Top 10 Songs By The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks Songs

Feature Photo: Paul Carless, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our top 10 songs by The Jayhawks look at the body of work of an American band best known for its impactful role in the alternative country music scene. Formed in 1984, The Jayhawks rose to success thanks to the impeccable musicianship of guitarists/vocalists Gary Louris and Mark Olson. Before earning bragging rights as one of the progenitors of the alternative country scene in Minneapolis, The Jayhawks explored a blend of country, folk, and roots rock, especially with its first records.

Remarkably, the band became a household name in the Twin Cities even before it issued its debut album, thanks to its eclectic live performances in several clubs. The band would eventually gain a cult following in the early ‘90s following its unimpeachable releases on the major record label American Recordings. Other artists who issued successful records through American Recordings include Tom Petty, ZZ Top, Slayer, System of a Down, and The Black Crowes. Over the years, the band has issued a total of eleven studio albums with the most recent being released in 2020.

The Jayhawks’ Album Releases over the Years

In 1986, The Jayhawks issued their eponymous debut studio album through an independent label, Bunkhouse Records. While the record was poorly received in the mainstream, Gary Louris and Mark Olson’s vocal harmonies echoed legendary musicianship. “Falling Star,” “Six Pack on the Dashboard,” “King of Kings,” and “Let the Critics Wonder” are some of the songs that told the story of a band whose fortunes were just about to be unveiled.

Blue Earth, issued in 1989 through Twin/Tone Records, marked the band’s sophomore studio album. The record was the result of The Jayhawks’ re-mixed set of demos that had been recorded in pursuit of a major label deal. Blue Earth features popular songs by The Jayhawks including “Martin’s Song,” “Two Angels,” “Sioux City,” and “Ain’t No End.”

At the time Blue Earth was being released, Gary Louris was on the verge of quitting The Jayhawks following injuries he sustained from a car crash. Nevertheless, fate had other plans for Gary Louris. His reunion with his bandmates brought him closer to his “musical destiny,” becoming the band’s principal songwriter and vocalist, especially after the departure of guitarist/vocalist Mark Olson.

Doors of success opened for The Jayhawks after signing a recording deal with American Records where the band issued its third studio album Hollywood Town Hall. The album was produced by George Drakoulias, best known for his work with The Black Crowes, Susan Tedeschi, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Primal Scream, and Rhett Miller.

“Take Me with You (When You Go),” “Crowded in the Wings,” “Settle Down Like Rain,” and “Waiting for the Sun” are the best The Jayhawks songs from Hollywood Town Hall. The album was a mainstream success rising to position eleven on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums Chart. Hollywood Town Hall would eventually rise to a peak position of number one hundred and ninety-two on the Billboard 200 Chart.

The Jayhawks returned in 1995 with their fourth studio album Tomorrow the Green Grass still working with George Drakoulias as the record producer. After the release of the album Tomorrow the Greens Grass, Mark Olson left The Jayhawks to form the group Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers. Joining Olson in his new musical group was his wife, Victoria Williams. Coincidentally, one of the hits in the album Tomorrow the Green Grass was penned as a tribute to Olson’s wife, Victoria Williams.

Tomorrow the Green Grass also featured The Jayhawks’ cover of the rock hit “Bad Time,” originally performed by the band Grand Funk Railroad. Other remarkable songs from the album include “Blue,” “Two Hearts,” and “I’d Run Away.” Tomorrow the Green Grass made it to the Billboard 200 peaking at number ninety-two. The album also made it to the UK Albums Chart peaking at number forty-one.

The departure of guitarist/vocalist Mark Olson was a huge blow to the band. Nevertheless, The Jayhawks still managed to achieve some success with its next few releases the first being the 1997 album Sound of LiesSound of Lies was produced by Brian Paulson, a record producer best known for his prodigious work with Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Superchunk, and Slint among others.

“It’s Up to You,” “The Man Who Loved Life,” “Trouble,” and “Sound of Lies” are the best songs by The Jayhawks from the band’s fifth studio album Sound of Lies. The album made it to the Billboard 200 peaking at number one hundred and twelve. Sound of Lies also made it to the UK Albums Chart peaking at number sixty-one.

In 2000, The Jayhawks returned with their sixth studio album Smile. The album was produced by Bob Ezrin, a Canadian producer who has worked with multiple talents including Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Deep Purple, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Aerosmith among others. Smile saw the band take on alternative country music with tinges of power pop sound influences.

The album made it to the Billboard 200 Chart, rising to a peak position of number one hundred and twenty-eight. Smile also graced the UK Albums Chart peaking at number sixty. The album is home to some of the popular songs by The Jayhawks including “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Smile,” “A Break in the Clouds,” “Somewhere in Ohio,” and “What Led Me to This Town.”

Rainy Day Music, issued in 2003, marked the band’s seventh studio album. The album was also The Jayhawks’ final record issued through American Recordings. Tasked with the album’s production work was Rick Rubin (who worked with LL Cool J, Slayer, Beastie Boys, Adele, and Dixie Chicks) in conjunction with Ethan Johns (who worked with Crowded House, the Vaccines, and Paul McCartney of the Beatles).

Rainy Day Music is The Jayhawks’ second highest-charting album on the Billboard 200 peaking at number fifty-one. The album also made it to the UK Albums Chart peaking at the seventieth spot. “Tailspin,” “Angelyne,” “Will I See You in Heaven,” “All the Right Reasons,” and “Save It for a Rainy Day” are the best songs by The Jayhawks from Rainy Day Music.

The Jayhawks went on a hiatus in 2005 reuniting in 2009—its next album Mockingbird Time was issued through Rounder Records two years after the band’s reunion. Mockingbird Time featured the band’s original frontman Mark Olson who had left The Jayhawks in 1995. The album remains The Jayhawks’ highest-charting album to date rising to position thirty-eight on the Billboard 200.

Mockingbird Time  made it to the US Folk Albums Chart peaking at the second spot. The album also made it to the UK Albums Chart peaking at number ninety-two. “She Walks in So Many Ways,” “Pouring Rain at Dawn,” and “Hide Your Colors” are the most popular songs by The Jayhawks from the album.

The band returned in 2016 with its ninth studio album Paging Mr. ProustPaging Mr. Proust was co-produced by Gary Louris, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Tucker Martine (who worked with The Decemberists, Mavis Staples, My Morning Jacket, and R.E.M.). The album graced the UK Albums Chart and Billboard 200, rising to position fifty-one and seventy-five respectively. “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,” “The Devil Is in Her Eyes,” and “Lovers of the Sun” are the best songs by The Jayhawks from the album.

In 2018, The Jayhawks issued the album Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. The album marked the band’s tenth studio album with notable songs on the record including “Bitter End,” “Gonna Be a Darkness,” and The Jayhawks’ cover of the 2006 hit “Everybody Knows: by Dixie Chicks. XOXO, issued in 2020, marks the band’s most recent album. The album features some of the most popular songs by The Jayhawks including “This Forgotten Town,” “Living in a Bubble,” and “Dogtown Days.”

The Jayhawks’ Accolades Legacy

Emerging from the Minneapolis music scene in the ‘80s, The Jayhawks has endured its reign as one of the alternative country mainstays. The band distinguished itself from most alternative country bands with its introspective lyrics and energetic live performances while remaining true to its signature sound. Here we present the all-time best songs by The Jayhawks sampled from the band’s eleven studio albums.

#10- Tailspin

Ushering us to the ten best songs by The Jayhawks is the tantalizing hit “Tailspin.” The song is featured on the band’s seventh studio album Rainy Day Music. The luscious blend of pedal steel and electric guitar tunes in “Tailspin” is among the standout features in this song. Soft-spoken vocalist Gary Louris has listed “Tailspin” as a personal favorite in the album, ranking it above “Save It for a Rainy Day” as per a 2003 interview.

Gary’s feelings about “Tailspin” wouldn’t be so wrong with the band investing quite heavily in this track. “Tailspin” features the luscious (and rare) banjo instrumentation by Bernie Leadon, a musician known for his affiliations with The Eagles, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Hearts & Flowers. The song also features vocal contributions from Matthew Sweet (former member of The Thorns). “Tailspin” was a mainstream success rising to the seventeenth spot on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

#9- I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

Smile, the band’s sixth studio album, saw The Jayhawks incorporate some power pop influences to their signature alternative country sound. While fans of the band’s alternative country sound might have found the album production work a tad bit wanting, we cannot help but notice the saccharine hooks and dynamic (though complex) instrumentation of songs like “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.”

The song speaks volumes about the band’s attempt to give its songs a radio-ready feel. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was a mainstream success peaking at number forty on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. The song also made it to the UK Singles Chart rising to position one hundred and sixty-three. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” also made it to the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay peaking at number five.

Joining Gary in penning this song was Taylor Rhodes, a musician/record producer known for his work with Aerosmith, Y&T, Jennifer Rush, and Loverboy. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was used in the national TV campaign for the Ralph Lauren “Polo Blue” scent. The song is also featured on the soundtrack of the film All Over the Guy and the TV series Dawson’s Creek.

#8- I’d Run Away

Coming in at the eighth spot on our ten best The Jayhawks songs list is the ravishing hit “I’d Run Away.” The song is among the top musical gems by The Jayhawks from the album Tomorrow the Green Grass. “I’d Run Away” features eloquent arrangement that gives it a distinct yet easy and natural sound. Adding to the song’s instrumentation was Lili Haydn with her violin tunes. Lili has worked with other artists/groups including Brandy, Tracy Chapman, No Doubt, Sting, and Tony! Toni! Tone!

The song grabs the attention of its listeners immediately from the start thanks to its beautiful opening lick. Unfortunately, the song never made it big on the mainstream charts. Nevertheless, “I’d Run Away” earned the attention of the band’s fans and other artists including Natalie Maine of Dixie Chicks. Natalie covered the song “I’d Run Away” featuring her version in her 2013 solo debut studio album Mother.

#7- She Walks in So Many Ways

Mark Olson’s return to the band’s lineup in the album Mockingbird Time gave the record a Hollywood Town Hall-Esque feel. Enough proof of this claim is the boisterous hit “She Walks in So Many Ways,” the first single off the album Mockingbird Time. Gary Louris and Mark Olson’s reunion saw songs like “She Walks in So Many Ways” feature impeccable vocal harmonies that fans of the band had missed for quite some time. “She Walks in So Many Ways” was a mainstream success rising to the fifteenth spot on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay Chart.

#6- Bad Time

Number six on our ten best The Jayhawks songs list is the charming hit “Bad Time.” The song is featured on the band’s fourth studio album Tomorrow the Green Grass. “Bad Time” was penned by Mark Farner performed first by the band Grand Funk Railroad. The Jayhawks failed to achieve massive success with this song in comparison to the band Grand Funk Railroad.

However, The Jayhawks’ version achieved success in the UK, making it to the Singles Chart. The Jayhawks’ version of the song features background vocals of Sharleen Spiteri of the Scottish rock band Texas. Vocal harmonies in this song are quite impressive albeit, Sharleen steals the show with her impressive vocal range.

#5- Take Me with You (When You Go)

Hollywood Town Hall, the band’s third studio album, is one of The Jayhawks’ most definitive records of all time, featuring classics such as “Take Me with You (When You Go).” The song keeps its listeners hooked thanks to the flawless vocal harmonies of Mark Olson and Gary Louris. We can’t help but notice the impressive rock guitar solo in this hit.

The blistering guitar solos in “Take Me with You (When You Go)” give the song a tough feel that suits its mood. “Take Me with You (When You Go)” never made it to the mainstream charts. However, the song remains a fan favorite pick to date thanks to the solid musicianship exhibited by the band members.

#4- Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces

“Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” is among the top musical gems that speak volumes of The Jayhawks’ endured success in the alternative country scene. The song is one of the most revered modern songs by The Jayhawks featured on the band’s ninth studio album Paging Mr. Proust. “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” features some jangly guitar riffs that give the song a classic ‘80s feel.

The success of this hit comes after Mark Olson’s second departure from the band. Without a doubt, the absence of the saccharine harmonies from the Olson-Lourie duo can be felt to some extent. However, Lourie’s airy vocals and great production by Tucker Martine and Peter Buck make up for the misses in this track. The song entered the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay Chart, peaking at number twenty-six.

#3- Save It for a Rainy Day

The third pick on our ten best The Jayhawks songs of all time is the luscious hit “Save It for a Rainy Day.” Vocalist/guitarist Gary Louris is credited with penning the lyrics to this song—he quoted in an interview that the song was inspired by a Canadian bank advert. Joining Gary in the songwriting process of this imposing pick off the album Rainy Day Music was alt-rock/power pop singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet.

Gary went ahead to mention that “Save It for a Rainy Day” is one of the two perfect pop-oriented songs he has ever penned—the other one being the hit “Blue.” We couldn’t agree more with his claim having the song present itself as a lyrical masterpiece as from its opening line. “Save It for a Rainy Day” was a mainstream success rising to the tenth spot on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay Chart.

#2- Waiting for the Sun

“Waiting for the Sun” was among the songs that catapulted The Jayhawks into mainstream success. The song serves as the album-opening track on the band’s third studio album Hollywood Town Hall. “Waiting for the Sun” brings us yet again to the impressive vocal harmonies of Mark Olson and Gary Louris.

The song also features a remarkable guitar outro which adds to its uplifting feel. “Waiting for the Sun” was a mainstream success rising to the twenty-ninth spot on the Billboard Hot Modern Tracks Chart. The song also made it to the twentieth spot on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Chart.

#1- Blue

Number one on our all-time best songs by The Jayhawks is the stunning hit “Blue.” The song is the band’s signature hit featured on the album Tomorrow the Green Grass. “Blue” serves as the album-opening track to the band’s fourth studio album. The song was penned by vocalists/guitarists Mark Olson and Gary Louris. “Blue” features dual vocals on the bridge, a move that is quite peculiar looking at The Jayhawks’ releases.

Nevertheless, we still get to enjoy the luscious vocal harmonies in the song’s chorus. Responding to the question of why the band went for dual vocals in this song bridges, Gary mentioned that he and Olson had diverse ideas about the perfect vocal delivery of the hit “Blue.” However, none of the singers was ready to let go of their individual idea in favor of that of the other vocalist. As a result, the two agreed to have dual vocals for this track. “Blue” was a huge success in the UK where it peaked at number eighty-four on the Singles Chart.

Top 10 Songs By The Jayhawks article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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