Belle and Sebastian formed just over 19 years ago in Glasgow, Scotland. And within that first year of 1996, they had already released two classic albums and managed to charm fans all over the world in a pre-internet era that seems daunting, especially when you consider the same couple years also featured in-your-face breakthroughs like Radiohead’s OK Computer, Beck’s Odelay, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, and many others.
Belle and Sebastian didn’t overwhelm with their sonics, but rather with the familiarity and beauty of Stuart Murdoch’s melodies, the vividness and quirkiness of his characters, and the assembly of a band of everymen (and women) who were very much not rock stars. At a time before Pitchfork and indie rock were a commodified industry, Belle and Sebastian laid the groundwork of earnest songwriting that a whole culture would build off.
Yeah, we can say all that, but that ignores that there is something special about their music that isn’t quantifiable or explicable — like emotional resonance, nostalgia, discovery of the beauty that is around us in everyday actions, belief in the underdog, and on and on.
Next week, Belle and Sebastian will release their 9th album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. None of the songs from it are on this list, and you’ll notice a general skewing towards their older material here. That isn’t to discount the band’s recent output. We very easily could have made a top 40 Belle and Sebastian songs list (in particular, recent albums have seen Sarah Martin come into her own as a songwriter, taking some of the pressure off Murdoch). Likewise, you’ll see an absence of songs written by Stevie Jackson and Isobel Campbell, which again, is not because they didn’t make some excellent contributions, but because they were crafting tunes against Murdoch, one of the best in music history.
So, these are our 10 favorites from a band that has made a ton of favorites. Hope you enjoy rediscovering these gems.