I've been listening to The Mountain Goats lately. A lot of The Mountain Goats. It's a big undertaking that will be written about later, but I'm trying to understand that band and find at least one album that makes me get it. They're one of those bands where if you ask someone the "So Where Should I Start" question everybody says something different. They're also a band where people say, "well you like The Hold Steady, so you'll like this" which is, in my opinion, true once you're already deep into the bands and really paying attention but isn't helpful for getting into a band initially.
I think an underrated art is figuring out where people should start with a band you love. When you're deep in the weeds with a band it seems it becomes impossible to figure out what s actually the best song or album for a new listener to use as a jumping off point. It's like "Harness Your Hopes" by Pavement. When that song was getting big on TikTok I remember people tweeting endlessly about how it doesn't make sense. It's not one of their big hits. It's not really representative of their other music. But it always seemed logical to me why that one was doing well in a situation divorced from the context of Pavement as a band.
It's a funny, catchy song. It's not an abrasive song. It's also an introduction to Stephen Malkmus's voice and if you like the voice you'll likely be able to get into the other stuff. It's not that far from the kind of funny that "Cut Your Hair" is. I think it's a totally great intro point to Pavement.
I think often songs that aren't on the sort of defining records from a band can be really great intro points to a band. When The Hold Steady was first introduced to my life, I didn't like it at all. The guy that I was dating at the time would make me listen to it in the car and I didn't get it. Now, I knew him for years and I've never known another person to have more similar music taste to me, but our taste in specific songs was always pretty different. Our approach to introducing the other to a band we thought they'd like was always really different, too.
I still have the playlist of Hold Steady songs he made me when I was first listening to them. I didn't know it then, but it is a pretty good like "Greatest Hits" playlist. I just only liked one song on it at the time. It was "The Weekenders" and I think, if you're going to cold intro someone to that band, it should be with that song.
I don't think it's the best Hold Steady song. I don't think it's the most special or impactful Hold Steady song. It's certainly not on the most important Hold Steady album. But if you're trying to get someone to become endeared to the band? It's perfect. It's a good intro to Craig Finn's voice and his very narrative writing style. There's a good guitar solo. As much as I grew to love the keys in a lot of their music and miss them when they're not present, it was something that put me off of the band initially so introing with a song that doesn't have them was good for me. It's the perfect intro song. Especially when a singer has a really specific vocal style or writing style, the song you as a huge fan think is their best probably isn't actually a good place to start.
I'd love to think everybody would sit through all of Separation Sunday or Boys and Girls in America, I'm not stupid or naive. Sometimes you just need A Song to be a gateway.
That said, because I was amenable to "The Weekenders" I got into Heaven is Whenever before any other record. "Barely Breathing" was the first song of theirs I really got into of my own volition. I wouldn't recommend anybody else go down that route, but it's all about your own journey.
Anyway, since I've been thinking about that a lot, I made a playlist of the songs I think are the best introductions to some of my favorite bands. Some are the band's best or most popular song. Some are not. Some are songs that, admittedly, are just the one I loved first so there's real bias.
Drug Church's most popular song is "Weed Pin" and it's the right choice, even if their best song is "Unlicensed Guidance Counselor." Self Defense is a tougher one. As much as I think Punk Music is great, it's best listened to as an album. "Cottaging" is my intro point song of choice.
I think Jeff Rosenstock solo is best intro'd with "Pash Rash." I almost picked "Nausea" but I think that's only right if you're coming from an appreciation for BTMI. For BTMI, if you already like Jeff solo, I think you should start up Vacation. It starts with "Campaign for a Better Next Weekend" and that's a perfect song. If you're going in cold, that's probably still the right choice. Or "Everybody That You Love."
Everybody who is going to like The Menzingers probably already does, but I'd probably pick "In Remission" if I was pressed to pick a representative from their catalog. Into It. Over It. is probably in the same boat, but I'd go with "Augusta, GA" over anything that comes up first from Proper.
If you don't like "Black Cow" by Steely Dan you probably don't like music, but you definitely won't like anything else they have to offer.
Made a playlist for fun. Tell me your thoughts on how you intro people to a band with a larger catalog. Don't tell me that you expect everybody to listen to a whole record. Be a serious person. Live in the real world.
A few newer songs I like a lot:
I Belong On the Surface by theydevil
Brilliant sort of bedroom electro-pop. This song lands somewhere between Garden Song by Phoebe Bridgers and School Friends by Now, Now to me. So so great.
Window by Magazine Beach
This whole record is really good, but this more stripped back moment is really special. I'd say Magazine Beach is sort of FFO Pool Kids. Great stuff!
Glare by Loma Prieta
Loma Prieta are what I want Touche Amore to always be and I love Touche. This song is so great.
Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter to hear more about the songs I think are good: @mirandareinert. You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo if you want. As always, thanks for reading!