If you’re just joining us, check out the About This Project link for details. Basically, I make playlists of all the singles by certain musical artists and then try to order them using the guiding principle “do I like each song more than the last song.” I define “single” in a broad enough way to include any song that was released as a purchasable single in any format in any country; as a promotional single in any country; as a video; or generally any song that I know charted anywhere. My main sources are Wikipedia (mostly reliable) and Discogs (reasonably reliable). I welcome editing feedback since sometimes I favor speed over spelling.
I shuffled a bunch of these songs around this past week. That’s part of the fun of this whole process for me but also part of what has me creating only one entry on this blog a week.
Third single from Homogenic (1997), released as a single in 1998
This seems to be a good entry to introduce Mark Bell, a remarkable British producer and DJ who collaborated with Björk beginning with Homogenic in 1997 and continuing on every album (Vespertine, Medúlla, Volta, and Biophilia) until his untimely death in 2013. “Hunter” is the first song on the first Björk album that Bell produced. It’s important not to downplay the fact that Björk is still the primary creative force behind her work – she is generally a composer, lyricist, arranger, musician, programmer, etc on nearly all her songs – but its also important to recognize that Mark Bell (and in recent years, Argentinian DJ/musician/producer Arca) played a central role in helping her achieve the sound and tone she was seeking on each of the albums he helped produce. “Hunter” is the first song on Homogenic and sets an overall tone for the record – a contrast between the electronic and the natural. It grabs your attention immediately and serves as an aural mission statement for the rest of the album. The lyrics include a dig at Scandinavians (according to Björk, Icelanders don’t care for Scandinavians because “they’re too organized”). The strings are an especially effective musical element in this piece and if you’re familiar with the song already, I encourage you to listen to the song once or twice just focusing on that element.
39. It’s Oh So Quiet
Third single from Post (1995), released as a single in 1995
Cover of a song originally recorded by Betty Hutton (1951)
This is one of my favorite Björk videos – Spike Jonze filmed it filmed it like an old-fashioned move musical set piece. It’s a real delight and is surely one of the reasons why this song remains Björk’s biggest hit. I do like it quite a bit – I’m enthusiastic about pretty much every song past the mid-50’s on this list. I love how Björk makes the song her own, complete with her trademark screams in every chorus. I would rank it higher but for three things. First, I think it’s one verse/chorus longer than it needs to be. Second, I generally believe that Björk’s original compositions and lyrics are superior to this one – she elevates the song through her performance, but the original is just so-so. Third, familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt and I’ve just heard this song way, way too much. You know what, though, while I was preparing to write this section, I watched the video like nine times because Björk is just so darn charismatic and charming. I am a land of contradictions.
38. Declare Independence
Third single from Volta (2007), released as a single in 2008
When I was in my high school home-recording phase, I really wanted to record a song that just had a stead, stupid beat underpinning some shouted lyrics. The one I created was stupid and awful and I won’t ever share it with anyone. The idea kicked around in my head for years. I feel like Björk reached inside my brain and in 2007 created the song I’d been hearing for like 25 years. Built on top of a throbbing industrial beat by collaborator Mark Bell, “Declare Independence” is a strong (but generic) call to standing up against one’s oppressor – be it in a bad personal relationship or a colonial occupation. Björk has ignited a few international controversies by dedicating the song to various oppressed peoples (or states seeking independence). Really, that’s kind of glorious. Honestly, Björk has actualized many of my teenage musical dreams and I feel incredibly lucky to have lived in a time where somebody of immense talent (who doesn’t know me from any other dumb guy) has completely coincidentally made that happen.
Third single from Utopia (2017), released as a single in 2018
Björk’s latest album – Utopia – is really quite excellent. You may recall that I was saying I was going to rank her singles a year ago but I delayed this because I learned she was just about to release that album. I’ve listened to the album (especially the singles) quite a bit this past year. Of the four singles/videos from Utopia, two are in this chunk of ten songs right in the middle of my list (the third – the title track – is at #67 an the fourth is still coming up). I did not do this by design, that’s just how things sorted out using my extremely scientific “I music like each song more than the previous song” ranking policy. Perhaps in a few years, I will rank them differently. Who can say?
Ok, that aside, you have to watch that video. It is grotesquely beautiful and may be the strangest of Björk’s career. This is an interesting contrast with the song itself, which is an ecstatic, optimistic celebration of new love. Björk built the tune around a looped sample from her collaborator Arca’s “Little Now A Lot.” I love that “Just a Kiss” refrain that weaves through the whole song and think this is one of Björk’s best vocal performances this century. A very happy, positive song. I’d originally ranked it lower but I’ve been bumping it up from section to section since I started this list.
36. Possibly Maybe
Fifth single from Post (1995), released as a single in 1996
According to contemporaneous interviews, Björk considered “Possibly Maybe” to be her first “dark song.” The lyrics are about her failed relationship with French artist Stéphane Sednaoui (who directed the video – a fairly bold and mature choice on both of their parts). Björk’s 90’s work was significantly influenced by popular dance music – this piece in particular has a bit of trip-hop flavor to it. Indeed, it is so low-key that I completely missed it an it’s video back in 1995. I surely heard it (it would have gotten airplay on Radio Free Hawaii, I imagine) but don’t recall it at all. I ranked it much lower when I started this list but the song has really grown on me in the last few months. There’s an oft cited rumor (basically every source on her work that I’ve read mentions this) that Björk recorded her vocal for this song in the nude – presumably to add an additional layer of vulnerability to her performance.
35. Leash Called Love (by The Sugarcubes)
Fourth single from The Sugarcubes’ remix album It’s It (1992), released as a single in 1992
The single version of “Leash Called Love” is a remix of the original from Stick Around For Joy but a remix by Tony Humphries. I’ve read a number of comments about how this song was sort of a precursor to the more dance oriented music Björk would create as a solo artist. I feel an uncontrollable urge (with apologies to Devo) to point out that she recorded “Oops” with 808 State in 1990 and that was intended as a dance song from the start. Björk wants you to move it, move it. She always has. She just wants you to think while you dance (or after you dance, just think, ok?). There’s perhaps a bit of a thematic connection between this song and Björk’s later “Declare Independence” (#38) in that both feature lyrics that encourage emancipation from an oppressive relationship. In conclusion, I should point out that “Leash Called Love” included my all time favorite nonsense vocalizations (the “oooo ooo oh” business). This is apparently called “a vocalise,” which is a fact I did not previously know.
VR Video from Vulnicura (2015), released as a video in 2016
Let me start off by writing that the way Björk roles the “r” in the word “regret” in this song makes me feel incoherently in love with her singing all over again. The songs on Vulnicura largely recap her break-up with long time partner Matthew Barney. “Notget” is set 11 months after the break-up. She has moved into the acceptance phrase of the grief of breaking up and is working on not regretting the relationship. One element of this song cycle that I’ve not focused on is that Björk keeps focusing on the importance of family in her lyrics for em>Vulnicura – she and Barney had a daughter and you’ll note that almost every song makes a reference to the way this break-up has effected the whole family unit. What I love most about “Notget” is the ending “Love will keep us safe from death” mantra which sounds less optimistic than it reads – in fact, Björk sings its like it’s a life preserver that is barely keeping her above water.
33. The Gate
First single from Utopia (2017), released as a single in 2017
“The Gate” was the first single from Utopia and the one that inspired the Rick Juziak Jezebel article that I’ve mentioned previously. Mr. Juziak writes “her music has gone from sonically ready-to-wear future-pop to listening music that’s more akin to haute couture.” I totally get it. When I first heard Homogenic in 1997, I was hooked from the first song (“Hunter,” #40). In the last decade, Björk’s music has asked more and more of the listeners. I confess, when I first heard “The Gate,” I thought it was a formless mess. Indeed, I ranked it near the bottom of this list. The advantage of being at the bottom of my list – as I’ve mentioned before – is that it means I end up listening to the song a lot more early on in the process. I ended up kicking many songs up my list as I realize I like them much more than I initially thought. This is a long way of saying that “The Gate” is not easy listening, but it’s a song that rewards repeat listens. The “Care for you, care for you” refrain in particular is on of the most lovely and reassuring things I’ve heard her sing. Indeed, the lyrics are about deep love and then almost eerie musical collage creates the sense that this is an almost spiritual experience. I recommend putting on your headphones, dimming the lights and listening to this song like you’re a high school student discovering stereo effects for the first time. There’s a dozen or so lovely tiny instrumental explosions buried in the song and Björk’s vocal is both connected emotionally to her lyrics and filled with these great showy moments (like gloriously rolled r’s). But yeah, you may well not like it much the first couple of times. It’s worth the time in my opinion.
I also want to mention that the first line of the song “My healed chest wound/transformed into a gate” is a reference to her split open chest on the cover of her previous album, Vulnicara.
32. New World
Promotional single from Selmasongs (2000), released as a single in 2000
Selmasongs is the soundtrack album to Lars von Trier’s film musical Dancer in the Dark. Björk starred in the film and was nominated for a number of acting awards as well as for her music (the song “I’ve Seen It All,” which received a couple of “Best Song” nominations. Famously, Björk wore her swan dress to the Academy Awards that year. That same dress graced the cover of her next album, Vespertine – which is the cover that inspired this week’s MS Paint illustration at the top of this entry so I feel I need to mention that. “New World” – written by Bjork with poet Sjón and director Lars von Trier – is a very positive sounding tune that occurs over the credits of the film (which, if you know the film, suggests something about where Björk’s character is heading). Both Björk’s acting and musical performance in this film are outstanding and its unfortunate that she received so much abuse at the time from both the director and part of the public. Some great art was created, but I’ll note that Björk has had no trouble creating even greater art without any abuse.
Second promotional single from Vulnicara (2015), single released in 2016
The video for “Lionsong” opens with the wound in Björk’s chest (featured on the cover of Vulnicara) appearing to sing, as if the song is coming directly from her heart. In the narrative of the album, “Lionsong” is set five month prior to the break-up and sees Björk struggling with the realization that the relationship is on the verge of failing. While she sings “somehow I’m not too bothered either way,” the rest of the album gives the lie to this sentiment and this makes the song all the more sad. How we think we’re going to feel when something ends rarely align with our actual reaction. With this song, we enter the realm of “absolutely classic songs by Björk” according to my way of ranking things.
Coming Soon: Another collaboration with Thom Yorke and a stone cold Sugarcubes classic that should maybe be ranked higher.