Our top 10 Portishead songs introduce us to an English band considered by many as one of the pioneers of trip-hop music. The band was formed in 1991, having its original members name it after a nearby town. Portishead’s inception followed a meeting between Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow at an Enterprise Allowance course. It only took a few months since their meeting in February 1991 to have them record “It Could Be Sweet,” their first hit for their upcoming debut album. Meeting with Adrian Utley at the studio had the trio exchange ideas on music, having Beth and Geoff tag Adrian in as co-producer to their songs. As a result, the trio worked hard for the release of the band’s debut album, Dummy (1994).
Portishead’s debut album received critical acclaim despite an aversion to press coverage, becoming a landmark album in the trip-hop genre. The cover of the album features a still from Portishead’s short film To Kill a Dead Man. Dummy (1994) was described by music critics as a Musique Noire for a movie to be shot with the sound feeling more like gothic hip-hop. Portishead would later in 1995 have its debut album Dummy (1994) nominated for the Best British Newcomer for the Brit Awards, proving the outstanding quality of the release.
After the release and initial success of what has been described as a milestone in the definition of the trip-hop music genre, the band withdrew from the spotlight for about three years. Portishead’s comeback saw the band release an eponymous sophomore album in 1997. Unlike Dummy (1994), the album has been noted to be grainy and harsher. Nevertheless, the band featured several hits that made it to the top 10, placing in the UK Singles Chart. Portishead would later collaborate with Welsh singer Tom Jones in the release of his song “Motherless Child.”
Sadly, the band went on hiatus in 1999, citing the need to concentrate on a solo career, only to come together again in 2005. The band has since been releasing music while going on tour to entertain its fanbase while seeking to grow it even further. Geoff realized a boyhood fantasy when Chuck D of Public Enemy joined Portishead onstage. Beth Gibbons has had her vocals become the band’s pride, having them compared to those of vocalist Billie Holiday. Here are the top 10 Portishead songs sampled from the three yet inspirational studio albums.
#10 – Wandering Star
Ushering us to the top 10 Portishead songs in the hit “Wandering Star,” featured on the band’s debut album, Dummy (1994). The song samples “Magic Mountains,” a 1996 funk release by Eric Burdon & War. “Wandering Star” has its chorus as an illusion to the Bible passage in the Book of Jude where God talks about the consequences the “ungodly” people face. Other artists to release a song under the same title include Lisa Gerrard, Kid Beyond, Empire Of The Sun, and Lee Marvin, whose version had a slight twist on the title, “Wand’rin’ Star.”
#9 – All Mine
“All Mine” is an outstanding release from the band’s 1997 sophomore eponymous album. The music video of this release features a little girl singing in front of an orchestra. “All Mine” has been described as an impeccable modern-day torch ballad. The song shows in a typical melancholy mood Beth’s perfected Shirley Bassey vocal inflections. Also noticeable is the song’s delivery in a richly textured groove, which nourishes an adventurous heart. Kanye West released a song under a similar title in his album Ye (2018), featuring vocals from Ty Dolla Sign and Ant Clemons.
Written by Beth, Geoff, and Adrian, “Numb” is yet another uplifting song from the band’s debut album, Dummy (1994). Some often confuse the song with a “Numb” 1993 release by U2, having the two versions share the love for cinema. Portishead’s “Numb” has been described by music critics as a gem among the band’s releases thanks to the haunting melancholy female vocals by Beth Gibbons. Linkin Park released its version of “Numb” in 2003, a song that topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart.
#7 – Over
“Over” was released as the second single to the band’s eponymous sophomore album. The song’s promotional music video finds Beth singing to the camera in the darkness while running from a spotlight to another. “Over” has been covered by The Bunnies and Steve Adey, having RZA sample the song on “Kiss of a Black Widow.” The song peaked at number twenty-five on the UK Charts, having it later adopted in numerous movies and shows.
#6 – Magic Doors
Number six on our top 10 Portishead songs is the electrifying hit “Magic Doors.” The percussion-led song towers over most of the songs in Portishead’s album Third (2008). “Magic Doors” has its chorus lifted into a state of dazzling confessional splendor thanks to the chunky piano chords as well as incredibly fragile vocals from Beth. A remix to the song featuring Styles of Beyond and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.
#5 – SOS
While most of the best Portishead songs are original releases from the band, Portishead made a mark with their cover to the Swedish pop band ABBA, “SOS.” Portishead released the song’s cover in aid of mental health charity, Mind. A track under the same title is the first posthumous release by DJ Avicii featuring singer Aloe Blacc.
#4 – Only You
Portishead hit the studio in 1998 to release a single under the title “Only You.” The song’s video was directed by iconic director Chris Cunningham, who also assisted Björk, Alphex Twin, and Placebo. Portishead performed this song on the American TV show Saturday Night Live. The song peaked at number thirty-five on the UK charts.
#3- The Rip
“The Rip” is one of the best Portishead songs from the band’s third studio album. The song is famed for use in an ad campaign for the Gucci Bloom line of perfume. Its chorus carries with it the idea that the subject person has an internal turmoil whether to fall into the darkness or choose to recover from grief. The song peaked at number ninety-eight on the France SNEP chart.
#2 – Glory Box
“Glory Box” is an Aussie term for a furniture piece used by women to store items such as clothes in preparation for their marriage. Portishead released the song “Glory Box,” having its lyrics allude to a woman who is frustrated by love and is more than ready to give on her relationship. The song features lyrics that are a plea to her man, asking him to treat her with respect and equality. “Glory Box” peaked at number thirteen on the UK Singles Chart.
Number one on our top 10 Portishead songs list is the hit “Roads,” an introspective song from the band’s album Dummy (1994). The song reminds us of how life branches off into countless directions, and once you choose your road, you have to deal with the twists and turns that it comes with. However, our baggage in life, in this context, rational circumstances, expectations, failures, and gratifications, might have us reach crossroads. The song finds singer Beth balancing her vocals over heavy bass-lines and reverberations. “Roads” has established itself as the band’s favorite and most popular trip-hop song.
Feature Photo: Stefan64, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons