20 of Ani DiFranco's Best Songs

The Essential Tunes You Need to Listen To

Ani Difranco Performs At The London Palladium
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Ani DiFranco has recorded hundreds of songs over the course of her career which has spanned over two decades. Her list includes love songs and silly songs, dance songs and protest songs, and even one surprisingly good rap song. Needless to say, getting to know them all can be a daunting task.

Let's take a look at her most notable and memorable work. Consider these for your 'Essential Ani Playlist."

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"Your Next Bold Move"

Ani Defranco at BottleRock Napa Valley 2017 - Day 2
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It's almost hard to believe that this song was written during the Clinton administration, considering everything that followed 9/11. It is a political song, this is for sure, and it provides evidence of DiFranco's progressive stance.

The lyrics -- about feeling so overwhelmed you almost give up on the possibility of peace and hope -- became more timely in the years after this song was released than DiFranco herself could have possibly predicted. The song from the 2001 album "Reveling/Reckoning" has remained a political anthem for her fans and is sure to be for years to come.

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"Buildings and Bridges"

"Buildings and Bridges" (from 1994's ​"Out of Range") is a song about pretty much everything. It is a sweeping observational tune about the way things are.

The main thrust of the song is that those who can't adapt and change with the world will find themselves left behind when the world changes without them.​

Buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind / to withstand the world, that's what it takes / all that steel and stone are no match for the air, my friend / what doesn't bend, breaks

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"Trickle Down"

Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Ani DiFranco has written a number of tributes to her hometown. "Trickle Down," from "Up Up Up Up Up Up," is a comprehensive, earnest, poem-song about the history of the rust belt town.

Set to a haunting tremolo-effected guitar strum, with DiFranco's voice coming across distant and hushed like a sad secret, it's a tremendously well-rounded ode on Buffalo's working class legacy.

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"Fire Door"

Even though it was never quite radio friendly, "Fire Door" could be considered one of Ani DiFranco's first hit songs from her debut self-titled disc. It's an unrequited tune about self-preservation in the face of a relationship gone awry.​

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"To the Teeth"

Ani DiFranco has long been an advocate of gun control and this is undeniably her finest song on the matter.

Inspired by a rash of school violence and the questions it raised in the media about who's at fault when children lash out, this title track to her album "To the Teeth" spares no explanation and pulls no punches. It's one of the boldest topical songs of her entire career.

Open fire on Hollywood / open fire on MTV / open fire on NBC and CBS and ABC / open fire on the NRA and all the lies they've told us along the way / open fire on each weapons manufacturer while he's giving head to some Republican senator

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"Subdivision" is, in part, another song about DiFranco's hometown of Buffalo, New York. But, it's also an editorial on institutionalized racism and the perils of gentrification.

She likens the ways Buffalo has dealt with these issues with the way they have affected the rest of the nation, asking:

What will it take for my country to rise / first we admit our mistakes, then we open our eyes / or nature succumbs to one last dumb decision / and America the Beautiful is just one big subdivision

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"God's Country"

With all the hours (or rather, years) Ani DiFranco has clocked on the road, it's kind of surprising she doesn't have far more road trip songs. "God's Country," from her 1993 release ​"Puddle Dive," is the one with the most staying power. Even though it's over two decades old, she's been known to pull this one out at more recent shows.​

I guess I came out here to see some stuff for myself / why leave the telling up to everybody else? / This may be God's country, but this is my country too

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Through the years, Ani DiFranco has gotten much better at tackling anthemic topics in anthemic songs. "Animal," from her 2004 release "Educated Guess," is quite possibly her best all-purpose anthem.

Though it keeps a tight focus on environmental issues, the song touches on patriotism, religion, empiricism, and the urgent need for empathy and community in an ever-changing world.​

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"Hello Birmingham"

This song from her 1999 release "To the Teeth" tells the story of the murdering of an OBGYN in Ani DiFranco's hometown of Buffalo. She likens the event to a rash of abortion clinic bombings in Birmingham, Alabama.

It's a compelling, incredibly sad tale about the clash between the "Right to Life" movement and the pro-choice movement.

I was once escorted through the doors of a clinic by a man in a bullet-proof vest / and no bombs went off that day / so I am still here to say Birmingham, I'm wishing you all my best / on this election day

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"32 Flavors"

This has long been one of Ani DiFranco's most popular songs among her fans. From her 1995 release ​"Not a Pretty Girl," this song tackles the tough road to self-empowerment, finding honesty, strength, and purpose in one's own life story.

It's an excellent song about surmounting marginalization and prejudice and defying the standards of beauty. The melody is smooth and easy, and there's an excellent sputtering, syncopated hand drum solo at the end.​​

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DiFranco has written a number of songs that dissect her own life story and how she came to be so passionate about activism and self-expression. This, however, is possibly her best composition on that theme, from 2005's​ "Knuckle Down."

The lyrics talk about the power of community involvement and the lessons we learn from each other. It also describes the way each person comes to understand their own ability to change the world.​

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This song from "Up Up Up Up Up Up" showcases some of the finest synergy from the Ani DiFranco band.

The bass line (played here by Jason Mercer) plays in the opposite direction of DiFranco's ascending guitar line to create optimum tension. The keyboard lends itself more to the rhythm section and the lyrics and melody work together to build the song to its ultimate release at the end.

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"In or Out"

Not many songs have been written about the socio-political implications of bisexuality and this was especially true in the early 90s. DiFranco penned this classic fairly early in her career, on the 1992 "Imperfectly" album, and it quickly became a fan favorite.

Guess there's something wrong with me / guess I don't fit in / no one wants to touch it / no one knows where to begin

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"Landing Gear"

Leave it to Ani DiFranco to capture some of the joys of a long labor in a song that speaks to feminism and all the trappings of one's coming of age.

"Landing Gear," from 2008's ​"Red Letter Year," is a lullaby of sorts. It encourages baby to go ahead and get born already, promising her all the love a mother can offer.​

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"Coming Up"

"Coming Up" is a poem, not a song. However, it's definitely one of the best bits of creative expression DiFranco has recorded through the years. While it was a confusing and distracting moment on her album "Imperfectly," she resurrected the poem for the tail end of her "Not a Pretty Girl" album in 1995.

Our father who art in a penthouse sits in his thirty-seventh floor suite and swivels to gaze down on the city he made me in / He allows me to stand and solicit graffiti until he needs the land I stand on

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As far as unrequited love songs are concerned, "Providence" is a pretty stellar hidden number. It's not one of her most discussed and lauded tunes. Instead, it's a gem tucked away toward the end of "To the Teeth," which is undeniably one of DiFranco's finest in-full albums.

Besides, it features Prince on backing vocals, which is a hard feature to pass up.

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"Emancipated Minor"

As Ani DiFranco's autobiographical story-songs go, "Emancipated Minor" is one of the most objective, endearing, and thorough of the bunch.

From 2008's "Red Letter Year," this tune is a rhythmically interesting (if not melodically so) and creatively worded tribute to her younger self. It's like a letter she'd send herself if she could have gone back through time. As such, it serves as an assessment of how far she's come.

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"Going Once"

Along with "Emancipated Minor," "Going Once" is one of DiFranco's best songs about her coming of age on the road as a folk singer. It is found on 1999's ​"To the Teeth."

She portrays a lifestyle in which she finds herself up against a world of expectations and possibilities. All the while, she's trying to keep an eye on an ideology that places artistic integrity above profit and fame. ​

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Sad songs don't get much sadder than "Grey" (on 2001's "Reveling/Reckoning") except perhaps "Welcome To:" Not only are the lyrics so sad they're almost completely resigned to the sadness, but the instrumentation sounds much like the grey, dreary beach scene which opens the song:

The sky is grey, the sand is grey, the ocean is grey / I feel right at home in this stunning monochrome, alone in my way / I smoke and I drink and everytime I blink I have a tiny dream / as bad as I am, I'm proud of the fact that I'm worse than I seem

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"Welcome To:"

Ani DiFranco has written her fair share of breakup and heartache songs, and "Welcome To:" is one of her best.

Included on her 2003 release "Evolve," this is one of the few songs that capture the ultimate sadness of being alone and heartbroken. She describes slogging through the first days, weeks, holidays, etc., without someone with whom you thought for so long you'd spend the rest of your life.​