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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19 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
BROMPTON ORATORY
From the Bad Seeds album, The Boatman’s Call (March 1997)
One of the best songs to appear on the transitional Boatman’s Call album, this finds Cave’s narrator privileging human beauty over spiritual nourishment: “No God up in the sky… could do the job that you did, baby…”

CHRIS BAILEY (The Saints): “I relate to this because much as I wish I could be a man of faith, I’m a man of doubt. Nick encapsulates that quest from time to time. There are lines here that are funny, wrestling with spirituality and filthy. Nick’s a randy old coot, even when he’s at the altar. Nick is fairly cosmopolitan, but has an Australian larrikin element – and not just because half his band looks like Ned Kelly. It’s the notion of being on the outside. The first time I toured with him was very funny, because I had this vision that I was travelling with a bunch of evangelical Presbyterians. The Bad Seeds were like this touring Protestant circus, and they’re very dysfunctional as a unit – there are Bad Seeds, and there are Naughty Seeds! But it somehow works brilliantly. I remember getting on a tour bus one day and thinking, ‘Ahah! I see the way that you rise in this organisation is to look exceedingly dour, and carry the biggest book.’ When they travel en masse they’ve all got these heavy, impressive-looking tomes, and whoever had the biggest was the most popular for that day. It wasn’t necessarily Nick, it was very democratic…”

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18 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
THE HAMMER SONG
From the Bad Seeds album, The Good Son (April 1990)
Not to be confused with the Alex Harvey cover on Kicking Against The Pricks, this Southern Gothic yarn finds Cave’s narrator tormented by visions and guilt in the wilderness, while Mick Harvey’s vibraphone punches through the melodramatic arrangements.

TOM DiCILLO (director): “‘The Hammer Song’ has this very basic riff that just keeps repeating. But this little groove has enough interest and complexity that it can carry itself almost forever. And the more it goes on, the more I fall into the intense emotion of what that song is about. The Good Son was the album a lot of people who wanted to maintain The Birthday Party idea of Nick looked at askance. I was going to direct a video for it, and Nick told me one of its greatest influences was Burt Bacharach. But with that Nick view of the world, which is a little different to ‘Do You Know the Way To San José’! ‘The Hammer Song’ has a bit of both – it’s more ballad-like, then switches to this powerful crunch. And ultimately it comes down to Nick’s voice and performance.

“He said to me once that he had the greatest admiration and awe for actors [Cave has acted in a number of films, including DiCillo’s 1991 movie Johnny Suede]. I think he acts with his voice. And if he was faking, you’d hear it. I saw him once where he started a song alone at the piano, stopped because something was off, walked around, then started again. And he found what he thought was missing. That’s ballsy. He walks that line between abandon and absolute control. It takes tremendous courage to just go into areas that interest you and not worry.”

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