10 Best Flaming Lips Songs
For nearly 30(!) years, the Flaming Lips have expressed their love for their fans through the passion of their creativity -- and by literally saying those three magic words while performing. Theirs has been a strange ride -- they've been '90210' guest stars and mascots for their hometown of Oklahoma City, among other things -- and along the way, they've released some classic albums. This year, they took another bold sonic step forward with 'The Terror,' a collection that sounds better live than it does on the stereo. The band has tons of great songs, and compiling their greatest, we could have stuck with tracks from 'The Soft Bulletin' and not gone wrong. But with this list of the 10 Best Flaming Lips Songs, we gave them the big-picture look they deserve.
The 'Dark Night of the Soul' album is haunted by the suicides of principal Mark Linkous and contributor Vic Chestnutt, and Lips leader Wayne Coyne sings about himself as if he's another person, even mentioning gunplay and a wound to the heart. An under-appreciated Flaming Lips song, 'Revenge' celebrates the collaborative spirit of the band, which has taken off in recent years.
Anyone that bought 'Transmissions from the Satellite Heart' because of 'She Don't Use Jelly' was in for a unique experience -- one that probably didn't please casual alt-rock fans. 'Jelly' made the Flaming Lips one-hit-wonders in the way Radiohead were after 'Creep.' Both scored big radio singles but found their audiences beyond those who embraced the hits. 'Pilot Can at the Queer God,' sequenced a few songs after 'Jelly,' fell somewhere between the Lips' radio-friendly fare and a drug-induced freakout. Twenty years later, it still sounds cutting edge.
After the relative disappointment of 'At War with the Mystics,' 'Embryonic' felt like more than just a creative renewal. The band had finally married the loud and sloppy sound of their early days with their trippy and beautiful latter-day creative masterpieces. 'Convinced of the Hex' is a bit of everything, and it's as self-assured as the Lips have ever sounded.
Arriving at No. 7 on our list of the 10 Best Flaming Lips songs is 'Turning Violent,' sung by the unheralded hero of the band, Stephen Drozd. After nearly succumbing to a brutal heroin addiction in the '90s, he cleaned up and helped the band move forward to new creative heights. The group's most recent effort, 'The Terror,' is not an easy album or a very happy one, but it is rewarding and likely to be looked upon in higher regard the further we get away from it.
'Shine on Sweet Jesus' does, indeed, sound like that 'Put a Little Love in Your Heart' tune they sing at the end of 'Scrooged.' Still, the oldest selection on this list showcases the Lips at a raw early stage, when they lacked the musical ambition they have today. But they were trying to affect people. Fans used to the lush production of recent records might be turned off by the sloppiness of the recording and musicianship, but the Flaming Lips were doing what they've always done: trying to jolt listeners rather than coddle them.
'Evil' opens with Coyne repeating the line "I wish I could go back in time.' It's a stunning bit of song craftsmanship that finds the singer sounding as sad as ever. When he gets to the part about how "people are evil," and how doesn't understand why, the previous two albums in the band's catalog suddenly make sense.
At No. 4 on our list of the 10 Best Flaming Lips Songs is their Cat Stevens ripoff. Well, not really. But there are certain melodic similarities to 'Father and Son,' and beyond that, the Lips borrow Stevens' theme about human understanding, and that's the part worth focusing on. On 'Fight Test,' everything is a mystery, from our actions to the way the universe works, and though not mentioned, our closest relationships are also defined as much by what we understand as by the parts we'll never grasp. The narrator in Stevens' track would probably benefit from the song.
The sound of Lips to come. 'Moth In the Incubator' is like a fossil, showing the group as both what they were and what they would become. That's why it's such a beloved song: It packs the best of both worlds into one memorable rocker. They even sing "so embryonic it's all right." Here's a prime example of a tune that stands the test of time.
The Flaming Lips are rarely classified as subtle, and 'Do You Realize?" is about as blunt as an emotionally affecting sentiment gets. No one wants to be reminded that "everyone you know someday will die," but Coyne manages to make the moment empowering, kind of like YOLO before there was YOLO. These basic principles -- that reality is perception, that time is relative, that life is precious -- are not novel, but they do have a lot more meaning that most anything else being said in popular music. Next time someone calls indie boring, remember that.
'Waitin' for a Superman,' tops on our list of the 10 Best Flaming Lips Songs, has been covered by Iron & Wine, and its title has been used for a movie. But it's hardly one of the Lips' best-known songs. It is, however, the centerpiece of their best album, one of the best album's ever, and its messages of self-reliance and empowerment are important recurring ideas in their discography. The thesis: Even if you feel alone in the world, you really aren't. And just because you have a comic book hero in the song doesn't mean it is a cartoon. Hell, that's the band in a nutshell.