As chosen by his Bad Seeds and Grinderman bandmates, famous fans including Guy Garvey, Richard Hawley and Bobby Gillespie, and Cave himself…
4 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
THE SHIP SONG
From the Bad Seeds album, The Good Son (April 1990)
This wonderful composition was written with an eye on the classic writers of romantic ballads – in whose company it quickly established him.
NICK CAVE: “There was a record we had done called ‘Kewpie Doll’ – I hadn’t written the lyrics for it, but we had to record it, so I just sort of mumbled the lyrics and made words that basically sounded like a vocal. Which was fine because it sounded cool and all that sort of stuff. But I actually had to come and put them in a book or something like that… and they had to be written somewhere. So I just started writing stuff very quickly, and I wrote ‘Come sail your ships round me…’ I wasn’t really thinking about it, and just sent it off. Later I saw the line and thought, ‘Fuck, that’s really nice…’ It was like a little gift. And it is, in a high romantic way, a beautiful little line.
“At that time, I was really trying to write a bunch of classic love songs – because I loved those sorts of songs. I’ve always been impressed by people who can write songs that catch people’s hearts – I don’t know if I ever got anywhere near that. What did the Bad Seeds think? Well, generally you change in increments, don’t you? They don’t even know it’s happening until suddenly they’re going onstage and playing an hour and a half of ballads.”
3 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
FROM HER TO ETERNITY
From the Bad Seeds album, From Her To Eternity (June 1984)
A co-write with former partner Anita Lane, with Cave’s protagonist – “standin’ like this with my ear to the ceiling” – doing himself few favours listening to his ex in the room upstairs…
WARREN ELLIS (Bad Seeds/Grinderman): “This blended rock’n’roll with the excitement of improvisation. On every level, the song is a masterpiece. Musically, lyrically and sonically it’s extraordinary, a song you couldn’t imagine anybody else bettering or even attempting to do.
“The song had that relentless, pumping beat. The drums seemed random, but they weren’t at all, then Blixa would come in with that guitar sound. I mean, what the hell was it? It’s just the most mysterious song in every aspect, one that keeps building and building. Then the pay-off at the end is unbelievable. When you hear that screaming, you’re totally there with the guy, in the room, feeling him go out of his brain. You have this incredible guitar and what feels like an improvised line that gets into this trance-like state that builds up and up into a cathartic release.
“I first met Nick in several rather unsavoury households, when we were all doing what we used to do back then. I’d played a little on [1994 Bad Seeds album] Let Love In, but he was too busy constructing wall-charts at the time. He had the whole wall plastered with his lyrics; he was certainly trying one on. Officially I met him at dinner in the mid-’90s, when he asked if I’d like to play on the Murder Ballads session. I just said: ‘Fuck, yeah.’”
2 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
INTO MY ARMS
From the Bad Seeds album, The Boatman’s Call (March 1997)
The high-water mark of Cave’s piano ballads, written in the aftermath of his splits from Viviane Carneiro and PJ Harvey. Cave also performed the song at the funeral for his friend, INXS singer Michael Hutchence.
GUY GARVEY (Elbow): “The opening line just cracks me up every time: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but darling I know you do.’ It’s pure Elvis Presley theology. He must have chuckled when he wrote it. A lot of Nick Cave’s love songs have a gentle humour to them. It makes me think he must have a laugh with his wife. First time I heard it was when I borrowed the album [1997’s The Boatman’s Call] off [bassist] Pete Jobson of I Am Kloot. He asked me specifically to listen to that song. When I got round to it, I was on a bus somewhere and I must have rewound it three times to listen to it again. The last time I spoke to the great man he’d just finished a movie, another book and had two albums out at the same time. How somebody can be so prolific, and still pay attention to the lacework detail that the lyrics of this song have, is beyond me. He strikes me as a man who lives to work. And we’re all better off for it. I’m currently working on a song called ‘Into Your Arms’. I hope he doesn’t think I fancy him. I really don’t.”