The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’90s – Part 2 (80 – 61)

The second part of our examination of the 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the '90s includes Pavement, Suzanne Vega, Morrissey, Dinosaur Jr., and more.

80. Sisters of Mercy – “More” (1990)

Jim Steinman, famed writer and producer of wonderfully overblown theatrical rock like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”, was a natural fit to produce the electronic goth-dance epic “More” by Sisters of Mercy. They are, after all, a band never afraid to go way, way over the top, which is just where Jim Steinman likes it. “More” is the soundtrack to a vampire nightclub, played deep in the night while black-garbed ghouls flit gracefully about the shadowy dance-floor, lightning flickering overhead.

The album version stretches for over eight minutes, but the single mix really delivers all that you need. Starting with bracing jolts of synth, “More” builds slowly from a piano base with half-whispered vocals before exploding with the chorus “I want more!” and seemingly incongruously soulful vamping that somehow works despite belonging to another sonic dimension. Andrew Eldritch’s mordant growl is a tense counterpoint to the soaring backing vocals. Electronic strings and treated piano help to build a darkly atmospheric backdrop while Eldritch half-whispers the verses with as much drama as he can muster.

The merger of Bauhaus-era goth with modern industrial-flavored electronic beats — and Jim Steinman’s audacious arrangement — proved hugely popular with fans, and rightfully so. It’s a thrilling exhibition of rock at its most unapologetically theatrical and melodramatic. It’s brilliant symphonic electro-goth. “More” spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart as 1990 rolled into 1991.

79. Dig – “Believe” (1993)

As the lead single from Dig’s self-titled debut album, “Believe” was the band’s only significant hit, reaching #19 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. Opening with an ominous rumble of bass, “Believe” is a torrid rocker with furnace blasts of guitar and a terrific on-edge vocal by Steve Hackworth.

The song is a piercing indictment of self-righteous ‘believers’ who spend most their time and energy imposing their notion of what God is on others while blithely ignoring the tenets of the religion they proclaim to follow. Written over 20 years ago, “Believe” couldn’t be more apt today. Hackworth sneers lines like, “They will deny there is separation now”, and of course many evangelicals believe that our government should basically be a theocracy. But Hackworth isn’t having it — “We won’t buy in their deception now,” he proclaims.

The chorus is a call for turning religious beliefs inward and actually thinking about your own obligations and stop worrying about what others are doing: “Why don’t you believe, believe in your own god?” Left unsaid is “and leave us the fuck alone”, although that sentiment comes across pretty clearly in the sharply rebellious tone of the track.

It’s unfortunate that Dig never gained much traction beyond this one song, because as solid as their debut album is, their second album Defenders of the Universe” (1996) is even better. Check out “Song for Liars” if you get a chance — a hit that should have been. Unfortunately, their sophomore album sank without a trace and Dig was left to rust at the bottom of the ocean floor along with other promising ’90s castaways. The music survives, though, waiting to be discovered, and bands like Dig should take solace in that.

78. Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel the Pain” (1994)

J. Mascis has been unleashing his distinct fuzz-toned pop buried in distortion with Dinosaur Jr. since their 1985 debut album Dinosaur. “Feel the Pain”, the primary single from the band’s Without a Sound album, is one of Mascis’ best and most successful tracks — it reached #4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

Mascis’ distinctly mangled vocal, sung at two octaves so he can self-harmonize, somehow manages to latch onto a melody with arresting authenticity. Mascis plays nearly all the instruments himself, and he proves a pretty damn fine drummer. “Feel the Pain” seems to have a laid back vibe, and then without warning manic eruptions of molten guitar flare between the verses, before easing us back into the song’s main groove. At the very end the eruption escalates into an ear-piercing guitar solo that wraps up the song with a massive jolt. The arrangement is unorthodox with multiple time-signatures — “Feel the Pain” is a hard-rocking mini-suite of sorts that sounds like it was stitched together by a mad scientist in a secret basement laboratory. Perhaps it was.

Lyrically the song deals with a man who is rendered numb by all the pain and struggles experienced by those around him. He becomes jaded and loses his empathy. There may be more internal significance to the song. It was written around the time that Mascis’ father died, which Mascis has acknowledged had a big impact on his songwriting for Without a Sound. Perhaps it’s the old ‘heart of stone’ trick, in which you build up a solid barricade around your emotions to protect yourself from hurt. An all too human defense mechanism.

77. Lush – “Ladykillers” (1996)

London-based Lush released several excellent albums in the early ’90s before shuttering following the 1996 suicide of drummer Chris Acland. The tragedy occurred only six months after the appearance of their last album, Lovelife, just as the band were at their commercial and artistic peak. Although they are often mentioned as part of the “shoegaze” movement, that label more comfortably fits their earlier work. By the time of Lovelife, the band had swerved into a fiery and energetic pop-influenced direction.

“Ladykillers” is their most immediate and potent single, a blistering rocker spiky with attitude. Vocalist Miki Berenyi, sporting fierce pink hair in the song’s video, boldly delivers a recitation of cutting one-liners, making it very clear she will take no bullshit, while the band thrashes madly behind her. Deft touches of ’60s pop like the ooh-la-la-la backing vocals and hand claps add a hint of a retro vibe. “Ladykillers” is loaded with badass attitude and derision in lines like: “I’m as human as the next girl / I like a bit of flattery / but I don’t need your practiced lines / your school of charm mentality / so save your breath for someone else / and credit me with something more / when it comes to men like you I know the score / I’ve heard it all before.” No doubt she has.

“Ladykillers” reached #18 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, and will surely be a prominent fixture in the band’s set when they reunite later this year for their first live performances in 20 years. (And don’t forget to clap along during the “Blondie was with me for a summer” verse!)

76. Pavement – “Cut Your Hair” (1994)

Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” is deceptively sunny slacker-rock, ragged and laid back with the same indolence as the classic hippie anthem “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band. This time, instead of trying to get a job at a store, the disdain for long hair comes from the music industry, which Pavement skewers with a defiant smile and a snarl. It’s especially relevant given the platoons of long-haired, slovenly dressed bands that emerged on the alternative rock scene after the ascension of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Even lack of an image can become a very distinct image, often by accident.

“Cut Your Hair” is a shambolic rocker in the style of much of Pavement’s work. They’ve never ben the tightest in the word, but their loose, easy-going groove has its own undeniable appeal. Led by vocalist and primary songwriter Stephen Malkmus, Pavement was expert at frayed indie-rock with clever lyrics and strong melodies. The main melodic hook on “Cut Your Hair” comes from the “do do doo doo” lines sung in quavery falsetto during the instrumental breaks.

Although they never really became more than a cult band, Pavement’s ’90s work is now widely respected by many critics as some of the decade’s best. “Cut Your Hair”, from the band’s acclaimed second album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, became by far their biggest hit, reaching #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

75. Blind Melon – “Galaxie” (1995)

Blind Melon scored big with their electric hippie folk singalong “No Rain” from their self-titled 1992 debut, but their best work was yet to come. Their second album Soup, which hit retailers just weeks before vocalist Shannon Hoon’s shattering death from a drug overdose, is the band’s masterpiece. The pain Hoon was enduring courses through the veins of the album, especially in songs like “2 x 4” and “Mouthful of Cavities”.

Soup wasn’t as commercial as the band’s debut, and of course they were unable to tour in support of the record. It was largely overshadowed by Shannon Hoon’s death, and unfortunately the album never really received the attention and acclaim it deserved. The first single “Galaxie” is an edgy rocker with an imaginative arrangement and a terrific vocal by Hoon. His highly pitched voice, so relaxed and gentle in “No Rain”, is tense and expressive here. “Galaxie” refers to a 1963 Ford Galaxie that Shannon Hoon owned, and he ties memories of the car into the narrative of the collapse of a relationship. He identifies with the Galaxie as representing who he is, which he perceives isn’t good enough for his love interest, but he has no interest in changing. Take him or leave him, as he is. Not a bad message.

The track is short and builds to a manic climax, with Hoon’s voice erupting at the end, “in my Galaxie!”, before it all fades to black. “Galaxie” reached #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, their final appearance on that survey. Soup became Blind Melon’s last stand (apart from a collection of previously unreleased material called Nico), but if you’re gonna have a last stand may as well make it a count, and they did that without question. Soup has to be near the very top of any list of the most under appreciated rock albums of the ’90s.

74. Suzanne Vega – “In Liverpool” (1992)

With her fourth album 99.9F, Suzanne Vega took a sharp turn from her usual folk-influenced acoustic-rock by adding electronic elements and textures. The change in direction worked, and 99.9F became the second most successful in her career behind only the landmark Solitude Standing.

Not all of the songs got the digital makeover, however, and one of the holdouts is “In Liverpool”, a gothic waltz with beautifully evocative imagery. The track begins with a treated piano, which is in keeping with the album’s adventurous sonic spirit. A rumble of bass and a few strums of guitar keep the verses taut until the chorus emerges with a full band arrangement. The shifting dynamics between verse and chorus are one of the song’s defining characteristics. “In Liverpool” sounds more in line with Vega’s past work, but the spirit of experimentation that infuses 99.9F is still there.

“In Liverpool’s” lyrics are opaque and poetic. They seem to be about a woman who allows herself to daydream about her surroundings as a mechanism to forget a painful separation. Vega’s prowess as a composer and lyricist of the highest caliber is once again on full and glorious display here. “In Liverpool” is a piece that makes you want to know more — it’s like the first chapter of a dark book of secrets that you want to unravel but can’t. Her prior album was Book of Dreams, and perhaps 99.9F is more a Book of Nightmares, flames licking at the cover and the spine, urging you on to find answers before your fingers get singed.

73. The Stone Roses – “Love Spreads” (1994)

Although Stone Roses is often thought of as a ’90s band, their classic debut album and many of its associated singles actually hit in the late ’80s. For the ’90s we have to look to their 1994 album Second Coming and its primary single, the classic-rock behemoth “Love Spreads”. It ended up being their biggest hit ever, reaching #2 in the UK and also hitting the runner-up spot on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, the band’s highest ever placement on that survey.

“Love Spreads” is built on massive swirls of bluesy guitar, a fluid psychedelic groove, and vocals buried well in the mix like the Stones’ “Bitch” or Bowie’s “Watch that Man”. It’s a provocative rock and roll strut that loses none of the considerable swagger of the band’s earlier singles.

At the 4:16 mark comes a long fade-in of the repetitious chorus, which essentially becomes a mantra, starting softly and then swelling in power and intensity with each pass, as the guitars build and the multi-tracked vocals become more complex. The main verse repeats: “Let me put you in the picture / let me show you what I mean/ The Messiah is my sister / Ain’t no king, man, she’s my queen”. There is a long guitar-jam ending with one last repetition of the main hook. It’s a killer tune, what rock and roll is all about.

If the Stone Roses explored ’60s style pop with earlier singles, here they have moved onto the darker war torn late ’60s/early ’70s. It’s a Stones meets Doors meets C.C.R. vibe, all with a very European sound and the cocksure attitude for which the Stone Roses have always been known.

72. Liz Phair – “Supernova” (1994)

Liz Phair became a critical darling following the release of her stunning 1993 2-LP debut, Exile in Guyville. Low-fi, raw, brutally honest and sometimes fragile, Phair’s debut may have enchanted critics but it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. There was considerable record company pressure for Phair to translate her critical plaudits into moving units.

As a result, her next album Whip-Smart is more focused power-pop with grit and spirit. She proves quite adept at writing some pretty catchy tunes. Liz Phair has the versatility to record piercing acoustic confessionals like “Flower” and then pivot neatly to supercharged melodic pop/rock like “Supernova”, the song chosen to be the all-important first single.

It proved an excellent choice, and an obvious one — “Supernova” is by far the most obviously commercial tune on Whip-Smar. Phair’s fiery vocals rest on a foundation laid by a galloping beat and bassline with a jolt of guitar to amp up the start of each measure. The song is a very upbeat appreciation of a lover, in colorful and typically frank language: “You walk in clouds of glitter and the sun reflects your eyes / and every time the wind blows, I can smell you in the sky / your kisses are as wicked as an F-16 / and you fuck like a volcano, and you’re everything to me.” That’s pretty hot. Just watch where you shoot that lava, right? It burns!! “Supernova” reached #6 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, also landing Phair a Grammy nomination.

71. Cocteau Twins – “Iceblink Luck” (1990)

“Iceblink Luck” is the first single from the legendary Scottish purveyors of otherworldly beauty Cocteau Twins’ sixth album Heaven or Las Vegas. The song is Elizabeth Fraser’s joyful expression of peace and bliss. “Iceblink Luck” was written about her newborn daughter Lucy Belle, and as a musical expression of elation it doesn’t get more exuberant.

She opens the song unable to contain her grin. “I’m seemin’ to be a little alive / I’m happy again, caught, caught in time / expose the daughter of yourself well / Me, I think that you’re in her heart.” Strangely, while Fraser was marveling over motherhood, guitarist Robin Guthrie was battling addiction, and he became much less influential in the overall scheme of the band’s sound. Bassist Simon Raymonde stepped up to fill the slack. The result is a different version of the Cocteau Twins, still mystical faerie music but with a little more Earthly foundation. They were getting positively commercial, but no less beguiling.

“Iceblink Luck” features one of Fraser’s more intelligible vocals and most focused delivery. There are a bright, melodic guitar riff and a trippy rhythm under a prominent bassline and acoustic guitar. The main hook in the chorus, with the guitar line weaving in and out of the melody, is classically beautiful. It’s a glistening folk singalong from a hidden frozen dimension. “Iceblink Luck” hit #4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, second only to their classic “Carolyn’s Fingers” which made it to #2 in 1988.

70. Stone Temple Pilots – “Sex Type Thing” (1992)

Stone Temple Pilots enjoyed massive commercial success during their peak years in the ’90s, but were often dismissed by detractors as grunge bandwagon-jumpers with scant originality. Those who believed so were simply wrong. There’s an innate power and intensity to STP’s best work, and the late Scott Weiland was a dynamic rock ‘n’ roll frontman. He had the swagger, the presence, and the enormous vocal power to deliver bracing in-your-face rock at its most primal and explosive.

The motoric rocker “Sex Type Thing” was the first single from the band’s debut album Core, and it quickly torched the rock airwaves and MTV. Weiland inhabits the character of a vicious sexual predator with a feverish malevolence, even brazenly blaming the victim, “I am a man, a man I’ll give ya somethin that ya won’t forget / I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress / I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress! / Worn that dress!” “You wanna know about atrocity?!” Weiland snarls with sinister menace. “Sex Type Thing” is clearly not about sex, but an aggressive display of power and control.

The track ends with the nightmarish repetition of “here I come, I come, I come” with guitars blazing, as if the object of the narrator’s repugnant obsession is running down a darkened corridor to escape the spectre of violence closing in from behind. Stone Temple Pilots produced a number of outstanding singles in their career, but they never equaled the sheer ferocity and raw sonic force of “Sex Type Thing”.

69. Ride – “Vapour Trail” (1990)

There’s an almost Nick Drake-like furtiveness and delicacy to guitarist Andy Bell’s vocals on “Vapour Trail”, the standout track from Ride’s brilliant full-length debut Nowhere. His delicate reeding through the vaguely psychedelic jangle pop is beautifully vulnerable. It’s like his vocals were specifically made to fit Ride’s cavernous garage-rock to perfection.

The song reflects on someone who may enter your life, utterly enchant you and then fade away like the mist. You even reasonably suspect that’s what will happen in the end but the journey is so perfect it’s worth the bittersweet ache. She’s the vapour trail in the title: “First you look so strong / then you fade away / the sun will blind my eyes / I love you anyway / thirsty for your smile / I watch you for a while / you are a vapour trail / In a deep blue sky.” The brightness of the sun fades all too soon, no matter how bright it gets at noon.

The swirling guitar sound, produced by Andy Bell on two 12-strings, creates a pleasantly dreamy setting for his sadly nostalgic lyrics. The rest of the band performs admirably, creating a hazy soundscape for Bell’s lilting melody. “Vapour Trail” lingers for a long, spectacularly cinematic closing, the guitars slowly giving way to strings over a series of manic fills by drummer Laurence Colbert. At the very end it’s only the strings left, slowly fading into nothing, a whirl of smoke dissipating into the ether.

68. K’s Choice – “Not an Addict” (1996)

K’s Choice is a Belgian band formed by siblings Sarah Bettens (vocals) and Gert Bettens (guitar/keyboards). “Not an Addict” is from their second album, Paradise in Me, and became by far the band’s biggest single. The song deals with addiction from the point of view of someone who tries to throw up spurious denials that she obviously doesn’t even believe herself. It’s a portrait of a woman trapped in chains, sometimes pretending that it’s exactly where she wants to be, but knowing deep inside that she’s drowning.

The breathy, ominous refrain of “ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh” helps build the song’s searing tension. Bettens’ performance is completely compelling and absolutely convincing. She nails the vocal with a rasp of desperation — the pleasure, pain and self-delusion of addiction. The lure and the trap are laid out bare. “Not an Addict” captures dual desperations — the need for the next hit, and the aching need to be free. Bettens describes the bleak emptiness of life when the high fades away: “It’s over now, i’m cold, alone / i’m just a person on my own / nothing means a thing to me / oh, nothing means a thing to me”.

The song opens with a rumbling bass and rhythm guitars that gradually raise in pressure until finally exploding. There’s also a psychedelic, dream-tinged bridge that gives a taste of what the mind is like when not frozen in the cold, dire reality between trips. A riveting human drama, “Not an Addict” proved popular at alternative radio, reaching #5 of the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

67. Filter – “Hey Man Nice Shot” (1995)

There’s something viscerally shocking about the sentiment “hey man, nice shot” as a response to a suicide, even if it’s meant to be sardonic. At the time of its release, many fans perhaps understandably thought “Hey Man Nice Shot” was prompted by Kurt Cobain’s suicide the year before. In fact, it’s inspired by the death of R. Budd Dwyer, a state treasurer in Pennsylvania who was found guilty of racketeering, fraud, conspiracy and bribery. At a press conference in January 1987, he stunned the assembled crowd by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Cameras rolled, people screamed, and footage of the suicide was widely shown on television news reports.

Sensitive to criticisms that the song was callous or somehow glorified suicide, Filter felt compelled to issue the following statement: “The song ‘Hey Man Nice Shot’ is a reaction to a well-documented public suicide. It is not a celebration or glorification of taking one’s own life. The phrase ‘hey man, nice shot’ is a reference to the final act itself, an expression of guts and determination of a person standing up for what they believe is right. We are extremely sensitive and respectful to the family and friends of Mr. Dwyer. We have both lost friends to suicide and felt nothing but sympathy and loss for the victims, and those involved in such a tragedy.”

It’s an incendiary track built on dramatic shifts in dynamics, from solemn and barren to soul-wrenching blasts of colossal firepower. “Hey Man Nice Shot” reached #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

66. Morrissey – “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” (1994)

The lead single from Morrissey’s fourth studio album, the outstanding Vauxhall and I, “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” is one of the former Smiths vocalist’s most successful solo singles. It reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and became his first Top 10 single in his native England in five years. Morrissey plays an obsessive stalker with just the right amount of suave creepiness. His sickly sweet crooning is chilling as he takes a song that sounds romantic and turns it on its heels.

Musically the song is a languid-mid-tempo rocker, produced by Steve Lillywhite and built on a recurring melodic electric guitar riff, acoustic rhythm guitar, a florid bassline, and Woody Taylor’s rock-solid drumming. A glistening acoustic guitar pattern descends above the fray during the song’s chorus. The music overall is rather upbeat and not evocative at all of an obsessive stalker, which undoubtedly is the point.

Morrissey’s sardonic wit and clever wordplay are on display as always, with acerbic lines like, “Beware! / I hold more grudges/ Than lonely high court judges / when you sleep I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay / take the easy way and give in / yeah, and let me in.” Perhaps it’s metaphoric — something troubling that constantly gnaws at your mind and you can’t banish? With a wordsmith as deft as Morrissey, anything is possible. But most likely it is what it sounds — a predator’s velvety supplication for the object of his sick fascination to give in to the inevitable. He actually seems supremely confident that she will.

65. Catherine Wheel – “Crank” (1993)

Cavernous and vast in sound, it’s easy to visualize “Crank” being performed in a giant wind-tunnel with all the band members just barely hanging on from being swept away into oblivion. There’s plenty of space for the massive walls of guitar and an absolutely stellar vocal performance by Rob Dickinson. The dreamy multi-part vocal arrangement is both clever and mixed perfectly — slathered in reverb, mixed right down in the maelstrom of beautiful chaos that surrounds it.

A ‘crank’ is slang for a person who’s not quite right in the head, and Rob Dickinson’s lyrics are full of self-deprecating observations, but they are too obtuse to know exactly what he’s referring to. For example, “love my superstitious games / running circles round my brain when I’m left smiling / I love to steal this living steam / my head in someone’s dream / I’m tired of sleeping.” Lovely imagery that only Dickinson can translate into something beyond vague impressions.

It really doesn’t matter — it’s one of those Rorschach test songs that is about a feeling and an overall atmosphere more than a literal meaning. Listen to the intensity of the bridge, which is then followed by a brief series of guitar snarls before fading into a powerful rhythmic guitar solo section. There is no wasted space. Tim Friese-Greene, veteran of three of the best albums of the past 30 years (Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock), adds a piercing line of keyboard that slices through the cacophony like an urgent radar signal. It’s simply an epic recording, made for blasting at the highest volume possible and completely losing yourself in the swirling waves of sound.

“Crank” is from the band’s second album Chrome, which was produced by Gil Norton of Pixies fame. The song reached #5 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, Catherine Wheel’s highest ever placement on that survey.

64. eels – “Last Stop: This Town” (1998)

Eels is the project of Mark Oliver Everett, otherwise known as E. His second album under the eels name, Electro-Shock Blues is the harrowing and startlingly intimate chronicle of the deaths of two of Everett’s loved ones — his sister via suicide and his mother via cancer. Throughout the album, Everett relates these tales with stark pain and soul-baring grief twined with humor, grace and love. It’s the human reaction to the death of a loved one, the type of expression one might expect to hear after the funeral is over and friends are sitting around talking about the good times, about how much so and so was loved all the while thinking of their own mortality.

E returns to his home base, “This Town”, which will be for him his last stop as it was his first stop. Wherever life takes us, we all know where our last stop will be, where our lifeless vessels of flesh will end up either buried in the cold ground or else as ashes floating on the wind to be melded into the soil or water. “Last Stop: This Town” is streaks of pain intertwined with whimsy and nostalgia, as one comes to terms with his own mortality with a sense of irreverent acceptance.

“Last Stop: This Town” boasts a razor sharp arrangement that frequently pivots with sudden left turns, incorporating electronic and hip-hop elements. “Last Stop: This Town” is the philosophical and hopeful track on an album that portrays life at it’s most cruel. It’s a pondering of life and death from a state of utmost peace. “Last Stop: This Town” reached #40 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, a shame because it deserves a much wider audience.

63. Siouxsie & The Banshees – “Kiss Them For Me” (1991)

The biggest American pop hit by far in the long and enormously influential career of Siouxsie & The Banshees is the sinuous electronic gem “Kiss Them For Me”. Over a trippy beat the song has an exotic vibe, swaying sensually with a languid keyboard riff as Siouxsie Sioux delivers an elegant and sensual vocal. The track includes a tabla played by Talvin Singh that emerges near the end.

“Kiss Them For Me” is a major update of the band’s sound, a bridge to the ’90s. It’s hard to imagine what fans of the discordant wailing and bruising guitars of albums like The Scream and Join Hands would think of the slinky electronica of “Kiss Them For Me” if we went back and time and assured them ‘Yes, this is Siouxsie & The Banshees’. Siouxsie herself would no doubt be shocked. And yet, it undeniably works, and marks a natural progression for a band that managed to remain relevant in the ’90s when many of their contemporaries had faded into oblivion.

On “Kiss Them for Me” the band fully embraces the electronica that was firmly mainstream at the time and ornaments it with exotic, Middle Eastern-inspired effects. It shouldn’t be a total shock — Siouxsie always had a keen sense of melody, and this is the culmination of years of becoming increasingly accessible while losing none of their artistic vision. Worth seeking out: the CD-single of “Kiss them for Me”. It includes two transcendently beautiful B-sides: “Staring Back” and “Return”. “Kiss Them For Me” reigned for five weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart during the summer of 1991 and crossed over to become the band’s only Top 40 hit in America, hitting #23.

62. Curve – “Faît Accompli” (1992)

Before his work in Curve, Dean Garcia was primarily known as the bassist for several Eurythmics albums and their supporting tours. At the dawn of the ’90s, Garcia partnered with vocalist Toni Halliday (who had also worked with Eurythmics) to form Curve. The duo quickly veered into heavy electronic beats and distorted effects with Halliday’s dynamic melodies floating above the metallic soundscapes in a voice that’s often as dramatic as the music.

“Faît Accompli” is the first single from the band’s excellent full-length debut Doppelgänger. Halliday turns in a passionate performance with lyrics about addiction and how insidiously easy one can be receptive to its grip. “I’ve come to crush your bones/ I’ve come to make you feel old / I’ve come to mess with your head / ‘Cause it’ll make you feel good”, she sings during the song’s frantic and dramatic bridge.

“Faît Accompli” is edgy, hard and dangerous with a strong melody peeking up from the industrial chaos that forms the song’s core. They incorporated the electronic/industrial elements smartly — just enough to add an edge, but not enough to render Halliday’s melodies inaccessible. Curve is kinda like a more obtuse version of Garbage, who took a similar style but transformed it into much more commercial material. “Faît Accompli” reached #18 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. Curve released four more albums over the next decade but they were unable to match the success of Doppelgänger and ultimately called it quits in early 2005.

61. James – “Laid” (1993)

Madchester’s James rode the title song from their fifth album, the Brian Eno-produced
Laid, to substantial success in America. The boisterous, hard-rocking, brazenly sexual title song tore through college radio like a wildfire and reached #3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. It’s hard to resist lines like: “This bed is on fire with passionate love / the neighbors complain about the noises above / but she only comes when she’s on top”.

Yeah, the song is about a pretty intense obsession, but singer Tim Booth’s character is so intoxicated by the couple’s sexual chemistry that he’s willing to put up with it. In fact, he’s obsessed himself. The couple’s sexual games include experimenting with sexual roles: “Dressed me up in women’s clothes / messed around with gender roles / line my eyes and call me pretty”. He tries to escape but she follows him and, like a drug, he can’t resist: “Moved out of the house so you moved next door / I locked you out / you cut a hole in the wall / I found you sleeping next to me / I thought I was alone / You’re driving me crazy / when are you coming home?”

“Laid” is bright and upbeat, a brusque acoustic rocker that’s tightly compact at only 2:36. Booth’s vocal delivery makes the song. The orgasmic howl he lets out, “Laiiiiiiiiid”, sounds very much like a man who’s struck gold and doesn’t seem to be fretting much over the obsessive nature of his relationship. “Laid’ is sexy and cocksure, fogged by unhinged passion that seems to block out anything and everything else, including good sense. It’s a state of being to which many of us can relate. Does good sex trump crazy? Well…

Go to Part 3 (60 – 41)