- by Kevin Hogan (@radiator9987)
45) Lifeboy - Hoist
The lullaby feel to this Hoist standout is a great example of how bluegrass changed Phish’s vision while still keeping the quirky lyricism that defines Phish. Bela Fleck joins the band making this one of the most beautiful melodies Phish ever recorded. Another example of the studio as a chance to expand their pallet with guests and acoustic instrumentation.
44) It's Ice - Rift
A heavy and unnerving listen, Page seals another vocal victory. He sings a little deeper and perfectly highlights the desperation found in the lyric. One of the most complex songs Phish had written at this point and they execute flawlessly. Songs like this are why Rift has the most entries on this list.
43) Miss You - Big Boat
Written for his sister who passed, Anastasio conveys weariness, sadness, and even anger in this Big Boat ballad. Bob Ezrin did a great job capturing the spirit of the song, making it warm, but detached, with a plaintive solo from Trey punctuating the song. This could be an outtake from an early 70s Stones album and is one of Big Boat’s shining moments.
42) Light - Joy
With Steve Lillywhite back behind the controls, Joy attempts to be Billy Breathes part two. It doesn’t really recapture the previous album’s mood, but Light captures youthful spirit tempered with the wisdom of age. With its formless intro resolving into the song proper mimicking the lyrics looking from a chaotic past to a brighter future.
41) My Friend, My Friend - Rift
Rift is a very dark album that touches on madness in most of its 15 songs, and My Friend may be the darkest. Starting off as an edgy composed piece with Anastasio shining on acoustic guitar, it slips into an almost paranoid groove. The clarity achieved on this cacophonic composition, nurturing the disjointed groove, and a chorus at the song’s climax, are why this makes the cut.
40) Llama - Picture Of Nectar
One of the few Gamehendge related songs that made it to vinyl, this one does what a great album opener does, sets the tone. Fast-paced with pounding drums, slap bass, and heavy organ, this is the sound of a band with newfound confidence. After being signed to a major label the band finally had the cash to make an album right. What we got was uneven, but this teems with potential.
39) Shade - Sigma Oasis
With an opening reminiscent of The Band, Trey and company deliver one of their most intimate ballads. His vocal performance is warm with producer Vance Powell giving the band space that Bob Ezrin didn’t on Fuego or Big Boat. The instrumentation is beautiful and contemplative, demonstrating Phish’s mastery of emotional content.
38) 46 Days - Round Room
Playful, but intimidatingly intense at the same time, 46 Days steamrolls the listener with a grinding funk-blues groove. A classic Phish lyric referencing a member of their extended family, the phrasing is conversational, with a whiff of grace in the crushing audio assault. McConnell’s organ, captured expertly by Bryce Groggin, propels the song to Anastasio’s blistering solo.
37) Stash - Picture Of Nectar
Latin tinged Prog sums up one of Phish’s most adventurous studio recordings. Anastasio’s propulsive guitar line rides uneasily over Fishman’s roiled beat. Kevin Hamlin captures the intricacies of the composition and gives it a brilliant sheen.
36) I Always Wanted It This Way - Big Boat
Coming on like a track from some forgotten New Wave band, I Always Wanted It This Way, turns live weaknesses into strengths. Sit back, imagine yourself at a high school dance in a John Hughes movie. Enjoy the synth leads and up-tempo beat while McConnell sings half-intelligibly about recapturing a lost love. This makes the list for being like nothing else in the Phish catalog.
35) Foam - Junta
This a hard song to play and the fact that Phish makes it sound so effortless is a free pass onto this list. Gordon’s slap/pop bass dominates as Anastasion weaves in and out of McConnell’s runs. Fishman also steps up with a variation of an Afro-Cuban Cascara beat crossed with a bit of clave. Gordon Hookailo gets a shout out for the incredible clarity he got on this one, even as the band descends into a mad frenzy towards the song's end.
34) Bouncing Around the Room - Lawn Boy
Their most radio-ready hit that never launched. Had this song been on Picture Of Nectar, we may have seen a different trajectory for the band. This was the first volley toward the intricate vocal arrangements of Billy Breathes and Story Of The Ghost. The knock here is that the recording sounds flat, but not enough to exclude its importance over the arc of their studio output.
33) Mercury - Sigma Oasis
This Big Boat reject was reimagined after a few years on the road, becoming one of the standout cuts on Sigma Oasis. All their influences seem to converge organically. This anthem could hold up to the best 70s Prog Rock. It has the clarity of a soundboard and the warmth of standing in the room. It is a surreal odyssey with a brilliant climax.
32) Cavern - Picture Of Nectar
In typical Phish fashion, they craft a song with a big rock and roll feel and tell the tale of an anti-hero. The genesis of the lyrics, as an exercise in writing songs by email, gives us lyrics that demand repeated listenings. It is a strange, even disjointed story, which adds to the allure of the studio version. Everyone steps up in this compact, no-nonsense reading of the song. Album producer Kevin Hamlin, again, gives a masterclass in studio wizardry.
31) Free - Billy Breathes
Perhaps a song about killing your new bride shouldn’t make you Alternative Radio darlings, but for Phish, Free did. This is Phish’s highest-charting single, rising up to #24 on the Alternative Radio charts in 1996. The shredding guitar and knife-like precision of the beat make this an old school fan favorite and always welcome, either live or opening Billy Breathes.