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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25 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
TOWER OF SONG
From the Leonard Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan (1991)
Raucous deconstruction of Cohen’s classic. The album version was reportedly cut down from an hour-long take you can find on YouTube.

THOMAS WYDLER (The Bad Seeds): “I first met The Birthday Party in 1982, when my band Die Haut supported them in Berlin. They were kind of exotic, and Nick was a wild singer. Here in Berlin, we didn’t know much about Australian music at all. They just came here with this strange, upstart-blues music. Then they decided to live in Berlin and work in the Hansa studio. After The Firstborn Is Dead was out [1985] the Bad Seeds had to do a promo tour of England. [Guitarist] Blixa [Bargeld] couldn’t do it because he was on tour with Einstürzende Neubauten and I think [guitar/bassist] Barry Adamson was sick. So they took Christoph Dreher from Die Haut on bass, Rowland Howard on guitar and me on drums. Then they decided I was the right man on drums for the next tour and beyond.

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“The song where we improvised more than ever was the old Leonard Cohen one, ‘Tower Of Song’. That was a straight improvisation, where Nick took direction from the lyrics, then we played in a style that followed those lyrics. It was like a comic. I remember the long version and how all those different styles affected the music. We did it in voodoo style, then there was a jazz part and more rock sections. Mostly Cave leads the song with piano, so that phrase and mood was already set. The great thing with Nick is that he changes from record to record. I’m not a drummer with a straight style, so it suited me perfectly.”

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24 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I’M GONNA KILL THAT WOMAN
From the Bad Seeds album, Kicking Against The Pricks (August 1986)
Cave’s professional interest in bluesman John Lee Hooker is registered in this cover, as he gathers material to point the way forward for his own music.

MICK HARVEY (ex-Bad Seeds): “Obviously, none of us could play the blues properly or had pretensions to do, as people who get involved in that sort of thing do. It became an exercise in trying to find something elemental in that kind of music and the atmospheres of that kind of music, going deeply into that side of it, rather than going into the styles of that type of music as a genre. Nick was listening to a lot of John Lee Hooker – it was about him trying to work out what sort of music he actually wanted to write. He’d become uninterested in the music The Birthday Party were playing – he couldn’t relate to it any more for whatever reason.

“He had to spend the first couple of albums trying to work out what he did want to do – and Kicking Against The Pricks was probably a continuation of that. The excuse was that he was writing his book [1989’s And The Ass Saw The Angel], so he couldn’t write any songs, but in some kind of unconscious way he wanted to study the kinds of things he was interested in musically, picking out songs of different styles, to kind of help him form himself.”

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23 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
RED RIGHT HAND
From the Bad Seeds album, Let Love In (April 1994)
Unsurprisingly a regular fixture on slasher movie soundtracks, this warns of a supernatural figure living “on the edge of town” with few good intentions. Spooky organ stabs and sound effects only amp up the scream factor.

HOWE GELB (Giant Sand): “My wife first brought that song to my attention, and suggested that Giant Sand should do it. The lyric content is maniacal. Dubious. A cold sweat begins to break out when you wonder how that hand got so red. But the melodic slant is strangely celebrational – especially the cool turning point in the middle, when the big bells come out. That shit is classic, right up there with the best jazz standards. When that bell hits, it’s that tolling bell that’s always in songs, like Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ – ‘off in a distance a lonely bell was ringing’. Anyhow, from playing that song over and over, in my mind it kind of flipped over. And in the end, I considered it a Christmas song. And the red, red hand was just old Santa’s glove. And the bells were Christmas bells. And the guy in that song, he’s just calling it how it is, telling you what got messed up. Just like Santa. He knows if you’ve been naughty!”

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