From their first self titled release to the most recent album ‘Villains’, californian rock band Queens of the Stone Age have stuck with 19 year old me for a long time as one of the more consistent, impressive bands in the rock genre. An ever changing style and tracks to fit every mood, the Queens have been around longer than I’ve been alive and are perhaps my favourite band in the world today.
To commemorate the announcement of new ‘Desert Sessions’ (and definitely not because I’m fed up of drafts and blog posts on here bemoaning Mike Ashley and Newcastle United), I wanted to document what I feel are the the best songs by the Queens of the Stone Age. Whilst the more modern albums like the aforementioned ‘Villains’ do hold a recency bias in terms of album preference, it’s simply remarkable how spread out these tracks are for a 21 year old, ever changing, ever evolving group. Regardless of how old the wine is, it always tastes good.
21) Regular John:
When trying to introduce one of my friends to the rock genre, I recommended the QOTSA albums. The first response he had for me upon listening to Regular John was ‘The intro bangs, Skepta uses it!’. Besides being a sample for an intro to a grime song, Regular John offers a glimpse into the early days of post-Kyuss Homme and Olivieri. A fast opening riff with the catchy hooks of “Who are you?” and “Open up your eyes/arms”, it’s a perfect introduction to anyone seeking early QOTSA work.
20) The Vampyre of Time and Memory:
The beauty of …like clockwork is the sheer variety of not only the songs, but the instruments present. A sombre melody dominated by a beautiful piano/guitar combination improves on the keyboard usage on ‘Lullabies’. Said to be the first song penned for the 2013 album following the tumultuous years following Era Vulgaris’s release, the standard piano is a welcome addition to the rotating cast of instruments that became staples of the modern QOTSA sound.
19) You think I ain’t worth a dollar…but I feel like a millionaire:
One of the reasons why 2002’s Songs for the Deaf is so acclaimed is its status as a concept album: it follows a drive time commute through the Californian desert switching between bizarre and sinister radio stations. Its opening track ‘…millionaire’ is just as batshit and bizarre. Kip Kasper’s shock jock, punchable voice precedes a violent manic beat that sets up the rest of the album. It’s maybe the best starting point for anyone wanting to get into QOTSA and not knowing where to start.
18) The Way you used to do:
“Rock should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls. That way everyone’s happy and it’s more of a party.” The refocused element of Villains is best shown in the lead single from the 2017 album, with Homme’s ballad to his wife Brody Dalle; recounting their love and life as a whole. The general concensus to this may be on the mixed to negative side, with skeptics saying it’s a step too far away from the Queens of old. In fact, I feel it’s a step in the right direction, who doesn’t love a rock song they can dance to and make themselves feel good inside?
17) I sat by the Ocean:
I consider this the first ‘proper’ song of …like clockwork (with Keep your eyes peeled more of a prelude to the rest of the album). And what an opening song it is. It’s oddly the most joyous song on the album, painting a picture of a calm scene alone by the ocean. This as opposed to a song like ‘Fairweather Friends’ story of betrayal and isolation. ‘Ocean’ is a fun, engaging start to this “desert orgy in the dark” and should be appreciated a lot more for being the happiness high point of the album…except maybe Smooth Sailing, that song’s fun too.
16) Villains of Circumstance:
Haunting, cold, spine tingling. First penned in 2011 and performed in its original state in 2014, this supposed love song cemented Villains in the upper echelon of the decades’ best rock albums. A strong closer, it continues the theme of much of Villains with Homme penning it in tribute to a loved one (this time, his children). The organ-esque sounds that build up to the first chorus lines of “Close your eyes” in particular stick out to me, and truly show the value Dean Fertita brings to the band. I urge you to listen to his and Homme’s performance of the song on Jools Holland; it almost brings a tear to my eye.
15) Like Clockwork:
From one closing track to the next, like clockwork concludes the album of the same name and firmly establishes the 2013 release as the most consistently good album the Queens have ever created. Jon Theodore’s first recognised appearance on drums and percussion are on display, with him being a band MVP and worthy successor to the drumming royalty of Dave Grohl and Joey Castillo. Equally as emotional and self-reflective as much of …like clockwork, the title song finishes the album on a depressive but emotional high, setting Villains up prefectly to recapture the pure rock and fun element QOTSA is associated with.
14) Sick Sick Sick:
Bordering on the desert rock/heavy metal border, Sick sick sick is the best example of Era Vulgaris’s more grungey, metallic approach. Headbanging and mosh pit opportunities aplenty with this one. There’s not much more to say on this one, as its primal and dark tone stand out from the vast vast majority of Queens’ tracks.
13) Little Sister:
Suggestive lyrics and oft-attached innuendo aside, this short song features the unusual emphasis of Troy Van Leeuwen on bass guitar, as the electric guitar role is executed to a tee by Chilean artist Alain Johannes. Like a lot of the songs closer to the bottom of this list, it’s one of the more mainstream songs by the band, no thanks to the use of the SNL-popularised cowbell at the beginning of Little Sister. It would be higher up, but it’s just a tad too short for my liking, as its guitar solo ends maybe 30-60 seconds prematurely. But it does have the privilege of being a part of the best 5 song run in any QOTSA album (Tangled up…, Burn the Witch, In my Head, Little Sister, and I never came)
12) Domesticated Animals:
Perhaps the most pure, rock-centric song on Villains, it benefits from a fortunate placement on the album. Situated between love ballad ‘The way you used to do’ and sombre soliloquy ‘Fortress’, Domesticated Animals immediately raises the bar for the remaining rock songs off the 2017 album. Focusing on ideas of sanity and man vs nature, this song has perhaps the best close of any Villains song, as Homme’s vocals descend into madness and chaos whilst Shuman’s screaming commands becomes ever more engimatic and thrilling.
11) If I had a tail:
A personal favourite of Homme, this 2013 release lyrically is short and snappy sentences that stick and stand out superbly. A piece of complex riffs with a slow build up, we the listener are hooked on Homme’s vocals of hatred for society and how perfectly they mesh with Van Leeuwen’s spine tingling guitar riff. Bonus points as well for the inclusion of Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner in the closing moments of the album version of the song.
10) Go with the flow:
Similarly to Little Sister, this song is simply too short to be considered in the upper upper echelon of Queens’ songs in my eyes. But nonetheless it’s a fine example of what the Queens do best. Dave Grohl excels here on the drums, and is easily his best work on what’s sadly his sole full album contribution (he would later fill in on like Clockwork following Joey Castillo’s departure). A staple of many ‘top QOTSA songs’ list, this song helped put the band on the mainstream map, and deservedly so.
9) Burn the Witch:
The folklore element of ‘Lullabies to Paralyze’ is on full display in this track with a fantastic bass and synth. A ‘Seven Nation Army’-esque drum beat plays throughout, which makes it one of the most engaging and repeatable songs on all of Lullabies. It wins bonus points for its strange revenge story of a music video with some graphics and animations so great and ahead of their time that they would make everyone at Pixar jealous.
8)3s and 7s:
Opinions are mixed on Era Vulgaris: half the album filled with tedious tracks and an uneven flow (like run pig run), the rest are perfection in pure QOTSA sound. 3s and 7s epitomises the latter. Besides being a bonkers battle for all of family on the harder difficulty levels of Guitar Hero 3, 3s and 7s has maybe the best bass out of any Queens song to date. A bold claim that I am willing to stand by in spite of lyrics that over 10 years later I still don’t even understand.
7) The Evil has Landed:
Drawing comparisons to Led Zeppelin and more classic rock bands, ‘Evil’ is perhaps the most popular song off the latest album, and it’s not hard to see why. The combination of Homme and Van Leeuwen’s guitars is addictive from intro to outro. A remarkable rumour is this song had been in development and had existed for over 15 years. It shares my praise for earlier song ‘Domesticated Animals’ in that is has one of the best ever ‘closing stages’ to a Queens song with the stunted “Here. We. Come” before finishing
6) I appear missing:
Along with Long Slow Goodbye and another song later on this list, this is one of the most emotional, thought provoking tracks written by the band. A six minute epic seemingly designed to highlight the freakishly good guitar skills of Homme, Van Leeuwen, and Shuman. Often described as a mini film noir, I appear missing is widely recognised for the album and live performances’ guitar medleys following on from the final chorus. Whether they last 90 seconds or 9 minutes, this song is the perfect answer to not only makes …like clockwork so special, but how special the current iteration of the band is.
5) Feet don’t fail me now:
Mark Ronson’s production of 2017’s Villains has divided some parts of the QOTSA fanbase, but to me, it’s another shade in the chameleon like nature of the band. A slow, two minute long build as we the listener chase Homme’s vocals and Theodore’s drums reaches its crescendo with an addictive, more-ish beat. It also serves as a fine introduction to this next stage of QOTSA: from 98-02’s psychedelic stoner rockstars, to the inspired writers we saw in 05-07, to this more focused, life and love obsessive group I know and love today.
5) Tangled up in Plaid:
Just going through this list made me realise how criminally underrated Lullabies to Paralyze is as an album, as it features some undeniable classics from the Queens. Tangled up in Plaid is the most ‘recent’ song from the California-based group to gauge my interest, and its composition and production is top class. Simultaneously dark and energetic with one of the best closing solos the Queens have made to date. To reiterate, the most underrated anthem from the most underrated album.
4)Make it wit Chu:
when it comes to genre diversity, saying Queens of the Stone Age penned perhaps one of the greatest romantic song of all time isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. A single from Era Vulgaris, this is equalled maybe by “I appear missing” of the most emotional tunes by the band. A desert love song, it undoubtedly holds a sexy vibe. Quite clearly the best song from a mixed bag of an album, it makes itself quite high in my favourites.
3) A Song for the Dead:
I was hoping with the rumours of new music coming in October 2019 from Homme and co., this of course could have lead to a new tour. And with seemingly every concert done by the Queens, the Song for the Dead will close the show in the best way possible.
Pure, unadulterated bad-ass rock music. A showcase of Dave Grohl’s animalistic drumming ability, Lannegan and Homme’s strong vocal pairing, and more recently, the stage for Van Leeuwen to perform more experimental accompanying riffs, A Song for the Dead has it all. I have always wondered why this isn’t the closing song of the album, nor why it isn’t called a song for the deaf for how loud it is compared to that song.
2) No one knows:
Widely considered one of the songs that defined the early 2000s in the rock music industry, No One Knows is the Queens at their absolute best. It brings me a certain nostalgia: its music video was one of the first I ever watched on channels like Kerrang and MTV. It also holds sentimental value as it’s the one QOTSA song most people have heard of, regardless of preferred music genre. This is peak Queens of the Stone Age, and it is an incredible track to try and top.
1) The Lost Art of keeping a Secret:
Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone this is my favourite.
If Songs for the Deaf is what cemented Queens of the Stone Age as one of the premier music acts of the early 2000s, then it’s Rated R that laid the foundations for their inevitable climb up the rock music mountain. Whilst overtaken in mainstream popularity by some of the Songs for the Deaf, they all hold a candle to this track from Rated R. It masters the fundamentals of a classic rock song; an enticing riff with simple but engaging lyrics. It has stood the test of time for nearly 20 years, and symbolises everything right with the Queens of the Stone Age. The true first, but ultimately everlasting, sign of success. And for my money, the best song ever made by the Queens of the Stone Age.