When I was a kid and I had zero reference point for anything pop culture–related, I didn’t realize that Woody Allen and Mel Brooks were two entirely separate people. Which is funny now, because I have no idea why I would conflate the man who gave David Lynch a career with the guy who continues to prove that a certain tier of beloved white men is immune from cancellation. But the point is that even to this day, my ignorance toward certain pockets of pop culture (on a similar note, RIP Carl Reiner, who, it turns out, is different from Rob Reiner!) is only heightened by the fact that there are seemingly dozens of movies with titles riffing on Once Upon a Time in the West.
After realizing that writing about this confusion helps me to differentiate between two entirely disparate parties (and, in some cases, has led to me discovering new favorite artists), I figured I may as well get to know all those albums with “Songs About” in their titles. It’s probably ridiculous to imply that there’s any overlap in the separate spheres of music that Steve Albini and will.i.am inhabit, but hey, somebody’s gotta find out for sure.
(Note: as a “Songs About” purist, I have, regrettably, omitted any/all “More Songs About” titles, including but not limited to Buildings, Food, Frustration, and Self Hate.)
10. Protein, Songs About Cowgirls
I…truly do not like rock music. Next!
9. will.i.am, Songs About Girls
My brother had this album when we were teenagers and the only song I remember from it is the one he did with Snoop about butts (“She got a mega ass” is a line I’ll, unfortunately, never forget), which was apparently dumb enough to make it into Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. I will say that for all the rap songs written about asses, this is the only one where two guys come together to express gratitude for being in the presence of a [Al Pacino voice] great ass. Presumably different from the Mr. T Experience record of the same name.
8. The Mountain Goats, Songs About Fire
Ehh, my Mountain Goats thing is just that people talked up John Darnielle’s lyrics for so long that when I finally tried getting into them I was like, “That’s it?” Also first heard him on that Aesop Rock song, and that felt like a weird fit. These seem to be pretty watered-down lo-fi/acoustic recordings, though, which I feel like works better for John’s voice.
7. Big Black, Songs About Fucking
Steve Albini is the patron saint of guys I know I’m supposed to care about, but am particularly turned off to—especially after I remember he was in bands called Rapeman and other worse things. I’m grateful for Attack on Memory, but he can miss me with the edgelord shit. No swearing in my iTunes library, please.
6. Quelle Chris’ Awesome in Outer Space, Songs About U
OK, this one’s a deep cut and in no way indicates how I’d stack up Quelle’s music against the other artists on this list. Not sure what the story was with these, but the rapper unleashed a pair of LPs under this moniker in 2016, which contained lo-fi, synth-driven tracks like “Screams.” Still, there are worse things for songs to be about.
5. Maroon 5, Songs About Jane
I’m sad that when I think of Maroon 5 now, I think of Adam Levine topless at the Super Bowl and that Bingo Gubelmann cocaine headline instead of “Harder to Breathe” and “This Love.”
4. Venetian Snares, Songs About My Cats
This is…not what I expected…any music to sound like, but I think I could get into breakcore. Is the idea here that each song is named after each of Aaron Funk’s fourteen cats? Pouncelciot, Bertha Rand, and Katzesorge (parts 1 and 2) are pretty good cat names—and much more feasible than the thought that Funk was inspired to make music that sounds like…this after chilling with his lethargic pets.
3. Mint Julep, Songs About Snow
I guess I’m a sucker for songs about snow—which, sonically, these undoubtedly are—so yeah, gonna rank this one pretty high up here despite having no prior knowledge of this band, nor any interest in the Kentucky Derby and its culture. “Arristea” is the kind of track I wanna come inside to after an ill-advised trip to the grocery store which, it turns out, is no longer walking distance in the dead of winter.
2. Eric’s Trip, Songs About Chris
This one’s also kind of a deepcut, but Eric’s Trip dropped this EP a few months before Love Tara, introducing folks to the noisy pop songs of the early-’90s cult band. I’d put this group at the other end of the supposed-to-care-about spectrum, the end with all the other artists I agree I should put forth more of an effort to appreciate. Cool record, though “Chris” is a much less relatable topic than anything else on this list (besides “Jane”—I don’t think I even know any Janes).
1. Carissa’s Wierd, Songs About Leaving
Late-period canonical slowcore from the band that gave us the Band of Horses guy. Edgy song titles with “fuck” and “shit” in them. It was kind of Carissa’s Wierd to give us Songs About Leaving before they left.