Essentials: The Top 10 Jason Molina songs

If you’re already a fan of Jason Molina, you can stop rolling your eyes now. You’re right… how can anyone try to pick a ‘top 10’ from the man who carved out an almost invisible career as a lo-fi specialist in creating ethereal songs of aching sadness and uncertainty? Are some of his songs objectively better than others? Probably. But that hardly matters. For those who choose to listen to Molina’s extensive back catalogue—already made more complicated by him changing the name he performed and recorded under at various stages of his career—you can find, on any given day, something different: be it a stark beauty; a raw, careworn melancholy; or something else deeply affecting in almost any of his songs. Some of these tracks listed below will still be my favourites tomorrow, some will certainly be replaced by others. It will be astonishing if anyone else agrees with me. So, these are just my essentials, my top 10 for today, or at least for right now.

Jason Molina was born and raised in rural Ohia and died in 2013, aged 39, from health complications following many years battling alcoholism. He’d released sixteen albums and numerous EPs and singles, firstly under the name Songs: Ohia, and then with his rockier, Neil Young-inspired band, Magnolia Electric Company, as well as a number of releases under his own name.

Like far too many people, I arrived late in my appreciation of Molina’s work. It was my son who introduced him to me. He knew I had a longstanding love of Neil Young’s ditch-period offerings and correctly identified that I’d see the connection to Molina’s songs. As with many listeners, the first album I heard was his most commercially successful, ‘Magnolia Electric Company’. That album led me headlong into Molina’s other work and then further into the wider landscape of indie-Americana, but it’s that album, Magnolia Electric Co. that remains dominant in this very personal and idiosyncratic list.

Number 10:Just Be Simple’ – ‘Magnolia Electric Co’. – Songs: Ohia

It would be very easy to fill this list exclusively with tracks from ‘Magnolia Electric Co’. It’s a fabulous album from start to finish.

Number 9:Blue Factory Flame’ – ‘Didn’t It Rain‘ – Songs: Ohia

Eight and a half minutes of trademark visceral darkness.

“When I die
Put my bones in an empty street
To remind me how it used to be.” 

Number 8: The Lioness – ‘The Lioness’ – Songs: Ohia

I was surprised and intrigued when I found out Molina had recorded this album in Scotland. It made a bit more sense when I found out he’d recorded it at Chem19 Studio in Glasgow, Scotland, with his Glaswegian friends Aidan Moffat and David Gow of Arab Strap, and Alasdair Roberts of Appendix Out. In it’s own somber way, it’s as romantic as any album made in the West Coast of Glasgow, but still gloomier than a dreich day in darkest Govan.

Number 7: ‘Hammer Down‘ – ‘Sojourner’ – Magnolia Electric Co.

A fine track from a sprawling, flawed but still magnificent boxset.

Number 6: ‘I’ve Been Riding With the Ghost’ – ‘Magnolia Electric Co’. – Songs: Ohia

Another excellent song, and also the title of Erin Osmon’s deeply researched and excellent biography of Molina. Highly recommended.

Number 5: ‘The Black Crow’‘The Lioness’ – Songs: Ohia

An example of Molina’s special talent for letting the empty space in songs – that void between the different notes and the words – do the heavy lifting.

Number 4: ‘Didn’t It Rain’‘Didn’t It Rain’ – Songs: Ohia

“No matter how dark the storm gets overhead,
They say someone’s watching from the calm at the edge.”

This whole album is also superb, one of his best, and deeply rooted in Molina’s bleak personal landscape of Middle America. Some lovely understated mandolin playing and suitably restrained backing vocals are just some of the background highlights in this track.

Number 3:Farewell Transmission’‘Magnolia Electric Co’. – Songs: Ohia

You always have a soft spot for the track that opens up your favourite album, no? And what an opening track to a stunning album. It rolls and rocks along, tensing up and easing off throughout.

“Mama here comes midnight with the dead moon in its jaws
Must be the big star about to fall”

The real truth about it is.

Number 2: ‘Dark Don’t Hide It’ ‘Trials and Errors’ – Magnolia Electric Co.

Arguably one of Molina’s most accessible songs, adorned with some stellar pedal steel and packed with lyrical heft. Line after line of insight and heartbreak.

Number 1:John Henry Broke my Heart’‘Magnolia Electric Co’. – Songs: Ohia

The first two minutes of this song made me a fan for life. The song contains everything I love about music. Immense.

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keith hargreaves

Wonderful article
by coincidence this week’s sounds from beyond the shed article is also about this huge talent


There is such deep poignancy in listening to Molina’s music, as if his mental and musical path was the harbinger of his untimely death. Remember seeing him at EOTR festival a couple of years before that tragedy. A performance that was beautiful, fragile and teetering, like a teardrop waiting to fall. So much missed.