The Killers

2004 was, more or less, the Year Of The Pretty Boy. Or, if not that, the Year Of The Not That Masculine Dude. The Guy Who Has Lots Of Feelings And Dresses Well. Think about it: Kanye put out his high-fashion, post-gangsta The College Dropout; Arcade Fire got emotional on their cathartic Funeral; Usher sang really high and slow on Confessions; Franz Ferdinand released their oily dance-rock self-titled debut. It was a continuation of the movement away from the brawn and distortion and tough-guy manhood of the past — a sidestep toward dudes who pondered the world and looked fresh and shook their skinny hips.

It’s fitting, then, that 2004 was the year that the Killers dropped their debut LP, Hot Fuss, and rocketed into the limelight. On that sleek, sticky, and all-around stellar first record, the young band of Vegas natives couldn’t get their minds off sex: They suppressed one urge to let the next one loose, sending gender and sexuality into free-float limbo. The tunes were dark and iridescent and painfully fun; Mormon frontman Brandon Flowers careened in guyliner and neon suits; the album put songs about late-night murders and high-school crushes back to back. It was strange, and it was not cool at all, and it was so, so cool.

Then things took a turn. The drummer grew a mustache, Brandon Flowers remembered he was from the Great Wild American West, and suddenly the Killers’ sophomore album, Sam’s Town, came out kicking. It was a frantic attempt to reach Bruce Springsteen highs, a pretty bigheaded and ultimately insubstantial effort no matter how you frame it. For the most part, the weird, anxious, serpentine dance itches were gone — the Killers had left the pretty boys in the dust with a largely empty swing at going masculine.

This origin story provides some important context: The Killers took that turn, and have never really turned back. In their often awesome third record, 2008′s Day & Age, even the candy-wrapped dance-pop production of Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue) couldn’t bring those nervous grooves back. Flowers’ lyrics were stuck in the Sierra, waxing rhapsodic about the American dream, casino high-life, and, at their worst, “The World We Live In.” Their latest studio album, 2012′s Battle Born, is (despite what other Stereogum writers have argued) so offensively corny and not-catchy and just a complete dud that I couldn’t find a single song on it to include in this Top 10 list. And the 2007 B-sides and rarities collection Sawdust only served to highlight what was once so great about the Killers, and what still appears, though less and less, in the music they continue to release.

Last year the Killers released a “greatest hits” record called Direct Hits which, when you exclude the new songs, the Battle Born cuts, and the M83 collab, is made up of ten tracks –- their own Top 10, you might say. There’s a bit of overlap with the list you’ll see below, but the differences are telling: The songs on their list that are not on mine represent that grand American visionary thing that they seem to think is their optimal sound.

But it’s just not. The Killers gave the new millennium that perfect, glowing blend of dance-floor sleaze and road-trip splendor. Flowers and co. have had the unique ability to combine the shadowy grooves of guitar-heavy peer acts like Franz Ferdinand with the anthemic stylings of their ’80s forefathers: Their biggest and baddest cuts have let us shout out into the winds while sweating into our shorts. The list below, at least I’d like to think, recognizes the ten songs in which the Killers strike the perfect balance with they want to do and what they’re so inherently good at doing — the tracks where, even when they go big, they can still embrace their goofiness, their strangeness, and their inescapable youth. This list is a showcase of times when the Killers, whether they knew it or not, were doing exactly what they do best.

10. “Andy, You’re A Star” (from Hot Fuss, 2004)

In a record of rapid cityscapes, “Andy, You’re A Star” is a necessary detour: a slow-grinding, blues-nodding, hypertense synth romp. Ostensibly a closeted love-letter to the high school football team captain (from Flowers?), the track captures some of the band’s most jerky, hormonal grasps at teenaged sexuality. Flowers moans, “On the field, I remember, you were incredible/ Hey, shut up/ Hey, shut up,” at his catty and angsty best -– until the song opens up into its massive ballad-like release, male chorus and all.

9. “All These Thing That I’ve Done” (from Hot Fuss, 2004)

Yeah, you’ve heard this one: from the Olympics to the mouths of Bono and Chris Martin, you’ve been chanting along to those notoriously nonsensical words for years now. “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” — what the hell does that mean? But more importantly, who cares? Clocking in at five minutes, it was a first glimpse at the Killers’ epic side: a seething track full of guitar chugs and gospel vocals, with a yearning balladeer opening, an explosive center, and a drum-roll ending. Steeped in boyish afterglow, this song rocks hard.

8. “Under The Gun” (from Sawdust, 2007)

If you’re one of the many singing along to the likes of “Mr. Brightside” and “When You Were Young,” you probably aren’t familiar with this little treat, but trust me: It’s worth every second of its brisk two and a half minutes. A tongue-in-cheek, fantastical pop-punk melodrama about a young man with a hot (and murderous) date, “Under The Gun” finds the Killers at their absolute catchiest. Hot and full of youthful energy, this rarity from the Hot Fuss sessions is as sweet as it is seriously sharp.

7. “Spaceman” (from Day & Age, 2008)

A welcome return to the synth-heavy narrative style of Hot Fuss, “Spaceman” highlights some of the best things the Killers did with Day & Age: a playful, wonky story about being abducted by aliens; immaculate dance anthem production; “oh-ohs” that cry for a full arena. Flowers is a marvel here with his lyrics, perplexingly endearing as he shouts, “Oh, what a lonely night” about the evening he was stolen from his bed by extraterrestrials. Though its chorus doesn’t fulfill the promise of the huge hooks in its other sections, those four-on-the-floors and that urgent verse are enough to launch the track high in the Killers’ canon.

6. “When You Were Young” (from Sam’s Town, 2006)

As sort-of-awful as these lyrics are, as cheeseball as the Springsteen-esque, wall-of-sound guitar production sounds, there is something inescapably awesome about “When You Were Young.” This is maybe the only one of a few times that the Killers’ experiment in rugged Americana has actually come out exactly as they’d planned: a thundering, colossal track meant for screaming along with out of rolled-down windows in a speeding car down a road in the heartland. I tried to hate it, I read lines like “Burning down the highway skyline on the back of a hurricane” on paper over and over to see how stupid they were, and you know what? I fought the Killers, and the Killers won. “Can we climb this mountain?” Flowers asks in a trembling Boss impersonation. Yes, you sure can.

5. “Human” (from Day & Age, 2008)

In another instance of catchy lyrics that don’t make much sense, the Killers use “Human” to ask the ever-pressing question: “Are we human, or are dancer?” I don’t know if anyone will really be able to answer that, but if producer Stuart Price has his way, “Human” can make a dancer out of all of us. With a Dr. Luke-esque synth-pop beat that’s both mammoth and sweet, and with a yearning chorus as expansive as they come, this ear-worm of a track is nearly unstoppable. Vastly underrated at the time of its release and over-criticized for self-importance, “Human” is a later-career track that in a different context (say, on Hot Fuss) I’m convinced would have come across as gleefully silly. It’s a Top 40 confection on the caliber of some of Katy Perry’s best.

4. “Bones” (from Sam’s Town, 2006)

Finally: a moment on Sam’s Town as creepy, kooky, lusty, slimy, and unequivocally fun as the best of the Killers’ canon. “Bones” is the kind of track these mustachioed dance-rockers were born to write: a grossly sexual and irresistibly catchy hook; hilariously melodramatic background vocals and Bruce Springsteen instrumentation that can only be self-parody (and a great one at that); and the dumbest, hottest horns on the market. Flowers is sharp here, juxtaposing corny American gothic lyrics with odd punches at some poor woman, to whom he sings, “I don’t really like you” — which, of course, makes the grimy hook “Don’t you wanna feel my bones on your bones?/ It’s only natural” all the more witty, immature, and desperate. If the Killers had to head in a Western direction, this was the right way to go.

3. “Read My Mind” (from Sam’s Town, 2006)

The biggest irony of having “Read My Mind” so high up is that it maybe has the worst lyrics of any track on this list: Flowers goes on about “main street” and “breakin’ out of this two-star town” and “the honest man” ad nauseum. But that’s just about the only irony. “Read My Mind” is a real stunner — a chilly, washed out mid-tempo track with hot blood in its veins. It’s a song that places just the right smoldering synth pads over just the right jangling guitars (a slowed-down spillover from “Mr. Brightside,” maybe), one that locks you into a special place in your head you might not normally have access to, where you are calm and collected and bursting with spirit all at once. It’s easily one of the most carefully produced songs the Killers have ever put out, and its qualities are undeniable: a surprisingly melodic and impressive guitar solo, a fragile and volcanic chorus, and a sonic palate that for me has always come closest to the aesthetics of the incredible Hot Fuss album cover.

2. “Mr. Brightside” (from Hot Fuss, 2004)

When I was in tenth grade, the day after we’d talked on the bus ride to a math class field trip, I found out that my crush had a boyfriend who was a huge jerk. As soon as I got home, I went to my bedroom and turned on the Killers. “…CHOKING ON YOUR ALIBIS,” I screamed into my pillow, barely sobbing out “BUT IT’S JUST THE PRICE I PAY” before my mom came in and asked me what was wrong. And I was not alone, not by a long shot: “Mr. Brightside” was the dark, dangerous power anthem for all romantically mistreated teens in the mid-2000s — a drone of a track that’s just as good to cry along with and bite your nails to in the car by yourself as it is to shout from the pit of a packed concert hall while the boys play it live. Though it’s not the best example of the Killers’ melodic brand of synthy eccentricity (which is why it’s not No. 1 on this list), it’s a brilliant case of tying internal angst with expressive, open-air rage; a semi-tragic but gloriously triumphant guitar-heavy song that got the emo kids jumping up and down.

1. “Somebody Told Me” (from Hot Fuss, 2004)

From its very beginning, which crashes and crescendos like a whole club waking up after doing a line, it’s obvious that “Somebody Told Me” is a bona fide hit. This is the Killers playing to the very best of their theatrical instincts, gravely chugging through the verse, yelping and whining through the bridge. It’s melodic, too: Flowers’ voice nimbly works through a classically disco chord progression in a pop vocal line smart enough to compete with his Top 40 influences. Nothing is missing, not a synth line or a fuzzy guitar lick — and damn, damn that chorus. “Somebody told me/ You had a boyfriend/ Who looked like a girlfriend/ That I had in February of last year,” Flowers croons. Connect the dots with me: He’s singing about i.) A jealous rumor; ii.). about an ex; iii.) dating somebody androgynous; iv.) that brings back memories of a lover; v.) in an arbitrary and pretty goofily-worded past time. It’s everything and more, the hushed secrecy, the cheap accusations, the sexual curiosity — the band at its most essential. With one hook, the Killers defined a sound, guns blazing. And, as far as that goes, I don’t know if I’ll ever get enough.

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Comments (93)
  1. love seeing “all these things that i’ve done.” that is my go-to karaoke jam

  2. Really think that the top 5 should basically be songs 1-5 on Hot Fuss. Hard to imagine them bettering that run…ever.

  3. Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Jan 14th +10

    List should just be one song long, “When You Were Young”. My go-to karaoke jam as well.

  4. Smile Like You Mean It

  5. I refuse to believe that “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” are the two best Killers songs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fine, but I they’re just catchy singles; they’re not more compelling or well-thought-out than “Read My Mind” or “Andy You’re a Star” or plenty of the other songs on this list. Always ranking the hit singles as #1 on these list is kind of condescending too, I might add.

  6. How can you not have Shot at the Night on there?!?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4YK-DEkvcw

  7. Glad to see several songs from “Sam’s Town” on there… I really think that album is underrated. The title track (“Sam’s Town”) would be top-3 on my list, though.

    • I agree, I get the hate (especially surrounding how ‘not-at-all-but-totally-trying-to-be-Springsteen’ it is) but when I first listened to it I thought it was a great record, very easy to listen to (in a good way).

  8. I was ok with this list until number 1. There is no way in hell that “Somebody Told Me” is their best song. It was their first hit, but that’s about it. I’d honestly put “All These Things That I’ve Done” at #1. Maybe “Mr Brightside,” since I’ve noticed that people still sing along to it when it comes on at bars.

    “Somebody Told Me” is just a lazy choice.

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  10. Swap #1 and #2 and your list would probably be in better shape.

  11. greg17  |   Posted on Jan 14th +38

    I got ham but I’m not a hamster.
    I got toast but I’m not a toaster.
    I got hips but I’m not a hipster.

  12. although this list isn’t horrible, there are a couple i would rearrange/leave out. i mean seriously, andy you’re a star? when you were young was a lousy first single and never made much traction with me. and putting all these things that i’ve done all the way in the back is debatably a troll move.

    i’ve always loved dustland fairytale, and i hate seeing so much of hot fuss here. i would’ve liked to have seen one or two more from sawdust make the list, but under the gun is undoubtedly one of their best. so, nice.

  13. Me, reading this list:

    • “Mr. Brightside” is one of the best pop songs to come out of the 2000s. “Somebody Told Me” shouldn’t even be in this Top 10, same with “Andy You’re A Star.”

      Also, I don’t think it’s right to leave all of Battle Born out. The title track to that album, I think, is one of their best.

      Other notable snubs: “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine”, “For Reasons Unknown”, “Losing Touch”, “I Can’t Stay”.

      God, who knew I had such feels about the Killers!

      • This list looks like it could be an alternate tracklisting for their greatest hits album. Would it have killed ya to pick a deep cut or three?

        • I totally understand where you’re coming from — “Losing Touch” and “For Reasons Unknown” are some of my favorite Killers tracks. I did try to include a few deeper cuts, like “Under The Gun” and “Andy Your A Star” (which I can see from the comments is a bit more of a personal choice than the others), but a big thing about the Killers for me is their ability to write real but incredibly distinct pop hits. So, I do think some of their ‘greatest hits’ are actually their best songs.

          • Hi Elliah, thank you for the explanation. I apologize if I originally came across as an asshole in my comments (which, apparently, is an easy thing to do on the internets).

            You’re definitely right, due to the nature of this band and its music, really any song of theirs could conceivably land on a “Greatest Hits” collection. I mean, I noted that “Jenny” should be on this list, but I’ve heard that song played on the radio a lot, so that’s hardly a deep cut.

            Obviously, it’s hard to keep personal feelings out of these lists (or any music review for that matter), so I applaud you for sticking to your guns and going with your heart.

            You can’t please everybody, but that’s the whole fun of these things right?

  14. Give me Smile Like You Mean It and For Reasons Unknown please

  15. Really? “Andy, you’re a star” before “Jenny was a friend of mine”? You can do it better than this stereogum

  16. Oh man, I liked Battle Born with its big cheesy rock sound! I’d have “From Here On Out” and “Runaways” on my top songs.

  17. I honestly don’t think we would even know who the Killers are today if instead of releasing Hot Fuss, they released ANY ONE of their other albums in 2004. Hot Fuss is the only reason we got to hear their ad nauseam attempts to make Springsteen Americana/ Vegas Glitz rock.
    If you prefer that style, that’s great, and you should just be thankful they made Hot Fuss. I would agree with the writer and say it does not even come close to what they do best which is 80 influenced British synth rock. That angst in the vocal sound of Brandon Flowers on the first record never showed up again.

  18. I think this is one of those lists they had to throw in some oddball choices otherwise you’d just have the tracklisting to that Direct Hits album they released.

  19. For what it’s worth, this is how I’d stack them up, having been an (almost) totally shameless Killers fan since middle school:

    10. Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
    9. Sam’s Town
    8. Somebody Told Me
    7. Under the Gun
    6. This River is Wild
    5. Smile Like You Mean It
    4. All These Things That I’ve Done
    3. Spaceman
    2. Tranquilize
    1. Mr. Brightside

    Some notes:
    - “Read My Mind” is exactly the kind of boring, day-glo ballad that made “Human” specifically and Day and Age in general a total drag
    - “Andy You’re a Star”? For reals?
    - Shout out to “When You Were Young” (obviously) and “Move Away” (less obviously) – a top 10 is exactly two sizes too small
    - Everyone knows “Somebody Told Me” was just to prepare us all for the coming “Mr. Brightside”-topia

  20. What about Dustland Fairytale???

  21. Smells Like You Mean It

  22. I’m definitely surprised “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine” and “Tranquilize” aren’t on here. But looking at this list, I’m not sure what I’d knock off to fit those two in. Hmm… maybe I like The Killers a little bit more than I thought.

  23. “Their latest studio album, 2012′s Battle Born, is (despite what other Stereogum writers have argued) so offensively corny and not-catchy and just a complete dud that I couldn’t find a single song on it to include in this Top 10 list.”

    Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.

  24. oh man, i think Tranquilize has got to be one of, if not the best.

  25. “Human” has to #1 for me; I was speechless the 1st time I heard that song.

  26. The killers aren’t really a “make a list” type of band for me; all of their songs that are good are really fucking good and pretty much interchangeable. Of course listening their bad songs is the equivalent of staring at my apartment’s depressingly white walls. Stellar list though

  27. Mr. Brightside. Then an ocean of distance between any other song they’ve made. Next to “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs I think Brightside is the best song of the decade.

  28. No complaints here, surprisingly. I was sure you were somehow going to leave out Human or All These Things That I’ve Done or When You Were Young or somehow ruin the entire thing in some other way, but this list has all the good songs and none of the bad ones.

  29. In my mind, Mr. Brightside is the ultimate Killers song. Nothing comes close.

  30. Smile Like You Mean It or this list is invalid. Otherwise, I don’t hate most of your choices. 2014 is the year of the Killers, btw. A friend and I decided this the other night. So your list was most serendipitous.

  31. Uh, and guys – BLING, CONFESSIONS OF A KING. That is all.

  32. AINTWEALLJUSTRUNAWAYSIKNEWITWHENIMETYOUIMNOTGOINGTOLETYOURUNAWAYIKNEWITWHENIHELDYOUIWASNTLETTINGGO

  33. Andy, You’re a Star is a better, more important Killers song than Smile Like You Mean It or Runaways or Sam’s Town or Bling, Confessions of a King???? Really? You’re going with that? You’ve thought about this?

  34. “Somebody Told Me’ is a total asshole of a song

  35. I’m pretty disappointed in the number one song. When that song came out I hated it and figured the band to be pretty terrible. Thankfully enough I was camping out for hfs’tival tickets and the radio people came around ask me some trivia I won and they gave me a stack of cds and Hot Fuss was one of those cds and I actually liked it. Everything except that one song at least. At this point it’s grown on me to the point that I can accept it, but definitely not towards the top of the list for me.

    • I had the same reaction to “Somebody Told Me.” I assumed I’d hate the band until a college station started playing other songs off Hot Fuss.

  36. Initially, I really dug this band. 2004 was the peak of the 80s revival sound and once the Killers were hitting it big, I started listening to other dance-punk 80s revivalists like The Rapture, Radio 4, Bravery, and Rock Kills Kid. But the fondest memory I have of this band is when I was first introduced to them. It was late 2003, I was listening to a college radio station and they played Mr Brightside and the DJ even speculated that they will blow up next year. Sure enough, it happened and I Hot Fuss became one of my favorite albums of the 00s. But that era of the mid-00s was such an interesting period for music. I loved it.

  37. As others have mentioned, I definitely would have had “Jenny…” and “Smile Like…” on there.

    The random one for me is “Why do I keep counting?” which would be in my Top 5.

  38. I’d put ‘runaway’ on here but I don’t anybody can be too pissed with this list. Killers are the kind of band that you can make a best of list without offending anyone since their good songs are sooo good and everything else is pretty meh. imo obvs

  39. Not a bad list, they’re really not a bad singles band at all, just the albums tend to be inconsistent.

  40. 1.Girls On Film
    2.Rio
    3.The Reflex
    4.Union Of The Snake
    5.Hungry Like The Wolf
    6.Planet Earth
    7.The Chauffeur
    8.Wild Boys
    9.New Religion

    And what the hell,
    10.Ordinary World

    • I’d definitely include “View To A Kill”. A great movie theme song and Brandon Flowers really takes his vocal range to the limit which gives the song some serious urgency that perfectly balances out the obligatory Bond kitsch.

      If you’re gonna put two “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” songs in the top four how could “New Moon On Monday” not be one of them?

      Also “Save A Prayer”. Flowers at his most poignant.

  41. Read My Mind!! COME ON!!!

  42. Don’t know how you can make a Top Ten Killers songs and leave off “Smile Like You Mean It” or “This River Is Wild”. Or “Glamorous Indie Rock n Roll” or “Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf” for that matter…

    Shit, even their song “Move Away” from the Spiderman soundtrack is better than “Human” – one of their worst songs IMO. Not crazy about “Bones” either. And am I the only one who made “Somebody Told Me” the only song they ever skipped on Hot Fuss? Sure it was the single that got me into them, but in the scope of that album, I think it’s pretty weak. Maybe it was just because the radio tried to beat my ears to death with it.

    One man’s opinion. I guess that’s what’s so great about music. Everyone takes away something different.

  43. Gotta jump on the bandwagon against Somebody Told Me. When I heard that I thought the Killers were just another Vines/Jet/maybe more dance punk knockoff.Turned out to be this weird mormon and fashionable behemoth but that’s another story lol…

    All The Thing’s I’ve Done of Mr Brightside for #1! This isn’t a vote!?

  44. Despise somebody told me! But I will say I think “andy you’re a star” is underrated & a good pick.

  45. And “Jenni Was a Friend of Mine”???

  46. I’ve only admired this band from a distance (despite having seen them live twice and loving it) but I would have certainly added Jenny Was a Friend of Mine and Smile Like You Mean It.

  47. Everything will be alright. That sound. That solo.
    Jenny was a friend of mine. That bass line.
    Romeo & Juliet. Exceptional cover.
    A great big sled. Maybe just nostalgia but i always give it a listen at christmas.

    No real issues with the list but i’d somehow slot these in.

  48. Yeah, I agree with this list… I’d throw in Dustland Fairytale if there was an 11th spot, but other than that you’ve preeetty much nailed it. After Day & Age, The killers just weren’t the same for me

  49. I love Human. I even love the line about human/dancer, cheesy as it is, and I don’t care if the downvotes rain on me for it. It’s the ultimate cheesy line, in that it’s very melodramatic in translating that feeling of loving to dance. I love songs about how dancing can make you feel like nothing else, and it always bothers me when people treat them as of less value than songs about love or other things in life, because I consider dancing to be damn essential. And the production is a marvelous thing, one of the best Stuart Price has ever done.

  50. “Glamorous Indie Rock N Roll” should be on this list. Great Hot Fuss b-side

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