Cage the Elephant performing one of their songs live.

17 Best Cage the Elephant Songs

Cage the Elephant are a band that doesn’t receive enough praise within the alternative music scene. Over the years, the band has consistently adapted and developed their sound, enabling them to find success in a variety of different styles.

Their achievements, however, have elevated them to heights and levels of success that few other alternative/indie artists have achieved. Now, let’s take a closer look at the best 17 Cage the Elephant songs…

1. "Shake Me Down"

“Shake Me Down” takes pole position on this list and it does so for a multitude of reasons. This song marks Cage The Elephant’s first steps into another style. Compared to the band’s debut album, “Shake Me Down” carries a deeper emotional resonance. 

The lyrics seem to reflect a sense of longing and showcase someone reflecting on their past. This attitude is reflected bittersweetly within the music video to the song. As well as the lyrics, this song displays the band’s musical prowess. 

The band ditched their punk-based composition and instead combined to create an atmosphere that works to create a more solemn sound. The instrumentation and the lyrical content perfectly add to the song’s overall allure.

The song performed incredibly well, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Alternative charts and achieving platinum certification in the country. 

2. "Come a Little Closer"

“Come a Little Closer” is definitely one of the grooviest Cage the Elephant songs. From the offset, the song outlines a solid bassline that captivates the overall feel of the track, and then the drums kick in with the rest of the rhythm. 

This song combines elements of alternative rock, psychedelic rock, and pop and this results in a song that emits a dreamy texture. This feel is enhanced by Matt Shultz’s vocal performance. Delivering every line in a way that is simultaneously haunting and captivating, his raspy and emotive delivery adds depth to the lyrics. This leaves a song that focuses on vulnerability and authenticity.

Schultz himself said he wrote the song in São Paulo when looking out upon the favelas. He wondered what was going on in the lives of everyone in each house.

This song, despite its general slower tone, is actually to the contrary a brilliant mood lifter. This is probably one of the reasons the song went double platinum in the US. 


I’m going to guess this is a song you might not have expected to be included so high up, but in my opinion, it deserves its spot. The reason I have this song positioned so highly is because the song perfectly balances the band’s more indie vibe they were moving to, while also displaying their classic punk rock style. 

The song also features a rockabilly American country rock vibe as well. The lyrics are Matthew Schultz at his best. They tell a horrifying tale of the end of the world and the way the singer sees it through his eyes. He also reflects on the mistakes mankind has made, such as warfare, tensions built by religion, and the difficulties of modern politics.

During the verse, Schultz is stating everything that is going wrong, while the slower drum beat in the chorus embodies the considerate tone of the song’s chorus. 

While this song wasn’t a single, I feel it is an excellent semblance of their transition in music. 

4. "Telescope"

‘Telescope” is possibly Matthew Shultz at his most introspective. Throughout the song he talks about another person being lost, however, he is talking about himself. The song is fragile and his vocal tone reflects this throughout. 

The chorus comes across as more of an admission of Schultz coming to terms with his own thoughts and realising that he is going through the same thoughts as everyone else. 

This reflection is married to a song that is incredibly sensitive, with the guitar and drums providing a constant backdrop to the emotions being faced. When the lyrics are downbeat the song slows, when he panics it speeds up. The “Dos” create a catchy melody to sing along to.

5. "Ain't no Rest for the Wicked"

Here we have the big one. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” was Cage The Elephant’s breakout song going six times platinum in the US and once in the UK. This is down to the song’s catchy nature, relatable lyrics, and marriage of blues and indie rock elements. 

Its continuous narrative tells the story of an individual struggling with various different situations. A defining track in their repertoire, it quickly outputted to the world the band’s capabilities. The initial slide guitar riff repeats throughout solidifying their country American rock vibes. 

With charting success, countless radio plays, and its placement in video games such as “Borderlands”, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” is one of the most successful songs for the band even to this day.

When you ask people about Cage the Elephant songs, this is more than likely the song that jumps to mind.  

6. "Cold Cold Cold"

“Cold Cold Cold” was the 3rd single from the album Tell Me I’m Pretty. This track might not have reached the same platinum heights as ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,’  but it’s still an absolute gem in their catalogue.

Its dynamic arrangement blends rock, blues, and alternative elements seamlessly. This is evident in the guitar riff alone that shifts along with a blues flair. Those guitar riffs and the impressive rhythm section result in a song that is so powerful and captivating.

The song is eerie to the end, with lyrics calling out a disturbance in the narrator’s life. “Cause something don’t feel right” rings into a feeling of melodrama and a hypochondriac status, but it also shows a feeling of certainty within the disturbance. 

7. "Cigarette Daydreams"

Now we have the melancholic masterpiece of “Cigarette Daydreams”. Some may have expected this song to be higher on the list, and it very easily could, but I have placed it slightly lower as I am looking at it from a guitarist’s perspective. 

While the song is simple in nature, it does an excellent job of building a world. The song’s opening chords set a melancholic tone immediately, immersing you into a lyrical masterpiece. ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ isn’t just a song; it’s a window into the depths of Matt Schultz’s emotions.

The acoustic guitar and Matt Shultz’s emotive vocals create an intimate, authentic atmosphere. It’s a song that doesn’t rely on elaborate instrumentation; instead, it places its faith in the power of storytelling. And doesn’t it succeed.

8. "Around My Head"

“Around My Head” is a hidden gem within Cage the Elephant’s diverse musical catalogue. It may never have reached the heights of songs such as “Shake Me Down”, but it is the band at their most playful and energetic. 

The opening “oohs” outline the playful attitude, while also instilling a sense of nostalgia. It’s a song that captures the essence of carefree moments, of youth and unbridled enthusiasm. It is clear that the point of view is from someone arguing about the fairness of being drawn to someone else, showing childlike naivety.

In the classic Cage the Elephant fashion though, the song devolves into the classic Matt Schutz growl, with him becoming increasingly ‘raspy’. A simple guitar line is embellished in the break with some powerful power chords to give the track an energetic backing. 

9. "In One Ear"

You know from the outset of Matt Schultz’s crazy panic to get to his microphone in the recording that you are getting a burst of energy from this song. 

The song is a rebellious anthem, with lines like ‘They say we ain’t got the style, we ain’t got the class’ and ‘It’s in one ear, and right out the other’ being easily relatable and bringing out the angst in every listener. This continues for the rest of the song with the rest of the lyrics being filled with the punk style.

Musically, it’s a relentless barrage of guitar riffs and pounding drums, embodying the essence of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion. Matt Shultz’s gritty vocals inject the song with a ferocious intensity that’s simply electrifying. A song that needs to be cranked up it’s a head-banging, fist-pumping anthem for the non-conformists.

10. "Spiderhead"

The powerful bass lines of Daniel Tichenor are on full show in another energetic Cage the Elephant song. Due to the prominence of the bass, the rest of the instrumentation becomes more free, slinking in with individual melodies throughout, and this includes Matt Schultz’s vocal melodies. 

The lyrics of “Spiders in my head, Spiders in my mind” are there to provoke a horror-like atmosphere. If I was to interpret the song’s meaning I would say it is about a relationship where someone is trying to hinder the other, but the other is noticing everything they are doing, and know they are causing issues on purpose.

My favourite part of the song comes in the outro. The song glitches with Schultz’s voice, and then Brad Schultz comes in with some wailing guitar tones to see the song to its end. I think that is genius.  

11. "Social Cues"

In what is Cage the Elephant’s most “psychedelic” song, “Social Cues” tackles two topics in one, depending on how you interpret it. The first is the topic of social norms and conventions, and the second is the band’s loss of touch with reality thanks to the music industry.

‘Hide me in the back room, tell me when it’s over’ and ‘Don’t know if I can play this part much longer’ capture the universal struggle of trying to navigate the complexities of maintaining a normal life while dealing with fame and success. 

The line “At least you’re on the radio” shows that others think they are moaning when they approach the topic. The song is laden with effects throughout and plays with music production to create a complementary weird atmosphere to the situation outlined in the song.

See the interview on this album here.

12. "Right Before My Eyes"

This song goes under the radar too much for my liking. “Right Before My Eyes” might be Cage the Elephant’s most emotionally aware song, and lucky us, we get two different unique versions. 

The “Unpeeled” session is my favourite version as Matt bares his soul in the song, feeling every moment of the song in what is a stripped down, slowed down song, that has the backing of a full string section. However, if you want the song in a more upbeat contemplative manner then the studio version gives you that option. 

While this is a lesser-known song of theirs, it still has everything you want from a Cage the Elephant song. 

13. "Too Late to Say Goodbye"

Opening with a distorted descending sequence, the song immediately draws you in. This gives way to an almost Wild Western atmosphere, with swelling chords, which hit every bar and have the space to fade. It is only with the pre-chorus in which the song picks up its pace.

The lyrics are a story about being burned by someone the narrator is infatuated with, while everyone around them is warning them of the dangers. This is reflected in the hook with the narrator being in too deep to get out of the situation hence “It’s too late to say goodbye”. 

The song showcases Cage the Elephant’s ability to craft a sound that is both soulful and atmospheric, creating a sense of emotional weight. This is why it belongs with the best. 

14. "Take It or Leave It"

‘Take It or Leave It’ is a song that showcases Cage the Elephant’s knack for crafting infectious rock rhythms. They do this through the excellent combination of descending guitar lines, syncopated bass rhythms, and consistent drum rhythms that accent each bar brilliantly. The result thanks to the overladen effects is a disco-like sound.

The brilliance of this song is when it goes to the chorus as it works its way abruptly into the indie-centred sound we expect from the band. The funk rhythms descend into a steadily rhythmed guitar pattern that can only be described as alternative.

The overlaid guitar parts come through with a tone that is reminiscent of surf rock. In each melody Brad Schultz lays down slides and slinks from one phrase to another, giving the chorus a Beach Boy’s sound. 

15. "Mess Around"

“Mess Around” bursts into life from the word go thanks to an infectious bassline. It’s one of those tracks that instantly lifts your spirits and gets you dancing to its rhythm. Consistent throughout and with a catchy vocal melody that is repeated again and again until it is stuck in your head. 

While “Mess Around” may not have achieved the same level of recognition as some of their big hitters, it’s a fan favourite in their live performances. 

This track is Brad Schultz at his best. The final verse is a blazing solo which shows his full prowess at every moment. It’s a song that invites you to let loose, and embrace the moment, and that’s something we can all get behind.

16. "Back Against the Wall"

“Back Against the Wall” is Cage the Elephant embedding diverse music genres into their debut album. It goes a long way to establishing their indie rock sound compared to the album’s punk overtones. 

The song tells the story of a man on the cusp of his life while not quite being able to achieve that final step. This song is possibly the most reflective of the album with Matthew Schultz talking about what is presumably a biographical account, especially considering the band’s commitment to make it at the time.

The final verse shows Brad Schultz at his best, producing a solo that shines with the virtuosity that belongs with some of the best guitarists in the genre.  

17. "Ready to Let Go"

“Ready To Let Go” is the band at their most reflective. The more controlled performance delivers a consistent backbeat with the off-beat guitar playing, which is perfectly accentuated by the steady rhythmic drumming throughout. 

The song explores the theme of accepting a lack of control in the narrator’s life. Talking about natural disasters, and the hook of “Ready To Let Go” shows that the singer is now accepting his fate as a passenger in his own life.

Schultz has always struggled with the concept of commercialisation and ‘Ready to Let Go’ stands as a pivotal song in Cage the Elephant’s repertoire, capturing a powerful moment of personal reflection and artistic evolution within the band’s career.

What a list!

Cage the Elephant’s musical gems, one thing becomes abundantly clear – this band’s repertoire is a treasure trove of musical diversity and lyrical depth. Blending punk, alternative rock, and indie elements, alongside a bunch of others, they have a catalogue that is incredibly impressive.

From the infectious hooks of ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ to the introspective beauty of ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ and the rebellious spirit of ‘Back Against the Wall,’ Cage the Elephant has consistently pushed the boundaries of rock and alternative music.

Head here for our list of best 90’s alternative songs!

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