Grant Hart’s 10 greatest Hüsker Dü songs

Grant Hart. (Photo by Steven Cohen.)

Grant Hart. (Photo by Steven Cohen.)

Grant Hart surely belongs in a Hall of Fame, not just as one of the greatest songwriters to ever sit behind a drum kit, but as one of the people to push punk forward into more mature and ambitious places.

His partner and rival in tune Bob Mould went on to become a star, but Hart’s expert melodies were always the heart of the band, even during their cruder days. Here are 10 of the Hüsker Dü pounder’s most astonishing contributions to a proud catalog.

“It’s Not Funny Anymore”
Metal Circus (1983)

Metal Circus is the most underrated Hüsker Dü record because it’s an EP and because it’s a fairly straightforward riff after riff attack. But Grant Hart was mastering songcraft much earlier than his partner, so its most tuneful (and best) rocker had a white-hot guitar-harmonic hook closer to Van Halen’s “Panama” than anything else coming out of early ‘80s punk.

Metal Circus (1983)
Hart was also the man behind the EP’s great departure and easily its most celebrated tune, a pensive proto-grunge ballad whose subject matter and emotional release are far better remembered than the uh, dated execution of its character sketch: “We could cruise down Robert Street all night long / But I think I'll just rape you and kill you instead.” The pained yelps of “Diane, Diane, Diane” made clear where Hart’s sympathies lay, though, a pained rarity for any hardcore scene in 1983.

“Turn on the News”
Zen Arcade (1984)

Similarly, Hart’s lone political turn wasn’t exactly dropping geopolitical science (he wonders “why the world has to have so much pain”); his strength was in anthemic feeling and wringing persuasive action out of power chords distorted three times over. And knockout choruses, which Hüsker’s own “Sign ‘O’ the Times” comes with, along with possibly Bob Mould’s most ripping solo, not exactly something he was known for. Anyway, don’t you dare laugh at a simplistic plea for people to pay the fuck attention in 2017.

“Pink Turns to Blue”
Zen Arcade (1984)

Hart was unquestionably Hüsker’s melodist; it took Mould till Sugar to really even the score. But the drummer’s gift was that even his prettiest offerings conveyed an urgency to match the band’s breakneck ones. The haunted falsetto paired with the disturbed arpeggios on “Pink Turns to Blue” conveyed the panic of witnessing an overdose in real time as well as any medium ever has.

“Standing by the Sea”
Zen Arcade (1984)

A weird one. Greg Norton’s dissonant bass throb in waltz time patiently awaits Grant Hart’s impassioned, crashing-wave verses, which grow more intense with each stanza. The ocean sound effects are a little on the nose, but you can’t fault them for recognizing their tune’s epic ambition.

“The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”
New Day Rising (1985)

At the frenzied garage-rock pace of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” Hart drops the band’s typical ambiguous-pronoun policy to give punk its most fully realized description of a romance with a woman, ever. From her always-messy room to her “worn-out smile that she’ll wear some more” to “I'd trade big mountains and rooms full of gold / For just one look at the beauty of this woman’s soul,” it’s staggering to hear such a fleshed-out relationship in any song, much less a punk one.

“Books About UFOs”
New Day Rising (1985)

The most fun song on New Day Rising was this indelible, shuffling Hart number memorably decorated with Billy Preston-style piano, and it’s yet another thrasher that sharply humanizes the woman at its center. Hart had a knack for that. Pretty big leap just two years after the one-dimensional “Diane,” too.

“Green Eyes”
Flip Your Wig (1985)

Pretty yet crunchy songs like Hart’s lovelorn “Green Eyes” completed Hüsker’s transition from brawny hardcore to what we have come to define as alternative rock. Few of their successors have nailed that synthesis of power and beauty as well as the originals did, though, and tunes like this are Exhibit A.

“Sorry Somehow”
Candy Apple Grey (1986)

With the right (or the wrong) production, this organ-fueled lament and surefire melody would’ve made for a smash adult-contemporary hit. Not much else to it; Hart could write radio-ready relationship apologia as professionally as anyone in 1986. He just couldn’t do it clean -- and I’m not talking about the drugs.

“She’s a Woman (And Now He Is a Man)”
Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987)

Hüsker Dü made a point of not including gender pronouns in their love songs, particularly because Bob Mould and Grant Hart wanted to address universals despite both being notably gay-identified men in a macho-by-default punk scene. This latter-day jangler was a notable exception, and in 2017 it’s hard to imagine any other interpretation besides the dissolution of a relationship coinciding with the woman transitioning: “There's a vacancy between them everyday / And a sense of guilt that's not going away,” “Well things didn't go exactly as they planned / She's a woman and now he is a man.” Even if that wasn’t the intent in 1987 (discussing unique problems in nonbinary relationships was, to put it mildly, young), it now scans as a vivid and prescient account of something far ahead of its time. And like the Replacements’ “Androgynous,” Hart even got the pronouns right. Something in the Minneapolis water?