Our top 10 Throwing Muses songs list digs deep into the music of an American band that rose to fame during the ‘90s college rock era. The band was fashioned by Kristin Hersh and her Grammy Award-nominated stepsister Tanya Donelly. Kristin and Tanya were soon joined by drummer Becca Blumen and Elaine Adamedes with the band initially going under the moniker Kristin Hersh and the Muses.
The band went ahead to change its lineup opting for bassist Leslie Langston and long-serving drummer David Narcizo. Going under the moniker Throwing Muses, the band issued its debut eponymous extended play in 1984. The band’s musicianship on the EP attracted the attention of producer Gary Smith (who worked with Pixies, Juliana Hatfield, The Connells, and The Feelies)—Gary advised the band to shift to the then-burgeoning Boston alternative rock scene.
The move culminated in the band signing a recording contract with 4AD Records. Other artists (once) affiliated with 4AD Records include The Breeders, Bauhaus, Bon Iver, Pixies, Deerhunter, Cocteau Twins, and The The. Over the years, Throwing Muses have issued a total of ten studio albums, six of which ascended into the Albums Chart in the UK.
A Quick Recap of Albums Issued by Throwing Muses
In 1986, Throwing Muses issued their debut studio album through 4AD Records. Throwing Muses was produced by the Liverpool-born producer Gil Norton. Gil has also worked with a long list of rock bands including Counting Crows, Dashboard Confessional, Pixies, The Distillers, and Foo Fighters. The ten-track album is home to musical gems such as “Hate My Way” and “Call Me.”
House Tornado marked Throwing Muses’ sophomore full-length studio album. The album was issued in 1988 under the production of Gary Smith. House Tornado was engineered by American producer/mixer/ engineer Paul Q. Kolderie. Paul is also revered for his work with Hole, Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead, and The Go-Go’s.
Notably, House Tornado was preceded by a Mark Van Hecke-produced mini-LP/EP The Fat Skier. Unfortunately, the album House Tornado was a mainstream flop failing to make it to the major charts. “Colder,” “Saving Grace,” “Mexican Women,” and “Juno” are the most popular songs by Throwing Muses from House Tornado.
Throwing Muses returned in 1989 with their third studio album Hunkpapa. Hunkpapa is an alternative rock-oriented album produced by Gary Smith. The album marked Throwing Muses’ first record to make it to the mainstream charts rising to the fifty-ninth spot on the UK Albums Chart. “Dizzy,” “Devil’s Roof,” “Say Goodbye,” and “Mania” are the most popular Throwing Muses songs from Hunkpapa.
After a successful third studio album, Throwing Muses went even harder in 1991 with their fourth studio album The Real Ramona. The album was also issued through 4AD Records under the production of record producer Dennis Herring. Other artists who have worked with producer Herring include Counting Crows, Camper Van Beethoven, Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, and The Hives.
The Real Ramona was a mainstream success rising to the twenty-sixth spot on the UK Albums Chart. “Honeychain,” “Two Step,” “Counting Backwards,” and “Not Too Soon” are the most sought-after Throwing Muses songs from the LP. Unfortunately, The Real Ramona marked Tanya Donelly’s final studio album as a member of Throwing Muses. Tanya went ahead to co-form the band The Breeders before starting her band Belly.
Still on a successful streak, Throwing Muses released their fifth studio album, Red Heaven. The album was produced by the band members in conjunction with Steve Boyer. Red Heaven also features the vocal contribution of former Husker Du guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould. The album was a success rising to the thirteenth spot on the UK Albums Chart. “Firepile,” “Carnival Wig,” “Dio,” and “Furious” are the most popular Throwing Muses songs from the album.
In 1995, Throwing Muses issued its sixth full-length studio album University. University remains the band’s highest-charting record to date having made it to the tenth spot on the Albums Chart in the UK. The album also graced the Billboard Heatseekers Albums Chart peaking at the tenth spot too. “Bright Yellow Gun,” “Snakeface,” and “Shimmer” are the best Throwing Muses songs from the album.
Limbo, a record issued in 1996, marked the band’s seventh studio album. The album was engineered by American record producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker. Trina has also worked with a number of prodigious artists including Sheryl Crow, Nanci Griffith, and Emmylou Harris. Limbo peaked at number thirty-six on the UK Albums Chart—the album also made it to the thirty-fourth spot on the Billboard Heatseekers Album Chart. “Freeloader,” “Ruthie’s Knocking,” and “Buzz” are the most popular songs by Throwing Muses from the album Limbo.
The band returned with its eighth studio album Throwing Muses in 2003—this marked the band’s second album under the name. “Flying,” “Pretty or Not,” and “Half Blast” are some of the notable musical gems featured on the album. Throwing Muses (2003 version) marked the band’s final album issued through 4AD Records. The album is also the band’s most recent effort to make it to the UK Albums Chart peaking at position seventy-five.
Ten years after issuing its eighth album, Throwing Muses returned with the record Purgatory/Paradise. The album was barely successful only featuring a few fan favorite tracks including “Sunray Venus,” “Slippershell,” and Clark’s Nutcracker.” Purgatory/Paradise was followed-up seven years later by Throwing Muses’ album Sun Racket. Sun Racket was issued through Fire Records, a label (once) home to The Groundhogs, Everclear, and The Chills. “Bo Diddley Bridge,” “Dark Blue,” and “Frosting” are the best Throwing Muses songs from the album Sun Racket.
#10- Ruthie’s Knocking
Introducing us to the top 10 Throwing Muses songs list is the haunting hit “Ruthie’s Knocking.” The song is among the top musical gems from the band’s pre-hiatus seventh studio album Limbo. “Ruthie’s Knocking” is quite an infectious track thanks to its beautifully orchestrated jangly guitar riffs. Kristin’s raw vocals also add some allure to this song making it a must-have track on the best Throwing Muses songs list.
#9- Call Me
Let’s go back to the early years of Throwing Muses—specifically, the band’s eponymous debut album. Despite not making it big on the mainstream, Throwing Muses brought the band quite some following thanks to the exquisite musicianship showcased in songs like “Call Me.” The song remains one of the fresh and edgy tracks by the band with a haunting and danceable melody.
There’s no doubt that “Call Me” features an incredible rhythm section. The rhythm section builds its appeal upon the dynamic drum strums and incredible bass riffs. Pure rage and intensity can be felt in Hersh’s vocal delivery while Kristin’s vocal contribution yields a striking vocal harmony in the song.
#8- Saving Grace
Sneaking into the eighth spot on our top 10 Throwing Muses songs list is the hit “Saving Grace.” The song was issued as the first single of the band’s sophomore record House Tornado. “Saving Grace” features an incredible amalgam of driving basslines, intricate guitar riffs, and remarkable drumming—all these elements blend in perfectly with Kristin’s shimmering vocals. The introspective lyrical content of this track also adds to its melancholic feel.
There is no way we could forget featuring the hit “Snakeface” on the top 10 Throwing Muses songs list! “Snakeface” is among the top musical gems off the band’s most critically acclaimed album University. Haunting melodies and thought-provoking are the major takeaways from this track. In addition, Hersh makes this arresting song a masterpiece with her mesmerizing vocal performance.
This atmospheric pick is among the tracks featured in the 1995 comedy-drama film Empire Records. However, the song didn’t make it to the original soundtrack of the film. Other big hits that failed to make it to the Empire Records official soundtrack include “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Flying Lizards, and “This Is the Day” by The The.
Coming in sixth on our top 10 Throwing Muses songs list is the brilliant hit “Firepile.” The song is among the top picks off the band’s fifth studio album Red Heaven. The song was the only single issued on this album. “Firepile” marked the band’s first release since the departure of Tanya Donelly from Throwing Muses’ lineup.
Nevertheless, singer Kristin Hersh and drummer David Narcizo went ahead to showcase their awe-inspiring musicianship in this song being the only members of the band. “Firepile” was a mainstream success rising to the forty-sixth spot on the Singles Chart in the UK. A music video directed by Brett Turnbull made rounds on MTV. Other artists who have worked with Brett Turnbull include Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Lush, and The Charlatans.
We return to the band’s pre-hiatus seventh studio album Limbo, home to the fifth pick on our top 10 Throwing Muses songs list, “Shark.” The song was issued as the second single to the album Limbo after “Ruthie’s Knocking.” “Shark” went ahead to steal the show and become the most successful song off the album Limbo.
This atmospheric hit features a somber rhythm section owing to the dark bass riffs and subtle (yet driving) drums. “Shark” graced the UK Singles Chart peaking at position fifty-three. Unfortunately, the song was Throwing Muses’ final single to make it big on the mainstream charts in the UK.
The Gary Smith-produced album by Throwing Muses Hunkpapa was the genesis of the band’s mainstream success. “Dizzy,” the album’s lead single was the first song by the band to make it big on the major mainstream charts. Surprisingly, “Dizzy” is one of those ‘randoms’ that ended up becoming a big hit for the band.
Kristin Hersh went ahead to reveal that the song was the product of the pressure on the band to issue a track that aligned with the taste of popular music. “Dizzy” went ahead to become the band’s first single to hit the UK Singles Chart peaking at the eighty-fifth spot. The song also graced the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart where it rose to the eighth spot.
#3- Counting Backwards
After a successful third studio album Hunkpapa, Throwing Muses returned with the prodigious alternative rock record The Real Ramona. The album achieved more critical acclaim helping poise Throwing Muses as one of the most definitive alt-rock bands of the college rock era. “Counting Backwards” is among the top hits that helped solidify Throwing Muses’ impact in the rock scene.
The song managed to get to the seventieth spot on the UK Singles Chart. “Counting Backwards” also graced the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart where it rose to the eleventh spot. The song’s music video was directed by Katherine Dieckmann, who also worked with R.E.M., Sharon Van Etten, Kristin Hersh (solo career), Aimee Mann, and Indigo Girls.
#2- Not Too Soon
“Not Too Soon” is without a doubt one of the most popular songs by Throwing Muses. While most of the band’s songs were penned by Kristin Hersh, “Not Too Soon” had its lyrics written by the band’s former guitarist Tanya Donelly (who later played in Belly and The Breeders). The song went ahead to be featured on the band’s fourth full-length studio album The Real Ramona.
“Not Too Soon” is a perfect insignia of the band’s captivating blend of alternative rock and pop sensibilities. As a result, this hit enabled Throwing Muses to capture the spirit of the ‘90s alternative rock scene. Unfortunately, “Not Too Soon” ticks all the checkboxes of what a great song encapsulates only missing one item, that’s mainstream success.
#1- Bright Yellow Gun
Ranking first on our top 10 Throwing Muses songs list is the timeless track “Bright Yellow Gun.” The song is the brightest pick off the band’s most critically acclaimed album University. “Bright Yellow Gun” is the archetypical track to the band’s ability to create tempestuous and compelling tracks. The only mishap to the song’s campaign to become a huge rock track was its pop-oriented influences. Nevertheless, the song still made it to a number of modern rock stations where it earned substantial airplay.
“Bright Yellow Gun” was a success in the UK Singles Chart where it peaked at number fifty-one. The song also made it to the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart peaking at number twenty. “Bright Yellow Gun” is the only song by Throwing Muses to climb into the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Chart. A music video directed by Kevin Kerslake was issued for this track. Kerslake also handled music videos for multiple artists including Blink 182, Faith No More, Iggy Pop, and Nirvana.
Feature Photo: Utilizer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Throwing Muses Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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