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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12 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
STAGGER LEE
From the Bad Seeds album, Murder Ballads (February 1996)
Mississippi folk song, previously reinterpreted by Dylan, the Dead and The Clash. Cave reworks the exploits of “bad mutherfucker” Stagger Lee Shelton into a profane and violent barroom massacre.

JOHN HILLCOAT (director, The Proposition/The Road): “Nick is known for his lyrics. But to adapt a song and make it your own is a real art – like what Johnny Cash did with ‘The Mercy Seat’, where when you hear it you think that came from Cash, it’s his. Nick’s done the same with ‘Stagger Lee’. Musically it’s a turning point. It’s got real funk to it. And the detail of the violence, and the use of the sound effects, and the way it builds then explodes with screeching points forwards to the wildness of Grinderman. Lyrically, I recall talking to Nick about Murder Ballads. And what he managed to do is he really got inside these characters’ heads. He makes the story his own by the perverse humour, making it really filthy and dark – like hardcore hip-hop, Nick Cave-style. He really gets inside the character so it’s got this heightened drama that’s very Nick. It’s something he’s perfected over the years. When he came out of rehab, I think that gave him more direct access to expressing his feelings. From the get-go, when we made Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead together [Cave also wrote and scored The Proposition], it’s like he’s a million different characters inside his head that express different elements of himself. You can track that through his career, how these characters would emerge. He’s like a controlled schizophrenic.”

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11 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
GET READY FOR LOVE
From the Bad Seeds album, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (September 2004)
Full-tilt gospel punk – Cave, doing his best blood-and-thunder prophet, exorts us to “Praise Him a little bit more.”

JIM SCLAVUNOS (Bad Seeds/Grinderman): “In my book, the only thing that beats playing on Nick’s songs, is getting to co-write with him. “Get Ready For Love” was one of the first instances where I got to share in that process. Nick, Warren [Ellis], Martyn [Casey] and I were in a modest studio in Paris, working on a couple of songs that we recorded for Marianne Faithfull’s album Before The Poison. We had some spare studio time and began jamming, just to see what came up. Nick can be quite clever at devising impromptu lyrics, which helps move things along: it spurs the band on and handily lends an immediate shape and a sense of direction to an improvisation. After considerable honing and finessing, a few numbers written this way ended up on the album, including ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Lyre Of Orpheus’; but the one I’m particularly partial to is ‘Get Ready For Love’. It’s the most aggressive up-tempo opening track salvo that has appeared on a Bad Seeds album since ‘The Mercy Seat’ kick-started Tender Prey. From my perspective, ‘Get Ready For Love’ was a clarion call announcing a new chapter in the ongoing evolution of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. It was one of the first songs written together by Nick, Warren, Martyn and I, giving a vague hint of what was to come with Grinderman.”

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10 The Birthday Party
JUNKYARD
From the Birthday Party album, Junkyard (May 1982)
By their second album, The Birthday Party had hit an impressive peak somewhere between the Stooges, Bo Diddley and Suicide. One of the finest tracks from that album, this perfectly captured the band’s feral punk.

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LYDIA LUNCH: “I first met The Birthday Party on their first trip to New York. It was obvious Rowland [S Howard] and I were going to unleash something together. We just clicked. Nick Cave and I were like two alien sub-species shadow-boxing with our diametric opposites. Exciting, incomprehensible, chemically imbalanced. ‘Junkyard’ is the most incredibly raunchy slab of pathos ever recorded. A sledgehammer of raging libido spiralling into murderous perversity. Soaked in bloodlust and riddled with the contaminants of love’s dirty remains. Slick with the sticky pus of a sick twist’s wet dream, it’s a filthy grind of roadhouse black’n’blues spiked with punked jazz where hammering drums, degenerate bass and the razor slice of Rowland’s ‘six strings that drew blood’ set the stage for The King to thunder, threaten and ultimately massacre any would-be contender to the heathen’s sleazy throne. Ferocious. Masterful. Demented. It still gives me goose bumps.

“Why does such a prolific artist have such consistently high-quality output? C’mon, it’s like asking me to comment on my own insanity!”

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