The 11 Best Sleater-Kinney Songs of All Time

Sleater-Kinney woke up from a ten-year nap (during which Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss all accomplished more than any of us have in our lives so far) and reformed properly this year, with a recorded-in-secret new album No Cities to Love and a tour that just started this week and will continue into the beautiful spring. To celebrate this and our last month or so spent playing No Cities endlessly, the Sleater-Kinney core — that is, the editors and writers who have tickets to see Sleater-Kinney at the end of this month — put together our aggregate and completely definitive list of the band’s top eleven songs.

The 11 Best Sleater-Kinney Songs

11. “Entertain”

The Woods, 2005
I confess, I was a little late to the Sleater-Kinney party. “The Woods” was my introduction and “Entertain” was my immediate favorite, the song I would always blast on my car stereo every time it came on. These ladies were NOT KIDDING AROUND. The guitar solos, strong baseline, and absolutely pounding drums are not what you’d expect from your typical “girl band,” but I was realizing Sleater-Kinney was anything but typical. They were not here to entertain! They were going to rock your face off whether you were ready or not. Sabrina

10. “Not What You Want”

Dig Me Out, 1997
Sleater-Kinney’s mid-period on the Kill Rock Stars label is overflowing with kickass, uptempo punk numbers. What sets “Not What You Want” apart for me is the visceral thrill. A lot of tried of true Sleater-Kinney themes are set aside in the service of getting out of town as quickly as possible. Listening to this song, I feel like I’m in that car going “80 95 maybe more”; I’m not saying I’ve started speeding when this song has come on my car stereo, but I’m not saying that I haven’t. “Not What You Want” might not actually be faster and louder than other Sleater-Kinney songs, but it certainly feels like it. – Rob

9. “Oh!”

One Beat, 2002
In my memories of first listening to the album One Beat (usually with co-founder, husband, and fellow Sleater-Kinney enthusiast Rob), “Oh!” immediately sticks out. It’s sweet and even semi-poppy, at least by Sleater-Kinney standards. As a person who generally is a sucker for what my husband typically refers to as “sad bastard” music, this was a welcome derivation from my usual musical repertoire. My takeaway from this song — and I assume nothing about the actual intent — is that it’s about being with someone who “gets” you, the kind of relationship where you’ve got each other pretty well figured out (in a good way). That’s definitely worth writing a non-sad song about. – Sabrina

8. “Words and Guitar”

Dig Me Out, 1997
Dig Me Out is probably my favorite Sleater-Kinney album and “Words and Guitar” seems to be almost a Sleater-Kinney mission statement. I mean, in the first verse, it starts right in with Corin’s jarring, staccato vocals:

Words & guitar, I got it
Words & guitar, I want it
Way way too loud, I got it

Shortly followed by Carrie’s contrasting, all-strung-together, background vocals:

can’t take this away from me
music is the air I breathe
can’t take this away from me

It’s a succinct and perfect statement of what makes Sleater-Kinney so awesome. They were (and still are) extremely talented musicians playing in a style that was dominated by men, and totally kicking ass at it. – Sabrina

7. “Get Up

The Hot Rock, 1999
One of my biggest music writing pet peeves is the use of cliche and categorization as shorthand. So I’m doubly impressed by how most music writers usually don’t classify Sleater-Kinney as riot grrrl or punk rock, but go out of their way to say that they came from those things. It may seem minor, but it’s an important distinction. The feminist politics and DIY ethos of the Olympia scene were critical to the formation of Sleater-Kinney, but labels are limiting when describing say, “Get Up”, the big single from The Hot Rock (big in that it was definitely played on 120 Minutes). The band turns down the volume and the edge. The guitars swirl; you could almost say they jangle! This is all in service of their most metaphysical, psychedelic lyrics. The eye is turned inward then above while talking about death and after, partially spoken and partially sung. This is their Bob Dylan shit. The group’s underrated knack from melody and song structure have this all culminate in a crescendo of a chorus at the end. This might not make sense given the subject matter, but it always feels life-affirming to me. It’s just like band; there’s more going on there than you think. – Rob

6. “Step Aside”

One Beat, 2002
From Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” to Green Day’s “American Idiot,” there’s no part of the American political spectrum than can claim nuance in their art inspired by the Global War on Terrorism. One of the few outliers is Sleater-Kinney’s 2002 album One Beat. They tackle everything from the chaos and menace felt on September 11th to the potential destructive power of uncritical jingoism. They’re never strident in their views, but that nuance doesn’t stop them from rocking out. The best example is the album’s centerpiece, “Step Aside.” It features the band’s first (and hopefully not last) experiment with a horn section as well as the album’s most relatable message: The world is a mess but don’t let that stop you from rocking out to Sleater-Kinney because they are fucking awesome. It works during both war and peacetime, in 2002 and right fucking now. – Rob

5. “Jumpers”

The Woods, 2005
I remember when discussing Bright Eyes with my fellow indie-rock fan Rob, he pointed out that yeah, a lot of Bright Eyes stuff is pretty incredible, but there definitely are some songs where he’s writing about suicide. This was shorthand, we all understood, for the kind of adolescent-sounding, on-the-nose miserablism that people associate with Bright Eyes and bands like Bright Eyes at their worst. I think of this now because I’m realizing that “Jumpers,” a song about suicide, is one of my very favorite Sleater-Kinney tunes. Here’s why it works so well even though I’ve long made the unreasonable assumption that no one in Sleater-Kinney has given any serious thought to killing herself: this song feels urgent. Well into their hardest-rocking album, the band alternates pretty, sad laments with poetic wails, all at a driving tempo. It feels less like a plea for sympathy or a wallow in grief than a breathless description of what it feels like to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. “Hope your last hope/fear your last fear” is an incredibly sad thing to say, but it’s delivered with such fist-pumping intensity that it feels shared. And God, the “let’s go!” that Corin unleashes before another solo. – Jesse

4. “Bury Our Friends

No Cities to Love, 2015
There are plenty of No Cities songs that could have made this list; it’s probably not a coincidence that the one most of us agree on is the one that’s had the longest time to worm its way into our heads. Actually, it doesn’t worm so much as march, with an instant-classic guitar line kicking down the door for Tucker and Brownstein’s signature vocal trade-offs. The lyrics seem to describe a body willing itself through trauma, driven by the call to exhume idols (check!) and bury friends (I’ll get back to you! I always had the feeling Sleater-Kinney was asking more of me than I could manage). It’s basically the perfect comeback song. -Jesse

3. “Modern Girl”

The Woods, 2005
You’ll see the brief story of what song initially introduced me to Sleater-Kinney in a moment, but this is the song that made me a lifelong fan, ironically right about when they’d decided to call it a day (a time that, thankfully, has passed for now). I loved it when I first heard it on my college radio station but it truly opened up once I listened to it in the context of their 2005 masterpiece The Woods. Initially, tucked in the middle of more typical (and typically awesome) hard rockers, it seems like a bit of a breather, built on a relaxed guitar line, Carrie’s bright vocals, and a breezy harmonica. Eventually, though, around the time Janet’s drums kick in full force, the dips and jumps in the melody begin to mimic the rollercoaster emotions the lyrics describe, which any “modern girl” will recognize: your baby might love you but you can still be angry and sick of the world. There’s a big difference between a life that looks like a picture of a sunny day and one that looks like an actual sunny day, and even twenty-plus-years on from S-K’s ceiling-shattering debut we’re still talking about whether women can have it all. But as long as there are bands like this to rock out to, modern girls are getting damn close. Sara

2. “One More Hour”

Dig Me Out, 1997
While making up my personal top ten ballot for this list, I was surprised to find that many of my favorite S-K songs were the slower-tempo, less obviously aggressive ballads. Yet in a way this makes sense. For a band that made its name with monster riffs and riot-grrl rawness, it can be all the more striking when they take a step back and offer something more intimate and spare. Even without knowing the back story of Corin and Carrie’s relationship, this one still makes for a grueling listen, capturing in a fleet three minutes and twenty seconds the pain of walking out on someone you once loved, the shared history and heartbreak that you turn over in your head, trying to smooth it over into something manageable. And while the last two lines are a sucker-punch, the song remains open to both of the big beating hearts underneath the harsh words. It’s an all-purpose break-up anthem, suitable for both the leaver and the leavee. – Sara

1. “You’re No Rock ‘n Roll Fun”

All Hands on the Bad One, 2000

SARA: This is the song that first got me into Sleater-Kinney, and (ironically?) it’s because of a boy. A boy I liked who put it on a mixtape (well, burned CD technically but that doesn’t sound as romantic) he gave me at a graduation party. I still don’t know exactly what he meant by including it.

ROB: This is going to be embarrassing if Jesse remembers something different. I was home from college around when All Hands On The Bad One was released and I saw the video for “You’re No Rock ‘N Roll Fun” late at night on MTV (it was a different time). I knew Sleater-Kinney a little, but that was my far my favorite song of theirs to that point. The next time I saw him, I told Jesse that I had found his favorite new band and made him watch the video. Over the next few months, he bought all their albums.

JESSE: That’s basically correct but I think I can fill in and correct a few details. First, I don’t know if you told me in person — you probably did, but the way I first actually heard this song was when you file-transferred it to me over AIM. The year 2000, ladies and gentlemen. I also remember buying Bad One within a week or two of this happening, at Borders in downtown Saratoga, and listening to it with Rob and our friend Chris in Rob’s parents’ living room. It was abrasive! I mean, compared to “You’re No Rock ‘n Roll Fun,” which is one of the most immediately likable songs I’ve ever heard. So I wouldn’t say that I bought all of their albums over the next few months. I think I might have bought The Hot Rock at some point before One Beat came out, but I’m not positive. My love for them burned a little slower. As such, I hate to be the guy who gives such big ups to literally the very first song by a band I ever heard, but this song was a very canny gateway drug for them — their girl-groupiest (in the retro sense of the phrase) song ever (I mean, check out that video), turning me into a lifelong fan of something a lot more punk-rock.

SABRINA: I love this song — it’s just, well, fun. I think what solidified this as my personal #1 was the fact that you could play/sing it with the Rock Band game. It is still one of my favorites to sing (I almost always sing since I am pretty useless at most of the other Rock Band “instruments”). What could be more fun than pretending to be (almost) as cool and kick-ass as Sleater-Kinney for a few minutes?