100,000 Fireflies

The Magnetic Fields

Song Review by Stewart Mason

The crowning achievement of the Magnetic Fields' early years, when Susan Anway was the lead singer and composer Stephin Merritt hadn't quite found his authorial voice yet, "100,000 Fireflies" is Merritt's first masterpiece and still perhaps his finest song. The arrangement is beyond sparse, with a simple electronic keyboard and a muffled drum machine the only accompaniment to Anway's sweet '60s pop voice. (She sounds like Petula Clark on this song, accompanied by early-'80s minimalists the Young Marble Giants.) The lyrics begin with a bizarre non sequitur ("I have a mandolin, I play it all night long/It makes me want to kill myself") that segues into a surreal metaphor that unexpectedly resolves into an absolutely heartbreaking admission of loneliness. Many of Merritt's earliest songs are too clever by half, but on "100,000 Fireflies" the humor and cleverness actually emphasize the all too real emotions at the heart of the song. This is one of the Magnetic Fields' most popular songs; many people first discovered it through Superchunk's cover, available on the Tossing Seeds compilation.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Distant Plastic Trees 1990 Red Flame Productions 3:18
The Wayward Bus 1991 Feel Good All Over
One Last Kiss 1992
Various Artists
SpinART Records 3:21
The Wayward Bus/Distant Plastic Trees 1995 Domino
Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 2004
Various Artists
Mute / Tumm 3:19