Elliott Smith: 1969-2003

Saturday, Oct. 21 was the three-year anniversary of Elliott Smith’s death. Smith is one of my — scratch that, Smith is — my all-time hero, and in my not-so-humble opinion, the best songwriter of his generation and one of the finest musicians of our times.

Most of you are likely are familiar with Smith’s mid-to-late-period work — either his inclusion on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack and his Either/Or material, or the more polished studio work of XO and Figure 8, or, in the wake of his untimely passing, From a Basement on the Hill and the subsequent leaking of various sessions for the album. For those who have yet to embrace the whole Smith ouerve, well, shame on you. Smith’s best albums were his first: Roman Candle and the sophomore release Elliott Smith.

Of course, that’s not to mention his mostly stellar music with the Portland band Heatmiser, which represents Smith’s first commercial releases — the band actually ran concurrently while Elliott recorded his early solo records. Roman Candle is, actually, my favorite album ever, though Heatmiser’s Mic City Sons and Elliott Smith are nearly as good. The self-titled release is arguably Smith’s best artistic statement, the most harrowingly drug-soaked, symbol-ridden work of dependence and desperation ever committed to four-track.

Elliott Smith – “Condor Ave.”: mp3
In a landmark The Rawking Refuses To Stop! posting, this is my favorite song ever. It’s from Roman Candle and matches Elliott’s subtle, mysterious storytelling with equally indiscernable harmonies. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in my favorite song, so enjoy the hell out of it, please.

Elliott Smith – “Christian Brothers”: mp3
People know Smith’s self-titled release for addiction ode “Needle in the Hay,” but I usually start the album off here, with the prettier, angrier track two. You think I oughta shake your motherfucking hand?

Heatmiser – “Antonio Carlos Jobim”: mp3
From Heatmiser’s second album, Cop and Speeder, this signalled a change in the Fugazi-esque Heatmiser aesthetic; like a version of Weezer’s “Only in Dreams” without the melodrama, Smith uses tenderness and build-up to reach catharsis. That, and the record of quiet instrumentals is perhaps the great Brazilian composer’s Wave, one of Smith’s few direct allusions but all the more impressive for its rarity.

Heatmiser – “Plainclothes Man”: mp3
A Heatmiser banger that lived long into Smith’s concert career, and one of the best tracks on the fantastic Mic City Sons.


Smith was also a compelling live performer, and so I suggest you check out my guide to Elliott Smith live if you haven’t studied it rigorously already. Unlike many musicians, there’s a treasure trove of quality Smith bootlegs on the Internet and it would be a tragedy to waste them. Other Smith resources:

Sweet Adeline – the fan-run official site — discog, lyrics, forums, guitar chords, etc.
Trash Treasury – the best place for Smith live material
Elliott Smith B-Sides – don’t miss this year’s leaks