Few bands transcended the realms of punk rock more elegantly than Siouxsie and The Banshees. The group was cast in the shadow of the genre. Their leader, Siouxsie Sioux, broke away from the Bromley contingent that had supported the Sex Pistols throughout their infamy and decided to start her own group. Recruiting a ramshackle band of upstarts that included Steve Severin on bass and Sid Vicious on drums, Siouxsie and the Banshees would take their first-ever live spot only a few hours down the line from their first rehearsal, performing a visceral performance of the Lord’s Prayer at the 100 Club in 1976. The truth is, you don’t get more punk than Siouxsie.
The band may have formed in the genre’ fieriest moments, but, unlike many acts of the time, they soon rose from the ashes of the burning pile of three-chord wonders to provide a searing vision of the future. Punk rock may well have been an aggressive and progressive foot forward, but it only ever took a few marches toward artistic purity. Within a few months, the entire genre had been curated into a commercial proposition — safety pin sales soared, “punk style” clothing hit the shelves and the idea that anybody could write a song soon began to wear thin. It was clear, in order to survive the death of punk, bands needed to find a new life.
Siouxsie and The Banshees knew that they would never become the legends they are today without pushing forward creatively. With Siouxsie leading the charge like Boudicca in black eyeliner, the band quickly became seen as the saviours of the punk spirit. Though the sounds would change over the years as The Banshees moved from punk to post-punk to avant-garde pop and always flirted with goth rock, the desire to always be provocative and purposeful reigned supreme over their entire back catalogue.
Even nearly 45 years after they first became active, Siouxsie and The Banshees are still accruing fans as they continue to appeal to the disaffected youth just as they had done before. Providing a reem of outsider anthems, the band have transcended any genre classification or stylistic categorisation and now operate within a broad Banshees spectrum. Toying with the ferocity of punk, the theatrics of goth and the brute force of post-punk all while managing to skirt the mainstream can be regarded as one of rock music’s miracles.
As a marker of just how impressive their music is, we’ve given ourselves the unenviable task of picking out ten of their greatest songs to share with you as our favourites.
Siouxsie and The Banshees 10 best songs:
10. ‘Dear Prudence’
It would seem strange to feature covers in a list of an artist’s finest song but to ignore the power The Banshees brought to this and plenty other original songs is to ignore a key part of the gorup’s intrigue. They were so unique they could even make The Beatles sound fresh and get commercial success too. “It was a surprise, but it didn’t really sink in until we’d finished the touring and we were back home for the winter,” Siouxsie remembered. “Then we thought, ‘Blimey! We got to number three!’ ‘Dear Prudence’ got played a lot on the radio, and of course, we did the Christmas/New Year Top Of The Pops. I don’t remember much about doing it except for I was wearing a new leather dress that a friend had made for me, and stripy tights.”
Recalling how she and the band came to the conclusion that the next step needed to be a Beatles cover, Siouxsie Sioux said: “When we did the 100 Club Punk Festival , we were wondering: ‘What shall we do?’ And we ended up doing the thing based around the Lord’s Prayer. And Sid and I were laughing, ‘Oh, we should really mess up a Beatles song!’ And that attitude was still there.”
‘Peek-a-Boo’, surprising as it may sound, came out via a glorious mistake. Mike Hedges, their producer, had accidentally played a track backwards, resulting in a sound loop that inspired Siouxsie to write a song. The song’s distinctive sound was highly appreciated by critics and audience alike and reached number 53 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Released in 1988 as the first single of the Banshees’ fifth album, ‘Peek-a-Boo’ became their fifth top 20 UK hit, peaking at number 16. It’s a piece of pop that defies expectation and settles itself firmly in the future. Though the band may have been nearing their fractured end, they proved they still had a piece of gold up their sleeves.
Originally taken from Iggy Pop’s LP Lust For Life, ‘The Passenger’ is a song that will likely outlive us all. So deeply entrenched with the gloom of city living, it’s hard to imagine a world without the track. It may seem like an over-estimation, but the song is a tribute to the mercurial genius of Iggy Pop and, perhaps most importantly, his relationship with David Bowie. When the song was put in the hands of post-punk royalty Siouxsie and The Banshees, things kicked up a notch.
Released on the band’s 1987 album Through The Looking Glass, Siouxsie’s vocal, as imposing and impressive as ever, leads the song into a brand new direction. Now far more haunting and with a whiff of cobwebs in the air, the song’s long-standing imagery is rendered in a fine gloom before being punctuated with a swinging beat and the brassy breath of modernity that now feels inextricable from the original song.
Few albums have been as influential as 1981’s Juju. The record is one of the seminal moments in the band’s career and should rightly be considered one of the decade’s best records. Within the album was this gem, ‘Spellbound’ that perfectly described the state of the band at the time. They were dark, magical and utterly captivating.
Of course, the album’s opener is full of the whimsy and charm that had made the gorup’s narrative songwriting feel grander than most other artists but underneath it all, these are some of Siouxsie and The Banshees’ finest melodies. Th psychedelic guitars do their best to transport you until the tribal drumming confirm your destiny via Siouxsie the shaman.
Another song from Juju makes up our next entry. The fifth song on the LP, ‘Monitor,’ is another masterclass in marrying dark tones with jovial melodies. Though the song is rich in the creepy credence that would elevate the group into the position of Goth Overlords, it also has a habit of gaining some heavy boots on the dancefloor. The band had already begun to gather up imitators, which may have been behind Sioxusie’s exclamation “sit back and enjoy the real McCoy”, but, in truth, she was ascending to her rightful role.
It was son this album, and with songs like this, that Siouxsie really announced herself as a legend. Only a comparatively short time into her career, it was clear that not only had she dominated the rock scene with her imperious vocal performances but she was, like only the best can, able to carry the band, if not the alternative rock nation, on her shoulders.
The song is one of the most haunting yet magnificent of the Banshees’ works. With reference to the Middle East and religion and lyrics that could very well be worthy of being a stand-alone poem, what makes the song even more beautiful is the way that the bad delivers it.
It is deep and eerie and engrossing with music that is mind-boggling. This was the band’s third single released in 1980, and while the song was certainly quite far away from being Christmassy, it managed to become a Christmas hit and peaked the charts at number 41, remaining as one of their best songs of all time.
4. ‘Happy House’
Another song by Siouxsie and the Banshees, ‘Happy House’, was initially released as a single in June 1980 and then later added to the band’s third album, Kaleidoscope (August 1980). Around this time, two new members had joined the group with Slits drummer Budgie and Magazine guitarist John McGeoch, thereby incorporating greater musicality.
‘Happy House’ is basically a song where Siouxsie mocks the pretentious nature of the so-called happy family in a society that is designed to suck all the happiness out of people’s lives.
As the song goes, “We’ve come to scream in the happy house / We’re in a dream in the happy house / We’re all quite sane.” Siouxsie commented on the song saying, “It is sarcastic. In a way, like television, all the media, it is like adverts, the perfect family, whereas it is more common that husbands beat their wives.”
The sophomore record for any band is a difficult one, but The Banshees showed real promise when they not only delivered a top-quality follow up to their debut but packed it full of a clearer vision of their pathway forward. The band’s sonics had moved from the frenetic into the measured and deliberate; it was a tour de force. One song on the album shines particularly brightly, ‘Icon’.
‘Icon’ was one of the most despondent songs on a record that focused on World War 1 and the crumbling British regime. Siouxsie remembered those days as “a real time, everything in flux and uncertain but also festering underneath, and because this stuff from the past that was just left there rotting there and it needed to be acknowledged and then cleaned up, not just swept away still rotting.”
‘Icon’, more than any other song on the album, allowed those themes to reach fruition, providing a moment of reflection as well as shuddering poignancy.
Taken from their debut album, 1978’s The Scream, ‘Switch’ is one of those tracks that can sometimes fly under the radar when considering The Banshees. It’s so easy to be drawn into their goth aesthetic and numerous stylistic changes that one can forget their fire-breathing introduction to the world. Perhaps the finest reflection of post-punk music there ever was.
It’s not the only great song on the album; in fact, much of the tracklist is tucked neatly in spots after number ten in our collective consciousness. But the album’s closer showed that Siouxsie and The Banshees were one of the most progressive acts around. They had seen the devolution of punk coming from a mile off and quickly demonstrated how to get away from the sound, the style and the now-unwelcomed moniker of ‘punk’.
‘Switch’ proved that The Banshees has not only grown up from punk but had now left it so behind that it appeared as just a speck in their rearview mirror — something the band rarely checked.
1. ‘Hong Kong Garden’
This song was Siouxsie and the Banshees’ debut single, released in 1978, one year after the group started touring, and it’s hard not to think of it as their best. The song was named after a Chinese takeaway in Chislehurst. Siouxsie explained the idea behind the lyrics of the song with reference to racist activities that were carried out at the takeaway saying, “Me and my friend were really upset that we used to go there and like, occasionally when the skinheads would turn up, it would turn really ugly.
“These gits would just go in en masse and just terrorise these Chinese people who were working there. We’d try and say, ‘Leave them alone’, you know. It (referring to the song) was a kind of tribute.” The song reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart and became one of the first post-punk hits with its innovative approach to the musical elements.
It can seem trivial to think of a band’s debut single as their best song; after all, who wants to admit that they started at the top? But the reality is that this is the first introduction we had to one of the most unique artists of all time. Did Siouxsie and The Banshees keep making provocative and innovative work after this track? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still the sincerest reflection of a singular set of artists and their wild talent.