Björk Singles Ranked, 41-50

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.

With this set of songs, we enter “I pretty much quite like everything from here on out” territory.

Also, this is how Björk pronounces her name.

50. Nature is Ancient

Video of a song from the box set Family Tree (2002), released as a video in 2002

I’ve railed on about performers including new songs on their greatest hits collection as a method of increasing sales of those albums. I’m endlessly amused by the idea that – for example – “Hallucinating Pluto” by The B-52’s (#28) gets to be included on a greatest hits album with “Roam” and “Private Idaho” (#1 an #2). It’s neither “hit” nor “greatest.”

I’m a significantly more ambivalent about an artist (and/or record label) including a new track on a box set, particularly one that is focused on rarities like Family Tree. “Nature is Ancient” is but one of many previously unreleased or rare/hard to find tracks (including tracks from KUKL and The Elgar Sisters) on this collection. Yes, it does include a disc of songs Björk has selected as her greatest hits, but “Nature is Ancient” isn’t included on that particular disc (I encourage you to check out the track list on Disc 6 which includes a bunch of songs that were not singles but which are excellent, such as “You’ve Been Flirting Again” from Post.

“Nature is Ancient” started life as the B-Side for “Bachelorette,” which means it was probably recorded during the Homogenic sessions. It sounds a bit more like a flash forward to her Volta. Even though it’s a pretty good song, I can hear why she didn’t include it on Homogenic – there’s a sort of lush chill that runs through that album but “Nature is Ancient” has a much warmer feeling. I quite like the rhythm – it presaged “Earth Intruders,” among other tracks.

49. History of Touches (Krampfhaft Remix)

Remix single from Vulnicura (2015), released as a single in 2015

Vulnicura, if you recall, is largely a document of the dissolution of Björk’s relationship with long-term partner Matthew Barney. The lyrics of “History of Touches” depict an intimate moment between them about three months before the break-up. She creates a really beautiful image (which she proceeds to puncture) around the concept that their bodies are a sort of catalog of all of the moments they’ve touched. While some of the lyrics do tweak my native priggishness (see also #63 and #54), the truth is this is among my favorite songs from Vulnicura – perhaps one of my favorite songs by Björk ever. So why rank it so low? Well, the album version is not, in this case, the single version. Unlike the rest of the songs from Vulnicura, there was no video released for this track, just this remix single. It’s fine, but the album version of the song is gorgeous and sad – this version loses some of that emotional oomph to my ear.

48. Oops (808 State Featuring Björk)

From the 808 State album ex:el (1991), released as a single in 1991

I recently acquired a cassette to MP3 converter and will be able to go through my old tapes converting all manner of music to MP3 form. It’s glorious. Or it will be if I can get it to work. I’ll be able to take my cassette tapes of my old radio shows (I used to record every single one of my shows at KTUH) and turn them into MP3 files that I can mail out to all of you. Hopefully, I won’t have said especially stupid or awful stuff on the air back then. Hmm.

One song that will absolutely be found on several of those cassettes is “Oops” by Manchester based electronic music group 808 State. That band name confused me in 1991. I live in Hawaii – area code 808 – and we occasionally refer to ourselves as being from the 808 State. This band’s name is referring to the Roland TR-808 drum machine. I feel like I must have played other songs by the band, but honestly this is the on that stands out. Björk was still with The Sugarcubes and had yet to record Debut at this point in her career but “Oops” demonstrated to all of us fan that she would be able to succeed as a solo artist. I really dig the little “ooo-ah” keyboard sound and quite enjoy Björk’s tempo contrast between the slower and faster verses.

47. Black Lake

Video from Vulnicura (2015), released as a video in 2015

The contributors at Genius are not wrong to consider this song Björk’s “diss track.” It follows immediately after “History of Touches” and is set two months after the break-up at the center of the record. She takes a little while to warm up to the subject but ultimately ends up letting all of her anger spill out over the course of this ten minute son. The video was originally exclusively on display at the Museum of Modern Art Bjork exhibit in 2015. You’ll note the video I’ve linked is a split screen video – each section was broadcast on one side of a circular room so you could turn around and see something slightly different on the other side. “Black Lake” was not, of course, a single per se (though she did release an greatly edited remix as a single) and the video was intended as part of a larger art exhibit. The song work remarkably well on Vulnicara (and I repeat my encouragement that you listen to the whole album) and is rather good on its own as well.

46. Come to Me (Vulnerica live version)

Promo single from Vulnicura Live (2015), single released in 2015

On Debut, “Come To Me” is a fantastic ambient dance track that exudes romance. The chorus in particular is one of my favorites. This live performance from Björk’s Vulincara Live album is a larger, more fleshed out affair. Björk gives a passionate vocal performance and the instrumentation is significantly expanded (see the video). I prefer the stripped down Debut version, but I’d certainly not have scoffed at the chance to hear this version live as well.

46. Surrender

From the Ólöf Arnalds’ album Innundir skinni (2010), released as a single in 2011

Ólöf Arnalds is a popular and talented Icelandic musician who earned Björk’s patronage. She’s released three albums this past decade. Her 2010 record, Innundir skinni, featured this lovely duet with Björk (it’s advertised as a duet, but it sounds like Björk is mostly contributing backing vocals). The song is a contemporary folk tune and Arnalds’ vocals sound quite a bit like Björk – I have no sense if this is because of her influence or because that is how Icelandic singers sing in English. Possibly both? If you’ve not had the pleasure of hearing this song, I’m glad you’ll get to hear it now. It’s lovely.

This is the first song in the “I pretty much quite like everything from here on out” section of this list.

45. Where is the Line?

Video from Medúlla (2005), released as a video in 2005

In 1985, when I was first starting college, Todd Rundgren released an album called A Capella. The concept was that every sound on the album was made by Rundgren’s voice (I played “Lockjaw” on WRBC several times). This album had a special place in my heart because in high school in the early 80’s, I recorded a number of songs on my old cassette deck using only my voice. I used the name “Chuck and Dave and the All Voice Band.” Chuck and Dave were an appalling parody of Cheech and Chong. I would record one track onto my cassette deck, then play that from my stereo system while singing the next track onto my cassette deck. I didn’t know they were called tracks at the time. The sound would get more warped and degraded as I added more tracks, so eventually learned to record the least important parts first. Anyhow, the songs I recorded were almost exclusively parodies of popular songs or just songs I happened to like. They were uniformly dreadful, I imagine. At any rate, the idea that one could record a whole album using voices as instruments has remained fascinating to me. I’ve been playing a bunch with the Looper app recently and dreaming Reggie Watts dreams.

Flash forward 20 years later and here’s Björk in 2005 releasing Medúlla, another album constructed exclusively from voices. Björk invited a number of other singers and musicians to contribute vocal lines – on “Where Is The Line?” for example, Rahzel from The Roots and Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More both make distinctive contribution. The song, at the time, was reviewed as “a capella heavy metal,” which is stretching things a bit I think. I find this song to be musically thrilling but the lyrics – essentially saying “enough is enough” to a friend who asks too much – are just ok. Like I could do better! And English is my first language! But I still want to record a bunch of songs using just my voice. I have the lyrics, I have the melodies, I just don’t have the patience (or, really, talent).

44. Alarm Call

Fourth single from Homogenic (1997), released as a single in 1998

I was living with my friend Matt back in 1997 when Björk released Homogenic – to this day my favorite of her albums. Either Matt picked up a copy of the CD and I said “Hey, I have got to have this” or I picked it up and he said “Hey, I have really got to have this.” Either way, we both ended up with a copy. At the time – 20 years ago – he and I thought we were both middle-aged men. Now, twenty years later, I realize we were kids and we’re finally approaching middle age for real. My point is, we were young and both loved this album immediately. “Alarm Call” was originally called Jacko, in tribute to Michael Jackson, and the lyrics are a sincere celebration of the power of music to change the world. This belief is part of what makes Björk’s music so special – she really earnestly believes she’s contributing to a better world through song. I get this – when I direct plays, I often talk about how we might not be reaching million of people, but for the people we do reach, what we do it really important. We take people having a tough time of it out of their pain for a little while. I see creating art as a noble calling, too. “Alarm Call” is one of my favorite tracks on Homogenic (especially the chorus and the backing vocals) but for some reason, Björk chose to release a slightly sped up version as the single and I’ve never quite gotten used to that.

43. Isobel

Second single from Post (1995), released as a single in 1995

“Isobel” is the second of an ongoing series of songs about the titular character – a magic woman born of the forest. Along with “Human Behavior,” “Bachelorette,” “Oceania” and “Wanderlust,” Björk has tracked the development of this character over several albums. The lyrics are by her friend, Icelandic poet Sjón. For many years, “Isobel” was a song that I admired more than I enjoyed and it’s just been in the last month that I’ve moved this up from my bottom eight songs into the low 40’s. It’s growing on me. Like moss. In a forest.

41. Violently Happy

Fifth single from Debut (1993), released as a single in 1994

I played “Violently Happy” all the time in 1993 on KTUH and recall that I liked it quite a bit back in those days. In fact, I had this one ranked in my top ten when I did my preliminary sort of Björk’s singles. As I’ve worked on this, I haven’t stopped liking it, but it no longer feels like the ecstatic celebration of love I hear in my head when I think of the song. I’ve built it up into this amazing techno number that just keeps getting more and more thrilling until the entire planet is dancing. When I listen to it, though, it’s just (“just”) a great song. I’m pleased to see that the primary contributor at Genius gets what I think the song it meant to be. I’m not sure that anything can compare to the song Björk hatched in my head via this song – I’m not even sure that song can actually be created by humans. It’s like there is “Violently Happy” and then there is the ur-version of the song on the Platonic plane of ideals and we can only catch glimpses of it through our subconscious. I feel in my heart that Björk hears this music all the time and is doing her best to put it into a form we can hear and understand. Sometimes, through her songs, we get to hear what she hears too, if only for a few moments.

Coming Soon: Another Sugarcubes song, a cover song and wow everything is so good from here on up.

Björk Singles Ranked – 61-6851-6041-5031-4021-3011-201-10

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