Songs to the Siren

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Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time

Gang of Four

1980 (single), 1981 (Solid Gold LP)🇬🇧

If there’s one band whose influence seems to massively outweigh their own commercial success, it’s Gang of Four. Year-in, year-out, we hear new acts influenced by their funk and dub influenced post-punk rock. This song encapsulates everything I loved about them. It’s angry. political, energetic, and yet it grooves.


Ride on Time

Black Box

1989 (Single), 1990 (LP)🇮🇹

Another sample-heavy song, this time taking vocals from an a cappella mix of Loleatta Holloway’s 1980 single Love Senstation. Along with an Italian House backing track, the result was a pop dance hit, which still sounds great to me, thirty years on.


Hot Doggie


15th June 1987🇬🇧

Featured on the 1987 4AD Compilation “Lonely Is An Eyesore”, this track showed the sampling skills of brothers Martyn and Steven Young, recording as Colourbox. Soon after, under the M|A|R|R|S guise, they would have a UK number one hit single with a tune based largely on samples from other records - but Hot Doggie samples from TV and film.


Sweet Jane

Cowboy Junkies

15th November 1988🇨🇦

A cover of a slower, quieter, version of The Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane, the song’s writer Lou Reed has apparently gone on record as saying that this take, by Canadian “alternative country” band Cowboy Junkies, was his favourite.


Our Lips Are Sealed

The Go-Go’s

12th June 1981 (single), 8th July 1981 (LP)🇺🇸

This song was co-written by Jane Wiedlin, rhythm guitarist of The Go-Go’s, and Terry Hall - who was in the process of breaking up from The Specials - and forming Fun Boy Three.


Lie Dream of a Casino Soul

The Fall


Possibly one of the more accessible early-ish songs by The Fall, I originally intended to include this in the “two drummers” theme, but it seems that this actually just preceded the two-drummer period of the band’s ever-fluid line-up, but it’s a great song so it’s time to talk about it anyway.


Chains Changed EP

Throwing Muses

January 1987🇺🇸

This EP came out soon after the untitled Throwing Muses début album, and by that time I’m already thinking that they could be, for me, The Best Band In The World. Ever.

They retain that status to this day.


The King of Rome

The Unthanks

30 July 2012🇬🇧

Written by Dave Sudbury in the 80s about a homing pigeon, and recorded in 1988 by June Tabor, this live version by folk group The Unthanks (backed by the famous Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band) is a thing of rare magnificence. As, apparently, was the eponymous pigeon :)


Ammæli (Birthday)

Sugarcubes (Sykurmolarnir)

August 1987 (single, in English). April 1988 (LP, in English)🇮🇸

As the début single from Icelandic band Sugarcubes (originally Sykurmolarnir in their native language), this was the first chance most of us got to hear the inestimable talent of Björk Guðmundsdóttir.

Obviously it was released in English too, but the original Icelandic version just sounds perfect to me.

When I first heard this track, I was massively excited about this new talent, and Björk remains one of the most interesting artists performing today.


Golden Brown

The Stranglers

10th January 1982 (single), 9th November 1981 (LP)🇬🇧

This is the first of a few great songs which add or skip beats in one of their distinctive hooks.

In this case, a song in waltz time introduces an occasional bar of common time in the distinctive intro riff.


Night Nurse

Gregory Isaacs


Whatever the genre, a great melody and great singer are a special combination. Night Nurse is such a song, and Gregory Isaacs is such a singer. This completes a trilogy of reggae songs. There are likely to be more some time later.


Private Life / She’s Lost Control

Grace Jones

? 1980 (Single), 9th May 1980 (LP)🇯🇲

After a disco period, Jamaican model and singer Grace Jones brought out a dub-heavy reggae album of covers in 1980, and had a hit single with her version of The Pretenders song Private Life.

Arguably even more astonishing is her take on Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control, which formed the B-side of the single.


Flowers of Romance

Public Image Ltd

27th March 1981 (single), 10th April 1981 (LP)🇬🇧

Just three years after John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) walked out on the Sex Pistols, he was releasing his third PiL album. Moving on from the dub/disco/krautrock influences of Metal Box, The Flowers of Romance was even more experimental. Largely led by huge drum sounds and percussion loops, the sound influenced artists well beyond the punk and post-punk scenes.



Throwing Muses

15th June 1987🇺🇸

This is the point at which I introduce you to my all-time favourite band. Some of their finest stuff isn’t that easily accessible - but this is the song I’d use to introduce a new listener. It’s distinctively different to anything else you’ve heard, yet it’s not weird enough to scare people off.


Just Like Heaven

The Cure

5th October 1987 (single), 25th May 1987 (LP)🇬🇧

Although The Cure had been well established in the UK, this was the song that broke them to a bigger US audience. This song has also stood up to a wide variety of treatments in cover versions.


Song to the Siren

This Mortal Coil

September 1983 (EP) / October 1984 (LP)🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 🇬🇧

This is the song that gave this blog its title, so it seems right to open with it. Although it’s a cover, this is the most famous version and, I’d claim, the definitive version.

Recorded by Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie of 4AD act Cocteau Twins, this was released on the B-side of a 12” release, then the A-side of a 7”, before appearing on the first This Mortal Coil album It’ll End in Tears