Almost a decade after they cut their teeth in the DIY basements of the New Jersey punk scene, The Gaslight Anthem last week announced a hiatus. Who knows how long it’ll last, but in their announcement, the band expressed their need to “recharge”. Which makes sense – best known for 2008’s breakthrough album, The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem have always poured their heart and soul into their songs, and they struggled – frontman Brian Fallon especially – quite publicly with the increased exposure the success of that record brought upon them. In celebration of the legacy of this first part of their career, TeamRock dug deep into their back catalogue to bring you the band’s best non-album songs. Some of which, frankly, are just some of the band’s best songs full stop.
10. MISERY (Hold You Up EP, 2012) One of two acoustic originals from this 2012 Record Store Day 10”, Misery sees frontman Brian Fallon at, well, his most melancholy and miserable. A slow elegy to love lost, it’s raw and broken hearted, but still full of the romanticism that’s shone through the band’s work from the very beginning. There’s a vague bluesy swagger here, but really it’s a fragile, brittle song shot through with heartache and pain, and the effects of the alcohol and pills taken to deal with it.
9. HALLOWEEN (fan club single, 2012) Later released in a slightly different form as a bonus track for last year’s fifth album, Get Hurt, this song was originally found on the 2012 fan club single (which was actually released in 2013). There’s not much difference between the two versions, there’s a slightly heightened urgency to the delivery of this one, making it more raw, real and ragged than the other.
8. OUR FATHER’S SONS (iTunes session, 2011) Written for The ’59 Sound, the demo of this song found itself on a slightly obscure benefit compilation for victims of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, and recorded again that year for the band’s digital only iTunes Session. It’s this version – more full and confident than the original no less bruised and battered – that truly shines, a rollicking anthem that swings and sways with soulful swagger and a rock’n’roll heart.
7. THE NAVESINK BANKS DEMO (Sink Or Swim demos, released 2008) Though this is a bootleg, you’d be hard pressed to find a dedicated Gaslight fan who doesn’t own the Sink Or Swim Demos 7”. It’s exactly what it sounds like – three songs (The Navesink Banks, We Came To Dance and Drive) which were later re-recorded for 2007’s debut album, Sink Or Swim. Slightly faster than the version of this song that ended up on that full-length, it’s a song of pure, bare boned confessional romanticism, deeply steeped in the mythology of literature (the opening line quotes Dante’s Inferno), of rock’n’roll, of America (and New Jersey in particular), and of wild and reckless youthful abandon.
6. MILES DAVIS & THE COOL (Live at Park Ave, 2009) Recorded at an instore performance in Orlando, Florida in 2008, the six tracks on this Record Store Day release were more stripped back than their recorded counterparts. While Miles Davis & The Cool was one of the more unassuming songs from the band’s breakthrough second album, The ’59 Sound, it’s also one of its best. This version is fraught and frayed, full of nervous, naïve energy and a widescreen, “it’s now or never, kid” escapism that makes its storyline and all-encompassing subject matter (love, youth, death and everything in between) all the more pressing.
5. BLUE DAHLIA (Handwritten bonus track, 2012) This probably should have been on the album proper, but only made it as bonus track to fourth full-length Handwritten. Yet The Gaslight Anthem have rarely sounded so confident and sure of themselves as on this song – it’s a full-throttle rock song full of tragedy and history, sadness and defiance, and a chorus that just soars higher than most anything else the band have written in their career. A song that perfectly captures the magic and mystery of both music and love.
4. ONCE UPON A TIME (The B-Sides, 2014) This could easily be a Gaslight Anthem song – both in terms of the gentle swing of its tune and its lyrics, which eulogise lost love through memories of songs by Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Elvis Presley – but it’s actually a cover by the little known soul group Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise. The original is a beautiful tribute to lives and loves gone by, but The Gaslight Anthem do it a powerful justice, channelling the ghosts of the past to haunt you with a sweet, scared tenderness.
3. BLUE JEANS & WHITE T-SHIRTS (Señor And The Queen, 2008) Released between their first and second albums, the four songs on this EP are a microcosm of the band, lyrically and musically. There’s punk, there’s rock’n’roll and there’s soul, and there’s also this slow, lilting ballad. Quite possibly the quintessential Gaslight Anthem song, it’s set on the early morning (after the night before) beaches of New Jersey, and celebrates the joy of friendship and brotherhood in spite of the apparently stagnant situation its characters find themselves in. It’s a song about growing up and making a break, living for the moment but dreaming big and trying to follow those dreams – and the lead of your heroes – as best you can, while also remembering to remember where you’re from.
2. SHE LOVES YOU (American Slang b-side, 2010) A b-side from American Slang – and a song that probably should have been on that album – She Loves You is a gorgeous song full of yearning. And in much the same way that Lou Reed turned literary figures into down and out street characters in his songs, so Brian Fallon does the same, recasting Romeo and Juliet as kids on the street, in love but broken hearted and hiding from a world that’s clearly let them down. A perfect song for the muggy streets of a New York summer, it’s one of the saddest in their catalogue, and one of the very best.
1. WHEREFORE ART THOU, ELVIS? (Señor And The Queen, 2008) Ignore the slightly silly and pretentious title and give yourself into the incredible riff that drives this song from start to finish. Managing to reference lyrics by Leonard Cohen and The Lawrence Arms in the same line (“It’s a broken Hallelujah and a pain in my fist”), it’s the ultimate example of Gaslight doing what they do best – taking the history of their influences and reshaping it into something fresh and exciting. Which, after all, is the very foundation upon which rock’n’roll is built. A desperate gasp of frightened and excited air left to disappear into the dark air of night, it’s a song built on both vulnerability and courage, and which manages to be both at the same time.