Essential The War On Drugs Songs

Few discographies are as special as The War On Drugs. The essential collection of The War On Drugs songs reveals everything you need to know about the band’s music. The Philadelphia group has packed stellar musicianship, emotional lyrics, and incredible energy into four must-hear albums that date back to 2008.

Wagonwheel Blues

Arms Like Boulders – The lead song from The first War On Drugs album is a perfect glimpse of what was to come. WXPN DJ (and writer for The Key) John Vettese wrote a perfect take on “Arms Like Boulders,”

“A tape player winds to a start. Five drum machine hi-hat hits tap out, sequentially. Three notes chime on a glockenspiel. Somebody takes a breath.

These are the most surprising things you’ll hear upon listening to The War On Drugs‘ Wagonwheel Blues ten years after its debut — and they all occur in opening moments of “Arms Like Boulders.” The song abruptly adjusts course into the soaring squeal of a harmonica, fervent acoustic guitar strums, and barreling drums as they converge into an anthem of Kerouacian observations and things felt while driving up California’s arterial highway 101.”

Slave Ambient

Brothers – The first The War On Drugs song that I remember hearing. It is the track that hooked me on Slave Ambient. I never stopped loving the band since hearing this piece. Adam Granduciel’s Dylan twang, a smooth intro, and freeing musical ecstasy come together in perfect indie splendor.

Baby Missiles – This one comes at an odd place in Slave Ambient. After a run of lush arrangements, the track interrupts the flow of music with a sudden burst of head-nodding rhythm. The beat is one of the band’s liveliest songs and is a concert highlight. The jolt of energy later drowns out in a wash of blissful harmonica as “Baby Missiles” transitions into the instrumental “Original Slave.”

Your Love Is Calling My Name – The track’s atypical lyrical structure are a testament to the band’s knack for breaking the mold (especially towards the end). The anti verse-chorus pop song ends with a near-repetitive evolution of the same lyrics.

We’re just a feeling down by the harbor, babe
I’ll catch a strong wind through my mind
Just keep it rolling, I’ll take it over
I’ll push it over this time

I ride the freeway down by the harbor, babe
And there’s a strong wind through my mind
Just keep it running, I’ll push it over
Let’s take it over this time

I got the feeling down at the harbor
Just like a strong wind through our days
Just keep it rolling, I’ll take it over
Let’s push it over this way

Lost In The Dream

Under The Pressure – The first track from Lost In The Dream is an effusive explosion of energy. Of all The War On Drugs songs that play well in concert, this is the true highlight. The song explodes after a solo from Adam Granduciel. Drummer Charlie Hall keys the euphoria with sensational drumming as every band member plugs into an ethereal vibe. “Under The Pressure” is the embodiment of anything you could want from a live band.

Red Eyes – The band’s most famous single to-date, “Red Eyes” solidified their popularity. Consequence of Sound indicated the abstractness of the song’s lyrics, saying “This kind of understated sincerity lends a resonance to everything he says, regardless of whether you’re clued in to the details of his romantic life or not.”

An Ocean Between The Waves – It is hard to narrow down Lost In The Dream songs into a list of standouts. By default you omit incredible work. For the serene “An Ocean Between The Waves,” no better praise exists than from KEXP radio host Cheryl Waters. During a live session with The War On Drugs, she admits almost being moved to tears.

A Deeper Understanding

In Chains – Bolstered by one of the best set of lyrics from A Deeper Understanding, “In Chains” is a beautiful piece. Its depth and introspectiveness is quintessential Adam Granduciel songwriting. After singing that he is falling into a deep love, he admits that unexpected shackles are in place. “I’m in chains. I’m in love. I’m in pain.”

Strangest Thing – The true mark of a great guitar solo is the rush felt on the first listen. Despite countless listens, I still get a jolt every time I hear Adam Granduciel shred on “Strangest Thing.” It is his most epic piece as a guitar player. It is also the truest stadium anthem of all The War On Drugs songs. The notes that he unleashes midway through the song are a true “lighters in the air moment.” When played in concert, it is a jaw-dropping reminder of how good The War On Drugs are live.

The War on Drugs at the Tower Theater
The War on Drugs at the Tower Theater

Thinking Of A Place – The first single of A Deeper Understanding is an atypical choice to tease an album. It is eleven minutes long, filled with wistful lyrics, and has shades of Pink Floyd… yet I still remember hearing its radio debut and being awestruck. Adam  Granduciel’s faraway thoughts and the soothing arrangement are enough to put anyone at ease. If only all morning commutes had such magic.

And One Cover Song By The War On Drugs

A Pagan Place – The War On Drugs pick interesting songs to cover. In December, they reached into Tom Petty’s discography to play “Straight Into Darkness” at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby. Earlier that week, they dropped a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” at two other Philadelphia shows.

During the tour for Slave Ambient, the band covered a gem from The Waterboys: “Pagan Place.”


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