Best known for his reverb-laden rockabilly and crooning vocals, singer-songwriter Chris Issak swept to stardom in the early 1990s as a kind of modern-day Roy Orbison. With a repertoire that includes the likes of Wicked Game, Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing, and Somebody’s Crying, his melancholic, 1950’s style of rock and roll has earned him critical acclaim and armies of fans around the globe. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Chris Issak songs of all time.
10. Can’t Do a Thing to Stop Me
Issak’s fourth studio album, San Francisco Days, didn’t perform as well as its predecessor, the multi-platinum selling Heart Shaped World, but it still put in a decent showing in the charts, reaching number 35 in the US, number 20 in Australia, and number 12 in the UK – his first album to chart there. One of its highlights is Can’t Do a Thing to Stop Me. Written about a couple who know they’re no good for each other, but who can’t walk away either, it was a moderate hit, reaching number 7 on the US Alternative Airplay chart and number 11 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
9. First Comes the Night
Speaking about First Comes the Night via Song Facts, Isaak explained, “I had this piece of rolling melody in my head, and the line, ‘That’s your stuff. I kept it just the way it was. It’s the only thing I got that’s left from us.’ To me, it summed up how many people end up feeling when someone is gone, and they almost make a shrine.” The song was written by Issak along with Roly Salley and Scotty Plunkett, who he credits with giving it “a dark, sad undertone, but happy possibilities too.”
8. Heart Full of Soul
Heart Full of Soul was originally released in 1965 as the Yardbirds’ first single after Eric Clapton’s departure and Jeff Beck’s arrival. It was a big hit for the group, reaching the top ten in various countries, including both the US and UK. It’s since been covered by various artists, including Chris Issak, whose 1986 rendition has been described by All Music as “an attractive remake” that “sounds more like an Isaak original instead of a worshipful carbon copy.”
7. I Want You to Want Me
I Want You to Want Me was first recorded by Cheap Trick in 1977 for their second album In Color. The original single went unnoticed, but when it was re-issued nine months later off the back of the band’s hugely successful album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, it entered the top ten in dozens of countries, ultimately becoming known as their signature song. Numerous artists have covered it since, including Chris Issak, whose soulful take on the classic ranks as one of the highlights of the 2006 compilation album, Best of Chris Isaak.
6. Solitary Man
Another cover next, this time Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man. After achieving some initial success as a songwriter, Solitary Man became Diamond’s first-ever single as a solo performer. Released in April 1966, it reached number 55 in the pop charts. Described by Rolling Stone as ” the most brilliantly efficient song in the Diamond collection” and an “anthem of heartbreak and self-affirmation,” it’s since been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Cliff Richards. Catch Issak’s heartbreaking version on his 1993 album, San Francisco Days.
5. Blue Hotel
Silvertone, Issak’s debut album, was a commercial disaster. The only country it managed to chart in was Australia, where it limped into the Kent Music Report at number 77. For its follow-up, Issak trimmed away the rough edges, polished up the sound, and got sultry, resulting in an album of sophisticated R&B that charted in the top 20 in several European countries and reached the Billboard 200 in the US. The heartbreakingly tender Blue Hotel ranks among its most alluring tracks.
4. Forever Blue
Issak has always been a master of the sad song. With lines like “No reason left for living / still there’s a lot to do / new tears to cry / old songs to sing / and feel forever blue,” Forever Blue isn’t the kind of song that’s going to lift you out of a funk (if anything, it’s the kind that will send you into one), but while the lyrics might be dark and the stripped-down acoustics might be bleak, it’s still one of the most moodily beautiful songs in his repertoire.
3. Somebody’s Crying
Sometime in the early 1990s, Issak was at a party he didn’t want to be at shortly after breaking up with his girlfriend. To escape, he walked into a closet, locked the door, grabbed the acoustic guitar that was leaning against the wall, and proceeded to write Somebody’s Crying. You wouldn’t expect a song written in those kinds of circumstances to be an upbeat party anthem, and you’d be right. But while it shouldn’t be listened to without a box of kleenex to hand, it’s still a gorgeous piece. Released as a single in May 1995, it peaked at number 45 in the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Issak’s highest-charting song since 1991’s Wicked Game.
2. Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing
Issak has described Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing as about “somebody who is so evil and twisted and bad, and yet, you still want them”. Filled with erotic imagery, raw sensuality, and accompanied by a NSFW video, it became one of the singer’s biggest hits, taking him to number 9 in Australia, number 44 in the UK, and number 3 on the US Adult Alternative Songs chart.
1. Wicked Game
Wicked Game was originally released as a single in the summer of 1989, but it took an appearance in the David Lynch movie Wild at Heart the following year to turn it into a global hit. Since reaching the top ten across various international charts, it’s featured in countless films, TV shows, and commercials, and been covered by no end of artists. Widely considered to be one of the most influential love songs in modern music history, it’s an absolute must-listen.