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The 11 best Primal Scream songs

Why have a Top Ten when you can have one more? We rank the best Primal Scream songs

If The Rolling Stones had been born 20 years later, they would have been Primal Scream. If Primal Scream had been born 20 years earlier, they would still have been Primal Scream. Shaking up a cocktail of blues rock, acid house, jangle pop, techno, country, dub, gospel and psychedelia, Primal Scream sound like everyone and no one – turning one of the most uncompromising alt-rock sounds of the early 90s into something that carried on defining an era more than four decades later.

Now somehow embraced by the same establishment he once railed against, certified national treasure Bobby Gillepsie has reached the point where he can strut out on sold-out stages wearing a suit made out of a 32-year-old album cover. Such was the cultural impact of 1991’s Screamadelica that the band could have stopped there and still headlined the likes of this year’s Bearded TheoryBestival and Connect festivals. Still co-hosted their own 2023 summer stages with Happy Mondays and The Jesus And Mary Chain, and Noel Gallagher. Still packed-out their own On The Mount gig in Wasing. 

But they didn’t stop there. Eight studio albums, four compilations, a couple of EPs and countless remixes later, Primal Scream are now playing 2023 stages atop one of the most impressive, varied back catalogues around. 

Here, then, is our pick of the finest. 

11. Velocity Girl 

(Crystal Crescent [B-side], 1986)

In 1986, Bobby Gillepsie swapped noise pop for jangle. Quitting The Jesus And Mary Chain after drumming on Psychocandy, he went full time with Primal Scream and set out to “reduce the pop song to its subatomic essence”. It might be all about a girl shooting up with vodka, but the lightness of ‘Velocity Girl’ (released on NME’s C86 cassette) helped define a scene Primal Scream wouldn’t even be sticking around in. The Stone Roses have a lot to be thankful for. 

10. Kowalski

(Vanishing Point, 1997)

Speaking of The Stone Roses… Temporarily not a thing in 1997, bassist Mani left his old band to join Gillepsie on Vanishing Point, bringing his love of Krautrock with him. Drums are sampled from Can’s 18-minute ‘Halleluhwah’, the bassline is nicked from Funkadelic and the whole thing has something to do with a cult 70s car chase movie – but this to the late 90s what Screamadelcia was to the earlies; a scuzzy, paranoid, fin de siècle freak-out.

9. Country Girl

(Riot City Blues, 2006)

Riot City Blues wasn’t well received when it came out in 2006. The Guardian called it “conservatism dressed up as rebellion” while Pitchfork called the band “college freshmen who just discovered the blues”. But try telling that to anyone who’s ever been stood in a festival field when ‘Country Girl’ kicks in. Unashamedly retro, the band’s biggest honky tonk barn-stomper is the kind of song that gets people up on bars, forgetting all about whatever the critics have to say. 

8. Darklands

(If They Move, Kill ‘Em [B-side], 1998)

The Jesus And Mary Chain were long behind Gillepsie by 1998, but that didn’t stop him tipping his hat with a B-side cover that does the impossible – making a song that feels impossibly wedded to one band sound like it’s always belonged to another. Given the same dangerously woozy comedown treatment as ‘Higher Than The Sun’, JAMC’s signature sound feels like it’s being remembered the morning after with all the love and pain in the world. 

7. Trainspotting

(Vanishing Point, 1997)

If you didn’t know it, you’d think this was the soundtrack to a 60s French heist movie. It has all the twitchy, murky angst of the Danny Boyle film they were actually scoring, but there’s something else far too cool going on here (probably because it samples Moog master Jean-Jacques Perrey). 

6. Accelerator 

(XTRMNTR, 2000)

Primal Scream didn’t take the end of the 90s too well. Bringing in Kevin Shields, The Chemical Brothers and Bernard Summer to help spit out XTRMNTR in 2000, the band dialled up the vitriol for an industrial record that bled political aggression. ‘Kill All Hippies’, ‘Swastika Eyes’ and ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’ all cut to the bone, but it was ‘Accelerator’ that did it with the rustiest blade. This is when noise pop thought it could change the world, and sort of did. 

5. Higher Than The Sun

(Screamadelica, 1991)

It’s tough to pick anything from Screamadelica in isolation, and ‘Higher Than The Sun’ is the first cosmic peak of many on an album that rides chemical waves best surfed as a whole album. Even without the songs either side of it though, the Orb’s acid-washed remix feels like a bit of an odyssey – shimmering its way up before muscling its way back down again. 

4. (I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind

(Give Out But Don’t Give Up: The Original Memphis Recordings, 2018)

Where did Primal Scream go after redefining the future of pop in 1991? Backwards, of course. 1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up threw out all the psychedelica and pushed right back to roots rock for an album that was too old-school to even come out. Re-worked into the LP version that did get a release, the original recordings didn’t properly surface until 2018 – with Primal Scream’s most heart-breaking blues track sounding more delicate than ever. This is as close as anyone is ever getting to ‘Wild Horses’. 

3. Rocks

(Give Out But Don’t Give Up, 1994)

When they weren’t sobbing into their beers on GOBDGU, Primal Scream were knocking them back instead. Here was a dirty strip club classic so Sticky Fingers that it made the baggy press photos look like they’d been stuck on the wrong record. ‘Rocks’ saw Gillepsie channelling enough 70s spirit to earn himself a cover version by Rod Stewart. 

2. Movin’ On Up

(Screamadelica, 1991)

You can play it at weddings. You can play it at funerals. You can play it at a school sports day at 10am. You can play it at a rave at 10am. What else can you say that about? The blues rock chords and gospel choir foreshadowed Primal Scream’s future in the past, but everything else about ‘Movin’ On Up’ felt so of the moment that it ended up defining it. 

1. Loaded

(Screamadelica, 1991)

What do you get when you mix Peter Fonda, Robert Johnson, The Emotions and a drum loop from an Italian bootleg of an Edie Brickell song? Nothing, until you mix in a load of drugs, probably – a recipe for an acid house ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ remake that sounds like all of Primal Scream’s greatest hits in one. A one-track mini-album that rises, falls, builds and destroys everything that band stands for in old-school samples, tripped-out beats and a whole history of music to move to. No way baby, let’s go! 

Primal Scream are playing festival dates and headline shows throughout the summer. Find Primal Scream tickets here.