Amy Fleisher Madden’s Negatives: A Photographic Archive of Emo is a stunning photo book featuring over 80 emo bands.
Alternative Press wrote of the book:
“Amy Fleisher Madden has made the ultimate emo book.”
So here’s the thing, I know what I am. I have always known. I am, for lack of a better term, an emo kid. I started as a punk kid, dabbled in being a hardcore kid for a moment, but finally found my footing as a full-fledged emo kid by the time I was eighteen.
After spending the last three years writing about emo and searching the entire globe for drop-dead gorgeous photos documenting emo and all of its vast spoils, here I am, promoting “the emo book” that I wrote. It’s called Negatives.
When asked by the wonderfully kind Largehearted Boy to craft an emo playlist to accompany my book, the last thing I wanted to do was make a mix of songs that would bring out the saddest of sadness in its listener. In fact, I wanted to do the opposite.
This playlist is for you, whether you’re an emo aficionado or not, to discover that there is a happier side to emo. I am not going to lie, it was more challenging than I thought to create this list. It felt more like a term paper than a playlist, so please, enjoy all of my hard work.
1. Jimmy Eat World “A Praise Chorus”
If your ears or eyes perk up upon reading or hearing Jimmy Eat World, that’s because (save for emo’s most famous/infamous bands) Jimmy Eat World has been the genre’s longest running act, putting out album after album of emo pop gold that’s as sweet as sugar. This song—I can only guess because I don’t have a firsthand insight—is about finding your place in the world as a grown-up human. It’s about not looking back and holding onto your past, it’s about looking ahead to the future—wanting to fall in love, wanting to start what is essentially your real life.
2. The Promise Ring “Happiness is All The Rage”
You’d think the name of this song was sarcastic, but it’s not, and that’s why it’s the perfect song from The Promise Ring to put on this playlist. And what’s more is this quartet are experts at writing infectiously happy emo pop songs. Put on the album “Nothing Feels Good” if you’re in a funk—it’s like medicine.
3. Say Anything “Alive With the Glory of Love”
Ok. While a love story set during the Holocaust might sound like the saddest song ever, somehow Max Bemis crafted this bittersweet tune that could arguably be the most upbeat song on their debut album, Is A Real Boy. “Alive With the Glory of Love” is a danceable early aughts anthem full of one-of-a-kind imagery and passion—and I’m for it.
4. Jawbreaker “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault”
Jawbreaker was a band that was brought into my repertoire after a milestone breakup during my early adult life (read: first big heartbreak, it felt like the end of the world) and they became etched into my mind as a band you listen to when you’re sad, because it’ll pull you out of the sads and make you happy. I think this is no doubt due to Blake Schwarzenbach’s songwriting ability. He paints you a picture so clear, you’re sure you’re living in the same memory with him—and by the end of the song you feel the same cathartic bliss that he does. Anyway, this is a song about running into your ex at a party, and all of the big feelings that you’ll feel—and then then the cops show up.
5. The Anniversary “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”
If the lyrics “And I’ll march slowly and I’ll never forget / How the music stopped or the feel of your breath,” aren’t beautiful and full of joy, then I don’t know what is. The Anniversary were a wildly important band at the turn of the century and their dueling male/female vocalists influenced so many bands who followed in the coming years.
6. The Movielife “I Hope You Die Soon”
This song is not happy, I’m just making sure you’re paying attention. Carry on.
7. Dashboard Confessional “Hands Down”
Hands down, this might be the happiest of happiest songs ever written. It plays out like a movie that I can’t wait to watch over and over again, and hearing it live with thousands of people in the crowd singing every syllable along perfectly is one of my favorite things to experience. Dashboard Confessional helmsman Chris Carrabba is a longtime friend and even wrote the foreword for my book. It’s a must-read!
8. The Get Up Kids “Mass Pike”
Ok, so maybe most of these happy, positive, upbeat songs are about falling in love—so it goes… The first thing you should know about making an emo playlist is that it’s an unspoken rule that you have to include The Get Up Kids. You just have to. It won’t be complete without it. Also, this song “Mass Pike” is such a head-bopping happy tune that I would be remiss to not include it. Vocalist Matt Pryor’s voice is so perfectly raspy and endearing that you’d swear he was singing this song just for you.
9. The Format “The First Single (You Know Me)”
I am cheating a little bit with this song, as I wrote extensively about it in my book—but my love for it is that strong that I just need to write about it more. If the singer of this band’s voice sounds familiar that’s because it’s Nate Ruess. You might know him most recently as a solo artist, or as a third of the band fun. whose anthem “We Are Young” is now a forever mainstream rock anthem. Anyhow, this is how young Nate (and his musical partner Sam Means) got his start, and if anyone could tell anything from the DNA of this song, it’s that Nate was on a mission to write these killer (and happy) hits from song #1.
10. Bright Eyes “First Day of My Life”
There are a few reasons this song is last on the playlist. First, it’s because this is what we do. Like having to put a song from The Get Up Kids on the playlist, you have to close out the playlist with an acoustic song. I’m being facetious of course—or am I? Second, to let you know that the song that you heard in every commercial for everything, from Zillow to Citibank, is from an emo band, the Conor Oberst-fronted band Bright Eyes. This song is further proof, if anyone needs it, that emo is not this unheard-of thing living beneath a rock waiting to be discovered—it’s made it far and wide, and it’s deeply woven into the fabric of pop culture. For everything from eyeglass style resurgences to how we wear our damn keys on our belt, that’s us, we did that. You’re welcome.
Amy Fleisher Madden founded the independent record label Fiddler Records in Miami when she was sixteen years old. Before she could even vote, she discovered and broke bands like Dashboard Confessional, New Found Glory, and several other emo and indie darlings. She closed her label after ten years in 2006 and went on to work in advertising. She is the author of A Million Miles, a YA novel. Today she is a freelance creative director, writer, and sometimes photographer living in Nashville, Tennessee. Find her on Instagram.