Cage The Elephant is living proof that rock & roll is alive and well. Their eclectic mix of rock & roll, punk, indie stylings, and blues has proved the band studious disciples of what came before them in order to develop their own unique sound that has put them on the cutting edge of rock & roll as it evolves in the 21st century. Lead singer Matt Shultz’s poetic and thought provoking lyrics carry on a tradition in rock & roll of using the art form to deliver powerful themes. Their songs are catchy, relatable, and have a message, marking Cage The Elephant as the torchbearers that rock & roll has been searching for.
Formed in the college town of Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2006—consisting of vocalist Matthew Shultz, rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz, drummer Jared Champion, bassist Daniel Tichenor, and lead guitarist Lincoln Parish who left the band in 2013—CTE found success immediately. After showcasing at SXSW in 2007, the band was signed to Relentless Records. Shortly thereafter the band embarked on their first tour as support for Queens of the Stone Age in Canada. The band then relocated to London where Relentless has its HQ. The band grabbed attention in the U.K. when they performed on “Later…with Jools Holland” alongside rock titans like Coldplay and John Mellencamp who served as the in-studio audience for the band.
In 2008 CTE released their eponymous debut album to commercial success and critical acclaim in both the U.K. and their native U.S. Since Cage The Elephant, the band has released three studio albums and a slew of singles that have all charted and gained extensive radio play. Here at AXS.com we figured it was high time to rank CTE’s blossoming catalogue. Here are Cage The Elephant's top 10 songs.
10. “Sweetie Little Jean”
The third track from 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty—produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys—the song is reminiscent of The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” in it’s subject matter with echoes of Bowie and Elliot Smith. “Sweetie Little Jean” recounts the story of a girl who has disappeared but begs the question: Was it under her own volition?
9. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”
The song was the band’s first charting single from their debut self titled album. While the song was a Top 40 hit in the U.K. it barely made in onto the Billboard Hot 100 at 92. Although it wasn’t a Top 10 hit, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” became ubiquitous on the airwaves as it was used in a number of TV shows, movies, and video games, further entrenching the band in the collective cultural conscious.
8. “Drones In The Valley”
Also from their debut album, “Drones In The Valley” proved that CTE wasn’t just a good time party band but also a band that could write thought provoking topical songs in the same vein as Bob Dylan. The line “While bullets shower the earth/we turn our heads and cover our faces” speaks to the faceless killing that drone warfare has brought about and the “fork in the road” and “which way shall we go?” lines signify the notion that we may be going down a dark road when it comes to drone technology.
A more mellow song from the band’s third album Melophobia (not meaning a fear of mellowness but a fear of music), “Telescope” is a clever song where the main character looks into his telescope at his doppelganger in a distant galaxy and is able to objectively see his own mistakes. Don’t we all wish we could do that?
6. “Around My Head”
We’ve all been there. There’s that certain someone who distracts us in our day to day and stars in our dreams at night, “plagues” might be a better word than “stars.” This relatable song off of 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday also has a great video which puts a different spin on why that certain someone is gone and shows that not even death can break that spell. The song is off of the band’s sophomore effort Thank You, Happy Birthday.
5. “Too Late To Say Goodbye”
The fourth track on Tell Me I’m Pretty—appropriately right after “Sweetie Little Jean”—the song is a tour de force for Shultz lyrically, with vivid imagery and a relatable theme. The music is also delightfully ominous and fits the subject matter well. Why is it too late to say goodbye? That’s up for you to decide.
4. “In One Ear”
What makes this song great is that it’s a party rocker musically, but lyrically it rails against those who may have categorized Cage The Elephant as just another party band. With catchy guitar riffs and scathing rapid-fire lyrics, “In One Ear”—off of the band’s debut album—let the music industry know that Cage The Elephant wasn’t just a one hit wonder and that they could care less about what the critics thought. There’s nothing more rock & roll than that.
3. “Cigarette Daydreams”
What immediately grabs you about this song off of Melophobia is the beautiful arrangement, with bright acoustic guitars and piano over a beat that is at once driving but also laid back. Thematically the song speaks to the notion that you can’t search for change but must let it come organically in a blaze of brilliance or epiphany. Like finding your lost keys when you’re not even looking for them.
2. “Cry Baby”
The opening track on Tell Me I’m Pretty, “Cry Baby” masterfully blends strings, fuzz guitar, and a rolling, raucous drum beat. There are some classic harmonies on the chorus as well. It sounds like it should have been released in the late 60s or early 70s. Just what the song is about is difficult to put your finger on other than no sense in crying over spilled milk. But the arrangement more than makes up for the lyrical ambiguity and what’s so bad about lyrical ambiguity anyway? It’s a great song that really moves.
1. “Come A Little Closer”
Here it is! The number one Cage The Elephant song. “Come A Little Closer” is off of Melophobia. The song made number one because it is a perfect storm of a gripping arrangement; a catchy hook; great guitar riffs; a bridge and buildup back into the chorus; and a compelling message. The verse rides along on a driving drumbeat and bouncing bass line but the chorus pulls you in with a half time break down and trippy surfer guitar. The bridge brings down the intensity before building back up and exploding into the chorus. Thematically, the song delivers a message that all people should live by. Take a closer look; things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface. And the video is amazing as well. “Come A Little Closer” is just a deftly crafted song, plain and simple.