This is an exciting time for Coldplay. For the last decade and a half, they’ve been one of the most prominent bands in the world, conquering the hearts of everyone from alternative rock-inclined hipsters and top-40 lovers. With the recent release of their seventh studio album, A Head Full Of Dreams, a record they’ve alluded to being their last (at least for now,) a pending world tour, and a coveted performance at the Super Bowl Halftime show, Coldplay has reclaimed their position as Biggest Band In The World. It’s a fitting time to look back at their output and acknowledge their best work. Here is the 50 Greatest Coldplay songs (to date.)
50. SWALLOWED IN THE SEA
X&Y is one of Coldplay’s “biggest” albums, sonically, almost to a fault. Their lack of restraint was destined for inconsistency, but it resulted in some amazing work. “Swallowed In The Sea” is a song that could have very easily been terrible, but the group pulls it off almost effortlessly. The ballad embraces an explosion of energy, but it doesn’t end up sounding cheesy. Instead, Chris Martin’s sharp, sweet, and almost poignant vocals create something rather beautiful.
Ghost Stories is an album that still needs time to grow. Despite retreating back to a more melancholic sound, they simultaneously embraced electronic instruments more than ever. Of all the tracks on the album, “Oceans” felt most like home. The simple yet beautiful, acoustic ballad is a welcomed hark back to their early works, yet it still made perfect sense in the context of the album. The song is the perfect reminder of just why we started paying attention to Coldplay in the first place.
The third single lifted from X&Y is an interesting track. For starters, “Talk” is built around an interpolation of Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love,” turning the original’s synth line into an incredible guitar hook. There’s an amazing energy throughout the track that overshadows some of the more dodgy lyrical moments, and despite their every effort to hold true to their alt rock sound, “Talk” is one of their greatest pop efforts. It’s a shame that it hasn’t endured like their other hits, but it was a necessary release.
47. A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD
The title track to Coldplay’s near-perfect sophomore album sounds desperate to become an anthem, but even when it borders on missing the mark, Coldplay reminds us they always have another trick up their sleeve. “A Rush Of Blood To The Head” may not hold up to the likes of some of their biggest hits, but it’s hard to deny the energy they conjure up when that euphoric chorus kicks in. Both musically and lyrically, it really is the perfect title track for an album as confident, enlightened, and pensive as this.
46. GREEN EYES
A Rush Of Blood To The Head is saturated with ballads and anthems, but “Green Eyes” acts as a necessary change of pace that cuts right through. The folksy, semi-acoustic track is upbeat and fluffy, yet doesn’t revolve around a memorable chorus or unnecessary structure. However, when the full band kicks in two-thirds through, the song becomes so uplifting that it’s impossible not to get swept away in it. “Green Eyes” is gloriously effortless, yet it’s clear that Coldplay are just making it look easy.
45. HIGH SPEED
Originally included on the group’s first major label release, The Blue Room EP, “High Speed” was deemed worthy enough for an unchanged inclusion on their first long player. The track is one of the album’s more upbeat moments, at least relatively speaking, creating almost a first draft for the “explosive chorus” formula they went on to essentially build a career out of. Chris Martin doesn’t stray much from his lower register here, rendering it almost unrecognizable in hindsight, yet it still feels innately “Coldplay.”
44. LOVERS IN JAPAN
The uplifting and joyous “Lovers In Japan” is the quintessential example of the Coldplay sound, just tweaked a bit. It’s light, bouncy, piano-tinged arrangement makes way for a soaring chorus that you can’t help but get sucked into every time. As one of Viva La Vida’s focal points, the track was a comfortable segue into the group’s new sound without sounding like a rehash or a gimme. “Lovers In Japan” probably should have been one of their biggest hits, but it feels much better as an accessible fan favorite.
43. SQUARE ONE
X&Y’s opener is about as well-executed as it gets. “Square One” is not only an exciting arrangement, but it sets the tone for the album, which was entirely necessary considering its change of pace. With the subtle ticking of a clock creating just enough tension, when the absolutely explosive chorus kicks in, it feels like a magical release. With its abundance of energy and polished production, “Square One” is an audible expansion of their own sound they were so intent on perfecting and enhancing.
The closing track to Coldplay’s latest (last?) offering, “Up&Up” is Coldplay at their Coldplay-iest. The ballad has all of their textbook qualities, including plenty of piano and Chris Martin-catchiness, but the addition of choir-like backing vocals to the chorus and an incredible guitar solo from none other than Noel Gallagher add just enough to make it feel fresh. “Up&Up” is positive and inspiring, and even through its half-baked lyrics, will likely go down as one of their greatest, most definitive works.
Viva La Vida was a no-rules kind of album. The group was clearly intent on breaking from their routine with many of the tracks here, and “42” is a prime example of just how the band really opened up. The track is a condensed suite, of sorts, featuring three distinct sections that move seamlessly from one to the next, all in under 4 minutes. It feels like the long-lost portion from The Abbey Road Medley, updated and rebuffed for the 21st century, or maybe even a Bond Theme, but it still manages to make sense for them.
40. ONE I LOVE
Despite being on of their catchiest and most unhinged rock songs, “One I Love” never made itself out of b-side status. Audibly inspired by the likes of classic U2 and Echo & The Bunnymen, the track is a sparkly, guitar-heavy romper that unsurprisingly became a live staple on their A Rush Of Blood To The Head Tour and ended up as an undeniable highlight on their first live album, Live 2003. The track has an energy about it they’ve never really captured before or since, really making “One I Love” quite special.
39. CHARLIE BROWN
“Charlie Brown” is so inherently “Coldplay” that it was easy to accept it as one of the band’s classic before a studio version ever saw the light of day. With a guitar riff so memorable that it easily substitutes the need for a proper chorus or even song structure, the track is one of the few real highlights Mylo Xyloto had to offer. “Charlie Brown” is incredibly euphoric and uplifting, designed to conquer their biggest stages, yet it remains intimate. If anything holds it back, it’s just how comfortable it feels.
38. CEMETERIES OF LONDON
With a subtle Latin hint, the percussion-heavy “Cemeteries Of London” feels just as unconventional as it does safe. It’s the perfect tone-setter for an album as varied as Viva La Vida. The track is dark, almost menacing, but it’s surprisingly catchy and engaging. In true Coldplay fashion, the chorus is masterfully over-simplified, yet feels full and memorable. Chris Martin weaves his melody through the frenzied arrangement so intricately and effortlessly that it’s easy to take the end result for granted.
37. MAJOR MINUS
“Major Minus” was Mylo Xyloto’s saving grace. The album had a few glistening pop moments and little else, but this particular track stood out from the pack. “Major Minus” is a true-to-form rock track that feels cut from the same cloth as their classic works, yet undeniably updated. Unlike his usual tactful playing, Johnny Buckland’s guitar work is gloriously frenzied, creating almost a menacing aura. Still, the song doesn’t shy away from being catchy and comfortable; Coldplay would never really stray all that far from that mark.
36. CRESTS OF WAVES
Released as a b-side to “Clocks,” “Crests Of Waves” is one of Coldplay’s brightest hidden gems. It’s understandable that the track didn’t end up on A Rush Of Blood To The Head, but only because it just wouldn’t have fit; the track’s quality far exceeds that of your typical b-side. The upbeat, guitar-focused song is full of energy and is just as catchy and engaging as some of their most recognizable works. “Crests Of Waves” is a prime example of Coldplay at the time when they figured it all out and could do no wrong.
35. PROSPEKT’S MARCH/POPPYFIELDS
Released as an appendix to Viva La Vida, the Prospekt’s March EP was the perfect way to supplement the album. The title track was the real stand out of the EP. The ballad is a sonic masterwork that builds and builds, but never reaches the height it had potential to. Coldplay’s restraint ends up creating something far more beautiful than had they gone for something explosive. The “Poppyfields” portion of the the track may just be a short, instrumental outro, but it acts as the perfect release “Prospekt’s March” never gave.
For a band who began their career creating moody alternative rock, “Birds” feels like an incredible transformation. The track sounds as freeing as the title would infer, swirling around an incredible bassline and sparkly guitar. There isn’t much of a hook, but Chris Martin’s charismatic vocal performance is exciting and almost liberating. It’s freeform structure is actually far more charming. There’s an audible confidence throughout “Birds” that really opens up into something both beautiful and exciting.
33. DEATH AND ALL HIS FRIENDS
The second title track and album closer to their epic Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends is one of Coldplay’s finest works. The song follows a familiar structure, starting off slowly and building into something explosive. However, its crescendo makes an incredible pitstop at an infectious groove that is perfectly nuanced with guitar and bass. “Death And All His Friends” is the perfect representation of just how self-aware Coldplay are how they know exactly how to make a song that gives us what we want.
The band’s debut album feels timid in comparison to their later work, but that’s all part of its charm. Before they were going “big,” Coldplay were releasing tracks like “Sparks,” a gorgeous, simple acoustic ballad. There are absolutely no frills about the song, yet it doesn’t leave us wanting anything more; it’s a true testament to their natural songwriting abilities. Coldplay certainly needed their larger than life anthems to become the band they are today, but “Sparks” proves they have always been far more.
31. EVERY TEARDROP IS A WATERFALL
Coldplay has spent much of their career taking their own sound and fitting it into various other sounds and genres to create something uniquely theirs. “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” is an undeniable electropop song only rendered recognizable when Johnny Buckland’s guitar comes piercing through. Most of its success comes from the fact that they embraced the sound so fully and allowing it to still feel like a Coldplay song. It doesn’t have a hook, it doesn’t have a chorus, but we’re left feeling completely fulfilled.
“Lost!” is a subtle exemplification of Coldplay’s song-crafting genius. The track is uncomplicated, focusing heavily on Will Champion’s authoritative drumming as a source of energy. It isn’t a particularly hooky song, but it moves so fluidly from verse to chorus that it hardly needs one of the group’s typical climactic sing-alongs to be an exciting work. With little hints of hip hop and gospel, “Lost!” is as elevated a single as anything they’ve ever released without conforming to any expectations.
29.TIL KINGDOM COME
Originally written for the incomparable Johnny Cash, the group decided to release “Til Kingdom Come” themselves after he passed away before he could record it. The acoustic, country-tinged track was included on X&Y as a not-so-hidden bonus track, standing out as one of the simplest, most straight-forward tracks in a sea of height and over-production. “Til Kingdom Come” is a great song because it doesn’t try to hard and there’s no doubt that had Jonny Cash gotten his hands on it, it would have been a welcomed addition to his catalog.
28. EVERYTHING’S NOT LOST
The otherwise moody Parachutes fittingly ends on an uplifting, positive note with “Everything’s Not Lost.” With a hint of gospel inspiration and an instrumental chorus that erupts out of simple, piano-led verses, the main focal point is, of course, its epic climax. It’s clear that Coldplay were eager to craft massive concert sing-alongs from the get-go, and even though this one feels somewhat fumbled through, it remains one of their most enduring album tracks and live favorites.
27. SPEED OF SOUND
Following up a record as flawless as A Rush Of Blood To The Head was no easy feat, but “Speed Of Sound” showed that they were up for the challenge. The immediate thought is that they tried to take their sound and make it significantly larger and accessible, but the truth is that the song was a necessary leap forward. Circling around a memorable piano riff, “Speed Of Sound” doesn’t shy away from being over the top, yet it feels comfortable and familiar. It’s a real shame that it’s somewhat gotten lost in the shuffle.
While a studio version has never seen the light of day, a live recording of “Moses” featured on the group’s Live 2003 is the perfect presentation for a song seemingly larger than itself. The song is full of height and excitement; hell, Chis Martin even named his son after it. It’s uplifting and exuberant, but, most importantly, it’s wildly catchy, thanks largely in part to that incredible guitar riff and the euphoric climax. Most of “Moses’s” charm comes from its organic presentation, but it trumps some of their most laborious efforts.
25. WE NEVER CHANGE
“We Never Change” is a prime example of how great Coldplay can be at their most basic. The ballad, lifted from their first album, is certainly simple in arrangement, but its atmosphere is stunning. Chris Martin’s restrained vocals resonate fantastically on the track giving way for the delicate nuances of piano, acoustic guitar, and necessary height from Johnny Buckland’s electric to captivate our emotions. “We Never Change” didn’t need to have a booming climax to be effective. In fact, it would have ruined it.
24. CHINESE SLEEP CHANT
Coldplay’s attempt at “less is more” with their Viva La Vida album caused far more confusion than anything, but the music itself was so phenomenal that it hardly mattered. “Chinese Sleep Chant” is as tucked away as it gets, sharing a track with “Yes” and not even appearing on the tracklist. However, it’s one of their best works. The band integrates shoegaze into their sound here, with Chris’ indistinguishable lyrics acting more like an added atmospheric element than a focal point. The song just kind of glows.
23. GOD PUT A SMILE UPON YOUR FACE
“God Put A Smile Upon Your Face” is overflowing with confidence. A focal point and fourth single from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, the track is an energetic (at least by Coldplay standards) rock song that gives the instrumentation top billing, yet remains as catchy and anthemic as ever. It’s melody is folk-like, feeling equally as engaging during the acoustic parts as it does with the band going full-force, and the chorus was born for a stadium sing-along. It’s no wonder it’s remained a live fixture for the band.
It may not be their first release, but “Shiver,” the first single lifted from their debut album, Parachutes, will always feel like a beginning. By starting slowly and quietly crescendoing into that incredible riff and explosion of energy, the track has all of the wide-eyed excitement you’d expect from a band on the verge of making it. “Shiver” is one of the group’s most straightforward rock songs, showcasing Chris Martin’s falsetto in the processes, yet its accessibility was an early indication of their potential.
Upon its release, “Magic” felt like an update on a classic. It’s crisp, almost live-band feel was an immediate shot of nostalgia back to their early day before Coldplay was a household name. While it was a much-needed return to form, the song still managed to feel strikingly fresh. With Guy Berryman’s bass cranked all the way up and a linear arrangement that smartly avoids a typical verse-chorus structure, by the time “Magic” reaches its climax, it’s clear that the band is abundantly confident and self-aware.
20. I RAN AWAY
Of all Coldplay’s hidden gems, few are tucked further away and none shine brighter than “I Ran Away.” Released as a b-side to “The Scientist,” the track is an amazing example of just what Coldplay can do with very little. With one of Johnny Buckland’s best riffs and Will Champion’s subtle, but authoritative drumming, it’s C. Martin that steals the show with his on-point lyrics, melody, and restrained vocals. It all feels so natural and almost carefree, yet “I Ran Away” is polished and thoughtful. It’s easily one of their best.
Mylo Xyloto didn’t have many proper highlights, but “Paradise” was an admirable effort. It doesn’t really feel like a pop song or a rock song, yet it easily ended up becoming one of their biggest hits on both formats. Folding in a healthy dose of electronica (equipped with a desperate-for-attention drop,) “Paradise” feels out of character and almost distant; the chorus doesn’t even kick in until halfway though. However, the track is kind of a stroke of genius and actually ends up working on every level and remains one of Coldplay’s most memorable moments.
18. DON’T PANIC
Easily their most understated single and album opener to date, “Don’t Panic” is classic Coldplay. For a group that went to create stadium-ready anthems, there’s something almost confusing about just how well this track works. The arrangement is simple, the ending is rather abrupt, and it’s lyrically circular, but it’s completely compelling, especially thanks to Johnny Buckland’s atmospheric guitar work. It’s timidness endears us to it, yet it would be wrong to assume that wasn’t by design. “Don’t Panic” is the clam before the storm.
A Rush Of Blood To The Head is a near-perfect album and “Amsterdam” is a near-perfect closer. Featuring one of Chris Martin’s best piano parts to date, the track is a gorgeous ballad with one of their most tactful climaxes ever. While most of the song is a subtle, particularly beautiful piano ballad, when the full band kicks in and erupts into the finale, there’s no holding back the goosebumps. “Amsterdam” is another prime example of a track that should never have been nearly as great as it ended up being.
16. BIGGER STRONGER
Before Coldplay was the biggest band in the world they were a determined indie group hungry for a chance. Originally lifted from their first EP, Safety, and later included on their first major label release, The Blue Room EP, “Bigger Stronger” showcases the group’s inherent abilities. The track lays the groundwork for their pending career without any real pretense or arrogance. “Bigger Stronger” may sound like a Radiohead reject, but its confidence radiates through out and it still stands as one of their most special works.
The piano has been a definitive focal point for many a Coldplay song, but “Trouble” was the first. Parachute’s third single provided a necessary juxtaposition to its predecessor, “Yellow,” that opened up their range of sound significantly; there was no better one-two-punch to do it with. The track is simple and earnest, with a bombastic chorus and a bridge that became arguably the group’s first major concert sing-along. Coldplay has topped this track in terms of height and complexity, but never in terms of authenticity.
A track like “Spies” is the reason many Coldplay fans fell in love with the band. The track, a focal point on their debut album, feels like a bare-bones example of what many consider to be their definitive sound. With delicate bursts of Chris Martin’s falsetto laid atop a prominent, yet understated pairing of electric and acoustic guitar, the track is so distinctly Coldplay without really needing to do much else. It’s audible just how much the boys were trying to figure out their identity as a band, but there was something so inherently great about them all along.
13. WHITE SHADOWS
“White Shadows” is the kind of song that never should have gotten lost in the shuffle over the years. Subtly harking back to David Bowie’s Berlin Era, the track is equally as atmospheric as it is explosive. It circles around a sublime Berryman-bassline and a sparkly Buckland-guitar riff that provides the perfect launching pad for one of the group’s best bridge-to-chorus transitions to date. The track is energetic and haunting and exciting all at the same time. “White Shadows” is one of their most perfect executions.
Ghost Stories flew under the radar by-design, but it had some incredible moments that sit amongst Coldplay’s best. The left-field, ambient “Midnight” sees the band trade in their usual instruments for electronic devices, even Chris Martin who sends his vocals through a vocoder. It’s been compared to everyone from Bon Iver to M83, but it’s still oddly distinctly “Coldplay.” There’s nothing like “Midnight” in the group’s catalog, yet their presence is so definitive that they can make mostly anything feel authentic. The track is stunning.
11. ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
Coldplay-Goes-Disco was not the inevitability “Adventure Of A Lifetime” would lead you to believe. The band has embraced everything from hip hop to electronica, but they’ve never pulled them off quite like this. The track swirls around a masterful Guy Berryman-bassline and a surprising general lack of C. Martin, who doesn’t offer up a proper chorus and even keeps his “woo-hoo’s” restrained. For a band that started off by cranking out modern-day-melancholy, “Adventure Of A Lifetime” is deliriously positive and uplifting, and dare I say, even fun.
10. WARNING SIGN
It’s a real shame when tracks like this become hidden gems. “Warning Sign” is one of the group’s most well-executed ballads to date, embracing melancholy in their own unique way. Similarly to many of its album-mates, the chorus consists of a simple, repeated phrase, yet its poignancy resonates as if it were much, much more. Coldplay just doesn’t make songs like this anymore; they seemingly abandoned this facet of their sound immediately after A Rush Of Blood To The Head, but it makes “Warning Sign” that much more special in hindsight.
09. IN MY PLACE
“In My Place” is one of the most important landmarks in Coldplay’s history. It’s easy to take all of the countless stadium anthems in their canon for granted, but this was the first. With a confidence (although endearing) lacking in their early work, “In My Place” took the proverbial bull by the horns and really made something explosive. With one of Johnny Buckland’s most memorable guitar riffs and one of Chris Martin’s most uplifting choruses, this is a track that asserted itself as the track all other Coldplay tracks would be compared to, at least for some time.
08. STRAWBERRY SWING
Now, Coldplay has jam-packed their catalog with tracks that we can assign that word “gorgeous” to, but none of them quite get it this right. The track harks back to their early EPs and first album, but is updated sonically in a way that exemplified just how far they’ve come. Particularly, the climax is one of their most restrained, but easily one of their most effective. It arrives naturally, but without much build, and lingers in a way that’s hard not to get swept away by. The track is so poignant even Frank Ocean couldn’t keep his hands off it.
07. VIOLET HILL
The first single lifted from their seminal Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends was one of the most important statements Coldplay has ever made. “Violet Hill” was a much needed reminder that Coldplay was more than just your average alternative rock band that made larger than life alternative rock music. This is one of the group’s few rock-oriented tracks that truly has some balls, hurling a wall of guitar and drums at us and sneaking in some political lyrics under the radar. Their confidence and authority here upped the ante significantly.
06. FIX YOU
Coldplay has no shortage of anthems, but “Fix You” truly stands out. It’s not as grand as, say, “Viva La Vida,” nor as emotionally tactful as “The Scientist,” but it feels necessary. Beginning with the simplicity of organ and vocals, the song builds and builds until it unleashes in emotional explosion of guitar, drums, and four-part vocals that only Coldplay could really get away with in this generation; its cheesiness is forgivable The group knows exactly which switch to flip to open the floodgates of emotion we all have inside of us, and that’s pretty cool.
This is how every great album should start. A Rush Of Blood To The Head’s masterful opener begins in an attention-grabbing, clunking manner, almost haphazardly, but “Politik” seamlessly transitions into a concrete track, almost like a magic trick. The track is one of Coldplay’s “biggest,” in terms of arrangement, yet it’s actually one of their most beautiful. The band makes no secret that they have something to say, but it comes across through the music so powerfully that it’s chorus can be dumbed down to, “Open up your eyes,” and still feel like a line of poetry.
04. THE SCIENTIST
Early on in their career, few alternative rock bands were embracing “melancholy” quite like Coldplay. At their most uplifting, they were still pensive and unsure, and at their bleakest, they gave us “The Scientist.” The piano-led ballad is devastatingly emotional, but it remains tactfully accessible. This track could have, and honestly should have, been tacky, but thanks to its decisive restraint, it asserts itself so effortlessly that it avoids becoming too much of a pop song and undeniably earns a place amongst rock’s greatest ballads.
03. VIVA LA VIDA
Hearing “Viva La Vida” for the first time is unsettling. In the context of Coldplay, it was almost unrecognizable, but in the context of pop music, it was almost too authoritative. Yet, somehow, it instantaneously became their biggest hit. The lead instrumentation is all strings, with only a booming timpani and bell as percussion; piano, bass, and guitar are simple accents. The melody is lush, and Chris Martin audibly knew it from the first note he sings. By the time he reaches that famous, stadium-ready, textbook Coldplay “Oh-oh-oh…” hook, there’s no denying that “Viva La Vida” is a landmark for the ages. It’s really a one-of-kind opus that few would attempt, but Coldplay made it seem laughably easy.
It may not have been the actual beginning, but it certainly felt like it. “Yellow” was Coldplay’s commercial breakthrough, and despite cranking out hit after hit, they’ve never been able to escape it. It may be in part because of nostalgia or a sense of ownership from their longtime fans, but it’s safe to assume that most of it comes from the track’s inherent likability. “Yellow” is an alt rock wet dream, equipped with a knock-out melody and a thundering arrangement that manages to feel equally as restrained as it does confident. The band never really went after this sound ever again, which only helps keep the track on the pedestal it deserves to be. “Yellow” is just kind of… special.
“Clocks” is an undeniable juggernaut. Not only does it contain the most famous piano riff of the last 25 years, but it’s definitive atmosphere is inexplicably bewildering. There’s this counterintuitive energy throughout that feels almost anxious, yet strikingly calm and comforting, and there’s little denying just how engaging it is. More than anything, though, “Clocks” is Coldplay’s greatest tune because of it’s palatability. You don’t have to like alternative rock to get sucked away by it’s hypnotic arrangement, but it never alienates their target audience. Similarly, you get just as much out of the song in solitude as you would in a stadium full of fans. That might seem easy, but it’s far from it.