Nick Cave Asked for the Best of Nick Cave Playlist and I Sent Him This: The Best of the Worst (Or the Worst of the Best) of Nick Cave

Never forget that this “Babe, You Turn Me On” Nick Cave doll by artist Plasticgod was a thing

Can the biggest stinkers from your favorite artist actually be much closer to your heart than the universally praised classics? I certainly think so.

Last week, Nick Cave received a flurry of inquiries submitted to his Red Hand Files newsletter from new converts who, upon listening to his stint on the Louis Theroux podcast, turned to the man himself to ask where they should start with his extensive and intimidating discography. Why you’d ask Nick Cave for recommendations of his own music rather than, say, take a look at pre-made Spotify playlists or, even better, risk it and hit play on a random album, just as I did way back when I first encountered Nick’s music in college, is a larger question. But, Nick wasn’t uncritical of his own abilities to be objective. Believing himself to be ill-equipped to provide this musical guidance, Nick put the question to the fans, soliciting obsessives to send in their 15-song Best of Nick Cave playlists.

A playlist, you say?!!! Well, this was clearly a job for Filthy Dreams!! But, let’s be honest, the Best of Nick Cave playlist sounds like a bit of a bore and not up to our normally inventive playlist thematic rigor. And anyway, we all know what to expect on a Best of Nick Cave playlist. A whole lot of “Into My Arms,” “The Mercy Seat,” “The Ship Song,” “Red Right Hand,” “Stagger Lee,” “Jubilee Street,” you get the picture. Yawn! So, instead, I sent him a playlist that I assumed would either inspire a laugh or render me banned from any future Nick Cave-related public events! The Best of the Worst (Or the Worst of the Best) of Nick Cave playlist!

I should note that I didn’t come up with this playlist idea all by myself. My friend and fellow Nick Cave enthusiast Jordan Zivitz messaged me almost immediately after reading Nick’s newsletter in the hopes that I was already bombarding Nick’s inbox with the worst of his musical output. He was right to assume so. I overtly, proudly, and loudly enjoy discussing the most astoundingly abysmal tunes in Nick’s otherwise impressive career. I’m also likely the only one brave and idiotic enough to risk sending this list to Nick directly.

Now, it wasn’t easy to come up with this playlist. And not for the reason you’re assuming. Even though I am an infamous and tiring Nick Cave fanatic, I had a hard time restricting this list to just 15. Nick’s musical career is long and his approach to songwriting is heroically and inspirationally reckless, which is a significant reason why I am such a fan. However, this creative recklessness sometimes leads to results that don’t always work out for the best yet are all the more fascinating for it! I struggled with some hard cuts. What would this playlist be without the near blasphemous drunken cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” particularly the version that includes an unmistakable audible belch? Or is the Best of the Worst playlist really the Best of the Worst playlist without the torturous endlessness of “Babe, I’m on Fire” that will have you begging for the instant relief of spontaneous combustion? And what about “God is in the House,” the drawn-out whispering bane of every Nick Cave fan’s live experience?

In the end, though, I settled on these 15, which I sent along with an introductory letter that explains exactly why I believe these songs are worthy of both adoration and a listen for newbies and why failure is much more interesting than success anyway. I’ll likely never know exactly what Nick thought of my dubious effort, though I do know he at least read it as he replied to the playlists earlier this week on Red Hand Files: “Hundreds of you have written in with lists, I’ve read all of them and have been really moved by some of the accounts of why particular songs mean so much.”

I’m sure he means mine! If only I could get a snapshot of the expression crossing his perpetually deadpan face while reading my gushing over songs like “Rock of Gibraltar” or “Foi Na Cruz.” I imagine it looking something like a mixture of:


And yet, even though I know he read the letter and saw the playlist, what is a playlist without an audience of Filthy Dreams listeners?! Nothing! Of course, I couldn’t let all my blood, sweat, and tears shed over this playlist go to waste and disappear into the abyss of Nick’s archives. So I’ve cross-posted it here for you, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, along with some additional descriptions of the songs for emphasis, devotion, and fun:


Hi Nick–

While I know you asked Nick Cave devotees to send you a 15-song playlist of the Best of Nick Cave, I wanted to try a different tack. So I present to you and to Aotearoa, Daphne, and Adrian: “The Best of the Worst (Or the Worst of the Best) of Nick Cave” playlist. These are songs that, for any number of reasons, just didn’t work but are remarkable nonetheless for it. I want to make it clear that I love these songs even though they are, in my opinion, objectively awful. I love them quite deeply in fact. Some like “Rock of Gibraltar” with its rhyming of Gibraltar and “Malta(r)” and the overblown “Foi Na Cruz,” are quite dear to me. They are irrevocably tied to late-night nerdy and fanatical post-Bad Seeds concert discussions with fellow fans over too many drinks, leading to elaborate fantasies of terrorizing an unsuspecting karaoke bar with a rousing rendition of “Foi Na Cruz.” Dream on ‘till you can dream no more!

In all seriousness, though, as a writer, I find failed songs to be as much of a virtue as classic “best” ones. As you said yourself in Red Hand Files #20, “Failure fortifies us. It moves us forward. It strips everything back to its essential nature and leaves us clean and pure, ready to begin again.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the most exciting things an artist can do is make wild public swings even though they miss. And while I’m sure you’ll receive any number of playlists with recommendations like “Into My Arms” or “The Ship Song,” I think new converts should also be encouraged to try out and love–or maybe hate–some of the reckless, creativity-affirming experiments on the more failed end of the spectrum. Who knows? Aotearoa, Daphne, and Adrian might just end up adoring the sneering delivery of “Even my $500 suit was slashed” and the Bad Seeds’ bored “badump badump” backing vocals on “Slowly Goes the Night” as much as I do.

So without further rambling, here is the “The Best of the Worst (Or the Worst of the Best) of Nick Cave” playlist. Oh yeah, and I’m 38 for your curiosity’s sake:

1. Babe, You Turn Me On

“I put one hand on your round ripe heart. And the other down your panties.” Just typing that line makes me cringe so hard I think I pulled a muscle. *Shudder* Yeeeee-uck! And this dainty little love ditty doesn’t get any better as Nick flits through the chorus: “Babe, you turn me on…like a lightbulb, babe.” Inventive! If that lyric wasn’t enough, someone in the band thought it a good idea to make a snapping flicking light switch sound in case the depth of that metaphor was lost on anyone. A lightbulb isn’t the only luminescent thing Nick evokes in this song, which is also joined by a song, an idea, and an atom bomb. Calling Oppenheimer! The final “Bbbbbbooooooommm” for added emphasis really blows this song up into a mushroom cloud of stink.

2. Accidents Will Happen

A B-side from 2008’s DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!!, “Accidents Will Happen” may just be the worst song The Bad Seeds ever recorded. By far, actually. Just the opening instrumentals make me grind my molars down to nubs as I anticipate lines like: “Accidents will happen and an accident is just an accident.” Profound stuff from one of the most widely respected songwriters. Jordan pointed out that this very well could have been the last song recorded by Bad Seeds founding member, Mick Harvey, which would certainly go a long way in explaining his abrupt, shocking, and, at the time, not-quite-amicable departure from the band. If I was forced to sing all those cheesy, high-pitched, surf rocker-esque, “Ooooooooohhhh-oooo-ooooooooh”’s, I would have stomped off permanently too.

3. Rock of Gibraltar

I’ve sung the praises of one of my favorite musical failures, “Rock of Gibraltar,” from The Bad Seeds’s widely considered worst album, Nocturama, many times on this website and my fondness has never faltered, much like Nick’s love for the subject of this song. Of course, the true standout here is Nick’s dubious choice to rhyme his unmistakably Australian pronunciation of Malta, with an extra “r,” with Gibraltar and alter. Unforgivable. Unforgettable. It’s worth pointing out that a similar pronunciation can be found on the B-side “Nocturama,” which never actually appeared on the eponymous album itself. In that song, he rhymes “llama” and “Nocturama” both with the distinctive “r” at the end. Still, that Lou Reed-esque tune has nothing on the sing-songy sway of “Rock of Gibraltar” that just begs to be hollered at the top of your lungs while hammered with corresponding arm movements to represent the sea crashing about and the waves lashing about.

4. Slowly Goes the Night

When I told Marion I was putting together this list, he became personally offended by the inclusion of this schmaltzy sleazy classic from 1988’s Tender Prey. But come on, just listen to The Bad Seeds’ exhausted backing vocals! Even they had enough! Lova, lova goodbyyyeeeeeee!

5. Jangling Jack

While I can’t deny the pure American nightmare imagery of some desperate sod visiting NYC, going to a bar called the Rinky Dink, ordering the Rinky Dink special, and then bleeding out on the pavement, all I have to say is: “Going DO DA DO!”

6. Black Hair

*plays accordion* I’ll admit, I debated between “Black Hair” and “Green Eyes” as songs that grind what is otherwise a perfect and beautiful album, 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, to an agonizing halt. Yet, even with vocals that sound as if Nick just threw out his back, “Green Eyes” will never surpass the harrowing achievement that is the aggressive plodding accordion and seemingly endless repetition of “Black Hair.” Please remind me: when and where did she take the train again?

7. Fable of the Brown Ape

*makes squeaky fart noise*

8. Foi Na Cruz

As you can tell from my letter to Nick, the soupy-stringed “Foi Na Cruz” from 1990’s The Good Son holds a very special place in my heart. One day, I will inflict it on a karaoke audience. For all our grand plans, babe, will be dreams forever more!

9. Go Tell The Woman 

Nick’s suggested playlist seemed to leave open the door for a Grinderman inclusion (less so a Birthday Party one so I left those out). And look, I’m no prim and prissy prude, clutching my pearls at this horny middle-aged side project that sees Nick full-throat yelling: “I’VE GOT THE NO PUSSY BLUES!” Yet, “Go Tell The Woman” is an exception. This twanging and swaggering macho (Grinder)man groove earns itself a place on this playlist for one line and one line alone: “All we wanted was a little consensual rape in the afternoon and maybe a bit more in the evening.” Come on. No.

10. That’s What Jazz Is to Me

Considering Nick told Red Hand Files subscribers that he read all of our playlists, I’m hoping he uses mine as inspiration for the setlist of his upcoming solo North American tour with Colin Greenwood. Just imagine it: Nick walks onstage in his black suit. He sits at the piano. He pauses before banging on the keys and jauntily cries out, “JAAAAAAZZZZ!” Exquisite! Sure, he may walk most of the audience, but I’ll enthusiastically clap along!

11. Cabin Fever

Ok, sure. “Cabin Fever” is a staple of the very early days as Nick and Mick transitioned out of The Birthday Party, through the nebulous Caveman/Man or Myth period, and into The Bad Seeds. And yet, you have to admit this queasy sea-sick shanty is a chore to endure, from the tumbling rhythm that will have you begging for Dramamine as if you’re stuck on a nightmare cruise to the debate between mahogany and ebony (the blackest ebony) to the grumbling, growling, howling, whatever-you-would-call-the-constant-nnnnnrrrrrrrraaaaaa-sounds vocals. Now, let’s sing it all together: “CAAAABIN FEEEEEEEEEVVVVVUUUUUUUUUUUUUURAAAAAAA”!

12. Little Janey’s Gone

“Little Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone. Little Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone away. Ooooooh yes, she’s….GONE AWAY! Oooooh man, that’s for sure. Little Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone now. Janey’s gone away.” And now Emily’s gone away.


13. Train Long Suffering

WHOOOOOO WHOOOOOOOOOOOOooooOOOOO!!!! Maybe I just have an issue with The Bad Seeds’ transportation anthems. While I appreciate the blues ambition of this roiling, rolling choo-choo assault, the growing train of mental illness metaphor starts to grate by the time this train reaches Destination Misery. I think this is my stop!

14. Dead Man in My Bed

Jordan argued that “Dead Man in My Bed” proved after several albums of piano ballads that The Bad Seeds could still rock out. Maybe. But, did they have to do it like THIS?! One of my biggest problems with “Dead Man in My Bed” is that it does not belong on Nocturama, a sudden jolt within what is largely a pretty subdued album. Nor does it belong on ANY album, for that matter.

15. When I First Came to Town

Although I previously described “Foi Na Cruz” as overblown, that song has nothing on the auditory excess of “When I First Came to Town” from 1992’s Henry’s Dream with its surging orchestral intensity of self-pity and various grievances. Maybe those close-minded townspeople that previously were nice enough to buy drinks were just sick of this shit! And with its big, lonesome, overly dramatic harmonica finish, what better way to conclude this playlist!

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