of the simplicity and feeling that Elliott was capable of instrumentally. If you want to talk about an aspect of Elliott’s being under-rated, how about mentioning his guitar playing, electric or acoustic? The man developed his own vocabulary on the instrument and wielded it with deadly intent and precision.
    We will never see his likes again. And though I grieve for him, I accept the fact that all of his fragile, haunting, heartful music could not have been created without the struggles he seemingly lived with on a daily basis, and that he and his work will remain criminally under-rated as a whole when people speak of the great pop songwriters of our time. XO

  31. Posted November 14, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    i am a songwriter for 40 years and can figure out any music.
    i have a similar sound as elliotte and felt like elliotte beat me to it when he hit the charts!
    that asside,,,,,,i say we have a similar sound..BUT, elliott’s CHORDS and CHORD PATTERNS boggle my MIND !
    after listening to hid stuff over and over ..”i can almost see HIS CODE?”
    has any more talented and musically educated fan out there UNDERSTAND HIS APPROACH? elliotte for sure uses the same chords to create his sound !
    WHAT EXACTLY IS IT?
    asside from his voice I AM CERTAIN HE HAS SOME SORT OF MUSICAL THEORY OR TUNING OR ABABBA PATTERN HE USED WITHOUT A DOUBT! HELP ..I AM GOING MAD…I FEEL IT IS SOMETHING I MUST KNOW….TO FEEL MORE COMPLETE HERE ON EARTH AS CRAZY AS THAT IS?
    ps. i once had a vision that a friend of mine should play keyboards for elliott.
    ironically this person and his significant other nick named me “the prophet” !
    that being said….a few years later after losing touch with those folkes i had that elliott vision…and how perfect this friend would be playing with elliott.
    WOULD YOU BELIEVE I WENT TO SEE ELLIOTT and my JAW DROPPRD TO THE FLOOR WHEN….MY FRIEND WAS ON KEYBOARDS AND GUITAR IN ELLIOTTS BAND !!!!!!!
    SWEAR TO GOD! INSANE !!!!
    i was able to go backstage and say hi and shake elliottes hand and say nice job!
    I REGRET NOT ASKING HIM….WHAT IT WAS ABOUT THOSE FREAKING CHORDS?
    was it an alternative tuning?
    TO THIS DAY ……IT IS DRIVING ME MAD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
    how does he look at that freaking guitar neck?
    does he see it as a keyboard?
    BUT LISTEN TO HIS CHORDS AND GUITAR RUNS…? THEY ARE repeated in every other song…its like every song is like his last rearranged? HE REALLY NEVER SWAYS FROM THIS THEORY !!! SOMEONE HELP ME !!!
    AHHHHHHHHH!

  32. Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Everyone hated this article.

    I hated it.

    the idea of over-rated Smith songs is just so pretentious. There were no over-rated songs by this artist- the songs were all brilliant. People tend to hand out flattering and unrealistic superlatives like they’re going out of fashion these days, but all of them are true for this man. His songwriting was as good as Lennon. it’s rare to have a writer, in pop, who has such a command of lyrics, melody, harmony and arrangements. And not just virtuosity in these areas, but restraint, and emotional depth.

    The article was just a bad idea. that should be very clear by nowl

  33. Matt
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s the same story again, a fan that has a certain conception of what “his star” ought to be like, is pissed off once the artist changes. Then the blame goes to producers or labels, when in fact most of it is the result of the artist’s deliberate decisions. Another fan favorite is being pissed off because the insider obscurity that made it “cool” to know an artist is replaced by somewhat broader recognition, and suddenly the artist “sells out” and is just not hip enough anymore. Also, dismissing a song because of the subject seems very odd. He’s singing about his demons, and you go like “Oh please, don’t?”
    Can’t we get over this? Like many others, I believe there are no “bad” or “overrated” Elliott Smith songs. You can pick either one, they all are works of a real superb craftsman who knew his trade and was up there with the real big ones: Brian Wilson, Lennon/McCartney, Townshend, some P. Simon, Costello, Stevie, all of those are in there and their parts form something that is bigger than just the sum.
    This much from somebody who’s not a fan, but an admirer of art and beauty.

  34. mister S
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Some song is all that good. To be honest, I think it’s one of the worst songs he has in his repertoire. It is (for Smith’s) standards somewhat dull and repetitive, not carrying out a clear melody or message. I think you should replace that one with Happiness (the song).

  35. mister S
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Some song is all that good. To be honest, I think it’s one of the worst songs he has in his repertoire. It is (for Smith’s standards) somewhat dull and repetitive, not carrying out a clear melody or message. I think you should replace that one with Happiness (the song).

  36. Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Writers like this are not unlike the forces that drives artists to end their misery. What’s the point of shooting dead fish in the barrel with your lame musical observations. This article, like the writer, like all music journalism, is a stupid fuck. Uninformed. Uninspired. By another wannabe who can’t play an instrument or write a piece of listenable music. Poetry open mic’er. Writer’s time would be better spent correcting ‘your’ vs. ‘you’re’ on Twitter. Not surprisingly, this grade-A prick is now the COO for Starbucks.

  37. JESTERRRRRR
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    As said, no Kings Crossing no good list

  38. Jen
    Posted June 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    I think this article is over-reated! ;P All the songs are awesome. Get a life.

  39. David Comdico
    Posted November 19, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Son of Sam and Independence Day are two of the best pop songs (both with superb arrangements) recorded in the past 20 years. Sure, their oppositional stance to American culture gave them a quick and perhaps too easy cache in alt. circles, but that has worn off with time and what is left is amazing music.

    We could all use less cultural posturing and more open ears and minds (esp. you people raking in on the world).

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