The Fall – Top 50 Songs

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Mark E Smith: maverick singer, often combative front-man and lyricist of post-punk group The Fall exemplified attitude throughout their long and strange career. At times cantankerous, regularly funny and more often than not quite brilliant, John Peel, the groups most famous and persistent supporter, championed the The Fall from early on in their career and cited them as his favourite band saying: “They are always different; they are always the same.” Over the years the Fall have touched on a vast variety of musical styles – garage, krautrock, rockabilly, blues, techno and more, but it’s their non-musical approach where the true punk ethic comes in.

Smith was a rock hero whose drinking and fighting – as well as his ragged but rare musical artistry – was the stuff of legend. Formed in Manchester in the mid-1970s, their prolific output and career overview is daunting. Spanning a massive 39 year history, 58 band members, 32 studio albums, 22 live albums, 24 Peel sessions, and countless EPS and compilations, MES was the only constant in this late-great post-punk British institution, characterised by their abrasive guitar-driven sound and an ability to remain fresh and original even with the band’s rotating line up, stylistic changes, and constant touring, right up until his untimely death aged 60 in 2018. They never achieved widespread public success, beyond a handful of minor hit singles in the late 1980s, and drifted out of fashion in the 1990s, but always maintained a strong cult following. Love them or hate them, The Fall were necessary.

Here at Pierce’s Press we are counting down the Top 50 tracks by The Fall – it’s not a definitive list, there never can be a definitive list with this group. There’s live versions, demos, Peel sessions. I’ll be linking my favourite version and the tracks are presented more as opposing soundbite than a comprehensive overview of the band’s material. Yet the one true constant between them is that of Mark E Smith; his voice and his genius.

50. O.F.Y.C. Showcase

Towering opener off 2010’s very good Your Future Our Clutter album finds our hero’s vaguely incomprehensible drawl giving way to declarative vocals, guitar repetitions, go-steady drums and a brutal motoric bass throb.

49. WB

A homage to William Blake, which is washed with synthesizers and rides a repetitive surf-guitar riff featuring Smith’s cutting talk-rhythms, the slowly modulating grinding chug of the vital WB is a Fall classic from the musical tour de force that is The Unutterable (2000), ushering in their postmodern phase.

48. A New Face in Hell

This track originally appeared on their excellent third studio album, 1980’s Grotesque (After the Gramme). This was when BBC radio presenter and guitarist Marc Riley was still in the band. He does a great job on this crisp, bouncy track along with long-term guitarist and Fall stalwart Craig Scanlon. Along with other classics such as The NWRA, you can hear budding 90s indie rock eg: Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement.

47. Telephone Thing

Released at the time when Madchester was all the rage, The Fall beat them at their own game with the synth-drive and high-tech production of Telephone Thing. Lifted off 1990’s career-highlight Extricate, the track was co-written by MES with Coldcut members Matt Black and Jonathan More and released as a relatively successful single in January 1990. “How dare you assume I want to parlez-vous with you / Gretchen Franklin, nosey matron thing…

46. (Jung Nev’s) Antidotes

Monstrously urgent track taken from the great underrated masterpiece The Marshall Suite (1999), featuring a new patchwork line-up following a major band split. Jung Nev is a reference to co-writer Neville Wilding, the new guitarist for the group.

45. Just Waiting

The Fall’s take on the Hank Williams song from the 50s includes the line: “The cretin is waiting for U2 to come on MTV again.” Mark nails this country, Dylan-esque ditty off 1992’s underrated Code: Selfish, with the solid backing of long-time band-mates Scanlon and Steve Hanley (bass).

44. Arid Al’s Dream

Something of a lost Fall song that only appeared in an issue of the CD magazine Volume. In it Smith ruminates over his interest in “pre-psycognition” through a tale of the sexually frustrated title character. An unnerving and bizarre a song, it ended up on an album called Sinister Waltz (1996), a good collection of unreleased and rare tracks.

43. Taking Off

Not all albums by The Fall are brilliant or even listenable. Some are tedious, abrasive and at times a tough slog. Ersatz GB (2011) is one of those albums. There’s a few others too; but it’s not all bad. This track though is the best song on the album; a genuinely beautiful and dynamic piece.

42. Auto Chip 2014-2016

A quintessentially Fall-like chant, this 10-minute barrelling Can-rock epic off 2015’s tight Sub-Lingual Tablet ebbs and flows with a rockabilly twang featuring one of Smith’s best latter-day vocal performances, as he moves from staccato declamations to an imperious croon to cackle and vintage snarl. Awesome Fall track.

41. Loadstones

The wobbly boogie of Loadstones is found lurking at the back-end of their Re-Mit (2013) album, not their best album ever, but recorded with a strong line-up that featured on the three preceding albums – a rarity for the ever-changing group lineup.

40. Bury Pts. 1 + 3

Opening with a minute and a half of lo-fi hiss from a cheap hand held tape recorder, this stomping track off Your Future Our Clutter then sharpens its focus, rewarding with a seriously titanic fuzz-bass payoff.

39. Black Roof

Co-written with Tim Presley (aka White Fence) who joined The Fall around the time of the underwhelming Reformation T.L.C (2007), and stuck around for the good Re-Mit, and even better Sub-Lingual Tablet, and features on this melodic yet way-too-short lo-fi oddity off the latter.

38. Cowboy George

Layers of Spaghetti Western guitar bends and odd experiments abound on this Ennio Morricone-meets-Daft Punk mashup from Your Future Our Clutter. Here the group are at their “most rampant, most forward moving, bone shaking best.”

37. Eat Y’self Fitter

Smith’s American wife and rhythm guitarist Brix Smith made her debut with the group on Rough Trade’s magnificent Perverted By Language (1983) before the label hit it big with The Smiths. The Fall with Brix (and increasingly into the 1980s) introduced a more pop-friendly sound, none more so than on the high-pitched rhythm and rockabilly chug of this increasingly irritating track.

36. Smile

Another amazing track off Perverted By Language, this tense slow-burning band co-write weaves its way through six minutes of dark impressionistic audio drama.

35. Disney’s Dream Debased

One of The Fall’s most disorientingly pretty songs; guitars chiming, a woozy acid-comedown dream of a tune but Smith’s restrained vocal portrays a fun-park vision of a modern-day Hades. This track is lifted off one of their best albums: 1984’s The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall.

34. Wolf Kidult Man

This standout track off 2008’s fine Imperial Wax Solvent opens with a wolf howl before cracking into a blistering guitar-driven garage rock attack. MES’s vocals are as commanding as ever and he’s sounding refreshed after his previous group walked out on him and wife/keyboardist Eleni Poulou in America, forcing him to recruit a new band mid-tour. The snippet of dialogue at the end of the song is from The Twilight Zone episode ‘Printer’s Devil’.

33. Pacifying Joint

A buzzing synth line masterfully interspersed with a fully loaded backing vocal hook and rattling guitars under Smith’s fragmented surrealism colliding into meditations on the banalities of the everyday: ‘standing on the street‘. Taken from 2005’s sprawling Fall Heads Roll.

32. Elves

Signing to the major Beggars Banquet label, The Wonderful and Frightening World… followed hot on the heels of two excellent pop-tastic singles, Oh! Brother and C.R.E.E.P. Neither of those were on the original album which has a much darker feel; none more so than last-song side-one: Elves. Reminiscent of The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog, this prickly track is direct and grumpily buoyant as it rails against Scottish pop bands for a nerve-shredding five minutes.

31. I’m a Mummy

The interesting thing about the album this track comes from, the difficult and oft-ignored Levitate (1997), is that it includes several obscure covers. Something The Fall have always done well. This fun track is one of them. It has an irresistible surf/garage simplicity, with Smith comically relating alienation of cartoon dimensions, over an uncontrollably infectious hook.

30. Mountain Energei

The Fall made a comeback after 2001’s listless Are You Are Missing Winner with The Real New Fall LP (Formerly ‘Country on the Click’) in 2003, which found them back in fine form. On track two of the album, Smith manages to rhyme Dolly Parton with Lord Byron over an irresistible Dr Who-inspired synth line and loping guitar figure.

29. Slang King

Another track off the superb The Wonderful and Frightening World…, it’s all lilting synths and vicious lyrics on this album standout.

28. Garden

If the Fall played the Velvets, it might sound a bit like Perverted By Language‘s Garden. Disturbingly atmospheric, this magnificent slow-burn piece drones on for eight-plus minutes with a repetitive guitar chime and percolating drum patterns.

27. Mr Pharmacist

The rollicking Mr Pharmacist is taken from an essential Fall classic: Bend Sinister (1986) – the last of three albums in a row produced by John Leckie. This punchy cover is sheer fun, but is at odds with much of the material on this dark and brooding album, made at the height of the group’s Beggars Banquet years.

26. Theme From Sparta F.C.

This extremely catchy track off The Real New Fall LP finds our hero shouting “I don’t have a jack knife” over The Fall’s signature marching beat, although no-one told the scything guitars or the pounding bass. The track maintains a menacing attitude throughout with Smith’s football-hooligan-commentary lyrics. This super live version from 2006 featuring Tim Presley is well worth a look.

25. The Man Whose Head Expanded

The six disc Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 is as an essential collection as any in the history of music, and this white hot version is from a Peel session in 1985. Originally a blistering Rough Trade 7″ from 1983, it ended up on the near-perfect early-80s singles compilation Palace of Swords Reversed (1987).

24. Craigness

A Craig Scanlon co-write details the strange goings on of a ‘neighbour downstairs with one eye.’ A catchy little tune but every potential hook seems spiked with the band’s usual rough take-it-or-leave-it stance. Another track off The Wonderful And Frightening World… album, which has become one of the The Fall’s key releases, receiving massive critical acclaim over the years.

23. Hit the North

Released as a 7″ in 1987, this much loved dance-based minor hit packed to the gills with sax riffs, guitars and sub-disco drums is a Fall pop-tastic classic, eventually appearing on the The Frenz Experiment (1988).

22. Frightened

Wiry opener from debut studio album Live at the Witch Trials (1979). A surprisingly accessible and well produced listen. Frightened opens up sounding like early Roxy Music until Smith lopes in, at which point the perspective shifts drastically with lyrics such as: “I’ve got shears pointed straight at my chest and time moves slow when you count it.”

21. Victoria

A cover of the Kinks song marked the second entry into the British charts for The Fall, reaching a respectable number 35 and ended up on decidedly “accessible”, lighter and commercial sounding The Frenz Experiment. This is Brix Smith territory and new keyboard player Marcia Schofield provide the album a strangely glamorous feel. Super-polished by Fall standards.

20. Cab It Up!

A rollicking live favourite off I Am Kurious Oranj (1988), the soundtrack for an avant garde ballet. The group and the Smith’s marriage was breaking up, and as Fall albums go it’s another great one. This track  is an addictive gem. A thrusting and breezy affair dominated by keyboards, with MES in great voice.

19. Touch Sensitive

Scintillating opener off The Marshall Suite and one of the best-known Fall songs due to its use in an advert for the Vauxhall Corsa. MES is quoted saying: “I didn’t have full control over that. And at the time I needed the money. Sometimes that’s the sad case. We’re not all Elton John.” The album is patched-together masterpiece made with a bunch of new players after the disastrous tour they did to support Levitate, that concluded with MES fighting with his bandmates on stage and back at the New York hotel, winding up arrested and in jail as a result.

18. Couldn’t Get Ahead

Recorded as a double A side single alongside the exceptional rockabilly cover of Rollin’ Dany, both tracks eventually appeared on various reissues on one of The Fall’s very best albums This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985), simply one of the best rock albums of the 1980s (eg: the sequence of My New House, Paintwork and I Am Damo Suzuki is one of The Fall’s finest 10-odd minutes on record). This track is a careening punk rock death-ride.

17. Edinburgh Man

Gorgeous paean to the Scottish city where MES spent some time in the late-80s/early-90s. This gentle and melodic track on the introspective 1991 Brix Smith-less album Shift-Work, perhaps their ‘softest’ album, finds MES indulging in some traditional singing reflecting a desire to make a simple album with a group stripped down to a four-piece for the first time in it’s career.

16. I’m Frank 

MES and Brix parted ways around the time of Extricate and the group promptly signed to UK label Fontana, taking a melodic (the lovely Bill Is Dead) and at times funky (Sing! Harpy) approach on much of the material; including the addictive and streamlined guitar riffage of the marvellous I’m Frank; “gimmie gimmie gimmie it slowly, baby.”

15. The Classical

This opening rave-up off arguably the best album by The Fall: Hex Enduction Hour (1982), is a great representation of the sound of the entire album, or even The Fall for that matter. It’s their two-drummer phase, a seminal four-on-the-floor anthem, and sums up their fuck-you-very-much attitude best.

14. Put Away

Put Away is all rockabilly rhythms and jaunty beats, perfect to counteract some of the more uncompromising moments on the weighty Dragnet (1979), the follow up to their debut album. Most of the original line up had been replaced by Hanley and Scanlon, only Marc Riley and MES remain, and the harsher sound reflects that. There’s some added kazoo on this number and excellent bass line meanderings near the end, a perfect track to end the album.

13. Prole Art Threat

Short, brash with a galloping rhythm, this track off 1981’s 10″ EP Slates deserves its place in The Fall hall of fame. Noise provides a simple added musical event to this irresistible track, while the guitars grind out a major one-chord foundation.

12. Leave the Capitol

Another track of the essential EP Slates, it has a glorious double tracked vocal on the chorus: “Leave the Capitol, exit this Roman shell”, and is a throbbing infectious masterpiece. The Fall at their best. This material would forever alter the course of independent music.

11. Living Too Late

Cold and imposing, this world-weary rumbler cryptically addresses middle-age, and was a fine A-side single in 1986. It finds MES and the group incorporating more distinct pop elements into their sharp-witted, staggering cut-and-thrust, and eventually found a home on Bend Sinister.

10. Glam-Racket

The Glitter glam-stomp of Glam-Racket is a major highlight off major hit UK record The Infotainment Scan. The closest The Fall ever got to reaching the masses. The Fall were embracing electronic music of the early-90s although still with their serrated guitars.

9. Two Librans

Synthesizers overwhelm guitars on The Unutterable which consists of so many all-timers unlucky to miss out here such as Dr Buck’s Letter, the  heat-stroked Octo Realm/Katamine Sun, and the shimmering album opener Cyber Insekt, both deserving big mentions. Although none better than this straight ahead super-heavy rock number, the devilish Two Librans.

8. Cruisers Creek

Closer from the 1988 reissue of masterpiece This Nation’s Saving Grace, it’s an awesome abrasive rocker. It’s also an insistent catchy tune, mixing confident songwriting, strong musicianship and a blistering double-tracked MES vocal with Brix on twangy guitar.

7. No Bulbs

The mid to late 80s Brix years are definitely The Fall’s golden period, with the classic line up of the band consisting of Hanley and Scanlon, and Karl Burns (drums) and Paul Hanley (also drums!). The Wonderful and Frightening World… was released on 12 October 1984, with the super little EP Call for Escape Route appearing shortly thereafter. This priceless gem with its absurdist mutated-blues guitar licks, originally appeared on that EP and eventually the album reissues. Its 8-minute length goes by unnoticed because of the bright, heedless abandon to its addictive groove.

6. Contraflow

The driving Contraflow, a feedback-drenched and heavy-duty number on which MES gleefully repeats the lines, “I hate the countryside so much/I hate the contraflow so much.” is a swirling and menacing assault off The Real New Fall LP, an album of incredible variety. Ben Pritchard kicks out some of the best slash-and-burn guitar work heard on a Fall record since Craig Scanlon’s dismissal in 1995.

5. The Container Drivers

Short but intense rockabilly Fall off Grotesque (After the Gramme), perhaps at its best on the Peel session version which is tattered around the edges, but with that unique static charge.

4. New Big Prinz

In its two versions that top and tail I Am Kurious Oranj, this is the opening track and very much the centre piece of the album, although on the live version on I Am as Pure as Oranj, it is played over Hip Priest which gives us a clue to its roots. The jaunty bass line would later emerge elsewhere, from Pavement’s Two States to Blur’s Parklife, and was one of The Fall’s most played live songs over the years.

3. Totally Wired

The interplay between Scanlon and Hanley is beginning to take shape on this taut noise-pop pre-Grotesque (After the Gramme) 7″ single. Its one of The Fall’s most essential and well-known songs, so jagged, and filled with intensity and sheer speed. MES is on edge big time: “I butterfly stomach round ground, I drank a jar of coffee, and then I took some of these.”

2. R.O.D

It stands for Realm of Dusk. Sinister surf music with an excellent guitar line from Brix which began life as an instrumental. Apart from having one of the best riffs found in all Fall songs, the lyrics are similarly magnificent, the opening lines in particular possessing a resonance and power the equal of anything to be found in their catalogue: “It’s approaching / 600 pounds gas and flesh / Robes in tatters / It’s approaching / Lips and tongue abhorrent / Flickering lexicon / Or a stray dog pack leader.” The Peel session version is one of the group’s best. Opener off Bend Sinister.

1. Blindness

The centrepiece of Fall Heads Roll, this colossal drum beat and mesmerising, churning bass stomp, defiant lyrics with MES at his best with random utterances – it’s classic Fall from its opening “the flag is evil” to its closing “blind man, have mercy on me!”. A Freudian, surrealist motif of the blind man and blindness, this lurching Peel version is nothing short of monstrous, from the backwards guitar to the intermittent keyboards motif – proof the Fall hadn’t lost it in the mid-2000s.

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17 Responses to The Fall – Top 50 Songs

  1. Reblogged this on PIERCESPRESS and commented:

  2. Aphoristical says:

    That’s a mammoth undertaking!

  3. Disco Robot says:

    New to the blog, found your link in thefall..org forum. Happy to see a lot of great selections from the last 20 years. Too many people don’t realize how much fantastic material came after Infotainment Scan. Looks like I have a lot of good reading ahead!

  4. Pingback: The Big Midweek | Life Inside The Fall | THE PRESS | Music Reviews

  5. Pingback: The Fall – It’s On Forever | THE PRESS | Music Reviews

  6. Pingback: You Must Get Them All | Steve Pringle | THE PRESS | Music Reviews

  7. Gremlin Sword says:

    Needs I feel Voxish and An Older Lover.

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