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.
Sorry for the delay. Where were we?
Fourth single from Volta (2007), released as a single in 2008
I don’t think that I really gave Volta a fair listen when it was released in 2007 because while I was in the process of ranking these songs, I put most of the singles from that album at the bottom of this list. As I listened to the playlist again and again, I kept moving the Volta tracks up. According to Björk, “Wanderlust” was “the heart of the Volta album.” The song is about that never-ending urge we have for new experiences. In Björk’s case, this song is practically an artistic manifesto – she’s going to keep trying new things. I also have that urge. No idea if you have it. My new experiences are mostly of the Elder Scrolls variety over this past month. You’ll be relieved to know that Tamriel is safe and that I’ve explored every inch of Skyrim and Cyrodiil. My wanderlust may be virtual, but it must be sated.
29. It’s in Our Hands
First single from Greatest Hits (2002), released as a single in 2002
“It’s In Our Hands” was the only new song on Björk’s 2002 Greatest Hits package – continue a time-honored tradition of including one or two new songs on a hits package so hard-core completist fans feel compelled to buy it. I often hold these songs in low esteem because they are rarely genuinely deserving of a place on such a package (and isn’t there a little hubris in including a new song on a greatest hits package? As if to say “I know this one will surely rank up with my best tracks!”). However, “It’s In Out Hands” would have indeed been a great song no matter how Björk released it. It has some “bubbling” percussion in common with Vespertine (released the previous year) that hints at a kind of ambient EDM and a genuinely exuberant set of lyrics (which urge us to recognize that we don’t need to search for happiness, it is, as the title suggests, in our hands). You well may have missed this song and I urge you to add it into your regular Björk rotation. If you don’t have a regular Björk rotation, don’t you think it’s time you created one?
28. I’ve Seen It All (featuring Thom Yorke)
Promotional single from Selmasongs (2000), released as a single in 2000
I’m on the fence about this song. “I’ve Seen It All” was nominated for an Academy Award , a Golden Globe and a Grammy and features fine performances from Björk and Yorke (which is also how I refer to eating and then immediately exercising to the point of illness). In context of the film “Dancer in the Dark,” the song is sort of a manifesto by Björk’s character who is gradually going blind. She’s seen it all, she doesn’t need to see any more. The lyrics tread an uneasy path between earnestness and a kind of humor-by-minimizing. I recall when I first saw the Grand Canyon, I was blown away but I reported back to my friends at college “Ah, it’s just a big hole.” Same thing. Anyhow, sometimes this song really, really works and sometimes it kind of irks. Which leads me to report, with pride, that Björk and Yorke work and irk.
I will know you’ve read this entry by what you hurl at me the next time you see me in public.
27. Blissing Me
Second single from Utopia (2017), released as a single in 2017
Utopia, as I’ve reported, was a bit of a polarizing album in my various online music communities. I theorize that a chunk of Björk’s fans have reached the age where they kind of just want her to release Homogenic over and over while Björk is twenty years past that album and interested in exploring new sounds (“Waaaaander luuuuust” as she sang a few songs ago). On Utopia, Björk embraced an approach to song writing that sometimes defied standard pop song structure and often avoided easy hooks. I found it to be impenetrable at first but multiple listens unlocked the beauty at the heart of the album. I’ll be writing about Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden album eventually and while Utopia doesn’t literally sound like that record (and I bet that album wasn’t even remotely on Björk’s mind), they have a sort of sonic spiritual bond in my brain. Anyhow, “Blissing Me” is a song about falling in love through exchanging music. Let me just swoon here. Björk doesn’t know me but she gets me. The harp arrangement on this song (played by Katie Buckley is a real highlight. I’ve been crazy about harp in modern music since Joanna Newsom broke on to the scene.
26. Pagan Poetry
Video Not Safe For Work
Second single from Vespertine (2001), released as a single in 2001
Vulnicura, released in 2015, chronicles the end of a long-term relationship. Way back in 2001, Björk described the start of that relationship on Vespertine, contrasting her emotions, her physical urges and her desire for freedom in the glorious “Pagan Poetry.” I find the ending of the song – the steady rhythm of the “I love him” refrain contrasted with runs of lyrics that suggested through their delivery that she wants to flee until she’s just overwhelmed by the love – to be one of the best expressions of the joy and horror of love I’ve ever heard. The video is lovely but I can’t watch it again because it feels like I’m watching something private – not because of the nudity but because her delivery is so honest and raw. That there is some good art.
25. I Miss You
Video Not Safe For Work
Sixth single from Post (1995), released as a single in 1997
Oh, this video makes me sad. John Kricfalusi was one of my favorite animators but it turns out he’s a creep. The video is still charming in its Kricfalusi way and I love how Björk is animated, but there’s a whole layer of ick when I watch this video that wasn’t there before. Sigh.
Putting the video aside, the song is an absolute delight. By the time she released Post, Björk was reaching the peak of her career as a popular dance music artist. “I Miss You” combines her signature quirky playfulness with an infectious mid-90’s dance beat. The song was equally at home on alternative radio and dance clubs and the lyrics – about falling in love with somebody you’ve not yet met – could not have been a more perfect expression of the experience of going out (dancing) and hoping to find romance.
24. Birthday (by The Sugarcubes)
First single from The Sugarcubes’ Life’s Too Good (1988), released as a single 1987
English language version of their own “Einn Mol’á Mann” recorded under their Icelandic name, Sykurmolarnir in 1986
Take a moment to enjoy this song in the original Icelandic. I give you, “Ammæli” by Sykurmolarnir. While not everyone at WRBC played this song as often as my circle of friends did (many of the student DJs at Bates were content to just play classic rock and I was semi-notorious as Program Director for railing against this practice and in favor of everyone playing some new stuff), it was a huge hit in Lewiston, Maine. For almost all of us in my part of the world, this is the song that introduced us to Björk (and, simultaneously, left us entirely unprepared for the vocal styling of Sugarcubes’ co-lead singer Einar Örn). While I don’t quite like “Birthday” as much as I did in 1987, I still think it’s a thrilling vocal performance. Björk and the band were all veteran musicians when they recorded this song (The Sugarcubes were her fifth or sixth band) but to those of us unfamiliar with the Icelandic music scene (i.e. everyone who didn’t live in Iceland) they emerged as a fully formed force of nature. Surely you’ve heard this track before, but if not, it will be a cake for your ears.
Third single from Biophilia (2011), released as a single in 2011
I just need to directly quote Wikipedia for a moment:
“Virus” features a gameleste (a hybrid between a celesta and a gamelan that can be controlled by midi and that was also used in “Crystalline”, built exclusively for these songs) base that plays through the whole song. The gameleste represents the ‘virus’ that continues multiplying until it takes control at the end of the song.
This sort of captures exactly how I imagine Björk creating music. First, she invents the instruments she’ll be using on the record. Then she masters playing them. Then she writes songs for them. When I think of which of her records might be my favorite, I am surprised how often I pick Biophilia over the rest. I mean, on most days, it wouldn’t be my number one pick, but sometimes nothing makes me happier than the chaotic natural world of this album. Lyrically, “Virus” is a love song with some disturbing implications – Björk suggests she’s like the virus and her lover is the host. I am reminded of a song Lee Cataluna wrote for her play Ulua titled “Opihi Girl” that uses a similar image in a more comedic way. Anyhow, the song is lovely and the gameleste is especially fantastic.
22. Regina (by The Sugarcubes)
First single from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! (1989), released as a single in 1989
The Sugarcubes could have become the Icelandic B-52’s. You can really hear and see (in the video) this on “Regina.” I recall my friend in 1989 being disappointed that the first single from the then-new Sugarcubes album featured an equal balance between Einar Örn and Björk. Indeed, I think for some of them any amount of Einar Örn greater than zero was not welcome on their Sugarcubes tracks. So much the sadder for them! Einar Örn is terrific on this track – his delivery of the line “And wetting quite nicely thank you / I do say nicely / I do mean that / Actually” is maybe my favorite moment on any Sugarcubes song. He’s often a hilarious, expressive singer and if he comes across as The Sugarcubes’ Fred Schneider, well, I love Fred too. I have virtually no idea what “Regina” is about, but between Einar Örn’s delightful performance and Björk’s positively ecstatic take on the chorus, this is one of their best songs. Alas that the rest of the album didn’t hit this height!
21. Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)
First single from Medúlla (2004), released as a single in 2004
Medúlla is just so good and “Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)” is central to its success. Oh my goodness, the first verse of the lyrics is another thing I need to quote here
His embrace, a fortress
It fuels me and places
A skeleton of trust
Right beneath us
Bone by bone
Stone by stone
Simple, powerful and evocative. This is one of Björk’s finest English language lyrics (I can’t gauge her Icelandic lyrics) and I feel like the whole album flows from this celebration of the power of the human body. I mean the whole album – it’s created exclusively with voices. The song is a dialogue between a mother and a child – the mother’s body creates the child (“who is it?” the child asks) and Björk’s body (specifically her voice) creates the song (along with a remarkable single take beat-box performance by Rahzel and additional vocal by throat-singer Tanya Tagaq). I’m rambling a bit. The song is perfect and gorgeous and Björk has 20 singles that I like even more. Hopefully, I’ll write about them in the next week or two.
Coming Soon: Björk’s best film song, which could have been a Bond theme.