Taking Back Sunday don’t just write songs; they write confessional anthems for you to scream at the top of your lungs. Over the past two decades, the Long Island band has built a name for themselves by turning emo pop-punk into stories that millions of listeners around the world could relate to.
Technically, Taking Back Sunday formed back in 1999, but they experienced a near-constant change of band members that continued to delay the recording of their first EP. It wasn’t until 2002 that they finally put out their debut album, Tell All Your Friends. By the time they released Where You Want To Be two years later, Taking Back Sunday had earned a significant cult following – so much so that they caught the attention of several major labels eager to bring them onboard. As a group of friends that initially came together to vent through music, it almost seemed unfathomable that within a few years Taking Back Sunday had a major label debut in the shape of 2006’s Louder Now that was unapologetically brash, intense, and emotionally driven. Then again, it never would have happened if they didn’t have such a unique and charismatic approach to the genre in the first place.
Taking Back Sunday have veered towards slicker alt-rock with their 2011 self-titled album, 2014’s Happiness Is, and 2016’s Tidal Wave, but they’ve stayed true to their melodramatic lyrics throughout. That consistency is what’s allowed them to remain one of the most well-known pop-punk acts of the aughts and a band that consistently draws huge crowds to this day.
Below, we walk through some of their best songs, from their early singles to the hits that fans lose their voices singing along to.
The Pop Punk Emo Classics
(Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team), You’re So Last Summer, MakeDamnSure)
Decades after they formed, Taking Back Sunday’s biggest hits remain their unshakeable hybrids of pop punk and emo. With Tell All Your Friends, their debut studio album, the Long Island band positioned themselves as a group of guys who proudly wore their hearts on their sleeves. On the smash hit “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team),” Adam Lazzara and John Nolan flirted with self-harm as a result of heartbreak and leaned into their vocal desperation, letting their voices crack and wane as if their lungs were about to burst. Listeners who didn’t initially pick up a copy of the album were likely introduced to the band through its other breakout single, “You’re So Last Summer,” which boasts a similar confessional message atop melodic punk guitar hooks. Hopelessly romantic lyrics – “The truth is you could slit my throat/And with my one last gasping breath/I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt” – quickly became the unofficial scripture of emo pop-culture, as captured in MySpace pages, AIM profiles, and, years later, countless karaoke sessions in bars.
Even after signing to a major label, Taking Back Sunday stayed true to their sound by once again merging catchy pop-punk riffs with emotional lyrics about relationship troubles. “MakeDamnSure,” the lead single from Louder Now and the most commercially successful song of their career, is a heavy number that explodes with a massive chorus. The stripped-back verses tip-toe like there’s something hiding around the corner, and sure enough, the power chord-driven chorus leaps out each time, fangs drawn, like a beast establishing its power. “MakeDamnSure” dominated the radio and MTV, and it has remained a staple of their live set.
Teenage Melodrama on High
(There’s No ‘I’ In Team, This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know), A Decade Under The Influence, Liar (It Takes One To Know One))
If lyrics are the bread and butter of Taking Back Sunday, then their first three albums were a trio of bakeries where selling out of everything in stock was the norm. Lazzara knew how to walk the line between self-deprecation and angst without raising red flags, and that meant his band’s music became a refuge for teens loitering Hot Topic and dejected undergrads who can’t catch a break. Why keep a journal if there’s a band out there who’s already put your thoughts into song?
Tell All Your Friends cut “There’s No ‘I’ In Team” is the epitome of all friendship feuds. Written by Nolan about Jesse Lacey – his best friend at the time and the lead singer of Brand New, a fellow Long Island-based emo band – after he made a move on a girl they both pined after, the song is equal parts admission of guilt, pithy self-defense, and diss track. “Everything I know about breaking hearts/I learned from you,” sings Nolan, emboldening thousands of teens around the country dealing with bad breakups in the process. The messy realities of leaving a partner were elaborated on their next album, Where You Want To Be, when Lazzara wrote a song of his own about being awkwardly stuck at a concert after ending the relationship with his date. “To hell with you and all your friends,” he sings on “A Decade Under the Influence.” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
As they aged, the tables began to turn. Taking Back Sunday started writing songs about being on the receiving end of bad relationship etiquette, with Lazzara penning “This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know)” from the viewpoint of someone who has been cheated on but has yet to confront their partner about it. “You see, it’s never bad enough/To just leave or give up/But it’s never good enough to feel right,” he sings in a falsetto, his voice cracking under the emotional weight of it all. Taking Back Sunday followed that up on Louder Now with “Liar (Takes One To Know One)”. With unrelenting guitar strums that mirror the panic of realizing you’re caught in a bad relationship, the song is a perfect encapsulation of melodramatic tendencies that eventually come back to bite you.
Blistering Guitar Rock
(What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?, Set Phasers To Stun, Error: Operator, Twenty-Twenty Surgery)
“Set Phasers To Stun,” which opens Where You Want To Be, is a speedy, heady, guitar-forward number that foreshadowed where Taking Back Sunday would go next in their career. By the time they released Louder Now, it was clear that Taking Back Sunday meant business with a new lineup and a laser-focused emphasis on their guitars as the centerpiece of their songs. That album’s opening track, “What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?” is an unrelenting burst of rock where each guitar line sounds like a rubber bullet bouncing from one end of the room to the other. It’s one of the best songs in Taking Back Sunday’s catalog.
That embrace of blistering guitar rock can be heard elsewhere on Louder Now, too. Bassist Matt Rubano got his spotlight moment with “Error: Operator,” a ruthless song that sees him shredding through an intricate bassline while the rest of the band sprints to keep up with him. Elsewhere, on “Twenty-Twenty Surgery,” the group delivers a zig-zagging series of guitar lines that make a technically slower number feel gripping. Even when Lazzara elongates his words in the song, the music beneath him sounds quick and lively.
(Lonely, Lonely; Money (Let It Go); Best Places To Be A Mom; Stood A Chance)
By the time they entered their second decade as a band, Taking Back Sunday distanced themselves from the pop-punk tag in favor of alt-rock. On their fourth studio full-length, New Again, that meant veering into Foo Fighters territory with chunky power chords and fuzz-filtered bass on “Lonely, Lonely.” Come 2014, they tried on a sunnier disposition with Happiness Is. Album cut “Stood A Chance” sees Lazzara exploring a poppier vocal delivery while the rest of the band toys around in major keys.
The sweet spot between these two offshoot styles can be heard on their 2011 self-titled album. With adulthood lessons tucked into their back pockets and a firm understanding of the tricks of the alt-rock trade, Taking Back Sunday use songs like “Money (Let It Go)” to polish off catchy refrains and layered guitar parts. Later, on the similarly addictive “Best Place To Be A Mom,” Lazzara sings about the stress of falling into familial traditions and bad habits. It’s the type of welcome maturation that suits Taking Back Sunday in the modern day, yet still scratches the itch that fans fell in love with over 20 years ago.
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