The Secretly Canadian Newsletter

With the Songs: Molina – A Memorial Electric Co. tour, we wanted to do something special around Jason Molina‘s moving, expansive body of work. We reached out to friends of Jason for their favorite songs, and some insight into why they chose it. We’ve been updating this blog post daily with their additions – and now the full list is live.

You can read through and read about the curators’ choices for their favorite tracks – or, if you just feel like listening, the full playlist is at the bottom of the blog.

Listen to the full Songs: Molina playlist via Spotify:

Additionally, we’ll be offering 10% off all Molina releases through the Secretly Store with code songsmolina. Check out the selection here.

Song: “I’ve Been Riding With the Ghost”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co.
Curator: Jim James – My Morning Jacket

“I’m going to have to recommend the entire Magnolia Electric Co. album. From start to finish it flows so well and I think it was Jason’s most important and fully realized vision. Take this line from ‘I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost’:

‘While you been busy crying about my past mistakes
I’ve been busy trying to make a change
And now I’ve made a change.’

This is one of my favorite Jason lines – I love the sentiment about making positive progress for one’s self regardless of what anyone else might think and I feel like that is what sums up this album as a whole – a battle against the very real darkness with bright rays of potential and light shining through the clouds around every turn.”

Song: “Soul”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Journey On
Curator: Chris Swanson – Secretly Canadian Co-Founder

“Jason Molina would go on to write more poetic lyrics, play better guitar & sing more deeply from the heart, but there’s something about this B-side to the first Songs: Ohia 45 that puts it atop all the other recordings for me. Packing the song with the same collegiate romantic earnestness that was searing through my veins at the time, he sings of a place beyond what he knew; beyond college; beyond Ohio; beyond on the horizon line. The Roscoe Holcomb-like high lonesome sound that his 20-year old voice conveys sounded revolutionary in 1995. It still does.”

Song: “Don’t This Look Like The Dark”
Album: Magnolia Electric Co. – Sojourner (Parts 1 & 2)
Curator: Jason Groth – Guitar, Magnolia Electric Co.

“I love so many of Jason’s songs. Of all the songs we played live over the course of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. I can really only think of a couple that I didn’t get excited about playing live, and even those I loved on record. I’m pretty sure ‘Don’t This Look Like the Dark’ was the first song we practiced at my first Songs: Ohia practice (‘Dark Don’t Hide It’ was the first song I ever played with Jason, though, and that was at a recording session, so it doesn’t count as practice – I wish I had a copy of that original recording). Jason told me that he was finally starting to ‘learn how to play guitar,’ and what I think he meant was that he was trying to construct songs with standard chords, rather than rely on serendipitous tunings and power-chord shapes. But that’s impossible to know – Jason was pretty adept at versioning truth about his own musical prowess, and in this case he was being humble. But I think he was trying something knew – it’s a several-chord song, one that feels more Neil Young or Jackson Browne or Boz Scaggs than Molina – and I know he was happy with that complication.

I love it – it feels so timeless, and the lyric connected with me immediately. I had just gotten back together with my girlfriend (now wife) who is from West Virginia, and it was as if Jason knew this, which is why he started the practice with the song. The song feels like a late-night car ride, full of doubt, full of searching for a bouncy melody on the radio, full of resolve. I love the way he sings ‘try not to let you down’ on both this version and the Trials and Errors version. It gave me goosebumps just thinking about him singing it live. We didn’t keep this one in the set very long because of its sprawling nature, but I feel so fortunate that I was an active part of the entire lifecycle of this song.”

Song: “John Henry Split My Heart”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co.
Curator: Phil Elverum – Mount Eerie

“I love where this song sits within the album it’s on, Magnolia Electric Co. The tone of the song and the placement in the sequence seems to me to be a clear homage to the song ‘Words’ by Neil Young on Harvest, a big rocker coming late in the album after some meandering into different styles and ideas, but then coming in at the end loud and heavy, opening with big chunky heavy metal-ish clunks. Both songs do this. I also really like how self referential and open the words are, consistent with Molina’s style, like the song titles ‘Steve Albini’s Blues’ and ‘Cross The Road, Molina.’ I like when he says ‘half I’m gonna use to pay this band, half I’m saving cause I’m gonna owe em’ and then the band slows down and shreds even heavier, proving the point. Singing about paying the studio band that is carrying that same singing and hearing them reply, I love that.”

Song: “Love Leaves Its Abusers”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Axxess & Ace
Curator: Tim Showalter – Strand of Oaks

“I don’t have a favorite Molina song. It’s honestly very hard to listen to his music these days, but as I search the tunes I realize how many have become pillars that have held me up throughout the years. The end of this song will forever bring me to tears. I’m forgetting the flashpoint in my life when this song saved me but it now lives in that primal infinite place. Even without listening I realize that Molina will forever lift me out of darkness.”

Song: “The Big Game Is Every Night”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co.
Curator: Ben Swanson – Secretly Canadian Co-Founder

“It’s so hard to choose a favorite Molina track, but I always considered the out-take from Magnolia Electric Co., ‘The Big Game Is Every Night,’ as Jason’s thesis statement. It contains almost every meme in the Molina canon – it has moons, willows, shores, Chicago. It’s also a unique foray into pop culture, or what constitutes as pop culture in Jason’s world – Mark Twain, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Walter Payton, etc. It’s an epic and deeply layered song, and I hear new things in it every time I listen to it. It keeps on giving.”

Song: “Shiloh”
Album: Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine
Curator: Darcie Molina – Jason’s Wife

“For me this is the ultimate ‘lights out, volume up, cry your eyes out’ song. Every time I hear it, I feel like I’ve gone on an epic journey with Jason, a journey from which only one of us returns. An ironic choice for a favorite, given that I find it so moving that I can’t usually listen to it. ‘I weep for it all. I weep for nothing at all.’”

Song: “Just Be Simple”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co.
Curator: Aidan Moffat – Arab Strap

“I’m not one for lists or Top Tens I’m never that decisive and I love too many to single out a few but I do know that ‘Just Be Simple’ will never let me down. It starts with a weep, wraps its arms around you tight, buys you one last drink and then drifts away, leaving you a little more hopeful and a little less heartbroken. I confess a personal empathy with the content; its about a man who’s made mistakes and finds it hard to change his ways; it’s about demons, and it came just when I needed it. The lyrics are beautifully written, but it’s Jason’s tender, sublime and mournful voice that, on the right kind of day, might convince me it’s the best song I know.”

Song: “White Sulfur”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Songs: Ohia
Curator: Glen Hansard

“In 1999 I was touring with my band through the southern United States. We were playing a show in Birmingham, Alabama and I found a record store – off the street and up a flight of stairs. I was looking through the Palace/Oldham section when I found a record with an owl and hare on the cover simply called, Songs: Ohia. I thought it might be one of Will’s many incarnations, but I bought it mostly for the artwork. That night on the drive towards Memphis we played this stark understated album over and over. It was clear right away it wasn’t an Oldham record, this voice was tempered and real. This man was singing from a place of life and death. The civil war leaning lyrics were haunting and hopeless and without judgement, removed, somehow just a reporting the facts. I couldn’t help but love the overall sound. It was braver and starker than most music I’d heard.

‘White Sulfur’ was the first song I fell for, with its opening lyric ‘never forget it was triumph we once proposed,’ And it also includes that great line ‘I will go around nine or nine three ‘o.” I was hooked and a fan.

Upon returning home I wrote a letter to the P.O. box on the back of the record, explaining how I’d randomly found the record and fallen hard for it. I noted that if the band ever wanted to travel to Ireland I’d be proud to host them with my own band, or just set up a show. I had no idea if they were new or old or still together or anything. About a month later I got a reply. It was a great joy to receive Jasons letter, with its kind words and an agreement to travel to Ireland when it was suitable for both bands to give it a shot. I greatly valued Jason’s inclusiveness and friendship from then on.

His records have been a huge comfort to me through the years. The albums and writing got deeper and stronger and yet always mined from the same place, the same darkness. Jason came to Ireland a few times over the next few years and those tours remain a huge bright anchor of experience for me. He left us a lot of great records, but I always go back to that first one. The warm and long night drive and the whole band asleep in the back of the van and Jason singing ‘they come in sorry for the second vanquisher…’ and repeat.”

Song: “Pyramid Electric Co.”
Album: Jason Molina – Pyramid Electric Co.
Curator: Joe O’Connell – Touring Guitarist, Memorial Electric Co.

“Jason gave me this record personally, and partly because of that I have paid it a lot of attention.

I haven’t heard many people comment on his guitar playing. This track is such a prime example of how his use of the electric guitar, even though it is in the background of his legacy, is pretty much inseparable from his remarkable writing and singing.

The playing here is meditative on one hand and uncomfortable on the other. It’s spacious, and it’s anxious. I love it. The playing and the song are one.”

Song: “7th Street Wonderland” + “Darling You Are…”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Journey On
Curator: Jonathan Cargill – Secretly Canadian Co-Founder

“Originally from the Untitled 7″ released on Western Vinyl. I remember recording these two songs. It was Jason, Ben Swanson and myself. I believe we were in Jason’s apartment on 10th Street in Bloomington, Indiana. The only instruments in the place were an egg shaker, a maraca, two crude keyboards (including a Casio SK-1) and Jason’s guitar. If I recall correctly, the amp is a tiny 5 watt Pignose. The recordings reflect the intimacy of the setting. Lyrically, these songs are pretty simple by Molina’s standards, but they perfectly capture a mood. Jason’s mood at that time, to be exact. On ‘7th Street Wonderland,’ I particularly like Jasons subtle and tasteful guitar solo. There are not very many pure Molina guitar solos on recordings and they are always a treat.”

Song: “Just Be Simple”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co.
Curator: Mike Brenner – Steel Guitar, Magnolia Electric Co.

“I had recorded tracks on the fly with Jason on Didn’t It Rain, but I when I went to Chicago to record the Magnolia Electric Co. LP, I actually had prepared parts that I had worked on pretty hard while listening to his demos in preparation for the session. I had no idea if Jason (or the rest of the musicians) would go for the parts, especially the intros. One of the first tracks we cut was ‘Simple,’ and when I played the intro for the first time, Jason gave a thumbs-up which was a big relief. I wound up playing all of my parts pretty much as I had prepared them and always appreciated Jason’s generosity and willingness to accept creative input from others.”

Song: “It’s Made Me Cry”
Album: Magnolia Electric Co. – It’s Made Me Cry
Curator: Mark Rice – Drums, Magnolia Electric Co.

“Recorded in the huge live room at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana before the beginning of U.S. tour, this brief track always reminds me of how loose, intuitive, fun and magical the recording process with Jason could be. This song fell into place with almost no plan. In a very uncharacteristic fashion, Jason would blast the reference CD of this session in the van throughout that whole tour. Frequently putting it on first thing in the morning, when we started that day’s drive to the next show.”

Song: “Blue Chicago Moon (Demo)”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain
Curator: Jess Price – Campdogzz

“My bandmate Mikey showed me the Songs: Ohia record not long after I moved to Chicago. It felt like a beginning and returning at the same time. I was completely taken with it. I thought it would be easier to choose a song of Jason’s to write about. It’s not.

I chose ‘Blue Chicago Moon’ because it was so vital to me through those first winters.m And now. I lived alone then and had just started playing. His collection, even at it’s heaviest and most depressed, was such a comfort. That kind of honesty is indispensable. I can’t imagine a world without it.”

Song: “Steve Albini’s Blues”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain
Curator: Pete Schreiner Bass, Magnolia Electric Co.

“Having grown up in Northwest Indiana, with neighbors, friends, and family flailing against the region’s crumbling industrial machine, with Chicago just up the freeway, I knew ‘the bridge out of Hammond,’ Gary, Whiting, East Chicago. Driving the freeway I felt the inhuman scale of the mills and refineries ‘darkening souls.’ I’m mesmerized by the poetry Jason could pull out of that bleak stinking wasteland to ‘see its sulfury shine.’”

Song: “The One Red Star”
Album: Songs: Ohia – Protection Spells
Curator: Alasdair Roberts

“There are many songs by Jason Molina in his various guises which resonate with me so it was difficult to select just one recording. A few of the recordings Jason and his friends made as Songs: Ohia around the turn of the century happen to feature me as a musical player others don’t, but, for better or worse, the song I’ve selected does. ‘One Red Star’ was actually recorded one afternoon in the bedroom of my flat in Glasgow, I think onto a mini cassette recorder, when Jason and friends were on tour in Scotland. It was a tiny room, but the bed was on an elevated platform, accessible by ladder, so I remember being huddled under there. I can’t remember exactly who was there and who played on the recording, but I believe it’s Richard Youngs bringing on that almost incongruously jaunty piano riff. Then I’m fairly sure it’s Geof Comings on drums I seem to remember him using the window blinds as a percussion instrument. The inept violin playing is courtesy of yours truly. As with several of Jason’s recordings around that time, I suppose, and in keeping with the spirit of that Protection Spells tour CD as a whole, ‘One Red Star’ was recorded very spontaneously and improvisationally. I’ve mostly chosen it because it brings back good memories of that time when everybody was just a bit younger and Songs: Ohia was in full creative flow.”

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