The 18 Greatest Andrew W.K. Songs

You’re afraid of something.

Maybe you didn’t amount to all that you thought you could have. Maybe you feel like your life is going down the drain, or worse, nowhere at all. You think about chances you didn’t take, things unsaid. The songs you used to listen to from those days comes echoing back, or maybe you put those old records on in an attempt to get closure or answers.

Now, artists can only share their own life, and hope some part of it resonates with you. Some don’t even bother with doing that, and that’s fine too. Across the board, every musician knows he or she can’t help you.

BUT DAMMIT, ANDREW W.K. IS GOING TO TRY.

It’s hard to explain Andrew’s appeal if you’re not naturally into balls-to-the-wall, super-positive arena rock. I didn’t understand it until I saw him live in 2004. Then it all made sense: It was essential to check my sense of irony, my natural armor, at the door — and it was incredibly freeing. This shit is not a joke, or if it is, the laughter it generates is so earnest and overpowering that you are compelled to take the punchline seriously. Andrew doesn’t care: He just wants you to have the night of your life.

Years later, here I am, trying in vain to write a list that arranges these atomic blasts of euphoria and clarity into some sort of order. His new album, You’re Not Alone, comes out tomorrow, and I already gave it a spin over at NPR. It’s amazing, though only time will really tell which songs from it stay in their positions on this list.

Listen to them all (once the new album hits Spotify, that is) here.

18. Las Vegas, Nevada

From: Close Calls With Brick Walls

Beginning with a series of (intentionally) off-putting orgasmic breaths and grunts, Andrew sets the stage for a city where “Intentionally Off-Putting” feels like the entire brand. Instantly, we’re thrown into his version of Las Vegas: A coked-out pinball machine with vague references to gambling, like a cotton candy version of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” My friend Logan, upon hearing this song for the first time, said he imagined a man with a long mustache and leather vest wrangling two angry alligators. That sounds about right.

17. Never Let Down

From: The Wolf

There is perhaps no other musician alive who can “keep their promise” quite like Andrew. By this, I mean that when he gives you a storming intro with a sea of drums, pounding piano chords, and a haunting choir, and builds-builds-builds-BUILDS-BUILDS upon it until the speakers are rattling, and all you’re thinking is “The other side of this better be incredible,” he delivers. Granted, this one doesn’t launch into an up-tempo headbanger — its purpose is to be deployed in between said bangers, so the crowd can pump their fists a bit and catch their breath — but it’s every bit as heart-swelling and triumphant as that intro demands.

16. The Devil’s On Your Side

From: You’re Not Alone

For those who haven’t witnessed his incredible run of advice columns at Village Voice, Andrew has proven how seriously he takes your problems, fears and worries. A running theme throughout his work there is how instructive and valuable the darkest moments in our lives can be, and how it’s important to embrace their presence (that is about as cheap and tidy a summary as it gets, but seriously go read his actual writing). “The Devil’s On Your Side,” an epic deep cut from the back half of You’re Not Alone, expands on this concept. Yes, even in his attempt to cause you pain and cut you off from help, The Devil (or whatever you want to call the forces of misery) was actually teaching you to be more awesome this whole time. When I listen to this, I buy it.

15. High Five

From: Mother of Mankind

After a spare, hopeful thudding of piano chords, the noise comes barnstorming in — and what a noise. With its mountaintop guitar soloing and titanic low end, “High Five” is an ode to Saturday night that belongs in the pantheon alongside Elton John, Bobby Darin and the Misfits. It’s the musical equivalent of the joy you get from a crisp, perfectly delivered high five, after you and your friend have just overthrown the evil, anti-partying authoritarian government with laser cannons.

14. Love Is Over

From: The Japan Covers

There’s a lot to like in The Japan Covers, assuming you aren’t such a die-hard fan of the originals to the extent that you can’t handle any new interpretations (I’ve sifted through a lot of YouTube comments). In the case of “Love is Over,” Andrew’s natural grasp of bombast takes what was otherwise a fairly somber torch song and, well, sets it on fire. But the emotion is still real— he’s merely amplified it twentyfold. Whereas in the original, the protagonist is coolly dismissing their lover, logically ending a dying relationship with as much remove as possible, Andrew makes the music around the words soar to such operatic heights that it’s clear the singer is only trying to cover up their pain. Some may not go for that kind of explicit underlining, which is understandable. But in my mind, it’s the shot in the arm that the song needs.

13. Music Is Worth Living For

From: You’re Not Alone

Andrew was just awarded Person of the Year by the American Association of Suicidology, and this song could double as an acceptance speech. Chugging guitars and cracking drums are cut through by cheery keyboards — all classic W.K. sounds, but now married to an even greater purpose than just having a killer party. It’s a song that looks backwards and forwards at the same time, a perfect statement for his new album and where he’s at in his career.

12. Not Going to Bed

From: Close Calls With Brick Walls

Speaking of that career: In addition to public speaking tours, producing Lee “Scratch” Perry albums and running a nightclub, Andrew W.K. also briefly hosted a kid’s television show called Destroy Build Destroy. His energy was perfect for that gig, because in many ways he comes off like a big kid — nowhere more so than on “Not Going to Bed,” which is literally about never sleeping again. Most of Andrew’s albums are sequenced so that, just when you feel you’re ready to sit down and take a breather, he hits you with a shot of adrenaline that dares you to continue (the other example being “Party Till You Puke,” which comes roaring into your eardrums like a boomerang after “She Is Beautiful” on I Get Wet). “Not Going to Bed” is an ode to never letting the party stop, and I’m going to rue the day I teach it to my own kids.

11. Hand on the Place

From: Close Calls With Brick Walls

Close Calls With Brick Walls was a pretty big shift in sound, coming off of the rich wall-of-noise production from I Get Wet and The Wolf. Sometimes the songs sounded like they were recorded in a bedroom — in many cases a fitting change of scenery, because it showcased Andrew as the true orchestrator of the madness, more so than any unseen engineer behind the glass. But it also allowed him to experiment with new tones and vocal styles, now that there weren’t 100 guitars taking up space. Turn this hyperkinetic track all the way up and try not to get your mind blown. It plays like a spin class got launched into a space battle.

10. I Don’t Know Anything

From: You’re Not Alone

He wears all-white, he preaches pure positivity, he speaks at great and glorious length about his philosophy in a way that unites everyone in the room. I get it, Andrew sounds like a cult leader, spouting off like he has all the answers. Allow this song to intervene, which gladly volunteers that W.K. doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about — and impossibly, it just bolsters his ideology even further (similarly, “Ever Again” sounds like it’s explicitly about discovering the meaning to life, but Andrew has mentioned that it’s only about the fantasy of discovering that meaning). When you’re able to see the joy in being confused, lost and afraid, nothing can really stop you. And nothing can stop this song either, a barrelhouse piano stomper that doesn’t ever quit.

9. Don’t Stop Living in the Red

From: I Get Wet

I’ll let this do all the talking. Basically, I was really happy to be done with college, and my friends Lauren and Collin helped out.

8. I Get Wet

From: I Get Wet

The title track from his debut album opens with a ceremonial blast of horns, then drops you into a four-on-the-floor endurance battle of a song. It’s among the faster tempos in his repertoire, but Andrew has a knack for forcing you to keep up with whatever he lays down. One of his absolute purest headbangers, this and “Don’t Stop Livin’ in the Red” close out the back half of I Get Wet with a phenomenal one-two punch. By the end of it, you too will get very, very wet.

7. Long Live the Party

From: The Wolf

The word “Party” is growled 16 times in the first minute of the song alone, and that’s after a lengthy jawbreaker of an opening. “Long Live the Party,” from The Wolf, the more-of-the-same-but-frankly-just-as-good followup to I Get Wet, starts heavy, gets heavier with a double-kick section, then transforms into an epic, mountain-cresting finale. This is training montage music from an alternate universe version of Rocky IV where the sport is Partying and the villain is Ivan Togotobed. Sorry about that last sentence.

6. Party Hard

From: I Get Wet

Most lists would put this straight at the top with a bullet. I get that. But while this iconic staple of hockey stadiums deserves its status, “Party Hard” only reveals one shade of what Andrew’s about (namely, he enjoys partying), and as his first single, it allowed a lot of people to be able to write him off in the beginning. That said, after all these years it’s still a twenty-ton sledgehammer with an indelible riff. When this one climaxes, and the murderer’s row of guitars are winding down, Andrew lets out a primal scream — almost as if he’s frustrated that the music is going to sleep. More songs need to end this way.

5. You’re Not Alone

From: You’re Not Alone

One thing Andrew doesn’t get enough credit for is his voice, which really stepped into the forefront with Close Calls With Brick Walls. But here, on the title track of his new album, it’s the instrument that unequivocally wins the battle for supremacy, even against the majestic guitar solos and cavernous drum beats. Like never before, his vocal chords shred with passion and earnestness — words that could read like self-help maxims become absolute truths. “If you’re frightened, if you’re worried / You’re not alone” sound like they’re written in lightning and carved in titanium. More than ever, this song proves he really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really means it.

4. It’s Time to Party

From: I Get Wet

Imagine if all your cynicism was kept in a house, sitting on the couch with its arms folded. Now imagine this song shaking the foundation ever so slightly, vibrating the side table until the wine glass falls off. Then the walls start rattling and the paint starts peeling, and before you know it, Andrew and his crew of shameless party creatures come bursting through the windows, kicking down the door, and erupting through the carpeted floor. In one fell swoop, and 1 minute and 30 seconds, the entire place is a crime scene where “apathetic hipster remove” once lived, and pure party power now resides.

3. You Will Remember Tonight

From: Close Calls With Brick Walls

The first half is the straight-ahead, heartfelt ode to the best night of your life, the night where you changed irrevocably and were never the same since. All fine and dandy. Then it starts getting a lot weirder. Layers and layers of guitars come beaming in like pirate radio transmissions, firecrackers start exploding, and it feels like the entire track is levitating. More than just remarking upon how our most cherished memories define and change us, this song attempts to recreate that sense of transmogrification.

2. The Moving Room

From: Close Calls With Brick Walls

For an artist who wants to cast the biggest, most accepting tent of listeners possible, it only makes sense that Andrew’s lyrics stay pretty simple. In some cases, one might say they are the epitome of simplistic (culminating in his self-parodying cameo on Aqua Teen Hunger Force). But then there’s “The Moving Room,” far and away the most enigmatic up-tempo track on any of his records. And thus, it feels more personal. Here, Andrew works in color, metaphor, and mood, taking us from a sunset to a darkened hallway, from an open highway all the way to a black hole. Throughout these moments of yearning and melancholy, he still manages to bring a metric ton of energy. It’s the getaway car that speeds off into the horizon over the end credits of Close Calls, and it was the soundtrack to my summer of 2007.

1. She Is Beautiful

From: I Get Wet

What is all this motivational music good for if it’s not going to motivate you to take a risk once in a while? After an opening salvo of guitar, “She Is Beautiful” catapults you headlong into the greatest riff of Andrew’s discography. The woman he’s obsessing over may not be fully sketched out — how can you have only just met someone and know instantly that she’s all you’re living for? — but it makes more sense when you consider what the song may really be about: The triumph of conquering that fear in the pit of your stomach, the fear that tells you you’re ugly, you’re not good enough. That kind of victorious feeling is absolutely worth living for, and no song captures it better than this.

Bonus: The McLaughlin Groove

A long-running political panel show featuring an off-his-rocker John McLaughlin, The McLaughlin Group found an ironic second life amongst Beltway podcasters and radio DJs thanks to its increasingly loopy host. One such radio personality was so taken with McLaughlin’s insane interjections that she asked Andrew to compose a song based on snippets of his ramblings. The resulting 45-second rocket ride, dubbed “The McLaughlin Groove,” comes from a simpler time, when doddering old white men in politics were simply crazy and we could all share a hearty laugh about it.

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