Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address

By submitting my information, I agree to receive personalized updates and marketing messages about WMX based on my information, interests, activities, website visits and device data and in accordance with the Privacy Policy. I understand that I can opt-out at any time by emailing privacypolicy@wmg.com.

Best Blur Songs: 20 Classic Tracks That Revitalised British Music
Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Blur Songs: 20 Classic Tracks That Revitalised British Music

From arch noise-pop to heartbroken ballads, the best Blur songs show rich and varied the band were over a hugely successful career.

Back

From their indie beginnings, Blur – Damon Albarn (vocals), Graham Coxon (guitars), Alex James (bass) and Dave Rowntree (drums) – became household names as one of the leading groups in the Britpop movement. But they refused to be pigeonholed, moving on to more experimental material and creating one of the greatest catalogues in modern British music. These 20 best Blur songs reveal how that happened…

Listen to the best of Blur here, and check out our 20 best Blur songs, below.

20: Popscene (single A-side, 1992)

Following the baggy stylings of their debut album, Leisure (1991), the fizzy noise-pop of Popscene marked the point where Blur really began to find themselves. While it sounds like a celebration of a bright new scene (indeed, it’s considered to be one of the songs that kicked off Britpop), listen closer and you’ll hear Albarn brattily comparing himself and other musicians to clones going through the motions – a theme he’d return to regularly throughout Blur’s early albums. The public were not quite ready for brass-propelled punk blasts (the single stalled at No.32 on the UK chart), but it remains a defining moment in the band’s early history.

19: You’re So Great (from ‘Blur’, 1997)

Having taken Britpop to its arch, cartoony limits with 1995’s The Great Escape album – and the knockabout oompah of single Country House, in particular – Blur’s follow-up record saw them completely change tack. For years, guitarist Graham Coxon had found inspiration in the experimental US indie rock and riot grrrl scenes, and, as Albarn set about writing the group’s self-titled 1997 album, he became more open to the music that made Coxon tick. But while Blur showed a more stripped-back, aggressive and inventive side to the band, the song that Coxon contributed – and took lead vocals on – You’re So Great, was a sweet, fragile and utterly lovely slice of melodic lo-fi that endures as one of the best Blur songs.

18: Girls & Boys (from ‘Parklife’, 1994)

A snarky critique of modern life, Girls & Boys took aim at the cheap European package holidays that were becoming increasingly popular among British youth in the 90s – and yet, the song is presented in such a way as to make it sound utterly celebratory. A blast of synthetic disco, Alex James’ louche basslines and drummer Dave Rowntree’s driving beat propel the whole thing forward while Coxon’s guitar adds bite and, occasionally, resembles a whirlwind. Most important, though, is that chorus – instant and outrageously catchy, it quickly became a soundtrack to the boozy shenanigans Albarn sought to send up.

17: Death Of A Party (from ‘Blur’, 1997)

Just as the group’s self-titled album can be seen as an about-turn away from the Britpop years, Death Of A Party could be read as the flip of Girls & Boys. Here Albarn sings of the after-effects of hedonism and casual sex, with lyrics that deal with the dangers of AIDS (“The death of the teenager/Standing on his own/Why did he bother?/Should have slept alone”). Musically, too, it’s a world apart from Blur’s mid-90s albums, with distorted beats and a haunted-sounding organ giving it a nightmarish, trip-hop feel, suggesting that Tricky and Portishead had been on heavy rotation on the group’s stereo. It all adds up to an impressive track that, in hindsight, suggested the direction Albarn would take with Gorillaz’s debut album.

16: Badhead (from ‘Parklife’, 1994)

Nestled among the brash, knowing pop and skyscraping ballads of Parklife, this bit of indie introspection makes for an unassuming entry among the best Blur songs. Graham Coxon’s guitar is the star here, jangling and lilting as if airlifted from The Byrds’ debut album, and contrasting nicely with the punch of the brass section in the chorus. Albarn drapes a wistful melody across it all, giving us a truly underappreciated gem among Blur’s back catalogue.

15: Ghost Ship (from ‘The Magic Whip’, 2015)

Back in May 2013, Blur were set to play Japan’s Tokyo Rocks festival as part of a triumphant world tour. When that date was cancelled, they found themselves stuck in Hong Kong with a five-day hole in their schedule. Booking time at Avon Studios, they worked up roughly 15 new songs before putting the recordings to one side, with Albarn lamenting in July 2014, “The annoying thing is, if I’d been able to write the lyrics there and then about being there, we’d have finished the record. There’s some great tunes on there, but it may just be one of those records that never comes out.” Graham Coxon came to the rescue, working on the material with longtime producer Stephen Street and bringing in the rest of the band as the songs neared completion. The result was 2015’s The Magic Whip, the band’s first album in 12 years. Ghost Ship was the pick of the bunch – the closest Blur have ever come to sweet, blue-eyed soul.

14: Battery In Your Leg (from ‘Think Tank’, 2003)

Though he’d taken part in early recording sessions for Think Tank, Graham Coxon’s relations with the band soured to the extent that he left long before the album was completed. The result was a record on which the gifted guitarist barely featured, contributing only to the closing track, Battery In Your Leg. It’s one of a series of songs that explore Albarn’s relationship with Coxon (see also: My Terracotta Heart, Sweet Song), with the singer attempting to look back fondly on their time together, announcing, “This is a ballad for the good times,” before offering Coxon an olive branch (“But you know you’re not alone/You can be with me”). The sense of loss is mirrored by the music. Without Coxon’s contribution, the song would be a beautiful and bruised piano ballad – one of Albarn’s finest, even – but the guitarist adds to the emotional heft by summoning great storms of distortion and an eloquent descending solo as a parting shot, underling just how much the best Blur songs relied on his original talents.

13: Coffee & TV (from ‘13’, 1999)

Also emphasising Coxon’s contribution to the group, the irresistible chug of Coffee & TV might have proved one of 13’s more upbeat moments, musically speaking, but the lyrics dealt with Coxon’s feelings of disillusion and detachment from reality following his struggles with alcoholism. The sunny disposition of the music is interrupted by a thrilling guitar solo that’s a feat of controlled feedback and fuzzed-up dissonance, sounding one moment like a poked hornet’s nest, the next like extreme turbulence.

12: Blue Jeans (from ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, 1994)

Though Leisure had performed well enough for a debut album, Blur soon found themselves out of favour and at risk of being dropped by their label, Food Records. A disastrous tour of the US, along with grunge’s dominance over alternative music, led to the group missing home and finding comfort in the quintessentially British pop of The Kinks and The Small Faces. Albarn began to write satirically about day-to-day life, while also taking swipes at US popular culture. The shimmering and gorgeous Blue Jeans is one of the least abrasive moments on the album that followed, Modern Life Is Rubbish, but its lyrical nod to Portobello Road shows the path Albarn had discovered…

11: For Tomorrow (from ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, 1994)

… Meanwhile, For Tomorrow, the lead single and opening track on Modern Life Is Rubbish, felt like a mission statement. In its black-and-white, video – carefully designed to place Blur a million miles away from the dressed-down, angst-ridden grungy types across the Atlantic – Albarn swings from a double-decker bus clad in a modish suit, while his bandmates have a kickabout in Trafalgar Square. Again, the song contains numerous lyrical nods to London and, with a chorus that wouldn’t have been out of place on The Kinks’ classic proto-Britpop album, 1968’s The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, takes clear inspiration from the capital’s musical past.

10: This Is A Low (from ‘Parklife’, 1994)

On their ill-fated first US tour, the homesick Blur would tune into BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast, the nightly broadcast of weather reports for Britain’s seas. When recording Parklife, the evocative place names would prove an inspiration for Albarn, who used them as a jumping-off point for a lyric inspired by a surreal trip around the British Isles. Musically, This Is A Low is a melancholy epic among the best Blur songs, with Coxon providing walls of expansive, cinematic guitar that would regularly prove a highlight at live shows.

9: Parklife (from ‘Parklife’, 1994)

Oi! This bawdy knees-up was impossible to ignore – for the first time in an age, it felt as if British guitar bands were actually having some fun, and the country fell in line. Like Madness or Squeeze before them, Blur were able to take everyday life (the song was inspired by Albarn’s observations of the activities unfolding before him on a trip to Hyde Park), write about it in a relatable, witty way and then – the key part – set it to rambunctious, infectious music. And asking Phil Daniels to perform the spoken-vocals was a stroke of genius. The actor inhabits the role of park know-it-all as if he were born to it.

8: Trimm Trabb (from ‘13’, 1999)

A song of two parts: first, Trimm Trabb is a laidback shuffle with a reverb-heavy Albarn drowsily muttering of trainers and heartbreak; then the song drops out for an interval of haunted-sounding music boxes, before returning – with teeth. Coxon takes the central riff and applies several layers of fuzz and grime, while Albarn’s vocal becomes more urgent and distorted. From there, things only ramp up, Coxon’s guitar growing ever heavier for a thrilling, visceral ending to one of the more remarkable entries among the best Blur songs.

7: Good Song (from ‘Think Tank’ 2003)

An understatement of a title here, for Good Song is a blissful, low-key marvel. Originally titled De La Soul, there remains something of the Daisy Age hip-hop vibe in its campfire acoustic guitar, lolling bass groove and laidback percussion. The shadow of war in the Middle East loomed large over much of Think Tank – not least on this song, with Albarn singing of looking for human connection in times of trouble.

6: Tender (from ‘13’, 1999)

While each of Blur’s albums to this point had been studded with moments of melancholy beauty, Damon Albarn’s songs were never explicitly personal, the singer preferring to cloak any autobiographical elements in character studies. That all changed with Tender, the lead single from 1999’s 13. It marks an audacious moment in the group’s career, especially considering that their 1997 self-titled album had become their biggest-selling to date, mostly thanks to the US success of Song 2. For many, Blur were now the “Wooh-hoo!” guys, and this – a seven-plus-minute gospel-inspired epic that struggles to find hope in heartbreak – was how they returned? Of course, they pulled it off. Tender has become one of their best-loved songs, with Albarn sounding wounded and open-hearted, extolling the listener (and, by extension, himself) to “get through it”, reminding himself that “love’s the greatest thing”. Graham Coxon steals the show, though, his brilliantly knotty blues riff and accompanying “oh my baby” refrain providing the song’s beating heart.

5: End Of A Century (from ‘Parklife’, 1994)

Another song that demonstrates Albarn’s ability to make haughty every-day observations feel positively life-affirming, End Of A Century depicts a couple out of love but staying together for fear of being alone. The lyrics may talk of chaste, dry-lipped kisses and a life lit only by the glow of the TV screen, but the song boats a breezily bittersweet, Hunky Dory-ish verse, a dizzying, harmony-strewn bridge bolstered by Graham Coxon’s snarling guitar runs, and a flat-out anthemic chorus. It all adds up to one of Blur’s most immediate and enduring songs – a pop triumph underpinned by endless ennui.

4: Out Of Time (from ‘Think Tank’, 2003)

Think Tank’s first single was a subtle, mature plea for peace in the face of a world troubled by war, corruption and the alienating effects of technology. And yet, a lightness of touch and the loose, unhurried musical backdrop makes it feel anything but heavy. Albarn’s vocals rarely sounded better: worn around the edges, gentle and wise, they were placed front and centre to create a feeling of real poignancy.

3: The Universal (from ‘The Great Escape’, 1995)

Karaoke, satellite TV, the National Lottery – all signs that British society is gradually eroding as the singer imagines a dystopian future in which the entire population is on mood-altering medication. Though taking cues from both Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the cynical sci-fi is set to a triumphant-sounding ballad, with a grandiose string section creating one of the most easily identifiable hooks in Blur’s entire catalogue, and a chorus that absolutely soars its way to the uppermost reaches of the best Blur songs.

2: To The End (from ‘Parklife’, 1994)

This duet with Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier found Albarn at his most romantic on an ambiguous ballad – are the couple lamenting the end of a relationship or celebrating their survival through a difficult spell? However you wish to interpret it, there’s no denying To The End’s sumptuous beauty. Understandably, Blur kept returning to the song, recording a version in which Albarn sang the lead vocal in French, and another, named To The End (La Comedie), with Françoise Hardy providing a vocal counterpoint.

1: Beetlebum (from ‘Blur’, 1997)

The first single from Blur’s self-titled album made it immediately apparent that the group had left Britpop behind. According to Alex James: “When we first took it around, Beetlebum was perceived as commercial suicide.” It may well have appeared that way for the first minute or so, with Coxon’s grungey, divebombing riff initially sounding off-kilter and at odds with Albarn’s seductive recollection of drug experiences (“Get nothing done, you beetlebum/Just get numb, now what you’ve done, beetlebum?”). But then the chorus hits: an ecstatic blend of swooning harmonies and wide-open guitar chords, they’d never made anything quite as spine-tingling as this. Topping our list of the best Blur songs, Beetlebum was anything but commercial suicide. Hitting No.1 in the UK, it heralded a new era for the band.

More Like This

Best 70s Albums: 20 Great Masterworks Of The Decade
List & Guides

Best 70s Albums: 20 Great Masterworks Of The Decade

From fearless folk outings to hard-rock missives, the best 70s albums rescued the decade with a courageous ear and a progressive ambition.

Best Iron Maiden Album Covers: 20 Of Eddie’s Finest Moments
List & Guides

Best Iron Maiden Album Covers: 20 Of Eddie’s Finest Moments

Gory but glorious, the best Iron Maiden Album covers, starring the band’s undead mascot, Eddie, are among heavy metal’s most iconic images.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up