I am certain that I first heard the Scissors Sisters after I read something about their song “Take Your Mama.” I was so intrigued by the description of the song (that must have been one heck of a description) that I sought out the tune, fell in love with it almost instantly, and from there became a huge fan of the band. Born out of the New York electroclash scene (they ultimately transcended that genre and becoming a pre-eminent alternate pop/rock band), Scissor Sisters were founded by vocalist/songwriter Jake Shears and multi-intrumentalist/songwriter Scott “Babydaddy” Hoffman who soon recruited vocalist Ana Matronic, guitarist Del Marquis and drummer Paddy Boom (later replaced by Randy Real). There is some ambiguity about whether the band has permanently disbanded or are on a permanent hiatus, but the last full album they released was in 2012.
While the band is out and proud (and this informs both their lyrics and some of their musical choices), I want to respect something Jake Shears recently said: “It was really frustrating when you’re making great music and the big deal is that you’re gay.” This is specifically in response to some critics homophobic dismissal of Scissors Sisters as “camp” or as “a gay band.” While their sexual identity is part of their music, treating them like they’re a “gay band” would be akin to treating The Hives like a “straight band.” I’m going to try to focus on treating them like a band.
If you’re just joining us, here’s how this works. I make a playlist of all of a band’s singles (based on every source I can track down, but primarily Wikipedia and Discogs) in chronological order, listen through a couple of times and then assign a ranking based on the “I must like each song more than the one that preceded it” concept. I then listen through this list several times, rearranging the order as I become more familiar with certain tracks. In general, I exclude live versions or remixes of songs that were previously released as singles (not an issue here). I have to write something about every song even when I don’t have much of anything to say. I think that’s the essence.
Anyhow, all of these songs are at least pretty good so we’re going from pretty good to simply awesome on this list.
19. Comfortably Numb
Second single from Scissors Sisters (2004), released as a single in 2004
Cover of a song originally written and recorded by Pink Floyd (1979)
David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters all had positive reactions to this cover, so who am I to dislike it? I enjoyed it quite a bit when it first came out but now, 14 years later, it sounds more like a novelty song to me. I still like it but I’m just not as excited by it as I used to be. Oh, age! I do genuinely enjoy Jake Shears’ falsetto singing. I learned how to sing falsetto during my first jingju production at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, but that style focuses on head voice. I am amazed at how rich and versatile his voice remains when he slides into his falsetto – he and Jimmie Somerville remain my falsetto rock heroes.
18. Only the Horses
First single from Magic Hour (2012), released as a single in 2012
In his recent New York Times interview, Shears discusses how success brought on writer’s block:
“We’d been writing a bunch of music, and I wasn’t really happy with anything,” Mr. Shears said. “When you have no life, you’re just spinning your wheels and making empty music.”
Famously, the band rehearsed and recorded an album of songs that they completely abandoned between their second and third album. Their final album (so far) was 2012’s Magic Hour and while it’s certainly not a bad album, it also feels like they’re not as relaxed or confident as on their earlier records. It’s not a shock that they chose to take a break after this album. The first single was “Only the Horses,” which is reminiscent of their best work but feels a little empty to me. It’s good fun to dance to so, by that metric, it’s still a success.
17. Land of a Thousand Words
Second single from Ta-Dah (2006), released as a single in 2006
The highlight of this ballad, to my ear, is the built that starts at 2:20 and comes to fruition around 3:00 when the counter melody (I hope I’m using that term right) kicks in. One of the strengths of the Scissors Sisters is the interplay between Shear’s voice and Ana Matronic’s (and, on this track, probably Babydaddy’s backing vocals as well) and that is a particular highlight here. On their previous album, I’d really dug their ballad “Return to Oz” (not a single) and I was pleased to hear a similar song in that somber vein on Ta-Dah when it first came out. It starts slow, but the ending is a nice reward.
16. Any Which Way
Second single from Night Work (2010), released as a single in 2010
In some ways, this is a sort of standard Scissors Sisters song and I debated whether I should rank this and “Only the Horses” back to back. However, I love Ana Matronic’s bridge (the one about taking her “pantyhose out of their egg”) I feel like I have to bump this song up a few places. Night Work – their third album – is delightfully, deliberately raunchy (note the provocative Robert Mapplethorpe album cover). “Any Which Way” is essentially an ideal club dance song – it’s about dancing (in terms of music) and hooking up (in terms of everything else). Kylie Minogue is featured as a back-up singer (albeit uncredited).
15. I Can’t Decide
Charted song from Ta-dah (2006), charted in the UK in 2007
You know, this song is so catchy that it would rank considerably higher if I liked the lyrics better. The interpretation at Genius (which I just linked) is that this song is about a serial killer, but I’ve always thought it was about an angry lover who’s been cheated on and is trying to decide whether to forgive or murder. The song has this great jaunty musical hall feel in the verses which is really great fun. This song entered the UK charts because it was used in the Dr. Who episode “The Last of the Time Lords.” This is how musicians make money on their work these days since Spotify only pays them a few pennies a play.
14. Invisible Light
Third single from Night Work (2010), released as a single in 2010
Sir Ian McKellen is a guest vocalist on this song (picture of him and Shears here), which is a pretty great thing. This is a great dramatic dance song with a throbbing beat and a compelling build to the chorus. As I mentioned before, the band ditched an entire set of songs before reconvening and recording the Night Work album. While I can’t speak to the quality of the abandoned songs, the tracks on Night Work are generally artfully constructed (and – as I also mentioned – raunchy) dance songs and reflect all of the band’s strengths. I particularly like the Ana Matronic-sung chorus. If I were to offer one Scissors Sisters song as the “mean” of all their work, this would likely be it. It’s not necessarily their greatest achievement, but its hits every point that I dig about the band.
Stand-alone single released in 2002
This was the one song I didn’t know when I started this process. “Electrobix” was their very first single (the b-side, at the time, was their cover of “Comfortably Numb” and that got a lot more play). Musically, its pretty firmly in Electroclash territory but what makes this song special is the lyrics which address how homophobia is transmitted via peer pressure (and how, in Shears case, it led him to work out so he could be “more manly”). The song isn’t musically as complex as some of their later work (Electroclash is somewhat defined by its simplicity) but it was a positive harbinger of what was to come.
Fourth single from Scissors Sisters (2004), released as a single in 2004
“Mary” is a lovely ballad sung by Jake Shears to a real life friend (Mary Hanlon, who sadly passed away in 2006). There are so many songs out there about romantic relationships that its refreshing to hear a tune about true friendship. Shears shows off his vocal strength in this one, shifting from a more casual approach to the vocals to a more full-throated chorus and then really cutting loose emotionally on the bridge. Musically, the song isn’t especially awesome, but the lyric and singing really elevate this tune to a whole different level.
11. Baby Come Home
Second single from Magic Hour (2012), released as a single in 2012
“Baby Come Home” would not have sounded out-of-place on the Scissors Sisters’ debut album. I’ve ranked two songs from Magic Hour higher, but for just pure fun in the classic “rollicking piano” style of the band, its hard to beat this song. The video – which seems to be a trip through history with the band in a variety of (often humorous) historical costumes and situations – is one of my favorites. Apparently, John Legend was involved in writing this song (he’s credited for lyrics along with Shears, Babydaddy and Ana Matronic). Listen to this one like five times and you’ll be singing the chorus in your head for a month (I speak from experience).
Coming Soon: The song my wife and I used as our first dance at our wedding.
Scissors Sisters Singles Ranked – 11-19 – 1-10