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Kings of Leon’s Top 10 Songs

on September 24, 2013, 1:32am
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You can draw a line in the sand of many musicians’ careers, a turning point where their sound changed completely. It’s a shift that usually gains a stadium of new fans while losing a club of old ones. Enter Kings of Leon and 2008’s Only by the Night. The album’s FM friendly singles, “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody”, catapulted the Nashville family into sports arenas and festivals everywhere — yet the divide between fans grew far and wide.

Much of that skepticism should change with their latest effort, Mechanical Bull. As our own Mike Madden wrote in his glowing review, the album captures “the sound of a band reviving its former selves for the benefit of each other and for their longtime fans.” With that in mind, we decided to bridge our favorite tracks from all eras of their career. Well, almost all. We still haven’t completely warmed up to Come Around Sundown.

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10. “Temple”

3 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Mechanical Bull (2013)

It might seem too early to put anything from the freshly minted Mechanical Bull on this list, but “Temple” has proven to be an addictive anomaly that veers into full-blown power pop territory. The Kings’ Weezer move satisfies the arena rock aspirations of the ham-fisted “Use Somebody” without any of the overreaching histrionics. —Dan Caffrey

9. “Closer”

4 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Only by the Night (2008)

It’s fair to say that Only By the Night is a front-loaded record, largely thanks to this direction-changing opening number. The bouncing key modulation signaled that the “southern Strokes” took down quite a few notes when they scored the opening slot of a leg of U2’s tour. But thematically, the track stays right within Kings’ wheelhouse. “She took my heart, I think she took my soul,” Caleb sings of yet another woman who’s done him wrong. Somehow we’re not so sorry for him. —Amanda Koellner

8. “Day Old Blues”

6 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004)

In what might be the most meta Kings of Leon song, Caleb correctly guesses that “Boys are gonna hate the way I seem.” If only the final word was “sing.” As if to taunt any listener who ever trashed his rough sand tumble voice, he then launches into a primordial kind of yodel among the sweet acoustic plucking, proving that the bend is often at its finest when completely unhinged. —Dan Caffrey

7. “Arizona”

5 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Because of the Times (2007)

Because of the Times’ final song is one of its best, and it proves a sound far more cinematic than the Kings’ early days. Backboned by an electric guitar that impales its way through the song’s near-five minutes, it’s a transporting track whose lyrics feels best suited as a tale told in a dark bar during daylight by a man wiping sweat from his brow and sipping from a neat drink. Leave it to these guys to write a beautiful song about a whorehouse in the desert. —Amanda Koellner

6. “Trani”

8 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Youth and Young Manhood (2003)

Caleb doesn’t so much sing “Trani” as he slurs and spits it. You can see his face all crinkled as he croons about cheap trick hookers and bumps of coke. The frontman claims that after opening for Dylan, the legend approached him to inquire about the raspy tune and proceeded to deem it a “hell of a song.” Who are we to dissent with The Voice of a Generation? The last minute or so sees Caleb howling like a banshee as his wails reach such heights that the frantic instrumentals finish the song out sans vocals. It’s throwback Kings without the too-polished studio veneer of say, Come Around Sundown. —Amanda Koellner

5. “Milk”

7 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004)

The Followills have all met their fair share of ladies on the road. They might be marrying off and having babies now, but back in 2003, they found the ideal, hourglass-bodied girl — the type who would loan out her toothbrush and bartend a party. As Caleb (candidly) told MTV: “That’s about, um, an experience that happened while we were making the record. Um, I love her. It was a good experience, you know, got a good song out of it. Hope she’s doing alright.” It’s an oddity of a track, too: Caleb howls over just a few sparse cords and the lyrics quicken as the song barrels over, like a little too much milk in a nice, tall glass. Hope that girl’s alright, indeed. —Amanda Koellner

4. “Fans”

kolgifs Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Because of the Times (2007)

Long before a whole lot of America decided they’d had too much Kings of Leon, the southern foursome became one of the most beloved rock bands of the aughts over in England. “Fans” is their love letter to the U.K., as Caleb croons of their extensive time spent across the pond: “You know those rainy days, they ain’t so bad when you’re the king/ The king they wanna see.” It’s one of their catchiest numbers, with a thumping bass and crashing symbols accompanying both acoustic and electric guitars to craft a danceable rock tune about a England swinging the extra love to bunch of whiskey-drinking Tennesseans.–Amanda Koellner

3. “Taper Jean Girl”

2 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004)

Almost a decade later, “Taper Jean Girl” still swings around with the youthful swagger that originally put the band on the map. And why not? Between Caleb’s feverish delivery, the highway-gazing bassline, and the eventual jump into doubletime — it’s no secret why it danced its way through films like Disturbia and, yes, even Cloverfield. So who is the song’s nom de plume? In an episode of VH1’s Storytellers, Caleb said he wrote the song about some tight pants the band saw in London when they were “trying to figure out what it was like in the rest of the world because we only knew the backseat of a car.” Hey, the Followills loved the song so much they named the album after it. Cool. –Amanda Koellner

2. “Knocked Up”

9 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Because of the Times (2007)

It’s a strange coincidence that Judd Apatow’s 2007 blockbuster comedy, Knocked Up, came out a mere two months following the release of Because of the Times. The album’s opening track essentially describes the film’s core premise — an unlikely couple bound together by a child out of wedlock. “I don’t care what nobody says, we’re going to have a baby,” Caleb confesses from the get-go. There’s a bigger picture here that goes well past the child; it’s about keeping love alive at all costs. “I think the reason I talk about having a baby is because of my fear of an actual relationship,” Caleb explained to EW. “So for me talking about having a baby in that song, it’s like the glue that might keep things together, or at least an excuse to make it last a little longer.” At seven minutes long, the band wastes no time letting the track giggle, crawl, and finally walk. The most surprising twist is the erratic anti-chorus that splits apart each verse. Not their most feel-good track, but certainly their sharpest. –Michael Roffman

1. “The Bucket”

10 Kings of Leons Top 10 Songs

Album: Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004)

“We don’t really fight anymore,” Caleb recently told The Telegraph. Good. That shit will kill you, as will too much booze, drugs, and whatever else his brothers and cousin were (perhaps unhealthily) warned against during their Pentecostal upbringing. But that didn’t stop them from doing it, especially once they were rock stars. “The Bucket” takes a look at such on-the-road hedonism through the bleary eyes of the youngest Followill, bassist Jared. In the song, the constant momentum and snowballing fame almost becomes too much for him, spurring him to request an assisted suicide (“you kick the bucket and I’ll swing my legs”).

Depressing? Not at all. Aha Shake Heartbreak‘s first single never loses its jangle thanks to Caleb’s gleeful repetitions (“three in the morning, come a bang bang bang”) and Matthew Followill’s simple lead. And yet, the sonics are only a fraction of what make it the best Kings of Leon song. The bigger picture is something harder to describe. The best word I can come up with is “joy.” There’s a joy in “The Bucket” that results from the Kings surviving everything they had been through up to that point, a joy that somehow also predicted surviving the more extreme hardships they would face in the future. It’s a joy that knows that no matter if they fall out, break up, or kick each other’s asses, they’ll always be part of that most sacred of bonds: family. –Dan Caffrey

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