Making the Case: The “Best” Phish Song

This morning, I began wondering to myself: “If asked the best Phish song, what would I respond?” I thought it over, and I have some thoughts.

I’ve pondered over my favorite Phish songs before, and ultimately, I’ve never been able to settle on one. But today, I’ll give you what I think is the “best.”

First, we’ve got to agree on what “best” means. Does it mean most well liked? Most representative? Most iconic? I am choosing to define it as the song that best captures and satiates fans, be they new, old, or even future.

And the runners up are:

You Enjoy Myself
The logical, most obvious select for “best” phish song is the classic You Enjoy Myself. YEM, as we Phishheads call it, was debuted in 1986 and was featurd in more Phish setlists than any other song – ever. YEM includes a structed composed part, a loose jam part, and has led to some incredible experimentation, including the vocal jam. While YEM is an awesome song, a load of fun, and arguably the quinessential Phish song, I don’t think it’s the best, and one of the reasons is that it’s just too chaotic and hard to understand for those new to Phish.

Bouncing Around the Room
I include Bouncin’ only because, unlike YEM, it is quite easy for those unfamiliar with Phish to immediately fall in love with this song. The tempo, the lightweight guitar, and the repeated clear lyrics make it a natural sing along gem. But, most decidedly unlike YEM, it received quite a bit of radio play and became one of the 5 or so songs that college students that didn’t count themselves as Phish heads knew. As a result, many elitist Phish heads began the backlash against Bouncing. It was not unlikely, in the late nineties, to hear the regulars whine when Bouncing reared its head in a setlist. One more legitimate reason to dislike Bouncing was because, like many other songs, it was not a platform for jamming. This made it more of a recital than a participatory exercise. Since the most loyal fans, whether right or wrong, grew impatient with it, Bouncing cannot be the answer.

Chalkdust Torture
Chalkdust Torture was another “famous” Phish song. While the song is pretty much verse-chorus-verse, it served as a jam platform more often than you might expect. Chalkdust featured a catchy chorus and was a setlist regular from its debut right through Coventry. That said, Chalkdust remained popular for its entire run, and was often recognized by non-hardcores, and even featured on several albums. However, Chalkdust is rarely mentioned as one of the more cherished songs.

The Divided Sky
Ah, the final three. It’s easy to make a case for the Divided Sky. First of all, it’s got several sections, many tightly composed. It’s a musician’s wet dream, it’s got emotion, and it’s a fun song. It features all four members at some point. It’s Gamehendge-related. There are so many things that make this a fantastic song. But, like others above, there is rarely much exploration when this is performed live. Don’t let this take away from the song, it’s one of my faves, but any song that doesn’t encompass everything Phish is about can’t be called “best” in my book.

Harry Hood
Hood is the next step from Divided Sky, and also lands in all of the above categories, sans the Gamehendge connection. Harry Hood is one of the most well-liked songs in Phish-story, and when they open a show with it – as they did twice in 1999 – it signaled an incredible evening. I can’t fault Hood on anything worthwhile. It’s a virtual tie, but there had to be a winner, and that winner is:

Slave to the Traffic Light
In my humble opinion, no Phish song is better than Slave to the Traffic Light. Slave, as we call it, has elements of reggae, rock, jazz, ambient, harmony, and more. Slave includes long jams at times, some really long. It’s well liked, it’s been played with frequency, but not too frequent. It didn’t spark the amazing, but eventually annoying glowstick wars, and the end of the song is really something special nearly every time. Slave is not too complex, so even the relative newbie to Phishdom can understand and appreciate it, and certainly will be swinging and swaying by the end of the song. Also, Slave is the perfect set-ender, the perfect song to draw out your energy, calm you down, and lay you down to sleep nicely.

You can throw around several song like Guyute, Fee, The Lizards, The Squirming Coil, or Cavern, but I have to make the case for Slave to the Traffic Light.