Brothers and sisters. Most of us have them. We all know people who've got them. It's not a very popular subject for songs, perhaps because the writer knows they'll have to play the song to their brother or sister at some point, and realises how hard that will be.
I hate my sister, she's such a bitch. She acts as if she doesn't even know that I exist.
Which is why many writers tend to aim off in their sibling songs. Juliana Hatfield in her classic 'My Sister' starts by proclaiming how much she hates her non-existent sister, before, on reflection, commenting...
I love my sister, she's the best. She's cooler than any other girl I have ever met.
...adding a sad little addendum: Where'd she go? She's the one who would have taken me to my first All Ages show. Ray Davies was the shyer of the two brothers in The Kinks, and clearly envied Dave his confidence and gregariousness (the two were renowned for their fist fights). But in writing about it, Ray chose to hide behind the deflection of two suburban sisters.
St Etienne and Neko Case also deal with sororal jealousy with Sylvie, and Margaret and Pauline. Dessa and Kim Deal of This Mortal Coil are more even handed in their treatment of the complex sister-sister stand off.
Songs about brothers are slightly harder to come by, but Fleet Foxes have two songs on their eponymous debut LP that deal with the subject of a difficult brother-brother relationship. There's Blue Ridge Mountains, but possibly in He Doesn't Know Why Robin Pecknold is channeling the tale of Christopher McCandless, and imagining him returning from his stay in Alaska (see the book and Sean Penn film Into The Wild).
Penniless and tired, let your hair grow long
I was looking at you there and your face looked wrong
Memory is a fickle siren song I didn't understand
In that last line he's managed to capture an important component of our ever changing off-on, love-hate sibling relationship. And the song's wonderful too, which helps. Also check out My Sister by Tindersticks, which was a bit too long for inclusion, but which also would not have been out of place on the Short Stories episode.
One of the very best songs on one of the very best albums is Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel. In part (it's somewhat abstract), it deals with Anne Frank's family who had to pack up every piece of the life we used to love. And finally Anne dies with just her sister by her side, and only weeks before the guns all came and rained on everyone. It's good to remember Anne's sister Margot, and the song reminds us to read the Diary of a Young Girl again, charting the difficult journey every young teenage girl travels with her older sister.
My sister, Juliana Hatfield
My brother’s a basehead, De La Soul
Two sisters, The Kinks
Sylvie, St Etienne
Holland 1945, Neutral Milk Hotel
Children’s work, Dessa
You and your sister, This Mortal Coil
Margaret vs Pauline, Neko Case
Father to a sister of thought Pavement
My sister says the saddest things, Grimes
He doesn’t know why, Fleet Foxes
Idiot brother, The Auteurs
Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) / Arcade Fire