My Top 25 Strokes Songs

30 May

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer.  I’m not a music critic, far from it and will never be close to one.  All I know about music is “THAT SOUNDS NICE” and hoping that Amazon gives away free mp3 credit.  So I’m writing this post as a simple fan of a band that I love, the Strokes, and will give you my favorite songs from my perspective.  I have my own criteria.

Anyway, being a fan of the Strokes comes with the same misconceptions as it did back in 2001.  They aren’t quite “hipster” as they were first alleged to be but the initial prejudice of that when they first came to prominence still exists.  After the release of their iconic (yes, I believe that adjective is accurate) debut album “Is This It”, the Strokes kind of gradually faded from the mainstream.  Room on Fire brought excellent tracks, as you will see here, but the album drew some criticism for sounding too much like the debut.  When the Strokes tried to experiment a bit with First Impressions of Earth, they received criticism for changing too much (though the album wasn’t exactly organized).

Critics are tough on the Strokes, ironically considering they were the darlings of the media at first.  The combination of the band’s lack of interest in self-promotion (even with catchy songs, they still had trouble charting on Billboard and earning radio play) and some of the alleged frosty relations between the group made it hard.  The long gap between First Impressions and Angles also hurt their chances at being the band that would “change rock”.

Nonetheless, the Strokes deserve credit for at least helping change rock (along with groups such as the White Stripes, The Killers and lesser-known groups as the Hives) at the beginning of the millennium.  Regardless if you like them or not, the new era of rock evolved from blink-182 inspired pop-punk, Korn/Limp Bizkit-inspired nu metal and post-Nirvana grunge into skinny jeans and a sound akin to 70s garage or 80s synth music (as in the Killers).

I grow tired of the usual Strokes criticism but given the ardent fanbase they kept, I can understand the frustration.  No one likes it when rich kids stay rich, but the Strokes were a band for the better part of three years before Is This It.

With all that said, let’s take a look at my top-25 Strokes songs.

25.  50/50 – Comedown Machine
The Strokes newest album, Comedown Machine, sounds like a sequel from Julian Casablancas’s debut solo album Phrazes for the Young.  50/50 is a bit of a misnomer in the album though and a welcome addition to their discography.  50/50 sounds a bit more like an Arctic Monkeys track but hearing Casablancas’s raw, slightly distorted vocals remind me of Is This It.  50/50 is probably a sample of what critics hoped Room on Fire sounded like.

24. Hawaii – B side to Juicebox
In my opinion, the Strokes don’t have the strongest b-sides but Hawaii is an exception.  With a Beach Boys-esque guitar and Casablancas’s seemingly lazy sounding vocals imitating Brian Wilson; this song is one of the band’s most underrated.  Also, this was one of the debuts of Casablancas’s falsettos though the “ohhhh ohh oh ohhhhhs” aren’t quite the same as One Way Trigger.

23.  Two Kinds of Happiness – Angles
I’m not a fan of U2 at all, but I can’t help but enjoy the third track off Angles even though this song does scream U2.  Nonetheless, this song is a bit different than most of the songs in the Strokes collection.  Actually upon listening to this song now, I can’t help but describe this as if Lou Reed headlined an 80s arena rock band.  Two Kinds of Happiness is one of the only songs on Angles that was written exclusively by Casablancas.

22.  Electricityscape – First Impressions of Earth
Now that two albums have passed FIoE, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the album.  Some of the songs were definitely more “miss” than “hit” but Electricityscape is the main song that bridges the gap between Room on Fire and Angles.  Every year that passes, I like this song more and more.

21.  Machu Picchu – Angles
One of the most “80s” sounding songs the Strokes have in their collection.  This actually might even be too low for this song, as it ranks amongst its best but its my ranking, not yours.  I’m a bit low on Angles compared to the rest of the albums, but Casablancas’s vocals (like the rest of the album recorded separately) works perfect.  

20.  Soma – Is This It
Its a testament to how much I love that Soma is only 20th on my rankings as its a great song.  Soma is one of the Strokes most “literary” songs harkening a Brave New World but also I guess that’s why most people think they are pretentious.  But screw ’em; this is a great song.

19.  Meet Me In The Bathroom – Room on Fire
Even now, I forget that Meet Me In The Bathroom is on Room on Fire as opposed to Is This It.  Some of the album does get criticized for sounding too much like its predecessor and I would assume most would point to this song as being key to that idea.  Nonetheless, Is This It was great as is Meet Me In The Bathroom which is rumored to be about Courtney Love.

18.  Under Control – Room on Fire
One of the songs that I thought the band should’ve released as a single, Under Control is one of the best album tracks the Strokes have ever released.  Casablancas starts really progressing as a songwriter here, and this could be considered the prequel to the next song on this list….

17.  Razorblade – First Impressions of Earth
This is the song that does indeed, have a VERY similar chorus to Mandy by Barry Manilow, but I love it.  Its an awesome anti-love song (“my feelings are more important than yours”) and reminds me of a more polished version of Under Control.  Its humorous, sarcastic and slightly douchey; which sums up the band in interviews and adds to their charm.

16.  All The Time – Comedown Machine
No, this is not one of the Strokes best songs but it means something.  From the video to the song itself, this is almost like a summary of the Strokes career in itself; almost bringing everything full circle.  It sounds the most like a track from “Is This It” and will most likely be the band’s only single from Comedown Machine and their last single under their contract from RCA; one that was 12 years long.  Older Strokes songs are nostalgic in the sense that it sounds like something from somebody else, but this is a nostalgic song that reminds you of the whole career of the band.  

15.  The End Has No End – Room on Fire
Yes, this was actually a single and while I’m not sure if this is more “single-y” than other songs from Room on Fire, its great in its own right.  Valensi and Hammond’s guitar playing are the heroes here though this song is one of the better examples of Casablancas’s strong scream, sounding its closest to Jim Morrison.  

14.  Under Cover Of Darkness – Angles
With a reference to Last Nite (“everybody’s been singing the song for 10 years”), the lyrics of this song reminds me of the Strokes discomfort with each other but were willing to tough it out.  This is, at least according to the Billboard charts, the Strokes third biggest hit and its a catchy pop tune that probably should’ve been bigger than what it was.

13.  Take It Or Leave It – Is This It
When the Strokes began to start touring in the early-2000s, their performances of Take It Or Leave It are some of their best live ones period.  From the performance on Letterman in which Casablancas wipes out to him going in the crowd during their awesome MTV $2 bill concert.  Plays much better as a live song than its recording.

12.  Barely Legal – Is This It
If a song could sum up what I assume the Strokes were like in their beginnings, its this one.  Rambunctious, wild and light-hearted, this is one of the songs that is a must-download if you are either unfamiliar with the Strokes or their non-single tracks.

11.  Someday – Is This It
This is one of the most “fun” songs that the Strokes have to offer.  You can’t help but smile when this song gets played as Casablancas talks about the “good ole’ days”, I can’t help but harken back to this whenever a big change happens in my life.  Great song.

10.  Welcome To Japan – Comedown Machine
It seems like the Strokes could care less about promoting Comedown Machine (or RCA doesn’t care and wants to move in), but if the Strokes were to release another single, this would be it.  One of their best songs, not just in the post-Room on Fire era, but period and it makes the album a lot better than what it is.  

9.  Reptilia – Room on Fire
Yes Guitar Hero made this more famous than Room on Fire did, but this is one of the heaviest Strokes songs and probably one of their best videos too (though not much competition).  Nikolai Fraiture’s bass begins it all and Nick Valensi is key to this record as well.  Great group performance and dynamic in this one.

8.  Is This It – Is This It
How can you not like this song?  Many similar countdowns exclude this song, for some odd reason, but its a great beginning to their debut.  Its the closest thing they had to a “ballad” but its just an excellent, classic Strokes song.

7.  What Ever Happened? – Room on Fire
I don’t think most people would put this on their lists, but this is one of my favorite songs.  How can you not like the song that begins with Casablancas wailing “I wanna be forgotten”, it could be considered how the Strokes felt towards the media in the run-up and post-release of Is This It.  If you asked me to point to a song that summed up the Strokes, I would be tempted to pick this.

6.  You Only Live Once – First Impressions of Earth
Yes, yes, the original YOLO.  But this is the finished product of the demo of “I’ll Try Anything Once” which is also worthy of inclusion on this list but is a totally different song.  This is one of the strongest Strokes singles and a fun song to sing and listen to.  Casablancas sounds crystal clear on this record and again, like most Strokes songs, should’ve been a far bigger hit.

5.  Taken For A Fool – Angles
The Strokes are in their 30s now, but even with lines such as “Monday, Tuesday is my weekend”, you can’t help but admit that they are still cool.  Helped penned by Nick Valensi and drummer Fabrizio Moretti is, in my opinion, their best single in the past 8 years.  Also, their best song.  An earworm, that sounds like a lovechild between Room on Fire, First Impressions of Earth and Phrazes for the Young.  I could gush more about this song, but there’s still more left.

4.  12:51 – Room on Fire
Obviously this is not one of the most favorite songs of the Strokes (they dropped it from the setlist) and with its claps and heavy ripping off of “Just What I Needed”, its more of a prequel to Comedown Machine than a sequel to Is This It.  But, this is my countdown and thus this is one of my favorite songs of all time.  Come back after a night out at college, at 2am or so and play this song and it fits perfectly.  Valensi’s guitar playing, which mimics a synth, is one of my favorite riffs in history which mixes perfect with Hammond Jr.’s chords.  The video, which is a clear allusion to Tron, is also awesome and for some reason fits the song perfectly.  

3.  New York City Cops – Is This It (UK)
After the attacks on September 11th, this song was hastily scrapped from Is This It and thus, is only on the UK version of the album.  Still, this is a staple and also one of the best Strokes songs period; especially when played live.  I linked the performance of this song instead of a recording because its so great and is one of their best televised performances.  Love the little solo by Moretti followed by the throaty scream of Casablancas.  It might not be a masterpiece but its a great little song.

2.  Hard To Explain – Is This It
The first official single by the Strokes has stood the test of time.  Its the perfect introduction that the band made to the music world and its quintessential Strokes.  Its the perfect retro, throwback song that defined the Strokes’s fashion and musical sense.  This might’ve only heightened expectations of Is This It but this ranks as one of the best songs of the millennium for a reason.  It is not hard to explain.

1.   The Modern Age – Is This It
My #1 choice.  This is the perfect performance to a near-perfect song.  Its obviously a vintage sounding track and Casablancas is doing his best Lou Reed impressions.  Lyrically it calls for an older time and seems to refer to Casablancas’s childhood, which makes it even more “vintage”.  What’s even greater about this song is that this really started it all.  Hard To Explain was their official first single but this was off the EP that started the furious bidding war for the band.  Casablancas’s lazy sing-speak of this song only adds to it and their performance at $2 bill linked above shows the perfect “we don’t give a ….” attitude that the Strokes were alleged to have.

Last Nite – Is This It

No, I didn’t forget this, nor do I do not believe its worthy of inclusion on this list as it is one of my favorite Strokes songs.  However, I think this song is worthy of its own category.  I struggle to find if many songs that are more influential than this one in over the past decade or so in music.  From its memorable intro, to the video that even Sum 41 parodied, the riff that they admitted to ripping off of American Girl by Tom Petty, to the iconic throwing of the microphone stand by Julian Casablancas; this is the song that all of you know even if you don’t know the artist.


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