Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Selecting The Best For One Side Of A C90

As Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds begin their programme of reissues, David McNamee compiles select cuts from their back catalogue



From: Melbourne, Australia

Genres: Alternative rock, post-punk

Years active: 1983-present

Associated acts: The Birthday Party, The Boys Next Door, Einsturzende Neubaten, Magazine, Grinderman, The Dirty Three, Die Haut, The Vanity Set, Anita Lane, The Triffids, The Saints, The Wallbangers

Members: Nick Cave (vocals, guitar, piano), Warren Ellis (violin, electric mandolin), Martyn P. Casey (bass), Conway Savage (organ, piano), Ed Kuepper (guitar), Thomas Wydler (drums, percussion), Jim Sclavunos (drums, percussion)

Albums: From Her To Eternity (1984), The Firstborn Is Dead (1985), Your Funeral… My Trial (1986), Tender Prey (1988), The Good Son (1990), Henry’s Dream (1992), Let Love In (1994), Murder Ballads (1996), The Boatman’s Call (1997), No More Shall We Part (2001), Nocturama (2003), Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (2004), Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008)


1. ‘Deanna’ (from Tender Prey, 1988)

Despite what Wikipedia and popular opinion might say, the handle of the group didn’t signify a shift in focus from merely "singer of The Birthday Party" to bandleader for Cave, it simply stakes out symmetrical territory. Nick Cave. The Bad Seeds. ‘Deanna’ is a perfect example of that symbiosis. Recently cited in a broadsheet study of the greatest ever love songs, it’s a vicious example of one of Nick’s Bonnie & Clyde-wannabe literary fantasies, but made funny by having those massed, slurring Bad Seeds chorus vocals in place of any female Deanna (everyone always mentions how peculiar that Kylie contribution was, but actually having a girl singer play the part of a victim just feels somehow too fucking obvious), and driven entirely by their slobbery, lazy, priapic clatter – The Bad Seeds, probably the most male band of all time. Trying to find a musical reference for The Bad Seeds is unexpectedly hard, despite them being generally marked as Cave’s most convention-adhering band. ‘Deanna’, for example, should be a kind of classic garage rock, but the instruments sound cavernous and the players miles apart, the sound full of wind and rattling ghosts and bopping hard on an irrepressible calypso incongruity. At all times in the Bad Seeds music, it sounds as if a small orchestra of people are playing practically nothing (except for the moments when the rhythm section goes voodoo), but playing it hard.

2. ‘Get Ready For Love’ (from Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, 2004)

2003’s Nocturama was just fucking weak, an unfunny, unromantic MOR portrait of middle-age. That the band could recompose themselves in less than a year, to fire back full-throttle with a double-album that sounded nothing like anything they’d done before is a testament to the self-healing nature (Nocturama had cost them Blixa) of The Bad Seeds. Although the acclaim for Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus could just be because the awesome evangelical electric gospel of this opener demanded repeat plays, shielding the listener from a couple of the dodgier tracks on the second disc.

3. ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ (from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, 2008)

So why did Mick Harvey suddenly quit the band this year, after some 36 years service as Nick Cave’s musical arranger, manager, drug-counsellor and all-round wingman? There was nothing to be ashamed of in the strutting neon cubist-funk of the last Bad Seeds album.

4. ‘The Mercy Seat’ (from Tender Prey, 1988)

One of the strangest ‘signature songs’ of a mainstream band ever. A seven minute 17 seconds guilt-mantra from a man shaved and strapped into the electric chair. Violins plead, guitar twitches and stabs compulsively and agitatedly – the tics of a caged animal – and a military drum tattoo seals our protagonist’s fate with impassive authority.

5. ‘The Weeping Song’ (from The Good Son, 1990)

Throughout its 26-year life, The Bad Seeds has acted as a safe house for more than a few noteworthy musicians – Barry Adamson, Kid Congo Powers, James Johnston and all of the key members of The Birthday Party – but although no member ever seemed bigger than the band (almost Hopper-like in their dilapidated anonymity, even when touting ‘name’ players), no one’s departure was mourned more than the loss of Blixa Bargeld. What the Einsturzende Neubaten leader actually did in the Bad Seeds isn’t immediately obvious though. I mean, outside of this. A duet. And a video in which him and Cave ham the song up "like a pair of drunk, gay German businessmen".

5. ‘Straight To You’ (from Henry’s Dream, 1992)

The best love songs always seem to figuratively invoke the end of the world. Compare this with ‘Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum’, the brilliant narrative Cave dragged out of a heart-stopping Dirty Three instrumental, which uses a kind of slow-motion armageddon to stake out in increments the boredom of a breaking-down relationship. Cave’s greatest album-length musical statement would be an album of nothing but love songs, incredibly narcissistic, male things made purely to bully a person into loving him. Although both are impossibly beautiful, there isn’t anything like the handsome bravado of ‘Straight To You’ on that album, The Boatman’s Call. Nothing up to then in Cave’s repertoire was honest enough to acknowledge actual pain. Nothing up to then was about him.

6. ‘Stagger Lee’ (from Murder Ballads, 1996)

I know it isn’t a popular perception, but I for one am glad he doesn’t do all that bullshit about pretending to a murdering cowboy with a mid-Atlantic accent in some down & dirty Wild West town anymore. Southern gothic is such obvious bullshit. ‘Stagger Lee’ rules though.

7. ‘Do You Love Me?’ (from Let Love In, 1994)

I love the way on this mix tape that the bass in ‘Stagger Lee’ slithers and coils right into this, like some kind of ritual. On ‘Let Love In’, with Cave infatuated with Brazil instead of old muse Berlin (and, later, Brighton), The Bad Seeds stoke up a hallucinatory, stalker-paced samba.

8. ‘Tupelo’ (from The First Born Is Dead, 1985)

"A song about a big fucking storm," is how Cave is fond of introducing this. One that brings about the second coming of The King, and ends our mixtape in thunder, rattlesnake guitar and a very funny Elvis impersonation.

Listen to David Mcnamee’s mix tape on Spotify


  1. Nick Cave – ‘Cassiel’s Song’
  1. Tom Waits – ‘Missing My Son’
  1. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – ‘Rather Lovely Thing’
  1. PJ Harvey – ‘White Chalk’
  1. Nick Cave & Shane Macgowan – ‘What A Wonderful World’
  1. Sonic Youth – ‘Sugar Kane’
  1. Antony & The Johnsons – ‘Cripple And The Starfish’
  1. Iggy Pop – ‘Lust For Life’
  1. Joy Division – ‘Atrocity Exhibition’
  1. Afghan Whigs – ‘Debonair’
  1. The Cure – ‘Boys Don’t Cry’

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