Playlist: The Essential LCD Soundsystem
In honor of the band's final concert, SPIN revisits some James Murphy and Co.'s best songs — and their most underrated.
How do you pick the best LCD Soundsystem songs? It’s like trying to rate Nirvana’s music. Both have released an incredible body of music over relatively short runs: three studio albums each, plus a handful of EPs, singles, and live compilations. But as James Murphy and his ace band — one of rock’s finest to emerge in the last decade — get ready to call it quits with a sold-out celebration at New York’s Madison Square Garden this weekend, we’ve gone back through their catalog to present a list of our favorite LCD tunes, along with our take on what made them great.
“Losing My Edge”
The song that cracked it all open for James Murphy and heralded New York’s dance-rock revival with bands like the Rapture, the Juan Maclean, and other crate-digging fetishists in Murphy’s DFA Records universe. “Losing My Edge” was one of the sharpest, detailed critiques of “scenester” culture of the era — a hilarious take down of snot-nosed kids who celebrated “the borrowed nostalgia of the unremembered ’80s.” “Losing My Edge” may not have that peak-of-the-club-night energy of later songs like “All My Friends” or “Us V Them,” but all the basic elements of great LCD Soundsystem are in place, from the dubby, heavily-syncopated beat (later reprised on “Get Innocuous!”) to the soul-disco freak-out in the mid-section.
“Yeah (Pretentious Version)”
Not to slag the anthemic punk-funk laid down in the “Crass Version” of this 2004 track, but it’s the wordless “Pretentious Version” where Murphy’s band brings the heat: dig that down-and-dirty, Stevie Wonder-style clavinet riff and that balls-on-accurate beat. Phish wish they could deliver live improv this hot.
“Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”
Murphy grew up as a fan of punk music and worked as a sound engineer for post-punk acts like Six Finger Satellite. On this 2005 single, he perfectly fuses his past musical passions with his newfound infatuation with dance music. It’s the first real track to catch on with indie-rock purists who were skeptical of electronic music post-Prodigy — and also the only one to be nominated for a Grammy (they lost out to the Chemical Brothers’ “Galvanize”).
“Hippie Priest Bum-Out”
In 2007, James Murphy and Pat Mahoney released an essential mixtape for London label Fabric, which introduced their favorite ’70s and ’80s disco classics (like NYC Peech Boys’ joyous single “Life Is Something Special”) to a new generation of music nerds. But wedged among the party-starting burners was this deranged slab of ambient funk — proof that 28 years after Disco Demolition Night, the genre never sucked at all in the first place.
James Murphy was commissioned by Nike to write a piece of music to accompany joggers and fitness freaks, but his resulting 45:33 is way more than a marketing gimmick: a sprawling, six-part epic that seamlessly segues from gospel-tinged funk to delirious jazz-rock fusion worthy of Miles Davis at his weirdest.
“All My Friends”
There’s a reason everyone from Franz Ferdinand to John Cale have covered “All My Friends.” It’s simply LCD Soundsystem’s most epic tune, and Murphy proves he’s a first-rate lyricist thanks to his deeply felt reflections on love, loss, and how much it sucks to get older but, damn, weren’t the twenties a total blast? An instant classic.
LCD included this as an instrumental segment on 45:33, but set to Murphy’s lyrics, “Someone Great” gets transformed from a blippy, ice-cold number into a detailed chronicle of a dead-end relationship. And when Murphy croons “And it keeps coming, and it keeps coming,” he unwittingly recalls the anxiety of another punk-turned-dance-music-freak: David Byrne on Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”
“Us V Them”
The studio version is one of Sound of Silver‘s best moments, but LCD Soundsystem really transform this track live — the segue from the deep disco groove into the blissful chorus is always one of LCD’s most hair-raising moments.
“Bye Bye Bayou”
Murphy has long been a big fan of the ’70s proto-punk band Suicide. But his cover of frontman Alan Vega’s 1980 solo track is a radical revision of the original – and shows off Murphy’s gifts for studio wizardry by transforming a paranoid dirge (“Helicopters are coming…to take me far away!”) into a searing disco number.
“Freak Out/Starry Eyes”
Easily LCD Soundsystem’s most underrated tune. This two-part epic starts with wacky, pitch-shifted vocals proclaiming “If you it again, I’m gonna freak out!” And that’s precisely what LCD Soundsystem do, laying out a sweaty, coked-up banger filled with hot-horn swagger and dizzying bongos. The track really achieves lift off at the 8:15 mark — that dazzling, quadraphonic synthesizer hook alone is pure aural ecstasy.
Included on the soundtrack to the 2008 Vegas heist flick 21, “Big Ideas” is largely overlooked and never performed live, probably because the movie sucked so bad. But it’s another one of LCD’s most underrated gems: a six-minute synthesis of guitar-powered kraut-rock and ecstatic gospel vocals.
Perhaps Murphy had already decided to call it quits with LCD when they released this single from This Is Happening. How else to describe what comes on like a bid for the frat house’s playlist than with a track called “Drunk Girls”? Still, Murphy has never been an easy-to-peg target, and underneath the white-knuckled groove and rowdy chanting — “Drunk boys, drunk boys, drunk boys, drunk boyyyyyyyys!” — he finally realizes it’s futile to try and party like a twenty-something at the age of 41. With LCD calling it a day, maybe he can finally nurse his hangover?