Ellie Goulding’s career trajectory is pretty unusual – she went from being a folk artist notable for covering the likes of Midlake to the poppiest of smash-hit singles. But what are the best bits of her back catalogue to date? Here’s our top 10…
10 ‘Starry Eyed’
Ellie Goulding’s second single after the under-performing ‘Under The Sheets’ is the one that had us all paying attention. A signature mix of folk and synth-pop, it’s a somewhat abstract (“Fall head first like paper planes and playground games”) hymn to people getting together for a good time; a song, said Goulding, “that everyone can relate to”. They related to it all the way to the top five.
9 ‘Only You’
In 2012, Goulding’s second album ‘Halcyon’ found her shuffling off the nu-folk tag and attacking electronica with greater purpose. ‘Only You’, a standout album track, has a more visceral lyric, framing love as a battleground (“My enemy/The only animal I couldn’t fight”), but has fun too, racking up glitchy loops, rollicking piano and even preposterous happy hardcore vocal effects.
The fairytale romance between Goulding and Brit-rave crossfader Calvin Harris yielded a couple of monster hits. ‘I Need Your Love’ from 2013 performed better in the charts, but the following year’s ‘Outside’ was a more accomplished beast. It’s got the standard EDM bam-bam-bam build, but the ersatz-acoustic intro shows subtlety and Harris even gets his synths to swirl like orchestral strings.
Another ‘Halcyon’ album track, this time revealing Goulding’s softer side, bringing a touch of heartbreak. Her quavering voice conveys a sense of hurt and she’s using her favourite ‘stars’ motif without any of its usual delirium – “I’m seeing stars/Watch me fall apart”. Not a lot of joy here, but the ballad rises up to a triumphant, chanting, Coldplayesque finale. And that’s good thing here.
6 ‘Goodness Gracious’
‘Halcyon Days’, one of those fashionable deluxe reissues of recent albums, served up three more singles in 2013, including this collaboration with Lily Allen songwriter/producer Greg Kurstin and fun. singer Nate Ruess. Whirring clicks give way to polka synths and Soweto-style call-and-response on a song that’s supposed to be about kicking yourself for repeated mistakes, but ends up life-affirming.
This is the one that broke America, making it to No.2 on the Billboard chart in 2011, and you can kind of see why. Only an iTunes bonus track on the original release of Goulding’s debut of the same name, it shifts from a low bassy thrum – think Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ – to a big, drivetime soft-rock chorus, adding some welcome muscle to Goulding’s feathery sound for the first time.
4 ‘The Wolves’
One of a scoop of covers Goulding recorded before breaking through in 2010, this take on Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ track actually dials back on Justin Vernon’s original, and is all the more pretty for it. Goulding’s breathy voice is made for the multi-track, and her close performance sounds somehow more tangible than the Bon Iver version, the a cappella passages particularly affecting.
Greg Kurstin was involved here too – along with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder – as Goulding renewed her rave chops from recent Calvin Harris single ‘I Need Your Love’ and announced herself as a dance-pop superstar. Believe it or not, this was originally recorded by Leona Lewis, who ditched it for another sappy ballad. Bad move, Leona – it could’ve been you in your bra, slapping drums at Glastonbury.
2 ‘Love Me Like You Do’
What was a nice girl like Ellie Goulding doing getting involved with 50 Shades of Grey? Making pots of cash and hitting No.1 across the globe with a gargantuan power-ballad penned by pop alchemist Max Martin and Swedish singer Tove Lo, among others. ‘Love Me Like You Do’ pulls a classic delay-and-release trick, its choruses getting bigger and bigger until you’re flattened, possibly manacled.
1 ‘Anything Could Happen’
The tabloids were aflame with reports about her relationship with Skrillex, but Goulding didn’t get all post-dubstep on our asses. Instead, there’s something of a British Grimes about this, albeit an ultra-melodic take that gets a bit corny with vamping piano but wins through with devastating catches (“Letting darkness grow”, “the wreck of ’86”) that shiver the spine, and a lot of yelling.