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Best Coldplay Songs: 20 Life-Affirming Modern Rock Classics
Tom Sheehan
List & Guides

Best Coldplay Songs: 20 Life-Affirming Modern Rock Classics

From epic stadium anthems to intimate expressions of humanity, the best Coldplay songs continue to endure and inspire…

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Throughout their career, Coldplay have suffered an unfair reputation as a critics’ punching bag, similar to that of U2. Just like Bono and co, they sell millions of records, pack out stadiums around the world and top the charts in many different countries, yet nobody ever seems to admit to liking them. Quite how and when that all started is a bit unclear, but it does a huge disservice to the range of their artistry. Bands simply don’t get to be as big as Coldplay are, for as long as they have been, by just staying the same. In an attempt to redress the balance, here’s a countdown of the 20 best Coldplay songs. Expect festival favourites, radio staples, deep cuts and a handful of rarities, all of which demonstrate the broad basis of the band’s enduring appeal.

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

20: A Sky Full Of Stars (from ‘Ghost Stories’, 2014)

Produced by the late EDM superstar Avicii, A Sky Full Of Stars represented a moment of peace and resolution amid the emotional turmoil of Ghost Stories, an album themed around Chris Martin’s divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow. It also established itself as one of the best latter-day Coldplay singles and a festival crowd-pleaser.

19: One I Love (single B-side, 2002)

Quite why One I Love was left off A Rush Of Blood To The Head is a mystery. Tucked away as a B-side to In My Place, the song quickly became a fan favourite, its beautifully understated sentiment of devotion mirrored by its unfussy execution. Often, when Coldplay step away from the arena-sized arrangements, the results are affecting.

18: Life In Technicolor II (from ‘Prospekt’s March’ EP, 2008)

This is the full, vocal version of the track that opened the Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends album. The cinematic vistas and santoor loops of Life In Technicolor II, produced by the legendary Brian Eno, made for the finest demonstration of Coldplay’s enthusiastic embrace of different sounds during this transformative era of their career.

17: Arabesque (from ‘Everyday Life’, 2019)

The discordant and hypnotic centrepiece from Everyday Life – an impressively nuanced, textured and consciously diverse album in itself – Arabesque is a total outlier among the best Coldplay songs, but serves as an excellent riposte to naysayers. The backing from Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band, who whip up the storm of horns and non-Western harmonies around Martin’s howls of anger and injustice, is absolutely stellar.

16: Don’t Panic (from ‘Parachutes’, 2000)

One of the oldest songs in Coldplay’s catalogue (they performed it during their first-ever gig, in 1998), Don’t Panic originally appeared first on the band’s third EP, The Blue Room, the following year and was then re-recorded to serve as the opening track on their debut album. The basic Coldplay tenets of wide-eyed, sincere statements of humanity were established already, with Martin’s “We live in a beautiful world” refrain never failing to pierce the heart.

15: Birds (from ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’, 2015)

A faintly Strokes-influenced track serving as one of the more interesting moments from the A Head Full Of Dreams album, Norwegian production duo Stargate helped Coldplay fashion one of their more curious and enduring singles. Underpinned by an insistent drum rhythm that repurposes the motorik pulse within a pop context, Birds is an intense yet understated triumph that sits comfortably among Coldplay’s greatest moments.

14: Violet Hill (from ‘Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends’, 2008)

An explicitly anti-war song that sees Martin singing with righteous indignation, Violet Hill was the first indication that Viva La Vida… would be a different kind of beast to their previous efforts. The forceful, clangourous piano melody, marching beat and impassioned vocal delivery make this one of the band’s artier efforts.

13: Princess Of China (featuring Rihanna; from ‘Mylo Xyloto’, 2011)

An arena-filling, electronica-infused R&B number that’s faintly reminiscent of Depeche Mode at their bombastic best, Princess Of China was based on a lush Sigur Rós sample and written specifically with Rihanna in mind. Telling of the growth and expiration of love, the song’s straightforward effectiveness makes it notable while demonstrating that Martin could be a hugely effective songwriter for other artists.

12: How You See The World No.2 (from ‘Help!: A Day In The Life’, 2005)

A foreboding piano ballad addressing political anxiety and attacking globalisation and neo-liberalism, How You See The World was released on War Child’s 2005 charity album and is strongly reminiscent of Coldplay’s spiritual godfathers, Radiohead. You can see why its strident message didn’t quite fit with the personal themes of X&Y, but it more than holds its own among the best Coldplay songs.

11: Charlie Brown (from ‘Mylo Xyloto’, 2011)

A rousing, energetic indie anthem influenced by Arcade Fire and prime-time U2, Charlie Brown has always worked best in a live setting – a point at which Coldplay’s fans hold those luminescent wristbands aloft. Selected as the third single from Mylo Xyloto, it was a perfectly poised piece of stadium-sized rock with a glorious peak, and a reminder of just how life-affirming Coldplay can be when they get the right mixture of bombast and earnestness.

10: Sparks (from ‘Parachutes’, 2000)

In contrast to the increasingly vast sounds that Coldplay would become renowned for, their strengths originally lay in quieter, lights-down-low ambience. Sparks, nestling in the first half of Parachutes, is the most gorgeous example of this, with Guy Berryman’s rich bass motif buoying-up fragile, sparse acoustic strums and Martin’s angelic falsetto. Soon, Coldplay would no longer be playing venues small enough for songs like this to work, and there’s something a bit sad about that.

9: Midnight (from, ‘Ghost Stories’, 2014)

An impressively layered and complex piece, Midnight took some getting used to, but soon scanned as one of Coldplay’s most subtle and affecting pieces. Using ambient electronic instrumentation to communicate the devastation of heartbreak, the production values of Jon Hopkins (whose track Amphora formed the basis of the song) make it an incredibly rewarding moment.

8: See You Soon (from ‘The Blue Room’ EP, 1999)

Coldplay’s early material was so consistently strong that some of their finest, most affecting songs ended up as B-sides or rarities. See You Soon, released on the group’s third EP, The Blue Room, is arguably the best hidden gem in their entire discography. A simple yet strong acoustic guitar figure is the perfect accompaniment for this intimate confession of regret and loss of trust in a relationship. It’s a great example of how a sense of economy can pay emotional dividends.

7: Yellow (from ‘Parachutes’, 2000)

The moment at which Coldplay officially arrived in the mainstream, Yellow elevated the band to the head of the pack of post-Britpop rock acts around the turn of the millennium. An expression of pure devotion with such memorable lyrics as “Look at the stars/Look how they shine for you” and “For you I’d bleed myself dry”, the driving, anthemic guitar part matched the wide-eyed sincerity of Chris Martin’s vocals. There have been many subsequent glories, but Yellow is the fountainhead from which all of Coldplay’s success has flowed.

6: Clocks (from ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, 2002)

The third of a triptych of glorious singles from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, Clocks is yet another of Coldplay’s greatest songs. The cyclical piano riff and Jonny Buckland’s guitars twist around each other like a double helix, as Martin’s cryptic yet urgent lyrics build to a serene climax. A permanent fixture in their live sets, Clocks is frequently hailed as of the best singles of the 2000s – and for good reason!

5: White Shadows (from ‘X&Y’, 2005)

By 2005, people looked to Coldplay for profound statements of humanity, which they tried to deliver on X&Y. White Shadows, the best of these, rounded off the breathtaking opening trio of songs that kicked off the album, and was built on a propulsive, motorik-influenced rhythm that crescendoed before its organ-based coda streaked across the heavens like a shooting star – all of it magnifying the fragility and anxiety of Martin’s lyrics.

4: Politik (from ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, 2002)

Parachutes may have made Coldplay one of the premier guitar-orientated bands in the world, but Politik, the opening salvo of its successor, A Rush Of Blood To The Head, made everything the band had done up to that point look about two inches tall. Widescreen, panoramic and deeply humanitarian, the song was an irrefutable statement of intent that was executed effortlessly, a pounding opening salvo coupling with Martin’s lower-register delivery making for an ominous overture to what still stands as Coldplay’s finest album.

3: The Scientist (from ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, 2002)

Though In My Place hit No.2 in the UK charts, leading off A Rush Of Blood To The Head, it was the album’s second single that truly sealed Coldplay’s status as the biggest band in the world. A lighters-aloft moment performed with magisterial splendour, The Scientist has remained a staple of their setlists ever since, speaking to its importance as one of the best Coldplay songs of all time.

2: Lost! (from ‘Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends’, 2008)

Standing out like a sore thumb amid the art-rock ambitions of Viva La Vida…, Lost! was sublimely simple. A sonorous, four-chord piano motif played with generosity and expansiveness, set to Martin’s yearning vocals about being unsure about one’s place in the world, it may have seemed innocuous at first, but the nagging riff soon became a complete earworm. The reworked version featuring Jay-Z may have grabbed the headlines, but the original version of Lost! is one of the very finest examples of Coldplay’s craft.

1: Talk (from ‘X&Y’, 2005)

When thinking of all the colossal singles Coldplay have released, it’s easy to overlook something as understated as Talk. Indeed, the band themselves didn’t initially appear to think much of it, as it was originally destined to be a B-side for Speed Of Sound before record company feedback belatedly bumped it up in their estimations and it was added, late in the day, to X&Y’s tracklist. Eventually, the song was released as the album’s third single, hitting the UK Top 10.

Jonny Buckland’s mellifluous interpolation of the gorgeous synthesiser figure from Kraftwerk’s Computer World (done with the German band’s permission – a rare thing to be granted!) was a stroke of genius. Computer World’s themes of human connection enabled by technology were echoed by Martin’s vulnerable lyrical sentiments urging the need for communication (“I’m so scared about the future and I want to talk to you”). That humanity is what Coldplay have always been great at delivering. Topping our list of the best Coldplay songs of all time, Talk encapsulates that talent like no other.

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