Top 12 Songs by the Fall
Of all the bands to emerge from the punk explosion of the late '70s, few were able to fully carve their own niche the way the Fall did.
Mixing elements of American garage rock of the mid '60s with the experimental nature of bands like Can and Neu! then filtering it all through a post-Velvet Underground lens following the explosion caused by the Sex Pistols, the Fall ended up sounding like no one else. Singer/songwriter Mark E. Smith, their late guiding light, had a vocal style all his own. Combined with musicians who filtered in and out of countless lineups over the decades, they merged to create something one could really only refer to as Fall music.
From kinetic early albums like Live at The Witch Trials through to later classics such as Fall Heads Roll, Smith was a man with his own vision. He was also very prolific, issuing more than 30 albums beginning in 1979. The band had a couple of brushes with commercial success but their reputation was built on a relentless desire by Smith and band to continue creating new music. Single upon single upon album and then some, it was hard for even the most focused fan to fully keep tabs on every Fall release. In addition to the studio albums and singles, there are countless compilations and live releases, as well.
With a catalog so vast and demanding, one might wonder how it is possible to pluck out a handful to represent the band. Well, its not easy, that's for certain. The following Top 12 Songs by the Fall represents a mere tip of the iceberg of shining gems from Mark E. Smith and company. Smith's work was never anything less than intriguing and, at his best, he was able to create some incredible, quite memorable rock and roll.
12. 'Totally Wired'
One of the Fall's early classics, and a very significant song in the band's catalog, "Totally Wired" hit shops in 1980 via the fledging Rough Trade label – ultimately landing at No. 2 on the UK Indie charts. An urgent blast of rock and roll with driving bass line, Smith's lyrical pen was in top form: "Life leaves you surprised. Slaps you in the eyes. If I were a communist, a rich man would bale me. The opposite applies. You don't have to be weird to be wired. You don't have to be strange to be strange."
11. 'Spoilt Victorian Child'
This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
The Fall could careen between noisy chaos and catchy pop without missing a beat, something that has always been part of their charm. "Spoilt Victorian Child" was definitely from the latter camp. That jangling guitar riff and shuffle beat lay the base for Smith to vamp atop. While so many acts in the mid-'80s were imitating the garage/pop sounds of two decades prior, the Fall actually captured the spirit without the trappings or the Brian Jones haircuts.
10. 'Rebellious Jukebox'
Live at the Witch Trials (1979)
Released in early 1979, the Fall's debut album announced the arrival of a significant musical power. Truly keeping the punk DIY ethos at heart, Mark E. Smith and band forged their own sound and style from the very start. While much of that came courtesy of Smith's vocal approach, the music itself steered clear of any conventional punk stylings, drawing on everything from American garage rock to experimental German bands like Can and Neu! "Rebellious Jukebox" is but one highlight from that debut, and decades later, this song – and the album – remain a unique artifact of the era.
Fall Heads Roll (2005)
The mid-'00s found the Fall on a creative roll, reaching a high with this album. Recalling the fire of the band's early work as well as the jagged pop of the mid-'80s, "Assume" is the Fall doing what they do best. This is a stomping, rocking head slap that you can't help but move your feet to. Check list: Nagging catchy riff? Check! Pounding drums? Check! Crashing guitars? Check! Snotty Smith vox? You know it! First class stuff, and a late career high.
8. 'Mr. Pharmacist'
Bend Sinister (1986)
Originally recorded by the Other Half back in 1966, "Mr. Pharmacist" is grade-A garage rock and roll. Written in the age of double entendre and innuendo, they don't even try to hide the drugged-out nature of lyric. While the original is fantastic, Mark E. Smith adds his own personality to make it a crashing, banging, walloping garage classic. Spitting out the lyrics with pure attitude, he bridges the punk snarl of '66 with the attitude of '76, then executes it in '86.
7. 'Psycho Mafia'
Bingo-Master's Break-Out! (1978)
Over the years, the Fall released many singles, albums and EPs. The joyful chaos that is "Psycho Mafia" arrived in the summer of 1978 on an early EP. It's classic early Fall, with an emphatic energy front and center. Though Bingo-Master's Break-Out! failed to chart, the three tracks on it would be long-standing favorites in the Fall's huge catalog.
6. 'Lay of the Land'
The Wonderful and Frightening World Of (1984)
The first track on The Wonderful and Frightening World Of begins in ominous fashion with chanting and mumbling about armageddon. All this brouhaha is suddenly interrupted by pounding drums, jagged guitars and urgent bass lines. It's the Fall in full force, with something to prove. This marked a new chapter for the band. The next few albums are considered among the Fall's finest – and with good reason: They had truly found their sound, mixing the almost belligerent attack of the early records with a new-found appreciation for pop melodies and arrangements. The odd and avant garde still figured into the equation, and this only made their work that much more interesting.
5. 'Rowche Rumble'
The Fall's second single, "Rowche Rumble," is a real corker. Released in 1979, it, in many ways, was the blueprint for the next nearly 40 years of racket the band would dish out. The simplistic and catchy riff, pulsing bass line and driving drums merging with Mark E. Smith's unique and arresting vocal style instantly set the band apart from the generic punks and post-punks of the day.
4. 'Cruiser's Creek'
With its relentless groove and riff, "Cruiser's Creek" was the perfect bridge between the easily identifiable Fall sound and a more commercial, dare we say "pop" mode. The upbeat, danceable style meshes perfectly with Mark E. Smith's deadpan vocal delivery to create one of the most unique singles of 1985.
The Real New Fall LP (2004)
The Fall already had more albums than even the most diehard fan could stay on top of. In 2003, they released another great one, but this time with a confusing history. Originally titled Country On the Click, this project was scrapped and ultimately issued as The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click) in late 2003. Then, early the next year, it was issued in America under the title The Real New Fall LP, but with a different track listing. "Boxoctosis" was found on the U.S. version, and it is first-rate, with the insistent refrain of "open the box, open the goddamn box." The entire batch of songs from this period is pretty killer.
2. 'Touch Sensitive'
The Marshall Suite (1999)
The Fall's 20th album brought them into the new century, while drawing on their trademark sound. With its Velvet Underground-like vibe and riff, "Touch Sensitive" churns along with the best of 'em. The catchy chorus turned a few ears but gained more interest from former bandmate Julia Adamson and producer Steven Sharples, both of whom claimed they had a hand in the writing. They took Smith to court over it in 2015, but the case was ultimately thrown out. The judge said, “Mr. Smith delivers the lyrics in a manner which at some points makes it hard to hear the words.”
1. 'Lie Dream of a Casino Soul'
"Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul" follows the path of early singles like "Totally Wired" and "Psycho Mafia," found elsewhere on this list of Top 12 Songs by the Fall, delivering a powerful punch of post-punk panache. Blasted out in three minutes, Smith rants about the Northern Soul scene prominent in England throughout the '70s at places like the Wigan Casino where kids would dance all night long to vintage soul records. Some, however, took it as a slam against that scene. "I was brought up with people that were into Northern Soul, five years before anybody down here in London had even heard about it," Smith told NME in 1983. "But they've all grown out of it, which is what the song is about, but it wasn't putting them down at all. If anything, it was glorifying them."