Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Top 20 Belle and Sebastian Songs

I'm going to see Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers Friday, a concert I am psyched for. And to prepare I've been listening to a bunch of stuff by both bands, and that prompted me to make a list of the top B&S songs. Originally it was going to be ten, but the top ten is heavily weighted to one album, and I felt to be fair, I should expand the list. So read on and discover the best songs of one of the world's best bands...

20. Dylan in the Movies (If You're Feeling Sinister) - This was the first Belle and Sebastian song I really liked, mainly because it's a catchy, ingenious chorus: "Don't look back, like Dylan in the movies." There's a great build during the chorus, and there's something funny about this really impassioned plea being backed up by an obscure allusion to a 60s documentary.

19. Family Tree (Fold Your Hands...) - This is a song in which a girl gripes about the shallowness of her high school friends, and high school life in general. Lyrically, it's a strong plea against materialism in favor of art, which is effective, and the narrator does seem like the sort of fangirl who would probably really enjoy B&S. The part of this song I really like is the chorus at the end, "If my family tree goes back to the Romans, then I will change my name to Jones," and so on. Very catchy and clever, and the rhythm of the vocals throughout the song is satisfyingly unique.

18. I'm Waking Up to Us (I'm Waking Up to Us) - This is from one of their 2001 LPs, a bridge between the "sad bastard" era and the hyperpop of their latter incarnation. This song reminds me a lot of Love, the 60s band, a major B&S influence. It's got that 60s style vocal harmonizing, and the multitude of voices is something unique to B&S. Like a lot of 60s pop, it's a bit of downer in terms of subject matter, but the music is upbeat and jamming, another hallmark of a B&S song.

17. The Wrong Girl (Fold Your Hands...) - I mentioned before abut the two phases of B&S, and nowhere is this more evident than on the underappreciated Fold Your Hands. The album starts out in Sinister mode, but by the end, you can hear the start of what would develop on Waitress, and this song is a great example of that. The simple chorus rocks, and the swirling strings make it more impressive. Structurally, it's a precursor of I'm a Cuckoo.

16. Me and the Major (If You're Feeling...) - This is a great example of an early period Belle and Sebastian song, intricate lyrics and folky acoustic style. The highlight of the song is the ripping harmonica solo in the middle, it's nasty and makes this song special. And the "snow is falling" outro is fantastic.

15. White Collar Boy (The Life Pursuit) - Like The Wrong Girl, this is a song with a simple, anthemic chorus that's just irresistably catchy. The title part of the chorus is great, but the highlight of the song is the call and response with "She said “You ain’t ugly, you can kiss me if you like,"" which is followed by "Go ahead and kiss her," a great example of the multiple vocalist stuff they do so well. It's a catchy, remarkable pop song.

14. The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner (Jonathan David) - This is the sort of audaciously pretentious title that only B&S could pull off. Once again picking up the track theme, this is a mini epic. It's a big buildup and the catharis when the title is stated is great. Ride through the field indeed.

13. Dress Up in You (The Life Pursuit) - I'm usually more into the upbeat, rocking songs by B&S, but this lowkey ballad proves an exception. This is another song about a girl wronged by her more popular friends. The highlight of the song is the telloff "They are hypocrites, so fuck them too," which builds to a fantastic trumpet solo. I always love when they let the instrumentalists go, and this is a fantastic, emotional solo that makes the song infinitely larger.

12. Sukie in the Graveyard (The Life Pursuit) - This has been called the Belles' first dancable song and it's pretty impressive. The ascending line that leads into, and continues throughout, the song is great, and provides the base for one of the more interesting characters in the B&S pantheon. This song reminds me of Six Feet Under, you throw art school and the graveyard together and that's what you get.

11. Don't Leave the Light On Baby (Fold Your Hands...) - This is a downbeat song, like Belle and Sebastian doing Portishead. The really successful thing about this song is the contrast between the noir, low vocals of the beginning and the shining ethereal vocals of the chorus. It doesn't sound like any other song that they've done, it's much darker musically.

10 Sleep the Clock Around (The Boy with the Arab Strap) - I used this song in my film, Ricky Frost, so I now associate it with that movie, but that only enhances my appreciation of it. The vocal delivery is almost monotone, but still rhythmic, fitting in with the bubbling music underneath, culminating in the instrumental solo in the middle of the song. I'm not sure what instrument that is, but it's great.

9. Your Cover's Blown (Books) - This is the pop epic that's so rich it could almost be an album in itself. The song starts out in a kind of lowkey disco mode, before blowing up into an anthemic groove for the chorus, speeding things up for a chaotic section of the song and then finally bringing it down to acoustic for the finale. It's quite an accomplishment, hearing the song mutate is a lot of fun, it's like all the eras of B&S were synthesized into one.

8. I'm a Cuckoo (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - This is one of a string of incredible songs off of their best album. The verses are so full of energy, like they're trying to burst into the chorus, and when the chorus finally does arrive it's an upbeat march. I'm a big fan of the instrumental jams that follow each statement of "I'm a Cuckoo." Every moment of this song is just full of fun and greatness.

7. Roy Walker (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - This is a 60s style song, with a tinge of Western. It's a really catchy chorus, but the highpoint of this song is the scorching guitar solo that occurs about midway through. It takes the song out of the comfort zone and into an edgy, exciting realm, and then when the chorus returns, it feels even more exciting than it did originally.

6. Step Into My Office Baby (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - Full of double entendre, and backed by a fun, upbeat arrangement, this was the perfect song to announce the new B&S to the world. I love the way the song slows to a near halt, then gradually starts up again building to a final statement of the chorus. It's so happy, if you don't like this song, I sentence you to listen to Staind on repeat for all eternity.

5. Stars of Track and Field (If You're Feeling Sinister) - This is perhaps their signature song and with good reason, it's a warm, textured song with cutting lyrics. The imagery is vivid, but what makes it such a great listen is how well orchestrated it is, a big jump from the comparatively minimal Tigermilk. The trumpet work here is a highlight.

4. Lazy Line Painter Jane (Lazy Line Painter Jane) - This song is an enigma for me. I read the lyrics and ponder, is she pregnant and having a child, is she having sex, possibly with a girl? I don't know, but what I do know is that the interplay between the male and female vocal on the track is great, and regardless of what it means, the parts about "the first bus out of town" sound great, and by the time we finally get to the title statement, it's a driving stomp, a fitting conclusion to a great song.

3. If You Find Yourself Caught in Love (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - Say a prayer to the man above...for this song! It's the best of their poptastic anthemic tracks. I really like the message of the song, and the way the lyrics remains sophisticated even though on the surface the song is pretty simple. What's astonishing about the song is that every part feels like a sing along chorus, this was a highlight when I saw them live back in October, and I'd love to hear it again on Friday.

2. Stay Loose (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - The last track of an album often hints at a potential new direction for the band, going beyond what the rest of the album did. Think "Day in the Life" on Sgt. Pepper or "Street Spirit" on The Bends. Stay Loose is one of those tracks, unlike anything else B&S have ever done. The song has a techno 80s feel, with a slight android quality in the vocals in the verses. This builds up to a more jamming chorus, and ultimately to the nastiest guitar solo in the band's history. I love the repeated guitar arc in the middle and that ultimately fades out the song. It's a completely different texture for the band and it works wonderfully.

1. I Love My Car (I'm Waking Up to Us) - And at last the apex of the oevure. I Love My Car starts out as a fairly standard, 60sish pop tune, in which the narrator points out all the things he loves more than "you." I'm liking it, but then things go to another level, and the song takes on a heavy jazz type feel, and drops an incredible trumpet solo on us. This trumpet solo just comes out of nowhere and transforms the song into something that feels like a 1920s speakeasy. I play trumpet myself, so I'm a bit biased towards songs that use it well, and this one certainly does. The instrumental sections of this song are just unbelievable, and that makes it Belle and Sebastian's best song.


Anonymous said...

I was desperately trying to remember the title of "Love my Car"... the trumpet bit was stuck in my head.

Sure enough a search for "belle sebastian trumpet solo" returned your post, and saved me from a lengthy re-listening of the entire catalog to find the old favorite.


Patrick said...

Glad to help out, those horn solos always do kick a song up a notch.

Anonymous said...

I'd never have the time to actually sit down and figure out top 20 b&S songs...Though a few tracks from Storytelling would be on there! top 7
7. Night Walk-love the light percussion.
6. Winter Wooskie-Can't get my hands on the studio cut, but love the live version.
5. Seeing Other People-Reminds me of charlie brown.
4.The Model-The harpsicord puts it over the top
3.It could have been a brilliant career-I'm 24 year old single male.
2. You made me forget my dreams-slide guitar
1. Act of the Apostle II
Great thing about B&S is some songs you don't listen to as much and then a year or two later you discover them! Sorry for length of comment, but thanks for listening.

Patrick said...

Yeah, they've got such a variety of songs, sometimes one can hit you that you weren't that into the first time through. I'm eager to see what they do next, Life Pursuit was a really great album, and their sound's continually evolved in interesting directions.

John said...

I wish i knew of them in 9th grade. I discovered them when i was in college. Somehow they express so eloquently the argument i was having with the world from 13-17. I haven't listened to them in at least 5 years now, but i recently began listening again, and i realize i am still having that argument with the world, and i'm much older than 17.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting list: http://www.therockczar.com/indie/top-10-belle-and-sebastian-songs

The Wise Man said...

"The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner" is a reference to "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", a 1962 movie directed by Tony Richardson... I guess :)

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056194/

Benny said...

I found this the same way as the first commenter did, except the song I was looking for was Dress Up in You.

contactos madrid said...

Thanks for this article, really worthwhile material.

Anonymous said...

I was searching for "I love my car" for so long! I too had the trumpet solo stuck in my head and had been listening to all B&S songs trough out the last few weeks. For some reason I did not find it and only now have found it thanks to you!!!
Fuck I'm happy. Thank you.