With our Top Ten Decemberists songs, we are looking at a unique band from Portland, Oregon who have been active since they were first formed in 2000 and released their debut ep 5 Songs a year later. A year after this they released their first full length titled Castaways and Cut-outs after which they moved to the Kill Rock Stars label. On this label, they would release their next two albums in 2003 and 2005.
After leaving Kill Rock Stars, they signed with major label Capitol on which they released their fourth album The Crane Wife in 2006. The following year, they would embark on a short tour with an orchestral group titled the “A Bit Of Grass Stain Does Not a Ruined Pair of Jeans Make” tour. After releasing a series of collective singles in 2008 titled Always the Bridesmaid, they would then release their next full-length record in 2009 titled The Hazards of Love.
Then after the release of their sixth album in 2010, they went on hiatus the following year which would last for three years before they re-grouped in 2014. A year after this they released their seventh album titled What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. Their release after this in 2017 was a collaborative effort with British folk singer Olivia Chaney and was a collection of cover of seventies folk revival songs entitled Off Rex. Their most recent album was Ill Be Your Girl in 2018.
Here is a list of their ten best songs.
# 10 – Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
This first track on our Decemberists songs list is taken from their debut album released in 2002 titled Castaways and Cut-outs. For its time, the song has a unique sound. It is rather reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac in a lot of places. Patti Smith would later cover it and say that she wished that she had written it, which has the be one of the best compliments a band can possibly receive.
# 9 – Apology Song
Up next is a very early Decemberists song that is taken from their debut ep released in 2001 titled 5 Songs. This track makes the title of the ep misleading as it is actually the sixth track featured on it. The title of this track is a reference to the fact that the song was written as an apology to a friend of frontman Colin Meloy for losing his bike.
# 8 – The Engine Driver
This song is taken from the Decemberists third album Picaresque released in 2005. This song is often quite rightly regarded as one of the band’s best. Meloy is very much getting personal here, as he identifies himself as several different narrators in the lyrics, all of which can be applied to him at various points in his life.
# 7 – Once In My Life
This track is the opening number of the Decemberists most recent album released in 2018 titled I’ll Be Your Girl. The album has something of eighties synth feel to it. The video to it was rather heartfelt as it told the story of a seven-foot man with learning disabilities and his desire for acceptance.
# 6 – The Sporting Life
Here we have another song from Picaresque which as the title would suggest, is about sports. However, it is not a song that particularly celebrates the idea of sportsmanship. Rather, it is about how young men are often made to play sport despite the fact that many of them are not good at it and often get blamed for losing games.
# 5 – O Valencia
This track was The Decemberists fifth single taken from their fourth album The Crane Wife released in 2006. The lyrics tell a “Romeo and Juliet” style story about two star crossed lovers from opposing rival gangs. In the Uk, the seven inch single that was sold was mis pressed with “Culling of The Fold” being listed as the B Side despite it actually being “After The Bombs.”
# 4 – Sixteen Military Wives
Up next is a single taken from Picaresque. The song is a political song about the Iraq War. Even though it does attack the foreign policy of the Bush Administration, it is also critical of the news media’s coverage of the war as well as the involvement of celebrities in political affairs. The album reached number five on the Heatseekers chart and number 128 on the Billboard 200.
# 3 – Down By The River
At number three on this list is a song taken from the Decembrists sixth album The King Is Dead released in 2010. The song features contributions from guitarist Peter Buck of R.E.M ,who Colin Meloy has said that it is influenced by, which is very evident ( it has a particular resemblance to “The One I Love”.) It also features singer-songwriter Gillian Welch who provides vocal harmonies. The sound has also been compared to that of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, both of which are easy to see. It was met with success, reaching number thirty-three on the US Rock songs chart and being nominated for both Best Rock Performance and Song at the fifty-fourth annual Grammy Awards.
# 2 – Billy Liar
Just off the top spot is The Decemberists debut single taken from their second album Her Majesty The Decemberists released in 2004. The song’s title is taken from an English novel and is about boredom that a young man suffers during long summer days. Despite the dragging subject matter, it is an upbeat piano-driven pop song.
# 1 – The Perfect Crime Number 2
At the top of our Top Ten Decemberists songs list is this single taken from The Crane Wife. Somewhat confusingly, the song is a sequel to the song “The Perfect Crime # 1” which was previously unreleased and would later be included as a bonus track on subsequent reissues of the album. It was the second single from the album after “O Valencia,” making the album the only one to have more than one single released from it.
The Decemberists Songs Ranked article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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