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 confess, when I initially saw the Sugarcubes, I was interested in Björk both because of her artistry and because she was a sort of ur-manic pixie dream girl icon for me (this was years before that concept existed, I think). I’m an adult now, so the latter response no longer informs my feeling about her work. Björk has always been a great artist – it’s on me that it took me a decade or so to fully realize that that was the important thing to keep in my while grappling with her work.
Björk does have an official website – something I initially didn’t notice because I’m lazy an it didn’t come up on the first page of my Google search. I found it because I visited her Twitter and discovered the link in the sidebar. #badfan
60. Walkabout (by The Sugarcubes)
Second single from Stick Around for Joy (1992), released as a single in 1992
We’re still in the “good song, but doesn’t really stick in my brain” section of the list. I know I played “Walkabout” during my last year as a KTUH DJ because I recorded all of my shows on cassette tape and saw that title on one of the later ones. I could not, for the life of me, remember how the song went. It was the follow-up to “Hit” (which was, appropriately, a college radio hit) which I rather like so I know I must have been excited about playing it at the time. However, based on my surviving recording of my radio show (which was called A121, which was another way of saying ACXXI, which was an acronym for my high school Dungeons and Dragons character), I didn’t play it again. What I do like about this song is that Björk sings the word “delicious,” which reminds me of The Sugarcubes’ excellent non-single “Delicious Demon.” As I’ve been listening to this song these past few months, I enjoy it when I hear it but nothing much sticks with me.
The Internet has kind of ruined the whole concept of “rare singles.” For example only 1000 copies of The Beats Mix of “Enjoy” were ever released. Now, you have the option of clicking play on that embedded YouTube link and listening to it now. While this single is ostensibly promoting Björk’s remix album Telegram (featuring remixes of songs from her third solo album Post), the mix on that album is titled the Further Over The Edge mix. I’ve gone through phases where I really loved this song, but over the past bunch of months its increasingly fallen into the “can’t quite remember how that one goes” camp. I remember as soon as it starts, but like many of the other songs in this stretch, it’s gone moments after it ends. I do, indeed, follow the chorus’ demand that I enjoy the album version of this song for the duration. This particular remix would likely be great on the dance floor but is a bit too much of a good thing when you’re on a hike.
Fourth single from Biophilia (2011), released as a single in 2011
I love that video, not in the least because it reveals that Björk’s cool belt on the cover of Biophilia is, in fact, a harp. In terms of structure, this is a remarkable song that sounds simple but it really rather mathematically complex. There’s a good description of the unusual time signature and overlapping harp structure at Wikipedia. The lyrics address how the moon interacts with the Earth with an implicit suggestion of how the cycles of the moon are associated with women and birth (note that the harp belt in the video is exactly where Björk would carry a baby). The harp figure that starts the song is a fabulous, warm hook (I immediately thought of Joanna Newsom when I heard it). It took me a long, long time to get into this song and I’m still not completely there. Björk, as always, sounds fantastic but I can’t really find an aural foothold that let’s me into the vocal melody. The four repeating harp sequences though? Mesmerizing and brilliant.
57. Náttúra (featuring Thom Yorke)
Stand-alone charity single released in 2008
For a long time, this was the bottom song on this list. After I’ve made an initial ranking of all of an artists songs, I listen to the list from start to end at least half a dozen times (probably 30 times in Björk’s case). Since I rarely have 5 hours and 24 minutes to listen through Björk’s whole singles catalog, I will usually stop after 30-45 minutes and then start again where-ever I left off. Sometimes (oftentimes), I don’t have time for this and just start the list from the beginning. This means that for several months, I heard this song a whole lot more than some of the songs I’ve ranked quit a bit higher (this also means that while ranking Bowie songs, I heard “Dancing in the Streets” about three times as much as “It’s No Game (Part 1)” – which perhaps explains some of my bitterness towards the former song). Anyhow, I found that I really like two specific parts of “Náttúra” (performed in glorious Icelandic). First, the drums (I assume played by Björk) are really fantastic. Second, I genuinely really dig the urgency/release delivery of the lines in the verses. Thom Yorke is apparently part of the background drone somewhere in the mix (you can hear him distinctly if you’re already familiar with how Radiohead sometimes uses his voices as an element of their soundscape – I’m thinking of “Optimistic” – #10) but you’d likely not pick up a copy of this single for that reason unless you really, really dig background drones. I do.
Video from Vulnicura (2015), released as a video in 2016
Another track with an absolutely killer rhythm track (sampled from a piece called “Apologies” by Spaces). Björk addresses her mother’s heart attack and subsequent brief coma (her mother recovered) in the lyrics. Other than the drum sample, I really dig the little “oh oh” backing vocal sounds. “Quicksand” opens the Vulnicura song cycle, which is significant. Each song occurs a certain amount of time before or after her break-up and this song, which means this song provides some context for a larger theme of the album. She also includes “Mouth Mantra” (about her vocal surgery and subsequent silence) on this album, which suggests there’s an element of Björk questioning who she would be without her mother, voice and partner. Fortunately (?), she only lost one of these things permanently during the lead-up to the album but you could make an argument that self-reflection was central to the whole project. That is in fact the argument I’m making.
Second single from Biophilia (2011), released as a single in 2011
I love Biophilia in its entirety (it would be on my “top five Björk album” list) but find that the different pieces don’t always work as well for me out of context. She shares four different views of creation in the lyrics, ending with the Big Bang Theory as a sort of Monty Python-esque joke (paraphrasing, though she has said the choice to include that with the other creation myths was a joke). It’s a thought-provoking joke – we have been trying to explain the origins of the universe for our species’ entire history based on what evidence we had available at the time. Who is to say that we won’t gather more evidence that makes the Big Bang theory seem like a quaint belief held by ancient people? Musically, “Cosmogony” has a gentle (but almost formal – like something that would be played at an official ceremony) structure. The vocal melody is, thus, something of a minor anthem, which is appropriate for celebrating the origin of everything.
Video NSFW – but she’s in a body suit so you’re not seeing real nudity
Third single from Vespertine (2001), released as a single in 2002
Oh, jeez, this song. It’s a fantastic song that makes me profoundly anxious due to it’s mildly erotic lyrics and sultry vocal delivery. That’s completely on me. Write the songs you want to write Björk. Pay no attention to anyone else’s hang-ups, especially mine. Thank you. I can’t make it through an episode of Arrested Development without having to turn it off occasionally and walk around because I get so socially anxious for the characters. I think the show is hilarious. I’ve been like this since I was a kid – I couldn’t get through a whole episode of The Little Rascals without taking a break to play with legos. So, in brief, if the art and entertainment world pandered to my anxieties, we wouldn’t have had Alfafa, the Bluths or this amazing song. That said, I confess, I would have ranked it higher if the lyrics were about molecules or different types of clouds or something else that didn’t make me anxious. Seriously, though, the bass and the scritchy noises? Fantastic. One of her finest compositions and if I ever get over my hang-ups, I’d probably ran it a lot higher.
This once again drives home the overall absurdity of me (or sort of anyone) ranking songs. We can’t help but let our own baggage influence how songs affect us. That’s how art works. Indeed, that’s how communication works. Indeed, indeed, how being human works.
53. Planet (by The Sugarcubes)
Second single from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! (1989), released as a single in 1989
In 1989, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t the only one who felt like Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! was disappointing. I remember trying to make “Speed is the Key” a thing on my ’89 radio shows on KTUH and WRBC, but I don’t really remember much about it other than Björk making “Deus”-like “whoop whoop” noises now and again. My method as a DJ for selecting songs from a new album was that I’d listen to the first 10-15 seconds of each track until I heard something that sounded promising and then playing it on the air. This sometimes resulted in discovering a song like “F***ing in Rhythm & Sorrow” from Life’s Too Good, but it sometimes meant playing a song that just happened to have a decent musical intro but not much else. My favorite thing about “Planet” is when Einar Örn sings “Every man, every woman.” It’s kind of a perfect Fred Schnieder moment. I’ve been pondering that both The Sugarcubes and The B-52’s were singing songs about planets and the universe in 1989 (I mean, this is a career long thing for The B-52’s) because I have this game I play in my head where I try to imagine Sugarcubes songs performed by the B-52’s and vice versa. I encourage you to play this too. Listen to “Planet” and imagine Kate Pierson singing the Björk parts and Fred Schneider singing the Einar Örn parts. Now call them up and get them to do that. I’ll download that song in a heartbeat.
52. Söngull (by KUKL)
From the album The Eye (1984), released as a single in 1983
Before The Sugarcubes, Björk, Einar Örn, keyboardist Einar Melax and drummer Sigtryggur “Siggi” Baldursson were part of a goth-rock Icelandic supergroup called KUKL. They released one album titled The Eye before the members amicably moved on to other projects (this seems to have been the norm for The Sugarcubes’ artistic circle in the early 80’s – indeed, the success and comparative longevity of The Sugarcubes was perhaps the exception not the rule). Anyhow, KUKL leaned a little more goth rock and while I don’t think they’d have been able to break onto the UK and the US College radio charts in 1984, I surely wish I’d heard them before 2018. I suspect most of the International interest in the band would not exist if it were not for The Sugarcubes’ subsequent success. When I first tried to download the track from iTunes, I discovered that the tune they have marked as “Dismembered” (the English translation of “Söngull”) was in fact the track “The Spire.” I encourage you to download the fifth track on The Eye if you’re using iTunes, because that one is, in fact, the song you’re looking for. Anyhow, this is an interesting little look into what-might-have-been. Einar Örn’s contribution is, as always, priceless.
51. The Dull Flame of Desire (featuring Antony Hegarty)
Fifth single from Volta (2007), released as a single in 2008
OK, so when Björk recorded this song with Anohni from the band Anthony and the Johnsons, she was still using her birth name, so I left that in the credits, but I will refer to her as Anohni for the rest of this entry. I honestly no almost nothing else of Anohni’s body of work (in fact, I knew nothing about her during the entire period that I was listening to Björk’s and did a minimal amount of research just now as I sat down to write), but she was nominated for an Academy Award for best song for “Manta Ray” from the film Racing Extinction and is clearly an artist of note. A little poking around the Internet suggest that she shares Björk’s views on protecting the planet and that they also have a significant artistic overlap. Anohni is clearly an artist in whom I should invest some more time.
Anyhow, “The Dull Flame of Desire” draws its lyrics from the English translation of a poem by Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev. Björk and Anohni have very different voices and when I first heard this song, I was skeptical about the pairing (again, knowing nothing about Anohni), but by the time they’re singing together, their voices really do blend splendidly (much as their faces blend in the video). I don’t have any particular critique about this song, I just like 50 of Björk’s other singles better.
Coming Soon: Everything about my ranking process for Björk’s singles has been volatile, but I moved three songs that I’d originally ranked in this chunk into the next chunk. Assuming I don’t move them again, three really classic Björk tunes are in the 41-50 section. Pray I don’t alter the list further.