Hello and welcome to this thing. It's the latest edition of the Hell World top 5 songs series. Read the ones about Jason Molina, Elliott Smith, R.E.M., and Weezer if you missed them. Yes I have the most middle aged man taste alive. Although you may find a bunch of new to you bands on my list of the best songs of 2023 which I posted last week.
As always I am pleased to present an amazing group of writers and musicians joining me to write about a very beloved band. Thank you so much to everyone here today and those who contributed to the other editions. I'm very lucky to have so many talented friends and colleagues.
Speaking of which I also posted this look back at the best pieces from the past year by Hell World's contributors.
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Ok so here's a very large number of words about The Cure. Find a playlist on Spotify (sorry) here.
The Cure is one of those bands that has been there from the beginning of the development of my musical taste. Not my parents’ or my brothers’ taste — The Cure records weren’t playing in the house or on the 8-track— but my own. They were the first faint radio transmissions from another planet, but on video; an occasional “Let’s Go To Bed” or “The Lovecats” in the basement of the kid whose parents got cable, because The Cure made videos and 1982 MTV had 24 hours to fill and Pat Benatar could only do so much. My first moments of “hold on, what’s this?” Since then, their evolution intersected with my own at some key moments, which these five songs take me all the way back to.
Drama Club: I was in eighth grade in 1985, at a seventh-to-twelfth grade all-boys Catholic school, and by then it was clear that the other boys who picked up the extraterrestrial signal would let it bring them to the drama club. It was a smallish club, because the easiest thing for a boy to do in the Catholic suburbs of the midwest in 1985 was to seem kind of fruity, and joining the drama club was the easiest way to do that. The winter musical that year was Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd,” a satire of British class structure that had bewildered Broadway audiences twenty years before. And the soundtrack of those moments before and after rehearsal, and then set construction, and then the cast party was The Head on the Door. It had songs that still felt like they were from another planet (“Screw!”) and songs that were a little dour (“Kyoto Song!”) And songs that you could put on a mixtape without seeming too strange (“In Between Days!”). But “Push” gave the drama club kids what every kid wants: the chance to yell “Go go GOOOOOO” at the top of your lungs with a bunch of people you feel comfy around. It’s good to scratch this itch early in life; when you don’t, you run the risk of being a sports-radio caller or a mean gay or a Proud Boy.
Just Like Heaven
KYMC 89.7: In those same 1980s midwestern suburbs, there was a tiny little radio station broadcasting from a tiny little shack via a tiny little tower. It was way at the left end of the radio dial, and played what we weren’t yet calling “alternative music,” defined then as “whatever the big radio stations at the other end of the dial were playing.” R.E.M. for sure, and every song on Tim, but also Marshall Crenshaw and Squeeze and Figures on a Beach. It would come in clearly within about a five-mile radius, from Ballwin almost all the way to Town & Country. In the summer of 1987, I rode my bike there and filled out an application and lightly lied about my age and got a weekly Saturday 4-7 pm shift. That same summer, The Cure released Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me— an instant KYMC Classic — and by winter, all seven listeners were calling in to request “Just Like Heaven.” It’s a perfect example of what The Cure can do; a song jam-packed with joy and lust and longing and excitement— your basic Summer Emotions— that somehow only sounds exactly right on a very cold and dark winter night. We’re entering prime “Just Like Heaven” season, try it for yourself.
College: In 1989, I left for the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, to try to put the drama club and the tiny radio station behind me and be a Normal Person. Didn’t work! It was a strange and lonely and isolating time, and the New England autumn weather amplified the melancholy in a way that was oddly pleasurable. It was a year of regret in tweed, and Disintegration was always playing, somewhere. It was their breakthrough in America, and it felt strange to hear it in the dorm rooms of people who seemed comfortable with themselves. Like, you’re doing this wrong. “Lovesong” is apparently just a straight-up sincere love song, Robert Smith swears it. But because it is him, and because it is them, it has that special sting that lets you know “I will always love you” is not always good news. Years later, 311 would say “Yes, we should take a swing at this song,” and they did, and it was a hit, and again I was like: are you sure? You guys seem fine.
A Letter To Elise
The Alternative Explosion: In 1991, Billboard had changed its chart methodology to reflect what people were actually buying and listening to, and everything changed in a Christmas break. It was a Michael Jackson’s Dangerous world in December 1991, a Nirvana’s Nevermind world in January 1992. The big radio stations on the right side of the dial rushed to catch up, and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Red Hot Chili Peppers were superstars by summer. (Pearl Jam Unplugged was recorded six months after Ten came out, can you believe that?) Suddenly, anything went. It was a vindication for us KYMC kids, and in a more just world, The Cure would have owned the moment. But after a decade plus of being a little too weird for American mainstream radio, they were maybe too established for it. Wish went platinum in the States, still fine, but a quarter of what the much weirder Disintegration had sold. “Friday I’m In Love” is their biggest song, but I think “A Letter To Elise” is their best. (And this cover by Sense Field is gorgeous.)
Now: Anyway, it’s late 2023 and I’m writing this for the newsletter of one of my favorite writers, who went to Holy Cross ten years after I did, and my old high school has a really beautiful new theater even though all the kids are performing for each other on TikTok, and there’s no such thing as mainstream radio or even niche alternative radio anymore and at least four of the cool kids from college who played Disintegration in their rooms have sent me that “Rich Men From Richmond” video. But this past summer, my partner and I went to see The Cure at the Hollywood Bowl. And as we trudged up that hill to our seats with our basket of sandwiches and wine, we looked around. There they were, all the kids who had done theater and radio and been in bands and had to search for their place in this world and found it here. There we were, at magic hour as a warm summer day burned off into a crisp summer night. Together. (Probably with a few people who grew up in Orange County, where liking The Cure doesn’t signify much of anything, and now they work in private equity or whatever, which, fine, good for them.) Famously, the band jams most of their hits into the second encore, but about an hour into the main set, when the sky was nice and dark, they played “A Forest.” And we roared. Together. Our people.
Dave Holmes is an editor at large at Esquire. His podcast Waiting For Impact is out now.
I don’t know if I believe in having a favorite band—it’s been years, decades, since “bands” even made up the bulk of my listening—but if I did, The Cure would occupy that slot (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, anyway. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays would be for the Cocteau Twins, and Saturdays we’d just cycle through the Unwound catalog). The Cure were almost certainly my first real favorite band, always at the head of the pantheon containing Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Bauhaus, et al., and I fell for them hard and fast. My gateway was The Head on the Door followed closely by Standing on a Beach: The Singles, or possibly the other way around. (I want to think that I was that cool in 1985, when Head on the Door came out, but it may have taken me one more year to get clued in, thanks to the hip skater kids at my summer camp in the hills above Santa Cruz, who were all exponentially cooler than me, from Idiotsville, Portland, Oregon)
If Head on the Door captured the band on the cusp of their pop era, Standing on a Beach—an absolutely totemic release for any “alternative” kid of my generation—filled in the history, from the prickly post-punk of the Three Imaginary Boys years up through the totemic trilogy of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography, and up until Head on the Door. It was a lot to sink one’s teeth into, but I instantly gravitated toward the deep goth shit; The Cure were my band and would remain so forevermore. That said: I stuck around up through Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me but checked out by Disintegration, having definitively moved on to the world of Dischord and all the screamy post-hardcore that would follow that. (And then I’d do a 180 into electronic music, but that’s another story.) Years later I went back to Disintegration, and now I can see what people find in it, but it’ll never be my album. The more florid Cure just isn’t for me; I’m an eternal partisan of the early years, the Lol Tolhurst years. (I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a post-Disintegration Cure album in full, in fact.) Anyway, these are my picks for The Cure’s greatest songs of all time (as of my mood at the time of writing), unranked.
1. At Night
It’s hard not to pick “A Forest” as my Seventeen Seconds pick, because let’s face it: The song is perfect. Perfect chord progression, perfect synth patch, perfect counterpoint, perfect drumming, perfect vocals. Plus, how cool is that title, “A Forest”? By opting for the indefinite article over the definite, they introduced a whole world of mystery. I drove through a forest while listening to “A Forest” the other day; I highly recommend the experience. But in the interest of avoiding the obvious, let’s spare a few words of praise for “At Night,” whose drums have a similar motorik intensity to those in “A Forest,” just slower and eerier, woozy in spite of their crispness. (It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much Tolhurst’s drumming on Seventeen Seconds owes to krautrock—Neu! specifically.) Robert Smith’s guitar here does that thing that I love about this album, peeling off the root note and shimmering uneasily, like a mirage or an oil slick. The bass (I guess it’s a bass?) is distorted to fuck and back and the synths never rise above the level of a suggestion. This might be the secret heart of Seventeen Seconds, the song where all the album’s elements—the dissonance of “A Reflection” and “The Final Sound,” the drive of “A Forest,” the post-punk jangle of “Play for Today” and “M”—come together.
2. The Drowning Man
In 1981, the year The Cure released Faith, A&M Records packaged Seventeen Seconds and Faith together as a 2xLP set for the American market called …Happily Ever After. I picked it up on tape in 1986, and I wish I’d held onto it, because it’d apparently be worth a fair amount of money today. This is a long way of explaining that it’s as difficult for me to consider those two albums as separate entities as it is to elevate any individual song above the others. But for the purposes of today’s exercise let’s marvel in the sublime gorgeousness of “The Drowning Man,” which might feature the single most beautiful chord progression I’ve ever heard. I don’t play guitar so I don’t actually know what they’re doing here to make it sound so otherworldly; I suspect that the chords themselves are actually fairly standard, but something about the layering of the guitars creates this detuned shimmery effect that makes me imagine black oceans beneath pewter skies. Plus, “The Drowning Man”—no goth worth their salt could ever be immune to a title like that. I tried playing this in the dressing room before theatrical performances during my brief stint doing drama in high school, thinking that to be a good actor you needed to feel really deeply, and my fellow cast-members in Brighton Beach Memoirs fucking hated me for it.
3. Charlotte Sometimes
Much as I’d like to allot this space to something from Pornography (perhaps “A Strange Day,” a beacon of sweetness in an otherwise terrifyingly turbulent album), I’ve got to backtrack slightly to 1981’s “Charlotte Sometimes,” a non-album single I’d discover via Standing on a Beach (which today’s streaming services call Staring at the Sea, which was how they titled the CD, to differentiate its extended selection from the LP/cassette editions, I guess). It’s got all the gloom of Seventeen Seconds and Faith but there’s a glimpse of Smith’s pop instincts stirring. I hear this and I’m instantly transported back to the dance floor of The City, the queer, all-ages dance club that hosted a goth night I attended once or twice in the late 1980s, where I felt (for neither the first nor the last time in my life) hopelessly, terminally uncool.
4. Carnage Visors
Thank goodness for the advent of 60- and 90-minute cassettes, which sent labels scrambling for ways to fill up all that extra tape. My copy of the Faith cassette (which I purchased in addition to the …Happily Ever After releases, because I was obsessive) came with the Carnage Visors soundtrack on the B-side. It took me years to discover what Carnage Visors even was (a short film made by Simon Gallup’s brother Ric; apparently it was shown during the Faith tour and has never been seen since), but the music captivated me. For nearly 28 minutes, the band lays down an ominous, slow-motion dirge. The bass predominates, the drums are electronic, the chorus pedal glows red. Did I mention that it’s an instrumental? I wouldn’t hear anything that came close to this until discovering krautrock, years later. It’s rock, but it’s really a form of ambient. This was the first time I ever realized that a song could be half an hour long if you wanted it to be; a whole world of possibilities cracked open. It also made the perfect soundtrack for falling asleep, the volume just low enough that my parents couldn’t hear it through the walls.
It’s devilishly hard to pick a favorite song from The Head on the Door; part of the album’s brilliance lies in how beautifully each song complements the others, despite how wildly, even ridiculously different some of them are from each other (or anything The Cure had done up until that point). The flamenco guitars and castanets of “The Blood”? Ridiculous. The major-key sing-song jingle-jangle of “In Between Days,” one of the greatest album openers of all time? Ridiculous. The nursery-rhyme melody and sprightly handclaps of “Close to Me,” so deliciously wriggly it became an entire freaking dancehall riddim? Ridiculous! But my pick, ultimately, has to be the A-side closer “Push.” It’s such a strange amalgam of moods—the minor-key angst of the intro, followed by the major-key uplift that follows. The guitars that come crashing in at 0:27 are straight-up emo; the bassline is secret disco. Then consider the fact that the first half of the song is fully instrumental; by the time Robert Smith actually starts singing, with barely two minutes left in the song, I’m generally so wrapped up in the guitars that I have completely failed to notice his absence up until that point. Which is sort of how the whole song works: Everything up to “Push” is so good that by the time its opening guitar riff comes cascading out of the speakers, I’ve forgotten it exists at all. For the next four and a half minutes, it’s like being reunited with your first and truest love.
Philip Sherburne is a contributing editor at Pitchfork and writes the Futurism Restated newsletter.
As a child of the mid-80s and a goth teen trying to find my way during the rise of nu-metal, I always considered myself “Cure-adjacent” rather than someone who grew up with Robert Smith in regular rotation. Still, I managed to find my way back to the band through older friends with better musical tastes than I, and eventually felt lucky for it. Smith’s clown paint and A Flock Of Seagulls hairdo mixed with all black wardrobes and synth-pop sounds led the way to a host of genres I’d fall in love with. (We wouldn’t have Psychocandy or Loveless — two of my favorite shoegaze records from bands that are still around — if The Cure hadn’t paved the way for them.)
Hardcore fans will probably expect a list of deep cuts, but I’m willing to lean in to some of their radio-friendly hits, particularly because of how they brought weirdo synthwave to the masses without all the '80s Miami-Vice-club-kids-on-coke cheesiness. (I’m looking at you, Duran Duran.)
I'd also like to point out one of the coolest things Smith has done in a career full of cool things. His giant middle finger to Ticketmaster. What a king!
- Close To Me
The breathe-along beats in the intro have always killed me here. The exhaling into the microphone sets the tempo, and then funny little clown-horn synths tweet along in the background. It's a dancey, fun song with lyrics that portend more dread than the actual melody lets on. They excel at this type of lyrics-to-sound discord, and this song is one of my favorite examples.
4. Boys Don’t Cry
Teenage me always appreciated how this song took the piss out of the jocks. Smith’s tongue-in-cheek delivery sells it, especially when his makeup bleeds onstage.
3. Why Can’t I Be You?
Horns on a keyboard make this a larger-than-life version of idol worship that makes you want to shake it out on the dance floor. Smith goes from a high falsetto before dipping down into guttural growls of praise of some figure we aren’t exactly sure about. It’s certainly something that sounds like it was written by a stalker, but a fun one? I’m imagining Buffalo Bill looking into the mirror, repeating his infamous “I’d fuck me” line, but with this song playing in the background. (That is not to say I’d ever replace "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus, one of the greatest ‘80s hits of all time.)
Have you ever listened to the lyrics of this fucking song? It is BANANAS. It has the cadence and even soothing chords of a mellow lullaby, with some calm synths and what sound like plucking violins. And then Smith starts singing about an insane spider-like demon that comes to eat you when you go to bed. And that’s the whole song. Just how you’re going to die in your sleep. It's the most messed up lullaby I’ve ever heard, but maybe it’s of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales variety. Anyway, it rules.
1. Just Like Heaven
Predictable? Yes. Defensible? Absolutely. There is nothing like the intro lead Jazzmaster riff, heavy on the flanger and delay effects pedals, like a tumble down into an Alice in Wonderland dream state. The synths kicking in give rise to the “heaven” feeling, and sustain most of the song. Maybe a top three contender in the “songs that people shout the first eleven words to and then trail off mumbling” category. Incredible banger.
Trevor Shelley de Brauw
The Cure are the rare band that were one of my “favorite bands” when I was first discovering my musical identity that has stuck with me through every iteration of my life since. They were inherited through my older brother – there was a corner of the family LP collection that was my brothers’ domain, and as music struck deeper and deeper resonance with me, my excavation of that section too would go deeper and deeper. Among the many early standouts was the “Just Like Heaven” 12” single and The Head on The Door LP; as a portly social outcast I was well versed in the intoxication of depression and despair, but I was struck by how kaleidoscopically beautiful the band rendered such bleak emotional states. Before long I was ordering the Standing on the Beach CD from Columbia House and bit by bit tracking down whatever else I could find at 2nd Hand Tunes. Shortly after I started listening to them Wish came out and they more or less became my band rather than something I’d inherited from my brother. I went to see them on that tour – a transcendent three hour performance replete with three encore sets that culminated in an extended 15 minute rendition of “A Forest.” I remember describing it to my aunt as the greatest experience of my life, which she laughed off and told me I’d have plenty of better ones. She wasn’t wrong, but I feel some minor vindication that it still ranks near the top.
When Luke asked me to write on five songs it seemed like a Sisyphean task to narrow it down, but I decided to simplify matters by sticking to selections that I don’t think get their due. I could easily go 1000+ words on “Just Like Heaven,” “Pictures of You,” “In Between Days,” etc., but I feel like so many words have been written on the band’s hits by people far more insightful and articulate than myself that it would be a waste of my effort and readers’ time. Here, instead, are some darkened corners of their discography where I found a peculiar resonance.
I’ve long been fond of the absolute bat-shittiness of The Top, The Cure’s fifth and most psychedelic album. Mostly known for the dayglow resplendence of lead single “The Caterpillar,” the album is, in many ways, the pendulum swinging the opposite direction from (its predecessor) Pornography’s obsidian nihilism. The title track, ironically, is the outlier – a greyscale hypnotic dirge at an abandoned big top at the edge of a desolate town. After an album length’s LSD trip, this is the comedown, as Simon Gallup’s wobbly bassline mimics the delirious sensation of piecing together the nightmare of reality as it slowly comes back into focus.
How Beautiful You Are
Robert Smith and company decamped to southern France to record Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and this song, with its accordion flourishes and Baudelairian narrative, feels like the most potent manifestation of their time there. The song revels in its own contradictions, as the narrator broadcasts a deep empathy for the downtrodden, romanticizing about the internal lives of strangers, before viciously and scornfully denying empathy for the perspective of his lover. I spent more adolescent hours packing and unpacking the layers of this song than I care to admit, and it continues to beguile me.
It’s a rote take at this point that Disintegration is the band’s best album; it’s certainly the apex of one of the specific modes they operated in, which entailed boiling songs down to just a handful of riffs and creating a sense of momentum by adding and subtracting layers (really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that they followed this up with a remix album). This song is particularly barren… across its eight minute playtime there’s really just a couple parts, essentially verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro. What sells it, aside from its towering arrangement, is Smith’s vocal performance, which grows increasingly impassioned and desperate as he climbs to the upper reaches of his register before the cresting wave of intensity crashes back down to the surface as the protagonist’s hope for resolution slowly drifts away.
An exercise in economy. An embrace of the void. I don’t have much to say here other than I have lived inside this song’s barren tundras and there are few documents that communicate the bleak absence of hope quite as effectively as this.
A Letter To Elise
Wish was the first new The Cure album to come out after I started listening to them. My brother Alan had left for college (and I think he’d jumped ship after Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, anyway), so it became a world all my own. At the time “Trust” was my favorite (man, I was a morose kid – one time I programmed my CD player to play “Trust” 50 times in a row, a four and a half hour commitment that I saw through). But over time I’ve come to covet this song the most, a wistful reflection on a withering romance, self-aware and self-effacing in equal measure. Coming off the huge success of Disintegration, the band were firing on all cylinders, yielding the most confident recorded performances and arrangements of their career. The indelible execution was such that they happened into anomalies like this one – a song so meticulously layered with undeniably evocative melodic hooks that its lack of a chorus may have gone unnoticed by the label execs who chose it as a single.
Trevor Shelley de Brauw is a Chicago-based musician in the bands Pelican, RLYR, Chord, and probably more.
Goths don’t like sharing The Cure, but we do. When I went to see them at MSG recently, there were just as many rowdy bridge and tunnelers with lawn-guyland accents as black-clad aesthetes who moved to the city because we were sick of getting bullied by the former group. That’s because The Cure are the normiest alt band and the freakiest pop band. They’re also one of a handful of ‘80s alternative acts that have actually gotten better with age, or at least not worse, a balm to my adult goth soul in a year I suffered through dismal (derogatory) performances by Siouxsie Sioux, Sisters of Mercy, and Echo and the Bunnymen. In a world where we cannot count on much, it’s nice to know The Cure can have a combined age of one million and still rip.
Honorable mention: Fascination Street
When I first heard this song as a kid, probably not long after it came out, I received it as a fairy tale about a street where strange and frightening (but maybe, also, exciting in a way I didn’t understand?) things were happening. I don’t think I made the connection between it and any real place, so darkly whimsical was its impact on my child-mind. Fast forward to just now, when I found out it’s about Bourbon Street? In New Orleans?? The place where you buy a yard of melon liqueur and try not to have a seizure while packs of feral bros demand to see your tits??? I’m bumping this song down to honorable mention.
Robert Smith took the thoughts that haunt him when he’s alone in the dark and baked them into this goth-pop confection like so many Creepy Crawlers. It’s got everything: atmospheric synths, spooky strings and a giant spider-creature that’s coming to eat you, apparently inspired by stories Smith’s dad liked to scare him with when he was little (in case you were wondering how he got this way). Tim Burton copped his whole vibe from this song. Kinda nuts that it’s The Cure’s only top 5 hit in the UK to date, but it rules.
4. One Hundred Years
If Lullaby is the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World — and I mean that as respectfully as possible — One Hundred Years is the alley behind the park where off-duty mascots remove their heads and drown their pain in speed balls and existentialist literature. “It doesn’t matter if we all die” is an album opener that could only have been produced by a band in the depths of its most drugged out and nihilistic — if still very productive — period. Thanks, Thatcherism.
3. Boys Don’t Cry
The same year that AC/DC released “Highway to Hell,” the Cure delivered this plainly stated case for dudes feeling their feelings complete with an unstoppable hook. It functioned on some level as a thesis statement for everything that would come next as Smith invented a sensitive new way to be a rockstar. Nearly 45 years later, he’s presumably still enjoying the benefits of processing his emotions through song/at all while society at large is only just beginning to catch up. And by society, I mean men.
2. Love Song
Did you know that all of The Cure’s love songs are pretty much about one lady? Robert Smith married his childhood sweetheart Mary Poole in 1988 and they’re still together to this day. How wholesome is that? I like to imagine he wrote the sadder ones when she was out shopping and, like a dog waiting for its owner, he began to feel afraid that she was never coming back. Smith wrote “Love Song” as a wedding gift to Poole and it’s as pure a musical expression of love as anyone’s ever come up with, shot through with moody darkness because it’s Disintegration-era Cure. Maybe Rob’s thinking about how he would kill himself if she ever left him? Probably, yes.
1. Just Like Heaven
Want to know how much I like this song? It was once “our song,” the us being myself and my partner of nearly a decade. He sang it to me when we got engaged and I sang it to him at our wedding. When we split up, I knew I’d need some serious exposure therapy if I ever wanted to hear that iconic bass line again without completely losing my shit. The last time it broke me was when I saw The Cure play it live at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in 2019…which, if I’m being honest, made the experience complete. But as beautiful as it is to cry to “Just Like Heaven,” I’m glad I can now enjoy it for the soaring love song it is whenever it comes on at a bar without having people ask if I’m okay.
5. Mint Car
The Cure can write upbeat and happy songs really well but given their catalog of heartbreak, malaise, and despair, they occasionally sound like Robert Smith is doing a bit. (I can’t hear his vocal delivery in the infectious Wish song “Doing the Unstuck,” one of my all-timers that barely missed the cut, without detecting sarcasm in the lyrics). That said, on Wild Mood Swings highlight “Mint Car,” I believe him 100 percent when he opens the song with, “The sun is up / I'm so happy I could scream.”
In 2006, Pete Wentz interviewed Robert Smith for Entertainment Weekly, and at the end of the chat, Smith had high praise for this ‘90s single, “We did an album in '96 [Wild Mood Swings] and we had a song on there called 'Mint Car' — it was the single, and I thought it was a better song than 'Friday,’” he said in the interview. “But it did absolutely nothing because we weren't the band at that time. The zeitgeist wasn't right.” Though it was never a hit, it’s one of their best songs, a setlist staple, and proof that the band treats personal ecstasy with as much importance as they do melancholy.
Reasonable people can and do disagree as The Cure have about a half-dozen untouchable LPs, but Disintegration is their best album. There might be higher highs and better standalone songs on other records, but front-to-back this 1989 full-length is their masterpiece. “Untitled,” the closer, is probably the best way to cap off an album this ambitious and evocative ever. It’s Smith at his most despondent, with lines as haunting as, “Feeling the monster climb deeper inside of me / Feeling him gnawing my heart away hungrily / I'll never lose this pain / Never dream of you again.” But beyond the raw lyrical dexterity here, the song just sounds immaculate. The drums are cavernous and booming, the guitars hypnotically chime, and the arrangement lurches forward with palpable dread. Making this list, I debated including all of the types of songs The Cure do so well like post-punk rave-ups “Fire in Cairo,” whimsical pop songs “The Caterpillar,” or rocking set pieces “Fascination Street,” but I realized that I value when The Cure is at their prettiest most.
3. Out of This World
I’m a Bloodflowers defender. I realize now that it’s sort of controversial and maligned by fans, especially when it came out, but I had no idea about any of that when I was first getting into The Cure. I bought this album at Best Buy sometime in the aughts after only owning the iTunes download of Greatest Hits. (I might be wrong, but I think that comp might have been the only available The Cure effort on Apple’s Music Store then). The opening track “Out of This World” floored me on first listen and it still feels like the platonic ideal of a great The Cure song. It slowly builds on a floating and woozy arrangement that boasts glistening keys, stellar acoustic guitars, Smith singing simultaneously dream-like and grounded lyrics. It feels like an amalgamation of everything the band’s done so well for decades. The Cure are about how good things end and how this fact shows up and consumes your thoughts even during the best times: “Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?”
2. A Letter to Elise
More than just a riff on Franz Kafka’s Letters to Felice, “A Letter to Elise” is probably the best song on Wish. It’s a beautiful tune about the beginning of the end of a relationship. Few breakup songs capture the way Smith can thread grace for the soon-to-be ex-lover, an all-consuming dejection from ending things, and warmth for the good memories. He tells a relationship’s entire history and painful dynamic in just a few lines: “Yesterday, I stood and stared wide-eyed in front of you / And the face I saw looked back the way I wanted to / But I just can't hold my tears away the way you do.” The reason The Cure are such an era-defining and enduring band is the way they heighten the emotional stakes in every song. They sing about universal experiences but sung in such a way that it’s the most relatable, comfortable, and healing when you’re at your rawest. The bummer song to end all bummer songs.
1. In Between Days
This isn’t the first song by The Cure that I remember hearing (I’m not going to lie: that was 311’s schmaltzy cover of “Lovesong” that was everywhere on the radio during the early aughts) but it is the tune that made me a fan almost two decades ago. It was perfect then and it’s perfect now. No matter how many times I put it on, see it performed live, or hear it out in the wild, it takes me back to listening to it for the first time and being confronted with the awe-inspiring wonder and endless possibilities that music this good can make me feel. It’s pure catharsis and boasts quite possibly my favorite guitar riff ever. It’s the blueprint for so much new music I love now. While the band has a rich catalog full of deserving deep cuts, the big singles are where it’s at. Though I can pick out emotional, perfect moments from my life where I’m dancing to “Just Like Heaven” at a dear friend’s wedding or hearing “Friday I’m In Love” at a festival gig, It’s this song that I’ll forever associate with The Cure. A first ballot all timer.
I love many The Cure albums front to back, but I’m mainly a singles person when it comes to this band. The first real encounter I had with them was the Standing on a Beach cassette of singles and b-sides that I wore out in high school and college (and again later–I think I’ve bought at least 3 copies over the years). So my top 5 (and probably top 20) is gonna be singles and/or known stuff, but hey, it’s great stuff, who can complain?
5. Pillbox Tales
So I kinda lied–I had to throw in at least one non-single obscurity in here just to acknowledge that The Cure are a super deep band across their whole catalog. There are very few duds even among the songs not on albums, and many of them could have easily been singles. “Pillbox Tales” is my favorite of those, a quick, frantic strummer that could be a The Feelies song were it not for Smith’s choice wailing. It might be the least typically The Cure of my favorite The Cure songs, which makes it doubly cool.
4. Jumping Someone Else’s Train
What catches me most about The Cure is their basslines–three of the five songs I picked are great because of the bass, and really most of the songs I like by them are essentially bass lines with lots of cool stuff going on around them. Even though “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” starts with guitar chords and has a wicked melodic line, the bass is what leaps to mind whenever I think of the song, especially the outro which sounds almost like a guy actually playing bass on a train.
3. In Between Days
I guess I tend toward dark or frantic The Cure, but I like the sunny side too, this being the sunniest one that I dig (not that the lyrics are some picnic, but the music is cheery as hell). I weirdly feel like “Just Like Heaven” is kind of a rewrite of this song, and probably better and deeper one too, but I like the way all the elements here mesh a little more, especially the strummed guitar line and the rising keyboard part which sometimes matches the vocals and sometimes doesn’t. A deceptively complicated song despite feeling wholly upbeat.
2. A Forest
Whenever someone mentions The Cure, usually the first thing that pops into my head is the bass and beat from this song, just an unbreakable minimalist jam that I’d be happy to listen to forever, without even needing the vocals. Smith is great of course too, perfectly echoing across music that’s battling him with sharp beat-bullets. I also love that the chorus, if there is one, is basically an instrumental break, and that the end is just a bass line, like the Cure is a dying star and their bass essence is all we can still see.
1. Fascination Street
If, like me, you think of bass when you think of The Cure, “Fascination Street” is probably in your top 5 (I hope so!). On paper, the bassline to this one isn’t even that special–it’s not super fast, it’s not super sharp, it’s only a few notes. But man, the way Simon Gallup plays it, it feels like the core of the earth somehow, and the band was smart enough to know how good it is; it doesn’t vary much at all throughout the song’s five minutes. Smith doesn’t even start singing until half the way through, and whenever there’s a “break” (i.e. the drums stop), the bass is the star again. There’s a ton more that could be said about this song as atmosphere and as poem, but I just like to think of it as the ultimate bass guitar tune.
Marc Masters' new book "High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape" is out now on UNC Press.
I have loved The Cure since I was a little kid. They were my first favorite band and I still believe that, however hyperbolic, they are the greatest band in the world. They’re anthemic and intimate, poppy and countercultural. Robert Smith seems kind and earnest, and each iteration of the lineup has had its own perks. I remember hearing this anecdote about him, where he was questioned about why he still wears makeup after all these years: he said he wouldn’t want a young person just getting into The Cure to feel like they were too late to be a part of it. I hope it’s true, because I was that young fan.
My dad had a CD of Galore in his truck when I was growing up, and I’d always ask him questions about the songs that were playing. I bought a copy of Staring at the Sea for myself and watched the Tim Pope directed music videos obsessively, copying their imagery of swirling purple skies and silhouetted figures into my school notebooks.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve only found more reasons to love this band, beyond the aesthetic qualities and pop songs that made me so obsessed initially. I used to promise myself that I would save Disintegration for when I really needed it, convinced it would help me survive some personal tragedy or another. I couldn’t resist listening in the end, but I’ve found just as much solace in the album as I expected. It was written when Robert Smith was about to turn 30, experiencing a deep depression and convinced he had never created a masterpiece. I’m 28, and writing something as beautiful and heavy as that album seems so out of reach, but the feeling is very familiar.
To demonstrate how varied their catalog is, and how well executed each era of The Cure was, I’m starting my list with my most maximalist favorite and ending with the most minimal.
1. A Few Hours After This
This will always be number one for me. I believe that The Cure was at their peak in the mid ‘80s and I can’t believe this song was only a b-side. It’s orchestral and almost unbearably sentimental. It’s somehow clear what Robert means when he refers to a chance encounter on a “fizzy night.” That and the cheeky vocal run on “we could roll around and find out upside down” brings it all together to perfectly convey the feeling of a bittersweet and short lived love.
I remember seeing The Cure in 2008, when I was 13, and they opened with “Plainsong.” I started crying as the wind chimes started off the song and the stadium erupted with that repeating riff. This song takes one moment of conversation and expands on all the things it could mean and all the feelings happening under the surface. For an intro to such a devastating album, it is very whimsical and airy. “Sometimes you make me feel like I’m living at the edge of the world” holds more romantic weight for me than all of “Lovesong.”
3. In Between Days
It would be irresponsible to make this list without including one of The Cure’s masterful pop songs. The instrumentation here makes this song sound organic and timeless. And again, the visuals in the music video and album art for the single are perfectly matched to the vibrant and frantic feeling of the track.
4. Shake Dog Shake
The Top is a misunderstood record, made with an almost entirely new lineup and fueled by psychedelics. It’s an outlier and seems to challenge the commercial success they had with some of the Japanese Whispers tracks. Robert comes into this song so fiery and angsty and I just love thinking of this as the first track you hear post "The Lovecats." It’s one of his most emotive vocal performances of his whole career, and sandwiched between two pop-centric eras, it just hits that much harder.
5. In Your House
It was between this and “M,” but I wanted to choose something from the minimal and timeless Seventeen Seconds. This record blurs the line between guitar and bass parts in a way that is really singular. I also feel like this song wouldn’t be out of place on an emo-leaning bedroom pop album if it came out now.
Chloe Deeley is a musician and illustrator based in the Boston area. Her band, Sailor Down, released its debut album, Lookout Park, on Relief Map Records in June.
1. From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea
2. To Wish Impossible Things
5. The End of the World
I guess you could say I’ve always had a complicated relationship with The Cure. In my late teens, I cultivated a taste for listening to things that made me feel like shit (and The Beatles). I was a depressed, brooding, and somewhat goth teen who preferred doing things like reading philosophy books in a hallway and wallowing instead of going to class my last year or two of high school. Almost every romantic relationship I’ve had has either been fleeting or lasted over 3 years. I don’t know what the ideal The Cure fan is, but I guess that tracks, right? Instead, I just leaned into Radiohead, Joy Division, Low — things of that nature.
It’s really only been within the past few years I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for them. Maybe it’s getting older. Maybe falling in love, albeit for good this time. The Cure is one of the bands that has helped me slowly but surely realize that even if you struggle with depression, you can lead a life full of emotional depth. You can actually wrestle with your lows rather than succumb to them.
I saw The Cure live in Chicago as part of Riot Fest this year with a few friends and my husband. I stared at the stage transfixed for the entirety of their 2+ hour set. (I can neither confirm nor deny that a minor dose of shrooms were involved, too.) As we were making our way out of Douglass Park, it dawned on me. This was what I was looking for all along: The Grateful Dead, but for profoundly morose people.
Hannah Gais is a journalist and researcher focused on the radical right. Currently she works at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Cure is the only band fronted by a pasty goth that has melodies my mom can hum along to. That’s really something.
5. Just Like Heaven
It’s incredible what The Cure has been able to do with a pop single. “Just Like Heaven” immediately clicks into an upbeat rhythm with a catchy bass line and then these gorgeous shimmering guitars start piling on and the synth kicks in over the top and then more guitars just take off with one of the catchiest hooks you’ve ever heard in your life. When I was young and confused I’d put this song on and go ah, so that’s what love is and you know what, they really nailed it.
4. Fascination Street
The Cure oscillates between these incredibly passionate upbeat love songs and these dark industrial goth dirges that line most of their albums. “Fascination Street” is spiraling and mean and just so well-constructed. The Cure is incredible at layering their instruments in oppressive waves that make you feel a little seasick so when Robert Smith’s caterwauling vocals come in you’re right there with him moving to the beat like you know that it’s over.
3. Close To Me
Somehow in the middle of their most prolific run The Cure wrote what’s essentially a novelty song about the incredible anxiety of spending time with a person you’re head over heels for. Over pep rally drums and simple synth chords, you’ve got an electric piano plinking single-note riffs in one of the most recognizable melodies in pop music. And then the other synth comes in with another incredible melody line. And it just builds. The moving parts are incredibly choreographed to underline the type of jitters you get when you don’t know how to deal with anticipation the right way and when Smith snarls “I’ve made myself so sick” it’s like, yeah buddy, I get it.
2. In Between Days
Somehow The Cure reused this exact same key and (basically) the same chord progression for “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m In Love” but “In Between Days” is the best version. Between the random mini crash cymbals popping in during the intro like a programmed drum machine or the double-time acoustic strumming or the ever-evolving chorus and bridge that keep transforming, “In Between Days” is sneakily one of the richest and most thoughtful arrangements The Cure ever recorded. It’s also one of The Cure’s only upbeat songs about being sad and in despair over a relationship.
“Lovesong” is so good it’s staggering. In many ways, it’s the absolute pinnacle of what The Cure can be, playing off the sparseness of songs like “Close To Me” and the layering of “In Between Days” while retaining an incredible sense of how individual melody lines can become emotions and characters in their own right. It’s like listening to Peter and the Wolf. The interplay between the repetitive guitar swings and the staccato synth strings is this internal give-and-take turmoil that speaks to the song’s core better than the lyrics could ever hope to. It’s also one of the only darker The Cure songs about being helpless in love. Like you’re just so goddamned in love with someone that it’s unmanageably miserable. And to cap it off Robert Smith sings this one clean, reaching for the softest and most stable notes his vocal chords and hold. “Lovesong” gives me shivers every time I hear it.
Listen I’m not all that spiritual, but I had the most endearing and kismet day writing about these songs. A few days prior, I made a playlist of my 20 favorite The Cure songs and listened intently. I paused my playlist and ducked into Lake Street Bar in Greenpoint to jot down my accumulating thoughts. As soon as I walked in there was a man sitting at the bar with a Disintegration LP in his lap. We chatted about the band, he had just purchased the record after spotting it in the window on his way to the bar. I asked for his all-time favorite song, he chose “Pictures of You.” I narrowed down my top 5 songs and started walking toward Williamsburg. I stopped in Spoonbill & Sugartown Books to grab a new 2024 planner. I paused my The Cure playlist and removed my headphones to head to the register. As the clerk rang me up I realized they were playing some random acoustic cover of “Friday I’m in Love” over the speakers. I smiled to myself and continued onward to Music Hall of Williamsburg to see Dinosaur Jr. play. They ended their set by welcoming Laura Jane Grace to the stage to play their beloved cover of Just Like Heaven. The Cure’s influence is ubiquitous, and seemingly eternal.
This is my all-time favorite. It’s a whole haunted cinematic journey. I could write hundreds of words on the production alone. Everything is so playful and properly placed along the hypnotic groove. The banjo and plucked violin while Robert Smith’s whisper vocals ping around, it’s just so inspiring, and you really can feel the David Bowie influence. The remastered version of this song kicks my ass into space within the first 30 seconds.
2. Why Can’t I Be You
I remember hearing this song for the first time in a skate video I was watching with my brother. We were both struck by it and headed straight to Limewire after the video to download it. I only knew a few radio hits by that point and this is the song that made me officially dive into the catalog. Some of my favorite Robert Smith vocal theatrics, just growling into falsettos and having a blast. I love the childlike hunger that comes through, paired perfectly with the self-reflective yearning of “Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be you too?” Also the last second of the song where everything just topples together in one goofy second. Love that shit.
3. Boys Don’t Cry
Simple yet effective is the key (or the cure) to a perfect pop song. This is really the definition of jangle pop to me, and they wrote it when they were 19! When I was a young teen I was convinced I could never play barre chords, my dad used this song to try and teach me. As a teenage girl does, I left the lesson totally disgruntled and did not learn how to play barre chords until a few years later. In hindsight, the simple ascending chords are such a smart choice to give that lesson. Great job Dad. Sorry I failed. It all worked out.
4. Just Like Heaven
I mean… it’s brilliant. Lyrically, sonically, conceptually. Is it a pop song that feels like a dream or a dream that feels like a pop song? Robert Smith married his first girlfriend, they met when they were 14 and they’re still together. This man has had one partner and he wrote some of the greatest love songs of our generation. Incredible. As embarrassing as this is, this song really clicked with me via a Punk Goes 80s compilation. It was covered by the moderately successful, but mostly forgotten emo band Gatsby’s American Dream. It’s still one of their most successful songs, and you can say the same for 311 and Dinosaur Jr.’s covers too. Proof of quality songwriting. Also, piano solo <3
5. Jumping Someone Else’s Train
Where “Boys Don’t Cry” is perfect jangle pop, this song to me is perfect jangle punk. I love the lyrical concept, and the emphasis on “jum-ping” always feels so punk and finger-pointy to me. I think the lo-fi sounds on Three Imaginary Boys were indirectly crucial to my songwriting. When I learned how to demo I was so hard on myself because nothing felt quality, but occasionally my scrappy playing through a chorus pedal over a drum machine resembled early The Cure and I’d remember anything is possible.
Mallory Hawk is a writer, musician, and the label director of Double Double Whammy.
I wish Luke had asked me to contribute to his newsletter about R.E.M. I know that band’s catalog and its lore, and I no doubt would have dazzled you with my impeccable taste. Alas, though I’ve probably been listening to The Cure almost as long as I have R.E.M., I’m a shockingly basic Cure fan. In preparing this list, I realized I know next to nothing about Robert Smith, aside from the fact that he’s a lovable weirdo who’s still married to his high school (or whatever they call it over there) sweetheart. In terms of the music, I’d love to be the kind of guy who mopes to Pornography — Lord knows, I’ve done my share of moping — but I’m more of a Standing on a Beach type guy.
I’m really dating myself here, but here goes: Disintegration came out while I was in college and really getting into music in a big way, so it’s always held a special place in this depressive’s heart. All these years later, the explosive grandeur of this song’s opening still jolts me.
4. The Lovecats
I saw The Cure at Madison Square Garden in June, and they sounded fantastic. Wish they had subbed out one of their dreary new songs for “The Lovecats” though.
3. Never Enough
Come to think of it, they didn’t play “Never Enough” live either. If ever a The Cure song could be said to “still slap,” it’s this one.
2. Just Like Heaven
I told you I was a basic fan! Anyway, “‘Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick/The one that makes me scream,’ she said” is one of the most evocative opening couplets I know. I’m still not sure what said trick is supposed to be though. Is it something sexual or, like, pulling a quarter out from behind her ear? I’m not going to google it.
1. Pictures of You
Perhaps the best song about yearning ever recorded.
Mark Yarm is a freelance writer/editor and the author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge.
1. Pictures of You
Every time you think you’ve hit the song’s emotional peak, it builds even higher. A monkey banging on a typewriter for a trillion years will never capture unrequited love better than “There was nothing in the world/That I ever wanted more/Than to feel you deep in my heart!” Goddamn.
Godlike opener. Chilly and sublime. Between “Plainsong” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Teen Age Riot” and “The Rainbow,” the late ’80s were the golden age of the fade-in, slow-build album opener.
The best writing I’ve read on Disintegration is from Nitsuh Abebe, who wrote: “If you want to be crushingly depressed with Disintegration, or frustrated, or self-loathing, it’ll embrace you right back. But it’ll embrace other things, too. A whole lot of this album’s appeal is that it’s comforting, practically womb-like – big, warm, slow, full of beauty and melody and even joy.”
This song encompasses all of that for me. “Never quite said what I wanted to say to you/Never quite managed the words to explain to you” is the pinnacle of poetic vaguebooking.
4. Just Like Heaven
Embarrassing but true story: During my freshman year of college, I was a Dinosaur Jr. fan but didn’t own any The Cure albums except Disintegration. One day, some older guys were blasting “Just Like Heaven” out on the hill. I was like, “Hey, is this a Dinosaur Jr. cover” and they were like, “What?” and I was like, “Isn’t this a Dinosaur Jr. song?” and they were like, “It’s The Cure, man,” and I was like, “No, it’s a Dinosaur Jr. song,” and they were like, “It’s The Cure!” I went home and Googled it and learned, to my shame, that the Dinosaur Jr. track is a The Cure cover. Embarrassing, but at least I didn’t think 311 wrote “Lovesong.”
A mushy love song coming from an unrepentant goth means so much more than a mushy love song coming from a corny romantic dude, because you know he must really mean it.
Zach Schonfeld is a freelance writer and the author of How Coppola Became Cage.
5. Play For Today
4. Jumping Someone Else’s Train
3. 10:15 Saturday Night
2. In Between Days
1. Boys Don’t Cry
Comes a time in young and sad and artistic and dallying-with-pretension hipster (or nerd’s) development where you are handed or stumble upon a copy of The Cure’s Staring at the Sea and The Smiths’ Singles by some influential or perhaps well-forgotten looming figure. Both will of course change your life. A well-adjusted person will naturally come to the realization that both of these bands are worth a lot of your time and attention, but the inherent nature of either’s work engenders slavish devotion for many of us. Demands it. Embarrassingly so. Much to my later chagrin, I made the choice, or the choice was made for me, that I would become a lifelong The Smiths and Morrissey Guy as opposed to a The Cure Guy. (Much like I loved Blur but I was always a Certified Oasis Guy at heart.)
Because of that I really wanted to do a piece like this on The Smiths but it would be everyone writing 1,000 words of throat-clearing about what a colossal asshole Morrissey is before we get to the music. Maybe that would be cathartic come to think of it.
When it comes to The Cure I only ever ended up loving a mere few dozen of their songs. I was merely devastated by their music for hundreds of hours of my life instead of thousands.
The bulk of this occurred in my early twenties, in the early 2000s, where I spent most of my time dancing and taking drugs at a series of mod and Brit-pop themed dance nights in the northeast, most notably The Pill in Boston and Tiswas in New York. My band back then was trying very hard to find some balance between the two, with guitars that sounded like The Cure, and vocals from me that sounded like if Morrissey had really wished he was playing at Warped Tour. We even had a song with a chorus “Why can’t I be you?”
The point is The Cure was always dance band to me. It was what you naturally and obviously danced to at clubs and parties. Wiry, hooky, post-punky, and, for lack of a better way to put it, just fucking cool. So cool. Yes they could get a little corny but nothing sounded cooler than these early songs.
I didn’t brood to The Cure like I did with The Smiths, I exulted. Holding a PBR in one hand and an inside cigarette with the other, my teeth going weird in the midst of 200 friends and strangers with aggressive bangs and too tight pants.
Those early singles on Staring at the Sea set my foundation for The Cure fandom. From the not great title of the opener to 10:15 Saturday Night. Can you imagine listening to that to prepare to leave the house at this point? That late?
I'm doing it right now. Not literally but you know what I mean. I'm in Allston and everything fucking sucks besides music and dancing and drugs and hooking up and friends and making music and having my entire life ahead of me.
I'm listening to In Between Days next and I'm there right now again. Hold on let me just check the lyrics.
"Yesterday I got so old I felt like I could die. Yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry."
I've made a huge mistake here. This was a poor choice of song for me to put on right now at this stage of my life.
Luke O’Neil runs this website you are reading. His most recent book A Creature Wanting Form is available now.
The Cure are a pop band that write catchy songs about love. Growing up in the ‘90s listening to alternative radio, this was all The Cure were to me. “Friday I’m In Love,” “Just Like Heaven,” “The Lovecats.” “Good band,” I thought. There was little need to dig much deeper; I had R.E.M. and Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead. The Cure were before my time anyways, but hey, they sounded great on the radio.
Then one day you’re in high school and you take the train into Manhattan and get kinda drunk and go and see 24 Hour Party People at the Landmark Sunshine on East Houston and Joy Division becomes your everything. And anything Joy Division-adjacent becomes your life, and, regrettably, your personality too. So I bought a used copy of the 1986 comp Staring At the Sea and, in the eternal words of a really awful person, my life got flipped, turned upside down. The Cure were fuckin’ heavy.
“Goth” and The Cure were not synonymous in my mind, though there were certainly clues. The Cure Girl from Wet Hot American Summer. The goth kids on South Park. But Staring At the Sea was the document that finally explained to me that yeah, The Cure are a pop band that write catchy songs about love. And love is so goddamn miserable and difficult and sad.
- The End of the World
This came out the year I finished high school. My parents and the family of two of my garage band bandmates went to London and then various spots in Ireland as a graduation gift. I bought The Cure self-titled in Dublin, I think, for at least three times as much as I would’ve paid back home. “The End of the World” is a great song, but there are more than a dozen The Cure songs I truly love more than it. The fifth slot is a good spot for a time capsule pick. Listening to it today, it’s actually pretty representative of the band in general: Dreamy and just a little bit groovy, and there’s a really goofy bridge. “Stay if you want to/ I'll always wait to hear you/ Say there's a last kiss/ For all the times you run this/ Way, it's not my fault/ You couldn't ever love me more.” Now that’s the good stuff right there.
- Jumping Someone Else’s Train
So there’s Staring At the Sea and the garage band and the Joy Division-adjacent stuff. So obviously this nervy, kind of slapdash song made its way into very heavy rotation in my bedroom. Not to mention the fact that this was released in 1979; talk about having a crystal ball. I would always put it on party mixes and people would always complain or skip it but those people were assholes. And that guitar tone, my goodness.
Just a sweet, simple song. And I really dislike sweet, simple songs. There are days that Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is my favorite The Cure album (see immediately below). Not today, though.
- Why Can’t I Be You? / Hot Hot Hot!!! / Close to Me (12” Extended Remix)
Maybe “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” wasn’t the high school basement favorite I had hoped it would be. So why didn’t I play any of these songs? The answer is, for the most part, I was trying to be moody and cool in order to attract the attention of moody and cool girls. What a fucking idiot. The Cure is one of the most murderous, sexy dance bands ever. Ever. Maybe it’s the horns, I don’t know. But that extended intro on the 12” remix of “Close to Me” is one of the most titillating things I’ve ever heard—a French tickler in your left ear, an ice cube in your right.
- Fascination Street
There’s nothing remotely insightful I could say about this song, but I could ramble on about it forever if you’d let me. Plus, it’s an objectively correct number one choice. I don’t think I’ve gone two months without hearing it for the past 15-or-so years. Which reminds me, I think I’m overdue.
Zach Kelly is a music journalist who has written for Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Stereogum, and others.
Growing up, we'd have a Christmas gathering on my dad's side of the family every year. Aunts and uncles pulled names of nieces and nephews out of a hat before the party, so each kid would get a gift from a different aunt or uncle each year.
Christmas, 1989. I was 12 years old. My Auntie Carol and Uncle Kenny gave me Aerosmith's Pump and The Cure's Disintegration on cassette. I put Disintegration into my Sony Walkman first and "Plainsong" instantly became one of those "songs that change your life." To this day, every time I hear it, I'm 12 years old again, hearing it for the first time, eyes wide, jaw to the floor.
I'm guessing the whole reason my aunt and uncle gave me the Disintegration tape is because I told them I wanted it. And that's probably because I heard "Lovesong" on WFNX or saw the video on MTV.
Imagine having the balls to title your song "Lovesong" only to have it become the defining love song of its era? Bobby Smith had to know going into it. He's that brilliant and this song is timeless and should end up on the majority of these lists.
3. Close To Me [Closer Mix]
This one I remember clearly seeing on MTV. I'd get up early and do pushups and sit ups before school because I was in like 6th grade and my body was changing and I hated it. MTV would bang away at "Close To Me" and clips from The Farm and Inspiral Carpets, but I liked this one the most. Locked in a wardrobe, playing friggin' combs and shit. So precious.
I fucked up and bought The Cure's Mixed Up on tape to get this song, not realizing I was getting a remix and not the original. But it was fine: I ended up loving the remix even more!
"High" is just the soundtrack to every crush you've ever had. Pure infatuation from the opening wind chimes to Smith stagger-tracking the "...never let you go" at the end. I can't explain it. It's just bliss.
5. The 13th
I feel compelled to add a song from 1996's Wild Mood Swings because I love this album even though it's not considered one of the band's best. I played jazz trombone in high school and college and it always tickled me when a band I loved would throw a horn arrangement into one of their songs. That's the thing about The Cure: they can get away with that shit. They can get a little silly and it's sweet, not corny.
Adam 12 is 25 year broadcast media veteran and the current Program Director and on-air host at Boston’s ROCK 92.9.
5. Friday I’m in Love
I am endlessly fascinated by the way Robert Smith, whose popular aesthetic reputation is Super Serious Super Sad Eternal Goth Boy, discusses songwriting. By his own account, the main thing driving “Friday I’m in Love” is just that he thought of a really nice chord progression. Then, as the rest of the band braced for some counterintuitively dark lyrics to match it… he just thought, well, days of the week. You can hang some lyrics off of that structure. Maybe a love song.
My point isn’t that he’s silly, or mercenary, or anything like that; if anything, I admire him voluntarily highlighting the quotidian part of creation that sometimes gets left behind when we’re mythmaking. And of course, “Friday I’m in Love” isn’t any lesser or less effervescent because it wasn’t directly forged in the first blush of a new romance. Ask any of us who have daydreamed or danced, sighing in that pleasant “is it gonna happen???” anticipation before seeing someone, while playing this song. And yes, I used to own the shirt.
4. A Forest
The early records by The Cure should be right up my alley, but when I tried listening to them years ago I kind of bounced off them. I might be more ready now. None of that has ever been a problem with “A Forest,” the single song from the albums before The Head on the Door (even above “Boys Don’t Cry”!) that immediately resonated with me.
The single edit is… fine, but it’s the more prolonged album version that really captivates me. (You might as well sit in the droning, thwacking world of “A Forest” for six minutes if you’re going to go at all). It sounds like the world’s slowest motorik song, but we are very pointedly not on any road to anywhere. As often happens with Smith’s lyrics, it feels like we’re in a dreamscape (“the girl was never there/it’s always the same”). One of the things that fucks me up the most about nightmares is the divide between your dream knowledge about what’s going on and what your dream self is actually doing; you’re screaming at yourself not to run into the trees but you’re going to anyway. (Or is that just my nightmares?)
3. Fascination Street (Extended Mix)
Amazing that “Fascination Street” is only my number 3. (Spare a thought for magnificent, not-appearing-in-this-list “Pictures of You,” and how badly Mr. Robot fucked me up with that one.) I want to specifically pick the “Extended Mix” from Mixed Up. “Fascination Street” was already maybe the most extravagant and body-focused of The Cure’s bad vibes, and stretching it to nearly 9 minutes, with the vocals not even entering for the first 4, is only honoring its majesty.
Writing the song started with Smith getting ready to go drinking on Bourbon Street and suddenly thinking “what the fuck am I expecting to happen?” And sure, “Fascination Street” absolutely hits if you’re at (or remembering) a point in your life when you’re going out too much, with the wrong expectations. But in the process of making that into a song “Fascination Street” morphs into the ur-Bad Night Out and maybe something more, the endless curdling of all genuine bonhomie. Smith’s narrator both sounds like he’s in genuine pain and also extremely poor company, radiating universal contempt and total cynicism towards the idea of anything good happening. And yet, sonically, “Fascination Street (Extended Mix)” piles pleasure on pleasure, layers it like a dessert that’s (and I want you to hear this phrase in Maria Bamford’s Yuppie Lady voice) almost too rich.
2. Just Like Heaven
I suspect that this is The Cure song most likely to be described as “perfect.” Those keyboards near the beginning manage to sound like the only thing the instrument was ever meant to do. There’s a reason so many people quote the “show me show me show me how to do that trick” opening. On a craft level, it feels impeccable. You can watch the music video now, in 2023, and think, “of course it made them bigger than they’d ever been.”
The element I keep coming back to is the specific blend of emotions Smith manages to get into such a perfect song. Inspired by making out until you faint and getting lost in the fog by a cliff, turned into a romantic tragedy that sounds like falling in love. The opening is an instantly-endearing account of someone being instantly endearing. It seems impossible to listen to it and not feel the happy ending already in progress. And then, with that terrifying and sudden inexorability of dream logic again: “Why won’t you ever know that I’m in love with you?” What happened? And then the utter desolation of the last verse. It still sounds ravishing. Of course it was a hit.
My dad owned Disintegration before I did. (A combination of a commendable desire to still seek out new things and the glory days of the Columbia Record Club.) I don’t know if he likes it. The only memory I have of him ever playing Disintegration was me finding “Lullaby” terrifying once as a kid. I do not remember “Plainsong,” my favorite song by The Cure, from that listen. I don’t remember the feeling of hearing it for the first time at all. In a sense, it’d be weirder if I did; “Plainsong” feels elemental, eternal. It’s the avalanche Leonard Cohen said he stepped into; it’s further down the beach from Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”; whole records, whole careers, have been built in the space it encloses. It sounds like the endless, blinding glare of the Arctic. It sounds like Robert Smith can barely hold together his corporeal form to sing what shattered fragments the song contains. It sounds like pain somehow transmuted into beauty.
Ian Mathers lives in Toronto and writes for Dusted.
4. Boys Don’t Cry
3. Just Like Heaven
2. In Between Days
1. Pictures of You
I was introduced to the band by a girl I met on an app in college who soon became my girlfriend who will marry me next summer. I’m used to foisting my favorite music onto people, so it has been refreshing to be gradually introduced to a band this major. The Cure are an abandoned terrarium, they conjure the smell of damp sheets and used tissues in barely-tuned guitars and drums you can actually dance to, they’re a glittering abscess, and still to me all their best songs are love songs. Robert Smith’s songs are vulnerable and true and it’s really something to sing them in an arena with thousands of others and a Mary that you too love very much. When my friends and I play “Just Like Heaven,” and the piano melody gives way to the guitar riff over that bassline, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve been a part of. Simon Gallup should be knighted.