Jenny Lewis, siren of Southern California, a literal Las Vegas baby, has been a presence in the indie rock music scene since the late 90s and made a charming impression before that as a young Hollywood starlet. She is a prolific songwriter, with five albums from her first band Rilo Kiley, three solo records, and two standalone albums from separate projects all under her belt. Her songs are intricate, colorful, often slyly humorous, sexy and charming, warm and generous and often about sad but fascinating people who populate the communities of L.A., the Valley, and Vegas.
To increase our excitement for the release of Lewis’ next solo album On the Line, on March 22, I undertook the massive task of ranking all of her songs released up to now. Lewis has collaborated with dozens of artists and is credited with guest spots on many, many, many songs. But would I call all of those songs “hers?” Not necessarily. So, to hedge off any belly-aching I will explain my inclusion process. Any song Lewis has sole or co-writing credit on and she performs is eligible. Any songs that she did not write, but on which she is featured prominently, can also count. There are many songs that belong to other artists which she is featured on, but it felt wrong to exclude all of them because there are some great ones. That second category can include covers, of which there are a few on here, just because her versions are often wroth seeking it. I didn’t include, then, the Rilo Kiley songs which feature co-front person Blake Sennett on vocals, even if Lewis shared writing credit for the song. However, I did include every Jenny and Johnny song, even the ones which are mostly sung by co-lead Johnathan Rice, because frankly I liked those songs more and her backing vocals on each track are often just so good. This is all basically to say that, to me, and I think a lot of Lewis fans, a “Jenny Lewis song” just doesn’t feel like one unless she’s singing somewhere on it, because a lot of the draw of listening to her songs is her recognizable voice and her committed and charismatic vocal performances.
Lewis is very much an artist who you can see clear growth in as you track their career; this will largely explain why a lot of early Rilo Kiley songs are near the bottom of this list. As you move through her discography, you can really notice steps forward in songwriting, musicianship, performance, vocal strength and just plain production value. I will say it was difficult ranking these, and a lot of these songs are a hair’s width apart from each other. Ultimately at the end of the day, I would rather listen to most of these songs than anything I could hear on the radio this second, so even if a song is “near the bottom,” that doesn’t really mean it is “bad.”
Finally, I hope that this list helps you re-ignite your enjoyment of Lewis’ work, or even better, works as an introduction to all that she has to offer. There must be a song in here for everyone, and I hope you find it.
130. A Town Called Luckey (Rilo Kiley, rkives): rkives is a rough collection, because it is comprised of cut album tracks and B-Sides, and released with little fanfare in 2013. But sometimes things are cut for good reasons. This song hit the bottom of the list because, to me, it really just doesn’t sound at all like any other Rilo Kiley or Jenny Lewis song.
129. Emotional (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This song, along with “American Wife” is pretty much just “fine” to me. They sound very much like early Rilo Kiley, but because of that, they just make you want to go back to those early albums instead of listening to the cut tracks.
128. American Wife (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This song gets pushed slightly ahead of “Emotional” because it has a bit more complexity in its sound, but otherwise read the note above!
127. Keep it Together (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley first pressing): This song was a bonus track, only included in the very first pressing out of three of Rilo Kiley’s first release. The first two pressings are both self-titled, while the third goes by The Initial Friend. You can find this track on YouTube, and it’s bizarre and chaotic (Lewis sings like she’s the Emcee from Cabaret), but has a sense of humor that feels very true to her personality.
126. 85 (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley / The Initial Friend EP): This track is just fine—as are many early Rilo Kiley tracks—but, also like many RK tracks, it is a little too sleepy and under-produced, and twice as long as it should be.
125. Glendora (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley): This song is a little more exciting than “85,” but I don’t love the sort of vocal affect Lewis employs in the refrain “I cry, cry, cry.” This also is one of the most genuinely distracting 90s-sounding songs from the band.
124. Patiently (Rilo Kiley, rkives): These next three rkives songs are all grouped near the bottom because they just had very little effect on me. That said, this song is an okay track with fairly strong Lewis vocals, and good backup assist by Sennett.
123. About the Moon (Rilo Kiley, rkives): The song as a whole isn’t too memorable, but the swoony, 50s jazz flair marks this song apart from the other rkives tracks.
122. I Remember You (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This is a charming duet between Lewis and Benji Hughes, that’s relatively perky for Rilo Kiley. It’s cute while listening, but overall doesn’t feel entirely fresh.
121. Little Boxes – Cover (with Johnathan Rice, Weeds 2×11 credits): Lewis and Rice (or, Jenny and Johnny) were one of a dozen artists to provide the Weeds theme that season, and they do a good job. They don’t stray too far from the original’s general vibe, but Lewis’ droll, lightweight vocals and Rice’s disaffected drawl fit the lyrics well.
120. NAF Theme (Nice As Fuck, Nice as Fuck): In 2016, Lewis formed an all-female trio with The Like’s Tennessee Thomas on drums and Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Forster on keys. They released a short, vaguely political album that summer, and it’s a pretty decent 25 minutes of indie pop. There’s nothing really wrong with this album-ender, and who can judge something that is 44 seconds long, but again it is 44 seconds long. We’re nice as fuck, we wish you good luck.
119. Guns (Nice As Fuck, Nice as Fuck): I agree with this sentiment (“I don’t wanna be afraid, put your guns away”), but this song sounds like something a young Joan Baez-wannabe would have written in the 60s, which clashes with the rock-leaning music paired with it.
118. Razor Burn (Very Good Girls OST): This song feels very “twee” (remember when that word was everywhere?), which is also the impression I get of this movie, which I haven’t seen, despite knowing Lewis’ involvement in the soundtrack!
117. Roll On (Dntel, Dumb Luck): This song isn’t actively annoying, but Lewis’ voice paired with the slightly harsh, lite-industrial sounds of producer Dntel isn’t the most comfortable listening experience.
116. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Cover (with Eric Burdon, True Blood, Vol. 4): This duet is good, and Lewis’ voice lends itself well to the scuzzy Southern blues-rock world of True Blood, but there isn’t much people want to do, or can do, with this song because the original is so classic.
115. And That’s How I Choose to Remember It (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): This song is spread out at the ends of three different songs on this, the second Rilo Kiley full-length album (“So Long,” “My Slumbering Heart,” and “Spectacular Views”). It is fine, and is an early song about one of Lewis’ favorite subjects, her parents, but her vocals are whispery and the carousel-esque music is louder than she is, so the emotions don’t quite hit.
114. Troubadours/Annoying Noise of Death (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley/The Initial Friend EP): This might be the earliest song inspired by Lewis’ parents and their lives, but its cheap production (drum machine and all) make it feel like a novelty song. “The ANOD” sounds like what it’s called: just a cacophony for the sake of it.
113. Bury, Bury, Bury Another (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This feels like the mid-period sensitive singer-songwriter with a guitar vibe that they did so well for a hot minute, but it ultimately is a bit forgettable.
112. Draggin’ Around (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This song has an interesting sound (almost similar to some songs on Lewis’ later album, Acid Tongue), but it ultimately feels just too slow and a little stale. Lewis’ vocals on the chorus are the main draw.
111. Cassidy – Cover (with Moses Sumney, Day of the Dead): Lewis is featured in another track on this Grateful Dead tribute album, “Sugaree” with Phosphorescent, but she is in the deep background. Lewis’ vocals get a little more noticeable here, but she is still mostly backup. However, as she does later on this list, she provides a strong supportive backbone with her backing vocals.
110. Completely Not Me (Girls, Vol. 2): This song is just fine, great for playing over TV credits (as it was), but it feels a bit cutesy compared to most of Lewis’ other songs. It primarily gets me pondering over how much clout Girls had to be able to debut original tracks by Lewis, St. Vincent, and Robyn—among others I’m sure. What a time!
109. End of the Affair (Johnathan Rice, Further North): This is primarily Rice’s song, but their voices sound so good together. It’s also got a good, driving musical energy that buoys the song as it meanders lyrically a little.
108. Door (Nice As Fuck, Nice as Fuck): This song is alright, but it is a bit repetitive like most of the NAF songs. The main draw to the album is the slightly fuzzy, funky rock and this song is missing some of the better grooves that can be found earlier in the album.
107. Slavedriver (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): Again, Rice and Lewis sound so good together, and their lyrics are wry and cute without being obnoxiously cute but, I don’t love this metaphor. However, this album—the only Jenny and Johnny project—in general is very sunny and groovy, and the central riff in the song here is very easy to shimmy to.
106. Pelican Bay (Acid Tongue bonus track): This bonus song is alright, and continues the vaguely Southern Gothic vibe of Jenny Lewis’s second solo record Acid Tongue, but—to my ears at least—it sounds just like that Erie Canal song I had to learn as a child, and so I can’t take it seriously.
105. Paradise (“Rise Up With Fists!!” B-Side): This is a decent song, although it pales in comparison to other Rabbit Fur Coat songs, and feels simpler in terms of its themes and tone.
104. Love Hurts – Cover (Jenny and Johnny live shows): There are numerous videos of Jenny and Johnny performing this cover live, and they’re all equally bittersweet and swoony. They take the cheesy power ballad seriously, creating a deep sigh of a song.
103. Higher (Nice As Fuck, Nice as Fuck): Like many NAF songs, there isn’t too much going on outside of just a really cool vibe. This one, however, starts with the order to “Get high, get low, get weird.”
102. Sword (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley/The Initial Friend EP): This straightforward, piano-based track has a simple, contemplative rhythm that relies on Lewis’ delivery of these lines. There isn’t much else to pull you in, but for now it’s enough.
101. We’ll Never Sleep (God Knows We’ll Try) (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): This gentle track from Rilo Kiley’s first “official” album is sung delicately by Lewis and accompanied by some gentle acoustic work that rises and falls nicely throughout the song. However, it verges just a bit too much towards the sleepy and gentle, and fails to make much of a meaningful impression, especially compared to some bigger songs around it.
100. Don’t Deconstruct (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): I feel about this song pretty much the way I feel about “We’ll Never Sleep,” but this track is accompanied by some jaunty horns sprinkled throughout, and treats us to some lovely Lewis vocals at the end.
99. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (The Postal Service, Give Up): I felt I should include one Postal Service track, because the project was so well-liked and she is a part of it (although significantly less than I would like). I’m including this track because, similar to “Cassidy,” her backing vocals here are spread throughout and really work to underline Ben Gibbard’s lead vocals, to create a kind of subliminal emotional spine to the whole piece.
98. Trying My Best to Love You (Acid Tongue): Acid Tongue is a complicated Lewis album for me, because I kind of love roughly a third of the album, I like another third, and I can’t really connect at all to the other third. Overall, though, I completely appreciate it. It feels like the closest thing to a concept album Lewis has ever done, and it’s got great vibes. This track, however sweetly melancholic it is—with backup from pre-She & Him Zooey Deschanel among others—feels just a bit out of Lewis’ register, and the lyrics are not nearly as detailed as some of her better songs are.
97. Black Sand (Acid Tongue): I only marginally like “Black Sand” more than “Trying My Best…” because it has more evocative, romantic imagery and some dramatic strings at the tail end. However, I always found myself skipping “Black Sand” as the first track to Acid Tongue.
96. Hard Enough (Brandon Flowers, Flamingo): It feels so right to have the most well-known Nevadan musicians finally singing together, and they do a pretty good job. Lewis guests on a second album track, but here she shares the duet with Flowers and adds a fresh female voice to the track, which is one of the better songs on this album.
95. Mall Music (Nice As Fuck, Nice as Fuck): This song is not entirely one that sticks with you, but it’s got a great groove and Lewis’ delivery of “I could be your fantasy, no doubt” is the essence of cool.
94. Let Me Back In (Rilo Kiley, rkives): I’m not entirely sure why—maybe it’s my total East Coast-ness—but I can’t get into this ode to L.A. Besides the content, it always just feels a bit too slow and too drawn out, never reaching a conclusion that feels entirely satisfying.
93. It’ll Get You There (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This track is slightly less frustrating to me than “Let Me Back In,” and where that track fails to completely reach a full catharsis, “It’ll Get You There” is pretty much all catharsis from the beginning, with Lewis’s fiery belting and some equally hot rock elements.
92. Give A Little Love (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): Rilo Kiley’s last original album, Under the Blacklight is an outlier, full of dance-pop jams about the gritty nightlife, and it’s actually a fairly rewarding listen. This song, however, is relatively simple and unchallenging, but it is a fine little ditty that will get your shoulders shimmying.
91. Love and War 11/11/46 (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): This track feels a little out of step with the majority of Rilo Kiley’s output, as well as the other songs on this album, the otherwise excellent third full-length from Rilo Kiley. The anxious lyrics and the frenetic music are interesting enough to keep this from being a full misfire.
90. With Arms Outstretched (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): My problem with Execution is that so many of the songs here feel interchangeable to me, in tone, performance and content. In general, I think the album just might have too many songs by a count of one or two. This track, with plinky music and shaggy group backing vocals make it feel like an ultimately disposable trifle.
89. Always (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley/The Initial Friend EP): This is the first version of a song later released on Take Offs and Landings, but the versions are different enough that I consider them two different listening experiences. This is a quieter, smaller version of the song but it does have a great use of audio panning when Lewis sings “oh…yeah.”
88. The Frug (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley/The Initial Friend EP): Their first song of any notoriety, this early Rilo Kiley track is cute and Lewis’ delivery of lines like “I can make some mac and cheese/I can sleep twelve hours” is genuinely charming. However, this is early days so Lewis’s voice is not nearly as confident and commanding as she later proves it can be.
87. Hail to Whatever You Found in the Sunlight That Surrounds You (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): This is another possibly disposable song from Execution for me, but the polished finish and the consistent nervous energy and rhythm that push it forward makes the song something you can’t ignore.
86. Bad Man’s World (Acid Tongue): This track has some great atmosphere to it, with alluring use of reverb and ominous strings, but there isn’t too much else going on in it, not compared to other tracks on the album.
85. Does He Love You? (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): Like pretty much every song on this album, the storytelling here is dense, specific and vividly conveyed through Lewis’ voice. However, this tale of infidelity and broken hearts and promises is a touch melodramatic for my taste.
84. Godspeed (Acid Tongue): This is like a alpha version of “Trying My Best to Love You.” It’s equally melancholic and bittersweet, but the lyrics are more varied and Lewis feels more comfortable in this mode.
83. She’s Not Me (The Voyager): While the story here is universally relatable—regretting a messy breakup when you see your ex moving on with someone new—something about the music simplifies it into a relatively bland indie-pop song that makes Lewis’ “she’s not me, she’s easy” feel like her version of “You Belong With Me.” It’s a weak spot, even on Lewis’ third solo record which is markedly more pop than her previous work.
82. Sorrow (Paul Shaffer & The World’s Most Dangerous Band): Lewis sings lead on this track, lending it a bluesy weariness of the soul and it’s genuinely affecting. You’ll be humming this tune for a while.
81. The Highs and Lows of Being Number One (Acid Tongue Japanese B-Side): This track, out there for you to find, is an early Jenny and Johnny number, essentially, and one of a few songs Rice and Lewis shared writing credit for on Acid Tongue. This is a great bridge between Acid Tongue and I’m Having Fun Now, as it has some of that skuzz of Tongue, mixed with the sunny Beach Boys-esque West Coast pop of Fun.
80. It’s a Hit (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): This album opener, gently mocking the self-seriousness and pretentiousness of artists everywhere, is mostly good for a chuckle, but it is a great opener and an introduction to this era of Rilo Kiley in which the lyrics started getting more cheeky and a bit less delicately sensitive.
79. Under the Blacklight (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): I’ll give this track points for catchiness—I can’t help but hear the melody after just spotting the title—but it’s otherwise not too memorable or fresh.
78. Bulletproof (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): It’s a little cutesy, and a little kitschy with the refrain of “dropping the rock on me,” which ultimately makes this song a kind of trifle among an album with larger, more involved tracks to choose from.
77. Cookie Lips (Nice As Fuck, Nice As Fuck): This NAF track is fun and flirty (“cookie lips, give me a crumb”) but ultimately that’s all it is. Besides that on a totally superficial level the aesthetic idea of Cookie Lips is mildly repellent.
76. Dejalo (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): This is one of the purely pop tracks from Under the Blacklight, but it is a lot of silly fun. The disco-funk vibes of the song elevate the enjoyment, as do the verses delivered in a sassy rap rhythm.
75. Smoke Detector (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): This is another delightful, self-aware and charming dance number, and it’s catchy as hell, but kind of light as air.
74. The Absence of God (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): This track is possibly the quietest, and most delicate of those on the generally stellar More Adventurous, which makes it pale in comparison a bit. It’s reminiscent of a lot of tracks from the earlier Take Offs and Execution, but with better writing and production.
73. Barking at the Moon (Bolt OST): This original song for the animated dog movie Bolt is so cute. If you imagine it as coming from the titular pup, it is too cute to bear. Musically, it’s just alright, but for its purposes it is quite a success.
72. Homerun (Nice As Fuck, Nice As Fuck): This is eminently groove-able, but ultimately one of the more kitschier tracks on this very short album.
71. Go Ahead (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): This is a great start to an album that now functions as an introduction to Rilo Kiley. Lewis’ clear vocals and grounded, introspective personality come through over top an acoustic guitar that builds in strength to match her voice.
70. Wires and Waves (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): “Wires and Waves” just edges out “Go Ahead” for me, because I find them very similar in terms of welcoming you into this album, but “Waves” moves ahead because it’s got a little more of a dynamic sound from the jump that keeps the momentum of the album moving.
69. Capturing Moods (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): “Capturing Moods” gives you the introspective, wandering and soulful emotional experience a lot of the best songs on Execution give you, but this is just one of many and just a tad less immediately memorable or effective than a few others. In general, we’re already in the section of this list in which I don’t have any real “problems” with any of these tracks.
68. You Can’t Outrun ‘Em (The Voyager): A devilish track with a country-rock guitar riff, this song is a slinky warning about trying to avoid consequences, but it feels just a bit less fresh than some of the other songs on The Voyager.
67. While Men Are Dreaming (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): This is a soft lullaby of an interlude during an otherwise rollicking album and I appreciate the break it gives us. However, it is just a little too soft, functioning more as a deep sigh than as a song I return to a lot.
66. Gravity (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley/The Initial Friend EP): This early RK track leans a little too much on the country twang affect, but Lewis’ throaty and emotional vocals during the refrain make it feel in retrospect like a precursor to her more fleshed out and soulful work down the line.
65. Papillon (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley/The Initial Friend EP): A rare duet and true sharing of lead vocals between Lewis and Blake Sennett, this early track feels more fully formed than most on the album, which as a debut EP largely functions as an introduction of ideas and potential. Lewis and Sennett sound really good side by side and this offering gives us a glimpse at a different kind of band they might have been if they wanted to.
64. My Slumbering Heart (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): There’s a lot of vivid imagery in here, and the song builds excellently to a catharsis, but something about it feels slightly incomplete or unformed when put next to other songs on this album.
63. The New You (The Voyager): Maybe the most pop song on the album, this track feels just alright but generally unaffecting in a deeper sense.
62. Wasted Youth (On the Line): Starting things off with a jaunty rhythm and delivered with a “world-weary but it’s okay” attitude, this most recent single from Lewis’ upcoming album will need some time to grow on me but shows a lot of promise, especially with those “da do do doos.”
61. Love U Forever (The Voyager): This is maybe the funkiest jams on The Voyager, with that riff that grabs you right away and Lewis’ coy delivery. The chorus amps up the energy, with an excellent delivery of “burgundy wi-i-ine.”
60. All the Drugs (Rilo Kiley, rkives): Something about this track is just so pure and delightful. It doesn’t drag itself down like other rkives tracks, and it isn’t clouded over by lackluster production. Lewis’ vocals are bright and clear and immediately affecting here in a song that is pretty simple pop, but which isn’t trying to be anything more.
59. The Angels Hung Around (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): Yet another supremely catchy, supremely groovable Under the Blacklight track, this one melds the dance-pop of “Dejalo” and “Smoke Detector” with the more personal lyrics of earlier tracks in the album, to create a fairly fresh song and performance.
58. New Yorker Cartoon (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): I generally enjoy all of the Jenny and Johnny songs, but this one is full of specific images and thoughts (“I hope that I die when I’m a hundred years old, lookin’ like a New Yorker cartoon”), which are more clever than truly effective.
57. Handle With Care – Cover (Rabbit Fur Coat): The cover of this Traveling Wilburys song is so great, but unfortunately because it is a cover I figured I should place it lower on the list. However, it’s worth a listen because it’s endlessly fun and features a who’s who of collaborators and featured performers with the Watson Twins, Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst and M. Ward. It’s mildly amazing that this isn’t a Lewis original.
56. Runnin’ Around (Rilo Kiley, rkives): This rkives track isn’t bad at all, and feels reminiscent of the Under the Blacklight era, with the semi-electronic and distorted guitar work. Lewis’ precise pronunciation of “bad bad ticker” and “gold dust liquor” add an element of stylistic fun to this short B-side.
55. Pretty Bird (Acid Tongue): I didn’t often have the patience to get through this song when I was younger and hearing it for the first time, but ultimately it’s a slow burner with a great, slightly haunting psychedelic style. It drowns a little on the album, paired next to the lackluster “Black Sand,” but on its own it can be a good listen.
54. Straight Edge of the Blade (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): This has pretty sweet, light vocals from Lewis, with soft supporting vocals from Rice. The lyrics are subtly humorous and heartfelt (“that was a wise crack/ but you’re not a bad dude/ although you make bedroom eyes/ at a test tube”) and the music is the sweetest version of surf pop, with delightful “ding ding ding” chimes in the chorus.
53. It Wasn’t Me (Rabbit Fur Coat): Rabbit Fur Coat was Lewis’ first release outside of Rilo Kiley, and released just a year before RK’s last album. It is largely country and gospel-inspired, and in general a highlight for Lewis’ pet themes and versatile voice. This song, which helps close out the album, is slightly better as a meditative comedown, rather than a strong track on its own. Lewis’ vocals are just above a whisper, but she has enough control over her voice to make this quieter delivery command your attention all the same.
52. Plane Crash in C (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): One of the longer songs on Take Offs, this track starts slowly and seems simple enough but gradually unfolds into something larger; with Lewis’ performance changing alongside it from dreamy introspection to a more overtly emotional and frustrated cry.
51. Pictures of Success (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): This is a great big long song from Take Offs, and an early centerpiece of the album. Similar to “Plane Crash in C,” and most other songs on this album it starts out quiet and small, and adds levels and vocals from Sennett, to create a more complex and rewarding experience.
50. Teenage Lovesong (Rilo Kiley, Rilo Kiley): This is my favorite song from the un-streamable first Rilo Kiley album, and I think it’s absolutely worth seeking out. Lewis’ voice is strongest and most distinct here, and with its infusion of a swinging doo-wop rhythm it feels like a precursor to later great RK tracks like “I Never.”
49. Sing a Song For Them (Acid Tongue): Ultimately just alright when compared to the larger Lewis catalogue, this track fits in well with the rest of Acid Tongue and its heavy use of mood and atmosphere.
48. Scissor Runner (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): The first few tracks of I’m Having Fun Now are fairly similar, in that they are surf rock/pop jams with Jenny and Johnny sharing lead vocals, trading off in an endlessly charming fashion. “Scissor Runner” is my least favorite of these tracks, primarily because it pales a little in direct comparison to the songs right near it (“Big Wave,” “My Pet Snakes,” “Animal”).
47. Runaway (Nice As Fuck, Nice As Fuck): My notes for this song only consist of three statements: “big mood, great drums, cool vocals.” And I think that pretty much covers it!
46. Slippery Slopes (The Voyager): The song is about an open relationship and avoiding the natural reflex of jealousy, but it feels fresh and Lewis’ specific interpretation of the story prevents it from feeling like another stale tale about insecurity in a relationship. Her delivery along with the music is a little too laconic for me, but her coy delivery of lines like “I’ll be in liberty, if she eats after me” lends the song a strong personality.
45. Carpetbaggers (Acid Tongue): With a feature from Elvis Costello and backing vocals from Zooey Deschanel, this song is one of the most enjoyable tracks of the album, and a fantastic example of the best Acid Tongue has to offer. Costello’s wild vocals are balanced out by Lewis’ smooth verses, and they combine to create this burst of energy and fun that continually satisfies.
44. Paint’s Peeling (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): The start to this track is one of the best on the album, as it doesn’t make you wait for a build to catharsis and rather just pushes you in completely from the start. Lewis’ vocals help the melody worm its way into your head, but ultimately the lyrics and the message here hit just a little less hard than a few other songs from Execution.
43. Spectacular Views (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): This is a great, emotional end to the album that feels very long and emotionally overwrought at points. However, there isn’t too much more than that to this; the inclusion of the final piece of “And That’s How I Remember It” also detracts from the slow fade of “Spectacular Views.”
42. Aloha & The Three Johns (The Voyager): One of the most fun and summery songs of The Voyager, which in general is a pretty fun and summery album, the detail in the writing here along with the surf-rock guitar and blissed out refrain creates a vivid picture of a wild beach vacation.
41. Close Call (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): Under the Blacklight starts so strongly, but “Close Call” is the weakest of the first four tracks that as a group are pretty solid and one of my favorite Rilo Kiley track runs. Like the songs it is next to, this one is a pretty consistent jam, although the vocals aren’t as compelling as they are on “Silver Lining” or “Moneymaker.”
40. A Man / Me / Then Jim (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): This is one of the clearest examples of the kind of specific, character-driven songwriting you can get from any Lewis musical outfit. The loop nature feels new for the band, and the perfect button to the end of it feels like a preview for the similarly cyclical themes of “Rabbit Fur Coat,” which would be released two years after More Adventurous.
39. Science Vs. Romance (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): For the longest time this was the only song on Take Offs and Landings I could really get into, and I still think it’s great. After the slow burn of “Go Ahead,” this feels like the real introduction to Take Offs, with a great opening line (“I used to think, if I could realize I’d die, then I would be a lot nicer”) and a fully polished sound that immediately marks Take Offs as a professional debut apart from the self-titled EP before.
38. Accidntel Deth (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): Produced by Dntel, hence the spelling, this track is a slight departure for Rilo Kiley, which pays off really well. The electronic touch marks the song from the rest of the album, but the lyrics that deconstruct aging and the moment of death are intricate and vulnerable.
37. It Just Is (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): More Adventurous is an album with death on its mind. The band was greatly affected by the sudden death of Elliott Smith, which not only informed the whole album but led to the writing of a single song by Lewis and Sennett each specifically about their reaction to his death. I actually slightly prefer Sennett’s “Ripchord,” but Lewis’ “It Just Is” is very affecting and a simple, sad confrontation of the fact that “this loss isn’t good enough for sorrow or inspiration.”
36. The Voyager (The Voyager): Making this list, I’ve realized that I don’t necessarily love The Voyager, but I do like it a lot. The title track, and album closer, feels like a right end to the record, but after hearing the song live, the recorded version feels less satisfying because the beautiful backing vocals by the Watson Twins are much less noticeable here.
35. Heads Gonna Roll (On the Line): The new album’s opening track leaves me very curious as to what the rest is going to sound like. The production is heavy, but crisp, and Lewis’ vocals are suddenly weighted down with life (in a good way!). The real star of this song is the organ solo from the Heartbreakers’ own Benmont Tench.
34. Always (Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings): Besides “Science vs. Romance,” this is my favorite track by far from Take Offs. It’s a clear improvement and step-up in production value and complexity from the first iteration of “Always,” but it still retains what made the initial song likeable to begin with—but it takes it and makes it even better. In a way, that’s how a lot of Take Offs shakes out: it’s a clear step forward from their first EP, but it is still primarily made up of songs in which the band is figuring out what they want to say, and how, with a few tracks shining through it all.
33. Happy / Happy (Reprise) (Rabbit Fur Coat): The production of this song is very haunting and melancholic, which is the best element of Rabbit Fur Coat as a whole, but the lyrics are less complex and involving than other tracks on the album. The reprise is just a repeat of the refrain “so happy…” with even more haunting reverb added. It’s all a solid backbone for the album, but not totally essential on its own.
32. Angel (Nice As Fuck, Nice As Fuck): The grooviest, slinkiest song on Nice As Fuck. The vocals are dreamy, psychedelic and selectively employ Lewis’ falsetto, while the drums from Tennessee Thomas are, as always, fantastic and full of a propulsive energy. I wouldn’t object to a second NAF album—maybe one for the next election year, to help us jam out and escape when we need to?
31. The Good That Won’t Come Out (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): The opening track of Execution, this is a big lyrical step-up from their last two albums and is a mini-epic to this very thematic album that tackles a lot of big, universal emotions in specific ways.
30. The Execution of All Things (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): While the tracks that precede “Execution,” “The Good That Won’t Come Out” and “Paint’s Peeling” have compelling lyrics and music, respectively, this track combines both elements to create a thesis for the album that is thoughtful as well as musically interesting and complex.
29. The Next Messiah (Acid Tongue): OK, it’s really about three half-formed songs smashed together into one but I love it a lot. The album as a whole feels like it is being performed during a raucous beer bust on a sweltering August night, and this track is one of the best examples of why it feels that way. The rhythms demand you to move, and the vocal performances by Lewis and Johnathan Rice are so sweaty in the best way. This track is nearly eight minutes long, but every second is a blast.
28. Animal (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): Primarily a “Johnny” song, Lewis’ sings alongside him during the chorus in a way that lifts it up into a richer, complex sound. It’s one of the best songs on the album, but just slightly less dynamic than the ones I’ve placed above it.
27. 15 (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): I feel a bit hashtag problematic for liking this song, because it is technically about statutory rape, but it is pretty sonically fun with a horns section and an endless collection of similes (“our skin is like grass, let’s smoke it real fast”). It’s slightly seedy subject matter feels like a precursor to the misfits that populate Acid Tongue, which would be released the year after this album.
26. Switchblade (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): I conflate this song with “Animal” a lot, because both are Johnny songs with great assist by Lewis. This just ranks above “Animal” because it is one of the smaller, more intimate tracks on the album but it is so without feeling too sleepy or half-baked (like “While Men Are Dreaming,” which ultimately just feels like an interlude).
25. More Adventurous (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): Re-listening to Rilo Kiley’s output for this list I came to realize that—at least for me—More Adventurous contains some of the most romantic and beautiful songs of their entire catalogue. “More Adventurous” is a great example of that, with its swooning, sweet music and its pure folk performance.
24. You Are What You Love (Rabbit Fur Coat): The most purely fun song on Rabbit Fur Coat, with charming lines like “the phone is a fine invention/ it allows me to talk endlessly to you,” buoying the joyful energy of the song throughout.
23. Jack Killed Mom (Acid Tongue): A Southern Gothic combo of Oedipus Rex and Psycho (that may be redundant, but oh well), this feels like a speak-song interlude during the middle of the rowdiest revivalist meeting in a swamp somewhere. It’s a lot of fun.
22. Red Bull & Hennessy (On the Line): This song has been kicking around Lewis’ live shows for a while, so it’s great to finally get a fully produced version and with such great studio musicians. The song rolls along with great help from RINGO STARR (yes!) providing some excellent, rollicking drums. This is a great introduction to Lewis’ next album, and it indicates that there’s going to be a really fresh, bold sound to On the Line.
21. My Pet Snakes (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): One of those early pop songs of I’m Having Fun Now, this one has fun imagery that bemoans the inevitability of your bad habits getting the better of you, and the reckless joy in going ahead and indulging them anyway.
20. Big Wave (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): It’s a close race between “My Pet Snakes” and “Big Wave,” but I slightly prefer “Big Wave” for its big, colorful production and atmospheric rock.
19. Head Underwater (The Voyager): The start to Lewis’ first solo project in six years, it has a fun and fresh sound that pulls you slowly and naturally into the sound of The Voyager. Despite being four years removed from the Jenny and Johnny album, it also surprisingly and successfully builds a bridge, musically, from the surf-pop of the former album to slightly subdued version on display here.
18. The Moneymaker (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): Entirely by chance, this was the first Rilo Kiley – and Jenny Lewis – song I ever heard. I feel like I should mention that because it feels like such a strange introduction to have. Regardless, this is a Rilo Kiley song unlike any other, and probably the band’s One True Bop.
17. Melt Your Heart (Rabbit Fur Coat): Initially, this song feels very subdued compared to the other tracks surrounding it, but if you take the care to really listen to the song it’s beautiful. The Watson Twins, invaluable on every Rabbit Fur Coat track, are especially necessary here, as they drape the song in gorgeous harmonies.
16. Acid Tongue (Acid Tongue): This is a close tie with “See Fernando” for my favorite Acid Tongue track, and I only bumped this one down a notch because it’s just slightly more subdued than I might like. However, the intimate, acoustic performance of the song feels right and helps highlight moments that break out of it, such as when the background singers emphasize the last part of “to be lonely is a habit, like smoking or taking drugs/ and I’ve quit them both, but man was it rough.”
15. See Fernando (Acid Tongue): Acid Tongue still feels like a strange entry into Lewis’ discography, even after the addition of more solo albums and side projects, because it’s just so atmospheric and weird and dirty. “See Fernando,” though, is the best part of those traits, as it creates a raucous party atmosphere and paints a picture of a mysterious place and person you can go to, “where they chain up the sun,” and Lewis fully commits to the showmanship this track requires.
14. Just Like Zeus (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): This entire album is maybe the funniest Lewis’s writing has been, in addition to just being very “chill” and reminiscent of every favorite summer pop jam you’ve ever had. This song is the most overtly humorous on the album, skewering Silver Lake hipsters and wannabes with self-deprecating self-awareness thrown in.
13. Committed (Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now): A great album ender, that picks up and ties off the effervescent energy that started the album in “Scissor Runner” and “My Pet Snakes.” Johnathan Rice has the lead role here, but Lewis’ “ah ah ahs” lend the song a lot of its joyful personality.
12. I Never (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): Rilo Kiley has a lot of emotionally vulnerable, intimate songs, but “I Never” feels like the band’s one true, classic torch song. Lewis belts it out from the beginning, and the musical break at the end is great enough to make you see stars and float off into the atmosphere for a minute or two.
11. Late Bloomer (The Voyager): This is a standout Voyager track, because it feels slightly unlike any other Lewis song—at least on her solo records—up to that point. It’s told as a recollection of teen years, which adds a bittersweet sheen to everything, and it paints such a clear picture of a time when you’re being led your heart more than your brain. It’s just lovely.
10. Portions for Foxes (Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous): More Adventurous is probably the best overall Rilo Kiley album, and one that is the most “pop” while still retaining the songwriting themes and techniques of their earlier work. “Portions for Foxes” is the most accessible song on the record to new listeners. It’s also not the last time Lewis has blended a sense of morbidity with romance with a “hey, we’re all gonna’ die anyway” sensibility (see: “Heads Gonna Roll”).
9. Breakin’ Up (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): This is a great, pure pop song. It’s also a refreshing take on “the breakup song,” because it takes the stance of a woman who is ready for this break up. Sorry to bring Ross Gellar into this, but it’s basically his “fine by me!” in song form, except much more flattering. Lewis’ refrain “Oh, it feels good to be free” feels just as triumphant with every listen.
8. Run Devil Run / The Big Guns (Rabbit Fur Coat): It doesn’t feel right to separate these two songs, as “Devil” is a harmonious intro to “The Big Guns,” and each open up Lewis’ first solo record with beautiful harmonies and energy that perfectly sets the tone for this distinctive album.
7. The Charging Sky (Rabbit Fur Coat): Like “Breakin’ Up” and “Portions for Foxes,” “The Charging Sky” is a rollicking, fun, pop tune that stands out from the rest of the album for being just that, and doing it so well. The lyrics here are just the right amount of twisty and clever (“It’s not that I believe in your almight’, but I might as well, as insurance or bail”), made even better by Lewis’ deft delivery of them.
6. Born Secular (Rabbit Fur Coat): I adore this song, and I feel like it’s in the same kind of genre as “The Next Messiah” because they both are extra long standouts in their respective albums, which have an organic kind of unfolding structure. “Born Secular” has Lewis and the Watson Twins lending a lot of loveliness to relatively straightforward lyrics before the back half of the song becomes essentially a long, mesmerizing drum solo.
5. Better Son/Daughter (Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things): The Execution of All Things explores the rawest and goriest emotions of all of the Rilo Kiley albums, and it does so the most vividly here. The song is remarkably honest about struggling against depression and trying to be a good person to the people you care about, and to live up to their expectations. Lewis’ performance is key, as her strong, determined voice reflects the message of persistence in the face of what feels like constant personal failure. The marching band-inflected music is the weak spot, in my opinion, and tips the song just slightly into preciousness. However, Lewis totally redeems it every time and you can’t help but be affected by what she’s singing here.
4. Rise Up With Fists!! (Rabbit Fur Coat): The theme of wanting to do good, or be better, and ultimately failing to do so once met with the overwhelming nature of Life is a frequent one in Lewis’ discography, and it’s maybe best on display here. The refrain of this song, “there but for the grace of God, go I” sums up a lot of Lewis’ songs and characters.
3. Just One of the Guys (The Voyager): The standout single from The Voyager, “Just One of the Guys” feels like a uniquely Jenny Lewis song that came from her at just the right time. Upon its release she had been in the music industry for nearly twenty years, and worked with countless other contemporaries and industry legends. The song is kind of self-aware look from the outside at her status in that male-dominated world, as well as a woman approaching her forties who has not been married, or had children. In typical Lewis fashion, this is done with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and a blunt assessment of the facts. In a recent L.A. Times interview Lewis admits that she has kind of chosen to “chase a muse” over chasing a family, and you can hear her begin to reckon with that choice in this track. On top of everything, it’s a very catchy pop song with a great music video.
2. Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight): This might be the best album starter of all the ones mentioned on this list. As soon as it begins, you’re aware that Under the Blacklight is not like other Rilo Kiley albums. While Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett nearly always shared writing credit on previous Rilo Kiley records, regardless of who was singing, on this album Lewis receives most credit alone. Realizing this, it makes sense why some of the best songs on here feel more related to later Lewis solo work, instead of earlier Rilo Kiley songs. “Silver Lining” feels in a way like the first Jenny Lewis solo track, like something that could have only come fully-formed from inside of her. This is a song that plays even better live (I encourage you to find some videos), with the cathartic assertion of “now I’m gold” feeling like a long-awaited declaration of independence every time.
1. Rabbit Fur Coat (Rabbit Fur Coat): I couldn’t justify choosing any other song for the top of this list. “Rabbit Fur Coat,” the centerpiece track of Lewis’ first, excellent solo debut record, feels like the Ur-Lewis song. It feels like you could plant this song in some rich earth and Jenny Lewis herself would spring from the ground a few months later. It features very visual, succinct storytelling, with an emphasis on characters and an appreciation of an ironic ending. It also explores several topics Lewis has and will explore elsewhere, including her parents, divorce, life in the Southwest, the Valley, and the weirdness and isolation of Hollywood and celebrity. If you want to “get” Lewis, I think this song is an essential track to listen to. Once you’re done with that, you can listen to every single other song on this list.