Coldplay's Top 10 Greatest Songs: Critic's Picks

Frazer Harrison/WireImage for The Recording Academy
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs at Live Nation Live on Sept. 29, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif.  

Coldplay continues to tour behind its 2015 album, A Head Full of Dreams, bringing anthems like “Hymn For the Weekend” and the title track to life around the globe. Just as these new songs compete for fans’ attention alongside old hits like “Clocks” and “Viva La Vida,” we decided to put Coldplay’s catalog to the test and count down its best songs. 

A Head Full of Dreams is a strong album, but for now, we think its songs need a little more time to sink in. Our list picks from Coldplay’s previous six LPs. Since their 2000 debut, Parachutes, the band was in a constant evolution of self-discovery via music. From the early tender ballads to the swirling piano anthems, to the experimental pop and even dance dreamscapes, here are the 10 best songs from Chris Martin and company.

10. “We Never Change”

Coldplay have evolved so much over the past 16 years and seven albums, it’s almost hard to recognize them as the four blokes behind Parachutes. Back then, they wore baggy cord pants and Clarks Chukka boots, not neon shirts covered in graffiti. But it’s the album that started it all, winning the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and the BRIT for Best British Album. “Yellow,” of course, was the singalong megahit, but the LP is packed with gems. “We Never Change” is one of them. “I wanna live life and always be true / I wanna live life and be good to you,” Martin confesses. “I wanna live life and have friends around.” These are simple sentiments that appeal to perhaps everyone, and the ascending guitar twinkles deliver the ripples in your chest.

9. “Hurts Like Heaven”

For 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay went in on the visual and storyline elements of the album. It’s an Orwellian drama about an authoritarian government out to destroy sound and color -- and the love story of two dissenters out to change the world. The visual aspects, from the cover to the tour production, are inspired by graffiti, featuring eye-popping displays of neons. Musically, it explores pop, R&B and electronica, and even features a guest appearance from Rihanna. But the highlight is this jittery track, which, says Martin, was written almost entirely by guitarist Jonny Buckland. After the 43-second title track intro, with shimmering xylophone and bleeps and bloops, "Hurts Like Heaven" explodes like a Fourth of July night sky. Where Buckland usually provided textures and subtle layers, here, he’s a guitar god, riffing fluidly over Martin’s chanting and a propulsive beat. Thanks for this one, Jonny.

8. “Speed of Sound”

Like “Clocks” before it, this tune is prime mid-career Coldplay. It’s built around another catchy, looping piano riff and its driving drums, waves of guitar and rising synths build to a peak that makes the listener feel like they’re floating at, well, the speed of sound. It was the lead single from their third album, 2005’s X&Y, and was their most successful song to date, debuting at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, notching the band’s first Top 10 hit in the U.S. 

7. “In My Place”

It’s a hallmark Coldplay song that’s both grand and sweeping and deceptively simple and universally understood. There’s the three-note atmospheric guitar riff, the arena-filling straight drum beat, and Martin’s introspective lyrics about your lot in life, expectations and realities aimed at everyone’s jugular: “In my place, in my place / Were lines that I couldn't change / I was lost, I was lost / Crossed lines I shouldn't have crossed.” Then, of course, comes the memorable chorus: “Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, how long must you wait for it?” The Rush of Blood to the Head single went on to win Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 45th Grammy Awards and become a fan favorite and live staple.

6. “The Scientist”

"Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be so hard." On the second single from A Rush of Blood to the Head, Martin touches us all on what is perhaps Coldplay’s most touching ballad. It opens with a Martin solo at the piano, pleading about the complications of love: "Come up to meet you / Tell you I'm sorry / You don't know how lovely you are." Love, he suggests, will always be unexplainable by reason and logic: “Science and progress,” he sings, “do not speak as loud as my heart." The band enters to build the song higher and higher, as Martin’s falsetto croons to the heavens.

5. “A Sky Full of Stars”

Evocative and universal sentiments of love and freedom pervade most of Coldplay’s music, but the band have experimented with the packaging on each and every album. On this track from their 2014 release, Ghost Stories, Coldplay are in full Ibiza mode -- the trance-like EDM beats and dramatic drops are like a dance-floor dopamine shower. Co-written and co-produced with EDM superstar Avicii, “A Sky Full of Stars” is the band’s first straight-up EDM/dance song, and they absolutely nail it.

4. “Viva La Vida”

Coldplay just knows its way around a memorable, emotionally moving melody. Here, the band ditches the tools they used to build their musical empire -- acoustic strumming, electric twinkles -- for grand string orchestration, harpsichord and booming marshal drums. As the title track and single from their fourth studio album, 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends -- named after a Spanish phrase meaning "Live the life" and featuring an album cover of a painting of a battle from the French Revolution -- the song sounds like Coldplay fronting the Paris orchestra circa 1789. It has that larger-than-life feeling, bolstered by Martin’s lyrics of mercenaries fighting in foreign fields, Roman cavalry and ruling the world. It’s Napoleon-approved, for sure. Viva also started the band’s ventures into album as art project -- the artwork, music and the onstage presentation (the band wore retro military outfits with colored arm bands) presented a cohesive work with themes of liberation, love, war and freedom, and “Viva La Vida” is its centerpiece. It worked: The Brian Eno-produced album debuted at No. 1 in 36 countries, became the year’s best-selling LP, and won the Best Rock Album Grammy.

3. “Sparks”

It’s an acoustic-driven, nostalgia-inducing track from their 2000 debut LP that ignites the sparklers in listeners’ hearts. Guy Berryman’s gentle, swaying bass melody leads, with Martin’s acoustic strumming as the backdrop on which Buckland adds star-shimmering electric guitar notes that sound like bells ringing in the ether. This gets our vote for Coldplay’s most beautiful song. It’s a love lullaby that captures what the band does best: move hearts.

2. “Green Eyes”

No matter the color of your sweetheart’s eyes, put this tune on for a makeout session that’ll turn your hearts to fondue. “Honey, you are a rock, on which I stand / I come here to talk, I hope you understand.” Oh, Chris, you’re so direct and unapologetically sappy -- and we love you for it. This acoustic ditty from their second album, 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, is the epitome of Coldplay’s early days with its acoustic beginning and full-band crescendos. Anyone that tries to deny this song is, in Martin’s own words, out of their minds.

1. “Clocks”

This is the song that pushed Coldplay into new territory, artistically and commercially. Before, they staked their success on a tender, acoustic-driven sound with twinkling but spare electric guitar, all heavily indebted to ‘90s Britpop. But several songs on their second release, A Rush of Blood to the Head, start to color outside those lines. “Clocks” is based on an earworm, whistle-worth piano melody -- that’s been sampled countless times since -- and brings in charging bass as it builds and builds and builds to an apex of vocal melodies and Martin repeating, “Home, home, where I wanted to go,” another universal sentiment. 


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