In Listen to this, The AV Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week we’re picking up some of our favorite songs from 1996.
Wilco, “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” / “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)” (1996)
Wilco’s first LP A M is a nice little record with a handful of wonderful songs, but it’s unassuming with a flaw. When A M came out in 1995, it felt like a side project – the kind of thing that conductor Jeff Tweedy could have wiped out in a weekend while still a member of the influential band of alternative country Uncle Tupelo. While Tweedy’s ex-Tupelo partner Jay Farrar made a strong statement of intent with the debut album by his post-breakup band Son Volt, Trace, Wilco seemed like a footnote for fans of the mid-90s Neo-American wave. On the verge of lapsing into cultural worthlessness, Tweedy dug deep, taking some of his most personal lyrics and putting them to music that not only superficially resembled its roots-rock and power-pop heroes, but also had their vitality. Wilco’s second album, Be there, could not be easily ignored.
Packed with explosive songs and stretched to double length, Be there made comparisons to the Rolling Stones Exile on the main street, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ To hell with the torpedoes, and Neil Young Rust never sleeps. Tweedy even praised Young’s penchant for including two versions of the same song on some of his albums by putting the raucous single “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” on Be there‘s disc one, then a lighter, more psychedelic take, called “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)”, on disc two. In both versions, the song is bright and bouncy, and easy to sing along with. But by recording it twice – with two distinctly different but equally impressive renditions – Wilco showed himself a bit, stating that the band intended to matter.
What’s especially bold about this move is that the “Outtasite” version on its own is a monster (with an exciting music video to boot). Marry Uncle Tupelo a little and A MFrom the old twang to the kind of catchy ’90s roar that already made Foo Fighters and Weezer rich, Wilco has proven the commercial viability of his sound. In the years that followed, Tweedy would tend to cultivate cult stardom over massive chart success, but “Outtasite” – like the album that spawned it – was a timely and welcome reminder that the acts that inspired Wilco had also hit singles. There is nothing wrong with actively trying to become one of the greatest.
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