Throughout my 13 years of being a hardcore Garbage fan, one thing has always remained true: their music is way better than any kind of therapy or vice combined. It never ceases to amaze me how they’re able to pinpoint exactly what I’m feeling at any given moment and if there’s a rough situation happening in my life, there’s always a Garbage song for it.
Garbage have always been ahead of the curve. For 21 years, the band have proved time and again that the true meaning of staying power lies within effort, great songs and a drive to save lives in the process.
In honor of singer Shirley Manson’s 50th birthday this week, I’ve put together a list of my top 20 favorite Garbage tracks that have shaped me. These songs have given me a voice when I thought I didn’t have one, stayed up with me during long nights, wiped away my tears, inspired me to get up off the floor and kick ass and helped me embrace who I am and who I’m becoming with grace. Not only are these songs near and dear to my heart, but they are a way of life as the world tries to tell me and Garbage fans everywhere that we don’t belong.
Stay tuned for another special tribute for Shirley later this week!
20 – “Cup of Coffee”
I remember delving into the band’s third release, Beautifulgarbage, for the first time and getting so lost in the story of “Cup of Coffee.” I was only about 13 at the time, but I felt Shirley’s pain so deeply that every time I listen to this song, I still can’t shake it. I remember wondering if any of what she went through would happen to me one day, and it did, only a little differently. The raw emotion and pure honesty of this track is just another example of this record truly being their most underrated.
19 – “Right Between The Eyes”
When the band’s fourth release, Bleed Like Me came out in 2005, I was in high school dealing with the same people that made my life hell just a few years prior. This song felt like the most satisfying revenge I’ve ever felt at that point and the closing words of, “Stay alive, my love,” awakened me to stand up for myself and not allow anyone to treat me like a piece of shit ever again.
18 – “Medication”
Version 2.0 was the first Garbage record I ever bought and “Medication” pretty much mirrored exactly how I felt about school and life in a little over four minutes. Those feelings of not belonging and having knots in my stomach until I got home still give me nightmares to this day but perhaps the most gratifying thing was hearing Shirley sing, “Nobody gives a damn about me or anybody else.” Those words made it all just a tiny bit bearable, knowing that someone else understood. As my emotions mixed with my frustration and outright fear of what I’d have to face the next day, I always had Shirley’s words in mind as I braced myself for another never-ending day.
17 – “I Think I’m Paranoid”
I know I talk about “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” as being the song that started it all for me but looking back, “I Think I’m Paranoid” is the song that pretty much ignited my love for Garbage in the first place. I had been going through my old CDs back in 2003 and came across Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 3 where this song was featured. I’m not sure why I never paid much attention to it prior, but something drew me in and I was hooked. The rest, I guess you could say, is history.
16 – “Milk”
Perhaps Shirley’s biggest love song to date, this track has never failed to give me goosebumps every time I listen to it. Hearing it live is an experience within itself. It was only a couple of years ago where it all came to life for me but sadly ended as fast as the illusion started but when all is said and done, we’re all just waiting for that one person to love us, despite what our pride may tell us.
15 – “Not Your Kind Of People”
When the band’s fifth album, Not Your Kind of People, was released in 2012 after a seven year hiatus, this track stuck out the most to me – mainly because of how I couldn’t describe how I’ve always felt my entire life and this song spelled it out flawlessly. “When you build a shell, build an army in your mind, you can’t sit still and you don’t like hanging around the crowd. They don’t understand.”
14 – “Teaching Little Fingers To Play”
When I was given an advance listen to the band’s sixth and newest release, Strange Little Birds, this track sent me into a blissful oblivion I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered from and I’m not sure I want to. I was not expecting a Depeche Mode-esque synth opening from them at all so add the shock factor into it with a little bit of lyrical satisfaction and you’ve got yourself a winner. I love how with each album, you can recognize how Shirley’s confidence has grown and I only hope to master what she’s learned. “I’m all grown up, no one around to fix me now. I’m doing it my own way.” By paying homage to tracks like “Fix Me Now” and “When I Grow Up,” not only does progress reign but one thing’s for sure: she definitely turned the tables. 😉
13 – “Drive You Home”
I can’t sing along or even listen to this song without completely bawling my eyes out. The whole, “Walk on shells tonight, can’t do right tonight,” part of the chorus absolutely kills me inside but the relief at the end of the song of just wanting to be there for someone who has never given up on you because it’s the least you can do is the most beautiful yet simple notion we can ever experience in this life and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
12 – “Beloved Freak”
I never fully appreciated this song until I heard it live for the first time a few weeks ago during the band’s tour stop at New York’s Central Park. I had just gone through a harrowing rough patch for a few months and just being in the presence of the band that continues to save me was pretty surreal, despite it being my third time seeing them. I wasn’t expecting this song to be on the setlist and I couldn’t help the tears from falling as Shirley reminded all of the beloved freaks in the crowd that the world is at our feet, despite how wrongly we may have been treated. “Beloved Freak” feels like an anthem just for Garbage fans and one we’ll hold close to our hearts.
11 – “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed”
I’ve been associating this track with my rocky relationship with God recently. Though I may feel that after everything that has happened to me within the past year is just a form of cruelty, I still want to repair my relationship with Him one day while learning why I had to be burned so badly in the process. The second verse of not wanting to be lost in dreams and being devoured by obsession resonates with me deeply as I search for meaning in something I thought would save me but ultimately killed me. Even though everything feels doomed, if you’re still waiting for tomorrow, you still have hope and that’s a comforting reminder.
10 – “Breaking Up The Girl”
I’ve heard that Shirley hates this song and I honestly cannot fathom why, despite the label controversy at the time of Beautifulgarbage’s release in 2001. It’s lyrically outstanding as it demonstrates what it’s like to be a sensitive female in a modern culture that tries to rip her apart and turn her into what she despises for the pleasure of everyone else. We probably won’t ever hear this one live any time in the near future, or ever, but it’s nice to imagine. Plus, the video is the epitome of classic music video excellence when MTV was actually about the music.
9 – “Control”
“Control” is my favorite track off of Not Your Kind of People and just the opening alone is enough to send chills down my spine in the most satisfying way possible, of course. Imagine my surprise when I finally heard it live for the first time at the Central Park show! The first verse of, “I never saw you coming from inside my little prison. Your autograph would really buy me time,” takes me back to a time when I thought someone had saved me but was actually trying to drown me. Losing control is a scary place to be in but once we regain power, a certain wrath takes flight.
8 – “Vow”
“Vow” comes in handy when I’m filled with empowerment and a bit too much rage. I’ve clung to it when I was being bullied in school and I most definitely used it after a painful four years with an ex-boyfriend who tried to mold me into his perfect little creation. Joke’s on all of them. If I wasn’t 6 years-old when this song was released, I’m sure I would have gobbled it up and obsessed over it like I tend to do now.
7 – “A Stroke Of Luck”
This song has always fascinated me but it wasn’t until I was in the middle of a similar situation of my own that I fully started to grasp its meaning. When you can’t decide if something is God-given or from the pits of hell, there tends to be a ton of ruminating involved. Perhaps the most important part is, “Don’t ask me why. Don’t even try.”
6 – “Run Baby Run”
“Run Baby Run” feels like it was written just for me. Being an introverted woman living in New York City, it can often feel like the world is out to get you sometimes. This song has been my protector when anxiety starts to roar and the bark of the city is just as scary as its bite. There’s always safety in a Garbage song.
5 – “Stupid Girl”
I’m pretty sure this is the very first Garbage track I ever heard. I remember being a kid watching MTV one morning and seeing the video pop up on my TV screen. Not gonna lie, Shirley kind of scared me back then and I had no idea the influence the band with the catchy opening of a song about some stupid girl would play in my life seven years later!
4 – “Blackout”
The first time I heard “Blackout,” I literally screamed, “Holy shit!!!!” at my computer screen. This song sealed the deal on Strange Little Birds for me (not that I wasn’t already enamored) and the opening still thrills me. It’s haunting, it’s dark and it delves deep into a topic that society just loves to push under the rug. We live in a world of masking pain with an Instagram filter. We only share the best parts of ourselves because we are afraid others will think poorly of us if we admit our demons. I’m not one to sugarcoat my bad days and I’ve noticed that the more miserable I am, the fewer friends come out to play. It may be eye-opening but all in all, it’s disgusting. I applaud the band for putting this out there and standing up for those who have been shunned for being genuine.
3 – “Special”
There is no masking the obnoxious fangirl in me whenever I hear “Special.” Really, is there any other word to describe this band? The chorus is perfection that only a headstrong human being can appreciate and the video still has Garbage fans waiting on a ticket to Garbania! :p
2 – “Empty”
When “Empty” was released a few short months ago, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Another instance of them always getting it right, this song embodies every insecurity I’ve ever felt about myself as a budding music journalist. Feeling like a fake, thinking your ideas are shit and watching others get by so effortlessly as they tear you down is only the tip of the iceberg but at the end of the day, we are the only ones able to fill our emptiness by ignoring what everyone else is doing while focusing on what we do best. I’m so thankful for this song as it came at the most perfect time for me.
1 – “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing”
For the past thirteen years, this song has felt like a promise. “I won’t be the one who’s going to let you down,” Shirley sings in the chorus, and she has kept her promise, always lifting me up when I feel like an abomination while reminding me that all I have to do is keep breathing; all I have to do is put on a Garbage record and I’m saved. This song has kept me alive more times than I can count and it amazes me how relevant it is for every harrowing situation. “Maybe you’ll get what you want this time around.” Maybe. But the trick is to keep breathing. Always.