Phish for Beginners: A Playlist

For Phish fans, the musical gold shines brightest during the band’s serpentine, long-form arrangements on the concert stage. But the bridge for newcomers to appreciating Phish lies across the quartet’s more melodic, straightforward songs, which are best accessed on its studio albums. Here’s a playlist for new arrivals to Phish world:

“The Connection”:

Phish has never had a pop hit in its nearly four decades as a band, but this 2004 track is packed with ear worms, both sung and whistled.

“Heavy Things”:

A close cousin to “The Connection” with its ingratiating melody.

“Chalkdust Torture”:

The band often goes nuts stretching this one out in concert, but in its original form on the “A Picture of Nectar” album (1992), it’s a rocking indictment of school drudgery.

“Sample in a Jar”:

An insistent build from breezy pop into a brushfire guitar solo.

“Brian and Robert”:

Woozy yet lovely moment from “The Story of the Ghost” (1998).

“Bouncing Around the Room”:

An Afro-pop feel on this gem from the band’s second studio album, “Lawn Boy” (1990).


A dire tale of high-seas mayhem, with a deceptively blissful vocal fade-out.

“You Enjoy Myself”:

At this point in the mix, the listener may be ready for this multi-part composition from the band’s 1989 debut album. It stretches across nine minutes, but every second of it is engaging, right down to the closing acapella harmonizing.


The title track of Phish’s 2000 album pays homage to Trey Anastasio’s barn-cum-studio, where this and many other Phish-related endeavors have been recorded. Bob Marley fans may notice a nicely played reference to one of the late legend’s songs.

“Wading in the Velvet Sea”:

When Phish broke up in 2004 (only to return a few years later), this elegiac song provided the emotional climax of its farewell concert.


Phish will try pretty much anything, including barbershop-quartet harmonizing.


Phish dares to be different, sometimes to a fault, but there’s no denying the strange yet strangely moving juxtaposition of whistling and strings that ushers in this 2000 tune.


Twinkling keyboards suit this dreamy voyage through “tunnels and channels and chasms and rifts.”


Phish’s sense of adventure extends to its choice of covers, which can include songs by everyone from the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa to Prince and Robert Johnson. The quartet’s fondness for Talking Heads is especially deep, highlighted by this slinky take on the “Fear of Music” track.

“Secret Smile”:

Barely-above-a-whisper vocals, plaintive lyrics and a meditative swirl of keyboards and strings.


A gentle wave of intimacy that slowly, movingly crests.


The gentle wave becomes a tsunami in this tune, one of Phish’s best latter-day anthems: “In a world gone mad, there must be something more than this!”

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program ( In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

Stories like this straight to your inbox

Exclusive video and the best music writing in the world, in your inbox every week. Subscribe today.