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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17 Grinderman
From the Grinderman album, Grinderman (March 2007)
In the basement, Cave and his band of Bad Seeds refugees kicked out white mice, black dogs – and produced this wordy tale of sexual frustration. And still, she “didn’t want to”.

NICK CAVE: “When I go into the studio with Grinderman, it’s a kind of talent I have to be able to think on my feet lyrically and be able to ad lib and rhyme at the same time. I get into these long narrative stories. They go in directions that somehow bypass those things that get in the way of writing a song – like good taste. Like whether it’s a good idea to be singing about this thing or not. It takes you to different places than when you’re sitting in an office. Something like ‘No Pussy Blues’, for example: that was a title that I’d written in my notebook, and my notebook is anything goes. But once I sit down, I think ‘Nahh…’, because you can’t help but consider the ramifications of a particular lyric, or you can’t help see the lyric through other people’s eyes. But when you’re ad-libbing you don’t have that self-editing process. Then you see it in a format where it works, and think, ‘Fuck, it’s cool.’


“At some point in my career, I’ve managed to flip this little switch in my head which says ‘It doesn’t fucking matter’ and go in with a certain sense of humour about it all – do what you can do, and it doesn’t really matter. And I think for my lyric writing that became hugely beneficial, and induced a kind of levity to the stuff I was writing, and lyrically it wasn’t all quite so weighed down.”


16 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
From the Bad Seeds album, Kicking Against The Pricks (August 1985)
A darkly atmospheric Johnny Cash cover, with heavy twanging guitar: “Will they marvel at the miracles I did perform/And the heights I did aspire/Or will they tear out the pages of the book to light a fire…”

RICHARD HAWLEY: “I was looking through some singles one day in FON Records in Sheffield and saw this Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds record. It had a great cover, him with his big black guitar, looking pretty cool. I asked the guy in the shop to put it on and it was ‘The Singer’, the old Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels song. It just blew my mind. The original version came out in ’68 I think [called ‘The Folk Singer’, it was the B-side to ‘Folsom Prison Blues’] and the guitar is fairly tame. And all the dark side of the song is very orchestrated. There’s an undercurrent of darkness in the original, but Nick Cave’s version seemed to encompass everything that I deeply loved – Johnny Cash, Lee Hazlewood, Sanford Clark, Duane Eddy’s guitar playing. It wasn’t like he was copying them. It was a bit like a car crash, but Nick Cave won. He confronted and encompassed all those things and moved it forward. I actually think Nick’s version is better than Johnny Cash’s.

“A set of covers is unusual for a third album, but I thought Kicking Against The Pricks was a brilliant record. He bit a big shark’s chunk out of the classic school of songwriting. I think this was an album where he set his stall out, saying: I’m going to be as good as this. It was one of the bravest moves of his recording life…”



15 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
From the Bad Seeds album, Tender Pray (September 1988)
A lone harmonica introduces one of the Bad Seeds’ most ominous songs (no easy feat), full of pounding drums and jagged guitar riffs, with Cave turning the Old Testament cities of refuge into a ferocious tribute to his then home, Berlin.

MARK ARM (Mudhoney): “Nick has a unique vision. It’s dark and funny and they’re two of my favourite things. I remember hearing that song ‘Deep In The Woods’, which wouldn’t strike most people as necessarily funny, but my friends and I were rolling around laughing. That line “tonight we sleep in separate ditches” was just brilliant. There’s always been a lot of dark humour threading through his work. I love ‘City Of Refuge’. It’s got that steamroller drumbeat that Thomas Wydler lays down so well.

“Nick was still steeped in a lot of the blues at that point [1988], so that song was a homage to [Blind] Willie Johnson’s ‘I’m Gonna Run To The City Of Refuge’. The only thing that’s similar though is the chorus; the verses and the music are totally different. He was making something new without seeming like a rip-off, which was also something from the folk or blues tradition. I think that, for a while, Nick was very obsessed with the notion of the American South, even though he hadn’t been there. He was doing romanticised versions of what is the horrible reality of it. There’s a strong literary influence but then he totally rocks. And that doesn’t happen very often. It’s unpretentious, with a lot of truth to it. It’s not like the fucking Decemberists.

“Mudhoney did the Big Day Out tour of Australia in ’93, along with the Bad Seeds, Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth and The Beasts Of Bourbon. At the last show, we ended up doing a giant version of “Little Doll” with Iggy’s band and the Bad Seeds and Sonic Youth. The singers were Iggy, Nick and myself. I have to say it was pretty fucking amazing.”


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