I need to stress again that we’re only dealing with singles here. If we were dealing with all Cure songs, there’s a good chance that none of the songs below, say, 25 would make a “R. Kevin’s Top 50 Cure Songs” list.
Also, I’m dyslexic and I don’t proof read nearly enough. If you see errors and point them out, I’d be very grateful and I might even fix them.
40. The Blood
I started college in the fall of 1985. I’d listened to WXCI – a college station near my hometown – in high school and was very keen on becoming a DJ at my college’s radio station, WRBC. I was also very keen on making mix tapes from the albums at WRBC. Anyhow, I figured one good way to reach both goals was to volunteer to alphabetize the entire record library at WRBC. I’d get to know what was in the library both for the purpose of DJing and the purpose of making mix-tapes. This led to many late night hours in the second studio at WRBC with a stack of records and a 90min cassette. I still have most of the tapes I made if you are ever interested in getting a late-80’s alternative rock and pop playlist. In the course of sorting the record library, I met the stations music director. I can’t recall his name, but at the time – as a 17 year old freshman – I remember thinking he seemed like exactly the kind of WAY COOL ADULT MUSIC DUDE I always imagined I’d meet at college. I told him I was a big fan of The Cure and he mentioned how great the new album was. “Yeah, it is,” I said, having never heard it and petrified that I’d look uncool if I admitted this. Thus, 1985’s The Head on The Door became one of the first albums I recorded at WRBC late one night in September. It is, indeed, a great album. “The Blood” was only a single in Spain (enjoy the Spanish guitar and remember it for when we listen to “The 13th”) but I’m reasonably certain I played it on the air when I eventually got my own radio show on WRBC. I’m reasonably certain of this because I think I played every extant Cure song at one point on WRBC.
39. Jumping Someone Else’s Train
I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that there are so many well-loved Cure songs that I’m going to make somebody unhappy with my placement of some of their classics. “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” was released as a stand-alone single in 1979. Basically, its a bit of a rail (see what I did there?) against conformity. Robert Smith tells a story about how they selected the name “The Cure” to suggest that their music was a positive thing – like if you saw their name on the charts, you knew they were the cure for all the lousy music out there. Having his own sound was central to Smith’s concept of the band so this song can certainly be heard as a bit of a manifesto. One of my high school friends also read an innuendo into the title and would essentially give me a Eric Idle-esque “wink wink nudge nudge” whenever the song came up on my copy of Standing On The Beach. I very much appreciate the musicianship of the early Cure and like how this song simulates the sound of a train traveling down the tracks. Its not bad (none of these songs are at this point) but there’s just a bunch of other songs I like better.
38. Strange Attraction
I’ve already mentioned that 1996’s Wild Mood Swings doesn’t get a whole lot of love. If you bagged out on The Cure after “Friday I’m In Love” was played on pop radio for the Nth time, then you missed a really fun little record. I mean, its not Disintegration, but what is? “Strange Attraction” is a piece of classic Cure pop fluff about an infatuation that doesn’t quite work out. The song starts, we hear a tape rewind and then Smith basically travelogues the relationship following the protagonists’ correspondence over birthdays and holidays. Its all very cheerful even if, in the end, the girl loses interest and moves on after actually meeting the boy face to face. Repeated listens proved to me that I like this song more than I thought I did and if its light weight fluff, its some pretty high quality fluff.
37. The End of the World
Dig that video. “The End of the World” was the first single from 2004’s The Cure. Smith returned after a few years off with an album that pushed all of The Cure buttons in my brain. This particular song has a hard cold open, a great bass line, some “oooo” backing vocals, great guitar work, and then lovely “couldn’t love me more” choral line that has a double meaning (“You couldn’t love me more than you do” vs “You couldn’t love me at all anymore”). I’ve critiques a couple of songs for sounding like Smith was doing fan service, but I feel like this was less an attempt to sound like The Cure did at their height and more of an attempt to just create a great song. If its not “Just Like Heaven,” well, what is? The trouble with writing classic songs is that your new stuff is always being compared to your old stuff. Sorry, Robert Smith! You deserve better from me. Anyhow, yeah, 37.
36. Out of This World
As I mentioned before, there were no singles that you could buy from 2000’s Bloodflowers but there were promo singles released to radio stations to promote the album. Close your eyes and try to envision what else was being played on the radio in 2000. Then play this song. Smith is in a super low-key mode throughout Bloodflowers and on this song his vocals are far enough back in the mix that he may be whispering to you. Whispering about something melancholy. I love the guitar line which sounds like its being played in a room full of towels. Classic Cure sound, muted down to laundry room level. The song has a general theme of being in a present moment and wondering if one’s future self will remember any of the joy or wonder of that moment. Its a fascinating way to suck the happiness out of a good moment. “Oh, we’re having fun now, but we surely won’t remember that we did.” But its kind of true. We don’t always remember the fun. So we have a song that doesn’t celebrate the moment, but mourns the anticipation of forgetting that happy moment. Love. It.
35. Shake Dog Shake
This song is killer good live. 1984’s The Top must have come as a bit of a shock to older Cure fans. See, I first encountered The Cure via their three radio friendly early 80’s singles – “The Love Cats,” “The Walk” and “Let’s Go To Bed.” When they released The Top, I was ready for weird pop and weird pop I got. Its sort of what might happen if Robert Smith decided to make an XTC album. Nothing in The Cure’s past – certainly not their last album Pornography – quite prepared fans for this album’s mix of whimsy, fluff and psychedelia. This track was released as a single in France but nowhere else as near as I can tell. I had thought “Bird Mad Girl” or “Swordfishtrombones” might have been singles from this album but – nope – only this track and “The Caterpillar.” Maybe the label didn’t want it to sell? Who knows!
34. Grinding Halt
1979’s Three Imaginary Boys was The Cure’s debut album. As part of their “anti-image,” the band opted to replace themselves with a lamp, a fridge and a vacuum on the album cover. Back in the late 1970’s, there seems to have been a belief that Americans couldn’t handle English albums as they were recorded for the English market, so in the US this album was released as Boys Don’t Cry. Whatevs, record company execs. Anyhow, I first encountered Grinding Halt as a track on the soundtrack album to the movie Times Square – the only other thing I recall about that film is that Tim Curry played a New York DJ. It was the first early Cure song I heard and I thought they must have had a different vocalist. This is a great little post-punk power pop song with a great bass run. I really like the build to the chorus (“Stop…. short… Grinding Halt!”). Apparently, this was because Smith took Lol Tolhurst’s lyric and decide to only sing the first word of each line. Its kind of a brilliant edit and I often wonder what it would have sounded like without that change.
How young you are Robert Smith! “Primary” was the only single from 1981’s Faith album. Not to be confused with the George Michael album of the same name. Seriously, totally different. One important formative event in The Cure’s existence was their first tour in support of Siouxsie and The Banshees. Robert Smith was recruited to fill in for The Banshees’ guitarist who quit right before the tour started. He ended up doing double duty – playing a Cure set then hopping on stage and doing a Siouxsie set. Being onstage with Siouxsie every night led Smith – according to all reports – to having a better idea of both what kind of music he wanted to make and a better idea of how to be a front man. The classic Robert Smith sound and look started emerging. Their next three albums – Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography – established their reputation as a gloomy (Don’t Say Goth) band. I have the sense that their label was struggling to figure out what songs to release as singles (if any). The Cure were building a reputation as a great live act but more of an album band than a singles band. Both Robert Smith and Simon Gallup play bass on this song – their are no guitars or keyboard. Lol Tolhurst provides typically solid drumming. The song was often dedicated live to the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division (and that bands influence can heard pretty clearly on this track). I wouldn’t call it catchy but it creates a really clear atmosphere – something that I enjoy about many of their songs.
32. The Walk
Part of the endless soundtrack of my endless youth. When you’re 15, it feels like you’ve been 15 forever and you’re going to be 15 forever. Every summer seems like its going to be followed by another and another and another. This was the second of three rules changing singles for The Cure. After Pornography, it looked like Robert Smith was ready to call it a day and either hook up with Siouxsie and the Banshees for good (influential guitarist John McGeogh – who was the main inspiration for The Edge of U2’s signature sound – had to quit for health reasons and Smith once again stepped in to support them) or find other musical pastures to hoe. Lol Tolhurst dragged him back to the band in 1983. Tolhurst switched to keyboard and, with Smith, created three classic pop singles. “The Walk” has that great synthesizer hook that screams “1983” at you while slipping on its sleeveless shirt and black lipstick. I’m stunned to report that I never noticed this before, but the commenters over at Genius point out that this is a love song from the perspective of a dog. Mind. Blown. I don’t know what I thought it was about.
31. A Night Like This
“A Night Like This” was a promotional single from The Head on the Door. By 1985, The Cure’s line up was Robert Smith on vocals and guitar Lol Tolhurst on keyboards, Porl Thompson on guitar, Simon Gallup on bass (he’d split after Pornography for a while but was convinced to rejoin) and the remarkable Boris Williams on drums. Williams stayed on through 1994 and really established himself on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration as one of the finest drummers of the 80’s. This line-up was the core of the innovative group that created The Cure’s most successful albums over the next decade. They were musically adventurous, generous with their creativity and outstanding musicians (though reports suggest that poor Lol Tolhurst sort of descended into alcoholism and became substantially less of a creative force by Disintegration). Anyhow, “A Night Like This” has a great dramatic sweep to it. It sort of sounds to me like the opening shot that eventually led to some of the heavier tracks on their later albums. I’d not put much thought into this song for years until I heard them play it (second song, Neil Blaisdell, July 16, 2006) and ever since then, its been one of my favorites again.
Coming Next: The Cure’s second biggest US hit fails to make my top 10. So mean.