UTG LIST: Ten Songs To Remember Elliott Smith

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of famous singer/songwriter, Elliott Smith. In his short, but vastly influential career, Smith mastered the art of songwriting, creating beautiful piece after piece. In one of his most memorable candid statements, Smith claimed that he thought of songs as shapes, rather than pieces strung together. This aspect of looking at art has followed me since I first heard it, attributing this wave-like cyclical motion of music to the human experience. With his footprint solidified in the soil, I have never experienced music the same.

Together, here at UTG, we decided to compile a list of ten essential Elliott Smith songs, in appreciation of the legacy that he left behind. What did Smith do for you?

“Everything Means Nothing To Me” – Figure 8

A short but profoundly meaningful song, it is the quintessential Elliott Smith. The Chopin-esque piano playing combined with the beautiful lyrics of some personal heartbreak beyond a simple lost love – “a time when he was everything he’s supposed to be” – the outro is a unique, Beatles-y trip into the perfect melancholy that is Elliott Smith’s songwriting, down to the odd drum fills he plays himself to the synth part that swells the end. – Dan Bogosian, News & Review Writer

“Miss Misery” — Good Will Hunting: Music From The Miramax Motion Picture

Performed at the 1997 Oscars, “Miss Misery” was Smith’s jump to the mainstream. Famous for its role in Good Will Hunting, Smith eventually grew tired of the song, and would generally refrain from playing it at live shows. Told from the Academy that another singer would perform it if he did not, Smith reluctantly came onstage in his white suite (his main reason for going) to perform the song standing, after the Academy would not let him sit and play, as he normally did. While a cliché song to write about, denying the weight “Miss Misery” held in Smith’s career would be disrespectful to his stature as a singer-songwriter. Strangely analogous to the events that surrounded the song, Smith would “fake it through the day” for the media related aspects surrounding the popularity of the song. – Drew Caruso, Reviewer / News & Feature Writer (Twitter)

“Waltz #2” – XO

“I’m never going to know you now, but I’m going to love you anyhow.”

That’s the quick uppercut of a chorus, the knockout punch three tracks deep in Elliott Smith’s XO. They’re the lasting words of “Waltz #2,” the Elliott Smith song for me. It’s the one that leaves me breathless and near tears – and it’s all because of that chorus. Love unrequited and unfailing, it once meant. It still does, but the meaning has shifted for listeners, much as the meaning has shifted for many songs of Mark Linkous, another tearjerker whose life ended too early.

That love is a different love, now. It’s my love. It’s your love. It’s the love every Elliott Smith fan has for the man. We love him desperately, but many of us never got to know him, and now, we’re never going to know him. That love will always stay, though. We’re going to love him forever, anyhow. – Tyler Hanan, News & Feature Writer

“Angel in the Snow” – New Moon

The first song off Elliott Smith’s final release, the posthumous collection New Moon, the opening moments of the chord and its suspension set the tone for the overall song that features some of Elliott’s simplest but best playing. Later featured in the movie adaptation of Up In The Air, where it was used as a soundtrack to George Clooney visiting the location of many of his childhood memories, this song still conjures up memories for anyone who ever felt like a cold and still life while in love. – Dan Bogosian, News & Review Writer

“Ballad of Big Nothing” – Either/Or

Either/Or arguably is the Elliott Smith album with the biggest influence on his career. A fan and critic favorite alike, Either/Or is purely stacked with insights of prodigious songwriting, and “Ballad of Big Nothing” is no exception. I typically find myself re-experiencing this song around this time, basking in the gorgeous New England autumn scenery. Coming in at just pure beauty, “Ballad of Big Nothing” is a quintessential track for Smith listeners. The song’s ending with Smith’s humming stands strong as one of my favorite moments of a song’s closing. “You can do what you want to, whenever you want to. – Drew Caruso, Reviewer / News & Feature Writer (Twitter)

“Speed Trails” – Either/Or

Why “Speed Trials” when so many other Either/Or tracks are worthy of recognition? It opens the album, the first flag on the horizon signaling the oncoming onslaught of emotions. That little guitar intro for every verse is so very sweet, a nostalgia machine and an aged cocktail of time, scene, and place. It’s subtly and relentlessly heartbreaking, this song, powering forward and chipping away at defenses from onset to outro with hardly a hiccup. “Speed Trials” is a dressing down, a breaking down, a preparation for the many songs that are about to run rampant right through the listener. – Tyler Hanan, News & Feature Writer

“Twilight” – From a Basement on the Hill

A long time ago, I interviewed Jack Conte of Pomplamoose, and somehow, we got on a tangent about Elliott Smith. Upon asking him for his favorite album by Smith, Conte struggled to answer, but he was able to answer the one he was listening to a lot recently: From A Basement On The Hill. When I think of that album, one song stands out above the rest to me: “Twilight.” There’s such simple lyrics to it, but they burn deeply (“I’m already somebody’s baby,” seems to be one of the simplest but most quintessential Elliott Smith lines). With an arrangement more complex than you think upon first listen – pay attention to notice light strings, layers of vocals, and a small synth part – make this one of the hidden gems of his catalog. – Dan Bogosian, News & Review Writer

“Angeles” – Either/Or

“Angeles” was the first song I ever heard by the late Elliott Smith. A sweeping beauty of soundscape and lo-fi vocals, dueling guitars and layered harmonies, “Angeles” sets a dark tone for a city shrouded in aesthetic beauty. The duality of Smith’s lyrics against the pulchritude of the music is a theme found throughout most of his endeavors, but “Angeles” yields a cyclical motion of aspiration covered in disposition. Catalyzing my Smith listening career, I was glad to meet you, “Angeles.” – Drew Caruso, Reviewer / News & Feature Writer (Twitter)

“Say Yes” – Either/Or

Catching Elliott Smith on a good day is tough to come by, but thankfully it’s captured in this song. As the closing track on Either/Or, “Say Yes” leaves listeners with a lighter heart than the record begins wit in this sad look at a relationship actually working out. Gently layered vocals in the second verse build up tension before they collapse at the last lines: “I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a girl / who’s still around the morning after.” Optimism and happiness are weird moods to get from the infamously sad singer, but “Say Yes” is one of the few tracks we get where you can actually picture him smiling, watching the morning sunlight fall on the hair of the girl lying next to him. – Nina Corcoran, News & Feature Writer (Twitter)

“Needle in the Hay” – Elliott Smith

“I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.”

The hauntingly familiar lines ring true for Richie Tenenbaum, as the soundtrack for his emotional descent into internal cleansing floods the frames of Wes Anderson’s brilliant The Royal Tenenbaums. To the sounds of Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” the character, covered in blue filter, makes a paramount scene of the film that much more illuminated. Quieted guitar, and gentle vocals, Smith hums the anthem to an end. Smash cuts to an earlier self, and newly sterile last image, Smith’s smooth yet troubled sound guides us through one of the deepest, most emotionally trying aspects of the human condition. Analogous to the inner emotive mindset of Smith’s artistic outlet, this trying scene has became a staple for artistic cinema, all elevated by the resonance of Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay.” – Drew Caruso, Reviewer / News & Feature Writer (Twitter)

Drew Caruso
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