Song of the Day #2,687: ‘Ashes of American Flags’ – Wilco

wilco_yankee_hotel_foxtrotWilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot could have been one of the best albums of 2001, but execs at Reprise records didn’t back the record.

The band was given the option to buy back the recordings though eventually Reprise just turned them over for free. Wilco then streamed the album on their website in September 2001, before signing with Nonesuch records and officially releasing the album in April 2002.

All of this drama only increased the mystique around the record, which marked an arty, challenging new direction for the alt-country band. It received lavish critical acclaim, topped many year-end lists and sold more than 500,000 copies.

Though it was recorded in late 2000 and early 2001, the delayed release put it in front of the public shortly after 9/11. Certain lyrics (as well as the album’s cover, depicting Chicago’s own twin towers) seemed directly related to the attacks.

Lyrics about “ashes of American flags,” “tall buildings shak(ing)” and “skyscrapers scraping together” paired with gloomy, sometimes dissonant music definitely felt appropriately cathartic after that world-changing event.

Wilco has released five albums since this one, but nothing that matches its creativity and emotional intensity.

[Verse 1]
The cash machine is blue and green
For a hundred in twenties and a small service fee
I could spend three dollars and sixty-three cents
On Diet Coca-Cola and unlit cigarettes
I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck
How hot and sorrowful, this machine begs for luck[Refrain]
All my lies are always wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new

[Verse 2]
I want a good life with a nose for things
Fresh wind and bright sky to enjoy my suffering
A hole without a key if I break my tongue
Speaking of tomorrow, how will it ever come?


I’m down on my hands and knees every time the doorbell rings
I shake like a toothache when I hear myself sing
All my lies are only wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new

I would like to salute
The ashes of American flags
And all the fallen leaves
Filling up shopping bags

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,687: ‘Ashes of American Flags’ – Wilco

  1. Dana says:

    I think you meant to say September 2001 and April 2002.

    I’ve never heard about or heard this album, but its theme and the story of how it came to be released are quite interesting. Not sure how often I would be in the mood to hear it though.

  2. Clay says:

    Oops, lost a decade there… fixed.

  3. It was released on a fat piece of vinyl that seemed to match the substantial weight of the album. It is my favorite Wilco even thought i has some good competition with Summerteeth and Being There

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