Kings of Leon started out as preacher's sons forbidden to listen to anything but church music and turned into the new gods of dirty Southern rock & roll. Austin Scaggs traveled around the world with the band of brothers for Rolling Stone's new cover story, on newsstands now. Here's a guide to the hard-rocking, hard-living Followills' best tracks .
The dirty, flirty riff-chugging mess of a debut single that got the Followill boys dubbed the "Southern Strokes" (ugh). They had it, we wanted it. Fire up the General Lee.
Their 2003 debut Youth and Young Manhood's bounciest tune. Caleb babbles about dancing around in your high heels and cherry lipstick and Lord knows what else as he conjures the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis' heathen boogie and the Velvet Underground's depraved punk rock. Great gutbucket guitar solo too.
A heartwarming codeine-mouthed tale of hick-boy hookers hanging around the Greyhound Station going down on whoever's got a bump of coke and a smoke — not exactly Newt Gingrich's vision of life in the New South. The Exile On Main Street guitars and slow-burning swagger make it menacing. Caleb's empathetic singing makes it kinda tender.
On the band's 2005 Aha Shake Heartbreak, Caleb's singing matured (or regressed, depends on your perspective) into an unintelligible moonshine 'n' madness grumble that sounded like he got up every morning and poured axel grease on his pancakes. This rumbling ramble tamble jam is an excellent case in point.
"King of the Rodeo"
Aha Shake Heartbreak's ode to a "cowgirl king of the rodeo" is one of their punchiest blurts of Dixie new wave — it's wound tighter than a goose's ass and it flips and twists like a possum in the bathtub. A masterstroke of Southern Strokesness.
The band's great 2007 record Because of the Times opened with the story of Seth Rogen and Kathryn Heigl as seen through the eyes off two small-town fuck-ups on a cannonball run away from the scolding parents and judging world that's trying to tear them apart. It's seven minutes long, the guitars explode like backfiring V8 engines and when Caleb sings "I don't care what no one says we're gonna have a bay-bee" he's a perfect mix of righteous outlaw and proud pappy.
Pixies-style bass wonder-thud makes nooky with saturation strike guitar and Caleb screeches like he's getting goosed by the Beast Master himself. When he sings "she's always looking at me" about the West Virginia lass who's crushed his soul he sounds borderline psychotic and borderline awesome too.
Atmospheric guitar churn, wham-bam drum thump and Caleb yowling with all the sweetness a real man can stomach about how he's "on call" for your affection like some hillbilly love doctor.
"Sex On Fire"
The single from last year's Only by the Night is a lithe, liquid shot of Southern grunge ecstasy. Note: the phrase "hey, your sex is on fire" probably works for these dudes but don't try it at next time your closing the deal on some booze-loosened accounts manager at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Only By the Night pumps their sound into stadium rock. This sticky-grooved rocker suggests Pearl Jam as apocalyptic fire-breathers, raining holy wrath down on the "crucified USA."