Imagine Dragons' 10 Greatest Songs: Critic's Picks

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons
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Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons holds a gay pride flag during their Evolve World Tour 2018 at DTE Energy Music Theater on June 21, 2018 in Clarkston, Mich.

Take in an Imagine Dragons concert and you’ll notice not only the typical swarms of pop-devouring teens, but loads of families with young children, too, many of whom are clearly attending their first-ever live shows. Watch their eyes widen as each member of the Las Vegas four-piece commandeers a drum and beats the hell out of it as they rattle off what have become many of the decade’s defining arena-rock anthems.

By the night’s end, all those little newcomers will have been spoiled, by a towering band that has all but mastered the art of crafting songs meant to be performed for 20,000 fans at a clip. Dan Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee and Dan Platzman comprise what is unquestionably the prevailing big-stage rock band to emerge in the 2010s, and the guys continue to flourish in the mainstream, notching two more Top 5 Hot 100 singles from their third LP, Evolve, released last summer (“Believer” and “Thunder”). 

The group’s most stadium-ready project to date fuels Imagine Dragons’ latest world tour, which earlier this month kicked off its second U.S. leg and will be trekking around arenas and amphitheaters all summer long. 

But for all its grandeur and confetti blasts, Imagine Dragons is often driven by darkness, regret and deep introspection, all of which are present in lyrics of some of its biggest songs -- if you stop singing along long enough to actually listen to what you’re saying. See our list of the monster band’s ten greatest songs so far: a mix of singles and killer album tracks that round them out as an outfit that can do plenty more than just write the hits.

10. “Bleeding Out” [Night Visions, 2012] 

If you've checked out Imagine Dragons' electrifying new Evolve World Tour, then you know the most poignant section of the show comes during the mid-performance acoustic set, featuring live cello, an auxiliary stage, and a moving revamp of the Night Visions album cut "Bleeding Out." In the new, half-time rendition, passion and romantic stakes are finally realized in a song that was always nearly there, and should become a set staple, played just like the above video. 

9. “Whatever It Takes” [Evolve, 2017] 

Imagine Dragons have vaulted so high largely due to the band’s embrace of its era’s dominant genres: namely, hip-hop and electronic music. The former is on display in the group’s latest radio darling, “Whatever It Takes,” where a rapped verse and beat sets up its widescreen chorus, which will now blare from sporting event speakers until the end of time. As an album, Evolve was criticized by some as catering too handily to the sound of 2017 (and 2018), but when songs like “Whatever It Takes” and “Thunder” are requested constantly and streamed hundreds of millions of times, who can really argue? 

8. “Friction” [Smoke + Mirrors, 2015]

The band’s most sonically sinister track extended its lifespan earlier this year with a feature in the new Mission Impossible: Fallout trailer, though “Friction” had been a standout hard-rock jam all along. Reynolds reins his voice into a villainous quiver before the full band blasts through the incendiary chorus. “Friction” is as heavy as ID have gone thus far, and -- at least across these forceful three minutes -- it certainly suits them. What we’d give for a heavier band like Disturbed or Godsmack to swoop in and cover this one. 

7. “Amsterdam” [Night Visions, 2012]

Like much of Night Visions, "Amsterdam" was recorded and released on a prior EP, 2011's It's Time, when the band still clung more tightly to its alt-rock roots than to the electro-claps that would come to define it. Despite its ostensibly uplifting "your time will come" hook, the mid-tempo fan favorite "Amsterdam" is a song full of regret and denial, hinging on Reynolds' apologies to his family for disappointing them (stemming from his expulsion from Brigham Young University, perhaps?). “Amsterdam” is a microcosm of Imagine Dragons' entire aesthetic: beyond the catchy choruses, there's depth -- and often darkness -- at every turn. 

6. “Shots” [Smoke + Mirrors, 2015]

More pointed apologies come in “Shots,” another track where Reynolds falls deep into a hole of self-loathing, apologizing for “everything, oh, everything” he’s done wrong since birth. “Shots” -- perhaps the most affecting song off Smoke + Mirrors -- achieves greater catharsis over its ‘80s guitar picking, new-wavy synth and uncharacteristic falsetto. But don’t worry, a now-standard booming drum break comes near the end and absolutely rips in the live setting, with multiple band members pounding the skins. 

5. “Believer” [Evolve, 2017]

2017's leader on the year-end Hot Rock Songs chart was something of a “Radioactive: Part II.” “Believer” similarly asserts itself with crashing digital rhythms looming over light-treading guitar, but with a renewed sense of urgency that was sometimes lost on Smoke + Mirrors. The syncopation in the pre-chorus reels you in and the operatic hook -- a recent staple in movie and video game trailers -- remains striking, even after the thousandth play. “Believer” brought the band back to radio in 2017 and it’s furthered the quintessential “Imagine Dragons sound,” one which nascent rock bands will emulate for years to come. 

4. “Demons” [Night Visions, 2012] 

The band’s quintuple-Platinum-certified single and gargantuan adult contemporary crossover has been played to death on radio and reality singing shows, but at its foundation, “Demons” remains one of Imagine Dragons’ greatest sonic achievements. So much of the band’s aura orbits around Reynolds’ personal battles with depression and other physical diseases, and a line like “look into my eyes, it’s where my demons hide” cuts right to the core -- he and the band write music to expel all sorts of trauma, and while their performances are impassioned and regularly inspiring, there’s always a storm lying just below the surface. When this decade soon wraps up, “Demons” will be there as one of the defining rock ballads of the 2010s. 

3. “Walking The Wire,” [Evolve, 2017]

If Imagine Dragons continues its skyward trajectory and eventually graduates to stadium tours, this will be a song worth the price of admission alone. "Walking the Wire" is sincerely gigantic and soars to places few bands dare to go. Reynolds is triumphant and bright, and the electronic elements are sparse, yet still manage to provide weight to the melody. The finale guitar break is a neat nod to their anthem-rock predecessors in U2. And the full-throated "oh" chorus is perhaps the most satisfying moment on all of Evolve

2. “Radioactive” [Night Visions, 2012]

For many fans who would now consider themselves Imagine Dragons diehards, “Radioactive” was the clear entry point. The band’s first major hit holds two notable records with Billboard: the slowest ascension to the Hot 100 Top 5 (42 weeks, gotta love persistence) and the greatest amount of time spent on the chart, at a massive 87 weeks. “Radioactive” and its electro-rock gloom, influenced in part by the then-waning trend towards dubstep in pop music, defined the band’s dangerous sound to Top 40 listeners, and laid the blueprint for what’s likely been the most all-encompassing success any rock band has experienced in the last five years. In hindsight, “Welcome to a new age” was fairly prophetic. 

1. “It’s Time” [Night Visions, 2012]  

Let’s be honest: Imagine Dragons en masse can become exhausting, considering the band’s nearly perpetual visibility since 2013. The songs are everywhere all the time. But somehow, the song that started it all for Imagine Dragons never tires. “It’s Time” -- the band's very first LP single, plucked from an earlier eponymous EP -- is a concrete alt-rock banger: Reynolds’ vocals are crisp and propulsive, the “never changing who I am” hook is universal, and the lyric “the path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell” might be the sharpest line the group has ever penned. It’s a song the guys will be playing for the rest of their lives, to millions of fans across the globe, and they could do much, much worse. 

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