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The Fall: 10 Essential Songs

Hear highlights from late, great post-punk malcontent Mark E. Smith’s sprawling four-decade discography

Johnny Rotten may have mobilized a generation of snarling malcontents, but for those who were a little too weird, brainy and normally dressed to pass as punk, Mark E. Smith was the Messiah. Formed in Manchester, England, in 1976 – “To form a group is the most ridiculous idea ever”, Smith once told NME – the Fall was Smith’s megaphone, a band whose uncompromising mission to be uncompromising led them into new territories of noise, rhythm, and language. They were lumped in with post-punk, but their unhinged, garage-rock–meets-Krautrock sprawl was its own strange beast.

Smith, who died Wednesday at the age of 60, was a poet-punk, a cranky prankster and a ringleader of an ever-shifting band roster. Dozens of musicians passed through the ranks of the Fall during their 42-year existence, including the vocalist’s one-time wife Brix Smith, leaving a staggering discography that challenged all conventional notions of rock & roll. At the same time, Smith always believed in “R and R as primal scream,” according to his lyrics to the Fall’s 1979 song “Live at the Witch Trials.” Defying pop while enjoying the occasional hit in England, the Fall became a cult of perversity and paradox. And with his sui generis voice – sadistic, sardonic and satirical – Smith could snarl his malcontent like few in the history of popular music. Here are 10 of the Fall’s essential songs.

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“Bury!” (2010)

Post-punk was all the rage again at the start of the 21st century, and the Fall suddenly found themselves cited as forefathers and icons by a generation of indie musicians young enough to be their kids. Some of them even wound up in the Fall as Smith began recruiting fresher and fresher lineups – resulting in some stunning late-period high points. One of the most potent is “Bury!,” a buzzing, propulsive rant in which Smith paradoxically counters his own legendarily confounding lyrical bent: “This song means something/Every song means something.” As he once told Melody Maker, “I think a lot of stuff needs to be said in songs that isn’t being said. And that’s why I keep going.” And so he did, until the very end.

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