The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs List

It is not an anniversary or an occasion, at least not directly. None of Belle & Sebastian’s seminal albums turn a particularly interesting age in 2014, and though it sounds like their new record is pretty much complete, it doesn’t seem like it will see release before 2015. But as Stuart Murdoch’s first film God Help the Girl hits theaters over the next couple of months and the band branches out to other projects, as large bands often do, it seemed like as good a time as any to take stock of this Belle & Sebastian business. After less than two decades together, the group has put out seven albums, another three albums’ worth of singles and such, and given us a whole lot of hours of ways to feel happy and sad, sometimes at the same time. So happy 18th birthday, If You’re Feeling Sinister! Have a great 11th, Dear Catastrophe Waitress! Has it been four years already, Write about Love? Let’s get listing.

First, methodology, cloaked in only a little bit of secret. We asked our esteemed panelists to submit lists of fifteen, which were assigned point values and combined into this mega-list. Ties were broken; don’t you worry about ties. Your esteemed and presumably wistful panelists, and in many cases authors of the wonderful write-ups of those songs you’ll read with great interest below, are:

Rob, Marisa, and Jesse are all co-founders of SportsAlcohol.com and you know the deal with them.
Sara Batkie is a frequent SportsAlcohol.com contributor, indie rock fan, and fiction writer.
Chris Adams knows computers and blogs at Ruins or Books.
Timothy DeLizza is, as ever, a lawyer, a fiction writer, and a gentleman.
Derrick Hart is a librarian working in a record store, as nature intended.
Craig Iturbe has a PhD in twee.
Michelle Paul is Director of Product Development at Patron Technology.
Jeff Prisco is an engineer and Britpop enthusiast.
Shannon Simms plans your cities of the future and also blogs at Ruins or Books.

And here we go:

The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs List

25. Dress Up in You

The Life Pursuit, 2006
The Life Pursuit is known more for its uptempo delights than its indulgences of classic Belle & Sebastian melancholy, but “Dress Up in You” offers proof that mid-aughts B&S could still bring the wistful blues like no one else. It’s a grower, this one: I remember Derrick citing it as one of his favorites on The Life Pursuit, and at the time I thought, huh, OK. Obviously it’s no “The Blues Are Still Blue” or “Sukie in the Graveyard,” the songs that surround it on the record. But I paid a little extra attention next time I listened, and I liked it more — the way it doesn’t reach the title phrase until the second-to-last verse, the way the female voice asserts itself as it goes on, the way it ends with a lilting “so fuck them too.” Then it played over the credits of God Help the Girl (its story of an artistic temperament suiting the film) and Sara was writing to me later that night, asking if she could revise her list to add this one in. Then Derrick texted me his list at the last minute, and his inclusion knocked this one into the Top 25 at the last minute. Give it a decade; it might well break into the top ten. – Jesse

24. Funny Little Frog

The Life Pursuit, 2006
If Belle & Sebastian had any of the top-40 cultural cache of, say, Outkast then this song would be their “Hey Ya!” By which I mean it’s an instantly catchy, highly earworm-y song that would be played at every wedding to get people on the dance floor whose bounciness belies the desperation of the lyrics. It’s one of the saddest happy songs you’ll ever hear. – Sara

23. Legal Man

single, 2000 (compiled on Push Barman to Open Old Wounds)
One delightful perversity that Belle & Sebastian no longer really indulge is their time-honored tradition of releasing some of their best material as singles, sometimes roughly coinciding with the release of a new album, but not including said material on said album. This is how you get a record like Fold Your Hand Child, You Walk Like a Peasant that (though I like it) is not especially well-regarded (more on this later) even though it was surrounded by the release of killer singles. “Legal Man,” which sounds a bit like the theme to an especially mod TV show where the opening titles would have been the undisputed highlight of the series (it should practically be called “Legal Man – IN COLOR!”), would have been the undisputed highlight of Peasant. But instead, it stands alone, a shining gem and maybe the most manic song in the band’s catalog. When the backing girls sing “get out of the city and into the sunshine,” it almost sounds like they’re giving chase. – Jesse

22. If She Wants Me

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003
What is this song even about? It’s a whirlwind of pronouns, and I count as many as seven possible different characters. This seems notable for a band that more often tells pretty specific stories about specific people, many of whom even have names. For all its ambiguity, though, “If She Wants Me” certainly nails the emotional impact — my own B&S moment happened at the end of college and shortly thereafter, and there’s really nothing more appropriate than sitting in a dark office at your soul-killing temp job and hearing this song plead “if I could do just one near-perfect thing I’d be happy” while realizing “on second thought, I’d rather hang around…” – Michelle

21. I Fought in a War

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, 2000
I fought in a war was my first Belle & Sebastian song. I heard it in a low-tech large-headphoned listening station at the now deceased Virgin Megastore that once graced Times Square. If you have never been to a Virgin Megastore, they were fantastic because they were the one place that had everything in a time just before I realized everything was on the Internet anyway, but they were terrible because they were these large cavernous overwhelming places with employees not nearly as cool or cute as the folks you might find at your local record store, made more impersonal by the fact that so many of the customers were stray tourists; it’s almost enough to create B&S-style alienation. Anyway, the album in question was out there with all kinds of new releases by new bands I had never heard of, because I had given up the excessive devotion to “keeping up” that boys sometimes have in high school. I had never heard of them but was attracted by the cover art and the album title: Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant. There is always something special about an unexpected musical find solely through preciously judging a book by its cover, and the whispered and alienated sounds of the albums opening notes fit far too well with the vibes the Megastore probably wished it didn’t give off. – Tim

20. She’s Losing It

Tigermilk, 1996
Plenty of songs could vie for the title of most Belle & Sebastian-y Belle & Sebastian song, but this quick story of the tough Lisa, the abused Chelsea, and the boy who Lisa uses “as a punching bag” seems like it could’ve spun off into its own God Help the Girl-style musical. At its core, the song describes the kind of heedless angst that probably resonates with an awful lot of B&S fans: “In the first moment of waking up, she knows she’s losing it.” In other words, Belle & Sebastian 4 lyfe! – Jesse

19. I Don’t Love Anyone

Tigermilk, 1996
The title of this song is also its first line and it’s a testament to the charms of Murdoch’s voice that it sounds amusing rather than snotty. It’s an ironic statement, of course, and the lyrics manage to encapsulate the petulance and self-assurance of adolescence (“The kids are playing, having fun/I pass them by, I’m not a kid”) and juxtapose it with the real pain that often lies underneath: the only lines of the chorus are “If there’s one thing that I learned when I was still a child, it’s to take a hiding,” suggesting a narrator who’s endured some nasty punishment, whether physical or emotional, for his past behavior. Clearly the person he’s addressing is finding it difficult to care much about what he’s saying and by the song’s end his repeated insistence that he doesn’t love anyone has become plaintive, even desperate. Belle & Sebastian’s work naturally matured over the years but this song still stands as a great reminder that they are some of the best interpreters of youth and its foibles out there. – Sara

18. Stars of Track and Field

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
Why do so many twee fans love this sincere ode to sports stardom (as much as any Belle & Sebastian classic is about any one thing)? For starters, it features one of the best opening lyrics anywhere ever: “Make a new cult every day to suit your affairs.” I’ve been rolling that one around in my head for years. Maybe it’s the fact that it starts out with just a lone voice and acoustic guitar but builds to an ending drone that sounds like the Velvet Underground (“The Velvets with a bit of trumpet,” according to keyboardist Chris Geddes). It could also be proximity, being the lead track and mission statement to If You’re Feeling Sinister, the band’s most beloved album by any measure. It’s most likely Stuart Murdoch’s incredible talent for including a movie’s worth of well-observed character study over the course of a delicate pop song, but I can’t write about that for every one of these blurbs, can I? – Rob

17. Stay Loose

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003
The accepted narrative about Dear Catastrophe Waitress is that it was a return to form, pairing Stuart Murdoch’s finest writing since the nineties with producer Trevor Horn’s ability to coax hits out of a diverse array of artists. Like so many times in life, I find the accepted narrative here to be overly simplistic. It writes off the best songs on Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant for the crime of not being on an instant classic album on par with their earliest records, discounts the musical progression made on their non-album singles of the early aughts, and completely ignores the fact that Waitress‘s most beloved song, “Piazza, New York Catcher,” is unadorned by any standard (more on that one later). This convenient story nonetheless caught traction because of songs like album closer “Stay Loose,” one of their greatest musical departures from the signature Belle & Sebastian style. Horn managed to push the band’s sound without changing their instrumentation. The dual electric guitars are echo-y and syncopated. The backing vocals including someone singing an octave below the lead. The most prominent keyboard is a thin, reedy organ. The bass is more prominent in the mix. I don’t know why, in 2003, Trevor Horn thought making Belle &Sebastian sound like The Specials would be their path to crossover success, but I’m sure not complaining. – Rob

16. Me and the Major

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
“Me and the Major” is a pretty jaunty song about inter-generational conflict, senility and dementia, and our tendency to ignore and forget the things that we’d rather not confront — and if you don’t listen carefully you might think that it’s just a funny song about a guy who doesn’t get along with his father-in-law or something. The collision between tone and subject matter isn’t just for effect, though. It gets at the heart of what’s raised by the final lines: “I want a dance, I want a drink of whiskey, so I forget the Major and go up the town.” The cheeriness of the music is willful: the narrator is trying very hard not to think about what the insanity of the old man he keeps encountering means about his own eventual fate. It’s what we all do. But with a harmonica! – Craig

15. Judy and the Dream of Horses

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
In the Belle & Sebastian ensemble of female song characters, Judy probably isn’t the most badass. I mean, she dreams of horses, maybe writes songs about them. Judy might be what my friend Briana calls a horseyfungirl. What I love about Judy is what sounds like her constant disappointment. She shows her saddest song to a boy, seems like it goes nowhere. She goes for a walk with a boy, falls asleep with “ants in [her] pants.” The best-looking boys are taken; the best-looking girls are staying inside. So yeah, you know what? Judy is going to read under the covers and write sad songs about fucking horses. What of it? Judy is so much cooler than you’ll ever know. And if it feels like I know her just from a four-minute song, well, there you go. – Jesse

14. Step Into My Office, Baby

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003
For a band that’s probably never had to work an office job, Belle & Sebastian has quite a few songs about office culture. While “Write About Love” gets to the heart of workaday drudgery (“I hate my job/I’m working way too much”), “Step Into My Office, Baby” veers more into fantasy, the kind of office seduction that only seems good on paper. In real life, double-entendres like “pushing for a raise” would be downright creepy. But it’s Belle & Sebastian, so it’s all in good fun (if not downright dorky), especially since the straight-ahead rock sound of the song doesn’t really play up any of the sleazier elements. (Imagine if this were a Pulp song; you’d have to alert HR whenever you listened to it.) It all works together to create something on the sillier end of the band’s spectrum – but silly in a charming way, a quick escape from the true banality of office life. – Marisa

13. Seeing Other People

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
I had two friends who had a relationship like this. They were both cool people, and it lasted for a surprisingly long time. Still, it ended like you might expect. – Tim

12. The Boy with the Arab Strap

The Boy with the Arab Strap, 1998
The Boy with the Arab Strap is the worst Belle & Sebastian album. I don’t think this is a commonly held opinion; I think the consensus choice for their nadir would be Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant because of its wealth-spreading songwriting and lack of a true B&S-style banger (call it a soft banger; regardless, no soft bangers from Peasant made it past number twenty on this list), or maybe Write about Love because it seems like some found it sort of forgettable (its songs did not draw a lot of votes here). This consensus, though, is incorrect. Arab Strap is the worst because it’s so soft and gentle that it took me literally years for more than one or two songs really register when I listened to it. In other words, a part of me secretly agrees with that long-removed Pitchfork 0.8. Nothing that harsh, of course, but it’s my least-played B&S record my far. In fact, it wasn’t until a concert in 2003 that I really noticed the title song; I guess the rest of the album kept lulling me to sleep before I had a chance to hear it. But at the concert in Prospect Park, it was a revelation: this song fucking swings (Belle & Sebastian often leave me looking for non-rocking equivalents to the word “rocks”). I daresay there’s no better B&S song for dancing, and I daresay the band agrees with me because now when they do it live, they find people from the audience to dance with them, swinging around to the band’s all-time jauntiest beat. I couldn’t really tell you what this song is about, any more than I could name every track on the album it’s on. But I can tell you the kinds of white-boy dances you can do it, easy. – Jesse

11. Jonathan David

single, 2000 (compiled on Push Barman to Open Old Wounds)
Belle & Sebastian is a large band with a strong frontman in Stuart Murdoch that occasionally shares the spotlight with his colleagues. This had often led me to wonder: who in the group is the second banana, the Mick Ronson, the Steve Wozniak – the Commander Riker, if you will.

For a while I thought it was cofounder and bassist Stuart David. He was the first person to join Murdoch and his proclivity for spoken word would pop up here and there. He left the group to focus on his band Looper as well as his prose writing. His absence was certainly felt, but Belle & Sebastian had some of their best and defining work ahead them after he departed. After that I thought perhaps it was chanteuse/cellist/Murdoch muse Isobel Campbell. Her soft, beautiful voice complimented the band’s more baroque compositions and her contributions were more visible with each record. Unfortunately, she was eventually marginalized by a growing string section, used to maximum effect on “I’m Waking Up To Us,” Murdoch’s brutal post-mortem of their relationship. She left the band mid-tour, not that anyone could blame her. Murdoch found an outlet for female vocalists with God Help the Girl and once again Belle & Sebastian persevered without a key early member.

The thing about Riker is that he kept turning down his own command to stay with Picard the The Enterprise. Belle & Sebastian’s Riker had to be guitarist Stevie Jackson, it was always Stevie Jackson. I just needed time to see it. Time and “Jonathan David”, the only single to feature lead vocals from another member of the band. Jackson sings lead, but the song is fittingly about a second banana who places his love of his friend over the mutual object of their affection. Murdoch’s voice still appears, first as the lone backing vocalist and then as part of the boy-girl harmonies featured in the lush breakdown and coda. While the subject matter, vocals, and dueling piano and organ are all hallmarks of their Left Banke-inspired chamber pop numbers, “Jonathan David” was the first to be played with a danceable beat and tempo. This innovation made the single an important transitional release for the band, presaging the more accessible sound of Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

I am not one of those insufferable postmodern music writers who says things like: “You need to listen to this song in the context of the music video to really understand its cultural impact [excuse me now I must jerk off in front of the mirror].” That being said, the video for “Jonathan David” is the second best delivery system for the song (behind, of course, dancing along to the seven inch by yourself in a locked bedroom). A stylish homage to The Knack …and How to Get It (also a key influence on the God Help the Girl film), Jackson plays an overmatched romantic competitor of Murdoch’s. It perfectly fits both the song and their relationship. – Rob

I had this idea that I could offer a backing-vocal-style counterpoint blurb of my own, but after reading Rob’s, I realized what I really want to say is that the bit where Stevie cries, “It’s not like we’ll be parted; it’s not like we’ll never know love!” is amazing, the way it brings an emotional crescendo (love those hammering keyboards) with statements that struggle to maintain their even-keeled rationality. – Jesse

10. Expectations

Tigermilk, 1996
Tigermilk was Belle & Sebastian’s first album and Stuart Murdoch has said that the recording was done largely on the fly. This is borne out in many of the songs, which have both a nice ramshackle feel to them and capture a band discovering its own strengths in real time. While the first song, “The State I’m In,” offers a relatively straightforward impression of Belle & Sebastian’s classic sound with its a capella intro and gentle composition, it’s the song immediately following that provides an arresting counterpoint of what the band is capable of. A portrait of a tortured teenage girl, addressed in the second person as she’s hounded by teachers, fellow students, and parents alike, the opening verses are backed by a jittery guitar that mimics the distress the song’s protagonist experiences throughout her day. It’s not until the first run of the chorus that the song begins to open up, with swelling strings and impish horns entering the mix as Stuart implores his subject to persevere: “Write a song, I’ll sing along/Soon you’ll know that you are sane/You’re on top of the world again.” The inclusionive spirit of the creation and playing of music that the song offers as a personal salve is something Belle & Sebastian were already practicing themselves, and it’s this infectious enthusiasm that makes them enduring touchstones for listeners. – Sara

9. Like Dylan in the Movies

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
Dont Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 movie about Bob Dylan, is the documentary that launched a thousand musician shout-outs, from Jill Sobule lyrics to Chumbawama song titles to everything that uses the cue-card concept from the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” part of the movie. Belle & Sebastian’s big Dylan reference is barely a reference at all, evoking the movie really in name only (though I suppose they gave in to the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” homage urge in a really old video). When writing about “Dylan in the movies,” they’re not trying to reference Dylan’s cool, his aloofness, his artistic genius, or any specific moment in the film. It’s just a cute way of saying, literally, don’t look behind you. The band approaches the emotion of the song in a similarly indirect, sidelong way. It’s really about creeping paranoia, the feeling of walking through a park and wondering if people are going to start chasing you, and the relief of feeling safe at home. It doesn’t sound glitchy or claustrophobic or have any of the sounds that usually signal paranoid feelings. Instead, the fear is something that you can live with, carry around with you, and actually find a little bit pleasant. – Marisa

8. I’m a Cuckoo

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003
This song doesn’t just have lyrics about listening to Thin Lizzy; it actually sounds like a Thin Lizzy song, with foregrounded “The Boys Are Back In Town”-style guitar riffs. The big sound of “I’m a Cuckoo” makes sure that when Murdoch sings that he’s “lovin’ every moment… high from playing shows,” you can believe it, because you can feel it (no small thing for a band that once shied away from touring). There’s a breakup song somewhere in there, but I like to focus on the music: the aforementioned epic shows and Thin Lizzy sing-alongs, and the kids who were dressed like punks (but too young to actually be punks) standing in awe of it all. – Marisa

7. The State I’m In

Tigermilk, 1996
I am loathe to mention it for fear that this information could lead to the discovery of its whereabouts and possible theft, but I have to brag: I have held in my hands a rare first pressing of Tigermilk. For the uninitiated, Belle & Sebastian’s first album was out of print when they came to prominence on the US and UK indie scenes in the late nineties, the only physical copies coming from a run of 1000 LPs the band recorded and released as part of a college course. Secondhand copies were selling for upwards of one thousand dollars the height of its collectibility. You may remember the turn of the century as the Wild West for filesharing, but obscure cult favorites were few and far between on Napster et. al. In fact, Scott Plagenhoef wrote a book for the 33 1/3 series about how Belle & Sebastian was one of the last bands you had to work to love without the instant gratification of Google. Another theory Plagenhoef puts forward in this book is that Stuart Murdoch emerged as a fully realized artist with his debut release because his songwriting concepts spent so much time incubating while he was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome in his early 20’s. If that is true, then Exhibit A for the prosecution is “The State I’m In,” Tigermilk‘s opening track and the tale of Murdoch’s emergence from disease. It is perhaps the best early example of the frontman’s unique talent, cramming dense stories full of realistic characters, sly allusions, dark humor, and religious imagery into one tender melody. It is a glorious coming out for one of the definitive songwriting voices of his generation. – Rob

6. If You’re Feeling Sinister

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
This is my pick for both favorite Belle & Sebastian song and their most quintessential, the song I play for new listeners who want to get the best sense of the band. There’s the delicate plinking piano motif, the ambient sounds of children playing, the gentle but propulsive guitar that guides everything along, all hallmarks of much of their early work. But there’s also the darkness of the lyrics, which touch on suicide, religion, and deviant sexuality, among many other things. Murdoch has said in the past that prayerfulness and songwriting helped him overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when he was young and this song, in my eyes, comes the closest to capturing that contradictory mix of physical torpor and spiritual yearning he must have experienced. All the people in the song are bored and searching for answers but the neat trick of Murdoch’s narrator is that he’s not singing from a place of wisdom so much as contentment. Indeed, this might be the neat trick of all Belle & Sebastian songs. – Sara

5. This Is Just a Modern Rock Song

This Is Just a Modern Rock Song EP, 1998 (later collected on Push Barman to Open Old Wounds)
And here is the most badass girl in the B&S catalog: Emma, who throws a potential suitor (or, just as likely, lovelorn best friend) on the ground with judo. This is not really a song about Emma, though. This is one of the band’s longest songs, which gives it plenty of time to build up some volume while it turns into a song about Belle & Sebastian songs. It does so almost languidly, like Stuart and the rest are putting the act of overthinking directly to tape. After two and a half minutes, the song walks across a long bridge, over ninety orchestra-flecked seconds (a long time in pop music) that give Stuart time to more or less drop the narrative he was developing about Emma and Laura and instead compare himself to literature and find himself coming up short and superficial. “I’m only lucid when I’m writing songs,” he explains before the song finds its chorus, nearly five minutes in, sung by our good-intentioned boy Stevie Jackson, which includes a roll call of himself, Rich, and Stuart (what the hell, Mick and Chris ought to have asked). Stuart is specifically described as housebound in a way that probably precludes him from ever complaining that he’s not the pale, wan, bookish kid so many of his songs portray. At this point – past the five-minute mark – the song could easily declare victory. Instead, it blows past five minutes and continues to build through a second bridge. More horns, more strings, and another ninety seconds goes by. The boys come back for one more quick chorus, before explaining, as the music drains away, that they “start to slow, because a song has got to stop somewhere.” Yet this doesn’t sound like Gen-X cynicism; it’s self-awareness of a different sort, capping a song that might as well be the Belle & Sebastian national anthem. Lots of us have written about how this or that song is the perfect intro to the band, but to me, “This Is Just a Modern Rock Song” is their “Positive Jam,” their “Formed a Band.” Can you imagine if they had started an album with it? Instead, it was on an EP that never even came out in America. I mean, Jesus. I’m not sure where I’m going with this blurb, really. Maybe I’ll go and play with words and pictures. – Jesse

4. Sleep the Clock Around

The Boy with the Arab Strap, 1998
Though I’ve probably listened to “Sleep the Clock Around” more than any other B&S song, I’ve mostly heard the sounds of the words rather than the words themselves. Yet I’m still pretty sure I know its meaning: Basically, there is an introvert who has blended their own past with other pasts they read about in books. Possibly they are a little cobwebby in their thoughts. Also, they suffer from social anxiety. Then they take a risk and invite friends and acquaintances (who might not get along or even show up) to a fun, novel and carefully selected event. The event occurs and people show, or at least enough of them do to make the trouble worthwhile. Everyone has a good time. Everyone gets paid. As a reward, this person gets a restful night of sleep where they don’t have to bother with anyone or feel the need to interact further, but they feel contentment that they did reach out that day, and it worked out well. – Tim

3.Your Cover’s Blown

Books EP, 2004
The entirety of “Your Cover’s Blown” is great. It makes me want to dance, and there’s an attitude about it that you don’t find in too many Belle & Sebastian songs. But after the last time I saw Belle & Sebastian, I got really obsessed with the last bunch of lines in the song — the part that starts with, “Listen lady, meet my mum and dad.” There is so much going on in those last sixteen or so lines (which sounds like a lot, but it’s a long song), like there was enough lyrical material for another song but it got compressed into the coda instead. My favorite part is: “You had a long conversation with the kid next door/he’s a little slow/but in your favor it shows.” That is such an oddly specific detail, and it’s the key that there’s a lot more to the story of the song than just the situation of the song. God Help the Girl is the first full-blown Belle & Sebastian-related musical, but “Your Cover’s Blown” shows that they had it in them all along. – Marisa

2. Piazza, New York Catcher

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003
As a Mets fan, I must admit many hard truths to myself. Drugs and egos destroyed their only chance of a dynasty in the 80’s. The Wilpon Family will never sell the team (yes, even in light of this latest lawsuit. If Bernie Madoff couldn’t bring them down, they’ll find a way to weasel out of this one). Perennial Mets foil Chipper Jones deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. Keith Hernandez probably would not want to hang out with me. I will be dead before they have another shortstop as good as Jose Reyes. If Matt Harvey and I went to high school together, he probably would have bullied me. Maybe next year or the year after that, but definitely not this year.

As a fan of a team holding the current active record for consecutive losing seasons, you try to take pleasure in those achievable milestones that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, like Reyes’ winning the batting title during his last season with the team or Jacob DeGrom’s current Rookie of the Year campaign. Sometimes even those small silver linings are overshadowed by a gray cloud, like R.A. Dickey’s 20-win, Cy Young-winning season coming on an 87-loss team or Johan Santana’s first-in-franchise-history no-hitter that probably shredded his shoulder for good.

“Piazza, New York Catcher” is a unique entry to the list of Mets’ tainted achievements. A Scotsman casually makes the best song about baseball ever written and the player that carried the Mets to their last World Series appearance is the title character. On its face, that is wonderful. Unfortunately, Mike Piazza’s story is maybe the third most compelling in the song. In fact, he’s only the third best baseball player referenced behind Willy Mays and Sandy Kofax (although Piazza should be in The Hall of Fame with them if there were any justice in this world).

In a stanza here and there, Murdoch perfectly captures the grind of a 162-game season and the tension of a boy’s game played by men placed on it by the outside world. The real story at the center of all these interwoven baseball legends is Stuart Murdoch, idealizing an international trip of small moments with his girlfriend Marisa Privitera. He wrote this for her when they were dating. They are married now. Did I mention we’re talking about just a single voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar for barely three minutes?  – Rob

1. Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying

If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996
It was always going to be this one, wasn’t it? And so it was, in a walk, a whopping 46 points ahead of its nearest competitor, on the strength of four number-one votes and a mention on every submitted list except Tim’s (contrarian!). “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” is The Best. Buy why do we all feel this way? It could be the firsties effect, although I believe the first B&S song I ever heard was actually “Me and the Major.” But it is from the first B&S album almost any of us would have heard (again, Tim with the contrarian experience!), and it does feel fresh, even as it lines up the Belle & Sebastian tropes: wit, loneliness, sad songs about sad songs, semi-ironic fatalism, semi-ironic rock-band boosterism, and wonderfully Scottish pronunciations (“lovers” in Stuart’s burr become “law-vers”). It could be the effect Stuart sings about towards the end: “I could only make you cry with these words,” wistfully calling out the manipulations of the written word over the bloodying of a sword.

Regardless, our collective warm-blanket familiarity with these tropes and this song may obscure just how unusual it is in a lot of ways. First of all, in a classic Belle & Sebastian move, it’s sort of a fast-paced slow song; far from downtempo, but too lilting to be really called uptempo in the traditional sense. Perhaps more important: it barely has a chorus. It goes for three verses, repeats no sentences, and then repeats its opening line a few times in a jazzy sort of way — really, it’s arguable that this isn’t a chorus so much as a post-chorus following the complete lack of a chorus. Or maybe it’s the whole song that’s one long chorus, about to be repeated as soon as we listen again and again. – Jesse

Now that you’ve read through this all and are dying to listen to Belle & Sebastian all day, you can listen to the whole Top 25 on our Spotify playlist.

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • roberthenryk

    ‘Belle & Sebastian often leave me looking for non-rocking equivalents to the word “rocks”’

    I prefer ‘skips’ for this exact situation because of all the people that were literally skipping up and down the aisles when they played ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”

    • jesse

      When I think of people skipping, I think of how our buddy Jon said that after he saw the Care Bears movie as a very young child, he and his friend literally skipped up and down the aisles in joy.

  • Tim

    Oh this is interesting – was “Get Me Away” a single that got airplay or something? I had always assumed “Like Dylan in the Movies” would have the break out hit potential, though I guess few of the songs would have made much sense on the post-grunge radio next to nu-metal or Local-H/Fastball so I imagine little of this made it onto K-Rock. I had no idea it was considered a hit or a fan favorite so had no intention of being contrarian. Huzzah for slipping into the role. I do like the song fine and listen to it plenty btw, a lot even — perhaps it suffered from being surrounded by the best overall effort of their career (If you’re Feeling Sinister is my favorite album, despite hearing it several years after others, oddly).

    Incidentally, if I had one revision it would be to add Your Cover’s Blown both based on Marisa’s write-up and my repeat listening this afternoon. I had never heard it before (I say, destroying what little creditability I had left in my contributions) but is now going on my running mix at once.

    • jesse

      It’s my understanding that until about 2003 or so, B&S didn’t release any singles from their albums — only stand-alones — and they didn’t do enough touring/promotional appearances to have chosen a de facto single by what they played on talk shows or whatever. I don’t believe they made one of their occasional videos for it. The Sinister album would have gotten substantial college radio attention in the late nineties, but not much mainstream radio, so my sense is that this really became the “hit single” from that record by fan consensus, although maybe I’m giving fans too much credit. It’s one of my favorite things about indie rock: that sometimes, certain songs (in addition to getting scratched into your soul) sort of become these “hit singles” that were never really released or necessarily intended as such. The Hold Steady poll’s “Hoodrat” triumph is similar — although that one had its own video and was probably released at least as a radio single (even if it didn’t get a ton of airplay).

      • Fully agree. I edited my original comment to say the skipping to “Get Me Away” was the only time I saw them play, which was in 2002. There were no singles, they had released eps, but the only releases my college station had were their full albums. Sometimes promo companies would send cds with only certain songs in advance of the full album or with a sticker recommending tracks. None of that for b&s, so I’d say “Get Me Away” was single by consensus.

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