Why have a top ten when you can have one more? We take on Coldplay’s back catalogue to rank their very best tracks.
If any group have perfected the modern pop rock ballad, it’s Coldplay. It’s no secret that the group have a formula – an instantly recognisable riff, open and vulnerable lyrics, a steadily building instrumental and a final jab at the heart before the exit. But that’s not to say that if you’ve heard one Coldplay song you’ve heard them all. Across their nine records, the group have proven themselves versatile, inventive and endlessly listenable.
Between 2000’s Parachutes and 2021’s Music Of The Spheres, Coldplay have been constantly evolving, trying on new sounds and stories whilst never losing what it is that makes them great. Which is, of course, personal songs to fill impersonal arenas, and catharsis that keeps you coming back for more.
As the band prepare for a return to Ireland at Croke Park, we’ve dug into their immense discography to find the eleven best tracks they’ve given us.
‘Politik’ isn’t up here because the political statement being made is any kind of subtle. It doesn’t have to be. That slowly simmering, eventual explosion of a riff does all the necessary talking. There’s something raw and furious in this one that we don’t often get from Coldplay, who usually deal more in overwhelming emotion than in pointed anger. It’s unexpected, sonically interesting and one of those songs you just want to stamp along to.
As we know, Coldplay write infectious riffs, but ‘Clocks’ contains perhaps the most famous example. Record of the Year at the Grammys, it’s an urgent, accelerating listen that fits its title perfectly and was apparently written by Chris Martin in just 15 minutes. Sure, the lyrics are confusing in places, but whatever Martin’s trying to say, he sounds beautiful doing it. Considered one of Coldplay’s signature tracks, it feels like the blueprint for many of their great songs.
9. ‘Violet Hill’
That swirling, atmospheric intro sounds like snow falling, before the electric guitar and drums rollick in. From a band that has perfected the melancholy rock ballad, ‘Violet Hill’ manages to sit somewhere between that and tracks like ‘Politik’, reconciling the melancholy with the angry. It’s a well-crafted politically-charged track still full, of course, of personal emotion.
8. ‘The Scientist’
Another instantly recognisable first bar of music. Named one of Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Songs of the Decade’, ‘The Scientist’ is a fantastic heartbreak ballad – not overproduced, not overdramatic, and just unspecific enough that it can relate to many kinds of loss and accompanying feels of guilt. It never builds a high as most of Coldplay’s ballads, leaving us unsatisfied in the best and most suitable way.
“I wanna know when I can go/Back and get drunk with my friends,” sings Martin, accompanied by a chorus of young voices. It’s one of their best and most joyful hooks, which is part of what makes the song so affecting. The upbeat ‘Orphans’ is insanely infectious, with a tragic truth hinted in its lyrics – not every young voice singing along to it might have the opportunity to be young again. The best of Coldplay’s political tracks, it’s either euphoric or heartbreaking dependent on the way you listen.
This is not the Coldplay you remember. ‘Coloratura’ is a 10 minute-plus spacey epic which opens with the strange, ethereal mishmash of sounds heard across much of Music Of The Spheres, before a piano part that sounds like a dream sequence. Martin’s voice enters, and whilst he might be doing his best Bowie impression in place, it’s still a recognisably Coldplay hit with its gorgeous melody, thoughtful lyrics and irresistible build. We move into something orchestral, picking up something a little jazzy along the way, before we careen back into rock ballad territory. Astonishing, excellent stuff.
5. Charlie Brown
‘Charlie Brown’ is possibly the band’s best executed festival song, and definitely their most fun. Playing into youthful exuberance and an ‘only tonight matters’ mentality, it surely made pandemic-era listeners ache to be standing in that crowd again. Yes, it doesn’t contain the most nuanced lyricism of their career, but not everything has to be clever. Some things just get to be good.
Martin’s piano carries this track to some lofty heights. ‘Amsterdam’ is a powerful ode to the life-altering, course-correcting abilities of love, and Martin’s tender falsetto sings out like a cry for help. As the piano is slowly joined by guitar and drums, Martin’s lyrics describe a shift that brings him from hopeless to hopeful, and A Rush Of Blood To The Head is brought to a close with an outpouring of emotion.
3. Fix You
That organ at the beginning lets us know we’re about to be taken to church. Even after being used to beat us over the head in just about every medical drama of the last two decades, ‘Fix You’ can’t be killed. No one really wants it to be. Those yet to see past the song’s oversaturation and get on board – you’re missing out on something great. Martin’s quiet prayer guides us through a reflection on loss and recovery, before Jonny Buckland arrives to let our emotions out. We’re waiting all the way through for that electric guitar to arrive, and when it does, it still manages to bowl the listener over.
Coldplay’s second single remains among their best and probably always will. You just can’t knock a song like ‘Yellow’ off the podium. Simple and poetic all at once, Martin’s lyrics shine, and his vocal line feels so intimate that you’d be forgiven for remembering this arrangement as much lighter than it is. When you hear Buckland’s electric guitar come in, you can’t help but let it take you. It’s a perfect rock ballad.
1. Viva La Vida
Coldplay have never been afraid to embrace the crowd-pleaser. In ‘Viva La Vida’, they elevate it to an epic story of lost power and fallen kings, weaving religion, history and art into a four-minute rock pop song with an adrenalin-pumping string riff. It’s some of their best storytelling, and even a bridge comprised entirely of ‘ohs’ isn’t enough to make it less excellent – the soaring melody is exactly where the track needed to go. Martin gives the vocals everything he has and by the time the track ends, we’ve been on a journey. It’s the best thing they’ve ever written.
See Coldplay in Dublin’s Croke Park on 29 & 30 August and 1 & 2 September 2024, tickets are on sale Friday 28 July at 10am here.