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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22 The Birthday Party
From the Birthday Party album, Prayers On Fire (April 1981)
Sleaze! Brass! Stripping! Cave’s “hideous to the eye” dancer cavorts to a sweaty funk backing. The video finds Cave pole dancing, with “HELL” written across his chest.

JG THIRLWELL (Foetus): “I saw [Cave’s early group] Boys Next Door play about 15 times in Melbourne in 1977, at parties in people’s living rooms or at small clubs. When they first came to London everyone was living in squats. It was tough for them. But they played a lot and had such incredible live presence that it was inevitable that people would latch on to that. They played jaw-dropping shows in pretty small places, like the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. ‘Nick The Stripper’ was one of the classics of those shows. I think Phill [Calvert, drums] was still in the band, and Mick would put down his guitar and play snare. They were electrifying. Rowland [S Howard]’s guitar tone was huge and abrasive, but at the same time he was playing strange, dissonant stuff. And Tracy [Pew] was an amazing bassist, who could really lock it down with repetitive riffs, but then play some extraordinary passing notes.

“I was in the first incarnation of the Bad Seeds for about five minutes. It was Nick, myself, Blixa and Mick on the first sessions. I dropped out when Barry [Adamson] came in. Nick was definitely trying to take a left turn with the Bad Seeds. I don’t think he was trying to tap into the feral energy of The Birthday Party. They might have been shedding the reputation that preceded them.”



21 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
From the Bad Seeds album, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! (March 2008)
The Bad Seeds get the funk! A darkly comic travelogue, where Larry – who “never asked to be raised up from the tomb” – cannons around New York and Los Angeles.

KID CONGO POWERS (ex-Bad Seeds): “Nick is special to me for his dedication to his own vision with no apologies or retractions. His love of artists, be it Burt Bacharach, Tammy Wynette, John Lee Hooker, or The Stooges, are on equal pedestals of reverence without irony. I first heard Nick Cave on The Birthday Party album Prayers On Fire. Lydia Lunch ordered me: ‘Listen to this band! They have this song called “Nick The Stripper”…’ She growled then cackled. How could I resist? The inverted rhythm, stinging guitars and Nick’s lyrics immediately seduced me.


“I met Nick post-Birthday Party in LA. He was hanging out a bit with [The Gun Club’s] Jeffrey Lee Pierce. I just remember a lot of wild hair on him, and on me, and the book, Under The Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. It wasn’t until a few years later in London that Mick Harvey and Nick asked me to fill in on the Your Funeral… My Trial tour that I got to know Nick better, as I moved to Berlin and spent the next three years as a Bad Seed. ‘Dig Lazarus Dig!!!’ is my favourite track. That song made me fall in love with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds all over again. Plus it has a good beat and I like to dance to it. I believe Nick has gotten stronger with time. For me he’s added another element to his recipe, too – he’s become uplifting.”


20 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
From the Bad Seeds album, Your Funeral… My Trial (June 1984)
Freak shows, torrential rain, dwarves, dead horses… Just another day at the office for Cave and his Bad Seeds. See the band play it in Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire.

FLOOD (producer): “It was the first track we recorded for the Your Funeral… My Trial sessions. I remember Mick Harvey arrived in the studio with the guts of an old grand piano, that was the basis of the sound. It was just the strings, attached to a metal frame. He tuned certain notes, and used a guitar plectrum to pick the notes. I was like, ‘Whoah, what is this?’ It then ended up as ‘The Carny’. It was done bit by bit. It was a question of getting a few oblique sounds that seemed to fit the whole mood.

“That was the first day of recording Your Funeral… My Trial, and that kind of set the tone for the whole record. In some respects it encapsulated everything about that album on one track. This was in Hansa, Berlin, so it seemed perfectly suited to the location. Berlin was part of ‘The Carny’, without a shadow of a doubt. I abhor opera, and I abhor musicals even more, but it’s theatre. The whole Kurt Weill thing, that is much more what Nick feels at home with. With Nick, you’re never complacent and you always end up with some absolutely fantastic piece of music. He’s given me some very bizarre requests, but you give it back as best you can. The most bizarre request I ever had from Nick? ‘I want to sound as if I’m singing in a concrete box…’”


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