The Cure Singles Ranked, 21-30

Originally Published on Facebook Notes (April 4, 2017)

This is the third in a series of entries listing Cure singles (not all Cure songs) in reverse order of excellence based on the very scientific principal of “what I like.”

And now, please enjoy:

30. A Letter to Elise

The lyrics of 1992’s “A Letter to Elise” (from the Wish album) are based on Franz Kafka’s letters to Felice Bauer. He loved her and courted her in exactly the way you’d imagine Kafka would. Really, this song is a pretty good summation of their romance. Its also one of the strongest songs on Wish – classic, confident Cure with memorable guitar and keyboard work and a perfectly lovely and melancholy Smith vocal. Smith found some of his best lyrical inspiration in literature. Or Stallone movies. Not kidding.

29. This is a Lie

This gem is from 1996’s Wild Mood Swings but the odds are pretty good you missed it unless you’re a hardcore fan. You’d either have had to purchased the album or have lived in France – the only country where it was released as a single. The lyric is great – its basically asking us to call all of our basic beliefs into questions. It reminds me of some of Bertolt Brecht’s lyrics, actually. The idea that our particular way of life, or religion, or relationship choices are the only way to do things is obviously not the case. There’s more than one way, as it were, to skin a love cat. I crack myself up. Anyhow, the song is built on a base of strings and I’d propose it would have been a better song (both musically and lyrically) for the closing credits of Judge Dredd than “Dredd Song.” (see #50 on my list)

28. The Perfect Boy

1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me! was such an embarrassment of riches that we haven’t even listed a song from it yet. And I still haven’t! But I bring it up here in reference to 2008’s “The Perfect Boy” (from 4:13 Dream) because that earlier album had a wonderful song (not a single) titled “The Perfect Girl.” The earlier song was a wonderful, typically quirky love song to the titular character. “The Perfect Boy” is delightful in its own way, even though the boy turns out to be less than perfect. The lyric is divided into three parts. In the first, we hear the girl’s perception of this relationship and its idealized. In the second, we hear the boy’s perception and learn he’s a real jerk. In the third, Smith offers some commentary about how the girl’s romantic perceptions and optimism aren’t quashed by the cad’s behavior and the search for the perfect boy continues. It is left to the listener to reflect on the wisdom of this choice. I know I’ve been critical of The Cure while discussing some of their songs that have already appeared on this list for attempting to replicate their classic sound. On this song, they do sound like their classic selves but it doesn’t sound like they’re trying to sound that way – its just how the song is supposed to sound. Does that make sense? At any rate, its a great tune.

27. A Forest

Oh, this should probably be higher on the list. Where, though? Where? We’re getting to the hair splitting phase already and we’re not even in the top 20. “A Forest” is a glorious, haunting song from 1980’s Seventeen Seconds. Smith and co weren’t really satisfied with the sound of the first album so on this album, Smith co-produced with legendary producer Mike Hedges. Well, he’s legendary because of his work with The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. He’s as much responsible for helping them find their classic sound as Smith, perhaps. Smith’s vision, Hedges’ studio mastery. If I were to characterize the music on The Cure’s first three 80’s albums, it would be the sonic equivalent of falling asleep and being at that moment before you drift either into an unsettling dream or an out and out nightmare. Matthieu Hartley had joined the band on keyboards and Simon Gallup was the new bass player (thanks to a successful collaboration with Smith in Cult Hero). The sound was already night and day different from Three Imaginary Boys.

26. Hot Hot Hot!!!

Here we are at Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me! I’m so excited. We haven’t even reached Disintegration yet. The Cure released this double album in 1987 and promptly exploded. The band basically had an explosion of creativity and productivity over the next bunch of year. They were releasing B-Side that were as strong as the album tracks. I mean they had songs everywhere. Not to be confused with Buster Pointdexter’s cover of Arrow’s “Hot Hot Hot” (also released in 1987), this is sort of the universally least loved single from Kiss Me. And its still great. The lyrics are probably nonsense (but who knows?) but the band plays with such funk and Smith is clearly having such a blast that who cares? Not only is this song a concert highlight, it is a great song to dance to when you’re in Walmart and have your head phones on and are alone in the aisle. Or think you’re alone in the aisle. The thinking is the important part.

25. The 13th

“The 13th” (from 1996’s Wild Mood Swings) is sometimes held up as The Cure’s least loved single. I have no time for that opinion anymore. When it first came out, I listened to the first minute of it and basically gave up on The Cure for a few years. I was an idiot. Still am. But the point is, I’m less of an idiot now because now I’ve listened to the whole song and have pondered the tune in context of The Cure’s longer career. They were experimenting with Spanish influence as early as “The Blood” and have a number of songs where they’ve used brass to great effect. What I really like about this song is how it sort of meanders along formlessly and then resolves into those great “BUT IT FEELS GOOD” sections. There’s a sense of chaos giving way order in those moment that’s fun and delightful. I feel like several of the songs on Wild Mood Swings are about how making out is pretty awesome, none more than “The 13th.”

24. Boys Don’t Cry

I know, I know, almost all of my placements of early Cure songs are shockingly low (except for one which might be shockingly high depending on how you feel about that particular song). Its not that I don’t like them (for the most part) just that I like mid-period Cure even better. I mean, we still have four songs from Disintegration and three songs from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me to go. That’s 7 of 8 singles from those albums. That’s where my preference lies. That said, 1979’s “Boys Don’t Cry” (featuring the classic Cure line-up of Smith-Dempsey-Tolhurst) is a classic piece of post-punk power pop. The band is tight as can be – I love the “dun dun dun” unison playing. If you know the song, you know what I mean. The lyric is pop perfection – its sort of a rocked up take on “Tears of a Clown.” Of course, the irony is that Smith was perfectly happy to cry (he ended many concerts in the early 80’s overwhelmed with emotion because of the nature of their songs at that time). Michael Dempsey left The Cure after the first album and went on to join The Associates – about whom we’ll hear a bit more later.

23. Friday I’m in Love

“Friday I’m In Love” (from 1992’s Wish) was their second biggest US hit (I know it probably feels like it was their biggest, but “Lovesong” reached #2 and “Friday” didn’t even make the top 10). It’s the highest ranked song from Wish on my list (which sounds like a Hall and Oates lyric). The Cure had two line-up changes between Disintegration and Wish. As I mentioned, Lol Tolhurst was sacked for his drinking (and may not have been much of a musical force in his final few years with the band at any rate). On the other hand, losing keyboardist Roger O’Donnell was a big deal. He was replaced with Perry Balmonte who served with distinction for several years as a keyboardist and guitar player before being sacked in 2005. Anyhow, Balmonte is the new member as of Wish and his contributions are generally excellent. Every band, I think, should record a big dumb song at some point in their career. Its cathartic for both the band and the fans. This is The Cure’s big dumb song. Smith always had a knack for tight, catchy pop (see “Boys Don’t Cry”) that he sometimes embraced and sometimes struggled against. On “Friday I’m In Love,” he let all of his happy pop demons out and the world is a better place for it. I can also understand why he’d resist wanting this song to be his legacy – he wrote so many other songs with better lyrics and better music. You don’t get to choose which of your songs become huge hits or what people remember about you. Just ask the late, great Chuck “My Ding-a-ling” Berry.

22. The Caterpillar

I loved The Top (1984) and I love this pastoral number about a girl who is eventually going to turn into a butterfly and fly away from Smith. Smith employs that great “flicker flicker flicker” onomatopoeia to capture the sound of the titular girl flying in and out of his life. She brings him great joy but he knows it won’t last. This has long been one of my favorite songs and The Top one of my favorite albums, but there’s still 21 songs I like even more. The Cure, right?

21. Why Can’t I Be You?

“Why Can’t I Be You” was the first single off of 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me! and its another frenetic pop song (perhaps the grandfather of “Friday I’m In Love”). It features Smith singing “doo doo doo” like he does, blaring horns, a great Boris Williams opening drum fill (Boris is a monster drummer on this album) and a lyric that seems to be about a fan wanting to be Robert Smith – a theme he revisits with even more success on “Fascination Street.” The whole song is so much fun that you almost forget Lol Tolhurst appears in blackface in the video. Almost. Standards were different in the UK in 1987 than in the USA I guess but even I (sheltered white guy in New England) knew in 1987 that that was not ok and it made it hard for me to enjoy the song (which I’d previous loved quite a bit). And don’t get me started on Kate Bush’s “Eat The Music” video. Oh, English musicians in the late 80’s/early 90’s! Again, different cultures, different norms but, yeah, blackface is just racist. Ironic blackface is still racist.

Coming Next: Finally, a song from Disintegration. Two, in fact.

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