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Michael's Number Ones: "Go with the Flow" by Queens of the Stone Age



May 10, 2003


Looking back at some of the songs I loved when I was in high school, I think it's fascinating how few of them were about having sex. I mean, it tracks; I was a socially awkward teenager who could have a dozen crushes at any time without acting on any of them. Despite that, I'm not sure any of those crushes were solely about wanting to have sex with the girls I was desiring. I would've been ecstatic if any of them would've asked me to spend a Saturday afternoon at the mall.

Don't get me wrong, I was probably as horny as most other teenage boys in my school. I just didn't have the first clue how to achieve that end.

All of that is to say that "Go With the Flow" feels like an outlier among my favorite songs during high school. Because it's decidedly a song about fucking. If the song didn't make that clear enough, the video certainly did. And in the hands of a lesser band, I probably wouldn't have responded so favorably towards it. But Queens of the Stone Age were having a moment for me in 2003, and besides, the song is an absolute ass-kicker.

I think what makes "Go With the Flow" work so well is that Josh Homme's narrator is up in his brain throughout the song. He's hooked up with a woman, but it feels like the experience meant more to him than to her. "She said, I'll throw myself away/they're just photos after all". That's a hell of a line to open up a song.

The narrator seems resigned that this will be a one-night stand, even if he wants it to last longer. "I can't make you hang around/I can't wash you off my skin/Outside the frame is what we're leaving out/You won't remember anyway".

Later on, it almost sounds like Homme's narrator is regretting sharing that experience, but ready to do it all over again. "I want something good to die for/To make it beautiful to live/I want a new mistake/Lose is more than hesitate/Do you believe it in your head?"

The riff that begins the song totally grabs you by the throat. You have to turn your head when you hear it. The instrumentation accompanying the lyrics do a good job approximating what the narrator is feeling while he's hooking up. It feels like someone's heart racing at top speed. As with all the songs on the album, Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl's drumming is a concussive force, and Homme's guitar riffs really make your pulse race. It feels like the band was trying to approximate what sex feels like in a song.

The animated video for the song was directed by the English team Shynola. It starts in solid red, white, and black colors with the band speeding down a desert highway. Soon they crash head-on with another truck. There's a voodoo priest, sperm cells flying through the sky, and psychedelic images of a woman dancing. Watching it now, it feels like what an acid trip must be like.

"Go with the Flow" didn't do quite as well nationally as it did for me, but it still made it to #7 on the Modern Rock chart. "No One Knows", QOTSA's first number one song on my chart, was still in my top 40 when "Go with the Flow" made it to the top, and I imagine it was cannibalizing some of the latter song's airplay, preventing it from being more successful. Apparently, "First It Giveth" was released as the third single from Songs for the Deaf, but it went nowhere in the United States, though it did peak at #33 on the UK Singles chart.

Queens of the Stone Age went through some turmoil after the album cycle was over. Grohl went back to Foo Fighters full time, and Homme fired bassist Nick Oliveri when he learned he physically abused Homme's girlfriend. Homme considered breaking up the band, but continued on to record their next album, 2005's Lullabies to Paralyze. First single "Little Sister" made it to #6 on my top 40 and came close to being another #1 single on the alternative chart for the group.

Along with QOTSA, Homme has worked on other projects like Eagles of Death Metal and formed the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones in 2009. Them Crooked Vultures only released one album, but the lead single from the project, "New Fang", absolutely slaps. (On my chart, it got to #7 in early 2010.)

Queens of the Stone Age would get one more top 10 hit on my chart. The band worked with super-producer Mark Ronson on their 2017 album Villains, and the lead single from that record, "The Way You Used to Do", made it to #8 that September. (As a lead artist, Mark Ronson's biggest hit on my chart was 2019's "True Blue", which got to #3. Angel Olsen, the vocalist on that song, will eventually appear in this column.)

The band released their eighth album In Times New Roman... last June, though none of the singles made much of an impression on me. But I can't say with certainty this is the last time we'll see Homme or Queens of the Stone Age in this column. Homme is a music lifer, and as long as he's friends with Dave Grohl, there's always the chance of a Them Crooked Vultures reunion or another project that could catch my attention. I guess I'll just go with the flow and see what happens.


I can't find any notable covers of "Go with the Flow" or usage in television or movies. In 2005, Queens of the Stone Age made a notable appearance on Saturday Night Live, when host Will Ferrell joined them in character as Gene Frenkle to play the cowbell (actually a woodblock) on "Little Sister". But I can't find a clip of that performance either! So here's the famous SNL sketch that inspired Ferrell's character.


The White Stripes' immortal, stadium-rocking anthem "Seven Nation Army" peaked at #2 behind "Go with the Flow". I'm gonna serve it to you, and that ain't what you want to hear, but that's what I'll do.

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