Gorillaz | Image: Supplied

Gorillaz: 10 Essential Tracks

One day in 1998, Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn were watching television, and what they saw disturbed them. Greeting them was an endless parade of pop idol contestants, boy bands, and celebrity wrestlers. Mindless melodrama and artificial fame were sweeping the culture of the 1990s.

At first, they were alarmed. Then they had an idea. If reality was becoming more and more like a cartoon, why not turn a cartoon into reality?

Inspired, Albarn and Hewlett penned a manifesto. The document that gave birth to their virtual pop band, Gorillaz, took up less than a single page. This has since been lost. But in a world where a reality television star was very recently president of the United States, the noose of celebrity culture has only tightened.

And as it has, the Gorillaz have grown in fame. Four in all, their names are 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs, and Noodle. Together they liberate music from the mindless direction of an empty and image-driven culture.

Twenty years after their 2001 debut, the world is only now catching up with the Gorillaz. Helped in no small part by their popularity with anime-loving members of Generation Z, the group is currently enjoying a resurgence. Perhaps only now can the originality and quality of these singles, music videos and albums truly be given their proper due.

1. ‘Dare’, Demon Days (2005)

“It’s coming up / It’s coming up / It’s coming up / It’s dare!” Few song lyrics of 2005 ignite such instant recognition as these. Refining the Gorillaz sound, look and concept, Demon Days introduced millions of us to cartoon music videos and genre-agnostic pop songs. Two decades before altered reality concerts came into fashion, the Gorillaz were touring the world as 2D avatars.

2. ‘Ghost Train’, Gorillaz (2001)

‘Ghost Train’ is the Gorillaz’ first recording. It was later released as a B-side to 2001 single ‘Rock the House’.

3. ‘Clint Eastwood’, Gorillaz (2001)

‘Clint Eastwood’ arrived on March 5, 2001. Ever since its release, Gorillaz fans have pondered its meaning. What do the lyrics of ‘Clint Eastwood’ mean? Talking to Daniel Rachel, author of the 2013 book The Art of Noise, Albarn said the song does not, as fans often assume, express a sense of happiness over feeling miserable. “I’m not happy,” Damon explained, “but I’m glad that whatever I got is in my bag. It’s not sad, but I’m not happy. I’m glad.”

4. ‘Last Living Souls’, Demon Days (2005)

‘Last Living Souls’ is the Gorillaz second most-played song live, trailing behind only ‘Clint Eastwood’. According to setlist.fm, the Demon Days tune has been performed close to 200 times. ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ follows closely in third place.

5. ‘On Melancholy Hill’, Plastic Beach (2010)

The word “melancholy” describes a gloomy state of mind, one commonly associated with depression. Yes, the music of the Gorillaz may take its greatest inspiration from international genres such as hip hop and electronic dance music. But there is an undeniable sense of melancholy about it that is distinctly British.

6. ‘Rhinestone Eyes’, Plastic Beach (2010)

Plastic Beach’s ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ touches on a recurring Gorillaz theme: environmental protest. While ‘Melancholy Hill’ may be the best-known tune from this era, ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ has enjoyed a recent spike in popularity among younger fans on TikTok. To date, the song has been featured in half a million TikToks.

7. ‘Dirty Harry’, Demon Days (2005)

Like The Beatles before them, the Gorillaz draw ideas from any and every part of popular culture they find inspiring. And here lies one of the greatest sources of their appeal. “The coolest thing,” co-founder Jamie shared with Wired in 2005, “is that kids are catching the references we put in the music and the visuals, and then they’re going out to learn about the original pieces of culture we were inspired by. The payoff is that the next generation of artists and writers might say, ‘I learned a lot from listening to the Gorillaz when I was 15.'”

8. ‘She’s My Collar’, Humanz (2017)

2017’s Humanz brought the Gorillaz into the modern era. The album contained a wide range of surprising collaborations Foremost among them was ‘She’s My Collar’, a well-received single with left-of-centre Colombian-American pop star Kali Uchis.

9. ‘The Pink Phantom’, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez (2020)

While fans have yet to receive long-rumoured Tame Impala or Arctic Monkeys collaborations, Gorillaz projects continue to feature a dazzling array of guest musicians. Sometimes it’s just as exciting to see a familiar musician get the Gorillaz animation treatment as it is to hear the song itself. Take ‘The Pink Phantom’ for example – who can resist the joy of seeing pop legend Elton John make his glittering entry into Gorillaz’ virtual world?

10. ‘Feel Good Inc.’, Demon Days (2005)

If there’s one song that epitomises the Gorillaz it is ‘Feel Good Inc’. It’s a narcotic mixture of pop and hip hop with a dash of blissful melancholy and an anime-inspired music video that projects escapist fantasy.

Further Reading

Listen To Gorillaz And Thundercat’s New Collab ‘Cracker Island’

Flume Shares Damon Albarn Collaboration ‘Palaces’ After Debuting It Live At Coachella

Watch Billie Eilish, Damon Albarn And De La Soul’s Posdnuos Perform ‘Feel Good Inc.’ At Coachella 2022

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