While I like quite a few bands, from recent groups like The Band Perry and Walk the Moon to classic acts like the Beatles, Genesis, and U2, I’d have to say that my favorite is Coldplay, made up of lead singer Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion. This quartet has produced some of the most memorable alternative rock of the last two decades, and while I’d heard some of their songs before, I was truly introduced to their music ironically by a top ten list I found online.
Since they’ll be headlining Super Bowl 50 this Sunday, February 7, I thought it appropriate that things come full circle and I count down my own list of favorites. I normally just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials (or if there’s a favored team playing), but this is one of the few halftime shows I’m actually looking forward to. Here, therefore, are my all-time favorite songs by Coldplay.
- “Atlas” from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2013)
I like to make some movie connection even on my non-movie lists, and the end credits song for Catching Fire earned Grammy and Golden Globe nominations for Coldplay. Right on the heels of bad news for District 12 and that smoldering look from Katniss, this atmospheric number slowly builds with beauty and depth.
- “Speed of Sound” from X&Y (2005)
This is one song that I keep noticing as background music in restaurants and such, and when I recognized it on that other top ten list, I said, “Oh, that’s who does that song!” It’s a good representation of Coldplay’s style, with some high notes and airy blend of piano, guitar, and drums; it just doesn’t quite stand out as much as their best songs.
- “Life in Technicolor ii” from Prospekt’s March (2008)
Starting off with a tinny dulcimer called a yangqin (yes, I looked that up), the Grammy-nominated “Life in Technicolor ii” gradually adds layers of rock instrumentation to this base, which sort of parallels the music video. It’s just one of Coldplay’s many unique videos, with a small puppet show that jumps from Punch and Judy to pyrotechnics and helicopters. I should point out that the yangqin part was used at the end of Night at the Museum 2.
- “A Sky Full of Stars” from Ghost Stories (2014)
A dreamy beginning yields to club-style headbanging in this hit, again nominated for a Grammy. It’s one of the few Coldplay songs still common on my local pop station, though it is more clubby than their usual style.
- “The Scientist” from A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)
Boasting probably their most fascinating music video, “The Scientist” is a simple but beautiful song from beginning to end. Repetitive but heartfelt, this song was also featured in the end credits of The Judge, performed by Willie Nelson of all people. Coldplay’s version is much better.
- “Talk” from X&Y (2005)
Plagiarism is always a danger for artists, but isn’t it nice when a band actually gets permission to incorporate someone else’s work and expand on it? Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” is an okay ‘80s techno song, but Coldplay’s “Talk” blows it away with its own melody. “Talk” also builds to an awesome rock crescendo that could get a giant robot’s attention.
- “Violet Hill” from Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
With a bitter anti-war theme clearly felt in the lyrics, double-Grammy nominee “Violet Hill” rages as a brilliant rock ballad yet ends in sullen peace.
- “Paradise” from Mylo Xyloto (2011)
How could anyone not love this song? While the music video seems to be trying to make a meme out of elephant costumes, “Paradise” is about a girl with dreams of an elusive home, and the wistful lyrics are among the band’s best. I’m always touched by the metaphor of “Life goes on; it gets so heavy. The wheel breaks the butterfly.”
- “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” from Mylo Xyloto (2011)
Coldplay’s U2 influences are most felt in this phenomenal single with a breakneck Irish flavor that builds to a headbanging finale. Unfortunately, that drum solo at the end wraps up too soon. The video is also one of my favorites, with blended time-lapse images keeping time with the beat.
- “Viva La Vida” from Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
This was the #1 song on that first list I discovered and with good reason. With an orchestral focus on strings and a medley of Biblical allusions, double-Grammy winner “Viva La Vida” is unlike anything else in Coldplay’s discography or in mainstream pop music. They played it during the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, and Chris Martin once referred to it as “our best song.” It’s beautiful and bittersweet and utterly catchy.
- “Clocks” from A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)
One of the quintessential Coldplay tracks, Grammy winner “Clocks” is easily my VC’s favorite, and I’ve gotten into the habit of playing it for her whenever she’s stressed – I won’t say just how often that is. It’s a refreshing breeze of a song with an iconic piano melody. We both love everything about it, from the nonsensical yet deep and passionate lyrics to the way it builds and balances between relaxing and headbanging. It’s mesmerizing, layered, and perfect. “Home, home, where I wanted to go.”
- “Charlie Brown” from Mylo Xyloto (2011)
It may be the unconventional choice, but “Charlie Brown” is my favorite Coldplay song. It begins with a celestial meowing that I’ve always thought of as the sound of midichlorians and then segues into a rocking riff just as iconic as that of “Clocks.” Even if the song itself has hardly any connection to its title, the upbeat buoyancy of this track is just infectious, the kind meant to get stuck in your head in the best way.
Runners-Up (in alphabetical order with links):
“Adventure of a Lifetime” – From their most recent album A Head Full of Dreams, this jammer has a great beat and a unique music video – Planet of the Apes: The Musical!
“Birds” (A Head Full of Dreams) – This ‘80s-ish track is brisk and immersive.
“Everglow” (A Head Full of Dreams) – A beautiful song sadly overshadowed by their catchier tunes.
“Fix You” (X&Y) – Slower than my favorites, but a beautiful crowd pleaser.
“God Put a Smile upon Your Face” (A Rush of Blood to the Head) – Combines ambiguous lyrics and an outstanding rhythm.
“Gravity” (B-side of “Talk”) – This more obscure song written for the band Embrace is slow but lovely and has a poignant unofficial video with animated ballet.
“The Hardest Part” (X&Y) – Like “Speed of Sound,” this is a solid track that just doesn’t stand out as much as it could.
“In My Place” (A Rush of Blood to the Head) – An excellent middle-of-the-road song that won a Grammy.
“Lost!” (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends) – Another great beat from the masters.
“Lovers in Japan” (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends) – This one starts out with a fantastic tempo that the rest of the song doesn’t quite live up to.
“Magic” (Ghost Stories) – Another good example of a strong central beat wonderfully and slowly building.
“Major Minus” (Mylo Xyloto) – Energetic and hard-edged, this song doesn’t get enough attention.
“Midnight” (Ghost Stories) – Atmospheric and haunting in a different way than Coldplay’s usual.
“Miracles” (Unbroken soundtrack) – Written for the end credits of 2014’s Unbroken, this song may be more inspiring than the movie itself.
“Strawberry Swing” (Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends) – A light and breezy song with one of the most incredibly animated videos I’ve ever seen.