The 25 best Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds songs

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Istanbul 08/21/2022 (

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Istanbul 08/21/2022


Exactly one year ago today I witnessed Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds live in my favorite city Istanbul. This year marks the 35th anniversary of my very first Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds show and the 10 year anniversary of my re-acquaintance with the group. I haven’t missed a show since. And, last but not least, the great Push The Sky Away is 10 years old this year, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds celebrate their 40th anniversary. If there ever is a motive for a ‘best of’ Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, it’s now.

Nick Cave (& The Bad Seeds)

Nick Cave has been the subject of multiple articles on this blog: From Her To Eternity, Push The Sky Away, Skeleton Tree and the Grinderman project.

Nick Cave, indie hero from the 1980s, has evolved into a well-respected artist and performer. His concerts take place in large venues and he has earned his status as the ultimate headliner for virtually every festival.

Nick Cave is also one of the very few artists who, even in the later stage of his career, continues to release relevant albums (2013’s Push The Sky Away was Cave’s first number 1 album in The Netherlands). The latest album Ghosteen was hailed by press and audiences alike. At this moment work on a new album is underway, which many await with great anticipation.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - 2013 (

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 2013

Personal connection to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

In 1984 I heard From Her To Eternity and I was deeply impressed. The follow-up The Firstborn Is Dead was bluesier and just as intense. I have fond memories of car rides at the time with my friend Harrie, who was one of the first to have a driver’s license, with the latest Cave playing on a shabby cassette player. That music was so pure and raw!

One year later the cover-album Kicking Against The Pricks was released. 1984’s debut single In The Ghetto was the first indication that Cave (also) loved (melo)dramatic songs. The cover-album was filled with them, resulting in moving renditions of songs like Muddy Water, The Singer (I bought the single at the time, which contained the beautiful B-side Running Scared) and the unsurpassed By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Your Funeral… My Trial and Tender Prey were not my cup of tea. After the first time Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds live in Utrecht in 1988 I slowly lost sight of Cave, barring some songs, like Red Right Hand, Where The Wild Roses Grow and Stagger Lee. Until Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus was released in 2004. I bought the album and it stayed in my car’s cd player for months on end. Cave was back on my radar, for good this time. In 2013 I bought tickets for a concert at the Amsterdam Heineken Music Hall. An absolutely unforgettable experience, I haven’t missed a tour ever since. Please click and watch the video accompanying this article, Stagger Lee live at the Glastonbury festival in 2013. It portrays everything Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds represent to me: excitement, danger, maniacal noise, stillness. Time and time again I am left utterly bewildered.

Top 25

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have created an immense and beautiful body of work. Usually I limit myself to 10 songs when I compile a list, but Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds deserve more. Below I present the 25 most essential songs. Please take note: the list only contains songs released by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, so no songs by The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Grinderman, Nick Cave and Nick Cave & Warren Ellis.

For your listening comfort, the (Spotify) playlist containing my top 25 can be found at the end of this article.


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jubilee Street (

Jubilee Street


Highlight on the album of the year 2013: Push The Sky Away. Released as a single, and released in live versions (some acoustic) multiple times as well.

The song immediately found its way to the live setlist, where it has stayed ever since for every tour. Its end is particularly exciting and overwhelming, where The Bad Seeds really rip into the song with all their might and create an orgasmic hurricane of sound.

I am transforming
I am vibrating
I am glowing
I am flying
Look at me now


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - O Children (

O Children


Soul, gospel and Nick Cave? Yep, O Children has it. Coming off 2004’s double album Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus, which put Nick Cave back on my radar. O Children was used in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 movie.

Hey little train! Wait for me!
I was held in chains but now I’m free
I’m hanging in there, don’t you see
In this process of elimination


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - I Need You (Radio Edit) (

I Need You


Intoxicating, deeply moving song about loss, stemming from the beautiful, deeply personal Skeleton Tree album from 2016. The album was practically done when Nick Cave was hit with a huge personal tragedy when his teenage son suddenly died. With that knowledge, I Need You is unbearably sad, especially when Cave mutters “just breathe, just breathe, just breathe” when he plays the song in a live setting. Goosebumps.

Nothing really matters
When the one you love is gone
It’s still in me
Baby I need you
In my heart
I need you


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Kicking Against The Pricks (

By The Time I Get To Phoenix


Released on the cover-album Kicking Against The Pricks, on which Cave covered songs from artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, who were far from hip at the time. The album predated the quieter, more subdued music that would be released after the maniacal years.

By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising
And she’ll find that note that I left hanging on the door
And she’ll laugh when she reads the part
That says: “I’m leaving”
Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Higgs Boson Blues - Video (

Higgs Boson Blues


Beautiful bluesy guitars, with The Bad Seeds accompanying the song using a jungle like rhythm, slowly building and reducing the suspense. Invocative, especially in a live setting, when Cave usually tries to really connect to the audience: “Can you feel my heart beat? It goes boom, boom, boom”.

Can you feel my heart beat?
Can you feel my heart beat?


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Stagger Lee - Video (

Stagger Lee


In 1996 the group made an album filled with songs about (serial)killers, Murder Ballads, containing the Kylie Minogue duet Where The Wild Roses Grow, which was a huge hit all over Europe, just like the PJ Harvey duet Henry Lee. But it is Stagger Lee that really impresses. Loosely based on an old folk song and a poem called “Stagolee”, the song tells the tale of the murder of Billy Lyons by “Stag” Lee Shelton, in St. Louis, Missouri, at Christmas time 1895. Lyrically, Cave goes all in and really tries to delve into the essence of the story. The listener is taken by the hand in this crude, yet addictive, story.

“I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know
And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy’s asshole”
Said Stagger Lee

See the live performance in the video accompanying this article.


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree (

Skeleton Tree


Closing song and namesake of the moving Skeleton Tree album, an album filled with loss. But still, the song ends with an uplifting repetition, a mantra:

And it’s all right now
And it’s all right now
And it’s all right now


Nick Cave - From Her To Eternity (

From Her To Eternity


The title song of debut album From Her To Eternity. One single piano note, played in an intoxicating rhythm throughout the entire song. Sound explosions, disruptive guitar eruptions by Bilxa Bargeld and Cave at his most manic. The ultimate introduction to this band!

Oh, I hear her walkin’
Walkin’ barefoot cross the floor-boards
All through this lonesome night
And I hear her crying too
Hot-tears come splashin’ on down
Leaking through the cracks
Down upon my face
I catch ’em in my mouth!
Walk and cry, walk and cry


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus (

Abattoir Blues


Title song to the first part of the 2004 double album Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus. An a-typical song: drums and minimal piano support. The song possesses a swing and cadence, that’s hypnotizing to me.

I wake with the sparrows and I hurry off to work
The need for validation, babe, gone completely berserk
I wanted to be your Superman but I turned out such a jerk
I got the abattoir blues
Right down to my shoes


Nick Cave - 1984 (

A Box For Black Paul


The closing song of From Her To Eternity. The Black Paul character has died and everything gets plundered, up to and including his body. Cave is the narrator and onlooker of the scene.

When ya done ransackin his room
grabbin any damn thing that shines
throw the scraps down on the street
Like all his books and his notes
All the junk that he wrote
The whole fuckin lot right up in smoke
Ain’t there nothin sacred anymore
Who will build a box for Black Paul?


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Get Ready For Love (

Get Ready For Love


Energetic opening song to Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus. An ode to God? “Praise Him till you’ve forgotten what you’re praising Him for / Then praise Him a little more”. Religion is a recurring theme in Cave’s body of work. It often addresses the search and its result (frequently nothing or disappointment).

Well, most of all nothing much ever really happens
And God rides high up in the ordinary sky
Until we find ourselves at our most distracted
And the miracle that was promised creeps quietly by


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Live 1984 New York (

Saint Huck


“Achtung!” The first song on the second side of debut From Her To Eternity. Exciting post-punk, delivered full of conviction. Cave spits his words into the microphone.

Straight into the arms of the city go Huck,
Down the beckoning streets of op-po-tunity
Huck whistles his favorite River-song…


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Tupelo (



The only single of second album The Firstborn Is Dead. Biblical symbolism, thunder as the background for the story of the birth of Elvis Presley, who was born 35 minutes after his stillborn identical twin brother Jesse in Tupelo, Mississippi. A typical Cave subject, in which he fully immerses himself. All stops are pulled out: (inherited) guilt, death, anguish and shame.

Well Saturday gives what Sunday steals
And a child is born on his brothers heels
Come Sunday morn the first-born dead
In a shoe-box tied with a ribbon of red
Tupelo-o-o! Hey Tupelo!
In a shoe-box buried with a ribbon of red


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - B-Sides & Rarities (

Running Scared

1986 (2005)

B-side to the single The Singer, originally released by Roy Orbison in 1961. The song has no chorus and is based on a ‘bolero’ like rhythm.

Just runnin’ scared each place we go
So afraid that he might show
Yeah, runnin’ scared, what would I do?
If he came back and wanted you

Released on cd for the first time in 2005 on the compilation B-Sides & Rarities.


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Mercy Seat (

The Mercy Seat

1988 (2013)

Released as a single in 1988, one of the best known and most popular Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds songs. It portrays a man about to be executed on the electric chair. Whether the man is guilty “Of which I am nearly wholly innocent, you know” or not, remains unclear.

And the mercy seat is melting
And I think my blood is boiling
And in a way I’m spoiling
All the fun with all this truth and consequence
An eye for an eye
An a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
And I’m not afraid to die

The studio version is not my favorite. Thus, the playlist contains the live version recorded in 2013 and released on the Live from KCRW album.


Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Red Right Hand (

Red Right Hand


Mysterious song that, next to The Mercy Seat, is identified the most with Nick Cave. It is about a man who’s viewed with fear and admiration, half god, half devil. The song is used in the Scream movies and serves as the theme song to the great television series Peaky Blinders.

He’ll wrap you in his arms, tell you that you’ve been a good boy
He’ll rekindle all those dreams it took you a lifetime to destroy
He’ll reach deep into the hole, heal your shrinking soul
Hey buddy, you know you’re never ever coming back
He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru
They’re whispering his name across this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat is a red right hand


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Ship Song (

The Ship Song


In 1990 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released the album The Good Son, the first album on which the group didn’t showcase the mania so emphatically anymore, shocking many fans. But with songs like The Ship Song no album can go wrong.

Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history, baby
Every time you come around


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!! (

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!


Originally a song about a dead man. The song was uploaded on the Nick Cave website on Christmas Day 2007. In 2008 it was the first song on the album with the same name. The phrase “I don’t know what it is but there’s definitely something going on upstairs” refers to brain activity.

he ended up like so many of them do
back on the streets of
NEW YORK CITY!!!!!!!!! (crowd) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
in a soup queue/
a dope fiend/ (a slave)
then prison/ then the madhouse/
then the grave
O POOR LARRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
but what do we really know of the dead
& who actually cares?????????!!!!!
I don’t know what it is
but there is definitely something going on upstairs
dig yourself, LAZARUS!!!!!!


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Weeping Song (

The Weeping Song


Second song from The Good Son in this list, also the album’s second single in 1990. A son questions his father, who states that after “crying” the real “weeping” commences.

This is a weeping song
A song in which to weep
While we rock ourselves to sleep
This is a weeping song
But I won’t be weeping long


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Henry's Dream (

Jack The Ripper


Coming off the Henry’s Dream album, the song portrays a man who is under the total and complete command of his wife. Jack The Ripper has no say, at all.

I got a woman
She rules my house with an iron fist
I got a woman
She rules my house with an iron fist
She screams out Jack the Ripper
Every time I try to give that girl a kiss


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Breathless (



Coming off my favorite Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus. A kind of shuffle, great melody and lyrics.

Still your hands
And still your heart
For still your face comes shining through
And all the morning glows anew
Still your soul
Still your mind
Still, the fire of love is true
And I am breathless without you


Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen (

Bright Horses


A perfect example of the minimalist style Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds employ since 2016. Nick Cave recently stated that this a direct consequence of growing older and the tragedies he went through. Bright Horses possesses beautiful melodies. Live it’s abundantly clear that the song means a lot to Nick Cave personally.

This world is plain to see
It don’t mean we can’t believe
In something and any way
My baby’s coming back now
On the next train


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Singer (

The Singer


Fantastic cover of a 1968 Johnny Cash song, which originally was called The Folk Singer and, according to several sources, describes American pop star Tommy Roe. Cave slightly altered the lyrics and released it as The Singer.

As I walk these narrow streets
Where a million passin feet have trod before me
With my guitar in my hand
Suddenly I realize nobody knows me
Where yesterday the multitude
Screamed and cried my name out for a song
Today the streets are empty
And the crowds have all gone home


Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Loverman (



Nick Cave: “‘Loverman’ was a song we almost didn’t do because it seemed like a very weak idea at the time of recording. It was supposed to be just a throwaway song about desire. I was squirming about how banal it was. I changed the whole atmosphere, so the guy who’s the telling the story is weak and dysfunctional. I put in the bits where I spell out loverman. It was a great surprise to everyone.”

Great song.

There’s a devil lying by your side
You might think he’s asleep, but take a look at his eyes
He wants you, darling, to be his bride
There’s a devil lying by your side
Loverman! Loverman!


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Into My Arms (

Into My Arms


Very romantic love song, filled with religious references. Live a definite highlight. It doesn’t matter where the band plays the song or to how many people. The audience is quiet whenever the song starts. There’s almost nothing more moving than hearing the audience quietly singing along with the chorus.

But I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore
Into my arms, O Lord


After compiling the list I listened to the Spotify playlist and noticed that the maniacal Nick Cave was partly replaced by the still version. For years my preference was clear: the first 3 albums. But ever since re-acquainting, my appreciation for the time I didn’t follow the group, grew ever more. Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus became my favorite album (represented with no less than 4 songs here) and the music that followed turned ever more mellow, with the exception of the albums released between 2007 and 201, the 2008 Bad Seeds album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and both Grinderman albums, on which Cave raged like in his younger days. The list contains about 10 songs that can be considered ‘wilder’.

The decade overview clearly shows that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have maintained their high standard throughout the years:

  • 1980-1989: 8 songs (5 studio albums)
  • 1990-1999: 7 songs (5 studio albums)
  • 2000-2009: 5 songs (4 studio albums)
  • 2010-2019: 5 songs (3 studio albums)

The year 2004 (Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus) has received the most nominations (4), followed by 1984 (From Her To Eternity) and 1986 (Kicking Against The Pricks) with 3 nominations each.

In closing

What’s your take on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds? Do you miss any songs, and if so, which ones? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The 25 best Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds songs. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.


Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!