Goth icons The Cure will bring their wild-haired brilliance back to North American stages for the first time since 2019 when they launch a summer tour on May 10. They’ll bring more than 40 years worth of dark anthems and sounds that stretch from shimmering acoustic melodies to insidiously ambient synths. Nobody would blame anyone who needs a refresher on everything these Brits can do. So, this is just that: The A.V. Club has ranked the 30 greatest Cure songs of all time, including deep cuts and generation-defining megahits alike. With any luck, you’ll be hearing these played live very, very soon…
30. “Close To Me” (The Head On The Door, 1985)
A fulfillment of the eclecticism previously explored on early singles “Let’s Go To Bed,” “The Walk” and their album The Top, The Head On The Door album runs from dark throwbacks to folk-pop whimsy. “Close To Me” is the latter. This second single from the album is defined by its digital dance beat, dainty synth notes, and quick clap alongs, which clash with the descriptions of depression and panic attacks in the lyrics. Never before has the line “I wish I’d stayed asleep today” sounded so jolly.
29. “Where The Birds Always Sing” (Bloodflowers, 2000)
Upon its release in 2000, Bloodflowers was met with the kind of goodwill usually reserved for overthrown dictators. Critics derided it as safe, droning, and—with only one song falling beneath the five-minute mark—as padded as an asylum cell. However, “Where The Birds Always Sing” makes strong use of its length, gradually adding orchestral drama to its central guitar part. The lyrics classily voice the ever-growing cynicism a person feels as they get older.
28. “Let’s Go To Bed” (1982)
After releasing Pornography, Robert Smith disappeared into England’s majestic Lake District to finish a song that’s the exact opposite of Pornography’s post-punk melancholia. The standalone single “Let’s Go To Bed” is an out-and-out pop-jazz track, uptempo and peppered with happy-go-lucky hooting. When they released the song in November 1982, The Cure unintentionally widened their reach beyond introverted, shoegazing goths. Suddenly, there was a mass appeal to these downbeat dynamos, commencing their journey to being one of the biggest cult bands on the planet.
27. “This Is A Lie” (Wild Mood Swings, 1996)
After creating their commercial supernova with Wish, The Cure’s rocket began to splutter on the follow-up album, Wild Mood Swings. The disc only reached No. 12 in the U.S. (compared to its predecessor hitting No. 2 spot) and it was decried as a sonically unambitious effort. But the track “This Is A Lie” is an evocative symphony, following the jagged rock of “Club America” with enveloping acoustic guitars and swelling strings. Lyrically, it’s sustained by a timeless dilemma, pitting polygamy against monogamy with aptly confused poetry.
26. “All Cats Are Grey” (Faith, 1981)
“All Cats Are Grey” is all about atmosphere instead of catchy songwriting. Yet, what it lacks in pop sensibility it makes up for in sheer solemnity. The pulsing synths and somber pianos mean that this Faith track would have been perfectly placed on the Blade Runner score given the opportunity. The fact that the album also includes a 28-minute instrumental that was originally intended as the score to a short film called Carnage Visors shows The Cure’s cinematic headspace back in 1981.
25. “Fight” (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, 1987)
As they climbed towards their creative and commercial pinnacle in the 1980s, The Cure folded genres from punk to pop into their repertoire. Thus they became one of the few bands truly worthy of releasing an 18-song, 74-minute double album so soon into their career. “Fight” celebrated the Englishmen’s eclecticism by concluding Kiss Me… in a parade of hard rock bombast. Those all-consuming synths and shout-along hooks made this a moment of exuberance in a famously introverted-sounding back catalog.
24. “The Walk” (1983)
“The Walk” signaled that The Cure had some muscular commercial potential. Before its release, the highest that Robert Smith and company had ascended on the singles chart in their native country was No. 34, but this dance rocker bounced its way to No. 12. Smith and drummer/keyboardist Lol Tolhurst’s synths are instant toe-tappers, their sound perfected by producer Steve Nye. “He was able to make electronic instruments sound more natural,” Tolhurst noted—and that gift affirmed The Cure’s ascendance.
23. “M” (Seventeen Seconds, 1980)
A highlight of Seventeen Seconds, “M” was written before Three Imaginary Boys came out. It’s arguably the moment where The Cure became The Cure, as its simple guitar strums, quiet singing, and conflicted meditations on love would become hallmarks of both the band and goth rock as a whole. The song is named after Robert Smith’s then-girlfriend (now wife) Mary Poole, yet also quotes an Albert Camus character who treats women as objects. Beautifully enigmatic stuff.
22. “Fire In Cairo” (Three Imaginary Boys, 1979)
Before The Cure were genre-smashing goths, they were London post-punks with a healthy penchant for hooks. Three Imaginary Boys captured the band at their most to-the-point, but “Fire In Cairo” demonstrated there was some genius itching to burst out. Robert Smith accompanies lyrics about heat with surf rock-style strumming, making this dittyy a perfect soundtrack to your next scorching vacation destination. Also, good luck getting “Burn like fire! Burn like fire in Cairo!” to leave your brain.
21. “The Lovecats” (1983)
“The Love Cats”—the final entry in The Cure’s trilogy of standalone 1982–83 singles—doubles down on the jazz verve of “Let’s Go To Bed.” The strutting bass and drums and rhythmic piano all lift from the genre, as does Robert Smith’s imagery of partying, scratching cats. It all made for a cool-as-a-cucumber piece that thrust the band into the Top 10 of their home country’s singles chart for the first time. The frontman reportedly hates the number nowadays, but that won’t hinder our good time.
20. “Trust” (live version; Show, 1993)
On the Wish album, “Trust” is an evocative symphonic rocker. On Show, the song evolves into a classical tragedy. This 1993 live take amplifies the strings to dominant levels, drastically aggrandizing the tragedy behind those lyrics. The words are relatable to anybody with trust issues, as Robert Smith laments, “There is no one left in the world that I can hold onto.” It’s emotional in the studio but, on stage it’s an unstoppably powerful heartbreaker.
19. “Pictures Of You” (Disintegration, 1989)
Another symbol of the conflict Robert Smith loves to sew into his songs, “Pictures Of You” is a bittersweet opus that’s been attributed to multiple, clashing inspirations. The singer’s claimed it’s about a fire in his house, a time he threw away all his personal pictures, and a poem he almost definitely made up. What ties these seven minutes together, though, is their sense of longing, as Smith painfully reminisces over a plodding rhythm and downtrodden guitar playing.
18. “A Night Like This” (The Head On The Door, 1985)
After the folkish dance of “Close To Me,” The Head On The Door sinks into a gothic rock quagmire on “A Night Like This.” Low, hefty guitar chords and booming snare drums return to the forefront, before Robert Smith morosely howls, “Say goodbye on a night like this, if it’s the last thing you ever do.” However, the wider album’s diversity still shines through the blackness when a saxophone solo cuts in, played by Ron Howe from Fools Dance.
17. “Primary” (Faith, 1981)
The lead single of Faith is unique in that it sees Robert Smith swap his guitar for the bass. With Simon Gallup still playing his bass as well, “Primary” becomes a chest-thumping post-punk scurry, its lack of six-strings doing nothing to damage the lightspeed singalong of that chorus. Smith says he wrote the song about the merits of dying young and, given that he’s dedicated it to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis at live shows, he might not be lying for a change.
16. “Plainsong” (Disintegration, 1989)
After the pop of Kiss Me…, The Cure wanted Disintegration to be a darker, more timeless and more psychedelic statement of rebellion. Opener “Plainsong” embodies this mission statement, starting with atmospheric keys that evoke the splendor of Vangelis’ “Chariots Of Fire.” Robert Smith’s vocals are echoing, lingering wails as well, singing about a rainy landscape that much of the album goes on to take place in. This is a perfectly hypnotic warm-up for the next 71 minutes of music.
15. “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” (Wish, 1992)
Despite initially being a deep cut on Wish, “From The Edge Of The Deep Blue Sea” has flourished as a live mainstay, having been played more than 630 times on stage. Listening to it makes that fact make perfect sense: we can’t imagine any crowd anywhere resisting Robert Smith’s cries of “Put your hands in the sky!” Plus, the sliding guitars and high-octane drumming keep this one exciting from beginning to end. It’s an insane accomplishment, given that near eight-minute runtime.
14. “Lullaby” (Disintegration, 1989)
Despite having a name that would be ideal for a soothing ballad, “Lullaby” is all about the spooky. The lyrics evoke childhood nightmares, as Robert Smith worriedly whispers, “spiderman is having me for dinner tonight,” and the music keeps the listener on edge. The rumble of that stop-start, funk-inspired bass line sounds like the pitter-patter of something crawling close. Then, the guitars and the plucking of violin strings are strikingly high-pitched. What a perfect fusion of music and concept.
13. “Fascination Street” (Disintegration, 1989)
Robert Smith claims that around the time of Disintegration The Cure had “become everything that I didn’t want us to become: a stadium rock band.” If the album was them trying to escape that level of popularity, then it’s their greatest failure. “Fascination Street” is a grooving piece about rock ’n’ roll excess (specifically, a night out in New Orleans) that became a megahit through its emphatic bass and refrain. It reached No. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100.
12. “All I Want” (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, 1987)
“All I Want” was never released as a single, but so much of it had the potential for icon status. That stabbing guitar sound at the outset heralds a heavy standout of this monumentally large album, then gets followed by aptly ear-splitting percussion. “Tonight, I’m feeling like an animal! I’m going wild!” Robert Smith screams in a rare display of hard rock machismo, before bringing everything back to the intimate and personal: “All I want is to be with you again.”
11. “In Between Days” (The Head On The Door, 1985)
As both the lead single and opening track of The Head On The Door, the pressure was on “In Between Days” to be a banger. It excelled. The three-minute anthem became one of the most persistent earworms in The Cure’s catalog: the jangling acoustic guitars, the bombastic synth melodies, and Robert Smith’s croons of “Without you!” all demand space in your memory. It’s no mystery why this was the first of the band’s songs to crack the Billboard Hot 100.
10. “Just Like Heaven” (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, 1987)
Robert Smith loves putting conflicting messages (and often backstories) into his songs, but no such complexity exists with this wholesome pop piece. It’s simple, really: Smith and his now wife were vacationing on the south coast of England, and it inspired this smitten mainstay. “Just Like Heaven” is as easy to wrap your head around as its origins, its romance and accessibility making it an unsurprising smash. Apparently, of all 18 songs The Cure wrote for Kiss Me… this one was the most intuitive of the bunch.
9. “The Hanging Garden” (Pornography, 1982)
Emblematic of the darkness and heaviness that drives Pornography, “The Hanging Garden” is “about the purity and hate of animals fucking,” per Robert Smith. That primal brutality manifests in the music, with the song’s skeleton comprised of clamoring, quasi-tribal percussion and an amped-up bass lick. As the album’s lead single, it confused reviewers in 1982, many of whom had fallen for The Cure’s smoother melody-making on Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds, and Faith. Today, though, this is an adrenaline-pumping highlight.
8. “High” (Wish, 1992)
It isn’t a mystery why “High” was selected to be the lead single of Wish. Any music exec would piss themselves with excitement if this caliber of Beatles-like anthem were dropped onto their desk. From the joyful guitar melody to Robert Smith’s “doo-doo-doo doo-doo” hums, it’s summertime glee incarnate—a perfection of the pop The Cure began making 10 years prior on “Let’s Go To Bed.” Playing it after the cacophonous guitars and slower pace of “Open” only amplifies the merriment.
7. “Play For Today” (live version; Paris, 1993)
The original Seventeen Seconds version of “Play For Today” rocks. It’s an upbeat goth classic with a sublime guitar part. However, by 1993, it was that rather buried Matthieu Hartley synth line that had caught on. The crowd on the Paris live album laps up the melody, chanting it straight back at the band the second they bust it out. Lol Tolhurst has said this is the Cure song that gets the best audience response, and that rapture gets immortalized here.
6. “Cold” (Pornography, 1982)
If there’s a Hell, then this is the song that plays as the sinners tumble into it. “Cold” is pure, foreboding evil, commencing with a thunderously low drone that’s quickly joined by marching drums. It’s another cinematic composition from the Brits, just a year removed from their Carnage Visors score: imagine this soundtracking a Dario Argento giallo flick and it’s a chilling fit. Those lyrics about shallow graves, “ice in my eyes” and screaming at the moon hammer home the horror.
5. “A Forest” (Seventeen Seconds, 1980)
This is inarguably The Cure’s scariest song. It comes packaged with an ominously ambiguous title and a misty woodland on the cover. Musically, it’s a dreadful crawl, its guitar part gradually building over shuffling percussion. Then Robert Smith’s vocals echo as they share a ghost story about a figure of a girl confusing the protagonist and compelling them to run deeper and deeper among the trees. It deservedly launched the band’s career, becoming their first single to chart in their native U.K.
4. “Friday I’m In Love” (Wish, 1992)
The Cure’s quintessential pop hit, “Friday I’m In Love” charted in the Top 10 of five countries and topped the U.S.’s Alternative Airplay rankings in 1992. Its May release made sure the song came out just in time to be a summertime jam: an honor earned by the silken vocals, easy-as-pie days-of-the-week structure and vibrant keys. They also made the track a refreshing antidote to the grunge nihilism otherwise dominating the airwaves, not to mention a precursor for the mid-to-late ’90s Britpop craze.
3. “Boys Don’t Cry” (Boys Don’t Cry, 1979)
“Boys Don’t Cry” was the ultimate counterattack to the British punk movement. Just two years before, the Sex Pistols were selling snot-nosed anger to the masses. Then this smoothly sung rocker represented the inverse end of the genre, lamenting the traditional expectations of masculinity. The simplicity and punchiness of punk remain, predominantly in those looping guitar riffs and the chorus’s reiteration of the title. Yet, this also voices a more tender and emotionally vulnerable message.
2. “One Hundred Years” (Pornography, 1982)
Robert Smith had previously decried as inaccurate the fact that the Cure had been restricted to the goth rock subgenre. But, considering “One Hundred Years” opens Pornography with the lyric “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” can you really blame people? With similarly bleak lines like “Stroking your hair as the patriots are shot,” this is a percussive rocker, the heaviness of the drums clashing mightily with the grandeur of the keyboard sounds. An ideal start to what could be this band’s bleakest album.
1. “Lovesong” (Disintegration, 1989)
“Lovesong” is the perfect name for this bittersweet pop hit: it captures the excitement, bliss and desperate longing that being in love makes you feel. Lyrics like the chorus’ “However far away, I will always love you” infuse tenderness with a tragic undercurrent, while the music is a fast-paced emotional whirlwind. Synths rise from drones to near-symphonic pomp, guitars ring then silence themselves and the drums excitedly rush along: it’s an ideal soundtrack to how chaotic adoring someone can be. Most people couldn’t define the essence of love in a lifetime—The Cure did it in one three-minute track.
That’s how magnificent The Cure are: even when we rave about the brilliance of their 30 essential songs, we still feel like we’ve barely started. Honorables need to be mentioned. Firstly, “10:15 Saturday Night,” the swaggering post-punk of the Three Imaginary Boys opener started a career of genre megahits. Our hats are also tipped to golden-age title tracks “Disintegration” and “Pornography,” as well as “Push,” “Catch,” “The Caterpillar,” “Why Can’t I Be You?” and the “Lovesong” B-side “Fear Of Ghosts.” “Bare” from Wild Mood Swings and “(I Don’t Know What’s Going) On” from their controversial 2004 self-titled album are underrated as well.