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Best Flaming Lips Songs: 20 Greats From The Fearless Freaks
Photo credit: Blake Studdard/Atria Creative
List & Guides

Best Flaming Lips Songs: 20 Greats From The Fearless Freaks

Unafraid of big questions, the best Flaming Lips songs traverse psychedelic noise-rock, high-concept electro-pop and rationalist hymns.

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Since they formed in Oklahoma, in 1983, The Flaming Lips have consistently defied expectations. From punk-rock beginnings to shimmering psych vistas via existential dread and all manner of experiments, Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd’s band have entertained and enlightened audiences worldwide. Revealing just how they’ve managed to do that, here are the best Flaming Lips songs.

Listen to the best of The Flaming Lips here, and check out our best Flaming Lips songs, below.

20: Five Stop Mother Superior Rain (from ‘In A Priest Driven Ambulance’, 1990)

The Flaming Lips’ fourth album, In A Priest Driven Ambulance was a huge step forward for the band – the point where their noisy past collided with a new focus on songwriting. It was also the first Lips album to feature Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue as part of the line-up, and their inaugural outing with producer Dave Fridmann, who’d go on to helm their best-loved work. One of the best Flaming Lips songs from a transitional period, Five Stop Mother Superior Rain starts as a lo-fi country tune before sheets of distorted guitar blast it skyward. Lyrically, it’s typical of frontman Wayne Coyne’s fascination with religion at the time. The singer explained to Record Collector magazine in 2020 that he approached the subject matter with caution: “We questioned all that stuff: is this stupid or are people gonna think we’re a Christian band? And we weren’t Christian at all, but we thought it was silly how satanic bands were.”

19: Try To Explain (from ‘The Terror’, 2013)

The Terror is an anomaly in The Flaming Lips’ catalogue; where they usually channel despair into joyful, cathartic pop music, on this album they let the darkness in. Wayne Coyne looked back on the album in a 2013 interview with Consequence: “We set out trying to do a series of songs that had a feeling: this bleak, religious, detached, heavy thing,” he said. “We spent a week in the studio at my house, and we felt free to make songs sprawling again. We wanted that; we hadn’t quite made a record that was so noisy and sinister, but had a lot of soul and heart to it and death. I don’t think we had quite been able to do that before.” Try To Explain sums the album up: it’s a crushing and beautiful look at the end of a long-term relationship, buried beneath layers of whirring noise and creaking synths.

18: Silver Trembling Hands (from ‘Embryonic’, 2009)

The band’s first official double album, Embryonic saw the Lips stretch out and embrace their psychedelic past with feverish and unsettling jams while Coyne’s lyrics adopted a fatalistic tone far removed from the positivity and communion of the albums that preceded it. One of the best Flaming Lips songs from a particularly fertile period, Silver Trembling Hands recalls the driving crystalline chug of 60s electronic pioneers Silver Apples, over which Coyne appears to be describing a woman performing a pagan ritual (“She puts diamonds on her forehead/They remind her how the animals and trees and insects call”).

17: In The Morning Of The Magicians (from ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’, 2002)

This Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots track was given a title that nodded to a 1960 book by French journalists Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier which mischievously looked to challenge viewpoints on historic events. It’s a fitting name for the song – the longest on the album – which finds the narrator waking up and pondering the biggest of big questions. Musically, In The Morning Of The Magicians veers between passages of symphonic prog glory and robotic funk – the Yoshimi album in a nutshell.

16: The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (from ‘At War With The Mystics’, 2006)

With The Flaming Lips at their most successful post-Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, they changed tack for At War With The Mystics, an album that found the group taking an overtly political stance for the first time. Coyne later told Consequence, “We sort of liked the idea that we would be these freaks making absolutely radical protest music.” The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is a case in point: a lyric that ponders the moral redundancy of abuses of power could sound overly earnest if backed with a strummed acoustic guitar. Here it’s set to Day-Glo, naggingly infectious future-pop, and is all the better for it.

15: The Castle (from ‘Oczy Mlody’, 2017)

A highlight of 2017’s Oczy Mlody, The Castle is a true example of how the best Flaming Lips songs can emerge from real-life tragedies, yet the listener can be none the wiser. Ostensibly a blissed-out ballad coloured with burbling synths, the song’s lyrical inspiration was far darker, as Coyne explained to The Future Heart: “I was singing and writing about this sad sad situation (a friend of ours had committed suicide) and felt like I was doing what a songwriter should do.. be real and let it flow.. Ha.. But the next day when I listened to it.. I thought it was really boring and approached the song as being about the person (who had killed themselves) instead of it (the song) being about me.” Going on explain that The Castle “really came to life” once he sang the opening lines (“Her eyes were butterflies/Her smile was a rainbow”), Coyne concluded that it was the “power” of the sadness he felt which “allowed me to sing these utterly silly romantic lyrics as a way of masking something horrible and brutal”.

14: Turn It On (from ‘Transmissions From The Satellite Heart’, 1993)

Transmissions From The Satellite Heart was the first Flaming Lips album to feature guitarist Ronald Jones. Coyne later told Consequence that the change in line-up heralded a new era for the band. “The group that started off with the Transmissions From the Satellite Heart album really opened us all up where anything felt possible,” he enthused. “Steven [Drozd, drummer/multi-instrumentalist] and Ronald, as such, were master musicians compared to what we were doing previous to that… We started to do the stuff that we were only previously able to dream about.” The first single taken from the album, Turn It On, emphasised a new clarity of purpose and musicality, with a catchy melody made for radio play.

13: My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (from ‘At War With The Mystics’, 2006)

Another At War With The Mystics song that grapples with unnamed negative forces, My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion finds Coyne railing against a pessimistic worldview (“So don’t you believe them/They’ll destroy you with their lies/They only see the obvious/They see the sun go down but they don’t see it rise”) against a grandiose backdrop of synth washes and fuzz guitar. Musically epic and huge of heart, it’s an example of how the best Flaming Lips songs are perfectly suited to the communal ecstasy of the group’s live shows.

12: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt.1 (from ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’, 2002)

There surely isn’t another band that could have a UK Top 20 single with a song that is essentially a pep talk for a Japanese superhero about to engage in combat with some brightly coloured evil robots. The titular hero was named after a musical friend, as Coyne told Consequence: “Stumbling upon this Yoshimi character happened because the woman we recorded with – her name is actually Yoshimi. She is in this band called Boredoms, this Japanese art band, and we played with them in 1994 at Lollapalooza.” The new album fell into place once the song was written, as Coyne revealed to Uncut: “It wasn’t until we wrote Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots that we knew what the LP was about. In Flaming Lip-ian world, of course, the robots would be pink – and then kill themselves for love.”

11: Mother Please Don’t Be Sad (from ‘American Head’, 2020)

A standout track from 2020’s excellent American Head, Mother Please Don’t Be Sad tells the story of when Wayne Coyne was held up at gunpoint while working in a Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant as a youth, and imagines what may have happened had the thieves actually shot him that day. It’s a mournful, piano-led ballad festooned with sawing strings and a horn arrangement indebted to The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows. Despite the tragedy of the imagined situation, Coyne finds hope, singing, “There’s so much you still have/Remember all the others/That are still alive/Their love will help you/And so would I.”

10: Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now) (from ‘Zaireeka’, 1997)

The Flaming Lips’ eighth album was among the most radical ever conceived by a major-label band. Zaireeka was spread over four CDs that were to be played simultaneously – effectively making every listening experience individual, immersive and fairly impractical. Listeners who were able to pool the hardware necessary to hear the album in all its glory were confronted not with the awkward art experiment you might expect, but with some of the most ambitious and visionary music among the best Flaming Lips songs to date. Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now) was among the songs specifically composed for the album’s multi-disc format – a thing of symphonic wonder that pointed to the band’s future.

9: A Spoonful Weighs A Ton (from ‘The Soft Bulletin’, 1999)

Another landmark album for The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin saw the group reach new heights of sonic grandeur while forging an emotional connection with listeners worldwide. It also gave them an unprecedented level of success – quite unexpectedly, as Coyne admitted to Consequence: “We truly thought, and I say this all the time because it’s absolutely true, we really thought this was going to be our last record.” That notion helped the band go for broke, much like the scientists we hear about on A Spoonful Weighs A Ton, who are striving to save humanity from destruction. The song sounds suitably colossal, with Coyne ensconced in celestial harps before brilliantly heavy riffs evoke the seismic events described in his lyrics. Those of a metal persuasion should seek out the cover by heavy-metal mavericks Mastodon.

8: She Don’t Use Jelly (from ‘Transmissions From The Satellite Heart’, 1993)

Making its way into the best Flaming Lips songs by virtue of being the band’s breakthrough hit, She Don’t Use Jelly is an infectious, nursery-rhyme-like grunge-rocker that pays tribute to a host of oddballs, including a girl who puts Vaseline on her toast, another who dyes her hair with tangerines, and a guy who blows his nose on magazines. Coyne described to Record Collector the unusual effect the song had on audiences: “When we came up with She Don’t Use Jelly, it was already deemed a hit single. We would be opening for groups and even if the audience hated us, we played that song and, for four minutes, they would forget that they hated us. Then Beavis And Butthead – at the time, if you got played on Beavis And Butthead it was just another marker of, like, ‘This is great and untouchable and popular.’ And then we did this little appearance on Beverly Hills 90210. It opened up another world for us. It was a little bit like Year Zero, start again.”

7: The Spark That Bled (from ‘The Soft Bulletin’, 1999)

Another stunner from The Soft Bulletin, The Spark That Bled was a triumphant ode to creativity itself. It begins with languid guitars that recalled Fleetwood Mac’s classic Albatross, before an interlude of chunky guitars and slinky strings ushers in Coyne’s big moment: “I stood up and I said, ‘Yeah,’” he sings, sounding incredulous. His eureka moment causes a chain reaction of positivity – much like crowds responding to the best Flaming Lips songs in concert – but there is sadness at this track’s close, as Coyne realises the idea has faded. The Spark That Bled inspired a pivotal moment in the Lips’ stage shows, during which Coyne would serenade the audience with fake blood dripping from his head.

6: Fight Test (from ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’, 2002)

One of the most poignant moments on Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots comes with Fight Test, a strumalong acoustic number embellished with heavily treated, stomping drums and synth gurgles. Wayne Coyne explained the lyrics in the album’s sleevenotes: “The subject of the song is the singer’s regret about taking the attitude of ‘not fighting’ to an extreme – and by the end of the song realizes he’s made a mistake and sometimes a person has no choice – as unpleasant as it may be… To surrender to every conflict without a challenge, he finds, is worse than getting beat up.”

5: The Abandoned Hospital Ship (from ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’, 1995)

The opening track on Clouds Taste Metallic served notice of the new ambition in the band following the success of She Don’t Use Jelly. It starts with Coyne backed by piano and feedback squalls, his heartrending delivery lulling the listener into a false sense of security before the song erupts into a wild psych-rock jam complete with chiming bells. The Abandoned Hospital Ship hits a sweet spot for the best Flaming Lips songs of the mid-90s, catching the band hovering between their noise-worshipping past and the astral sailors they’d become.

4: Waitin’ For A Superman (from ‘The Soft Bulletin’, 1999)

When writing The Soft Bulletin, Coyne opted for a new emotional directness in his lyrics, and Waitin’ For A Superman was one of the finest examples: a modern hymn of reassurance that tugged at the heartstrings while providing a balm for audiences. Talking to Yahoo!, Coyne said, “Waitin’ For A Superman is a devastatingly sad, powerful song and that’s the very reason why we didn’t think anybody would care. I mean who really is cool enough to want to listen to a song like that?” Yet Coyne felt he “didn’t really have a choice” other than committing to this new path. “These were the songs that we were doing and this is what we wanted to do,” he continued. “My father was dying of cancer and my older brother and I would do these runs around the lake and we would talk while we exercised and rode bicycles and stuff. I was very despondent and scared… I asked him, ‘Is it getting heavy?’ and his response was, ‘I thought it was already’… That’s what I think is in those songs, it’s you being scared but you accidentally being brave, you not thinking you can handle it and you kind of on one level handling at the same time.”

3: Feeling Yourself Disintegrate (from ‘The Soft Bulletin’, 1999)

Another emotionally raw masterpiece from The Soft Bulletin, Feeling Yourself Disintegrate finds Coyne confronting mortality head-on. The pure beauty of the music – a spectral soundscape conjured by Steven Drozd – is what allows him to be so honest and vulnerable, as he told Pancakes And Whiskey: “Sometimes people talk about our song, Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, and I don’t really like talking about the lyrics without the music. Because the music is giving you so much. The music loves you so much that you’re able to confront these sometimes brutal, really painful things, because the music is like this great, warm, loving, mother blanket around you saying ‘It’s alright,’ you know?… I only sing those within the song. I don’t really say them in life, because I feel like they are kind of too brutal. It’s almost too brutal to believe. But music just does that. Music can open up parts of your mind that you don’t quite understand. To the worst unimaginable things, music says, ‘I understand. We’ll get through it,’ and it’s just magic.”

2: Do You Realize?? (From ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’, 2002)

In Do You Realize??, The Flaming Lips created a rationalist hymn, an awestruck reminder that “We’re floating in space” and that “Everyone you know someday will die”. As with so many of the best Flaming Lips songs, the lyrics were delivered to music so joyful and magnificent that the net result was something utterly transcendent. The song’s impact on people is not lost on Coyne, who told Uncut, “I can say that I created that song, but I wouldn’t have thought it had this otherworldliness. I run into people every time we play who’ve used it at funerals, weddings or when their kids are born. A kid came up to me in a restaurant, and he said, ‘How long did it take you to make Yoshimi?’ I said, ‘It took my whole life.’ Everything I’ve ever thought, in the end got put into this.”

1: Race For The Prize (from ‘The Soft Bulletin’, 1999)

A distillation of everything that makes The Flaming Lips great, Race For The Prize tells the story of two competing scientists searching for the cure for a disease. The competition has pushed them to their limits, they are physically ailing and frazzled, but with the song’s chorus Coyne adds an empathetic, human element to proceedings: “Theirs is to win/If it kills them/They’re just humans/With wives and children.” The soaring string line, Steven Drozd’s John Bonham-proportioned drumming and Coyne’s fragile vocal combined to create an uplifting and bittersweet classic that stands the test of time. Taking home the trophy among the best Flaming Lips songs, Race For The Prize signalled the dawning of a new age for the band, and it remains a staple of their spectacular live sets.

Find out where ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ ranks among our best 2000s albums.

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