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.
20. Play Dead (featuring David Arnold)
First single from the soundtrack to the motion picture The Young Americans (1993), released as a single in in 1993
“Play Dead” was added to Debut as a bonus track on international pressings of the album, but it’s not technically from that album originally. In fact, the song was from a movie called The Young Americans – a reasonably forgettable film that is notable for the involvement of David Arnold, composer for five James Bond films. Thus, “Play Dead” (with its drama and strings) sounds like it would be a smashing 007 theme. The song was co-written by Björk, Arnold and legendary bass player Jah Wobble. Honest to goodness, I don’t remember this song at all from 1993 and only really started listening to it while working on this list. It’s a fabulous early solo career performance from Björk and if you’re not familiar with it, you’re in for a treat.
19. All Is Full of Love
Fifth single from Homogenic (1997), released as a single in 1999
I bought Homogenic almost as soon as it came out in 1997 and it quickly became my favorite album of that year. Two years later, I’m watching MTV and they announce Björk’s new music video. Fantastic! I can’t wait to hear a new song from Björk. The video starts and it becomes clear it’s a song from Homogenic. I was disappointed for about ten seconds before I was completely absorbed in the best music video of the decade. Chris Cunningham’s take on “All Is Full Of Love” absolutely floored me and still stands out as a milestone in music video work. The song itself is a lovely piece about how love is all around us (doing in 4 minutes what the film Love Actually takes two hours to do) even if it is not really representative of the tone of the rest of the album. If I was ranking the videos, this would be easily number one. Since it’s the songs I’m addressing, I’ll write that this is an essential part of Björk’s discography that belongs in the top twenty. At #19.
18. Mutual Core
Video from Biophelia (2011), video released in 2012
Looking at my spreadsheet of Björk singles, I note that every time I’ve returned to rerank songs, I’ve moved “Mutual Core” up another few places. I’ve mentioned this before – while the albums that leap to mind when I think “best Björk album” are Homogenic, Vespertine and Medúlla, there are times when I think it might actually be the entrancingly weird Biophilia. “Mutual Core” stands as one of the key reasons for this. I absolutely adore the contrast between the meandering, melismatic verses and the direct, booming chorus. When she sings “This eruption undoes stagnation,” I am completely sold on the song. The lyrics are an extended metaphor about the contrasting stability and volatility of human relationships as represented by the movement of tectonic plates. You’re not going to find that metaphor on a Def Leppard track (with the acknowledgement that I dig Def Leppard for entirely different reasons).
Promotional single from Medúlla (2004), released as a single in 2004
If you didn’t watch Björk sing this at the Olympic opening ceremony in Athens, you must watch her turn into the ocean. I get chills. Surely that is one of the greatest opening ceremony moments in history. Björk wrote the lyrics specifically for the Olympics and they’re “how the ocean doesn’t see boundaries between countries and thinks everyone is the same.” If I recall correctly, the album came out well before the Olympics because I think I was already familiar with the song when I watched this “live” (I was much more into watching the Olympics 15 years ago). As with all songs on Medúlla, this track is composed exclusively of human voices and features beatboxer Shlomo as well as The London Choir. I have a very hard time isolating how I feel about this song from how I feel about her Olympics performance. Of course, the things that make us love a song aren’t always things actually present in that song.
Promotional single from Vulnicura (2015), released as a single in 2015
A small number of you may recall that I had been planning to start this list over a year ago and stopped because I learned Björk was about to release a new album (which turned out to be Utopia). At that time, I was trying to decide how I would address the songs from Vulnicura because technically she didn’t release any official singles from it. Furthermore (and I haven’t written this before), it was my least favorite Björk album. I’d had a difficult time connecting with the songs and sort of dreaded having to listen to the tunes for this list. This anxiety deepened when I committed to including every song by artists whose work I was ranking that had been released in any form including video, single, or what have you. Nearly every song on Vulnicura had an official video associated with it!
The good news is that after working on this project, I quite like Vulnicura both for its overarching narrative and for its individual songs. I’ve returned to the opinion that Björk has never made a bad album – just albums that are sometimes harder to absorb first time around. The lyrics are kind of heartbreaking – if you recall, Vulnicura details the recent dissolution of Björk’s long-term relationship. “Stonemilker” is set nine months before that break-up and features Björk trying to get her partner to be more emotionally open to her – getting milk from a stone, as it were. When she sings “show me emotional respect,” I want to weep for her. Björk wrote the piece for strings and there are places where you can hear her sorrow through those instruments. “Stonemilker” opens the album and creates a context for everything that happens next – she’s trying to keep the relationship alive but in the end, she can’t. Such a powerful song!
<small>That took me three years to really, truly love.</small)
Second single from Life’s Too Good (1988), released as a single in 1988
All these years later and I still have almost no idea what the lyrics to “Coldsweat” mean. I think it is about murder or maybe sex or maybe both at the same time. Whatever it’s about, Björk means business when she sings “I will not finish/Till I’m fully satisfied” and I’m both terrified and intrigued. While my excitement about “Birthday” (#24) has faded a bit with time, I still find myself feeling that old “wow this great new band” thrill whenever I hear “Coldsweat.” In addition to Björk’s vocal performance, I am blown away by Þór Eldon’s guitar work here. Just fantastic.
First single from Stick Around for Joy (1992), released as a single in 1992
“Hit” opens with the line “This wasn’t supposed to happen” and, indeed, The Sugarcubes having the biggest hit of their career with their farewell album probably wasn’t supposed to happen. Listening to “Hit” side by side with Björk’s other songs I’m struck by how much this sounds like a natural step towards Debut. I have no idea, of course, if she was the primary creative force behind this song (and, honestly, The Sugarcubes had a reputation for being very democratic in their creative process so I’d be surprised if that were the case). The lyrics are about falling in love against your will after deciding you’re done with love. Hey! I know this first hand! I met Sharon and fell in love after deciding I was done with love, too! I think we become more romantically attractive once we’re finished with romance. But only if we’re really, genuinely finished with it without a trace of bitterness because bitterness is rarely attractive.
13. Earth Intruders
First single from Volta (2007), released as a single in 2007
I had no idea what to make of the relentlessly catchy “Earth Intruders” when it was first released. At the time, it was hailed by some as a return to a more pop oriented sound for Björk – fair statement, even though both Vespertine and Medúlla had some glorious pop moments, they weren’t exactly “Big Time Sensuality” level catchy, right? Björk returned to pop, though, with everything she’d learned in the ensuing years about composition and production in place. “Earth Intruders” doesn’t sound like anything she’d previously released – it’s an aggressive, distorted track that is appropriate for both dancing and pondering. I’ve always assumed the lyrics were about how the Earth must perceive humans – as unwelcome invaders inflicting damage and war on her. I’m sure there is more to the song than that, but I like my interpretation. I’m going to go and pout a big fanboy pout if I’m wrong.
12. Army of Me
First single from Post (1994), released as a single in 1994
Before I read anything about this song, I’m going to tell you that I’ve always thought this was a mother talking to her obstinate child. I’m going to read about it now and see how close to the mark that analysis was.
….and I’m wrong. “Army of Me” is literally Björk addressing her brother. At least I knew it was a family member speaking to another family member? “Army of Me” is one of Björk’s most aggressive songs – it doesn’t quite cross the line into industrial territory but it would totally fit into a playlist with “Head Like A Hole” in my opinion.
11. Big Time Sensuality
Third Single from Debut (1993), released as a single in 1993
I can no longer find it online, but Dawn French of French and Saunders did a pretty hilarious parody of this video at one point. “Big Time Sensuality” cemented the success of Debut and arguably was the launch pad for the success of her next album, Post. The single is a remix by Fluke of the original album version. It has a distinct house flavor to it and made it clear that Björk was diving deep into dance music. The lyrics are about Björk’s enormous love for her friends and the great times they have together – a perfect lyric for a dance song, in my opinion. I had barely given any track other than “Human Behavior” a listen when Debut first came out but when I heard this song (first on MTV, later when I played it on KTUH), I went and bought the CD. The version on the album is different (which was a bit of a surprise at the time) but I’ve come to love it as much (maybe even more) than the remix single.
Coming Soon: Ten songs so good that it’s dangerous to listen to them back to back.