Has it really been 15 years already? A decade and a half since Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s animated band/art collective Gorillaz drooped on to the scene with their first ever release?
Yes, it certainly doesn’t feel like it, but this Friday marks the 15th anniversary of their Tomorrow Comes Today EP, a collection of songs that introduced the world to a band originally shrouded completely in secrecy – through exclusive use of animated visuals.
Part of the reason it feels like only yesterday since we were first getting our head around Gorillaz is their constant reinvention.
Through the scores of high-profile collaborators lining up to contribute to every new album, and the very definite feeling that each track is a snapshot of the artists’ influences at that time, they’ve managed to retain their relevance, releasing new and challenging music at every turn.
Gorillaz are at their best when they’re dropping surprising tracks, unlike anything they’ve approached before, and somehow turning them into massive singles at the same time.
To celebrate 15 years of the “virtual band”, here are 15 of their finest tracks – along with some interesting insights into each one.
Plus, listen to the ‘Best of Gorillaz’ Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post
15. Rockit (D-Sides)
One of the only tracks featured on D-Sides to be granted its own video, this strange dubby tune features hauntingly lackadaiscal vocals from Albarn. Altogether now: “blah blah blah…”
14. Bobby In Phoenix (The Fall)
Somewhat unsurprisingly, this acoustic guitar led number was recorded with collaborator Bobby Womack (presumably not put off by his previous experience on ‘Stylo’… see above) in Phoenix. Much more original than its title suggests, this track forgoes the beats Gorlliaz had become known for completely and presents a soulful, jam type track between friends.
13. Revolving Doors (The Fall)
One of the best examples of Gorillaz’ relatively minimal latter output, ‘Revolving Doors’ features Albarn’s fragile vocal over some fairly maudlin acoustic guitar lines, with a few mulchy synths thrown in for good measure. Released as a double-A side single with the above ‘Amarillo’, it was written after ‘2D’ “saw a set of revolving doors in a hotel. It reminded me of how far from home I was and how much I was out of place.”
12. Amarillo (The Fall)
The Fall is often forgotten in the canon of Gorillaz’ output, but it’s notable for two things. Firstly, it was surprise-released on Christmas Day 2010, just eight months after Plastic Beach. Secondly, it was recorded entirely on Damon Albarn’s iPad while on tour in America. It also contains its fair share of great – if a little experimental – tunes, including ‘Amarillo’, one of the more fully formed tracks which features guest instrumentation from The Clash’s Mick Jones.
11. 19-2000 (Gorillaz)
“Get the cool/get the cool shoe shine”. So goes the memorably strange lyric at the centre of this first album single, a refrain that would later go on to become the official slogan for discount high-street footwear retailer Shoe Zone. This squelchy electronic number peaked at number six in the UK charts, but secured a number one spot in New Zealand, and the video features everything from Star Wars references to sneezing mooses.
10. Tomorrow Comes Today (Gorillaz)
This amazingly dour trip-hop cut was the first taste the world got of Gorillaz, being the first track from their first ever release, the EP of the same name. By the time this song was released, it was still undecided as to whether Gorillaz should go for a completely animated look or not, but the video directed by core member Jamie Hewlett convinced the group to expand on the idea further. In official autobiography Rise of the Ogre, cartoonish lead-singer ‘2D’ comments “it’s amazing how young we look in this!”
9. Rhinestone Eyes (Plastic Beach)
‘Rhinestone Eyes’ was originally intended to be the fourth single from Plastic Beach, but was mysteriously replaced with non-album track ‘Doncamatic’ just days after advance copies were spread far and wide to the world’s radio stations. We’re not sure why; it’s a fine song, although it perhaps doesn’t make for the easiest listen, at least not until it gets going properly.
8. Kids With Guns (Demon Days)
The other side to the ‘El Mañana’ double-A side single, ‘Kids With Guns’ features possibly the finest bass line in the Gorillaz’ back catalogue, and Neneh Cherry guest vocals buried so deep in the mix you’d be forgiven for not noticing they’re there. The track was apparently inspired by a child in Albarn’s daughter’s school who had shown up with a knife: “I’m not treating it as a problem. It’s part of the brutalization of a generation that’s going on at the moment.”
7. Hong Kong (D-Sides)
Gorillaz’ 2007 compilation D-Sides contained remixes, B-sides and bonus tracks, and none are finer than ‘Hong Kong’, a track that first appeared on (star studded 2005 charity album) Help!: A Day in the Life. It quickly became a sweeping live favourite, not to be confused with the band’s lo-fi reggae effort ‘Hongkongaton’.
6. El Mañana (Demon Days)
The video to this Demon Days single, released as a double-A side with ‘Kids With Guns’ (more on that in a bit), is a continuation of the ‘Feel Good Inc.’ video, and was used to kill off virtual band member ‘Noodle’ in the complex meta-story of the group’s animated incarnation. She would make her return four years later in ‘On Melancholy Hill’.
5. Stylo (Plastic Beach)
The single that introduced the world to Gorillaz’ third record (and a new, 3D-rendered version of the band), the debut single from Plastic Beach is one of the key points of the album. Guest vocalist Bobby Womack knew nothing of Gorillaz before the sessions (he was convinced by his daughter to do it) and was told to sing whatever was on his mind during the recording. “I was in there for an hour going crazy about love and politics, getting it off my chest.” The diabetic Womack started to pass out after an hour of recording, being revived by the natural sugars of a banana.
4. DARE (Demon Days)
Shaun Ryder’s famous talking head performance in the video backs one of Gorillaz’ most recognisable songs, allegedly planned to be called ‘It’s There’, but changed to ‘DARE’ due to Ryder’s inability to enunciate through his strong Mancunian accent. We’ve also heard rumours the words “it’s coming up” were originally Ryder’s communications with the studio engineer after asking him to turn up the volume in his headphones.
3. On Melancholy Hill (Plastic Beach)
The third single taken from 2010’s Plastic Beach, ‘On Melancholy Hill’ was originally written for Albarn for use on The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s debut album.
2. Clint Eastwood (Gorillaz)
The first single proper from Gorillaz released way back in March of 2001, dreamt up by Damon Albarn with nothing more than a four-track recorder and a guitar. Albarn requested the Solina String Ensemble machine used to add strings to the finished version be set on fire onstage, but his request was refused and the equipment made its way on to more debut album tracks.
1. Feel Good Inc. (Demon Days)
This insanely catchy De La Soul-featuring track – the first to be taken from second album Demon Days – reached number two in the UK charts. Fun fact: the video is heavily inspired by Hayao Miyazaki films.
Listen to our Best of… Gorillaz playlist on Spotify: