A great chorus is like take-off: the bit in the song that makes you a) sing, b) cry, or c) sprint to the dancefloor. Or all three. Here are 50 exhilarating examples.
Words: Priya Elan, Dan Martin, Ailbhe Malone, Rebecca Schiller. Spotify playlist
Dizzee goes house! Gone is the Grime MC of ‘Boy In Da Corner’, or the cheeky chappy of ‘Dance Wiv Me’. Here instead is an Armand Van Helden collab and the best chorus about going loopy since Ozzy’s ‘Paranoid’. The bridge is almost as good as the chorus itself, as Armand drops the bass and Dizzee’s rhymes take on a slightly more sinister tone.
49 Empire State Of Mind
It’s tough to outdo a legend – but sorry, Mr. Sinatra, New York City’s found a new ballad dedicated to the concrete jungle. In the words of Jay-Z and Alicia, it’s the city “where dreams are made of” and it’s got “lights that will inspire you” – need we say more? Even if you’ve never been to the Big Apple, this whopper of a chorus will make you wish you had.
Scenic as St Albans is, Ed McFarlane and co acknowledge the draw of the city of lights, and slip into electro bliss imagining the fun they’ll have in belle Paris. With a cowbell backing, they paint a picture of hedonism and youthful indulgence, of the city beckoning them across the water as Ed sings “every city light will be out for us“.
We all either absolutely adore ‘Umbrella’, or hate this wretched earworm so much that we run away when it pops onto any club speakers. Sure, the chorus sounds like lyrics pulled from a Disney film and repeats like a scratched record, but no matter how much hatred you may have for Rihanna’s slugger of a single, this is one chorus that will never, ever leave your head.
46 In My Place
‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ cemented Coldplay’s status as a stadium-worthy group, in no small part thanks to ‘In My Place’. Sure, ‘The Scientist’ has the schmaltz factor, and ‘Clocks’ is a showy opener, but it’s ‘In My Place’, with its practical optimism, that takes gold. Martin questions “How long must you wait” for him, but we all already know the answer.
45 Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now
Stadium power ballads don’t come any more air-punching and epically jaw-clenching than the signature tune of the 1980s power-iteration of the Jefferson Airplane. The song won an Oscar, appeared on the Mannequin soundtrack, and – true fact! – was co-written by Albert Hammond, father of The Strokes guitarist.
44 Someone Like You
“Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you” Adele Adkins sings on the song which made her legend. The lengthy build-up to the chorus in the first verse sets the story in heartbreaking detail, while the chorus itself is score-settling, resigned and desperately sad. Resistance is futile, frankly.
43 Disco 2000
With a riff that references Laura Branigan’s 80s hit ‘Gloria’, Jarvis sang of a cul-de-sac school romance with a certain ‘Deborah’. Appropriately enough the chorus resembled ‘1999’ in its perverse nostalgia for the future. When Pulp reformed in 2010, ‘Disco 2000’ became a celebration of the band getting back together – and Pulp fans were now the ones who were all “fully grown”.
42 Bizarre Love Triangle
Allegedly written about some less than wholesome groupie mischief, the chorus of New Order’s most pop-tastic moment is a sugar rush of sparkling keyboard lines, Hooky’s low slung bass line and Bernard Sumner’s laconic delivery of the lyrics (“Everything time I see you falling/I get down on my knees are pray”).
41 Buddy Holly
Weezer’s biggest pop chorus trampled on the verses’ chug-rock with a bouquet of rose petal-like sentiments. “I look just like Buddy Holly/And you’re Mary Tyler Moore,” River Cuomo sings with gee schucks, Huckleberry Finn-style coyness. It’s a moment where you want to take him by the neck, ruffle his hair and say “You guys!”.
40 She Loves You
This song wastes no time at all. One second in and BOOM, the chorus hits. Sure, early Beatles lyrics can be sickly sweet, and this song’s no exception. But those simple, soppy words are all part of the moptop charm, eh? No one ever said you had to be Leonard Cohen to pen a perfect chorus.
Originally commissioned for the Gary Oldman thriller Romeo Is Bleeding, this Bon Jovi power ballad went on to trump ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and become the best selling single ever. And you can tell why. A dramatically billowing rock epic, ‘Always’ sounded like it was tailor made for first dances at weddings – or drunken 3am communal singalongs.
38 Crazy In Love
‘Crazy In Love’ was a lesson in ‘more is less’. With classic R’n’B restraint, this track about loco d’amour was all about the drums, the brass and B’s raw vocal. The go-go rhythm of the verses morphs into a trumpet-driven riff for the chorus. Catchier (as well as cleverer) is the post-Jigga rap bridge which runs a counter rhythm against the trumpet riff. It was epic, game changing stuff.
37 Animal Nitrate
An example of the Butler/Anderson partnership at its best. The chorus is intriguing and troubling: “Oh what turns you on?/Now your animal’s gone” Brett sings, sounding eternally 16 years old. ‘Animal Nitrate’ reaches its peak when the chorus flows into Butler’s labyrinthine guitar solo and the whole thing fizzes with faded glamour.
36 Wake Up
‘Funeral’ was an album that wrapped up grief in depression-defying riffs and uniting choruses. Nowhere more so than on ‘Wake Up’. The choruses were wordless and joyful – lush, stirring declarations of intent that cried out to be bellowed at the heavens by thousands of people at once.
35 Hard To Explain
Coming in after almost two minutes of laconic guitar fuzz, the hook of this chorus blindsides the listener. Though the track opens with Casablancas’ earnest vocals, by the time the chorus comes around, he shrugs off responsibility and runs through a list of excuses. He missed the last bus, he’ll take the next train, the dog ate his homework, and nobody told him there was a test today.
34 Don’t Stop Believin’
‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ is a track that makes you wait for what you want. The chorus doesn’t come in until the final quarter of the song. It takes three verses, three instrumentals, and two pre-choruses before the payoff arrives. But what a payoff! Lead singer Steve Perry brings it all back home as he triumphantly parades the chorus, holding on to that feeling. A song so good even Glee couldn’t kill it.
33 Go Your Own Way
Lindsey Buckingham had inflicted enough damage on Stevie Nicks in the verses of ‘GYOW’. “Packing up/shacking up is all you want to do,” he sang in a line that she hated (and denied). Buckingham’s bitter chant of “You can go your own way” must have cut like glass, and yet with its uplifting chord progression, it sounded, paradoxically, like the sweetest sentiment ever.
The premise behind Africa is a slightly flawed one – a man is imagining the continent based on a documentary he’s seen. But that can’t take away from the joyous chorus, with its infectious drum fill and refrain of “I bless the rains down in Africa“. Why the rain might need blessing by the members of Toto is beyond us, but whatever makes them happy makes us happy.
31 Highway To Hell
Almost inhumanly high, Bon Scott’s screech details life on the road. Though he’s living easy and living free, he probably overpaid on the “season ticket on a one-way ride“. By the time the chorus has come around, the listener is all geared up to go wherever the melody takes them. Appropriately shouty, the chorus is just easy enough to sing while jumping up and down with arms around each other.
30 Since U Been Gone
If there was ever a problem with a Strokes/Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, it’s that their choruses didn’t soar with the same ridiculous ascendant chord progression as an N*Sync one, right? Well not to fear, Kelly Clarkson’s defiant break up soft rock anthem offered all of that and more. A rocket powered three-chorder, it was ridiculously jubilant.
29 Shake It Out
“It’s always darkest before the dawn” Florence Welch sang on her big comeback tune. The fact that it was about a hangover seemed unimportant. ‘Shake It Out’ was her ‘Bleeding Love’ style pop moment. The drums clattered like an earthquake as Florence’s vocals burst in like bats into a belfry, over a hook that was instantly re-playable.
28 Pride (In The Name Of Love)
People slag off Bono for his bluster and swagger, without realizing that it is those very qualities that allow him to carry off a chorus as skyscraping as this one. A figure as inspirational as Martin Luther King can only be done justice with a singalong on a colossal scale. And ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’ is perhaps the biggest to ever travel the world’s stadiums and ice hockey arenas.
27 Summer Of 69
Adams’ song was a baby Springsteen track, filled with soaring E Street-like chords and romantic lyrics. His cast of characters (Jimmy, Jody, Vallance, Gordy) were sealed in the amber of the memories of high school, while the lyrics (“Those were the best days of my life,”) and the descending chords of the chorus perfectly tapped into the nostalgia of the baby boomer generation.
When the chorus bursts forth, it’s like the scene in Alien when the monster bursts out of the unsuspecting victim’s stomach. Power chords ignite – and yet Grohl’s lyrics have the twinge of sadness as he sings: “And I wonder/When I sing along with you/If everything could ever feel this real forever.” A masterful juxtaposition, on possibly their greatest single.
The chorus comes in early, and hooks you instantly. Eddie Vedder plays a blinder as he roars, “Hah-aye-um-aye-um-ayum steel alahv“. Not quite the life-affirming tale that most believe, the track’s actually about a young man who finds out his father isn’t who he thinks it is. Deep.
24 Never Forget
A brilliant curtain closer to Take That’s career (phase one). Even if Howard Donald sounded a little bit wet on the verses, the chorus was bulletproof. Over a new jack swing beat, the lyrics spoke of keeping grounded, and the passing of the pop torch to other boyband wannabes (“Someday soon/ This will someone else’s dream”). Even the most hardened cynic couldn’t fail to be touched by those sentiments.
23 Smells Like Teen Spirit
When this song came out, know one really knew what the devil Kurt was singing, due to a lack of printed lyrics. Once people got hold of them, they still didn’t really know what it was about. Kurt screaming about an albino, a mosquito and his libido… it’s gibberish. And yet, such is the hurtling power of that snare roll into the chorus, it sounds like the voice of god.
M & B’s tribute to Bacharach and David is a thrusting, head-wiggling three-minute mirror ball of defiance. The verses spit at an errant ex, while the chorus proclaimed, rather too jubilantly that “YES!” he did feel better, post-breakup, as Bernard Butler poured on Phil Spector-ish strings and springing guitars. Being dumped never sounded so much fun.
After a bit of pre-chorus piano tinkling which sounds like a NASA space signal come to life, the chorus kicks in like a rocket ship breaking the sound barrier. Bowie’s ‘Starman’ was self-referential of course, and the chorus of the track stands as a brilliant statement of his other-worldly intent.
20 A Design For Life
Post-Richey, ‘Design For Life’ came out with all guns blazing, fighting for life. As a cascade of Bacharach-influenced strings came down, the guitar chords sounded bold and triumphant. James Dean Bradfield sings: “We don’t talk about love/We only want to get drunk,” and the full weight of the meaning lay heavily in every listener’s heart.
19 Enjoy The Silence
Their commercial breakthrough in the US, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard charts. The chorus finds the Basildon boys playing to their strengths, mixing the upbeat nature of the tempo with the downbeat, slightly sinister lyrics. The fact that the demo was originally penned on a gloomy church organ and played at half the speed will come as no surprise.
18 I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
With Whitney’s recent untimely passing, she’s been on all of our minds. Arguably one of the best tracks of her career, this is one of those ultimate club songs that make you want to grab the person closest to you (no matter how creepy that might be). And if nothing else, the chorus successfully distracts us from that guy’s awful dancing in the video…
17 The Masterplan
The B-side to ‘Wonderwall’ was just as majestic as Oasis’ best-known track. Latterly, Noel chastised himself for being so “young and stupid” as to not release the song as an A-Side. The chorus is a perfect mash up of ‘Whatever’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, with its quasi-religious lyrics, bell-clear Noel vocal, and titanic singalong value.
16 All The Small Things
Though this isn’t the Cali trio’s only earworm, (see also ‘The Rock Show’ and ‘Always’), ‘All the Small Things’ is an explosion of pop-punk joy. The simple “na na na na na na na na na na” chorus combines with brash guitars and snotty harmonies to make a track that’s as much about the fun of listening to music as it is making it. Oh, and the boy-band-mocking video’s pretty rad too.
If the chorus of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was essentially meaningless, ‘Lithium’ was almost wordless: a succession of throat-ripping “Yeah”s, tailor-made for communal moshpit yelling. You have to squint to hear it, but Cobain’s love of The Beatles is in evidence. Think of it as a grunge rewrite of ‘She Loves You’.
14 Life On Mars?
The only thing more explosive than this chorus is the colour of Bowie’s hair and makeup in the song’s promo video. Never before has the speculation of life on another planet been so appealing. No matter how many covers this song might endure, no one will ever do it the justice Mr. Stardust treats it to (perhaps because he is, in fact, just so other-worldly).
13 There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
A love song, Morrissey-style. Pulling on a narrative from Rebel Without A Cause, he croons that “To die by your side, would be such a heavenly way to die“. Though the album also featured such masterpieces as ‘The Boy With the Thorn In His Side’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘There Is A Light…’ remains the jewel in ‘The Queen Is Dead’s crown.
12 Run To The Hills
The killer guitar solo in ‘Run To The Hills’ might be the attention-grabber, but it’s Bruce Dickinson’s hurricane-strength vocal on the chorus that’s the real stand-out. ‘Run To The Hills’ was Bruce’s first outing as Maiden’s new vocalist, and he hit a blinder.
11 Video Games
Also known as the track that launched a thousand blogposts, ‘Video Games’ was the making of Lana. Sultry, moody and intimate, the contrast between the frustrated girlfriend of the verses with the pleading lover of the chorus made it irresistible. From the heartfelt “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you” to the throwaway “I tell you all the time” aside, the chorus is the icing on the cake.
10 Enter Sandman
The band called this a ‘one riff song’. Yet ‘Enter Sandman’’s chorus provided a thrilling release from all that chugging, and focused the song around the creepy protagonist, while James Hetfield channeled a mood of cackling, demonic grandeur. The most anthemic chorus in all metal?
9 Livin’ On A Prayer
From the wub-wub-wub intro to Jon’s raspy tenor, the chorus to ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ is the musical equivalent of a fist of pure emotion. Tommy and Gina are forgotten in the moment, it’s all about us now. Pro tip for singalongs: don’t start too high, the second “woah-oh” has been known to rupture diaphragms.
8 She Bangs The Drums
A Brown/Squire classic, bursting forth with euphoria. “Fill my guts and ease me head” sang Ian Brown against cascading guitar lines. It was a track which was wide eyed with the wonder of new love, and found its fans wide eyed in love with them.
7 I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor
A debut single for the ages. Scowling above a brash backing of guitars and drums, Alex Turner walks a line between contempt and interest as he comments on a dirty dancefloor with “dreams of naughtiness” – but lets his imagination run wild in the refrain, shouting with teenage glee: “I bet you look good on the dancefloor!“.
6 Song 2
An over-caffeinated buzzsaw screwball of a thing that is physically impossible not to put you in a good mood. Having teased us from the outset with the musical bones of the chorus, Blur dial it down for a sparse few bars before setting it off yet again, this time with added lyrical nonsense. “Well I feel heavy metal!” We’ve all been there.
5 Plug In Baby
A riff that wouldn’t quit (and, allegedly, inspired by Bach’s ‘Toccata And Fugue’) and a chorus that would follow the band for their entire career. It’s all about Bellamy finding solace in his guitar (his ‘Plug In Baby’), and comes equipped with a chorus so vast it would have fans singing along for years to come.
4 Sex On Fire
With a propulsive bass line and a yearning chord sequence, ‘Sex On Fire’ is a song in heat. Like Frankie Cocozza fuelled by WKD Blue, Caleb Followill’s vocals make no bones about what he’s looking for. When the chorus kicks in, the demands are made explicit, though as we all know sex on fire is a health and safety nightmare. Still, ten points for use of “transpire” in a rock chorus.
3 Mr. Brightside
The song that launched a million spilled pints, as punters slosh their drinks while running to the dancefloor. ‘Mr. Brightside’ touches all the bases – sex, revenge, jealousy and a chorus that incites listeners to pump their fists. The opaque lyrics about “Jealousy turning saints into the sea” are made to be mouthed at friends across a grubby room.
2 Be My Baby
Not so much a chorus, more a thunderous torrent of joy. Brian Wilson calls it the greatest pop record ever made, and he’s well qualified to judge. As vocal harmonies overlap across each other with an irresistible come-to-bed charm, the only rational response is, “you had me at the bridge”.
1 Don’t Look Back in Anger
Legend has it that Noel used ‘Wonderwall’ as a bargaining chip to get Liam to give him lead vocals on this track. It’s not hard to see why. Heroic, Beatles-y and poignant, the elder Gallagher smashes it out of the park. Sally’s not a real person – just a name that fit in the chorus. Like so many songs in this list, it’s a special kind of nonsense that somehow means everything.