Today marks 31 years since post-hardcore titans Fugazi released their debut album, Repeater. So to mark this momentous occasion, we present you with Scream Therapy creator Jason Schreurs’ top 10 Fugazi songs.
The Top 10 Fugazi Songs of All Time
By Jason Schreurs
Choosing the 10 best Fugazi songs from their extensive and emotionally exhausting discography (in the best way possible) is sort of like trying to choose your 10 favorite lifetime visceral experiences. Fugazi has now been on what might just be a permanent hiatus (and we sure hope not) for the past 19 years and has left a huge void in the world of emotional hardcore. Fugazi is considered one of the most groundbreaking punk bands of the 20th and 21th century. Listening to the Washingtonian four-piece’s 10 best songs of all-time could lead us into an endless Fugazi-listening vortex. Again.
10. “Shut the Door” (Repeater, 1990)
A staple of their earlier live shows, this harrowing narrative about a drug overdose is one of Fugazi’s most haunting songs, lyrically and musically. In the 1999 feature-length documentary film about the band, Instrument, the live performance of this songs sends chills up the spine as guitarist/vocalist Ian MacKaye taps the veins on his arms, singing, “I break the surface so I can breathe,” and the recorded version matches that intensity all the same, the screamed line, “Have you ever been free?” ringing out like the ultimate warning cry.
9. “Ex-Spectator” (The Argument, 2001)
The double-drum intro, as rad as that sounds, isn’t the best part about the seventh song on Fugazi’s final studio album to date. It’s the way the song develops from there; guitarist/vocalist Guy Piccioto and MacKaye’s strums and plucks complemented by yet another sneaky Joe Lally bass line. Then? Well, the song takes a deep prog dive before erupting into one of MacKaye’s patented, bellowing choruses. This song is Fugazi at its most ambitious and it’s a glorious listen to behold.
8. “Birthday Pony” (Red Medicine, 1995)
Every “best-of” list has its subjective oddball pick, and “Birthday Pony” fits the bill here. Red Medicine, as a whole, is widely considered to be Fugazi’s weirdest album, and this track is a strange, swinging MacKaye rant, complete with that key moment at 1:48 where he launches into a weirdo laugh, followed by an even more weirdo laugh. Next, the quirky breakdown, and more screams from MacKaye. A lot of Fugazi songs leave you guessing, but this one still surprises and confounds after 26 years.
7. “Smallpox Champion” (In on the Kill Taker, 1993)
The ringing of bent strings pops off one of Picciotto’s best vocal performances (and he has many). The melody lines here are one thing, but it’s Picciotto’s rapid-fire delivery throughout that drives this amazing song. When the frantic bridge kicks in, with one of Lally’s tastiest bass licks, all bets are off. Let’s talk about “complete” songs. Fugazi has a catalog teeming with them, but this is one of their most memorable.
6. “Reclamation” (Steady Diet of Nothing, 1991)
Fugazi is known for its outspoken politics, personal and social. “Reclamation” is most notable for being a rallying cry for women to control their own bodies. Powerful lyrics aside, it’s one of MacKaye’s strongest songs. The buildup to the single-word chorus of, yep, you guessed it, “Reclamation!” is a reality check the band’s diverse fan base needed in the early ‘90s. “Reclamation” is protest music at its finest.
5. “Rend It” (In on the Kill Taker, 1993)
The following song after previous entry “Smallpox Champion,” on the band’s third album proper, “Rend It” begins with a flurry of chaos and noise, then transforms into one of Picciotto’s tenderest deliveries. Wait, MacKaye gets involved and the song morphs into one of Fugazi’s loudest, most groove-laden songs. If there’s such a thing as a Fugazi song that “totally kicks ass, man,” this is the one.
4. “Argument” (The Argument, 2001)
Hopefully this isn’t the last song Fugazi will write, being that it closes off its last album to date. “Argument” is one of those classic slow-burn, MacKaye-fronted tracks that starts with almost juvenile simplicity and ends with a cacophonous roar. A condemnation against misguided punk complainers is a good way to end as any. For a band that always wore its hearts on its sleeves, there was no better way to go on a permanent (?) hiatus than this track.
3. “Blueprint” (Repeater, 1990)
Look up the word “emo” in an online dictionary and there should be a link to “Blueprint,” not Dashboard Confessional or whatever such shit. One of Fugazi’s most epic moments, the first time you hear this song it just sweeps you off your feet with impassioned vocals and unparalleled, building tension. This song also features one of the quartet’s most simplistic and memorable anti-capitalist lyrical sermons: “Never mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying.”
2. “Five Corporations” (End Hits, 1998)
Throughout their six-plus albums, Fugazi often flirted with shorter, punkier songs, reminding us that MacKaye fronted one of the best hardcore bands ever, Minor Threat. Taking that fast-punk model and adding in the best rhythm section to ever come out of Washington, DC, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty, results in two-and-a-half-minute songs that could be put on an endless loop at hardcore show and not sound out of place. Songs like “Five Corporations” get stuck in your head and never, ever leaves. This is the absolute best of them.
1. “Waiting Room” (13 Songs, 1989)
Doubtful there’s not much debate here and funny that one of the first songs the band ever wrote remains their greatest testament. The intro bass line and extended pause alone is worth a spot in the punk rock hall of fame (all lower case, of course), but where “Waiting Room” goes from there… oh, just… wow. Employing elements of reggae and funk that would absorb into their sound in more organic ways, the song was Fugazi sticking its neck out right out of the gates, as if to say, “We’re here and we’re our own.” “Waiting Room” is just under three minutes of punk perfection.
Jason Schreurs is a writer, punk rocker, host of the Scream Therapy podcast, and mental health advocate. His book-in progress is called Scream Therapy: A Punk Rock Journey to Mental Health. Jason has written about music and culture for more than two decades. He’s also been a publisher and editor at community and student newspapers. In October 2018, Jason was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In addition to focusing on his mental health, Jason facilitates a provincial bipolar support group and does coaching for people with chronic health illness. Jason lives in Powell River, BC, a small coastal city north of Vancouver.
Featured image courtesy of Jason Schreurs/Fugazi.