The 10 best Cocteau Twins songs, by Stephen McLaren

a portrait of the cocteau twins
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I love Cocteau Twins’ music so much. I got into it a decade ago, after having picked up a cheap copy of Head Over Heels on the advice of a friend that I should listen to them. The CD was £4 in a shop on the top of Buchanan St, Glasgow. I can’t even remember the name of the shop; Snazza or something like that. It doesn’t matter. From the moment I put it on, I knew it was the best music I had ever heard, and I wanted more, so much more. I then worked my way through their discography, in chronological order (save for Head Over Heels, of course), album-by-album, giving fair listening time to each one before buying the next. I fell in love with it, simultaneously glad that I had stumbled upon the most beautiful, haunting, dazzling, ghostly, and other-wordly music I’ve ever heard, and sad that I will likely never witness them play a live gig.

Here are my tunes – it was difficult narrowing it down to only ten. They are in no particular order, since I cannot rank them.

Five-Ten-Fiftyfold (Head Over Heels, 1983)

The second tune on my first ever exposure to Cocteau Twins. The obscure lyrics, the far-away sound, Fraser’s shrill-yet-beautifully-haunting vocals, and that saxophone coming in in the background. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I Wear Your Ring (Heaven Or Las Vegas, 1990)

Wait for it. Around three-quarters of the way through, this tune changes key, and the effect on the ears is pretty spectacular. I listened to it on repeat for around ten weeks, then I got fed up of it, but only because I played it to death. I’m not fed up of it anymore. The vocal harmonies towards the end are incessant and tribal; a triumph, and, for me, the climax of Cocteau Twins’ most commercially successful album.

Blind Dumb Deaf (Garlands, 1982)

This is a hypnotic assault on the senses, and contains what is probably, for me, the finest and most simple guitar riff ever used in a piece of pop music, augmented by near-perfect use of effects pedals. The insistent drum pulse and raging bass riff soon kick in, and when you’re walking down the street with this blaring in your ears, it is impossible not to feel gloriously angry. Brilliant stuff.

Lorelei (Treasure, 1984)

Treasure is probably my go-to album whenever I’m wanting some Cocteau Twins that isn’t too heavy, or if I’m introducing a friend to the band’s music. No-one can argue with Treasure; it’s just fucking lovely. Lorelei, again backed up by superb use of guitar riff, begins with these loud and bold bells that you just want to hear again and again. Vocal melodies and harmonies low in the register… so beautiful. This is the go-to track from a go-to album.

Donimo (Treasure, 1984)

Surely Domino? Who cares? Not me. From the same album, this is an epic masterwork: long introduction, makes you wait, bursting drums, simple and repetitive chorus, with lilting bird-like vocal refrain in-between. A fantastic end to this album; irrelevant because you’ll just want to put it on from the start again anyway.

The Tinderbox (Of A Heart) (Head Over Heels, 1983)

The morose synth bass-line, the compound time kick drum on every single beat, drones, and the trademark hypnosis of Fraser’s repeated vocal refrain all make for a superb tune, one that, though it isn’t my favourite, will always come to mind whenever I think of Cocteau Twins music; infectious in its doom and melancholy.

Alice (included on the Violaine single, 1996)

I chose this because of the soaring vocal line, mainly, but also the superb, non-typical, and non-cheesy use of the piano as the prominent backing instrument. Quality film music.

Beatrix (Treasure, 1984)

An eerie track, I really love this tune because of the uncompromising choice of synth sounds used, which leaves it sounding incredibly sparse. Bring Fraser’s incomprehensible vocal in there and it’s just one of the most unique pieces from a really unique band. The bassline then growls in imitation of the synth; sounds sinister.

Fotzepolitic (Heaven Or Las Vegas, 1990)

Following I Wear Your Ring on Heaven Or Las Vegas, which is one of my favourites, is difficult, but it seems to be the perfect antidote to the aforementioned’s moodiness and drama. A bold and optimistic guitar riff, reinforced by a cheery, summery vocal, which ends in a lovely, repeated, descending chorus, all travelling along, swinging, on compound time drum backing. Great.

Musette And Drums (Head Over Heels, 1983)

Moody, angry, and dramatic, the thumping, compound-time kick-drum; a hallmark Cocteau Twins track, then. This one, though, makes the hairs stand up on from the start to the end. A virtuosic and powerful vocal performance leads this epic right into the chorus, which is underpinned by a haunting, repeated 4-note synth bass-line; by the time said bass-line has been augmented towards the end of the tune, I’m already in sonic ecstasy. This is fantastic.

Stephen McLaren’s new album, We Used To Go Raving, is out now via Errant Media. You can catch the video to his new single, I Sing To You, below:

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