Nick Cave’s 30 best songs

As chosen by his Bad Seeds and Grinderman bandmates, famous fans including Guy Garvey, Richard Hawley and Bobby Gillespie, and Cave himself…

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Here’s a fascinating long-read from the archives – a look back at Nick Cave’s best songs (from our September 2010 issue), as chosen by his Bad Seeds and Grinderman bandmates, famous fans including Guy Garvey, Richard Hawley and Bobby Gillespie, and Cave himself… “I thought, ‘Fuck, that’s pretty good…’”

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In 1980, a moody band of Australians moved to London, changed their name to The Birthday Party, and initiated a full-blooded assault on the music business. Volatile and chaotic, it seemed unlikely they would last long. Thirty years later, however, their leader Nick Cave has survived to become one of his generation’s pre-eminent singer-songwriters. This month, Uncut celebrates the wild and erudite maestro behind The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds and Grinderman, and invites him, his friends and bandmates to select the 30 finest songs in his capacious repertoire.

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“As far back as I can remember, there was something that thrilled me about telling a story, and it’s absolutely the way I think, and when I sit down and try and write a song, I think in a narrative way. I don’t think James Brown does that – it just comes rolling out of his heart. But lately, I’ve been trying to work out a way of writing so a listener doesn’t have to be hearing a story to enjoy what I do.

“Round the (Birthday Party’s) Junkyard album, I wrote a song called ‘King Ink’ that I listened to and finally felt that I’d done something that seemed original and authentic to myself – that I’d arrived somewhere with that lyric. I think before that I was floundering around all my various influences, and people I wanted to write like: poets, writers. I started to get a voice in that particular song.

“I try and make them work on the page – that’s the way I usually write songs. I don’t write with an instrument in my hand. I write a bunch of lyrics and take them to the piano or the guitar. So on some level they have to work on the page, though on some level I think that’s a fault with what I do.

“When I get too tangled up in the language, I get to a point with lyric-writing where I start to disappear up my own rectum and it’s always nice to pull back and go back to something that is basic and from the heart. I always return to the blues – especially John Lee Hooker. He has a certain style of writing that begins with one idea in mind, and by riffing on a theme, ends up with something very different. It makes for a very perplexing, structurally strange kind of lyric and I love that kind of thing.

“I think when you’re making something, you really think like you’re making the greatest thing that the world has ever known. Then you get the record, and you realise it’s just another record and there’s a terrible sucking of perspective on things, which just makes you want to run away and make the next thing that’s going to change the world. You see things for what they are. Fifteen albums later, I’m still trying…”

Click to the next page to begin our top 30…

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The Velvet Underground, The Black Crowes, Bunny Wailer, Richard Thompson, Nick Cave, Rhiannon Giddens, Laurie Anderson, Blake Mills, Postcard Records, Mogwai and The Selecter
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