Old Favorite Thing: Vol. 1, No. 1: "Pictures of Me," Elliott Smith

A few nights ago I broke out Elliott Smith's "Either/Or" for the first time in a long while. Back in the day I was a very, very devoted Elliott Smith fan. He's one of only three performers I've traveled out of state on multiple occasions to see, for those keeping score at home. I received so many condolence e-mails the day of his suicide that you'd think he was a family member. The main reason I don't revisit his albums too frequently is that I so completely and fully digested them a few years ago that I figured there wasn't much to be gained by listening to them anymore. I was wrong, at least when it came to one song.

"Pictures of Me," the fifth track on "Either/Or," simply floored when I heard it for the first time in a few years. It captures all the elements and contradictions that made Smith such a singular talent. Like many of his songs the lyrical content is bleak, bitter and depressing. "Here comes another guy / Jailer who sells personal hells / Who'd like to see me down on my [expletive] knees / Everybody's dying just to get the disease," he sings. But the music is downright cheery. It's a pop song, plain and simple -- bouncy, deliriously and with consistent momentum. It's the kind of song Spoon would perfect on last year's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," except here we've got Smith's beautiful, pitch-perfect vocals and self-harmonies. I never made it to the end of the album because I had to keep listening to this song over and over again. The video below isn't an actual video, just a montage of photos set to music, but just listen to it and tell me that's not as good as a pop song gets.

By David Malitz |  February 13, 2008; 2:29 PM ET Old Favorite Thing
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I'm not surprised at all. And really, why should i be?

Say Yes is usually the one that gets played over and over for me when i revisit that album.

Posted by: Ben W | February 14, 2008 11:03 AM

Hardly a week goes by that I don't put on Elliott Smith. He's easily the most underrated songwriter of the past 10 years. People will be discovering his music for a long time, and they will scratch their heads and wonder how this guy never got the recognition he deserved.

Posted by: Joe | February 14, 2008 12:54 PM

Hey David,

Since you traveled out of state to see him, how was Elliot Smith live? I never got to see him perform.

Over the last 15 years there have been hundreds of great songs by good bands/songwriters. But I think ES's overall work is head and shoulders above most others during that time.

Posted by: PDY | February 14, 2008 3:45 PM

You are spot on. "Coming Up Roses" works for this too. I see a few people here referring to Elliott as one of the best songwriters of the last fifteen years. I would argue that Elliott Smith is easily one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He had a filter that many great pop musicians, including his own heros, did not. He deserves to stand next to Lennon/McCartney and Dylan as an equal, if not for output, then for his genius and craftsmanship.

Posted by: GNC | February 14, 2008 4:45 PM

Elliott was known to have his off nights but he was always very good when I saw him. A solo acoustic show on millennium eve at the Knitting Factory in NYC will always be a favorite. Whenever he was backed by Quasi, those were good shows. And one show at the Trocadero in Philly he was taking requests during the encore, as he usually did, and I was right up front shouting for "The Biggest Lie" and he played it, so that was nice. You definitely got an appreciation for what a great guitarist he was seeing him in person.

Posted by: David | February 14, 2008 6:28 PM

Such as great song, off an even greater album. I am always pleased when an Elliot Smith song comes up on the iPod (while on shuffle). Just to add to the mix, another of my favorites is "Son of Sam" off Figure 8, as well as "Baby Britain" and "Independence Day" off of XO. Those are some excellent tunes, in my very humble opinion...

Posted by: sacklunch | February 15, 2008 8:44 AM

Yes yes. I don't think I go a week without listening to ES, I feel like he's a part of my life. Thanks for spotlighting one of my favorites.

Posted by: U street girl | February 15, 2008 4:57 PM

Be sure to track down the wealth of incredible unreleased Elliott Smith tracks available online from http://www.elliottsmithbsides.com/ as well. "Let's Turn the Record Over", "From a Poison Well", "Mr. Good morning" and the acoustic version of "Pretty Mary K" are all classics. Enjoy!

Posted by: Joe | February 20, 2008 11:36 AM

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