Everyone hates emo. Well, everyone who matters hates emo, at least. Ten years after Jimmy Eat World's Clarity set the standard for the genre, it seems to be on its last legs, creatively and commercially, without any real fans among tastemakers. Since critics, not charts, tend to write music history, there is good cause to fear time will make emo only more of a joke. That would be a shame. Though most emo is rightfully reviled by anyone who isn't a teenager with a ridiculous haircut, there have been plenty of amazing songs released in the past 10 years or so that are, nonetheless, quintessentially emo. Those songs, and the bands who recorded them, deserve their due.
If anyone has to defend the genre, it's us — Arizona. Clarity, which Jimmy Eat World is celebrating by playing the album in its entirety in 10 cities (including Tempe at a sold-out homecoming show Saturday at the Marquee) is probably the most influential record ever made by an Arizona band. Though emo is certainly a national musical movement — perhaps the first distinct genre emerging without any real regional roots — Phoenix has consistently proved to be a fertile market for spawning and supporting emo bands. When emo's poster kids, Fall Out Boy, wanted to record a live disc, where did they go? Cricket Wireless Pavilion. Emo is part of Arizona's musical heritage — just like Gin Blossoms and The Meat Puppets — and it's time we own and defend it.
10. "Ohio Is for Lovers," Hawthorne Heights
Some people like to say that real emo is "emotional hardcore," splintered off in the '80s by bands like Rites of Spring. To me, that's ridiculous: So-called first wave emo (at the time called emocore) is just hardcore with sappy lyrics. Today's emo kids do not, I assure you, give a fuck about Guy Picciotto. But songs like "Ohio Is for Lovers," with its hyper-melodic power-punk refrain set above a hardcore growl, cause the confusion. Hawthorne Heights sounds poppy and polished, but there's something different here: that growl, the grit in their guitars, the over-the-top emotion. That's pure, undistilled emo, and it's wonderful.
9. "Teenagers," My Chemical Romance
Being a kid who feels alienated from other teens and misunderstood by adults is part of the emo experience, and it's captured perfectly here by My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way. The odd thing is that, as Way told the New York Times, he wrote the song about being on the other side of the equation on a teen-filled subway car: "That was the first time I felt old. I was nervous and I was a target. I felt like I had become a parent figure or part of the problem." That's a lot more self-awareness than the genre is usually given credit for.
8. "Lucky Denver Mint," Jimmy Eat World
Straddling the line between emotional pop-punk and the mainstream emo of the '00s, Jimmy Eat World's breakthrough hit isn't overemotional lyrically, but the delicate interplay between the bass and the guitar, and the pure longing in Jim Adkins' voice, make this an all-time emo classic.
7. "I Constantly Thank God for Esteban,"
Panic! At The Disco
If Clarity is the first classic of the emo era, Panic! At the Disco's 2005 masterpiece A Fever You Can't Sweat Out might just be the last. "I Constantly Thank God for Esteban" is gloriously over the top and comes together so perfectly it makes me forgive Las Vegas for giving us the decadently un-emo — and all-around awful — Killers. This is the theatrical side of emo (the hair, the showmanship) at its best and it's a sight to behold.
6. "Sic Transit Gloria . . . Glory Fades,"
Ah, those dual vocals: When used properly, they take an ordinary pop breakup song and make it truly sound like your heart being ripped out. Not that "Sic Transit Gloria" is a typical breakup song. Actually, I think it might be about a guy being raped by his girlfriend. Pretty weird, but entirely emo.
5. "10 Minutes," The Get Up Kids
Ah, The Get Up Kids: Never has a band been so irredeemably emo and been so uncomfortable with that fact. Frontman Matt Pryor has gone to incredible lengths to disassociate himself with the tag, but it's stuck, and "10 Minutes" will show you why. A burst of blissful pop with lyrics like, "Don't be gone when I get home; you're all I have. If I had to explain it, I wouldn't know where to start."
4. "D in Detroit," The Anniversary
Emo is, as I said, a remarkably region-less genre, but the best emo bands do tend come from smaller cities in the middle Midwest. Kansas' The Anniversary, using a heartrending keyboard drone, somehow manages to make Des Moines sound romantic in this track off their absolutely perfect 2000 album Designing a Nervous Breakdown.
3. "Pink Triangle," Weezer
As I've said, I don't consider the so-called first wave of emo to really be emo, nor do I, for the most part, consider the "second" wave to be. Weezer's beloved 1996 album Pinkerton is, musically, not much different from their geeky alt-pop debut, but the lyrics were, clearly, inspirational to the emo acts to come. I'll call Pinkerton proto-emo and declare "Pink Triangle," an extended whine from a guy in love with a girl who turns out to be a lesbian, the best reason for seeing it that way. "Pink Triangle" is, to my mind, the emo equivalent of what The Stooges' "Search and Destroy" is to punk: a large part of the blueprint for what was later constructed.
2. "Sugar, We're Goin' Down," Fall Out Boy
If this song isn't one of your guilty pleasures, it's because: a) you have no sense of shame or b) you've got no love of pop. F.O.B. might be almost as much a boy band as a legitimate rock act, but their first Top 10 hit might just be the most listened-to emo track of all time. And, damn it, it's a great one. It is not, however, our number one with a bullet.
1. "The Suffering," Coheed and Cambria
Coheed and Cambria's "The Suffering" isn't just a catchy little song about lying/breaking up/getting married, it's also pretty much the embodiment of emo, from Claudio Sanchez's nervy voice to the hey-hey chorus sing-along featuring a female voice. The band fashions themselves prog-rockers, and the track is on a record called Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol.1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, but all the bullshit about messianic kings of other galaxies can't hid the pure emo-ness of this song, nor should they want it to.
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