British indie rock band The Libertines formed in 1997, slowly rising to prominence during the early 2000s, becoming one of the most influential groups of the garage rock revival movement.
Driven by the songwriting talents of guitar-wielding vocalists Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, their scrappy and energetic sound, coupled with lyrical wit and patriotic romanticism captured the imagination of a generation.
The Libertines were always plagued by internal squabbling fueled by substance abuse which ultimately led to their initial demise before the close of 2004. Reforming in 2010 and still performing today, the band has left its indelible mark on a flurry of bands and artists with their magical blend of punk rock and poetry.
But which tracks from their discography provide the ideal introduction for those looking to start their Libertines journey? Here are 7 essential songs for beginners.
What A Waster
“What a Waster” was released as the Libertines’ debut single in 2002 and at first omitted from the UK edition of the band’s debut album Up the Bracket but then later included as the 13th track on a subsequent re-issue. “What a Waster” uses a catchy, melodic punk-inspired sound with punchy guitar riffs and flowing rhythm.
The track received little airplay because it contains frequent profanity yet still reached number 37 in the U.K. album charts. Its lyrics center around the pitfalls of a self-destructive lifestyle with various references to alcohol, promiscuity, and drugs. “What a Waster” paints a stark picture of the recklessness associated with youthful excess as heard in the suggestive line of “Where did all the money go? Straight up her nose.”
Up The Bracket
Second single “Up the Bracket” was unleashed on fans in 2002 and featured on their debut album of the same name. The crunchy driving guitar riff and catchy chorus are a superb example of the group’s quintessential sound. Frontman Pete Doherty sings about his lust for escapism and delivers a literal two-finger salute to those trying to oppress with the line “I said you see these two cold fingers…these crooked fingers I show.”
With its anthemic chorus and unapologetic attitude, “Up the Bracket” helped establish The Libertines as one of the most exciting and frankly dangerous bands of their era. Despite only peaking at number 29 in the UK singles charts this song remains a beloved classic within the indie rock scene and their discography.
Time For Heroes
“Time for Heroes” highlights the band’s trademark garage rock sound with jangly rhythm guitar strumming and a swaggering tempo. The lyrics of their third single display elements of gritty poetry along with the social awareness that would become one of the group’s most recognizable tropes. A classic example includes the lyric “It’s not right for young lungs to be coughing up blood.”
Through all of the melancholy, “Time for Heroes” oozes a sense of resilience and hope, with lines such as “And we’ll die in the class we were born. That’s a class of our own, my love.” It has since evolved into a staple Libertines number that captures the realism of a commoner’s experience.
Don’t Look Back Into The Sun
Released as a stand-alone single and never appearing on any Libertines album, “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun” reached number 11 in the UK charts and still holds a special place in the hearts of their diehard fan base. The excitement of rolling drums and spiky plucking found in its introduction soon turns to a wall of bedlam with Pete Doherty’s screams of “Yeow!”
The track’s chorus is infectious as both Doherty and Barat crash into the same space, launching a barrage of words into the microphone, cries of “They will never forgive you but they won’t let you go. Oh no. She will never forgive you but she won’t let you go. Oh no!” set the senses tingling on first listen. “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun” captures the band’s signature sound by blending elements of rock, punk, and pop undertones into a truly memorable tune.
The album track “Vertigo” is a stomping whirlwind of an opener to the Libertine’s debut album Up The Bracket. Notably featuring Carl Barat on lead vocals, the track mounts its attack through a hypnotic lead guitar riff and an oddly softer vocal delivery, yet quickly escalating as Pete Doherty’s screeches enter the fray.
The song’s opening lyrics are sleaze filled with Barat insisting “It can’t be hard for her to get a buzz.” The chorus breakdown is an intriguing respite that slows the pace momentarily with the line “Just walking under ladders as the people round you hear you crying please.” Finally, “Vertigo” crescendos to a halt with an exciting swarm of instruments and crazed shouting!
Can’t Stand Me Now
“Can’t Stand Me Now” is undoubtedly the Libertines’ biggest mainstream effort, commercially successful and most widely recognizable track. Released at the beginning of 2004, this opening track from the band’s second EP The Libertines peaked at number two in the UK album charts, also marking the first time their music made an impact on both the European and American markets.
The lyrics of “Can’t Stand Me Now” are a blatant, brutally honest account of the turbulent relationship between the band’s two frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, the pair sparring through words, while switching and sharing singing duties throughout the track. The song’s melody is perhaps their finest to date with lines such as “An ending fitting for the start. You twist and tore our love apart” shining brightly through the otherwise gloomy vibes.
What Became Of The Likely Lads?
The second single from their follow-up album The Libertines and final chart offering of the group’s first era, “What Became of the Likely Lads” stands out as a last salute before the band’s inevitable break up in mid-2004. The track peaked at number nine in the UK, seen as a poignant commentary on the passage of time and the loss of childhood innocence.
The track’s narrative centers around two adolescent friends who have drifted apart and struggle to come to terms with the changes in their relationship. Two defining lyrical moments within the song arrive with the bridge as they sing “Cos blood runs thicker. Oh we’re as thick as thieves, you know” and the tightly structured sentiment in the chorus that asks “What became of the dreams we had? Oh, what became of forever?”
Photo: The Libertines, 2018 ( Bruce from Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons)
PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…
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