Rock

Taking Back Sunday's 'Tell All Your Friends' Turns 15: Every Track Ranked From Worst to Best

Taking Back Sunday at Radio City in New York City.
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Taking Back Sunday at Radio City in New York City. 

If you were even the least bit interested in the emo scene in the early ‘00s, Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends (which turns 15 today) was probably one of your favorite albums and/or your introduction to the genre. Formed in Long Island in 1999, Taking Back Sunday went through a few lineup changes over the years (lead vocalist Antonio Longo was featured on their self-titled debut EP, as well as bassist Jesse Lacey who left to form Brand New), but the group members who made Tell All Your Friends was seemingly the best fit for the band.

For their first studio album, Adam Lazzara, John Nolan, Eddie Reyes, Shaun Cooper and Mark O’Connell came together to make music was bitter, angsty, raucous and raw. It was an album that not only highlighted romance and heartbreak, but the friendship fallout between Nolan and Lacey, after Lacey’s girlfriend cheated on him with Nolan.

Prior to Tell All Your Friends, Taking Back Sunday came out with a five-song demo in 2001 and supported it with a tour. Following their time on the road, they wrote and recorded what would end up on Tell All Your Friends.

They ended up touring with Brand New and Rufio the summer following the release of Tell All Your Friends and continued life on the road with The Used and The Blood Brothers into 2003. Following that tour, Nolan and Cooper left Taking Back Sunday to form indie rock band Straylight Run. It’s often been said that the band’s records suffered with the departure of Nolan (he and Cooper rejoined in 2010). 

Luckily, we’ll always have Tell All Your Friends. For the 15th anniversary of the emo band’s debut, we ranked every track.

11. “Ghost Man On Third”

Of the Tell All Your Friends lineup, “Ghost Man On Third” is one that falls flat. The best part of the song is the extended, gritty guitar solo nearing the end. Perhaps the reason why the earworm is so removed from the record is because it’s centered around Lazzara’s struggles with mental health (dealing with extreme depression from an early age) and substance abuse -- it’s not necessarily supposed to be a likeable cut. 

10. “Head Club”

As one of the deeper cuts on Taking Back Sunday’s debut, “Head Club” on the surface sounds like coming to terms with the end of a romantic relationship, but it was actually referring to Nolan being tired of writing about Brand New’s Lacey (regarding the cheating situation) and they were in a passive-aggressive songwriting war for some time (as emo musicians do). The “Don’t call my name out your window” refrain became something that fans would always sing along to while they performed an acoustic version at shows, which to be honest, sounded way better than this original version, which accounts for the low ranking.

9. “The Blue Channel”

Taking Back Sunday might fool you into thinking this is a harmonic piano ballad for about one second until Lazzara laments, “Well, this is the last night/That you'll be keeping secrets from me.” Surprise, surprise: it’s another ditty about a girlfriend cheating on him, but the way its sung, it almost feels like one big threat. Coming off as a bit monotone -- even for a post-hardcore track -- leaves “The Blue Channel” near the bottom of the album ranking.

8. “The Ballad of Sal Villanueva”

Don’t let the title fool you: Taking Back Sunday doesn’t do ballads. The title of this (bonus) track is a tribute to the album’s producer, Sal Villanueva, and has a very lo-fi, surf rock edge to it. Like many of Taking Back Sunday’s earworms, “The Ballad of Sal Villanueva” is about cheating, and our bets are on that it’s Villanueva’s tale and not Lazzara’s. It’s not as strong (or as produced) as some of the other Taking Back Sunday hits, so it makes sense that this one only came with the vinyl release.

7. “You Know How I Do”

“You Know How I Do” serves as the epic opening to Tell All Your Friends. It sets the tone for the record with its explosive guitar riffs and a focus on the chaos in and around the band. Honestly, a lot of the lyrics are blurred within wails, but “We won’t stand for hazy eyes” becomes the lyric that becomes ingrained in your head because Lazzara sings it so many times over.

6. “Bike Scene”

Of the 11 tracks on Tell All Your Friends, “Bike Scene” is one of the most obvious about the push and pull of a romantic relationship. With a self-pleading chorus of “I wanna hate you so bad/(But I can’t) stop this/Anymore than you can,” Lazzara debates breaking up with a girl, adding in a not so subtle threat that he “could be your best bet, let alone your worst ex.” By the end, there’s an ambivalence that comes through, but the yearning in his vocals make listeners think he’s on the verge of staying (plus it’s extremely anthemic).

5. “Timberwolves at New Jersey”

Perhaps the catchiest bit on the record, “Timberwolves at New Jersey” pays homage to being a musician and playing the New Jersey emo and post-hardcore scene. The band uses this as an opportunity to take shots at former Taking Back Sunday members commenting, “Those words at best/Were worse than teenage poetry.” And of course Taking Back Sunday goes peak emo with gun allusions once again as Lazzara wails, “This is me with the words on the tip of my tongue/And my eye through the scope/Down the barrel of a gun (gun, gun).”

4. “There’s No ‘I’ In Team”

Following “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team),” “There’s No ‘I’ In Team” hits hard with its choppy breakdowns and, again, gun references. Taking Back Sunday seems to slyly make references to Brand New sarcastically singing, “I’ve got a twenty dollar bill,” alluding to Brand New’s Mixtape. This song particularly stems from the feud between Nolan and Lacey, which comes off as a defensive explanation for the former’s actions. Because of the amount of emo shade thrown, it gets a bit of a higher ranking.

3. “Great Romances of The 20th Century”

The title suggests that this tune is grandiose and sonically, it is. The distorted buildup really stems from Lazzara knowing he’s going to be ending a relationship, though he still has issues to talk about before it happens. The whole time his girlfriend knows what’s coming: “She says "come on, come on, let’s just get this over with.” Lazzara’s ability to show he “won’t take this lying down” makes “Great Romances of The 20th Century” dramatic in the best way possible.

2. “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)”

It’s hard not to think about “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)” when you reminisce about Taking Back Sunday. In fact, it basically helped popularize post-hardcore and emo to the public. Lazzara’s screaming, fused with Nolan’s hushed background vocals, make it perfect. The lyrics are actually quite dark, ("My finger on the trigger, or/Me face down across your floor"), referring to threatening suicide after finding out a girlfriend cheated. Regardless of the intense lyrical content, this became one of the hits that made Taking Back Sunday the band it is.

1. “You’re So Last Summer”

Falling somewhere in-between pop, punk and emo, “You’re So Last Summer” became, well, a monumental summer anthem dedicated to flings and their consequences. Chances are you were probably haunted by the line, “If I'm just bad news, then you're a liar,” for years to come if this one was one of your favorites. Plus it flaunted one of the most emo lines in Taking Back Sunday history, revealing that he’d still care about this girl even if she brushed him aside: “The truth is you could slit my throat/And with my one last gasping breath/I'd apologize for bleeding on your shirt.” It will definitely go down in history as one of the best emo songs to ever exist.