Certain Songs #1390: Old 97’s – “Question”

Album: Satellite Rides
Year: 2001

And now we come to what is unquestionably my favorite Old 97’s song. Which is ironic on several levels, the most immediate one being that it’s just Rhett Miller all by his lonesome on an acoustic guitar. So I guess that it’s more like my favorite Rhett Miller song, which just adds to the irony in that Rhett remade it on his second solo album, 2006’s The Believer, but with a more full arrangement — keyboards and strings — and it doesn’t work nearly as well.

But man does it work on “Satellite Rides,” not only sticking out like a sore thumb in between the full-tilt rockers, but also in tone: there’s no distance from Rhett Miller and the simple proposal story he’s telling.

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Certain Songs #1389: Old 97’s – “What I Wouldn’t Do”

Album: Satellite Rides
Year: 2001

The thing about Satellite Rides was that it was almost an embarrassment of riches. Nearly every single song was a winner, from the power chord opener “King of All The World,” and running winners like “Rollerskate Skinny” and “Designs on You.”

Hell, even the outtakes were lit: the bonus-CD only “Singular Girl” is as good as anything on the record. And smack damn in the middle were a pair of songs that pretty much made the record for me — tomorrow’s subject, “Question” and the insanely hooky “What I Wouldn’t Do.”

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Certain Songs #1388: Old 97’s – “Buick City Complex”

Album: Satellite Rides
Year: 2001

Of course, by 2001, Rhett Miller wasn’t the only high-profile alt-country bandleader who had turned his sights towards rock ‘n’ roll. Jeff Tweedy had been going in that direction since Being There and was to deconstruct everything on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Ryan Adams had been moving the doomed Whiskeytown away on the electic Pneumonia and of course, went full classic rock on Gold.

In between was Rhett Miller, who followed up Fight Songs with the best record the Old 97’s ever made, 2001’s Satellite Rides, an album that wasn’t nearly as high profile as the news-hook records that both Tweedy and Adams made, but was equally as good. And in fact, I think the best songs on Satellite Rides are probably better than the best songs on Gold or even YHF.

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Certain Songs #1387: Old 97’s – “Nineteen”

Album: Fight Songs
Year: 1999

Nineteen” as Rhett Miller observed at the outset of what feels like an incredibly autobiographical song, even if it isn’t, “is not the age of reason.”

But of course, you don’t realize that shit when you’re nineteen. Hell, looking back, I’m pretty sure I was unreasonable at twenty-nine, much less nineteen. So when Rhett Miller followed up his initial observation with “I didn’t have a reason / to setting you free,” it makes total sense, though his tone is neither anger nor sorrow, but rather wistful resignation.

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Certain Songs #1386: Old 97’s – “Murder (or a Heart Attack)”

Album: Fight Songs
Year: 1999

My favorite song on Fight Songs isn’t really a fight song, or even a love song really, and it sure as hell isn’t alt-country either.

What it is, however, is a song that combines both Rhett Miller’s penchant for clever lyrics and his ability to write a plaintive melody line that sticks in your head.

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