Play Dead (song)

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"Play Dead"
Single by Björk featuring David Arnold
from the album Music from the film The Young Americans and Debut (re-release edition)
Released11 October 1993
Recorded1993; Whitfield Street Recording Studios (London)
GenreTrip hop
Björk singles chronology
"Venus as a Boy"
"Play Dead"
"Big Time Sensuality"
Music video
"Play Dead" on YouTube

"Play Dead" is a song by Icelandic singer Björk, and was released as the only single from the soundtrack of the 1993 crime drama The Young Americans. The song wasn't included in the first edition of Debut but was later included as a bonus track, and the album was re-issued October 11, 1993.[1] The song was written by Jah Wobble, Björk featuring David Arnold, and was produced by Cannon, Arnold, receiving additional production and mixing by Tim Simenon.[2] The song, inspired by the main character of the film, was released in October 1993.

A mainly trip hop-influenced track, the song charted in the top-20 in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. An accompanying music video was released, featuring images from the film. "Play Dead" was included in Björk's 2002 greatest hits album Greatest Hits.

Background and composition[edit]

"… I had written a song called “Play Dead” for my very first film “The Young Americans” and I wrote that after seeing Tori Amos do a songwriter’s showcase in London before she was well known. ... So I went home that night wanting to write a Tori Amos song, and I thumped out what became Play Dead. "[3]

— David Arnold on how Tori Amos inspired the track

The song was co-written by Jah Wobble, Björk featuring David Arnold. Björk was asked to write the melody and lyrics for the song, while Wobble wrote the bass part and Arnold composed the score, which Björk described as a "greatest hits of what's in the film".[4]

Björk described the writing as "very difficult" because "the character in the film was suffering and going through hardcore tough times and at the time I was at my happiest".[4] To help her in the writing, she asked the film's director, Danny Cannon, to write her a whole page of phrases that represented the emotions of the characters in the film, but she used only one line that Cannon wrote: "Sometimes, it's just like sinking", and still she changed it to "It's sometimes just like sleeping" in the actual lyrics.[4]

The song is underscored by moody strings and its lyrics about acting numb to prevent emotional pain. Björk wrote it from the main character's point of view: "In the film, he had a girlfriend who just wanted him to be happy and in love and he just couldn't get his head around it. It was just me trying to imagine what he would say to her. Things he never actually said to her in the film but things he would have said to her".[4]

Produced by David Arnold and Danny Cannon, the song was originally a non-album track recorded for the film The Young Americans and intended as a single-only release, but eventually it was added as a bonus track to international pressings of Björk's album Debut because Björk's manager Derek Birkett convinced her to add the track. Björk also sings on the tracks "Opening Titles" and "Leaving London" on the soundtrack CD of the film. In both the film and soundtrack, "Leaving London" crescendoes into "Play Dead" as a single arrangement. In both the album and the single version, the song is actually a remix by Tim Simenon. After the addition of "Play Dead" on Debut, about 100 people who already owned the album without the bonus track, called the record company and complained, demanding to be given new records as compensation.[5]

The drums which the song is structured by are taken from the beginning of the 1977 song "Footsteps in the Dark" by The Isley Brothers, most famously used on Ice Cube's "It Was A Good Day", which was released earlier that year.

Critical reception[edit]

Described by Derek Birkett as "one of the best things Björk’s ever done",[6] the track was well received by music critics. Mal Pearchey of Vox described the song as "incredibly sophisticated after the eclectic drama of The Sugarcubes".[6] The Tech journalist Fred Choi, while reviewing Greatest Hits stated that the song is "compelling but lesser-known".[7] On a similar note, Alexis Petridis of Blender stated that "Play Dead" "boasts a chorus that’s both original and implausibly epic".[8]

Music video[edit]

Screenshot from the music video

The music video was directed by Danny Cannon, who also directed The Young Americans. In the video, Björk performs the song in an empty bar that is shown in the film. Her footage is intercut with scenes from the film that range from tenderness to violence.

The video was criticized because of its simplicity, some citing it lacks of the visual appearances usually offered by Björk. The video has been said to follow "the trends of MTV".[9]

Live performances[edit]

Björk performed the song in selected dates of her Debut Tour, and usually sang it during her Homogenic Tour, accompanied by a larger ensemble of strings. Björk's performance at the Union Chapel with the Brodsky Quartet was met with enthusiasm by The Guardian journalist Maddy Costa, that described the performance as a "Heavenly Experience" and, commenting the song's performance, stated that "reclaiming "Play Dead" from ad-land, the subdued volume and the Brodskys’ bristling tone brought out the fierceness of Björk’s words".[10]

Björk also performed the song during her Vespertine World Tour. The song has not been performed live since then.

Track listing[edit]

1."Play Dead" (Tim Simenon 7" Remix)3:57
2."Play Dead" (Tim Simenon Orchestral mix)4:01
3."Play Dead" (Tim Simenon 12" Remix)5:26
4."Play Dead" (Tim Simenon Instrumental)3:57
5."End Titles/Play Dead" (Original Film Mix)3:52

Official versions[edit]


Chart (1993–1994) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[11][12] 65
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[13] 33
Denmark (IFPI)[14] 16
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[15] 37
Germany (Official German Charts)[16] 41
Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)[17] 18
Ireland (IRMA)[18] 18
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[19] 10
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[20] 11
Norway (VG-lista)[21] 10
Poland (LP3)[22] 5
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[23] 7
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[24] 12


A cover of the song appears on the special edition of the album Into by the Finnish band The Rasmus. It is available on many of their singles as well, including "Madness". In 2007, The Swedish band Pain covered the song on the album Psalms of Extinction.

Usage in media[edit]

A modified version of the song was also used in 1995 on the launch advert for the new Vauxhall Vectra, with the tagline "Designed for the next millennium".[25]


  1. ^ "Debut UK CD (first edition)". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  2. ^ "Debut Liner Notes". Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  3. ^ "Interview with David Arnold".
  4. ^ a b c d "Play Dead". Archived from the original on 14 December 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Björk "Play dead"". Archived from the original on 27 August 2014. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  6. ^ a b Pearchey, Mal (1993-12-01). "New Björk, New Björk". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  7. ^ Choi, Fred (2002-11-05). "Reinspiring Awe and Devotion". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  8. ^ Petridis, Alexis (2002-05-11). "Björk : Greatest Hits". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Bjork and Her Music Videos: Visual Poetry". Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  10. ^ Costa, Maddy (1999-12-11). "A Heavenly Experience". Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  11. ^ "The ARIA Australian Top 100 Singles Chart – Week Ending 13 Mar 1994". ARIA. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  12. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988-2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  13. ^ " – Bjork / David Arnold – Play Dead" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  14. ^ Danish Singles Chart 14 January 1994
  15. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. 6 November 1993. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  16. ^ " – Bjork / David Arnold – Play Dead". GfK Entertainment Charts.
  17. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (25.11.1993 - 01.12.1993)" (PDF) (in Icelandic). Dagblaðið Vísir - Tónlist. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  18. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Play Dead". Irish Singles Chart.
  19. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 3, 1994" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40
  20. ^ " – Bjork / David Arnold – Play Dead" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  21. ^ " – Bjork / David Arnold – Play Dead". VG-lista.
  22. ^ "Lista Przebojów Trójki - Polskie Radio Online". Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  23. ^ " – Bjork / David Arnold – Play Dead". Singles Top 100.
  24. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  25. ^ "Original Vectra Advert". Retrieved 28 December 2011.

External links[edit]