Making the Case: The “Best” Phish Song

This morning, I began wondering to myself: “If asked the best Phish song, what would I respond?” I thought it over, and I have some thoughts.

I’ve pondered over my favorite Phish songs before, and ultimately, I’ve never been able to settle on one. But today, I’ll give you what I think is the “best.”

First, we’ve got to agree on what “best” means. Does it mean most well liked? Most representative? Most iconic? I am choosing to define it as the song that best captures and satiates fans, be they new, old, or even future.

And the runners up are:

You Enjoy Myself
The logical, most obvious select for “best” phish song is the classic You Enjoy Myself. YEM, as we Phishheads call it, was debuted in 1986 and was featurd in more Phish setlists than any other song – ever. YEM includes a structed composed part, a loose jam part, and has led to some incredible experimentation, including the vocal jam. While YEM is an awesome song, a load of fun, and arguably the quinessential Phish song, I don’t think it’s the best, and one of the reasons is that it’s just too chaotic and hard to understand for those new to Phish.

Bouncing Around the Room
I include Bouncin’ only because, unlike YEM, it is quite easy for those unfamiliar with Phish to immediately fall in love with this song. The tempo, the lightweight guitar, and the repeated clear lyrics make it a natural sing along gem. But, most decidedly unlike YEM, it received quite a bit of radio play and became one of the 5 or so songs that college students that didn’t count themselves as Phish heads knew. As a result, many elitist Phish heads began the backlash against Bouncing. It was not unlikely, in the late nineties, to hear the regulars whine when Bouncing reared its head in a setlist. One more legitimate reason to dislike Bouncing was because, like many other songs, it was not a platform for jamming. This made it more of a recital than a participatory exercise. Since the most loyal fans, whether right or wrong, grew impatient with it, Bouncing cannot be the answer.

Chalkdust Torture
Chalkdust Torture was another “famous” Phish song. While the song is pretty much verse-chorus-verse, it served as a jam platform more often than you might expect. Chalkdust featured a catchy chorus and was a setlist regular from its debut right through Coventry. That said, Chalkdust remained popular for its entire run, and was often recognized by non-hardcores, and even featured on several albums. However, Chalkdust is rarely mentioned as one of the more cherished songs.

The Divided Sky
Ah, the final three. It’s easy to make a case for the Divided Sky. First of all, it’s got several sections, many tightly composed. It’s a musician’s wet dream, it’s got emotion, and it’s a fun song. It features all four members at some point. It’s Gamehendge-related. There are so many things that make this a fantastic song. But, like others above, there is rarely much exploration when this is performed live. Don’t let this take away from the song, it’s one of my faves, but any song that doesn’t encompass everything Phish is about can’t be called “best” in my book.

Harry Hood
Hood is the next step from Divided Sky, and also lands in all of the above categories, sans the Gamehendge connection. Harry Hood is one of the most well-liked songs in Phish-story, and when they open a show with it – as they did twice in 1999 – it signaled an incredible evening. I can’t fault Hood on anything worthwhile. It’s a virtual tie, but there had to be a winner, and that winner is:

Slave to the Traffic Light
In my humble opinion, no Phish song is better than Slave to the Traffic Light. Slave, as we call it, has elements of reggae, rock, jazz, ambient, harmony, and more. Slave includes long jams at times, some really long. It’s well liked, it’s been played with frequency, but not too frequent. It didn’t spark the amazing, but eventually annoying glowstick wars, and the end of the song is really something special nearly every time. Slave is not too complex, so even the relative newbie to Phishdom can understand and appreciate it, and certainly will be swinging and swaying by the end of the song. Also, Slave is the perfect set-ender, the perfect song to draw out your energy, calm you down, and lay you down to sleep nicely.

You can throw around several song like Guyute, Fee, The Lizards, The Squirming Coil, or Cavern, but I have to make the case for Slave to the Traffic Light.

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34 thoughts on “Making the Case: The “Best” Phish Song

  1. I’d like to suggest one more criteria for this campaign and that would be what I call “significant irreverence.” That element of a song that contained so much nonsense that it made sense.

    Epitomized by David Bowie, Dinner and a Movie and of course, Fluffhead.

    But done no where better than in Carini.

    • Scott Robbins says:

      if your talking about “significant irreverence” then Carini is great but what about The Curtain? thats like pure silliness haha and an epic song.

  2. mike says:

    I have been going through this process over the past few years, coming up with criteria, rating factors, and a formula to score the whole thing. Finalists included: Slave, YEM, Divided Sky, Punch You in the Eye, Colonel Forbin/Famous Mockingbird (disqualified because it is two songs really).

    And the winner is: Run Like an Antelope

  3. Steve says:

    Does it get any better than when Trey hits the first hard chord on Run Like an Antelope?

  4. John says:

    I have to agree with Fluffhead… it’s got everything that I love about Phish: tightly arranged parts, loose free-form jam, lyrics that don’t take themselves too seriously, a bit of humor, tempo changes, and that big explosive “Fluffy Fluffy Fluffy Fluffy Fluffy Fluffy Head” at the end. Rocks.

  5. John says:

    Not one mention of the fine old lady…. Reba is by far the best Phish song EVER. Not my opinion, FACT…

  6. Sonny says:

    John, I'll subscribe to your blog when you start one. I agree with Reba.

  7. […] It didn’t get colkd for set 3, which was welcome. By this point, everyone was realizing that the weekend was winding down. So we settled in, knowing, as well as one can, that we were in for a Tweezer. And we were, Set 3 opened with Tweezer -> Maze. Then came some very good songs: Free, my first Sugar Shack, a high-energy Limb By Limb, and a heavy Theme From the Bottom. The closing series was Mike’s Song > 2001 > Light > Slave to the Traffic Light, which is very hard to beat. I love Light, this one is being debated on many discussion groups as great vs standard, but I love Light, and given the atmosphere, I call it great. And, as you may know, I’ve already made the case for Slave. […]

  8. amberluvsphish says:

    does any one love the song heavy things by Phish i cant believe its not listed as a favorite yet

  9. Adam S says:

    Heavy Things is a relatively new song, it's rarely explored as a jamming vehicle, and it was a single. Also, it debuted not as a Phish song, but as a Trey solo song in 1999. I think you would be hard-pressed to find any Phish fans who would call that one of their favorites.

  10. john says:

    wtf??? no one has even mentioned down with disease.

  11. Jim Rizzo says:

    Considering when this was written, some of those songs (Chalkdust, especially) have become bigger jam vehicles. Even YEM has more jamming now.

    Honestly, though, I don't think there's such a thing as the “best” Phish song because their music covers so much different territory from straight up rock, to intricate composed pieces, to bluegrass, barbershop, ballads, etc. It's difficult. YEM is the quintessential Phish song, hands down. It's composed, it's got a little jam, it's got the vocal jam, it's got stage antics, it's as “Phish-y” as it gets. But when it comes down to the best, that just doesn't exist with Phish.

  12. Jim Rizzo says:

    Considering when this was written, some of those songs (Chalkdust, especially) have become bigger jam vehicles. Even YEM has more jamming now.

    Honestly, though, I don't think there's such a thing as the “best” Phish song because their music covers so much different territory from straight up rock, to intricate composed pieces, to bluegrass, barbershop, ballads, etc. It's difficult. YEM is the quintessential Phish song, hands down. It's composed, it's got a little jam, it's got the vocal jam, it's got stage antics, it's as “Phish-y” as it gets. But when it comes down to the best, that just doesn't exist with Phish.

  13. jpf1138 says:

    Agreed!

  14. travis says:

    reba. hands down.

  15. Andrew says:

    Are you guys serious? Time Turns Elastic is clearly the greatest Phish song ever composed. What are you all taking acid and huffing nitrous or something? Joy is definitely a close 2nd

    • Sammy says:

      TTE and joy are not even a valid opinion. You are obviously new to Phish and don’t know what you are talking about. My choice has changed quite a bit the past 15 years so I Don’t think I can say one song is the best but Fluffhead is currently my phavorite.

  16. slamma says:

    GOOD ABOUT HOOD

  17. SeasonLaurel says:

    Time and Joy?!?!?!? Im VERY surprised at those choices!!! Please listen to some older shows!! I could never nail down a favorite, instead I have about 10 favorites that head up different catergories hahaha that boogie on to antelope mash-up from Miami 09 was soo serious it is SUCH a worthy download if you haven’t heard it! but I agree with YEM, Hood, Bouncing was the first song I heard of Phish, it is a good Phish intro song. I love Free, First Tube, Fluffhead and WILSON of course. I guess I could just keep going….Cant wait for Chicago 2010 to start!!

  18. scott says:

    Prince Caspian

    The best coming together of form and content. they play the ocean and play caspian across it.

  19. big schway says:

    i request a new catagory of best phish cover songs! “bold as love”!

  20. trent says:

    1. antelope
    2. fluffhead
    3. hood
    4. ghost
    5. slave
    6. bowie
    7. disease
    8. reba
    9. forbin>mockingbird
    10. yem

  21. Scott Robbins says:

    NO ONE SAID TWEEZER!!!????!!!!! What band have you been listening to? Jam vehicles? How about the 30 minute tweezerfest on aliveone. It has funny lyrics, great jamming, good syncopation/beat, a flashy riff, it shows off the best of phish in all aspects. Tweezer is their best song but other runners up:
    2. MEATSTICK!!!!-( this song has been used by phish as a epic finale. Big cypress they ended their amazing midnight set with is, showing its significance, and this year at new years they staged the musical with the hotdog specifically for it. No other song can make its audience laugh the same, and its also a great jam!)
    3. Harry Hood- (simple but amazing…. WHERE DO YOU GOO!!!!!!)
    4. The Wedge- (like the simplicity in it, also the Oddities version got me hooked)
    5. The Curtain- (a great song thats really funny. so many sections its amazing, plus the acoustic version at festival 8 is nasty.)

    6. Carini – (if a song can make you laugh every time its got something special)

  22. Connor says:

    Joy?! come on man, listen to some older shows and appreciate what Phish really is.
    I am also pretty surprised that Down with Disease isn’t mentioned very much and i believe it goes along with YEM as a definition of variety that they play. Although everyone has favorites, I think we can all agree that you can put any different number of songs or order your favorites any way but what counts is…PHISH ROCKS!

  23. Jezmund the Family Berzerker says:

    8/14/93 Tinley Park.. antelope->sparks->walk away->antelope->have mercy->antelope makes the case for Antelope to be the greatest of all time… But you def gotta throw in Tweezer.. DWD is a strong contender too… wolfman got pretty insane in the late 90’s too… I personally put It’s Ice, Tela and a good forbinbird into my top 10… and Im surprised no one mentioned Mike’s Groove.. i know its 3 songs and all but the surprise element of whats going to be the 2nd song is definitely Phish… Hydrogen vs. Simple debate will always rage on… personally I think it depends on the mood.. im a relatively newer phan so i always got Simple at my shows… so i was pretty happy to finally see a hydrogen at coventry … well i digress… oh wait .. i can’t believe no one mentioned esther either… could be my favorite of all time

  24. Niner says:

    I’d have to go with Fee. It was the song that made me ask “Who is this?” Even after years and years of listening to Phish I still remember hearing it for the first time. My runner’s up would be Mike’s Groove, The Curtain With, Tube & Sand.

  25. Ahseph92 says:

    U guys are phlamers……. And ps. A song I heard the ocean sing kicks any songs ass

  26. ny_first_dude says:

    My CONCERT favorites are:

    1. First Tube
    2. Divided Sky
    3. Seven Below
    4. Tweezer
    5. Simple
    6. Crosseyed & Painless (Talking Heads)
    7. Slave to the Traffic Light
    8. Sand
    9. What’s the Use?
    10. Character Zero

    Bottom 5 Phish songs
    5th worst – Axilla
    4. Punch You in the Eye
    3. Makisupa Policeman
    2. Strange Design
    1 WORST SONG EVER…….Black Black Furry Creatures from Mars

  27. don says:

    whatttt?? cant believe no one’s said this, HARPUA!

  28. shmoopy says:

    The best song ever is the one I heard, in the background were crystal clear drops of water falling into a placid pond, and an aircraft taking off from a runway, and various other noises I had never heard in a Phish song, and never heard again, thanks to a delicious cup of tea. Was a perfect end to a long strange night, and one of the best i ever had. You will never hear the best phish song i ever heard…

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