Bob Mould isn't necessarily fond of looking back, but he's making a notable exception for his two shows in St. Paul this weekend.
After all, those shows (tomorrow at the Palace Theater and Sunday at Turf Club) fall exactly 40 years after Mould's first professional gigs, with a four-piece band playing under the name Buddy and the Returnables.
In announcing the special 2019 shows, Mould shared that the first gig, on March 30, 1979, at Ron's Randolph Inn, went off without a hitch, although night two ended up being both disastrous and fortuitous. "Moments before the end of the March 31 show, an audience member yanked the cable out of the Farfisa organ that Charlie [Pine, keyboardist/singer] was playing, and the three remaining musicians—who immediately went on to be known as Hüsker Dü—launched into a handful of hastily written originals."
In the following four decades, Mould's career took many twists and turns, across multiple bands and recording lineups. In recent years, he's found steady collaborators in bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster—both of whom also appear on his most recent solo album, the stellar Sunshine Rock, and perform with him live.
To celebrate Mould's four decades in music—and his staggeringly extensive catalog—here are 40 of the best songs he's written.
40."Stop Your Crying" (1990)
A raucous, shredded rock song that served as a direct bridge to Sugar and dished out grade-A shade toward a soon-to-be-banished companion: "Living in your fantasy world, well, there ain't much of a view."
39. "Hate Paper Doll" [Hüsker Dü] (1985)
This ambiguous condemnation of conformity is marked by a tempo that swings like a rowdy elementary school recess game, courtesy of Hart's taut drumming.
38."Keep Believing" (2012)
Come for the piledriving riffs, stay for optimistic lyrics that cleverly namecheck seminal songs and bands, like the Suicide Commandos reference "I got a handle on some complicated fun."
37. "Steam of Hercules" (2012)
The release of Silver Age kickstarted yet another phase of Mould's career, one marked by loud, unfussy rock music that echoes the past while eschewing nostalgia. See: the Sugar-reminiscent "Steam of Hercules."
36. "Moving Trucks" (1998)
Mould uses vivid imagery—specifically, beeping moving trucks and a noisy coffee percolator—to hammer home post-breakup feelings of emotional desolation. In an unexpected twist, the chugging indie-rocker ends on an optimistic high note, with the narrator finally ready to move on from the trauma.
35."The Final Years" (2019)
Sunshine Rock is yet another consistent Mould solo release—in no small part thanks to introspective, subdued fare such as the "The Final Years," which, with its glacial keyboards and majestic strings, is almost Bowie-esque.
34."Semper Fi" (2002)
It's safe to say that the electronic-heavy Modulate is Mould's most polarizing album. However, time has been kind to the record—including and especially "Semper Fi," a slice of grungy power-pop slathered in squirrelly synthesizers. Julian Cope, who's no stranger to out-there experiments, even called the song "utterly brilliant."
33. "These Important Years" [Hüsker Dü] (1987)
Hüsker Dü's increased production clarity went hand-in-hand with increased emotional clarity. Exhibit A: this charred jangle rocker that's all about letting go of the past and the perception that people peak well before adulthood.
32. "I Hate Alternative Rock" (1996)
The ire smoldering at the core of this throttling post-punk standout remains impressive.
31. "Explode and Make Up" [Sugar] (1994)
File Under Easy Listening ends with this harrowing, skeletal song in which Mould sounds worn down by a tormented relationship that's finally run its course.
30. "Flip Your Wig" [Hüsker Dü] (1985)
A double middle finger to anyone who thought Hüsker Dü was losing their edge. Dig the squalling metalli-punk bridge, sly lyrical commentary on fame, and dueling Hart and Mould yowls.
29. "Can't Fight It" (1993)
The No Alternative compilation offered plenty of obscurities from '90s luminaries (Pavement, Sonic Youth), but Mould's plainspoken "Can't Fight It," an ascetic song about a breakup, is the album's secret highlight.
28. Sugar, "Tilted" (1993)
The four-minute equivalent of standing directly in front of a stack of Marshall amps at a concert without earplugs.
27. "In a Free Land" Hüsker Dü (1982)
All the pieces jolted into place for Hüsker Dü on single No. 2, an eerily prescient melodic hardcore speedball that expresses mistrust of the government and slams fake know-it-alls.
26. "Can't Help You Anymore" [Sugar] (1994)
A deceptively jaunty song about finally cutting someone toxic out of your life, driven by delightful observations such as "You say your life's a mess/I need to get some rest."
25."Everything Falls Apart" [Hüsker Dü] (1983)
A choppy Buzzcocks nod that encourages thinking before acting—a pipe dream, since the lyrics positively shrug with ennui and the knowledge that life's actually pretty fucked up no matter how you look at it.
24. "JC Auto" [Sugar] (1993)
Sugar's Beaster EP is one of the heaviest recordings Mould's ever been a part of, which is certainly saying something. The teeth-gnashing howl "JC Auto" is the highlight; in fact, the eardrum-bursting song gets louder and louder as it progresses, as if someone decided to slowly max out the volume knob.
23. "Underneath Days" (2005)
Body of Song struck the perfect balance between electronic excursions and loud guitar rock—as on the strident, frustration-filled "Underneath Days."
22. "The Silence Between Us" (2008)
Here Mould captures the uncertain early days of a relationship, when it's unclear whether initial infatuation will grow into something lasting. Also notable for its bitchin’ '70s arena rock solo and muscular timekeeping from drummer Brendan Canty.
21. "I Don't Know You Anymore" (2014)
A sinfully catchy power-pop song about entertaining thoughts of rekindling a relationship—but then realizing that your ex is now a complete stranger.
20. "Something I Learned Today" [Hüsker Dü] (1984)
The mighty Zen Arcade kicks off with this brutal, bitter song. The rhythm section careens around like pinballs as Mould's lyrics detail coming to unpleasant realizations about his life.
19. "Poison Years" (1989)
A patchwork quilt of Mould's musical approaches anchored by wary (and weary) electronic guitar full of steely menace—a perfect match for the cynical, vitriolic lyrics.
18."Helpless" [Sugar] (1992)
Mould's lyrics on Copper Blue often explored the complications of emotional vulnerability, as on the churning "Helpless," a No. 5 alternative radio hit in 1992 that lives up to its title.
17. "Kid With Crooked Face" (2014)
Despite the obvious echoes of Hüsker Dü's speedy hardcore days, this song is both a reckoning with the past and an admission of how difficult it is to shed painful ingrained mindsets.
16. "Hold On" (2016)
A dark, hard-charging song about the many things that keep people awake at 3 a.m. Yet although the lyrics admit holding on to regrets can be suffocating, keeping the faith and looking for the silver lining is something for which to strive.
15. "Chartered Trips" [Hüsker Dü] (1984)
Mould still rips through the frenzied hardcore tune "Chartered Trips" in his live concerts to this day. The inclusion is understandable: The sophisticated and politically charged tune features someone realizing that joining the military won't solve his problems.
14. "Circles" (2005)
The message of "Circles"—which is driven by a foundation of burbling keyboards and buzzsawing guitar—is poignant: Dealing with the emotional fallout from your own bad behavior, and facing up to your flaws, can be wrenching.
13. "Hoover Dam" [Sugar] (1992)
Sugar wasn't all brute-force volume and noise. The awe-inspiring "Hoover Dam" starts with a refracted nod to Pet Sounds, piles on carnival organ and crisp acoustic guitar strums, and keeps adding sonic layers and effects—including a marching bridge with prog-like keyboards.
12. "Could You Be The One?" [Hüsker Dü] (1987)
One of the sharpest singles of college rock's Great '80s Major Label Migration, "Could You Be The One?" boasts a scorched-earth Mould guitar solo and turbulent lyrics jerking back and forth between feeling heartbroken, angry, and disappointed.
11. "If I Can't Change Your Mind" [Sugar] (1992)
Although Copper Blue was a seismic leap forward from Black Sheets of Rain, the harmony-rich folk-punk romantic overture "If I Can't Change Your Mind" conjured Mould's early-career briskness.
10. "I Apologize" [Hüsker Dü] (1985)
Keening harmonies divebomb throughout this brisk, brawny punk song, which depicts a sneering battle of wills between two stubborn souls—only one of whom is willing to actually admit wrongdoing.
9. "City Lights (Days Go By)" (2009)
A shimmering, melancholic song about feeling torn between a relationship and personal ambitions ("I want you near me, but I need the space for contemplation"), buoyed by plaintive harmonies and twinkling electronic sounds. Highly underrated.
8. "Pray for Rain" (2016)
Patch The Sky boasts some of Mould’s best lyrics, mainly because the mix of introspection, vulnerability and self-awareness leads to moving breakthroughs—as on "Pray For Rain," which admits wrestling with personal demons isn't easy: "Every time I pray/The fear of failure pours down on me."
7. "Wishing Well" (1989)
Mould announced his solo career with Workbook, a sonic 180 from Hüsker Dü. Working with two members of Pere Ubu, drummer Anton Fier and bassist Tony Maimone, he crafted a forceful album dominated by lively cello and strident acoustic guitars. One highlight is the cathartic "Wishing Well," which layers on powder-keg electric guitars and anguished singing.
6. "It's Too Late" (1990)
Gritty, fatalistic Midwest power-pop that often threatens to break into ELO's take on "Do Ya," this song hit No. 10 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1990.
5."Gee Angel" [Sugar] (1994)
In a parallel universe, the buoyant, merry-go-round-dizzy rocker "Gee Angel" would've sent massive festival crowds into synchronized pogo-pop calisthenics. In this timeline, however, it's one of Sugar's best songs.
4. "Changes" [Sugar] (1992)
That Sugar emerged with a fully formed debut, Copper Blue, was no surprise. "Changes" lurches forward on the strength of burnt-marshmallow jangle riffs tinted with inspirations from shoegaze and post-punk, as well as self-confident lyrics with pointed spark: "Spare me some change/So I can find someone to call my own."
3. "See a Little Light" (1989)
A No. 4 Billboard Modern Rock hit in 1989—Mould's biggest song then and now, chart-wise—the chiming "See a Little Light" exudes keening optimism that an estranged friend will come around.
2. "Makes No Sense At All" [Hüsker Dü] (1985)
Hüsker Dü's second masterpiece of 1985, the self-produced Flip Your Wig, boasted better production values and even poppier songs. The progression was seamless, especially on the no-frills, speedwalking jam "Makes No Sense At All," which boasts tar-sticky hooks, conventional arrangements, and at least one genius line: "Sell yourself short, but you're walking so tall."
1. "Celebrated Summer" [Hüsker Dü] (1985)
Few songs better capture the agony and ecstasy of the season that always seems to disappoint by August, no matter how much promise there appears to be in June. Electric guitars buzz like a frantic beehive for much of the tune, although the sudden burst of sparse acoustic guitar introducing the second verse better underlines the tune's melancholy.