The Darkness' 10 best songs you may have missed
There's some absolute gems buried among the Lowestoft quartet's greatest hits
Every British, rock-loving household seems to have a copy of The Darkness’ Permission To Land. Whereas fads grow and fade, they've outlived the initial boom that saw them plastered on the front of every UK magazine imaginable and headlining Reading & Leeds on the back of their debut record. Permission To Land is essentially a greatest hits package, but there’s rubies aplenty amidst the Suffolk rockers’ esteemed musical marquee; as they're preparing album number five for lift-off next year, we rifle through 10 of their lesser-known tracks.
10. I Am Santa (2015)
Because it’s Christmas, we figured this one should go first. Not quite the willy-referencing wonder that was Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End), I Am Santa is a festive treat for all the family… if your family likes Hot Space-era Queen with jingle bells on top. As usual, Justin Hawkins’ sky high vocals work a treat and he turns in an absolute ripper of a guitar solo, but it’s a cameo appearance from SANTA HIMSELF that steals the show. “I said son, thank you for the cookies!” Terrifying.
9. Curse Of The Tollund Man (2004)
When he’s not singing about shagging, Justin’s got a proper knack for folklore. On Love Is Only A Feeling’s B-side, said mystical musings are explored on Curse Of The Tollund Man; a man encased in peat rises again and unleashes terror upon everyone he sees. Straying not just lyrically but musically from the Darkness’ usual shtick, this track dances around a maypole in a semi-acoustic, almost Led Zeppelin fashion, but it’s driven by that pummelling rhythm section that is Ed Graham on drums and Frankie Poullain bashing the bass – they’re usually hidden beneath layers of duelling guitars and high-pitched vocals, so their prominence here is a treat. The Darkness rarely air Curse Of The Tollund Man live, but when they whipped it out during their Permission To Land anniversary shows in 2013... it was a bit special.
8. Bareback (2003)
Permission To Land is basically perfect. Ten songs that are 10/10, no filler, nothing to criticise. Bareback, a B-side to Growing On Me, can be traced back to the Darkness’ days as an unsigned band, opening up their always flamboyant live shows with its instrumental, fret-tapping excellence. You could argue that it would’ve served as an ample opener for Permission To Land but, well, you just can’t fuck with Black Shuck, can you? Nonetheless, Bareback is fully banging.
7. Wanker (2005)
Beginning with a glorious “HUH!” from Justin, Wanker has it all from the off. There’s cowbell, horns, vintage guitars, the word ‘wanker’ being delivered with the panache of a preacher on poppers, then halfway through: “Look into my eyeballs!” This B-side to One Way Ticket is a criminally overlooked Darkness diamond; had the title been changed to something less wanky and it had been released as a single, this could’ve been a right old hit. It still hangs onto that overblown, overpriced racket One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back pumped out but the turns of pace within Wanker’s relative brevity work wonderfully. Plus, y’know, cowbell.
6. Concrete (2012)
“SURROUNDED BY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE THAT I HOPE I NEVER HAVE TO MEET! SEARCHING FOR A SWEET LADY WOMAN TO SHARE A LITLE BODY HEAT!” God, the Darkness are great, aren’t they? Comeback record Hot Cakes is stacked with steaming hot treats, but Concrete’s a cut above; it’s got the singalong qualities of Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us, the mind-boggling drama of their Radiohead cover and enough grit to keep the roads safe at Christmas, Poullain’s bass in particular preventing any crashes. An absolute anthem.
5. English Country Garden (2005)
Cordially known as the Darkness’ main riff machine, Dan Hawkins lets himself go a bit on One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back and ended up playing most of the bass parts following Poullain’s departure from the group. One of the more ludicrous moments on the album comes in the form of English Country Garden and it is so fun; Justin’s piano is downright mental, the guitar solo is an absolute beast and you just can’t deny the authenticity of a man singing, “They did a quiz at the village fête and we came last” and “my cock and Farmer Giles’ prizewinning marrow.” It’s so Queen circa A Day At The Races/A Night At The Opera and all the better for it.
4. Mudslide (2015)
Telling the tale of what appears to be a bout of anal sex gone horribly wrong, Mudslide is a down ‘n’ dirty rocker that evokes the grandiosity of Led Zeppelin’s Presence record but, well, with allusions to the council gritter. Dan’s riffs are undeniably catchy, the acoustic guitar through the second verse is a beast and the whole thing’s just another tick for the Darkness’ fourth album, Last of Our Kind.
3. Shake (Like A Lettuce Leaf) (2006)
The Darkness are about as British as the Queen riding a Corgi into a fish and chip shop, and Shake (Like A Lettuce Leaf) is a shining example of that. Mercilessly demoted to a B-side for Is It Just Me?, this track is essentially Justin listing lots of food because yeah, it’s all a thinly veiled euphemism for sex. “You keep your cordon bleu and your seedless grapes. You know where you can stick your brown eggs.” Bon Scott would be proud, especially of that “shake it till the slugs fall off” backing vocal. This has never been played live and that’s a bloody crime.
2. The Horn (2013)
Released as a stand-alone single at the tail-end of 2013, The Horn was a taster of what we thought was going to be the Last Of Our Kind. Actually not appearing on that record, it’s still a great song; the riffs are heavier, the lyrics are saucy, and the whole chorus is a lesson Def Leppard ought to take on board nowadays. The last thirty seconds of British Steel-ish Judas Priest chugging and Justin’s cirque du vocal are every bit as silly as you’d like, but not the silliest bit of the song. No. The Horn’s oddest moment comes near the beginning, Justin doing a Midnight Cowboy and saying, “I’m walkin’ here!” for reasons unknown.
1. The Best Of Me (2003)
Playing second fiddle to Get Your Hands Off My Woman’s single, The Best Of Me is a proper retro rocker that lays the blueprint for bands like Foxy Shazam. Its exclusion from Permission To Land could’ve been due to its archaic qualities , which could seem almost like pastiche to the uninitiated; for the average Darkness fan, however, The Best Of Me is most definitely the best of the Darkness, packing unrivalled Thin Lizzy leads and, as expected, a gravy-spurting guitar solo.