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From Leonard Cohen to Bob Dylan: Nick Cave's 10 favourite songs of all time


What is your favourite song? A relentlessly tricky question asked at every dinner party to have ever existed. It’s also a question that all musicians are asked at some point in their career and, for Aussie legend and Bad Seeds leader Nick Cave, it’s one that he has declined to answer for quite some time. Ducking and diving the request, Cave often considered it to be a little vulgar to unload such favouritism onto art. However, he did finally give in to demand.

For Cave, the idea of revealing the pieces of music that mean the most to him was too much of a gift to give away. It was too personal, too connected with his mind, body and soul to survive without it. However, as the Bad Seeds frontman attempts to grow his already unbreakable relationship with his fans, he has answered the question: ‘What would be a list of 10 of your most favourite pieces of music, by artists other than yourself?’ Naturally, Cave’s selections are nothing short of superb, and it provides us with a quite sensational playlist to boot.

Cave’s answer to the question was delivered as part of his ongoing series ‘The Red Hand Files’, a website that allows him to take and answer questions from his supporters. Having tackled his relationship with Warren Ellis, his Grinderman plans and his beliefs on the cultural boycott of Israel, Cave soon turned his attentions to the music that means the most to him.

“In my extended poem, ‘The Sick Bag Song’, I wrote about Leonard Cohen and the effect that he had on me as a young boy when I first heard him sing,” Cave answered.

“Leonard Cohen will sing, and the boy will suddenly breathe as if for the first time, and fall inside the laughing man’s voice and hide.

“The boy will grow older, and over time there will be other songs – not many – ten or maybe twenty in a lifespan, that stand apart from the rest of the music he will discover. He will realise that not only are these songs sacred, they are ‘hiding songs’ that deal exclusively in darkness, obfuscation, concealment and secrecy. He will realise that for him the purpose of these songs was to shut off the sun, to draw a long shadow down and protect him from the corrosive glare of the world.”

Cave continued: “Occasionally people have asked me what those ‘hiding songs’ were. I have never revealed them in their entirety,” admitted the singer. “Perhaps, I felt a strange ownership over them and that to release them to the world may constitute a form of betrayal,” he added.

“My ‘hiding songs’ serve as a form of refuge for me and have done so for years. They are songs that I can pull over myself, like a child might pull the bed covers over their head, when the blaze of the world becomes too intense. I can literally hide inside them. They are the essential pillars that hold up the structure of my artistic world. There are hundreds of other favourite songs, of course, and one day maybe I can do a list of some of those, but not today. Today, I give you the ‘hiding songs’.”

The tracks Cave selected are the perfect representation of a mercurial frontman who has gone on to become a legend in his own right, artistry that spans across decades of incredible songs and devoted work. Cave has asserted his spot as a legend by being an eloquent and forthright storyteller. Never shying away from difficult subjects, instead jumping into most of them headfirst and without reproach. Cave has always championed brutal honesty delivered in the most poetic ways.

With songs from the aforementioned Cohen as well as Van Morrison, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Cave has selected some of the music world’s foremost songwriters, a doff of the cap to his predecessors and the inspirations which helped him gain his own spot in the pantheon of rock. There are also nods of appreciation to the innovators in music like John Lee Hooker with his brilliant ‘Tupelo’ or Brian Eno’s ‘Becalmed’.

Cave also picked one of his idols of music, the imperious Nina Simone and her song ‘Plain Gold Ring’. “Nina Simone is hugely important for me. She is the real thing,” said the singer in a recent interview. Cave’s first-ever meeting with Simone would end in one of his more cherished anecdotes, as Simone asks the Bad Seeds man to introduce her on stage at Meltdown Festival. “I want you to introduce me, and I want you to get it right… It’s Doctor! Nina Simone,” she answered to Cave’s request for what he could offer her. It was not the image of greatness he had hoped for and Cave left feeling a little chided and worried about the performance scheduled for later that evening.

However, as Nick Cave was about to learn, Nina Simone can turn it on whenever she damn well pleases. On that night, she chose to turn it on. Simone arrived on to the stage, “Took the gum she was chewing out of her mouth and stuck it on to the Steinway and glared at the piano like it was her enemy and just thundered into the song,” Cave fondly remembers.  

“As the songs progressed they got more and more beautiful and she became inflated with the whole thing. It was just an absolutely chilling thing to see. By the end of it, she had been kind of transformed and redeemed in some way.”

Below, take a look at some of Nick Cave’s favourite ‘Hiding’ songs and get lost in the playlist provided.

Nick Cave’s 10 favourite songs:

  • Leonard Cohen – ‘Avalanche’
  • Karen Dalton – ‘Katie Cruel’
  • Neil Young – ‘On the Beach’
  • John Lee Hooker – ‘Tupelo’
  • Van Morrison – ‘T.B. Sheets’
  • Bob Dylan – ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’
  • Nina Simone – ‘Plain Gold Ring’
  • Big Star – ‘Holocaust’
  • Brian Eno – ‘Becalmed’
  • Bill Callahan – ‘One Fine Morning’

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