5 Songs You Didn’t Know Jeff Tweedy Wrote Outside of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo

Still writing some of the most introspective lyrics in music, Jeff Tweedy has spread his stories across four albums with Uncle Tupelo and 12 albums with Wilco over nearly 30 years, along with dozens of outside collaborations and side projects along the way.

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Along with doubling up during his early Wilco days with the band Golden Smog to the short-lived Loose Fur in the early 2000s and collaborations with Billy Brag and more, Tweedy has also produced albums for Mavis Staples, Low, Dazzling Killmen, Richard Thompson, and White Denim, among others.

In 2017, Tweedy released his solo debut, Together At Last, and three more albums to follow through Love Is the King in 2020. Scratching the surface within his lengthy channel of music, here’s a look at just five songs Tweedy wrote outside his core Uncle Tupelo and Wilco catalogs.

1. “Radio King,” Golden Smog (1995)
Written by Jeff Tweedy and Gary Louris

In the earlier days of Wilco, Tweedy wrote and co-wrote a number of songs for the band Golden Smog. The band was made up of a loose collective made of members of The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Big Star, Soul Asylum, The Honeydogs, and Run Westy Run, along with Tweedy.  

Splitting the songwriting duties within Golden Smog, Tweedy wrote or co-wrote a number of songs on the band’s 1995 debut Down by the Old Mainstream, including the closing track “Radio King.”

“Radio King” is a song for any fanboy, an homage to the bygone era of music and all its legends filling the airwaves.

Tweedy loved the title of the Golden Smog’s album so much, that he pilfered the line Down by the Old Mainstream and used it on Wilco’s “Someday Soon” — Cash is gonna flow down by the old mainstream / Someday soon — off their 1996 album Being There.

Your music fills my car
Your voice breaks every time
I’m still wondering if I know who you are
I hang on every line

Let’s go down together
Down by the old mainstream
I’ll take you over anything

Let’s go back in time 1959
I’ll take you, Radio King

2. “One True Vine,” Mavis Staples (2013)
Written by Jeff Tweedy

By the 2010s, Tweedy collaborated with Mavis Staples on three of her albums — the 2010 release You Are Not AloneOne True Vine in 2013, and If All I Was Was Black in 2017. All were produced by Tweedy, who also played a collection of instruments on each album, along with writing a majority of the tracks. All three albums were also recorded at the Wilco Loft in Chicago, the city where Staples began singing with her family at the age of 11.

For his first collaboration with Staples, Tweedy wrote several songs, including the title track “You Are Not Alone.”

“I’m this old broad with all these young guys,” joked Staples of working with Tweedy and members of Wilco, who also played on some of the three albums. “I must be the luckiest old girl, second to Betty White.”

Staples added, “So I cherish it, and I’m grateful, and I’m just so blessed. I’m surrounded by beautiful people at this time in my life. I talk to God, and I still talk to my father and tell him about how wonderful I’m being treated and I know he’s watching over me. He’s never left me.”

Though penned by Tweedy, Staples said “You Are Not Alone” said all the words she wanted to say at that point in her life.

“That’s the way I feel — I’m not alone,” said Staples. “I would get choked up. I would fight my tears and get through it because it’s so warm and touching. It’s everything I want to say to the world because we’re still living in trying times. It’s hard times. So many people are down and depressed, living in fear of where the money for their next bill is coming from. They’re going to be put out of their homes. They can’t pay their mortgages. Just hold on. Hold on and keep the faith and trust. Because you’re not alone.”

In 2015, Tweedy also produced the posthumous album, Don’t Lose This, a collection of music by her father Pops Staples, which included some lost Staples Singers’ songs.

I was last in line
For the one true vine
Endless winding thread
I was dead at first
I had done my worst
And you came to me
Just in time to be
My one true vine

You still come to me
And you comfort me
The only one that I believe
I trust you
I hope that someday you will
Trust me too
I wanna be what you are to me

Life had ceased
I was lost and tired
You set me free from
This mighty, mighty fire
Just in time to be
My one true vine
I was last in line

For the one true vine

3. “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Tweedy (2014)
Written by Jeff Tweedy

Intent on making an acoustic-and-vocal tuned solo album, Tweedy began working on some songs, which eventually turned into a collaborative project with his son Spencer. By 2014, the two released the album Sukierae under the moniker Tweedy.

With Spencer on drums and his dad on vocals, the 20-track album features songs written entirely by the elder Tweedy, including the opening track “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

“I like to include elements of early recordings on the finished records when I can,” said Tweedy on making Sukierae. “Almost every song on ‘Sukierae’ has an original demo element somewhere in there. A lot of my iPhone acoustic demos became the basic tracks we overdubbed to, and they’re still there in the finished record — that’s why we listed the iPhone as an instrument in the track notes. The song ‘I’ll Sing It’ includes a cassette recording from a ‘Being There’-era demo of that song. Stuff lies around forever, and for this record, it was fun to make some use of it.”

I don’t wanna give in
All is falling
I don’t want to cold out

I don’t wanna give you satisfaction
I don’t wanna call in code
I’m all in
You’re boring
Aww I’m so, You’re so fucking boring

I don’t want to kill
All those people
But I don’t wanna grow up
Grow love

4. & 5. “I’m Alive” / “Heaven Above,” Norah Jones (2020)
Co-written and co-produced by Jeff Tweedy and Norah Jones

For Norah Jones‘ seventh album, Pick Me Up Off the Floor, Tweedy co-wrote two tracks with Jones, the mid-tempo “I’m Alive” and the more pensive piano ballad “Heaven Above.”

“I’m Alive,” which also features Tweedy on guitar and bass, circles around the idea that the world is crumbling before her, and alludes to the former administration under President Trump. “Living in this country — this world — the last few years, I think there’s an underlying sense of, ‘Lift me up. Let’s get up out of this mess and try to figure some things out,’” said Jones of the song. “If there’s a darkness to this album, it’s not meant to be an impending sense of doom, if feels more like a human longing for connection. Some of the songs that are personal also apply to the larger issues we’re all facing. And some of the songs that are about very specific larger things also feel quite personal.”

[RELATED: Norah Jones Returns to Recordings from ‘Come Away With Me’ 20 Years Later]

On the more sobering “Heaven Above,” Jones contemplates a more hopeful scenario.

“I had this song in my head before I went to Chicago, but I loved the way it came out after working with Jeff,” said Jones of her closing track. “There’s something meditative about it that works as the last song. It’s a little bit like a benediction, if you go to church. A nice closing moment.”

“I’m Alive”

Just sit and wait, don’t move
Just hesitate
You can hope and pray
You can moan
Maybe things will change

You feel your soul
Get hollowed out
While the world implodes
You just live without

“Heaven Above”

 I can’t stand it
When I forget the things that I’ve got
And I’m wondering why
They were not in my life, no sign

I was mistaken
When I thought we could have it all
We can see what we wanna see
Before we have to fall

I’m just smiling
At the thought of a day long ago
When you asked me to stay, and I left
At the fork in the road

Photo by Austin Nelson / Pitch Perfect PR

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