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Intro

In a Nutshell:

"Passenger Side" is the 10th track on Wilco's debut album A.M., which, like many great debuts, displays songwriting chops and originality, pointing backward to the band's influences rather than forward to the new musical heights they would later reach. The song is very country, due in large part to constant presence of acoustic guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Lyrically, the album owes a lot to traditional country ramblers like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and the many others who embodied the American outlaw, marginalized by society and plagued by booze and tough times. On the surface, "Passenger Side" is a booze-soaked road anthem, but underneath, it's a metaphor for the loss of control over one's destiny, a theme that recalls the plight of the iconic American country outlaw.

About the Song

ArtistWilco Musician(s)Jeff Tweedy (Vocals, Acoustic Guitar), Brian Henneman (Electric Guitar), Ken Coomer (Drums), John Stirratt (Bass Guitar), Max Johnston (Fiddle, Mandolin)
AlbumA.M.
Year1995
LabelSire/Reprise
Writer(s)Jeff Tweedy
Producer(s)Wilco, Brian Paulson
Learn to play: http://www.chordie.com/chord.pere/www.lindesign.se/uwp/guitar/w/wilco/passenger_side.crd
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Remember that scene in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield gets drunk in a bar and then wanders aimlessly around New York City? It happens in Chapter 20. In that episode, Holden is a lot like the narrator in Wilco's "Passenger Side"—drunk and tired, with no real goal or direction, either for that night or for life in general. Both characters try to numb their sorrows with alcohol and end up revealing more about their helplessness than they'd care to admit.

At the end of The Catcher in the Rye, ::spoiler alert:: Holden's future is uncertain: is he going to apply himself in school and invest in his future? It's the same with the narrator at the end of "Passenger Side;" he's got a court date coming up, at which point he'll probably get his driver's license back. But will he be smarter this time around, or will he make the same reckless decisions that got his license revoked in the first place?

Holden, of course, is not the only literary character that deals with alcohol abuse. Take a look at Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, or Jack Torrence from Stephen King's The Shining. Makes you wonder if maybe wasn’t such a terrible idea after all, doesn’t it?

We’re kidding. It was a terrible idea, although it did work wonders for the organized crime sector.

On the Charts

Even though the album title A.M. brings to mind old Top 40 radio stations, neither "Passenger Side" nor any other song from Wilco's debut made it onto the Billboard singles charts. The album as a whole, however, placed at number 27 on Billboard's "Heatseekers" chart and received mixed, but mostly favorable, reviews in the press. Robert Christgau gave the album three stars, and The Village Voice listed it as #34 on the 1995 "Pazz & Jop" critics poll.
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