Six Definitive Songs: The ultimate guide to Nick Cave
“I’ve spent my life butting my head against other people’s lack of imagination.”—Nick Cave
At a time when live music seems nothing but a distant memory, we’re forced to explore many different methods of finding our sonic fix. While millions of people remain at home amid strict social distancing measures, the extra time on our hands can be put to good explorative use.
For those reading this article that are not perhaps familiar with the work of Nick Cave, The Birthday Party or The Bad Seeds, we’ve managed to break down six iconic tracks to facilitate your entry level into the ferocious, the unrelenting and the quite often gentle world of everybody’s favourite Australian musician—except for Kylie, of course.
With such a vast discography, it is incredibly hard to choose just six songs that make Cave’s career one of the most pioneering in the industry, but we thought we owed it to the sweetest demon you’ll ever meet to give it a try.
To get you started, we will only be looking at Cave’s eponymous work only on this occasion. Before you start sending in your letter-bombs, we’re missing out some of the gems from the Birthday Party and Grinderman to make things a little simpler for us—that’s a whole different journey and one we’ll take together in the future.
Get your Cave on, below.
‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’ (2004)
Delving straight into the 21st Century Nick we have all come to love, this track was a definition not only of his epic ability to score an operatic-pop-tinged-beauty but of his transcendence from sprawling punk brat to bonafide musical legend.
The elm, the ash and the linden tree,” Cave sings. “The dark and deep, enchanted sea, the trembling moon and the stars unfurled. There she goes, my beautiful world.”
The track is taken from Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, an absolutely astounding album, and shows Cave‘s handling of a concept as well as his ability to wield a gospel choir at will should he need to.
‘Henry Lee’ (1996)
A romantic diversion for Cave on his Murder Ballads album saw PJ Harvey jump into the hot seat to sing across from Cave. Apart from the obvious tension between the two in the video, the complimenting vocals are what push this track beyond the pale.
The album became well known for Cave’s collaboration with Harvey as well as other notable figures such as Kylie Minogue and Shane MacGowan.
Lilting piano and Harvey’s vocal are perfectly juxtaposed by Cave’s drawl, which offers the dark night to the breaking dawn.
‘Red Right Hand’ (1994)
The iconic clang of the bell is now the highlight of many a playlist across the world, and rightly it is considered one of Nick’s best efforts. A typical morbid and dusty setting is vividly imagined, performed and delivered on this track.
Those familiar with hit television series Peaky Blinders will have their ears pricked by the sound of Cave’s booming voice. Such is the prominence of ‘Red Right Hand’, the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey, Iggy Pop and Snoop Dogg have all put their own spin on the track.
When you add to this a video more befitting a horror film you are left with one of the most iconic moments of Nick’s career. It’s Nick Cave, all over, head to… red right hand. Sorry.
Ooof, Nick Cave at his ugliest and most brilliant, saw the creation of one of the vilest protagonists in musical history—excluding Brandon Flowers, of course. The titular character of the track Stagger Lee was a gun-wielding, whore-abusing, dirt-clad, disgusting excuse for a human.
Cave holds nothing back on this number, singer lyrics such as: “Yeah, I’m Stagger Lee and you better get down on your knees and suck my dick, because if you don’t you’re sure to be dead,” with the kind of menace of a leading Murder Ballads track relies upon.
Nick, creator, and deliverer of such a character, manages to narrate this song and experience with such equal measures of venom and nonchalance that he almost created his own genre in one single song.
‘The Mercy Seat’ (1988)
An ode to the electric chair, a simple concept expertly delivered by a ferocious Nick Cave, ready to stomp out the heads and minds of anyone in his way. Lyrically poignant and performed with his iconic drawl, the song fills every crevice you allow it to.
“Before I was able to write things like, ‘I’m not afraid to die’. And kids come up to me and say, ‘Hey, that line means so much to me’,” Cave once explained about the development of his songwriting ability around the time of this release. “And I have to sort of say I don’t feel that way any more,” he added. “I don’t feel as cocky about death as I used to. I wake up in mad panics about death approaching.”
Five minutes of impending fear and dread is what Nick does best and on ‘The Mercy Seat’ he does it better than ever. Imagine a poem from the Romantic era then imagine it being devoted not to the sublimity of nature but the beauty of execution… and you’re there.
‘The Ship Song’ (1990)
A lullaby of sorts in comparison to some of the aforementioned work of the sweetest demon you’ll ever meet, this track sees Nick Cave open his heart a little more than we’re used to, and because of it, we can’t help but feel cradled and cared for.
A sweet song with a weirdly sweeter video, the track is Nick showcasing the beginning of his change from punk to icon, it’s worth every single note of its conception.