EDITOR’S NOTE: While putting together my best-of-the-decade lists, I noticed there was nary a Wilco song or album in sight. I realized that’s because I’d never really given them much attention and probably had only listened to one album in its entirety. I decided to rectify that by listening to their entire catalog, so I could finally have an informed opinion on what many consider to be the greatest band of my generation. This is the first entry in the series.
Before you can start to delve into what makes Wilco tick, you have to go back to the band’s roots. And they’re planted firmly in Belleville, Ill., where, after a few early incarnations, Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn formed Uncle Tupelo in 1987.
From the release of their first album in 1990 to their breakup in 1994, Uncle Tupelo were one of the most influential acts during the infancy of the alt-country movement. Playing country music with a punk ethos, Uncle Tupelo helped usher in the “No Depression” era — a term taken from the title of their debut album and used as a byword for the new genre.
When Farrar left the band — after his relationship with Tweedy had become too tumultuous — he would go on to form Son Volt, while the rest of the band would stay together and become Wilco.
I didn’t discover any of these bands until a co-worker included some of their songs on a mix CD that he gave me in 2005 or ’06. I was immediately taken with both the Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo sounds. It was clear that Farrar’s vocals were the focal point in the earlier project, despite his sharing singing and writing duties with Tweedy.
But after listening to the group’s Anthology, I realized how important Tweedy’s contributions were and could detect some of the style that would come out in the eventual Wilco recordings.
Here’s Uncle Tupelo’s biggest hit, which showcases Farrar’s vocals …
… and here’s one that has Tweedy in the lead spot …