When I first heard about My Morning Jacket, I enjoyed the music, but I wouldn’t have called myself an instant fan. It wasn’t until I saw them live for the first time at Shaky Knees in 2016 that I truly understood what was so great about them. Jim James is a phenomenal performer, working the crowd like a maestro as the band soars through phases of different types of rock ‘n’ roll music, but all of it with a psychedelic edge.
I finally got to see My Morning Jacket live again earlier this month for three nights at the Auditoreum Theatre in Chicago. It was the tour-closing run for their fall 2021 tour and they did not repeat one single song throughout all three nights. That’s over 60 different songs played, with no covers.
That’s the beauty of My Morning Jacket — the buildups, the perfectly-timed changes, and the moments where the tension reaches a peak and bursts into jubilee. Those moments come at twists and turns dictated by the music and driven by the connection between the band and the crowd.
Each show had a different feel and energy, but it all built up to towards the grand eruption on Saturday night, when they really brought it all home and capped it all off with the song that everybody knew was coming, a ripper of a “One Big Holiday” that had the whole crowd burning everything they had left in the tank.
At this point, My Morning Jacket have been around for nearly 25 years, getting their start playing reverb-heavy lo-fi Americana in Louisville, KY in 1998. They have released nine studio albums to date, with the most recent being the self-titled that dropped in October.
While the two classics are Z (2005) and It Still Moves (2003), each of their albums holds its own, and brings a different style to the table. That being said, I would consider myself part of the crowd that thinks Z is their best album, followed by It Still Moves. The first two albums are okay, but at the end of the day I prefer their newer stuff over At Dawn (2001) and The Tennessee Fire (1999)
Even the newest album shows that they haven’t lost their mojo (regardless of what Pitchfork says), and they’ve developed a live show at this point that competes with any band running right now for best in the business.
All of this is to say that picking the 10 best My Morning Jacket songs is not an easy task, but I’ve tried my hand at it today. Take this as a disclaimer, this list is extremely subjective and based on my personal tastes at this moment in time.
Anyway, here’s what I’ve got for the best MMJ songs.
10. “Run It” (The Waterfall II, 2020)
One of the newer songs to find its way onto this list is the supremely chill “Run It” off The Waterfall II. While this doesn’t have the rock forward drive that makes many other great My Morning Jacket songs so great, this one is catchy and whimsical and it demonstrates their ability to craft a straight-up vibe. The song is embellished with piano and gentle guitar strumming while Jim sings of trying to sidestep negativity and unkind people to find grounding within the self. It’s one of the most accessible pieces of music they’ve released to date and it has been heavily in my rotation ever since its release.
9. “In Color” (My Morning Jacket, 2021)
“In Color” is one of the main reasons why I said that the new My Morning Jacket album shows that the band has still got it. This song hits in the same vein as any of their old favorites, with a jam element that is brought even closer to the light during the live show. It has only been out for a short while but it has already found its way up into the ranks of my favorite My Morning Jacket songs. Easily my favorite on the new album, and in fact the only song from the new album to find its way onto this list. The guitar solo at the end is truly incredible.
8. “Feel You” (The Waterfall II, 2020)
You’ll see over the course of this list that I tend to enjoy the longer, jammier side of the My Morning Jacket catalogue, as well as some slower tempos. Maybe that’s the Deadhead in me speaking, but either way, “Feel You” is the longest, jammiest song on The Waterfall II and it hits just right, with a sexy guitar solo that complements the intimacy in the lyrics quite well. The solo is also pretty Wilco-esque and the guitar tone reminds me of the solo in “Impossible Germany”, which is not a bad thing to be compared with at all.
7. “Gideon” (Z, 2005)
The beauty of “Gideon” is the layers of intensity that are continuously added as the song progresses, bringing us towards an instrumental breakdown that comes across as a heroic climax. The whole thing has an upward momentum to it that reaches a peak as Jim wails over rocking drums and guitars that are ready to burst at the seams, “Come on!”.
6. “Wordless Chorus” (Z, 2005)
“Wordless Chorus” kicks off Z with a deep, rolling bass and a little bit of synth to set the vibe, taking their time to introduce the sonic direction they’re headed for the rest of the album. It’s also got a bit of lyrical confidence to it, notably when Jim sings “We are the innovators, they are the imitators”.
When they played at Shaky Knees in 2016 they had a headlining set that was opposed by the 1975 on the other side of the festival. I took these lyrics as a subtle jab at the pop music that was happening on the other stage, though that might just be because I don’t like the 1975. But really, who would choose them over My Morning Jacket?
5. “Dondante” (Z, 2005)
“Dondante” is the epic, brooding closer to Z. It’s the longest song on the album and one that they’re known to take to new heights in the live setting. For example, when they played Red Rocks in August 2019, they ripped a “Dondante” that clocked in at a whopping 27 minutes of exploratory psychedelic rock. This is the kind of song that separates My Morning Jacket from almost every other band on the planet in terms of pure skill. It’s a song that allows them to really show off their chops, as if they hadn’t already done so on the album’s previous nine songs.
4. “Mahgeetah” (It Still Moves, 2003)
As the opener to It Still Moves, “Mahgeetah” sets the tone for what many consider to be their best record. The song itself has an infectious air about it as Jim James sings about getting the party going with his lady, but the feeling is one of movement for everybody. It’s memorable for being a fantastic album opener, and for being good enough to keep drawing you back to both “Mahgeetah” and the rest of It Still Moves. Because if the first song is that good, why stop listening there?
3. “Lay Low” (Z, 2005)
“Lay Low” is the epitome of rock god MMJ. The song starts out innocently enough, with drums and some light guitar licks to get things going, while vocals from Jim James bounce over the beat. As always is the strength in My Morning Jacket is the building intensity that manages to “Lay Low” beneath the surface until it absolutely can’t be contained anymore and they just rip into 2+ minutes of heavy guitar-driven jams. It’s also a sleeper song for me, one that hadn’t quite struck me for how good it is until I saw them play it live.
2. “One Big Holiday” (It Still Moves, 2003)
“One Big Holiday” is the banger, the one My Morning Jacket song that even non-fans have heard before. It’s their biggest hit (so far) and it’s the one they use as a closer most often, including on their three night run through Chicago earlier this month.
I think what makes this song so great is the sheer energy that emanates from its core. From Jim’s roaring vocals to the wailing guitars and pounding drums, “One Big Holiday” is packed with the pure essence of the band. Maybe that’s why they named their festival in Mexico after it.
Also of note is that while this is the most popular My Morning Jacket song, it does not get any hate at all from fans of the band (unlike the Dead’s “Touch of Grey” or “Farmhouse” by Phish). It’s just an undeniably great rock ‘n’ roll song, and both the band and its fans are proud of it, as they should be.
P.S. – also check out this banging live performance of “One Big Holiday” from Bonnaroo in 2004.
1. “Steam Engine” (It Still Moves, 2003)
I’ve mentioned already that the first time I saw My Morning Jacket was at Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta in 2016. The festival is actually named after a line in “Steam Engine”, “God Damn those shaky knees”. Thus to have them headlining the festival that is named after their song, you know they would do something special with it.
They played “Steam Engine” late in their set that night, the long and driving song that builds up the whole time towards an incredible release of tension in the end. When they played it that night, they built up into the massive drop in “Steam Engine” with confetti cannons that fired off during the peak of the song. And afterwards they went into a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” (he had passed away just a few weeks prior) and dimmed the lights to purple so it was literally raining purple over the crowd. The vibes were impeccable.
That set will be forever cemented into my memory as one of the most amazing concert moments of my life. The fact that they can do that with it in the live setting, and bring that indescribable feeling of one-ness over the crowd speaks volumes for both the talent of the band and the quality of this particular song. That’s why “Steam Engine” tops my list of the best My Morning Jacket songs.
Honorable Mention: “Golden” (It Still Moves, 2003)
Back with an update here in June of 2023. It was quite difficult to order this list, but it doesn’t sit right with me to leave “Golden” off. It’s one of the most memorable and widely-known MMJ songs. It’s just that they have a lot of badass songs.
Also check out my recent lyrical analysis, The Meaning of My Morning Jacket’s “Golden”.