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The 11 best songs by Belle and Sebastian

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite Belle and Sebastian songs, ranked

From their acclaimed debut Tigermilk to 2023’s brilliant Late Developers, Belle and Sebastian have always been champions of the poetically downhearted. Album after album has drawn joy and beauty from ordinary lives and tedious frustration, each song filled with glorious baroque pop and Stuart Murdoch’s engaging wit. Almost any album could be considered a classic.

Ahead of their rescheduled UK dates, we’ve delved back through 27 years of brilliance and pulled out our 11 favourite Belle and Sebastian songs.

11. If They’re Shooting At You

(A Bit Of Previous, 2022)
This soulful stand-out from the band’s excellent 2022 album is hard to separate from its moving video of defiant Ukranians. The song itself isn’t so much a war protest as a resolute show of support for anyone who feels crushed by the oncoming wheels. “I’m juggling all my plates,” Stuart Murdoch sings, “Living far below my estimate” There’s no judgement or solution for the various woes, just a gentle chorus of “I got you now”.

10. She’s Losing It

(Tigermilk, 1996)
So many of the characters in Belle And Sebastian songs are the kind of people who you can imagine as outcasts in the late 80s or early 90s, only to be retroactively reassessed as the cool kids. Lisa and Chelsea, the couple at the heart of ‘She’s Losing It’, definitely fit that bill: survivors of abuse, angry and defiant, finding their own way in the world. There’s still no better description of losing your grip than: “When the first cup of coffee tastes like washing up”.

9. The Fox In The Snow

(If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996)
One of the band’s loveliest songs, ‘The Fox In The Snow’ finds Murdoch urging his protagonists to take control of their destinies, to find the thing they need rather than waiting for it to find them. So many other bands, writers and filmmakers have tried to say the same thing but none with the poignancy of Stuart Murdoch. For all the focus on his tremendous wit, he’s also as capable as any of laying you out flat.

8. When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall

(Late Developers, 2023)
Murdoch wrote this sweetly sad standout before Belle And Sebastian even formed but brought it back to life for Late Developers with the help of Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell. It’s a tarnished two-hander, Murdoch pledging undying love while she skirts around him, wary of broken promises: “So look me straight in the eye and tell me you’re alright / Cos I want to know the truth / Nothing else will do.”

7. The Boy With The Arab Strap

(The Boy With The Arab Strap, 1998)
Has anyone ever found such depths on grey bus journeys into nowhere? The title song from the band’s superb third album was inspired by Murdoch’s adventures on tour with Stephen Moffat from Arab Strap (rather than anything to do with the sex toy that inspired that band’s name), namely Moffat’s dancing and drinking. It bounces along (unlike Murdoch’s bus), riding a sprightly wave of hand claps and electric organ.

6. Sleep The Clock Around

(The Boy With The Arab Strap, 1998)
Belle & Sebastian turn sludgy frustration into a sprightly indie bop that builds into a wonderful bagpipe-driven climax. ‘Sleep The Clock Around’ begins as a painfully specific account of Murdoch’s creative block, insomnia and chronic fatigue before pushing through the clouds to find a sense of release and purpose. “There’s so much to be done while your head is still young / If you put down your pen, leave the worries behind / then the moment will come, and the memory will shine” is a gorgeous rendering of relief.

5. I’m A Cuckoo

(Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003)
Nobody expected Belle And Sebastian to nod to Thin Lizzy, but those duelling guitar lines on the chipper ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ are no accident, not when Stuart goes and calls the band out by name in the chorus. This boy is back in town and, against his better instincts, drawn back to old haunts and old friends. Rumour has it, Murdoch wrote the song about Isobel Campbell after her departure from the band, but it could apply to anyone who finds themselves drawn into old orbits.

4. Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying

(If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996)
There’s no better biography of the band than the one Stuart Murdoch pens in ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying’, a kind of ‘Hey Hey, We’re The Monkees’ rewritten by fey Glaswegian indie poets. It’s a dizzying journey from needing a song, to deciding to write the song on the bus home to getting lost in the story of the song he’s trying to write.

3. The State I Am In

(Tigermilk, 1996)
Few songs in the world are as magnificent as the very first song on the very first Belle & Sebastian album. From the barely audible hushed admission of a solitary day’s happiness in 1975, ‘The State I Am In’ builds gloriously into a rattling good yarn of coming out at weddings, marriages of convenience, crippled friends, redemption, novelist priests with photographic memories, and rearranging tables in Marks & Spencer. “And so I gave myself to God / There was a pregnant pause before he said OK” might be the best line Murdoch has ever written.

2. Lazy Line Painter Jane

(Push Barman To Open Old Wounds, 1997)
Originally featured on the band’s second EP and then the Push Barman To Open Old Wounds collection, ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ has a lovely boominess to it, like the band are playing it to an emptied-out Barrowlands at the end of a dance. It’s a classic Murdoch tale of a terminally bored girl who gets thrush from “licking railings” and sleeps in bus stops, trying to figure out how she got her nickname. It’s grandiose, joyous, cathartic and filled with wonderful little details, the kind of song that only Belle and Sebastian do this well.

1. Another Sunny Day

(The Life Pursuit, 2006)
There probably isn’t a better produced song in the band’s catalogue than ‘Another Sunny Day’. Tony Hoffer was credited with beefing up the band’s winsome sound, but he also understood that the beauty of Belle & Sebastian is in the details. Note how the guitar line sounds like pealing bells, right after Murdoch sings: “And on a Sunday evening bells ring out in the dusk”. Those same guitars later sound like the racing beats of an excited heart, just as things turn physical. It’s as inspired as Murdoch’s line, “Your dark mascara bids me to historical deeds”, which could be the best single line in popular music. Jangly, sparky, deeply funny and sweetly romantic, it’s deserving of its place at the top of the pile.

Belle and Sebastian are currently on tour until 22 July – get tickets here