Calvin Harris' 20 Best Songs: Critics' Picks
He doesn't wear a mask. He doesn't get on top of the decks and jump off. Calvin Harris doesn't need gimmicks to help his music stand out. The Scottish producer simply writes incredible, soul-touching hooks and brain-nesting melodies that can't be denied.
Sometimes, he works with giant superstar vocalists, but he didn't need Rihanna and Florence Welch to get his foot in the door. He actually sings on his own tracks just as much as he features guests, because he is a one-man hit machine unlike anything you've ever witnessed before.
From his days as a scrawny dark-haired electro dude to today's chart-topping underwear model reality, Harris has pumped out the jams with a deftness that can't be matched. It's almost unnatural how great his songs can be, but thankfully they are 100 percent genuine house realness. Here’s a list of the 20 best Calvin Harris songs to date.
20. Calvin Harris - "Stars Come Out"
Harris' voice is so raw on this one, almost as raw as those dancing synth melodies. It's only right this would be the producer's shiniest space-age sound. That chorus produces the mental image of Harris dancing on some interstellar disco floor that keeps lighting up rainbow colors under his feet, and every time those ray-gun noises hit, he dodges a shooting star with some cool John Travolta-esque dance move.
19. Calvin Harris - "The Girls"
Kinda like those songs where people list off cities as a way of ensuring those cities love the song forever, here Harris appeals to every girl on the planet, and none of us are immune to its charms. These filtered synths are everything that made the late 2000s an awesome time to be alive. Harris wasn't even such a megahunk when this song came out, so he must've had no idea how right he'd end up being.
18. Calvin Harris - "Rollin" ft. Future and Khalid
The Scottish producer gets on an old-school disco soul groove with “Location” star-in-the-making Khalid and bonafide living legend Future. This is a sepia-toned, gold and glittery wave for turning lights down low and drinking brown liquor over ice. It's from the music maker's fifth studio album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, a classic vibe from the gate.
17. Calvin Harris - "Outside" ft. Ellie Goulding
This song is quite close to perfect. Ellie Goulding is angelic and emotional, yet so strong. Those strings are empowering and beautiful, a wonderful balance against the hard, electronic drop. It's a great breakup song, and definitely one of the best cuts from Motion. It's recognizable and familiar, but it's not formulaic, and that's not an easy thing to do.
16. Calvin Harris - "You Used To Hold Me"
Harris totally flips the house vocal script on this one. It's nice to hear a man as beautiful as Harris being emotionally vulnerable, anyway. This song is especially fun because it's equally as hard as it is soft. It's romantic, but it's also quite edgy, and it somehow makes all that potential for overwhelming cheese disappear.
15. Calvin Harris - "Ready For The Weekend"
Anytime someone tries to say this isn't one of the best damn Calvin Harris songs they've ever heard, it's fighting words. As the title-track to Harris' 2009 LP, it's a dose of instant nostalgia, and I can never get enough. The bridge is just as fun to sing along to as the chorus, and that chorus is a real whopper. You don't see that woman coming at you like a freight train, but once she hits, any rainy Tuesday 2 p.m. is the weekend again.
14. Calvin Harris - "Bounce" ft. Kelis
Look, Kelis is cool and everything, but this song is all about that dope synth melody, which could play on a loop for 20 minutes straight without getting annoying. This was actually Harris' first single to feature vocals other than his own. He said he was done singing entirely, but thank goodness he got over that one. You have to admit though, Kelis kills that “bounce” bit.
13. Calvin Harris - "Flashback"
This song is like being washed over by a warm river -- or, indeed, like a flashback, or like a dream, or all the things you can fit inside a memory. This is the song that separated Harris from the rest of his dance producer peers. He suddenly became some kind of untouchable genius who undeniably had his finger on the pulse of what club crowds wanted to hear. The video is actual footage of Harris performing in Ibiza's Pacha nightclub. It's a perfect time capsule of 2009, which makes it a perfect premonition of sorts.
12. Calvin Harris – "Under Control" with Alesso feat. Hurts
Here comes a double hitter from two of dance music's biggest and brightest star producers. “Under Control” features classic male vocals from Hurts and appeared on both Harris' fourth album Motion and Alesso's debut full-length Forever. The latter premiered it during a DJ set in Ibiza, which is one helluva way to kick off a summer anthem that eventually took control of the UK charts. The video features a meteor come plummeting to Earth, because of course, if we're all gonna die, we better party first.
11. Calvin Harris – "Let's Go" Feat. Ne-Yo
Next time you're at the gym and you don't feel like working out, put this enthusiastic anthem between your ears and watch your heart beat pump. It's all about that progressive house come up, topped with the stabbing, shiny synth punches. The tune was used in a Pepsi Max commercial spot, featured prominently as well in the globetrotting music video.
10. Calvin Harris - "Blame" ft. John Newman
How freaking good is John Newman on this one? His voice is so rich and rough, it's instantly recognizable. This song is so universally good, it charted in 29 countries and made an appearance on seven different US Billboard Charts, including a spot atop Hot Dance/Electronic Songs.
9. Calvin Harris - "This Is What You Came For" ft. Rihanna
Calvin Harris and Rihanna are some kind of dream team -- lightning strikes every time they hit the booth, is how the lyrics should go. Harris' ex Taylor Swift helped write the song, but Rihanna is the one who history will remember as the absolute hook destroyer. This song doesn't beat you over the head with its greatness. It's a slow, subtle kind of takeover on your soul -- you hear it a couple times on the radio, it becomes a part of you indefinitely.
8. Calvin Harris - "I Need Your Love" ft. Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding is so convincing on this track, it's hard not to believe that she and Calvin Harris are actually lovers themselves. This song has all the bits people love about Harris hooks; rhythmic piano, big clapping bass, playful synth melodies, and undeniable sing-along choruses. The real star here though, is that screeching guitar note. It's pleading with you to love it.
7. Calvin Harris – "Summer"
This is one of those quintessential hooks that comes to mind the moment you picture big-room house opulence. When that beat drops, you've got no choice but to punch your fists toward the sky. We can feel the confetti falling all around us if we close our eyes. Harris used his own raspy vocals on this uplifting tune, if only to prove that he doesn't need anyone else's help to sell millions of copies, receive nominations, and top charts. “Summer” was his sixth no. 1 on the British charts, though it only peaked at seven in the Billboard Hot 100.
6. Calvin Harris & Disciples - "How Deep Is Your Love"
Harris has some kind of sixth sense for picking the best vocalists. Norway's Ina Wroldsen is so cool on this track, a little raspy and strong, like she's more demanding that your love go deep than pleading for it to. Got to give it up to Disciples for the co-production credit. It is fittingly deep on its own, lots of low register, lots of soulful house groove, but still decidedly bright and modern.
5. Calvin Harris – "Thinking About You" Feat. Ayah Marah
This classic tune from Harris' third album 18 Months took him into the UK chart history books. "Thinking About You" was his ninth single to breach the top 10 in the country, which made him the first artist ever to do such a thing. Ayah Marah rounds out the bright beat with rich vocals fans recognize from her work on "Flashback". The video is fun, too, as it features just as many downs as ups, a little more true to life than the usual dance party fantasies.
4. Calvin Harris – "Slide" Feat. Frank Ocean & Migos
This lead single from Harris' fifth studio album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 was the perfect appetizer for things to come. It showcases the new, laid-back vacation vibe Harris has taken on, even as it urges bodies toward the dance floor. Ocean's pitched-up vocal hook is an instant classic, and Migos comes through to put a bit of Atlanta heat on the trapped out breakdown.
3. Calvin Harris - "Sweet Nothing" ft. Florence Welch
When did you ever hear Florence Welch sing and think to yourself, "no, that doesn't sound right?" The correct answer is: absolutely never. The two together are an unstoppable force. It's impossible to listen to this song without banging your head a bit. The beat gets soft, not because the song is, but just to give Ms. Welch enough room to stare deeply into your soul. This tune has one of the most intensely pleasurable rising motions to grace a festival crowd. Drop this, and the whole world jumps up and down.
2. Calvin Harris - "Feel So Close"
This Calvin Harris song is so giant it's almost a parody of itself. It's iconic, really. It's not a rock 'n' roll song, but you can play it in Guitar Hero Live, which doesn't make any sense at all, but it doesn't have to. “Feel So Close” is devilishly simple, and that might have a lot to do with how universally loved it became. It was palatable and uplifting without being soulless, which made it destined to commercial spots and tv shows and radio airplay across the world. It's not his biggest hit of all time, but it's definitely one of the songs that will define his musical legacy for decades to come.
1. Rihanna - "We Found Love" ft. Calvin Harris
What can be said about this song that hasn't already been said? It's gone platinum nine times in the United States alone, and charted in 34 countries. It's a generational anthem that utterly defines the electronic dance music explosion of the early 2010s and dance music's eventual crossover into the mainstream consciousness. Rihanna is brilliant and easygoing, as if singing over one of the biggest songs of all time is totally nbd. It won a Grammy, an MTV Award, and two International Dance Music Awards. No one you know doesn't know it, and it just turned five years old in September. It's like a musical fairy tale with the happiest of endings.