Note: This is part one of a seven part series. For the introductory post see Phish Jersey Numbers - Introduction
Obviously many songs in Phish's catalog have been played the same number of times. This series of blog posts will try to take a look at those songs that were played the same number of times and try to determine which of those is the "best" song to have that number. A quick note on the "best" designation: Like all subjective things, best will really depend on the person doing the picking. My definition for best will be a little bit of favoritism, personal reflection, what I believe to be popular opinion, and most Phishy of the songs being compared. Covers will be considered on equal ground as originals. In reality, it's a crapshoot.
Times Played: 339
Songs Under Consideration: Foam, Squirming Coil
And right out the gate, this will probably be one of the hardest and most fun choices. Both songs have been obviously in the catalog for well over 20 years with Foam debuting on 10/29/88 and Coil on 1/20/90. Foam has stayed relatively constant over the years in terms of length but it's one of the quintessential Phish songs: weird lyrics, highly composed, intricate playing. But I think I'm going to pick Coil. For one, those versions from 1994 and 1995 just continued to grow and grow which is awfully nice. Two, I've never seen Coil live in the shows I've attended so that elevates it a bit in my case. Three, Page's outros are some of Phish's prettiest work and when it ends a first set, there's not much better. And last, I'm a sucker for songs that are major label debut CD openers. The songs that new people that are getting into a band hear first.
Winner: Squirming Coil
Times Played: 297
Songs Under Consideration: Llama, Split Open and Melt
Fun fact about Llama, it's a bit of a rarity now. In 3.0, Llama has only been played at 7 shows. Seven! I've been trying to slowly make my way listening to all Phish concerts and back in 92/93 it was played so much and was such a rocking tune every single time. I also spent many hours trying to five star the song in rock band on expert (and not getting anywhere close.) But really it had no shot going against Split Open and Melt. Melt is one of the great improvisational songs in the catalog. It crushes Llama with relative impunity.
Winner: Split Open and Melt
Times played: 243
Songs Under Consideration: Fluffhead, I Didn't Know
Fluffhead, also known as the song that Phish refused to play in 2.0 much to the chagrin of most of the entire fanbase, is another one of the Phish staples. Crazy lyrics tell the story of a man with hair of fluff that he glued to his head. Pretty simple stuff really. Not a huge jam vehicle due to the composed style of the song, there is still nothing quite as cathartic as when the Arrival section starts post the dissonance of Bundle of Joy. I Didn't Know, on the other hand, is a Fishman-lite tune written by Nancy Wright (for Phish) with lyrics just as ridiculous as Fluffhead (and Nancy's other song for Phish, Halley's Comet). IDK is a pretty standard song without much change (other than the vacuum or trombone solo) but the 4-17-92 version is stellar and worth a listen.
Times played: 206
Songs Under Consideration: Slave to the Traffic Light, Landlady
The story on Landlady is a bit unusual. It was pulled out of Punch You in the Eye originally, recorded for A Picture of a Nectar, played 206 (!) times in five years, was played concurrently with PYITE for about 2 of those years, and then disappeared completely. And Trey and Mike get to do a good dance during the song which thankfully remains to this day. Slave is, in my opinion, among the five best Phish song and Trey's soloing is some of his best work. The version on A Live One is perfect. Again, this one isn't even close.
Winner: Slave to the Traffic Light
Times played: 166
Songs Under Consideration: Character Zero, The Sloth
The Sloth is a Gamehendge song so that gives it a lot of weight. And it is probably one of the best songs to sing along to (THEY CALL ME THE SLOTH!). But it's probably my least favorite Gamehendge song which is a bit like picking your least favorite child, it's still good and you're happy it's in your life. But it's no Lizards. Conversely, Character Zero, is not one of my favorites by any stretch. It's a good rock closer but there are many other songs that fit in that role that I'd rather hear. The Gorge version from 2013 is pretty awesome though. But if I'm picking, I'm going with history and Gamehendge.
Winner: The Sloth
Times played: 123
Songs Under Consideration: Limb By Limb, NICU
Limb by Limb has some of the best lyrics in any Phish song in my opinion. Very nice imagery and very clever wordplay. And that jam. The band doesn't always take it out for a spin every time but when they do, it's a world beater. The SPAC 04 version is killer and it was part of the first set of Phish I saw live at IT. NICU is another song that doesn't really get jammed (although that would be awesome) and is played relatively the same way most nights. But the fun in NICU is listening to the song as it was originally debuted. Played 12 times in 1992 and then shelved for almost 250 shows, the song as originally constructed is very different. And definitely worth a listen. But Limb By Limb has it beat out by a nose due to those jams.
Winner: Limb by Limb
Times played: 122
Songs Under Consideration: Colonel Forbin's Ascent, Fly Famous Mockingbird, Taste
Three songs! But obviously there's a pairing here. And as these are Phish.net stats, Taste that Surrounds and Fog that Surrounds aren't included. So this is Taste without the fun Fishman vocals. Taste is a fun song and one that I think is a bit underrated. Some of those versions from 97 and 03 are truly wondrous versions and they get lost in the shuffle of other highlights from those years. But it's not really fair to put it up against Forbin's and Mockingbird. And how to decouple those songs? Mockingbird has the great Trey soloing and is just a beautiful song that can sometimes really soar (bird pun!) but Forbin's has the actual meat of the Gamehendge vocals. And the term shit-ass. If I'm picking, it's close but I'll go with Forbin's. I think that if I was ever to catch this Live, that's the part I'd be more amped to see. But it's very very close.
More 10 song chunks to follow. Summary so far: