Greatest Hits According to Me: Liz Phair, in honor of her birthday

I was gonna celebrate Liz Phair’s birthday by being all ‘voice of my generation’ and declaring her the sound of Gen X’s sexuality, specifically the women of my generation. Then I thought about it for twelve more seconds and realized that would be a shitty, heteronormative thing to do. Besides, what do I know about anyone else’s sexual journey? Bupkis, that’s what. So instead I’ll just be the voice of me and say that around these parts she’s known as La Liz, Patron Saint of Sexuality. And by these parts, I mean mine.

Over the past thirteen years on I Will Dare (aside THIRTEEN YEARS!) I’ve probably spilled as many pixels about Liz Phair as I have about Paul Westerberg. They’re my biggies. They’re the artists whose music I cannot discuss with any degree of rational thought or without tears. And yet, here I am making a list of Liz’s Greatest Hits where I will try to find adequate words to convey the greatness. I will probably fail miserably, but I will try. Afterall, it’s Liz Phair’s birthday and it’s the very least I can do for the woman who wrote the songs that have embedded themselves into the very core of who I am.

If’n you like you can listen to this list on Spotify, or most of the list. The acoustic version of “Why Can’t I?” Isn’t included because of shitty DRM. Also, I would just like to add that I have some 200+ Liz Phair songs in iTunes, making this list was a bitch

From “Exile in Guyville”

First you should note that this record is going to turn twenty in June. TWENTY. We’ve had “Exile in Guyville” for TWENTY YEARS. Hallelujah!
6’1″: Side 1, track 1, how could I resist? And I say side 1 like I ever had this on vinyl and not on CD. I do, however, have “Whip-Smart” on vinyl and if I ever get a record player I will play the shit out of that albums. Also, I often sing this as “and I kept standing 6’1″ instead of 6’5″” even though it doesn’t rhyme.

Mesmerizing: The mournful way she sings “Don’t you know I’m very happy?” + handclaps.

Fuck & Run: This is probably the iconic Liz Phair song. It was the song twenty-two-year-old me identified with hard. I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted all the stupid old shit. Forty-year-old me sees this song as charming in a sort of archaic way, because forty-year-old me know that I am the “Fuck and Run” type and not the wanting a letters and soda type. Things change.

Divorce Song: 1994? 1995? Driving in Anderla’s Accord that her parents decked out with a CD player, smoking cigarettes, twisty Eau Claire roads in the late spring. Youth and unearned bitterness and frustration and friendship. This song is all those things.

Flower: This song. I can’t even. It sounds like discovering the joys and powers of sex. At least this is what my experience of that sounded like.

From “Whip-Smart”

I’ve listened to this album hundreds of times. That’s not exaggeration. “Whip-Smart” along with Matthew Sweet’s “100% Fun” was the soundtrack of every single word of fiction (and much non-fiction) I wrote from about 1995 until February.

Supernova: “Your kisses are as wicked as an M16, and you fuck like a volcano and you’re are everything to me.” A very smart ex-lover used this song to describe me and my ego has never forgotten it. Neither will you, now.

Shane: This is included purely for that exhalation of breath at the very beginning of the song. It makes my heart knock against my chest.

From “Juvenalia”

Jealousy: First, yes this song does appear on “Whip-Smart” but I wanted to include something off of this EP just because it was really hard for me to get. There’s also a cover song later on the list and so I couldn’t also include “Turning Japanese.” So this song, yeah, it mentions hips and I’m a sucker for those kinds of songs.

From “Whitechocolatespaceegg”

Perfect World: Embarrassing confession #1: Back in the early aughts when I used to date all the time I had a profile on various dating sites. The headline was often some variant of “Cool, Tall, Vulnerable & Luscious” a play on a line from this song. Liz wants to be tough, I am tall. You get it. Do you want to die of embarrassment for me? I kind of do. Incidentally, and somewhat related, I realized that I stopped (for the most part) dating once I bought Supergenius HQ. I need to examine that bit of navel at some point. Embarrassing Confession #2: That acoustic guitar squeak thing (featured throughout this song) is like an aphrodisiac to me. Instant lady boner type thing.

Polyester Bride: This song came out when I was twenty-six and working at a gas station. It was a low, low time filled with Internet addiction and depression. There was something oddly hopeful in this song, the whole you’re lucky to be alive, you’ve got time thing. I clung to this song like a life raft. It buoyed me when I needed it and a year later everything changed for the much much better.

Baby Got Going: Mostly for it’s inclusion in the movie “High Fidelity.”

From “Liz Phair”

Now a lot of music snobs are rubbing their eyes and being all “What? What? Songs on this one albums after Whitechocolate and/or Whip-Smart? This is bullshit nonsense.” And to those snobs I say step off haters, pop Liz is not such a bad thing, but I can admit some of the songs on this one are an embarrassment.

Extraordinary: This song got me through a particularly nasty breakup in 03 or 04, I am too lazy to go look up the specifics. It came along at a time in my life when I needed to feel that I was worthy. Losing out to a woman you didn’t even know you were competing with can be quite damaging to the ol’ self-esteem.

Rock Me: If I hadn’t read a few totally shitty Chuck Klosterfuck piece from 2003 issues of SPIN last week this song wouldn’t have made the cut, but then he was being such a dick about the evolution of Liz’s music and how she portrayed her sexuality through it that I included this as a sort of karmic fuck you to him. He is seriously the suck. In one article he talked about her distracting her miniskirt was and then had the audacity to ask her if she exaggerated her sexuality for artistic purposes. Dude is such an ass. Phew. I feel better for having gotten that off my chest.

Why Can’t I?: The version on my playlist is acoustic from some iTunes session. This is a great song about having a crush, probably one of my favorites, and it helped me get over that aforementioned breakup. The way she sings “Here we go we’re at the beginning. We haven’t done it yet, but my head’s spinning” perfectly captures that pre-sex stage of a relationship.

From “Somebody’s Miracle”

This is probably my least favorite of Liz’s oeuvre. I don’t mind poppy Liz, but boring poppy Liz? Not my thing. This album doesn’t do much for me at all. However, I do like one particular song.

Got My Own Thing: I like this song because it feels to me Liz has come to terms with what it means to be Liz Phair, the voice of some many Gen X women and the pin-up girl to so many men who don’t really understand what she says but like it when pretty girls say fuck. Those dudes suck.

From “Funstyle”

This was that weird-o basement tape sort of record Liz put out a few years back. It’s bizarre.
Bollywood: This one makes the list more for what it says than what it sounds like it. Basically, it’s about getting the rights back to the songs on “Exile.” I can only imagine how empowering that would have been.

Random Cover Song

Mother’s Little Helper: Liz Phair covering The Rolling Stones. Enough said.

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Everything the light touches is my kingdom. Well, at least where this website is concerned. There's an about me section if you are so inclined to know things. All the posts were written by me. I have a lot of words.


      • FS

        17.Apr.13 at 7:15 pm

        For me, it would beat out “Baby Got Going,” which I see as pretty meh.

        I also really like “Firewalker” off of the self-titled album, and “Stratford-On-Guy” off of Exile in Guyville.

  • Hotrod

    18.Apr.13 at 8:31 am

    I think you got this list mostly right, so I’m going to have to find another avenue here….. It’s very telling that we agree so much. Liz Phair’s body of work just isn’t that deep. Upon reflection, she is clearly not the important artist we once thought.

    Also, you forgot Crater Lake and May Queen.

  • Susanna

    21.Apr.13 at 9:25 am

    Oh my gosh. I haven’t listened to poppy Liz not because I’m a music snob (I am, though) but because she broke my heart so badly when she went poppy. I loved those first albums extremely. “Divorce Song” is so fabulous, and I have to agree with your commenter on the enduring power of “Uncle Alvarez,” though it helps if one is related to a prevaricator, I suppose. And who can forget being 21 and arguing with my musician then-avowedly-not-boyfriend about which of us would sing the girl part and which the boy part in “Flower”? Good times.

    • Jodi

      21.Apr.13 at 9:34 am

      I think my heart broke a little when she went pop. However, the older I get the more I can understand the turn. She was a young, single mother. Who wouldn’t make a change if it meant the chance of not having to worry about money for awhile?

        • tiptoptom

          21.Apr.13 at 3:22 pm

          With all due respect, yeah, I think it’s pretty bad.

          To me, it sounds like a thousand other pop songs, and the lyrics (again, to me) sound awful … and I know that pop songs are supposed to be dumb and rhyme “moon” with “june,” but if you’re going to try to get away with “it’s an itch we know we’re gonna scratch / gonna take a while for this egg to hatch,” you better have a killer hook, but I just don’t hear it.

          I think the most interesting thing about her is that she created, in her first album, a truly iconic album without ever having played a live show. There are probably only a handful of musicians who have done that. And when the album blew up, I think she was never able to find that honesty again. It’s different making songs in your basement and making songs that you know thousands of people will hear. Her early debilitating stage fright, I think, backs that up a bit.

          I don’t know, maybe it’s just that everything after Exile in Guyville seems so mundane and irrelevant. I don’t have any problem with her “going pop” to try to make a buck; I just think the results aren’t very good.

  • Jodi

    21.Apr.13 at 7:18 pm

    Fair Enough TipTopTom. While I disagree about the goodness/badness of poppy Liz, I do love your explanation of getting that honesty back. I never even thought about that.

  • tiptoptom

    22.Apr.13 at 3:18 pm

    For the record, your Neko Case list settled a lot better with me. My only complaints were your heartless snubbings of Thanks a Lot from The Virginian and South Takoma Way from Furnace Room Lullaby. How could you?

    Also, do you know her EP Canadian Amp? If not, it’s here:!/album/Canadian+Amp/276291

    All covers, I think. Knock Loud is pretty great.

    • Jodi

      22.Apr.13 at 3:21 pm

      Half the fun of making these ridiculous lists is arguing about them. I do not know of this EP and I can’t wait to listen to it (after I finish listening to “Pinkerton” in its entirety). I spent the morning watching her cover “Islands in the Stream” with My Morning Jacket.

  • tiptoptom

    23.Apr.13 at 1:38 am

    I just watched that “Islands in the Stream.” It’s great. There was another clip of them doing “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.”

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