The Greatest American Band Debate: Wilco

You do not know who Wilco is? Well let me introduce you to a candidate for the Greatest American Band. You know who Wilco is and you think I am crazy to submit them as the Greatest American Band. Well let me kindly show you why you are so very wrong in your wrong opinion you wrong person.

Many people unfairly loop Wilco in with bands like The Eagles, country rock. No, no, and double no, Wilco is not a country-rock band (plus I do not like The Eagles and would never nominate anyone in the same ballpark as that drivel). It is true that all music needs to fit a category, and Wilco's early work put them in the realm of alternative country. There is no way that their music could be lowered to the "good time easy feelings" of The Eagles. Jeff Tweedy wanted to create his own sound, and he was well on the way.

Wilco was a band formed out of the disagreement between two leading members of the alternative country group Uncle Tupelo. Singer Jay Farrar created Son Volt, and the rest of the band created Wilco. Jeff Tweedy immediately continued the sound of Uncle Tupelo with albums like A.M. and Being There. The spark of the country alternative music world was founded in these albums. The die hard Wilco fans will still listen to these albums, but Wilco was not even close to becoming one of the greatest american bands.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the album that moved Wilco from the cult category into the bound for greatness fast lane. The story about how the album was bought twice by the label is great in its own right. Go see the movie I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, it is an incredibly fascinating look at why the corporate music culture is so messed up. The story behind the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is awesome, but the album itself is way more awesomer (that is a word).  The opening track, "I am trying to break your heart", is the call of a band moving from alternative country into a realm of music that has yet to be inventive. The rest of the album is kinetic and inventive in a way not seen in american music.

Wilco followed up the groundbreaking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with two more great albums. A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky both continued to grow the Wilco sound. Any time I hear the song "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and I am immediately transported to time when I had to drive directly through the city of Chicago during rush hour. That song gave me the soundtrack for my montage of tolls and waiting. "The Late Greats" is one of the few songs I know every word, and belt them out when the song gets picked in my roulette of random tunes on my phone. "Impossible Germany" is the complete package of great music with great lyrics. "Hate it Here" is a comfortable tune to listen to during my moments of doubt. The songs are great, but that is not why Wilco is considered one of the greatest american bands.

During this prolific time Wilco not only became a great band, they created the iconic Wilco sound. Their later works just grew this sound, including their exceptional recent album Star Wars (best album cover art ever). This sound is uniquely Wilco, it is uniquely american. Many artists have embraced the idea of country alternative (Drive-By Truckers, The Avett Brothers, and The Decemberists are just a few examples). All of these bands are just following in the footsteps created by Wilco. 

What makes the greatest american band? Early discord amongst the band, check. Issues with record lables, check. Having a run of one great album after another, check. Creating great songs, check. Incredible album art (you really need to see  the cover of Star Wars and download the album). Inventing a unique and defining sound, check plus.The total of the parts prove that Wilco is one of, if not The, greatest american rock band.

Prove me wrong.

RD Kulik

RD Kulik is the Head Editor for SeedSing. He is really not trying to break your heart. Give your voice by writing for SeedSing.