12 The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir

Stephin Merrit’s Life, Ranked

(Wait, is it with an ‘i’?? I have been misspelling him my all life…)


The best Magnetic Fields albums always come with a good, solid gimmick, don’t they?

We all know (and love. If you don’t love it we can never be friends. Or even sexual partners. Unless you have, like, really nice tits) ’69 Love Songs’, but there was also the brilliant ‘i’ (where every song began with said letter); the less brilliant ‘Distortion’ (where every song was layered with Jesus and Mary Chain levels of interference); ‘Love Gas from the Digestive Tract’ (which featured Stephin Merrit burping after every line); ‘Hank and Peggy’ (in which all 259 tracks were based on a separate ‘King of the Hill’ episode, which was a brilliant way of honouring one of the most underrated TV shows of all time which I’m totally going to steal!); and ‘Fabio’s Groove Ride’ (the tale of Fabio killing a goose while on a rollercoaster. No, I will never stop referencing that incident! It happened on this very day in 1999, have some fucking respect).

[I started this ‘review’ yesterday, so it’s now exactly 19 years and one day since it happened]

’50 Song Memoir’ is what it says on the tin, with each of it songs referring to a different year in Merrit’s life. Yes, there’s 50 songs, because Stephin Merrit always prefers to go absolutely gall bladder out when he’s got a gimmick he really likes.

It’s not as good as ’69 Love Songs’, because of course it isn’t as good as the best album ever with a number in its title, but it’s still an astonishingly strong collection. The highs are no way near the heights of ’69…’,


but a far greater percentage of its songs are worthwhile: there are no piss-taking throwaways like Punk Love or Experimental Music Love and far less contrived arch jokes such as Love is Like Jazz. I might even argue that there are more great songs on ’50…’ than they are on ’69…’, but there’s nothing here anywhere near the sheer majesty of Busby Berkeley Dreams or The Book of Love or All My Little Words or The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure or I Don’t Want to Get Over You or I Shatter or…

[continues for several minutes]

I once had the brilliant idea of, instead of attempting a full Necessary Evil 2017 countdown of albums that I’ve barely lived with for three or four months, why not just have a top 50 of the songs on ’50 Song Memoir’, going into detail on all the topics and emotions brought up!? Pretty awesome, yeah?!

Unfortunately, I got that brilliant idea after I’d already started this stupid fucking list. I mean, I’m still going to do it, it just won’t be as good. Hope you’re all fine with that.

No.50 ’97: Eurodisco Trio

Listen, I appreciate the story behind this song: the release of Merrit’s side project Future Bible Heroes debut album was in 1997 and the song obviously references the kind of dark thinking that inspired the band. Hey, I even appreciate how the chorus simply repeats ‘We are a Eurodisco trio’ in four different languages. But this is a bad song, and the only track on ’50 Song Memoir’ that I always skip

No.49 ’89: The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo

God awful near oompah music, that I have no idea what could possibly be about, and really don’t want to find out because my head hurts

No.48 ’08: Surfin’

In 2008 Merritt moved to Los Angeles to pursue a potential career in film scoring. he hasn’t scored a movie since 2003, so perhaps this song’s naffness is fitting. Although I think the track is garbage surf rock pastiche (still better than anything on the last 2 Pixies albums though) I absolutely support its philosophy.

I don’t wanna go surfing
Why would surfing be fun?

What’s the purpose of surfing?
I believe there is none

Boring people go surfing
In those horrible shorts

How moronic is surfing?
It’s the dumbest of sports”

No.47 ’91: The Day I Finally…

almost considered this song- which describes Merrit’s further fall into depression in 1991 as he literally plays a one man band on percussive instruments- maybe the least worthy of listening to on the entire album. But, the tiny little melody under the ‘It won’t be long now’ chorus (of sorts), plus the nice little limerick it ends on, saves it from completely propping up the list.


No.46 ’72 Eye Contact


Eye Contact isn’t a terrible song, but it stands out as being notably inferior because of its placing as the record’s seventh song and coming after a brilliant opening of six tracks that never drop below brilliant

No.45 ’78: The Blizzard of 78

Another dud that’s very dudness exists despite its interesting and funny lyrics. Merrit documents the terror wreaked by a blizzard that, as I found in my research for this very entry, was notable enough to have its own Wikipedia page, (“One ten year old was found after three weeks/In a snowdrift ten feet from his door/Some fell asleep in their cars and awakened no more/25 people died shoveling snow/Have that done by somebody you hate”) and how blissfully unaware of other people’s misery he was as a 13 year old focused only on the mundane and forming his own band (“We called ourselves “the Black Widows”/We weren’t the last nor the first/But we were almost certainly by far the worst/We made the Cramps sound orchestral/That’s an achievement, I guess/As for rehearsal/We made the Shaggs sound like Yes”).

However, musically it’s the worst proponent of the factor that I think holds back the Magnetic Fields music too often: shitty, lo-fi production. The latest Sufjan Stevens album includes a demo of a song taken on his freakin’ iPhone that sounds way better and more musically multilayered than this. To make your songs intentionally sound this rubbish is just perverse. Every other lo-fi presentation on ’50…’ has enough of Merritt’s brilliant pop songwriting to overcome the limitations intentionally put upon it, up a more subtle song like Blizzard… is (wait for it, wait for it, WAIT FOR IT!!!) snowed under.


No.44 ’84: Danceteria!

Now, of course I am always a fan of any song titles that are stylised to include exclamation marks in their name: my favourite song of all time is Sinners Swing! by Van Halen. My second favourite is  Where Have All the Good Times Gone! by Van Halen, which proves that I even love exclamation marks when they’re used incorrectly, as its usage there instead of the question mark the literary nerds would consider correct acts as just further proof of what a more freakin’ awesome mark of punctuation it is. My third favourite is Jump! by Van Halen, which the lamestream media would have you believe doesn’t actually have an exclamation point in its title, but totally does: it’s an excited song! The protagonist isn’t just politely suggesting that somebody ‘Jump. Perhaps. I dunno, do what you wan’t, I guess’.

My fourth favourite is My Way by Frank Sinatra. It just totally sums up my whole philosophy, y’know?

Danceteria!, however, isn’t even lyrically interesting (all Merritt seemed to do when he was 19 was go out dancing?? No wonder he turned into one of them gayers), and musically very dull

No.43 ’94: Haven’t Got A Penny

This song is all the worst aspects that can occasionally infect Magnetic Fields’s music rolled into one, and is the sort of thing you’d imagine Merrit would churn out constantly is he didn’t mind everyone hating him. It’s twee, it’s too arch for its own good, it’s a little too influenced some by mischievous character in an obscure 1940s musical (specifically the character of ‘Cheeky Chinghotzen in 1942’s’You Can Take That Tone, Mister!!’). Other people who ‘didn’t have a penny’ in 1994 wrote far more interesting songs about it.

No.42 ’90: Dreaming in Tetris

A crushingly OK song that suddenly gets all interesting lyrically toward the end, with ‘All the young dudes of 25/Caught diseases, few survived…We expected nuclear war/What should we take precautions for?’ perhaps the record’s best lines. Shame Merritt chose to waste them on one of the less inspired songs on the record. Seriously, it’s, like, the ninth least inspired on the album, or something

No.41 ’96: I’m Sad

So quickly, we run into another of Merritt’s occasional crippling flaws: he’s a man capable of making music so beautiful about sadness, and clever enough to write lyrics subverting the very song’s nature, but sometimes he just can’t risk making a song about sadness so self-indulgent to actually be ‘sad’ that he’ll release something like SadSad is supposed to simply illustrate Merritt’s general discontent around 1996, and is perhaps played for laughs to illustrate how he had no reason to be. If so, this attempt at humour could have easily been translated through the lyrics, but for Merritt to overperform it so melodramatically just renders the song ever so pointless

No.40 ’06 “Quotes”

Proof of this record’s overall consistency and quality: a song as legitimately great as “Quotes” is considered the fortieth best on the album. It has a great lyric culled from personal experience (Merritt was once widely labelled a racist for stating the fact that Zip-a-Dee-Doo Dah was a ‘catchy song’. Which is ridiculous, obviously: I’ve often been labelled a Nazi because I have gone on record stating that I think Hitler had great legs. He did have great legs!! Pretty smoking body too, if you ask me. And those eyes! Oooff! Dreamboat, ammi right?? But does the fact that I regularly fanticize about having rather tender and loving sex with Adolf Hitler make me a Nazi?? No! It just, y’know, makes me rather odd) and a great backing behind it. This list is about to become quite boring, as it’s near enough all gold from hereonin

No.39 ’67 Come Back as a Cockroach

Brilliant, funny, catchy and gorgeous sounding song. The kind that you imagine Merritt writes seven versions of while taking a dump, and perhaps on autopilot, but just proof of how great that can still sound. Each song before now on this list you imagine Merritt was trying to make a bit rubbish, for some arch comic reason that we could never hope to understand, but this is the kind of minor magic he can create when even semi engaged.

No.38 ’75 My Mamma Ain’t


37 ’81 How to Play the Synthesiser

‘Now go to the filter bank/Low, high, band or notch/Fiddle with the cutoff point/Pour yourself a Scotch/Modern filters oscillate/All by themselves/It sounds like you’re torturing/Little metal elves/This is how to play the synthesizer’

One of the reasons that Dancetaria! is so underwhelming is that it comes just three songs after Synthesiser, which is hitting very similar musical beats (as, if you will, it, if you like, were) but infinitely better. Start going to clubs then learn how to play the synthesiser! Didn’t a 16 year old Merritt even care about how his behaviour was going to negatively influence his musical memoirs 34 years later?? I’m always constantly aware of this, that’s why in January of each year I murder a random stranger in intriguingly intricate ways, just in case it turns out that 2018, for example (only a hypothetical example, I definitely didn’t do it this year), isn’t a year where many notable things happen. I usually kill a prostitute or a black person, because police don’t even bother investigating those


 36. ’86: How I Failed Ethics

Remember all those reasons I gave for Haven’t Got a Penny being rubbish? Well Ethics has all those same problems, but I like it. Music triggers a primal reaction, you can’t describe why one song is better than another, I explained previously that music journalism is absolutely bollocks.

The lyrics of this are at least interesting, and a nice story about someone literally failing at ethics, a course at college. And Merritt revealing his reason for failing was because he ‘declared morality an offshoot of aesthetics’ really intrigued me, and inspired me to actually read the book ‘Aesthetics and Morality’ by Elisabeth Schellekens and- woweeee!- the ideas in that book are just- WHOOOOOOOOAH!!!- pretty, pretty, pretty…

OK, I didn’t read the book, but I read a review of which neatly summed up Schellekens theory that… erm…

OK, I didn’t actually read the review, but I saved it to my Pocket app, and I’ll definitely read it soon, yeah?

Also: this song starts off exactly the same as Travis Scott‘s Goosebumps, which is brilliant, because you couldn’t think of two more apposite artists if you were trying.

No.35 ’93: Me and Fred and Dave and Ted

Stephin, come on, it should really be ‘Fred and Dave and Ted and I‘. I don’t care about your bloody rhyming scheme, mister, you should be smart enough to know your correct grammar!

This is more Magnetic Fields on autopilot, and more proof that such a thing is rarely a bad thingq. Also notable for the line ‘We were young and vaguely in love’: I love the idea of being ‘vaguely’ in love because, if we’re being absolutely honest with ourselves, about 94% of relationships are only based upon vaguely loving one another.

I mean, look across at your boyfriend right now, as he casually relieves whatever itch is troubling his ball sack for a good three minutes, sticks another Dorito in his fat mouth, sucks the sediment off his fingers before wiping them clean on his y-fronts that he’s somehow sat in at 3 in the afternoon, and ask yourself this: do you really love this man??

Yeah, that’s what I thought: ‘Vaguely’

No.34 ’03 The Ex and I

Ah! So you do know your correct grammar! Me and Fred… is exposed as yet another example of Merritt being intentionally bad at something!

Me and the Ex is… another great autopiloted Magnetic Fields song (see, the problem with listing the tracks in a countdown is that I’m so freaking awesome at making lists that songs of similar quality will obviously end up next to each other. Jeez, sorry so being so good at what I do, hope you’re not too offended) only really notable for the lovely way the line ‘Now every evening ends/With XXX ex sex’ sounds. According to someone annotating on Genius: “Since that [’69 Love Songs], Stephin Merritt had not written any lyrics with consecutive rhymes, until 50 Song Memoir“. That’s a bold and bizarrely specific claim to make, ‘ebbi’, I trust you’ve done your research.

No.33 ’87 At the Pyramid

Unlike Danceteria!, the music of which made going to clubs sound like joining an underground nihilistic


German cult,  Pyramid sounds like a real example of the persuasive and devotional pull of club music. Perhaps, Merritt made Danceteriaso rubbish because he never liked dancing, but gets a lot more interested when the subject of the song is meeting somebody cute at a club.

No.32 ’12: You Can Never Go Back to New York

“You can never go back to New York/’Cause it changes as quick as the weather…You can go out of town for a week/And they move it all round to confuse you/Adding new things to amuse you/Just in case you come back to New York” I can really empathise with the thinking behind this song: it’s why I’ve not dared go back to Norwich since I left in 2009.

No.31 ’95: A Serious Mistake


No.30 ’05: Never Again

In Never Again, Merritt is sad, much like in Sad. Unlike in Sad though, the general feeling of being sad isn’t just played up for the ridiculousness of its sadness, but actually decides to be quite a lovely sad song simply about being sad. The fact that it admits that feeling sad might, actually, be quite sad, and not just just a laughable dose of pomposity.

It also includes the line “I wish I had some place better to go/But lately I can’t take New York in the snow”, which is a brilliantly and quite funny call back to an earlier song which I haven’t yet mentioned in  this list. Really, Merrit, you should have thought about inevitable lists like this when you made the album, some of your lines are needlessly losing their lustre.

No.29 ’13 Big Enough for Both of Us

“First time I saw you, I could feel a stir/Down in my special body part/I would like you to take it in your hand/But please be careful, it’s my heart”


No.28 ’66: Wonder Where I’m From

Jesus. I love this song- the opening track where Merritt tries to decide the true birthplace of someone who had lived in 33 different places by the age of 22 (“In Saint Thomas, barefoot Beatniks bonk… Up in Yonkers, two blocks from the Bronx… Baden-Baden, in the BRD/Lederhosen on my baby bum/Is it there I’m from?”)- and yet it barely makes the best thirty songs on the album.

Oh, and Merritt, if you were wondering more directly where you were from: Peter Purves ballsack. The guy was all over the place, continually dipping his wick in different flavours of poontang pie. Often aggressively.




No.27 ’69: Judy Garland

Another brilliant song that links the 1969 death of Judy Garland with the Stonewall riots that happened a week later in protest of mistreatment of members of the gay community. “Some say its a coincidence/No relation/As if she didn’t die for us/Her love nation”. It absolutely was a coincidence, by the way, but I think that Merritt absolutely knows that. But, since they both happened in the same year, he was never going to be able choose between one writing a song about of the most significant moments in LGBT rights in US history or Judy fricking Garland, was he?

Bob Kohler, a gay rights activist who was at the riots:

The street kids faced death every day. They had nothing to lose. And they couldn’t have cared less about Judy. We’re talking about kids who were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Judy Garland was the middle-aged darling of the middle-class gays. I get upset about this because it trivialises the whole thing.

Jesus, not only is Steven Merritt a racist, he’s also a middle aged, middle class darling, even when he was three years old.

No.26 ’74: No


No.25 ’80 London by Jetpack

“London by Jetpack/It can be done/What we spend on fuel/We’ll make in film”

OK, let’s brush over the fact that jetpacks weren’t commercially available until 2010, and let’s assume that due to Merritt’s contacts in the artistic community he somehow had access to a prototype of the exact model that wouldn’t be released for another 30 years.

The jetpack can travel for about 30 minutes on a five-gallon tank of petrol. The jetpack can reach top speeds of 60 mph, giving it a range of 30 miles per tank. London is roughly 3’470 miles away from New York. I’m not 100% sure whether Merrit lived in New York in 1980, this article has already taken enough research as it is, so let’s say he did. To get from NY to London would take 115.66667 tanks, or 578.3333 gallons of fuel.

Let’s round that up to 600 gallons of fuel, to account for any likely variables such as hitting any Northern gannets or angering the Kraken. Gas prices in 1980 were $1.19 a gallon, which is…

Really? Is that low? It seems low. I don’t drive…

So, actually a flight to London by jetpack would only cost $714. I mean, fuck, the average US income in 1980 was $12,513.46, so even if Merritt was the lazy beatnik type I can imagine he will always be, that’s still a manageable amount to save up for. At US exchange rates, you’d only need to find someone willing to cough up £319.75 (£1’541.20 in today’s money) for the rights to your film your film to cover the costs and, frankly, you should be demanding a lot more. Not just because you’ll need to pay the costs of the film crew, who will likely be carrying the 600 gallons of fuel. Probably in, like, a balloon or something.

But, yeah, it turns out London by jetpack can be done.

No.24 ’09: Till You Come Back to Me

“Who did you leave me for?/Can’t wait to find out who you like more/Who has been sniffing ’round your back door?/You dirty lil” WHORE! He’s about to say ‘whore’…

That’s all any of us ever want, isn’t it? Even if we’re in a happy relationship (neither word is ever likely) we just want to know that whoever replaced us in a former lover’s affections. The dirty whore



For those of you keeping track, this is the first song we’ve encountered on this countdown that I’d be confident in calling ‘achingly’ beautiful, rather than just beautiful. Just so you know

No.23 ’76: Hustle 76

This is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant song, that I previously thought might have been all about Merritt first understand the true joy of dancing at age ten (he was definitely the type of child who grew up somehow considering himself somehow better than such uncouth behaviour as dancing, even at age four or five) with lines like “Some people don’t know how to dance/It’s easy, you just move your hips”.

Turns out it’s not about that, at least explicitly, but more about being conned by a cheap disco knock off record of the type that were apparently rife at the time.


There’s no real deeper meaning or tragedy implied. Does this make this amazing song somehow less amazing? Not at all: the fact that Merritt has talents to create such magic out of mundanity in fact somehow makes the song better.

No.22 ’93: Weird Diseases

If a gay man writes a memoir with a chapter entitled Weird Diseases, you know what it’s going to be about, don’t you? Aye? Don’t you? You do. Don’t you, though?


Surely, you’d imagine, it’d be about all the cooties that he managed to avoid by not kissing girls. Very smart move, by the way.

But no, instead he documents all the other rare afflictions that have plagued him throughout his life. From hyperacusis to “Nearly fatal renal cysts” to Aspergers “if that exists” (which I initially thought was a comment on Asperger’s being one of the mental disorders that idiots frequently cite as not being real, but it turns out that in 2013 it was actually reclassified as instead being on the autism spectrum).

In the opening lines though, as Merritt says that “When I was yea high ’til I was three/I suffered from petit mal epilepsy/Any excitement gave me a fit/But there were drugs to cure me of it”, he gives recognition to the fact that far scarier diseases existed where one could not simply be cured of.

Yes, I’m sorry to break it to you, but every time at school when somebody would give you a ‘cootie shot’ by punching you in the arm, that was actually based on notably scant scientific evidence. Also, less than half of the people who administered them were actually registered medical professionals

21 ’07 In the Snow White Cottages

Lovely song about finding the one thing that a professional misanthrope like Merritt could possibly find worthwhile about his move to LA. “While there, we made a documentary/Concerning my friend Claudia and me/A movie you did not want to be in” [starts downloading a torrent of the 2010 movie ‘Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields’]

No.20 ’10: 20’000 Leagues Under the Sea

Hey, you know that last song was brilliant. Well, this one’s also brilliant. In fact, in my humble opinion, I’d say it were a little more brilliant. Not much to say about it, not even a wrestling reference to make. Told you that this list would get more and more boring. Moving on

No.19 ’85: Why I Am Not a Teenager


No18 ’02: Be True to Your Bar


No.17 ’15: Somebody’s Fetish

“Everything is somebody’s perversion
One finger in or total submersion
Some need control and some want coercion
Everybody’s somebody’s fetish
And I, even I, with my wildebeest’s face
My eccentricities and my freedom from grace
Even for me has Cupid found a place
At last
One man’s poison is another man’s meat
Some go for inches and some go for feet
Some want the music and some like the beat
One man’s poison is another man’s meat
Everyone is somebody’s fancy
From 23rd Street down to Delancey
Whether by science or necromancy
Nothing’s so weird that nobody does it”

The final track on ’50…’ holds a special part in my heart, and not just because Merritt is savvy enough to know that all the best musicals should have a happy, or at least hopeful ending, which him confirming he’s found someone weird and perverted enough to love him back. Also it acts as a nice reminder to myself in my lonelier and more hopeless moments that it’s been proven numerous times in the past that there do actually exist people strange and depraved enough to love even me: I’ll always be somebody’s fetish. Just no fatties. Or Smiths fans. Or Pakistanis.

No.16 ’68 A Cat Called Dionysus

Dionysus is ’50…’s premier example of what Magnetic Fields do better than any other artist: taking something a story that in other, less talented, hands have been a rather trivial and throwaway tale. One that wouldn’t really be worth writing a song about. Merritt’s family were the sort of insufferable pretentious types who would name a cat freakin’ Dionysus, Merritt loved that cat, the cat didn’t really like him, one day he ran away. The end.

However, Magnetic Fields manage to turn it into an epic and emotional (without slyly mocking that very emotion, as is Merritt’s irritating compulsion in many of the band’s worse songs) song that really actually manages to convey how important that cat actually was to 3 year old Merritt.

There’s deeper stuff here too, with Merritt confessing that he always wanted to keep Dionysus in his toy box with all his other toys, and that it was this treatment of him as just a play thing rather than a true emotional being that led to Dionysus’s hatred of Merritt. The underlying message of the song is that perhaps you should always ensure any facet of your truly held love is not actually causing harm to whatever and whomever you hold bear, but I’m not a proper journalist so I’m already getting sweaty after not writing a poo joke for more than a couple of hundred words.

No.15 ’88 Ethan Frome

I’ve said on multiple times how much importance I put in other people’s recommendations, always figuring that if something is that important to someone then there must be something extremely worthwhile about it. Well, after hearing Merritt wax lyrical about Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel so many times I decided that I would definitely watch the movie when the book was adapted to the screen. Perhaps Ethan Frome could be introduced as one of The Avengers, or the X-Men? His superpower could be the power to stab enemies through the heart with his rapier wit and scathing put downs (that’s a really funny joke if you’ve ever read ‘Ethan Frome’. Possibly. I’ve never actually read it. But, let’s face it, neither have you)

“I first read you on my birthday
And again umpteen more times
When will they make you a musical
There have been far worse crimes”

A musical? Hmmmmm…. Nah, too gay.

have actually purchased ‘Ethan Frome’ from Amazon. I never read fiction, but I’m willing to make an exception for Merritt. I’ll let you (my adoring fans) know what I think when I finally finish it

EDIT: Done!!

No.14 ’77: Life Ain’t All Bad 



I’m not joking. That’s the song I want. If you play anything else you actually don’t care about me and just wanted an excuse to get drunk and maybe cry in groups. You can do that in your local Wetherspoon’s literally any day between 10am until midnight, so just go there if that’s what you want.

And perhaps the line about me killing pet dogs and would only probably be relevant to less than 40% of the attendees, but I guess not everyone should feel that singing those two particular lines are absolutely essential. The rest of the song, however, Is. If you think the song is in anyway ‘inappropriate’, then you never really knew me and just taking up valuable church place: a lot of people love me and would really like to pay their respects.

No.13 ’83: Foxx and I

An absolutely bang up the elephant song that you might be left wondering what all the fuss is about (all the fuss that I’m creating. Here. This fuss. Fussfussfussfussfuss! See? That’s a fussload of fuss being generated. The buzz surrounding this song is definitely notable) about 30 seconds in. It’s astonishing, however, how much a two minute and forty three second song still finds time to evolve and grow so magically.

No.12 ’11: Stupid Tears

Yes, being there are many things that make you incredibly sad that really shouldn’t. Perhaps you do deserve to be mocked for self-indulgently weeping over someone deciding not to supply you with constant reminders of your own attractiveness by breaking up with you, or someone you thought thought highly of you calling you a hurtful name: there are literally sticks and stones being used to break bones somewhere right now as we speak. Maybe the mockery Merritt adopts in Sad is really how much we should be extravagantly rolling our eyes at other people’s first world problems.

But… knowing this doesn’t stop you getting sad, does it? I have never once chosen to cry, because it’s a fucking ridiculous thing to do and I’m English enough to consider it mortally embarassing and a sign of nothing but weak character. But it still fucking happens! There are people far smarter than me who can tell you the exact reason why almost every recorded instances of crying is laughably unearned and cosmically irrelevant. These people cry no less than me. Often more.

“I hate you, you stupid tears
Your vast, kitschy chandeliers
Completely obscure the sky”

I would actually consider this one of Merritt’s most gorgeous ever tracks. And I hope No.11 is a happy one…

No.11 ’79 Rock’n’Roll Will Ruin Your Life

Yaaaars!! This song, very fittingly, frickin’ rocks!!! In the most polite, thoroughly Stephin Merritt way possible, of course.

Also notable for being one of the very few mentions of Merritt’s biological father (“Rock’n’roll will ruin your life/Like your old no-goodnik dad”) whom Merritt didn’t actually meet until 2013, and is obviously far too wary of cliche to write an album about that.

Also contains the Merritt explaining why he was never the best fit for ‘rock’n’roll:

“You laugh now maybe (ha!) but wait till you hear
I’ve got no use for groupies, too shy and too queer
The truth about drugs? Well, I can’t afford those
Cause a lot of my money flew up the circus’ nose
And all that noise gave me hyperacusis
So turn this record down or it’ll happen to you, sis”

10 ’01 Have You Seen It in the Snow?


Remember in Never Again when Merritt sang that “I wish I had some place better to go/But lately I can’t take New York in the snow”? Well, this was the song he was nicely referencing, as he describes how even dirty, smelly old New York can look like the most beautiful city in the world when caked in God’s marching powder. Yeah, doesn’t work as well when it’s reverse engineered, does it? Thanks a lot, Merritt, did you think of bloggers potentially attempting to rank the album but at all??

In case you were wondering: dirty, smelly Urumqi looks even worse in the snow.

No.9 ’70: They’re Killing Children Over There


I love, love, love this song. I mean, like everything about it. I love it’s sound- a dark and brooding stoner rock pastiche-; I love its lyrics- about Merritt going to see Jefferson Airplane as a young kid and mistaking singer Grace Slick’s Vietnam War protest of ‘They’re killing children over there!’ to mean they were actually slaughtering infants somewhere in the hall; I love how a child Merritt’s misinterpretation isn’t played for laughs but as an actual and real worry that he found terrifying (he is always a lot more likely to be forgiving of childhood emotions); I love that researching this piece led me straight to a picture of Grace Slick’s boob; I love how listening to it again and again now only confirms that it deserves its lofty position; and, most importantly, I love still somehow being able to think of things to write after 5’000 (!!!) words

No.8 ’82: Happy Beeping


I have the say: of all Merritt’s Mum’s miserable ex-boyfriends we meet on ’50…’, this one- a jazz drummer (no, wait, it actually gets worse) who hated synthesiser music so much that Merritt actually arrived home one day to find his music theory homework “torn up, tacked to my door/Like Luther’s 95 Theses/A note explained what this was for/’Happy Beeping’ it said”- seems to be the absolute worse. It’s such a shame it’s a different one being eulogised in Life Ain’t All Bad.

No.7 ’14: I Wish I Had Pictures


If Somebody’s Fetish is the literal closing track, and ensures that the two and a half hour journey ends on a smile and a happy story, …Pictures is the record’s absolute emotional denouement. It’s Merritt in near Oskar Schindler mode, where despite the undoubted achievement that this record is, he’s still in anguish about the so many things he wasn’t able to recall, and how all the stories are only likely to fade further away in the future.

“If I were an artist, with charcoal and pad
I’d make my own pictures of each day I’ve had
If I were a poet, I’d know the right word
I’d make it pretty, and grand, and absurd
If I were an actor, with just a wisecrack
Or some little gesture, I’d bring it all back
But I’m just a singer; it’s only a song
The things I remember are probably wrong
I wish I had pictures of every old day
Cause all these old memories are fading away
All these old memories are fading away
All these old memories are fading away
All these old memories are fading away”

Gah!! I’m sorry, but this song just gets me…

No.6 ’99: Father’s In the Clouds

OK, so here’s the one song where Merritt actually confronts the feelings of finally meeting his biological father (stuck in 1999 because it began life as a film score he was composing at that time). It’s gorgeous, because you know it’s fucking gorgeous, don’t you? “What does one say?/’Where have you been all this time?’/Where’s my back pay?'”

No.5 ’00: Ghosts of the Marathon Dancers

I think Magnetic Fields are one of the impossibly small number of acts who are actually a little greater when doing ballads, so expect a few slowies near the top of this list. This song’s gorgeous, because you know it’s fucking gorgeous

No.4 ’73: It Could Have Been Paradise


No.3 ’04: Cold Blooded Man


“You need someone thoroughly sadistic
With a less appealing face and form
Someone who comes home and goes ballistic

You need a cold-blooded man
In a serial-killer van
You need a cold-blooded man to keep you warm

Someone unfashionably fascistic
Randomly selected from the dorm
One without one good characteristic

You need a cold-blooded man
I should have known when we began
You need a cold-blooded man to keep you warm

One who likes his girlfriends masochistic
Too stupid to come in from the storm
Someone who could make you a statistic

You need a cold-blooded man
And then you’ll need a CAT scan
You need a cold-blooded man to keep you warm”

 “Being left for someone you don’t understand the appeal of is particularly grueling”-Stephen Merritt. The song is, perhaps, even better than the albums most wryly funny turn.

By the way, I chose to illustrate this entry with a picture of Ralf Little because my brother (Mizdow) is convinced that Mr Little will soon go on trial for murdering someone. I kind of believe him: look into those eyes. No soul

No.2 ’71: I Think I’ll Make Another World


No.1 ’98 Lovers’ Lies

Yep. This one. It isn’t the most intelligent, it isn’t the most tightly structured or lyrically astute and it certainly isn’t the funniest. It’s No.1 because I think Magnetic Fields are at their absolute best when they’re just trying to be beautiful, and Lovers’ Lies is by some distance the most beautiful song on the album.


Jesus, guy’s life has been all over the place! He reached a sort of plateau in the late 90s/early 00s (’69 Love Songs’ was released in 1999), but otherwise the guys as variable as a freaking human being!

I did it! 6’000+ words and I finally…!

Bollocks: still have to do the score, don’t I?


Age: 53 (+38)

Album Number: 11 (+66)

Very Good Songs: 9 (+36)

Brilliant Songs: 32 (+640)

AMAZING Songs: 3 (+60)

Skippable Songs: 2 (-2)

I really do hate Eurodisco Trio

% of Album Worthwhile: 88



Again, because it’s Merritt, I’m sure whether it’s supposed to be shit…


Previous Entries: None

Yep, astonishing it might sound but Magnetic Fields haven’t released a worthwhile album since ‘i’, the year before I can find listings for. So, bizarrely, they’re:


Meta Critic: 86





11 thoughts on “12 The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir

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