by Elliot Davies
To celebrate the triumphant return of Ride, we’re going to revel in all that is loud, crunchy and hazy by listing the 10 best shoegaze songs from that magnificent first wave!
Ride’s seminal Nowhere was released 1,301 weeks ago.
It came out on October 15 1990. That was 25 years and one week ago.
The quarter century anniversary proper was marked by a loud full album performance in Liverpool. But to celebrate this even more auspicious anniversary, let’s list our favourite shoegaze songs.
Now. What is shoegaze? Well, it’s the scene that celebrates itself.
Though electronic variants exist, it’s generally guitar music that requires so many pedals to play that guitarists are obliged to gaze vaguely at their shoes for the duration of their performances. It’s characterised by loud music and breathy vocals; wistful melodies and brutal noise; dense textures and soaring instrumentals.
Shoegaze is excellent.
But you already know that, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.
Well, actually you’re here to see which songs I picked. And no matter how much our tastes align, you’re gearing up to disagree. You plan on taking a cursory glance at my choices before swooping into the comments to tell me why I’m wrong.
You’re thinking of scrolling down to see what’s at number one now, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?
Yeah, I know you, hypothetical reader. I’m watching you. Eyes up here, please.
A quick note, before we begin: This list is going to span time and space. I don’t want to limit myself to UK bands, as such a restriction would make no sense when the quintessential shoegaze band hails from Dublin.
So let’s get started! Here are the 10 best shoegaze songs from the critical first wave.
And if – sorry, when – you disagree, well. Complaints to the usual address.
10. Cocteau Twins – Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires
Like wandering through woodlands by the light of the moon, only to stumble across a clearing full of glowing mushrooms and mischievous sprites; like floating through a blurry city in slow motion at night.
When songs are this opaque, you can’t help but attach your own meanings. But when the textures are as rich and woozy as this, you can’t help but get otherworldly in your interpretation.
No question about it, this song is superior to many of those listed below. But I’m structuring this list like a mixtape, and this one acts as the perfect introduction to the enduring appeal of shoegaze. Let it wash over you and dare to dream.
9. Yo La Tengo – Deeper Into Movies
A barely constrained jumble of clattering drums and screaming guitars underpinning a gorgeous melody; an uncomfortable balance of beauty and violence that somehow just works – this is what shoegaze is all about.
Some might say that Yo La Tengo aren’t necessarily a shoegaze band. That’s true enough – but then, they aren’t necessarily an anything band. They do whatever they want, and whatever they do tends to soar. So when they pile on the noise and distortion, which they do quite regularly, the effect is devastating.
The band recorded a gentler, stripped down version of Deeper Into Movies for their latest album, Stuff Like That There. It’s good, in that it confirms that beneath the chaos beats a tender bleeding heart – but for best results, always choose the amplified original.
8. Smashing Pumpkins – Mayonaise
But but but they’re a grunge band! They gaze not at their shoes, but at the darkness of their souls!
True, but Billy Corgan has never been shy of revealing his love of shoegaze, and Mayonaise, from 1993’s Siamese Dream, can easily be read as his tribute to the genre.
Like all the best Smashing Pumpkins songs, it starts off quiet and gentle before suddenly smacking you in the face with about a thousand layers of distorted guitars. In Mayonaise, the critical pedal stomp occurs at the 53 second mark, ushering in one of the band’s most poignant riffs, and one of their most touching melodies.
7. Mercury Rev – Frittering
Mercury Rev don’t really write songs so much as bottle various forces of nature. In this case, they’ve perfectly captured that heavy feeling you get in your chest as the world and all that matters to you seems to turn into liquid and slip through your fingers.
Loss, regret, resignation – it’s all there in the weary vocals. But hope, resilience, salvation – it’s all there in the swirling vortex of guitars which, by the end, have scaled to such a triumphant height that anything seems possible.
6. The Verve – Gravity Grave (Live at Glastonbury 1993)
Because not all shoegaze songs are content to chug and churn. Some of them groove, and do so quite irresistibly.
By as early as 1995 The Verve had become recognised as a solid cornerstone of the Britpop scene. But just three years earlier, their name came with no definite article, and they were weird.
Before he yearned to be known as a knowing troubadour, Richard Ashcroft had more of a shamanic quality about him. I believe he was known in some circles as “Mad Richard”. Listen hear as he bleats and rambles for eight minutes about setting suns, his unhinged proclamations countered by an impressively tight rhythm section, which is in turn countered by – you guessed it – wild soaring guitars.
I’ve always thought that The Verve’s Nick McCabe is one of the most underrated guitarists of his or any generation. On this, the legendary Glastonbury 1993 version of Gravity Grave, he’s almost denied his chance to unleash his finishing move. It’s only when Richard starts screaming at the sound guy – “one minute! One minute! ONE MINUTE!” – that he really lets loose, and the effect is dazzling… if you play it loud enough.
Just… what the ‘eck is going on in that picture in the YouTube embed?
5. Spiritualized – Shine A Light (Clear Light/Clear Rush)
We only recently gushed profusely about the miracle of Spiritualized when they headlined this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest, so we’ll keep this brief.
Essentially any song from the first few Spiritualized albums could have made it to this list, but this, from the rare-yet-recently-reissued 1993 live album Fucked Up Inside, reveals the band at their haziest. It’s the headiest moment from their headiest release, and it sees them effortlessly segue from the heady Shine a Light into the even headier Electric Mainline.
It’s heady stuff. I once read that, at the gig at which this was recorded, people could be seen lighting cigarettes, only to let them burn unsmoked right down to the filter – so taken in were they by the hypnotic sounds.
And that strikes me as a perfectly understandable reaction to an excessive dose of shoegaze. But anyway, we’re straying a tad too far into psychedelic textures here, so let’s have something a bit more…traditional.
4. The Boo Radleys – Catweazle
If you ever need to explain this whole shoegaze thing to someone, but you’ve only got 30 seconds in which to do so, you could do much worse than play them the first few seconds of Catweazle – the first track from the first release by the much-missed Boo Radleys.
So what happens in those first few seconds? Well, you get a jangly riff – good, but so far, so C86 – but almost immediately it’s drowned out by an outrageous, almost rudely distorted guitar, which then proceeds to dominate the song.
“That’s shoegaze,” you can say, lesson over. Then turn it up – because things only get louder and more outrageous from here on in.
And if your hypothetical pupil has so far only heard Wake Up Boo! – or even better, if they’ve not heard any Boo Radleys at all – then this’ll be two lessons for the price of one! A complete grasp of what this whole shoegaze thing is about, and a new favourite band, all in the space of 30 seconds. That’s good going!
3. Ride – Dreams Burn Down
Well, here we are. The thematic hook on which this entire list is pegged, and an undisputed classic not just of the shoegaze genre, but of the entire history of British guitar music. A song so potent it caused our trusty reviewer to shed a few tears – yet so loud that he can probably still hear it now; even if you’re reading this in 2025.
Ride are part of the holy trinity of shoegaze bands. They, along with Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, form The Big Three – this subgenre’s answer to thrash metal’s Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer.
So yes, I’ve just revealed which two bands will be occupying the top two slots of this list. But which band will occupy which slot? And which songs will I have chosen to represent each?
If we had any sponsors, you’d be hearing a message from them about now, after which you’d be able to find out the answers to the two questions I just posed.
2. Slowdive – When The Sun Hits
There are shoegaze songs to obliterate you; shoegaze songs to seduce you; shoegaze songs to which you can groove; and shoegaze songs to which you can swoon.
Then there’s the shoegaze songs that you can wrap around yourself like a warm blanket to get you through even the greyest of times. When The Sun Hits seems like it was specifically recorded to give you something to turn to on the cold and wet days that make the sun feel like a distant memory. The incandescent chorus feels like a bright spot in the middle of a punishingly drab afternoon.
It matters where you are.
Sometimes that’s precisely what you need to hear.
1. My Bloody Valentine – To Here Knows When
And finally, there are shoegaze songs to make you vomit.
In a good way, of course.
Yes, you’ve known it from the start – this number one spot was always going to be occupied by a My Bloody Valentine song. But which song to choose? Soon, with its peerless blending of crunchy sonic onslaughts and crisp electronic dance beats?
Only Shallow, which immediately pulls you into a colourful new world after teasing you with a few metallic taps that’ll be the last clearly discernible sound you hear for the next hour?
You Made Me Realise, with its infamous “holocaust” section that causes people to hallucinate?
All were serious contenders for this coveted top spot, but ultimately there was no competition.
To Here Knows When is queasy listening; the perfect realisation of every shoegazers dream – to transport you to another place using nothing but the power of sound. This is the aural manifestation of the thoughts of a man who has stayed up for three days straight, just to see how it makes him feel.
The only other songs that sound anything like this are merely failed attempts to sound even vaguely like this.
Congratulations! You made it to the bottom of the page, and now you disagree with my choices! So what did I miss? Let me know in the comments below.