Coming out of the late 70’s post-punk movement, their music was characterized by their use of repetition and Smith’s misanthropic lyrics delivered in his often out-of-tune singing style. They were never a very commercially successful act and throughout their career, they maintained a strong cult following.
Throughout their long career the were extremely prolific, releasing 32 studio albums and often putting out several releases a year. They were also known as being the favorite band of the late and highly influential radio disc jockey John Peel who had the famous quote that they were “always different, always the same”. The band came to an end in 2018 when Smith died of cancer.
# 10 – Eat Y’self Fitter
The Fall was always influenced by uneasy listening 60’s groups such as Captain Beefheart. In 1983 they released Perverted by Language, the first to feature Smith’s then-new wife Brix on guitar. This became known as the “Brix era” and was the band’s most commercially successful period where they arguably produced their most accessible material. “Eat Y’self Fitter” however is an exception during this time, with the Beefheart influence being very prominent. It tells a tale of isolation with Smith accounting how he “Became a recluse and bought a computer, set it up in the home”. In many ways, you could say The Fall predicted the future with this song, given how the digital age has made Western society generally less sociable.
# 9 – Lost in Music
This cover of Sister Sledge’s hit from 1979 from 1995’s double compilation album The Twenty-Seven Points shows how The Fall’s repetitive style can be applied to disco as it works rather well. People such as James Murphy and Daft Punk were definitely listening.
# 8 – Blindness
The line-up changes within The Fall often occurred for some of the most ridiculous reasons. For reasons only known to Smith himself, rather than simply firing band members he would often choose to scare them off. For the line-up who played on 2005’s Fall Heads Roll the entire band bar his third wife Elena who was the keyboardist all quit when he effectively put all of their lives in danger by pouring a bottle of beer over the tour bus driver’s head while he was driving.
This is a shame because the album is one of The Fall’s very best with “Blindness” being a particular highlight. Featuring the mother of all basslines, at six minutes, this track is like a Fall-orgasm, with Smith delivering his trademark tone-deaf and out-of-sync vocal style over the top of it. The version recorded for John Peel in particular is a masterpiece just on its own.
# 7 – How I Wrote Elastic Man
One of the most important things to establish about Mark E Smith is that he could not sing and if we are going to be honest was not massively musically talented, what he was, was a poet and wordsmith. An avid reader and lover of literature, he bought this enthusiasm into his music with this track from 1980’s Grotesque which deals with a writer who is only acknowledged for his past work and is not being recognized for what he is currently doing. With this track, Smith uses the incomprehensible aspect of his voice to effectively cleverly play with words as the chorus does sound like he’s saying “How I Wrote PLASTIC Man.”
# 6 – Mr. Pharmacist
One of the band’s biggest hits from 1986’s Bend Sinister, what a lot of people are unaware of is the fact that it is actually a cover of a 60’s garage band called The Other Half. It is not surprising that many people do not know this as this sounds very much like a Fall song and does not sound very different from the original, proving that as with all of their covers, their style can be applied to many different genres of music.
# 5 – Hit The North
By 1987, a decade into their career, The Fall was regarded as the elder statesman of the Manchester music scene. New Order was making very commercial-sounding music at that point and a year later The Smiths would split up, leading the way for the Madchester scene with the Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays. Smith, however, never one to care for musical fads, was not concerned by this and that year wrote this track which saw them continue to evolve. Released solely as a single in 1987, it makes use of electronic sounds, and weirdly The Fall has what could be considered a sing-along chorus.
# 4 – Cruisers Creek
By the mid-’80s, The Fall was one of the few bands from the early post-punk era still going, and whereas for many other bands, constant line-up changes would signify them turning into a sinking ship (i.e post-Ozzy Sabbath), The Fall decided to use it to their advantage, as it meant different members made for more creativity. This track from 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace which lyrically deals with a night of office party excess illustrates the changes that Brix brought to the band.
During this time Smith left behind his northern roots and time spent in working men’s clubs and starting to live a more glamorous lifestyle for a while (with Brix being American.) John Peel’s quote about them rings particularly true here, as although it still has the trademark repetition, it has a pop sensibility that got them some chart success.
# 3 – Kicker Conspiracy
Smith was an avid football fan and supporter of Manchester City, even famously reading the results once on Final Score. With this track from Perverted by Language he was talking about the beautiful game and how it was becoming ruined by gentrification, something that is more relevant now than ever. The song’s lyrics also address hooliganism and the antics of players.
# 2 – Industrial Estate
Taken from their debut album 1979’s Live at the Witch Trials, this is a track that captures The Fall at their most punk-sounding point. Compared to much of the later material, it sounds very raw and under-produced which is not a bad thing by any means. Also, the songwriting here is much more to the point, lacking the surreal aspects and ironic wordplay that would be prevalent throughout the band’s career. It is just literally about working on an industrial estate, something that you could quite easily hear from a standard three-chord punk band.
# 1 – Totally Wired
At number 1 is this solo single from 1980 which is arguably the ultimate Fall tune, dealing lyrically with anxiety and musically. sounding anxious. Featuring another brilliant bassline as well as a very jingly sounding guitar riff, this is topped off with Smiths’ nonsensical lyrics that show his self-loathing and disdain for social conventions within the music scene.
Updated August 9, 2023
Top 10 Songs From The Fall article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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