Polly Jean Harvey is one of Britain’s most prolific singer-songwriters. Her career first began in 1988 when she joined a band called Automatic Dlamini whose front man John Parish is one of her long-term collaborators. The earliest PJ Harvey releases were recorded by her and two other musicians as a trio before they disbanded in 1993, after which she carried on as a solo artist. Since 1995, she has released a further nine albums featuring collaborations with a wide variety of artists. Harvey has received the Mercury Music Prize twice, the first time being in 2000 for Stories of the City, Stories From the Sea and the second being in 2011 for Let England Shake. She is the only artist to have received this award more than once. She has also been nominated for it several other times and she has received many other nominations at the Brit and Grammy Awards.
Harvey is an artist who has always reinvented her sound. When she releases a record it is always met with much anticipation. A top 10 songs list of hers is never going to be an easy one to choose from. However, this writer was up to the challenge. So here are the results…
# 10 – On Battleships Hill
The first track on this PJ Havey songs list is from 2011’s Let England Shake which saw Harvey at her most politically outspoken. This track is hauntingly beautiful and is lyrically inspired by a real-life battle that took place called the Battle of Chunuk Bair which was fought during the time of the British Empire. The album was extremely highly acclaimed upon its release and is largely considered to be among Harvey’s best work. It received many accolades by much of the music press and charted high in both the UK and the US.
# 9 – A Perfect Day Elise
This track was the lead single from Harvey’s fourth album Is This Desire? released in 1998. It was her highest charting single reaching number twenty-five in the UK charts. Like many of the other songs on the album, the lyrics are narrated from the perspective of a female individual named Elise. The album saw Harvey move away from the more guitar-driven sound of her previous albums and into more electronic and atmospheric territory.
# 8 – Rid of Me
Here we have a track that is a fine example of Harvey’s early period. It is the title track of her second album released in 1993, like many of the tracks on it, it sees her going in a much more raw and aggressive direction to that of her 1991 debut Dry. This album was the last to be recorded as a trio, with drummer Rob Ellis and bassist Steve Vaughan leaving shortly after its release. The album charted high on the Uk chart at number three.
# 7 – Rope Bridge Crossing
This track is from Harvey’s first collaborative record with John Parish. This is a very twangy number featuring Parish’s scratchy guitar which provides a very fitting backdrop to Harvey’s very soulful vocals. The two had a history of working together before making this as their first full length together. As previously stated, she had contributed to some of the music with his band Automatic Dlamini whilst he had produced her 1995 album To Bring You My Love.
# 6 – The Glorious Land
This next track is the second single taken from Let England Shake. The song was originally written after the release of Harvey’s seventh album White Chalk released in 2007. Lyrically the song deals with the concept of nationalism, particularly in relation to the war in Afghanistan. It was released as a single in March 2011, a month after the album. The song was generally well received upon its release.
# 5 – Good Fortune
This track is the second song and lead single from Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. It is yet another track that received positive critical acclaim when it was released and charted in the UK at number forty-one. As previously stated in the introduction to this article, the album was extremely well received critically upon its release and was her first to win the British Mercury Music Prize.
# 4 – Easy
Here is a track from the compilation album 4 Track Demos, which largely consisted on demos from Rid of Me as well as some previously unreleased material of which this is one. Despite not being a proper album, it was successful, charting at number nineteen in the UK albums charts and number 10 on the Billboard Heat seeker Albums chart. Many critics praised the recordings, some even going as far as to say that they were superior to their Rid of Me counterparts.
# 3 – When Under Ether
This track was a single from 2007’s White Chalk. However, it was not very commercially successful only reaching number 101 on the Uk singles charts. The song shows a side to Harvey not previously seen before with this haunting piano-led track that packs a lot into its short two minute and thirty second length. Harvey sounds in a more vulnerable state here, which is different from her usual style that portrays her as more dominant and in control.
# 2 – The Wheel
At the number two spot is the lead single from 2011’s The Hope Six Demolition Project. This album somewhat took off lyrically from where Let England Shake left off, with this track dealing with the heavy political topic off mass death as a result of war and gun violence. Upon its release, the album was accused of being unemotionally immersed in what the lyrics were depicting, with some critics feeling that they were written like a news report.
# 1 – Down by the Water
At the number one spot is the lead single from 1995’s To Bring You My Love. This was a track that saw Harvey move away from her punk and alternative influence and start to use more electronic instruments. Lyrically, the song deals with the rather grim subject of a mother drowning her daughter. It was Harvey’s breakthrough single in the United States where it reached number two on the Billboard Charts.