Trying to define a band as mammoth in culture and social influence as The Cure by just ten of their greatest songs is a pretty thankless task. The group have welcomed such an ardent fanbase that missing out on a rare b-side or a scintillating album track that they hold dear could well be the end of your days on the internet. However, we have faith that, when looking at the list of our ten favourite songs from Robert Smith and The Cure, it will be hard to disagree. Okay, so we have some faith, at least.
It’s not a critique. The band have transcended genre and style so many times that they naturally provide their fans with epochal band moments with every new release. No matter how easily you may think it is to label The Cure as goths or something closer to the dark side of pop, the truth is, they’ve never truly settled on one sound. As such, picking out ten songs from their catalogue means reflecting a band always in transition. “One of the reasons people like the band is because they’re never quite sure what’s gonna happen next,” Smith once told Rolling Stone magazine. “If we were predictable, we wouldn’t have really lasted this long.”
Undoubtedly, one of the most unique bands to have emerged from the creativity pool of the eighties. Having formed in the sleepy town of Crawley in the late seventies as part of the post-punk explosion, the band’s sound has evolved from their more vicious roots into something moodier, gloomier and altogether brighter. It has left the band as one of the most pivotal groups of Britain’s illustrious rock ‘n’ roll past. Hell, they can even stake a claim to have invented an entire genre.
That said, The Cure are a lot more than goth poster boys. The group have developed a trademark sound that continues to play tricks on itself and their audience, forever masking the dark and morose within candy-pop flavours, while sugar is drenched in the sweat and tears of gloomy rock and tortured living. It’s a juxtaposing combination that has made The Cure quite possibly the ultimate cult band.
Still, that doesn’t mean the group haven’t found huge success. Across a plethora of albums, Smith and his band have managed to garner a primal sound that can work within the realms of pop and the avant-garde in equal measure and, below, we’ve captured ten moments they did it flawlessly.
The Cure’s 10 best songs:
10. ‘Friday I’m In Love’
Once labelled a “dumb pop song” by The Cure’s frontman, Robert Smith, there’s no denying the charm of ‘Friday, I’m In Love’. Smith penned the track while he was on the hunt to capture the ‘Friday feeling’ we’ve all found ourselves enslaved to at some point in our lives.
“People think we’re supposed to be leaders of some sort of gloom movement. I could sit and write gloomy songs all day long, but I just don’t see the point,” once remarked Smith. Instead, he chose to turn his hand at making music for the radio that he’d actually like to listen to. ‘Friday I’m In Love’, despite its place on mainstream radio, should rightly be revered as one of The Cure’s best purely because it proved they could do it all.
9. ‘Let’s Go To Bed’
Another of The Cure’s pop songs is the ginormous and gleaming ‘Let’s Go To Bed’. Smith later said of the song: “I thought it was stupid. It’s a joke. All pop songs are basically saying, ‘Please go to bed with me.’ So I’m going to make it as blatant as possible, set it to this cheesy synth riff.” The track is one of the band’s shinier moments, but all those expecting to see pop dominate this list needn’t worry.
“They looked at me, like, This is it. He’s really lost it,” recalled Smith when he played the song to the band’s record label, Fiction. “They said, ‘You can’t be serious. Your fans are gonna hate it.’” How wrong they were. Fans still go mad for this classic from Disintegration and it remains a bustling part of their live set to this day.
8. ‘Killing an Arab’
Now somewhat maligned for its incendiary title, when Smith penned the track, he wasn’t concerned with any political statement but a literary one. Inspired by Albert Camus’ The Stranger, The Cure uses the post-punk moodiness of their early sonic-sphere to make one of their most visceral pieces. It’s short, spiky and unafraid — the band’s first single, it will forever be marred in controversy.
So much so that when the song was later released, it came with a stickered warning that read: “The song ‘Killing an Arab’ has absolutely no racist overtones whatsoever. It is a song which decries the existence of all prejudice and consequent violence. The Cure condemn its use in furthering anti-Arab feeling.”
Ignoring the controversy, it’s hard not to see this song as anything but one of their best. Even if they largely refuse to play it anymore.
Taken from arguably the band’s finest album, 1989’s Disintegration, this track came straight from Smith’s heart. “I wrote ‘Lovesong’ for Mary, my wife, as a wedding present, and I put it on the album to be kind of romantic. I thought it was the weakest song on there, and suddenly it went to No.2 in America. It was kept off the top by, like, Janet Jackson. I thought, Of all the songs I’d written, this is the one that cracks through. It was quite disappointing.”
Now, if we were to judge The Cure’s songs by Smith’s opinions of them, we’d have a vastly different list, so we’ll take his assessment with a pinch of salt. The reality is that when this song hits the airwaves, it’s hard not to be completely charmed by it. Pulsing with the giddiness of love, it’s a track that deserves recognition.
6. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’
Many people would mark out The Cure’s rise to pop prominence as being a decidedly eighties moment. While, in fact, it was more likely that the nineties saw their most successful commercial moments, this song is often lumped in with ‘Love Cats’, ‘Friday I’m In Love’ and the rest of their pop canon. But ‘Boy’s Don’t Cry’ came out in 1979 and established the band as the chart provocateurs they were destined to be.
The bouncing melody effortlessly disguises the troubling and emotional lyrics. It’s a unique facet of Smith and the band’s songwriting that would underpin much of their following work. More so than any other band, the Cure can toe the line between light and dark with aplomb.
The song is still regularly used as the final song of the final encore at their shows and highlights its ubiquitous appeal.
5. ‘Pictures of You’
‘Pictures of You’ didn’t become a single until the following year, bringing The Cure into the new decade. Apparently inspired by a photograph of his partner Mary that he found following a fire, the true meaning behind the song has been left open-ended. Smith told Music Box TV in 1989: “It’s about the idea you hold about someone. It goes back a bit to a song like ‘How Beautiful You Are’. The idea you hold of someone isn’t really what that person is like. Sometimes you completely lose touch with what a person has turned into. You just want to hold on to what they were.”
The track feels devastating and cathartic, like grieving and moving on. It’s seven and a half minutes of nostalgia and purely The Cure. The band has a way of evoking emotion from listeners. ‘Pictures of You’ is the ultimate example of that power. Fans can identify with the lyrics about loss and love, while the band eases its feelings with the smoothness of this timeless classic.
4. ‘Close To Me’
Though often more remembered for its stunning Tim Pope-directed music video, which sees the band barreled off a cliff in a wardrobe — there’s an undeniable charm to The Cure’s Head on the Door single ‘Close To Me’. A quintessential Cure rhythm allows the breath vocal of Smith to take the spotlight.
“That’s just like days when you wake up, and you just wish, at the end of the day, that you hadn’t, because you haven’t done anything, it’s just been a trial,” recalled Smith of the song.
It’s a near-perfect reflection of the group’s ability to sugar-coat the darker subjects of life within a candy shell. Frankly, if you can sit there and deny the powerful opening notes, the kind that will stay in your head all day, then you’re stronger than us.
3. ‘In Between Days’
By 1985, The Cure songs started to evolve, and the lead single from their album Head on the Door was a shining example of their growth. The eighties are famous for bringing pop and disco into the mainstream and helping genres like grunge emerge from the mire of dirgey rock. It was a critical decade for the band as they seamlessly incorporated many of these genres into their own unique sound.
‘In Between Days’ dabbled in pop and alternative rock, featuring acoustic guitars alongside synthesisers. With this song, it became abundantly clear that boundaries were something they could break.
The Cure contrasted the upbeat melody with more reflective and melancholic lyrics of fear, ageing and loss. That contrast, though, is what makes the song — and the band — stand out. It remains a vital piece of the group’s wild iconography to this day and should feature on everyone’s favourites list.
2. ‘Just Like Heaven’
The Cure’s seventh studio album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, saw a return to the band’s roots. Band members were mixing newer, alternative rock with older, gothic origins. ‘Just Like Heaven’ exemplifies this mix. The Cure paid homage to its early sounds with gothic and post-punk vibes while staying relevant. The method worked and saw this song about “breathless” love become one of the group’s most iconic tracks.
The British group hadn’t had much American success until ‘Just Like Heaven’ came along. It was a gateway for more recognition in the United States. Songs like ‘Friday I’m In Love’ wouldn’t be as popular in the States if ‘Just Like Heaven’ hadn’t been the band’s breakthrough five years earlier.
But aside from the success, the song represents one of Smith’s purest moments of songwriting as he captures the breathlessness of falling in love with his wife, Mary. He later explained the track with one simple motif: “The idea is that one night like that is worth 1,000 hours of drudgery.”
1. ‘A Forest’
When the Cure was first starting, it had a different sound from everyone else in the game — gothic rock. This single comes off the band’s second studio album, Seventeen Seconds, which packed a moody punch with each song.
Sonically, this song was critical for The Cure’s beginnings. The band’s first album, Three Imaginary Boys, received more retrospective attention than it did at the moment. Instead, early works like ‘A Forest’ set the band in motion to become a pioneer for gothic music. Radio-friendliness wasn’t a concern for this song — the goth rock took over and set off a domino effect for what was to come.
The song’s opening moments allow the synth to slowly build suspense, which slowly grows and swells until the guitar kicks in the familiar riff. It marks out the band’s underlying power and their growing esteem. The group were kindly cajoled by DJ Chris Parry into creating a more radio-friendly version of the brooding post-punk track, but Smith declined: “I said, ‘But this is how it sounds. It’s the sound I’ve got in my head. It doesn’t matter about whether it’s radio-friendly’.’” It’s an ethos that has seen the band rightly be considered one of Britain’s finest.