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.
Björk has long been one of my favorite artists. It took over a year before I started this list and then – because I became obsessed about playing through Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim again – an extra amount of time before I’ve actually finished the list. The positive thing is it means I’ve spent a lot more time listening to Björk’s music, and I apologize that those brave few of you who read these entries had to wait so long for this – the epic conclusion. And epic it is! Not because of my writing but because Björk is epic and these are the most epic moments (in my opinion, of course).
Let’s do this.
Second single from Volta (2007), released as a single in 2007
I’ve consistently moved “Innocence” higher up the list every single time I re-listened to my playlist. The lyrics are decent, but the music is fanastic – a herky-jerky, slightly distorted rhythm coupled with a vocal delivery that sounds like Björk is sneaking up behind the musicians only to have them pull out in front again. Timbaland co-wrote this song, which explains some (but not all) of the stylistic elements. When Volta came out, this song made absolutely no impression on me. I came to love it through repeated listens (which is a lesson about myself and music that I am constantly having to relearn).
9. Triumph of a Heart
Second single from Medúlla (2004), released as a single in 2005
I mean, the little meows on the chorus’ backing track pretty much sells me on the song. The fact that the video features a cat also helps, though I don’t think that influenced my love of this song more than a little. The lyrics of “Triumph of a Heart” have something to do with a celebration of the human body – so the “heart” in the title must be a literal heart, right? What makes the song magical is the overall composition. The beatbox tracks provided by Dokaka, Gregory Purnhagen and Rahzel are thrilling, particularly during the chorus when one of them vocalizes a trumpet part. Truly, the piece feels like Björk and her collaborators are having a splendid time and that mood is infectious. I especially love singing along with the “why ticka ticka why ticka tick” part of the beatbox track.
Third single from Life’s Too Good (1988), released as a single in 1988
Björk vocal work on “Deus” sounds fragile and uncertain which contrasts nicely with her more confident and playful work on some of The Sugarcubes’ other tracks on Life’s Too Good. Einar Örn is kind of the real star on this track – his lyrics about his encounter with a kind of cool, side-burned God who makes him “squeeky clean” are very funny as well as kind of disturbing. Back at Bates, my WRBC friends and I quoted the “I said ‘hi,’ he said ‘hi'” sequence whenever it made sense (or almost made sense) to do so. The Sugarcubes experienced diminishing returns on their second and third album, but song for song, Life’s Too Good remains one of the best albums of the late 80’s.
First single from Homogenic (1997), released as a single in 1997
Björk had a clear idea of what she wanted to say on “Jóga” but she struggled with the words, so asked her friend Sjón to compose them instead. The result is one of the most beautiful songs in her catalog – a gorgeous electronic piece with lyrics inspired by the scenic beauty of Iceland and music influenced by that country’s traditional songs. The title of this song is the name of Björk’s close friend Jóga Johannsdóttir – presumably the one who pushes Björk to the “state of emergency” she sings of during the chorus. I first heard this song when my roommate Matt brought home a copy of Homogenic and it is one of many reasons that I immediately went out and bought that album too. An absolute stone cold classic – about Iceland, which I imagine has no shortage of cold stones.
Fourth single from Life’s Too Good (1988), released as a single in 1988
My favorite Sugarcubes single is my second favorite Sugarcubes song (this is my favorite). The lyrics share two perspectives on a story about a girl on a bike who has a (perhaps) unhealthy fixation on the titular motorcrashes. Einar Örn provides the eye witness account of her unusual behavior while Björk sings from the perspective of the bicyclist. The Sugarcubes recorded this song 8 years before the 1996 film Crash was released but I have no reason for believing the creators of that film were influenced by this song. Anyhow, what makes this song great is that it’s a perfectly formed song, particularly the guitar work. I’ve loved it now for 30 years.
First single from Biolphilia (2011), released as a single in 2011
As on “Virus,” (#23) “Crystalline” employs a gameleste – a hybrid of gamelan and celesta played on MIDI that was created exclusively for the Biophilia sessions. Björk and her collaborators use that instrument to create music that sounds appropriate for celebrating the geological process of crystallization (used here as an extended metaphor for how relationships strengthen). Without question, this is my favorite song by Björk this decade. I love the off-kilter sound produced by the gameleste as well as Björk’s passionate vocal performance. There are many times that I believe Björk is among the only artists alive today that can get away with lyrics about chemical processes. Or, frankly, metaphors.
4. Hidden Place
First single from Vespertine (2001), released as a single in 2001
Björk creates most of her own beats. The story goes that she was working on Vespertine as a hobby while filming Dancer in the Dark and since she had to be extroverted for that film, she chose to make an introverted album for pleasure. She sat at home on her personal computer making beats and writing lyrics. “Hidden Place” is about the secret world you build with somebody with whom you’re in a relationship – more about the secret ways you connect emotionally and less about a literal location. The first time I listened to Vespertine, I found it lovely but impenetrable. This was by design – the lyrics and music feel just out of reach, like Björk and her collaborators are deliberately keeping the volumes a little too soft, the bass a little too deep. I’m not sure how I found my way in (probably the brute force of repeated listenings) but ultimately I connected deeply with the whole album. This is maybe Björk’s most romantic song and you can still dance to it if you want to (but you will want to leave your friends behind).
Fourth single from Post (1995), released as a single in 1996
“Hyperballad” is a song about doing something aggressive so you can be pleasant to the person you love. In the case of these lyrics, it is about Björk going to the edge of a cliff and hurling things off of it – things like forks and knives and car parts that will undoubtedly need to be replaced later. We all do things to get out those negative emotions sometimes – I walk and run (and sometimes get to the gym) or write dreadful poetry or whatever. It doesn’t always work perfectly but it certainly can make it easier to be a pleasant person. I’m like a dog that needs to be taken on long walks so I don’t eat the couch pillows. When I first really heard “Hyperballad,” I thought “Björk gets what I go through – she goes through the same thing” and I found that very comforting. Sometimes, when art reflects something about your life that you don’t think anyone else knows, it gives you a little more strength to face the world. Plus, “Hyperballad” struck me as the best song title ever when I first heard it 22 years ago.
2. Human Behaviour
First single from Debut (1993), released as a single in 1993
I don’t think it is a secret that I used to listen to the Dr. Demento Show all the time. Even if you’ve previously not known that, you probably recognize the truth of it in your heart. One of my favorite songs from that show was Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock singing “Highly Illogical,” a song where the famous Vulcan sings about coming to Earth to study the ways of humans. Björk had always seemed a little otherworldly as a member of The Sugarcubes, so when she released her first single from her first (adult) solo album and that single was about observing human behavior, she seemed to confirm that she’d be sent from another planet (probably not Vulcan) to study us. It turned into the first song in the “Isobel” cycle along with “Isobel” (#43), “Bachelorette” and “Wanderlust” (#30), essentially following the story of a magical girl born in the forest who eventually makes trees grow in all the cities. This first song is from the perspective of that character as a little girl. I was a little concerned that it would be difficult for Björk to have a successful solo career (i.e. one where I still got to hear her music) when she left The Sugarcubes, but this first single was so wonderfully unique and catchy that I was reassured that we’d be hearing from her for a long time. And we have!
Second single from Homogenic (1997), released as a single in 1997
“Bachelorette” opens with one of the greatest lines from any of Björk’s songs: “I’m a fountain of blood/In the shape of a girl.” The lyrics were composed by her frequent collaborator, the poet Sjón. I love their working method – Björk and Sjón sit at a table with wine and she tells him the story of the song over several days and then he turns that into lyrics. Everything about this song is epic – the sweeping strings, the enormous drums and of course Björk’s delivery. I placed this song at #1 almost from the first day I was working on ranking her singles and my opinion didn’t budge throughout the whole process. I still get a thrill the moment I hear the descending line on the strings in the first five seconds of the piece. Once this song starts, I have to listen to it the whole way through or I need to go and hurl cutlery off a cliff before I can function again.
And here we end our journey through the singles of Björk. I sincerely hope this list is out of date soon because she’s released more great music. Thank you for joining me!
Coming Soon: A Flock of Seagulls