I am part of the problem.
Last month, it was reported that Coldplay was set to release its eighth studio album, Everyday Life, on November 22. Advance word was it was a double album with an “experimental” bent, which prompted me to tweet this dumb joke. “Kid B-” I called it, a reference to Radiohead’s landmark 2000 album, Kid A. Get it? Coldplay was once dismissed as Radiohead lite, which can only mean that their attempt to stretch out sonically will result in a barely passing grade.
Twitter being Twitter, the joke went over well. But here’s the thing: I actually really like Coldplay. I own their first five records, and I believe they should pass The Five Album Test. I only made the joke because Coldplay is an easy target.
And yet if Chris Martin himself saw that tweet, I bet he would also laugh. He seems like he has a pretty good sense of humor about himself. He must also know that, deep down, the jokes don’t matter. Coldplay has never been cool, and yet they’ve outlasted (and definitely outsold) nearly every other band of their generation. They prove the truism that cool rock bands do well in the short-term, but uncool rock bands last forever. The uncool bands are the ones who make songs for the parts of our lives that matter most: weddings, breakups, birthdays, and funerals. When your heart is broken, you don’t reach for the music that wowed the critics at SXSW in 2003. You punch up the track that promises to … fix you.
With that in mind, here is my ranking of my 30 favorite Coldplay songs.
30. “Midnight” (2014)
Ghost Stories is frequently described as Coldplay’s “divorce” album, so it makes sense that Chris Martin soothed his heartbreak after the “conscious uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow by vibing out to Bon Iver, and then making a song that sounds almost exactly like Bon Iver. Then again, there are parts of this year’s Bon Iver LP, i,i, that kind of sound like Coldplay. Sensitive males sometimes need to grieve with other sensitive males.
29. “Low” (2005)
There will always be overly pedantic people who loudly insist that Coldplay doesn’t count as rock because they don’t rawk, man. Which is true, though this woefully under-appreciated post-punk-ish deep cut from X&Y has enough drive and guitar-squawk to almost qualify.
28. “Square One”(2005)
When Coldplay put out its fourth (and best) album, Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, in 2008, the album cycle doubled as an apology tour for their previous LP, X&Y. While X&Y actually sounds like one of Coldplay’s best albums in retrospect, the perception in the mid-’00s was that it was overblown. Perhaps that impression was formed by the album’s bombastic opening track, which literally quotes the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But while it’s true that this album didn’t teach monkeys how to eventually develop nuclear weapons, it’s still pretty good.
27. “Trouble” (2000)
Coldplay’s first great piano ballad, from their debut album Parachutes, setting a template they would take to the bank on the next record, 2002’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head. With “Trouble,” Martin showed he was a master of the “I’m sorry I was a jerk” love song, a trope that will reoccur several times on this list.
26. “What If” (2005)
Coldplay’s fourth or fifth great piano ballad. The structure of this song resembles John Lennon’s “Imagine,” in that it’s a series of hypothetical questions that critique the structural underpinnings of our society. Only for Martin, questioning the existence of wrong, right, reason, and rhyme isn’t a way to promote world peace, but rather as a device to beg his girlfriend not to leave him.
25. “Hurts Like Heaven” (2011)
Mylo Xyloto was a crucial album for Coldplay because it marked the band’s post-self-consciousness period, when they stopped caring about being uncool. The record boasts songs titles are so extremely Coldplay that they verge on trolling, including the self-explanatory “Hurts Like Heaven.” I can only imagine that Martin has “Use your heart as a weapon” tattooed over his actual heart.
24. “Paradise” (2011)
When Pitchfork interviewed Chris Martin in 2011, the reporter likened the “para-para-para” vocal tic in the chorus of “Paradise” to the “ella-ella-ella” part from Rihanna’s 2007 hit “Umbrella,” probably because Rihanna appears on the Mylo Xyloto track “Princess Of China.” To me, “Paradise” is more reminiscent of one of those billowy early ’80s synth-rock hits by the Moody Blues, another British act who never let their own stadium-rock pomposity get in the way of a good pop melody.
23. “Cemeteries Of London” (2008)
The genius of any great arena-rock band requires an ability to execute a dumb idea with extreme skill, confidence, and showmanship. “Cemeteries Of London” is a prime example — it’s basically “Scarborough Fair” made up to sound like Tears For Fears, which sounds terrible on paper but worked like gangbusters on Viva La Vida.
22. “Green Eyes” (2002)
Chris Martin apparently wrote this song for an ex-girlfriend, and then he married Paltrow, who has blue eyes. (The band only played “Green Eyes” once in 2003, the year of their marriage.) Coldplay continues to play this song live even though subsequent Martin girlfriends such as Jennifer Lawrence and Dakota Johnson also have blue eyes. Would it kill this guy to just write a lovely acoustic love song called “Blue Eyes”?
21. “In My Place” (2002)
The most noteworthy part of “In My Place” is the huge-sounding drum break at the start, which sounds like it was recorded by Dave Fridmann for a late-’90s Flaming Lips record. The rest of this track, which was written during the Parachutes era and subsequently appeared on A Rush Of Blood, returns Coldplay safely to warm and gently chiming folk-rock territory.
20. “Something Just Like This” (2017)
What if instead of automatically clowning the first-ever collaboration between Coldplay and The Chainsmokers, you actually listened to it and realized that it was kind of awesome? I didn’t come around on “Something Just Like This” until this past summer, when I was a captive listener in the back of a Los Angeles Lyft. Something about the combination of glitzy synths and Southern California night-time air rushing through rolled-down windows made this song irresistible. And then I heard it in every LA Lyft. “Something Just Like This” is the most LA Lyft song of all time.
19. “Magic” (2014)
Chris Martin sings the word “don’t” 33 times in this song, which unofficially makes it the most negative song in the Coldplay canon. This was another track from the “divorce” era, when Coldplay scaled back the grandeur of its music significantly and produced its own version of Blue or Blood On The Tracks. Though romantic cynicism never felt like a natural move for Coldplay, which is why Martin is sure to insist at the end of “Magic” that “of course” he still believes in love. Deep down, he knew that there were other beautiful actresses in his future.
18. “Talk” (2005)
This is one of those Coldplay tracks that the casual fan probably doesn’t know, while the serious Coldplay-heads always put it among their best songs. The big guitar riff, which lifts (with the band’s permission) from Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love,” makes “Talk” one of Coldplay’s most effective arena-rock numbers, like U2 with some unexpected Death Cab For Cutie overtones.
17. “Politik” (2002)
You can tell this is a “political” song, as the word “politic” is spelled in a slightly different way right in the title. (Coldplay doesn’t do subtle political satire.) But while this song was apparently written around the time of the September 11 attacks, it doesn’t really evoke the existential dread that gripped the world in the early ’00s. Instead, it’s just an excuse to make a big, glorious noise in the huge spaces that Coldplay was just moving into at the time.
16. “Major Minus” (2011)
It’s not a coincidence that the most ridiculous Coldplay album, Mylo Xyloto, is also one of their best. A loosely structured concept album, it tells the story of Mylo, a sorta-Blade Runner-type person who hunts down “sparkers,” who create energy that manifests in graffiti. And then there’s a lot of wondrously silly mumbo-jumbo after that, but what’s most pertinent is that “Major Minus” is the theme for the story’s villain, and it’s appropriately badass (in a Coldplay kind of way).
15. “Everything’s Not Lost” (2000)
When Coldplay put out Parachutes, they were endlessly compared to Radiohead’s mid-’90s period, when they were kings of majestic ballads that melded gloriously recorded acoustic and electric guitars. Not long after Parachutes dropped in July 2000, Radiohead moved beyond that sound and into the electronic experimentalism of Kid A. But the closing track of Parachutes, “Everything’s Not Lost,” showed that Coldplay was already on a whole other one from Radiohead. Whereas Radiohead specialized in sonic representations of a pessimistic dystopia, Coldplay had a single-minded focus on aggressively uplifting expressions of hope. It’s not a surprise that the reassuring band soon eclipsed the doom-obsessed band commercially.
14. “Shiver” (2000)
The one other area where Coldplay bested Radiohead was in the “directly ripping off Jeff Buckley” department. While Thom Yorke’s fascination with Buckley’s iconic 1994 debut Grace peaked with “Fake Plastic Trees,” Chris Martin more faithfully recreated that album’s whisper-to-a-scream dynamics on this track.
13. “Charlie Brown” (2011)
This is Coldplay’s attempt at re-writing “Thunder Road,” a real “let’s hit the road, damn the haters”-style anthem. And, as is often true with this band, they get way closer to the mark than you would expect. Yes, you can laugh at the purple prose. (“We’ll run riot / We’ll be glowing in the dark ooh ooh ooh / We’ll be glowing in the dark ooh ooh ah.”) But damn it if they don’t pull out of this town full of losers by the end.
12. “Speed Of Sound” (2005)
A track called “Speed Of Sound” that’s a dreamy, mid-tempo ballad — bad physics, good Coldplay.
11. “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face” (2002)
One of the most endearingly awkward moments on any Coldplay album is “‘Til Kingdom Come,” a bonus track on X&Y that was originally written for the late Johnny Cash before he died in 2003. But when it comes to fake country songs, the superior Coldplay track is actually “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face,” in which Chris Martin goes from nice guy to … tough-talking nice guy. “I’ve gotta say I’m on my way down,” he snarls. Well, actually, it’s more like a thoughtful purr. But the sentiment is definitely pretty snarl-y.
10. “Viva La Vida” (2008)
Along with being one of Coldplay’s most popular songs — it has been streamed more than 600 million times on Spotify, more than “Fix You,” “Yellow,” or “Clocks” — this tracks is famous for several different artists claiming that it was stolen from them, including Yusef Islam (Cat Steven), Joe Satriani, and the obscure alt-rock band Creaky Boards. It has also been likened to a piece by the 18th-century composer Giovanni Battista Draghi. But Coldplay will forever own this melody. They earned it. When they performed at the Super Bowl in 2016, this was the first song they played because of course it was the first song.
9. “Warning Sign” (2002)
While it’s No. 9 on this list, “Warning Sign” is the number one deep cut in the Coldplay catalogue. There are songs that are catchier and more popular, but “Warning Sign” is the one that always comes as a pleasant surprise when you listening to the hits-free back half of A Rush Of Blood. It doesn’t build to some grand crescendo, nor does it deliver a chorus designed to be sung by tens of thousands of people. It’s just one of those songs that never fails to sneak up on you, and hits the spot every single time.
8. “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” (2011)
Another song from the “we don’t care if our song titles sound like Coldplay parodies” Mylo Xyloto era. Only the staunchest, grouchiest anti-Coldplay person would fail to be roused by this song, especially after the first verse when frisky Jonny Buckland’s guitar riff bursts in and everything starts to feel like being inside of an exploding soda can.
7. “Strawberry Swing” (2008)
Even cool people had to concede to the brilliance of this Afro-pop-leaning number from Viva La Vida after Frank Ocean covered it on his breakout mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, and then kept on performing it during his 2012 Channel Orange tour. A genuine (and artistically successful) departure from their signature sound, “Strawberry String” feels like the most tangible output of their collaboration with Brian Eno, hearkening to his work with Talking Heads on Remain In Light.
6. “Lovers In Japan” (2008)
To be clear, I’m referring to the first three minutes and 57 seconds of this song. On the CD, it’s actually referred to as two songs, “Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love,” because Chris Martin was a fan of FutureSex/LoveSounds and wanted to emulate Justin Timberlake’s habit of packaging two songs together on that record. However, on Spotify it’s credited only as “Lovers In Japan,” so it sounds like one of the most blissful synth-pop melodies in Coldplay’s catalogue just happens to have a very long and soppy coda.
5. “Don’t Panic” (2000)
The Shins got the most play in the defining movie of early-’00s indiedom, Garden State. But the song that set the movie’s quirky/depressive/melancholy vibe was the lead-off track from Parachutes, which plays over Garden State‘s opening credits. While Coldplay were already huge stars by then, the placement made them feel (at the time anyway) like generational spokesmen. While Garden State hasn’t aged well, “Don’t Panic” remains an evocative time capsule for the era.
4. “Yellow” (2000)
“I came along / I wrote a song for you / And all the things you do / And it was called ‘Yellow.'” If you find that lyric unfathomably stupid — rather than charmingly stupid — you have no business reading a list of the best Coldplay songs.
3. “Clocks” (2002)
Like everybody else on the planet, I’ve heard this song 1.5 million times. But unlike a lot of you, I’m not yet tired of it. However, I just noticed that it makes absolutely no sense. Granted, I never listen to Coldplay for the lyrics — just as I don’t appreciate greeting cards for the poetry — but I can’t make heads or tails of this: “Come out upon my seas / Cursed missed opportunities am I / A part of the cure / Or am I part of the disease.” I thought clocks were supposed to impose order on space and time, not create more confusion.
2. “The Scientist” (2002)
The closest song to a standard in the Coldplay canon. It has been recorded or performed by Willie Nelson, Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne, Aimee Mann, Corinne Bailey Rae, the cast of Glee, and many more. It is the band’s ultimate example of the aforementioned “I’m sorry I was a jerk” love song trope, though the chorus also expresses something deeper about the human condition that surely makes “The Scientist” a go-to soundtrack for various life-altering traumas: “Nobody said it was easy / it’s such a shame for us to part.”
1. “Fix You” (2005)
Here it is: A line of demarcation between those of us who embrace Coldplay as the music that serves the least desirable and neediest parts of ourselves, and those people who try to deny that such a part of themselves exists (in public anyway). Loving Coldplay means acknowledging that Aaron Sorkin was right to score a screamingly melodramatic montage from The Newsroom to this daringly sappy and ultimately overpowering emotional gut-punch. Yes, it’s embarrassing. And, sure, mocking this sort of thing will get you hundreds of likes and retweets on Twitter. But the next time you’re alone, and your phone is out of batteries, and you feel broken, you will put on this song and the part where Will Champion’s drums and Guy Berryman’s bass crash in behind Jonny Buckland’s soaring guitar will … fix you. And, like Chris Martin sings, tears will stream down your face. And then the song will end, and you will tell no one. But we’ll know.
Coldplay is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.