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Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to The Cure

It’s hard to imagine what the alternative scene today would sound like without the influence and foundation that The Cure helped solidify. From the late ‘70s through the mid-2000s, the band reinvented its sound to push the boundaries of genres and bring forth something new with each album. Finding The Cure songs for beginners can be a challenge since the catalogue spans 13 albums.

The band released its last full-length album in 2008, but you may know some older popular songs like ‘Friday I’m In Love’ that came out in 1992. However, getting to the definitive songs requires looking past popularity and into what establishes a band as iconic. The kind of steps that Robert Smith and company took to transcend from alternative rock band to worldwide stars. 

After examining the sounds of rock legends from the 20th century, we’re focusing on six songs that beginners should know, ones that show newcomers who the band members truly are and what their music did for the moment and popular culture. With these songs, The Cure transitioned in and out of rock subgenres like punk and pop, but its legacy remained entirely intact. 

To put it simply, if you enjoy music today then chances are the foundations of that song or album can be traced all the way back to The Cure and their ever-imposing sounds. The group were the ultimate leaders in transferring from being the outsider group of indie darlings to the foreword in baroque pop.  

Six definitive songs of The Cure:

‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1979)

Before the band’s second studio album and after the first, members released another body of work — one that doesn’t have a clear definition. It’s a studio compilation that sought to bring the band more recognition.

It’s on this album that the title track ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ would eventually become a definitive song. Before going full gothic, The Cure started in post-punk territory, which opened up the rock genre to incorporate countless other styles.

The song is an expression of anger and sadness, fighting against the notion that men and boys shouldn’t cry. The song argued that it’s in the band’s nature to get emotional. 

‘A Forest’ (1980)

When the Cure was first starting out, 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 in 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.  

‘In Between Days’ (1985)

Jumping forward six years, The Cure songs started to evolve. The ‘80s are famous for bringing pop and disco into the mainstream and helping genres like grunge emerge. It was a critical decade for the band as they incorporated many of these genres.

‘In Between Days’ dabbled in pop and alternative rock, featuring acoustic guitars alongside synthesisers. Despite six years going by, these sounds kept the band relevant and pushing forward. 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. 

‘Just Like Heaven’ (1987)

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 well.

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 songs.

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.  

‘Disintegration’ (1989)

1989 saw an even more influential breakthrough for The Cure. Rolling Stone ranked Disintegration as the 116th greatest album of all time on the 2020 revamp of its highly debated 500 greatest albums list.

The title track adds to that influence. It combines new wave with the band’s original genre, gothic rock. Its thumping guitar riffs rise and fall to the front and back of the song for the entire eight-minute track. 

It’s the pinnacle of what makes The Cure as well-known as they are today. If you’re using any platform for music recognition, you can bet that the band will have hits for all the songs throughout its catalogue. This is one of The Cure’s most critically acclaimed albums. The song encapsulates why. 

‘Pictures of You’ (1989)

Also off Disintegration, ‘Pictures of You’ didn’t become a single until the following year, bringing The Cure into the new decade. It was pore nostalgic gothic rock. 

Chart-wise, it didn’t do as well in the United States as songs like ‘Friday I’m In Love’ or ‘Just Like Heaven’. However, ‘Pictures of You’ 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. 

The alternative scene would not be where it is today without The Cure. From its origins in the gothic realm to dabbling in pop, the band spanned decades and genres, reinventing the wheel each time. These six songs will help those just discovering The Cure songs appreciate the band’s depth and range.

Shannon Flynn

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