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. From the stone cold classics to the new bangers, here are the 50 most explosive choruses of all time.
50. ‘Bonkers’ – Dizzee Rascal
Dizzee goes house! Gone was 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’ – Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
It’s tough to outdo a legend – but sorry, Mr. Sinatra, in 2009 New York City 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.
48. ‘Paris’ – Friendly Fires
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“.
47. ‘The Sound’ – The 1975
Laden with shimmering synths and rooted by 80s piano riffs, the chorus to ‘The Sound’ is a slick roller rink bop. With its sparkling production, crisp production and Matty’s gauzy vocals, The 1975 have created a total winner.
46. ‘Green Light’ – Lorde
Lorde’s second album ‘Melodrama’ spawned a host of brilliant tunes, and with them some bloody excellent choruses; but none of them hold a candle to the soaring euphoria of ‘Green Light’. Pop perfection is found when Lorde leads us into the mammoth chorus with that repeating piano riff and her belting out: “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it”.
45. ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ – Starship
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. ‘Rehab’ – Amy Winehouse
With Mark Ronson’s distinctive production and Amy’s iconic vocal, ‘Rehab’ is nothing short of the perfect example of how to write a song; and what a chorus. “They tried to make me go to rehab/I said, no, no, no” she croons over crisp Motown production and gorgeous backing vocals, and within that first 30 second chorus a new classic was born.
43. ‘Disco 2000’ – Pulp
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’ – New Order
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
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’ – The Beatles
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.
39. ‘Hard Times’ – Paramore
Paramore have come a long way since their early ‘Misery Business’ days; but their progression from emo icons to synth-pop perfection has been worth it, not least for the absolutely banging chorus on ‘Hard Times’. Bubbly synths are accompanied by the exuberant clinks of a xylophone and Hayley’s soaring vocals, and it’s three minutes of pure fun.
38. ‘Crazy In Love’ – Beyonce ft. Jay-Z
‘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-Jay-Z rap bridge which runs a counter rhythm against the trumpet riff. It was epic, game changing stuff.
37. ‘Animal Nitrate’ – Suede
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’ – Arcade Fire
‘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’ – The Strokes
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” – Journey
‘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’ – Fleetwood Mac
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.
32. ‘Africa’ – Toto
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’ – AC/DC
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’ – Kelly Clarkson
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’ – Florence + The Machine
“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. ‘Power’ – Kanye West
Kanye’s ‘Power’ is one of his crown jewels, with its blistering bars, ferocious production and the bonkers use of a King Crimson sample; but it’s its huge chorus that really cements it Kanye’s swan song.
27. ‘Summer Of 69’ – Bryan Adams
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.
26. ‘Everlong’ – Foo Fighters
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.
25. ‘Alive’ – Pearl Jam
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. ‘Paper Planes’ – M.I.A.
“All I wanna do is (bang bang bang bang)/And (click, ka-ching)/And take your money” M.I.A. swaggers over a sample of The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’; and over a decade on and it still sounds absolutely huge.
23. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Nirvana
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.
22. ‘Mr. Brightside’ – The Killers
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.
21. ‘Starman’ – David Bowie
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’ – Manic Street Preachers
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’ – Depeche Mode
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)’ – Whitney Houston
Arguably one of the best tracks of Whitney’s 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’ – Oasis
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’ – Blink 182
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.
15. ‘Lithium’ – Nirvana
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?’ – David Bowie
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’ – The Smiths
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’ – Iron Maiden
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’ – Lana Del Rey
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’ – Metallica
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’ – Bon Jovi
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’ – The Stone Roses
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. ‘Let It Be’ – The Beatles
Listening to ‘Let It Be’ could be considered a religious experience. With the simple piano chords and a chorus that’s meant for belting out at the end of a night with your arms around your pals; it’s nothing short of perfection.
6. ‘Song 2’ – Blur
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. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ – The Rolling Stones
The chorus to The Stones’ best known track is still as much of a belter as it was when released in 1965. Growling riffs, the call and response between guitar and vocals and the driving drums all combine to make it a proper anthem.
4. ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor’ – Arctic Monkeys
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!“.
3. ‘Get Lucky’ – Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers
The song of the summer, every summer; Daft Punk’s slick slice of funk is the ultimate earworm that will burrow its way into your brain whenever the temperature rises above 20C. And we’re not mad about it.
2. ‘Be My Baby’ – The Ronettes
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’ – Oasis
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.