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Doof's Top 100 National Songs

In response to this year's underwhelming new addition to their catalogue I bring you....
100The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Fashion Coat' [2.5]

I really wanted to omit 'Fashion Coat' but it would involve listening to the debut again looking for something that might be a tiny bit better and I can't put myself through that.
99The National
I Am Easy to Find


'I Am Easy to Find' [2.5]
98The National
The National


'Cold Girl Fever' [2.5]
97The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Hairpin Turns' [2.5]
96The National
The National


'Beautiful Head' [3]
95The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Not in Kansas' [3]

Jury is out but at least it's different and Matt delivers a unique vocal tone for him here - nice and conversational, and bright. I also like the Thinking Fellers lyrics quite a lot. Still goes down as an intriguing failure at best.
94The National
The National


Son [3]
93The National
Abel


'Driver Surprise Me' [3]
92The National
The Virginia EP


'Trophy Wife' [3]
91Various Artists
For the Throne - Inspired by Game of Thrones


'The Rains of Castamere' [3]

Da-dum da-dum da-dum dum dum this is better than most of the new album? Surely no.
90The National
The National


'Theory of the Crows' [3]
89The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Oblivians' [3]
88The National
The Virginia EP


'Sunshine on My Back' [3]
87The National
Cherry Tree


'Dolled Up in Straps' [3]
86The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Sugar Wife' [3]

Weird exercise in dark/light song writing.
85The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Empire Line' [3]

Bit of a slog all told, with some redeeming production touches and a few inspired lines of vocals from Matt. Do I say filler? I think I do.
84The National
I Am Easy to Find


'So Far So Fast' [3]

Moody but far from magnificent mood piece - the vocals really don't mesh for me either. A relative highlight on Easy to Find though.
83The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Born to Beg' [3]

Close to sleepwalking fodder in terms of song writing, fine but a little lazy for an album track proper - B-Side quality?
82The National
High Violet


'Wake Up You Saints' [3]

This one swings! Again, a B-Side through and through, would have stuck out like anything on High Violet - still, very different chorus.
81The National
Alligator


'Looking for Astronauts' [3]

Another classic 'one part good, one part not good' Alligator tune - the 'looking for astronauts' section is inane, but the 'throw from your window your record collection' part makes you think they almost had something here.
80The National
Sleep Well Beast


'I'll Still Destroy You' [3]

Quick boys, grab the kitchen sink! Too busy and a tra-la-la chorus I don't bond with. Also bizarrely boasts a totally unrelated/unearned epic finale that sounds beamed in from a different album entirely. It's all just above ok. Just.
79The National
Alligator


'Friend of Mine' [3]

Another Alligator track that doesn't quite take flight - transitional.
78The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'It Never Happened' [3]

Uneventful but decent alt country-ish number.
77The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Turtleneck' [3]

A B-Side! All day. Should NEVER have appeared on a full length - but as a joke B-Side absolutely a good time.

The National go Kurt Cobain sarcastic grunge. Almost.
76The National
Alligator


'Baby We'll Be Fine' [3]

Doesn't quite work for me - very 'first two Tindersticks albums'...but it wouldn't have made the cut on either of the first two Tindersticks albums.
75The National
High Violet


'Little Faith' [3.5]

I find this one rambles and ends up the low point of HV - a bit of a 'pace killer' and the 'nuns vs priests' lyric also flops for me.
74The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'I Need My Girl' [3.5]

Not a massive fan - the 'I need my girl' refrain is overly hammy whether intended or not. Hard not to shout 'diva' as Matt leans a bit too heavy on the warble here. Not quite Mariah Carey but he gets a warning all the same.

The atmospheric touches save the day.
73The National
The Virginia EP


'Santa Clara' [3.5]

Just a vehicle for Matt to deliver some pleasurable vocals - sometimes that is perfectly fine.
72The National
Cherry Tree


'Wasp Nest' [3.5]

It's no 'About Today' but still superior to everything on the debut album imo.
71The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Heavenfaced' [3.5]

The biggest 'what if' in their catalogue - there's the best song on TWFM hidden among the wreckage here. Well, wreckage is a bit harsh - but something's not right, esp with the closing half of the song.
70The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Murder my Rachael' [3.5]

More 'The National as rock band' - you're better off listening to the Screaming Trees or Afghan Whigs really if you want to scratch this itch but it's perfectly serviceable.
69The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Light Years' [3.5]

This has grown on me, a pretty piano ballad but with some genuine ache in the lyrics. Probably Matt's only 100% successful vocal foray on Easy to Find.
68The National
Alligator


'Abel' [3.5]

Abel is a bit of a goof, more successful than the recent Turtleneck - but not by sooooo much. If this is in your top 10 National...you are aware there are a million other bands who do stuff like this song better?

Still, a groovy little novelty track - esp in a live setting.
67The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Where is Her Head' [3.5]

The least National-ly song on the list so far? Possibly. I do quite enjoy this one as an absolutely essential injection of energy into the near-lifeless corpse that is 'Easy to Find' but ever since someone said it might just be a Broken Social Scene B-Side I can't unhear that.
66The National
Boxer


'Guest Room' [3.5]

As close to a 'by the numbers' song as you get on Boxer - but the lyrics are not at all bad and it's still sprightly enough. Just comes across as a weaker version of Apartment Story to me but I know it has its champions - the Interpol-y bit at 1:45 almost lifts it, and it would be unfair to class it as outright filler.
65The National
The Virginia EP


'You've Done it Again Virginia' [4]

This shuffling honky tonk'ing B-Side is another that could never have been an album track but don't hold that against it.
64The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Dark Side of the Gym' [4]

Atmosphere above tune 100%, but nothing wrong with that per se.

At least until you watch this performed live where it becomes the ultimate snooze fest and toilet break beacon.

The National at their most cutesy - not a direction they should pursue but nice enough here.
63The National
Cherry Tree


'Cherry Tree' [4]

Embryonic stuff but you can almost reach out and point to the exact components the band would double down on and make their biggest strengths in the future. Still sort of an alt country band at this juncture.
62The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Fireproof' [4]

I have a soft spot for change of pace short interlude-y songs so I never understood the beef people have with Fireproof.
61Various Artists (Indie)
Dark Was The Night


'So Far Around the Bend' [4]

A really addictive 'marching band-y'singalong with some nice flute :/
60The National
Boxer


'Gospel' [4]

Not quite as strong a closer as Fake Empire is an opener (understatement) and I'd rarely listen to the song outside of the context of closing the album - this might be a slightly fortunate 4 thinking about it, but then it does do the job...conflicted.
59The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Sea of Love' [4]

I should like this one more than I do, everything about it is interesting, a very different time signature and rhythmic approach for the band, some effective build and release...and yet and yet it loses me a bit.

I think the band might have thought this would be one of their 'big songs' but I just get the feeling the fanbase wouldn't agree.
58The National
High Violet


'Anyone's Ghost' [4]

None more mid tempo! And more mention of that flu. The band almost krautrock robotic and metronome-y here - can't really explain why I enjoy this a lot as an album track, but I do.
57The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Hard to Find' [4]

A peaceful fade of a closing track and as such easy to forget...but stick with it, try the song in isolation and it's a worthy ballad.
56The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Thirsty' [4]

Never hear this one spoken of, which is a shame, because it's another slinky Tindersticks-esque chamber style lament - with added 'girly arms'.
55The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Rylan' [4]

Second entry from the new album and it's the 'safe pair of hands' addition to the track list - a song that had been knocking around for ages and yes, sounds too good to be a B-Side but would have been a lesser track on HV.
54The National
Boxer


'Racing Like a Pro' [4]

An easy album track to zone out of but it does repay closer attention - the verse lyrics push their luck a bit in their ultra sarcasm.
53The National
Alligator


'City Middle' [4]

As with a few songs on Alligator this does occasionally feel like 'bits of songs tacked together' and the lyrics just about get away with it (pissing in a sink I think? is one of a few 'why this lyric?' moments). The song does work as a pair with 'Geese' and that definitely lifts it up.
52The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Day I Die' [4]

Their sex is on fire? Or on life support? They go for a dual drum stadium anthem and it is quite a lot of fun live - not their finest song writing moment but for variety's sake, effective if a tad workmanlike.
51The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Available' [4]

A decent stab at the National trying to be The Afghan Whigs...but also evidence as to why this band shouldn't have aimed to become the next Afghan Whigs. As (near enough) a one off novelty this is diverting but Matt isn't totally convincing when it comes to the bulging forehead vein stuff.
50The National
I Am Easy to Find


'Quiet Light' [4]

Fire off the party p(l)oppers - finally we reach the first material from the new album...and a song that would have been an ok fit on either of the two preceding albums truth be told. A conventional excellent National song if lacking in memorable lyrics compared to past highs.
49The National
Alligator


'All the Wine' [4]

Contro-versial. I like it (see, a 4 rating above!) but I've always found this one appealingly sparkly eyed but a bit of a plodder with unappealing (for me) transitions. Also some of the lyrics stick out too much and are a bit 'how-man-y-syll-a-bles-do-I-have-to-fit-here?' jumpy. Nearly there, but despite being a fan favourite not one I reach for too often.
48The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Carin at the Liquor Store' [4]

The most timeless tune on SWB, has a nostalgic Springsteen or Dylan in stadium mode feel.
47The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'90-Mile Water Wall' [4]

Great 'dark country' backing to this one - could the band have turned into a Nick Cave-esque goth'y americana sort of operation? Perhaps.

Again - the lyrics are amazingly good which is important as the subject matter could have led to melodrama.
46The National
Alligator


'Lit Up' [4]

Ooh, this could have been oh so much better - it SHOULD be more incendiary than 'Mr November'...but as sometimes happens it just didn't quite spark in the studio. This might explain the existence of a remix that goes some way to addressing this recording's shortcomings (is it actually a superior version? not quite, it has other issues).
45The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Graceless' [4]

Similar to Afraid of Everyone this is a solid album track that I feel is a shade overrated by the fans (but who am I to say after my own peculiar picks?). The song only really gets going from the 2:10 mark but from then on it's a bit of a stormer.
44The National
High Violet


'Afraid of Everyone' [4]

I've always found the last two songs on 'Side A' of High Violet a bit too murky and ploddy as a couple but judged on their own merits this one is superior to 'Little Faith' for me. Ever so slightly uneventful and I'm not sure the spooky backing vox really elevate the song...but overall another winner from HV.
43The National
Alligator


'Val Jester' [4]

The link song between Sad Songs and Alligator and as such it's often maligned and side stepped. In reality it is a superior version of the previous album's 'Thirsty' and they'd 'sort of' revisit this sound on 'Runaway'.
42The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Slipping Husband' [4]

Sad Songs is the album where The National threatened to get a bit too 'on the nose' with their song writing - most of the songs have a theme and it's pushed hard (see also Water Wall). This is a character study bit of storytelling - and as much as I'm pleased they left this type of writing behind for something more mysterious, I still think they do a great job with this one.
41The National
Boxer


'Squalor Victoria' [4]

Almost like an extended interlude of a drum track n' strings but this is the refreshing musical sorbet palette cleanser to beat them all - absolutely essential to the success of the first 'side' of Boxer.

'Squalor Victoria' is ahead of 'cellar door' in the phonaesthetics cup for me, rolls off the tongue something special.
40Soundtrack (Film)
The Hunger Games


'Lean' [4.5]

I bet they knocked off this song double quick but perversely that's why I really like it. It's forced the band into landing on a type of song writing and arrangement that wouldn't have sat well on any of their full lengths.
39The National
High Violet


'Runaway' [4.5]

Half the time if I play my dad some National he says 'I don't listen to Springsteen stuff' - the other half he says 'you sure do like country'. This would make his 'country' pile - this is close to spoken word-y ol' country boy territory - seriously. And yet this feels so very indie to me too. That's the clever bit.
38The National
Boxer


'Apartment Story' [4.5]

Boxer, in retrospect, was clearly The National at their most agreeable and that really comes across on the mid-tempo rat-a-tat tunes like this one - still, this all sounds bad and I don't intend for any of that to be a slur, I love that the band showed they can knock out these 'superior indie fare' material in their sleep. You need some foot tappers.
37The National
Alligator


'Secret Meeting' [4.5]

Ramshackle or clunky, ramshackle or clunky...same debate over the charms of 'Alligator', this still comes across a lot more homespun and a tiny bit 'off' at times compared to the sleekness that would soon folllow - but then there's the undeniable charm.

Lyrically perhaps the most successful tune overall for Matt on Alligator - they pretty much scan all nice throughout and they don't feel like they overreach too much (cough - Looking for Astronauts).
36The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'I Should Live in Salt' [4.5]

This one confused me a good while, a puzzle in song form. Hyper repetitive and the low key nature of the verses lead you to believe it's far less strange a song than it actually is.

The intended 'OTT bathos chorus' is a fitting singalong opening to what is their heavily disguised as-close-to-dammit-perfect album.
35The National
High Violet


'England' [4.5]

Stiff, regal (pompous?) n' stuffy - dejected and rain swept. What they saying?
34The National
Alligator


'Karen' [4.5]

If any song is emblematic of 'Alligator' it is dear old Karen. The arrangement is a little clunky and elements of the song vary wildly in quality.

The 'alone in America' dirge a 6 out of 10, the 'cock in hand' verses a 7.5...but then the 'if I want water...' section is a 10 out of 10 and quite possibly still one of the best things they've ever written.

So are my frustrations with 'Alligator'.
33The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Walk it Back' [4.5]

This one will be a surprise to many but the more time I live with SWB...and the more time I spend with the new album, my opinion on this 'second most experimental song on the album' grows and grows. The flow of the different sections of this song make sense and the small sonic details like the faint gurgling disembodied vocals actually seem to add to the overall effect.
32The National
Boxer


'Start a War' [4.5]

Some of Matt's most honest and resonant lyrics you feel - this is ugly as anything...married to a very pretty arrangement to hide that fact a little.

'I'll get money, I'll get funny again' - a funny sing song lyric, a deeply unfunny sentiment, bravo.
31The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Cardinal Song' [4.5]

Unlike anything else they've recorded, this rambling 'oh so Tindersticks' slice of 'chamber country' (?) is quite brilliant in its own way.
30The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Don't Swallow the Cap' [4.5]

Some of the band's best use of strings - and in an uptempo track too so bonus points.

This song, for some reason, has taken an age to get the respect from me I'm sure it deserves - it's like Sorrow being forced on the dance floor and Matt's delivery of the verses has such a comatose feel I wonder if he actually tried to open his mouth as little as humanly possible while singing. I like that.
29The National
Alligator


'Daughters of the Soho Riots' [4.5]

You could dismiss this as the closest the band come to being 'plainly pretty' but similarly to 'Lucky You' there's a certain timeless Cohen-ness to this sort of stuff that rings genuine and hints at deep wells of hidden depths lurking just beyond.
28The National
High Violet


'Bloodbuzz Ohio' [4.5]

Berninger really commands this one, there's some triumph in this song - well 'anti-triumph'.

An 'anti-anthem' championing a set of 'anti-triumph's? So very National-y, this maybe should have snuck up a little higher in this list.
27The National
Alligator


'Mr November' [4.5]

...and here's a second of the band's more successful propulsive not-quite-rock'ers. I quite like that there's enough catchiness in the song to be their 'big hit' - but they made it just that bit too noisy to really court mainstream affection.
26The National
Boxer


'Mistaken for Strangers' [4.5]

One of the band's key propulsive tunes - this is when you really can make a case for The National being an indie rock band in the same mould as Interpol, etc. Getting close to post punk maybe too. Yes, this song benefits from being a 'rock' outlier in their discog but I think it transmits that urgent feeling well.
25The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Nobody Else Will Be There' [4.5]

The big grower on the list, I initially dismissed this as a retread on first exposure...then over time I came to realise it's actually their greatest 'scene setter' opener yet.
24The National
Think You Can Wait / Exile Vilify


'Think You Can Wait' [5]

Personally a huge song for me as I was doing some very suspect things romantically when I first listened to this one - for some reason it struck a chord, more the mood than any particular thematic resonance.
23The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Pink Rabbits' [5]

Their funeral march song I guess, and it's when listening to the lyrics pouring forth from Matt you wonder just why they've dried up so obviously on the two follow up albums.

Like 'Slow Show' - it's the closing section of the song that is superior here.
22The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Guilty Party' [5]

Another National song to mark down as 'I prefer the live version but it's still great in this form'. Yes, I prefer the melody after the chorus to be played on the easier to distinguish lead guitar than underplayed here - but that might just be me. Sadly I heard the live version first...but still, but still. Second best song on SWB and a typical slice of subtle power from the band.
21The National
Alligator


'The Geese of Beverley Road' [5]

Not a perfect song (I don't feel any song was quite 'perfect' on the transitional Alligator, and if any was perfect in its own way it'd probably be daughters of the Soho Riots) but that's quite okay actually. This has a scrappy charm like much of the parent album...but never are the shoots of genius more clearly starting to reveal themselves than on this beery n' bleary eyed shuffle.
20The National
Think You Can Wait / Exile Vilify


'Exile Vilify' [5]

Another outstanding B-Side and another piano led winner from the band. Stunning selection of strings, perfectly deployed 'atmospherics'.
19The National
Sleep Well Beast


'Sleep Well Beast' [5]

This experimental track is so effective I'm still shellshocked the band didn't try and go deeper into this sound. The mumbly monologue style suits Matt at this stage and the 'approaching something more formless' music is 'light touch' inspired.
18The National
Boxer


'Ada' [5]

Sometimes gets forgotten about, this is actually the late arriving tune that cements Boxer as a 5 star classic. Their greatest piano number too - the influence of Suffy is writ large not only through the piano but through the horns and airy feel to the arrangement. Would I like a Sufjan/National full album collab? At this point, after hearing the latest album - yes, please, anything.
17The National
Sleep Well Beast


'The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness' [5]

One of two songs on SWB that aimed squarely for the 'stadium band live material' bucket - this is the pick of the two and the eventual delayed gratification guitar solo is worth the wait. A pleasure to hear Aaron Dessner pull some rock god shapes and the chorus here is one of the best ever fits with Matt's voice, the ah-ahhhs another entry in his uncanny knack for wordless vocals.
16The National
High Violet


'Terrible Love (alternate version)' [5]

This is usually the version they play live and, as much as I can understand they wanted to 'bring the murk' on HV, this version is just far more enjoyable to listen to and packs some genuine payoff to all that slow build.
15The National
The Virginia EP


'Blank Slate' [5]

Hilarious 'the horror of middle age' lyrics from Matt as he struggles to come to terms with the fact your brain remains just as '3 star hotel' throughout your life...you really shouldn't be dreaming of 'tackling young girls off their beautiful bikes' but here you are. Better 'keep it upstairs' mate.

I can see why this is a B-Side (it's almost a 'joke song' lyrically)...but it is also one of the best B-Sides I could name.
14The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'This is the Last Time' [5]

One of the great 'enter the drums' songs from the band, and I enjoy the way you can tell Matt loves the beat to this one by how he delivers his sing-songy melodies with a little added pep. The deconstructed coda I've learnt to enjoy more over time.

The final 10 seconds seem a shout out to the last 10 seconds or so of Radiohead's 'Climbing Up the Walls' - at least to me :D
13The National
Boxer


'Green Gloves' [5]

This is a slippery customer, a very liquid song for The National and a perfect change of pace and tone on 'Boxer'. For my money one of their very very best choruses - in fact a super rare example of a National chorus being vastly superior to the verses of the song.
12The National
Cherry Tree


'About Today' [5]

Probably the 'recognised classic' of the early years - a weepy, I mean this aims for 'show stopping cinematic weepy' to an almost ridiculous degree but I don't know if it's Matt being so great at the hangdog shtick but it never gets maudlin or tacky. Greatness here.
11The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Demons' [5]

Possibly my favourite all time verse lyrics in a National song. The chorus might sound weaker - at least until you start focusing on the faint female choir backing vocals which mesh in like a dream.
10The National
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


'Lucky You' [5]

Really simple song, sort of 'if Jeff Tweedy was assigned to writing a whole album of songs for Matt to sing' feel to it. Another one where the associations I have elevate the song for me personally - so I would understand anyone not having this close to a top 30 songs by the band.
9The National
High Violet


'Conversation 16' [5]

So Sorrow, Lemonworld and Conversation are quite the trio you could say - this is a little more of a 'rocker' than those two album mates but still, similarities are there.

The 'choir-like vocals' are incorporated so well on this one. The 'silver' lyric also seems to link this track to 'Mistaken for Strangers' for me.
8The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Humiliation' [5]

The second 'game of two halves' tune after 'Slow Show' - this is a little underrated I feel, once again it boasts those great blending lyrics with typical deadpan Berninger asides aplenty - in particular 'as the free-fall advances I'm the moron who dances - {wordless moaning}' is brilliant.

If the National can ever be compared to Radiohead it is here - this sounds an awful lot like an 'In Rainbows' song tonally.
7The National
High Violet


'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks' [5]

As the band go to great pains to make clear - this is not a return of the geese of beverley road...we're dealing with geeks here, but also swans...or is that Swans?

I think this will be the most divisive top 10 entry on this list (maybe?) - I've heard people refer to this as one of the band's weakest songs, or weakest on HV at any rate. Well I rate it their greatest closer - the closer to Fake Empire's opener if you like, similarly stately vibe.
6The National
Boxer


'Fake Empire' [5]

The National can do the grandiose sweep (see also 'England') but are careful to never swamp Matt (well, they're getting less careful now...). The layering as the song reaches it's climax is the star here - this song sounds like the fanfare for the band 'arriving' as heavy hitters.
5The National
Trouble Will Find Me


'Slipped' [5]

It's at this point you realise my favourite type of National song is very identifiable - yes, this is from the same lineage as Sorrow and Lemonworld.

This has become one of my favourite 'stepping off the train, heading into the city' songs. As ever the verses are particularly killer in that brow beaten manner. Berninger's strange approach to wordless singing comes up trumps yet again - this time with the 'ahhhh ahhhhh-ahhh-aahhhh-aaah's instead of Lemonworld's 'do do do do doos'.
4The National
High Violet


'Lemonworld' [5]

The quirky twin of 'Sorrow' in some ways, and also sounds a little like a blueprint for where 'Humiliation' would go a few years later. Did I read somewhere that Matt wrote down the style of delivery for this one had to be 'day three with the flu' or something like that? Whatever he went for it works.
3The National
Boxer


'Brainy' [5]

The song to make me realise that, after quite liking 'Alligator', this band were actually something a lot more special. One of the all time great indie rock drum intros.

I think the song is supposed to be about Matt's wife...that's the last time I'll write that sentence. I think 90% of National songs are probably about Matt's wife.
2The National
High Violet


'Sorrow' [5]

So for a long long time I'd always refer to this as my favourite National song. In many ways the quintessential National understated mope-fest. The lyrics have that perfect effortless blend-y quality that most of the great National songs do - in my universe this is an ideal singalong.
1The National
Boxer


'Slow Show' [5]

The question of which National song is 'officially' my favourite has been answered - it's my first dance song at my wedding, 'Slow Show'. 'Unofficially' my favourite shifts a lot more...and the number two entry might actually be my real favourite. Anyway, if this is not my actual favourite then it is very close.

Yes, my wife met me when she was 29 so hearing her sing the second section of the song for me - particularly when also watching the band perform it live - well, it's a special thing for me.
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