For casual fans and neophytes, an introductory list of the finest, most representative songs by English alternative pioneers The Cure must remain fairly basic. That's one reason why so many relatively familiar songs make this list when there's so much to choose from within The Cure's output. The other reason, however, is that these tunes are extremely solid representatives of alternative rock before it really took on that term officially.
Though frontman Robert Smith and his bandmates pretty much disavowed much of the music on their 1979 U.K. debut, Three Imaginary Boys (rereleased in the U.S. in 1980 in a slightly different form as Boys Don't Cry), this familiar track undoubtedly holds up as one of the band's most iconic and catchy offerings. Adam Sandler made loving tribute to the band and the song in The Wedding Singer by borrowing the chord progression for his charming "Grow Old With You." Musically, the tune may be a bit bouncier than what fans later came to expect from The Cure, but Smith's vocal performance established early on his passionate pre-emo style that would always dictate the group's sound one way or another.
The Cure always displayed an angular guitar sound that combined with Smith's vocals to drape the band's songs in atmosphere, even before its so-called Goth rock period. This accessible yet clearly stylized song, also from 1980's Boys Don't Cry re-release, makes for interesting post-punk/college rock/early alternative listening. And though that wasn't enough to satisfy Smith's desire for experimentation and reinvention that took The Cure in far different directions thereafter, it should be enough for the casual fan to develop an appreciation for Smith's songwriting skills and highly influential singing style. This is a dark horse in The Cure's repertoire well worth checking out.
Though far less accessible and much darker than The Cure's previous work, songs like this standout track from the band's seminal 1982 Goth rock album, Pornography, harbor some truly compelling music indeed. Having moved already toward a spare, even somewhat anti-melodic sound on the previous year's Seventeen Seconds, Smith exercised a heavier hand in guiding the band at this point. And while critical and commercial reaction to this brooding, minimalist style was decidedly mixed, more than a few of the tracks on Pornography represent a major flashpoint for The Cure's musical development. The one common thread to the band's changing early-'80s sound remained the distinctive vocals from Smith.
Following a few years of internal and external turmoil, combined with a rather uncertain musical identity, The Cure returned to form nicely with the 1985 release The Head on the Door, arguably the album that began to introduce the band to a now-rather-welcoming early alternative rock scene. With this vibrant, nearly jaunty tune, Smith began to inject a rather positive romantic ebullience to The Cure's music, and the group's growing band of listeners were most certainly the beneficiaries. The combination of synth and chiming guitars has rarely been executed this hauntingly or compellingly, and the song became an early entry in The Cure's "commercial" phase.
Practically guitarless, this beloved track shimmers with an atmospheric blend of keyboards and Smith's breathy, emotional vocals. It's a great moment for the band, evidence that The Cure could effectively explore far reaches of the musical spectrum without alienating a large portion of potential fans as it had during its Goth period. The dramatic use of horns in the arrangement also adds plenty of flavor, striking out with a joyful whimsy not really heard in the group's music offerings of the early '80s. I don't know Smith's opinion of the emo strand now popular in punk-pop, but his influence on singers of that genre is undeniable and profound. Don't blame him too much about that, though.
1987's release of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me helped transform The Cure into a real household name, probably as a result of this signature track that has even gone on to serve as soundtrack headliner and title for a highly mainstream Hollywood romantic comedy. This is probably also the tune that held significant appeal for pop/rock listeners across the board, buoyed by its sweet melodic center and the tenderness of Smith's hopeful lyrics. Kicking things off with the famous line, "'Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream,' she said," Smith unabashedly announces the song as an utterly shameless love song, which was a pretty novel evolution of his hyper-emotional concerns.
This lovely tune laid some major groundwork for the alternative explosion of the early '90s, revealing to radio programmers and the music industry that alternative rock could be just as commercially viable if not more so than the declining, disposable pop music of the period. Also a standout track from 1989's Disintegration, this familiar tune became The Cure's only major hit in America on the Billboard pop charts, climbing all the way to No. 2 that year. Having long abandoned the stark, anti-melodic sounds of previous years, The Cure pushed into the '90s as a major force in modern rock, producing classics like "A Letter to Elise" and "High" that spotlighted that decade.