Top 10 Ben Folds Songs

Yes, this is almost impossible to do. Almost every Ben Folds song deserves to be honored, so narrowing it down to 10 can be emotionally destructive. But let’s do it!

Quick disclaimer: these songs are based on my own preferences, not necessarily cultural impact or anything like that. If you want a list like that, there are plenty of others!

Folds

10. Zak and Sara

One of the most contested songs out there when it comes to what it actually means is this classic from Rockin’ The Suburbs.  Though I’ve never found an official explanation from Ben Folds himself, it’s been said that he wrote the song about a girl he was dating in the 80’s who went crazy from being bored while listening to him play guitar. Sounds about right if you listen to the lyrics closely. This upbeat, fun, and catchy song is also credited with having my second favorite opening instrumental from Folds. And when Zak finished Sara’s song, Sara clapped. 

9. Sleazy

Yes, Ben Folds covered a Ke$ha song because he’s, well Ben Folds. Best part? It’s 10 times better. You can imagine the immensity of the **** I’m not giving. 

8. In Between Days

Another cover, but less obvious to younger fans who’ve never listened to The Cure, this song from Supersunnyspeedgraphic is a great example of how Ben can take someone else’s song and make it seem like his own. Yesterday I got so old I felt like I could die. Yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry.

7. The Luckiest

Just so you know, Rockin’ The Suburbs is my favorite Folds album, so it’s all over this list. Hence, “The Luckiest” made the cut pretty easily. Many people credit this song as his best, mainly because it is one of his most introspective and emotional songs, really capturing his love for his then-wife and mother of his children. I love this song, but the sadness that comes from the hindsight of this song prevents me from really enjoying it. I love you more than I have ever found a way to say to you. 

6. Brick 

I am not much of a Ben Folds Five fan, but this is definitely one of his best songs. Slower than most on the album Whatever and Ever Amen, “Brick” is about what Ben went through when his girlfriend in high school got pregnant and eventually received an abortion. The song’s power mostly comes from the conflict and turmoil the couple went through, though Ben has publicly stated he doesn’t want to make an political statements about the matter. She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly.

5. Gone

Fun fact: this is actually the first Folds song I ever heard, and thankfully so. Another Rockin The Suburbs song, “Gone,” is very different from other Folds songs. It’s not too fast, not too slow, and has a very unique and catchy melody, making it one of the more recognizable Folds songs. The song itself seems to be about the aftermath of a breakup, or at least two people who have been estranged for a year. Some of have said that Folds explanation is a little silly, with the song actually being based on a couple he saw on a talk show. And I think that you should spend some time alone. But if you won’t. Then you won’t. And I will. Then I will consider you gone.

4. Not The Same

Yes, this is another Rockin’ The Suburbs song (I warned you.) This makes the top of the list because of how misunderstood it is. Most believe it is the singular story of a guy who climbed a tree at a party and came back completely different. That’s part of it, but Ben himself has said that the story is more generally about how people, after something happens in their life, are not the same after that. Yes, the song is centered around a guy in Ben’s life who climbed a tree while on an acid trip and came down a born-again Christian. The rest of the song is composed of parallels and examples of people in your life who change. You gave your life to Jesus Christ, and after all your friends went home, you came down. You looked around, and you were not the same after that.

3. You Don’t Know Me (feat. Regina Spektor)

One of the standouts from Way to Normal, this one is a sad song brilliantly disguised as happy thanks to its unbelievably catchy tune. The song focuses on a couple that don’t understand each other at all and ultimately resent each other. Why the **** would you want me back? Maybe it’s because…you don’t know me at all.

2. Annie Waits

This is the last Rockin’ The Suburbs song (I promise!) but absolutely had to be included. The song is beautifully simple, referring to a girl waiting on a guy who’s not good for her to finally commit to her. Meanwhile, her friend (the guy who is good for her but stuck in the friend zone) waits for her as well, hence “And he waits” compared to “Annie waits.” Ben is trying to stress that everyone tends to be on someone’s “hook.” Annie waits for the last time. Just the same as the last time. Annie says “You see this is why I’d rather be alone.”

1. Cologne (Piano Orchestra Version)

And the top of my list, which was the easiest pick for me, is this knockout from Way to Normal. Oddly enough, I came across this song long after the rest of this list and past albums, somehow missing it when Way to Normal came out in 2008. I’m glad I did, since a friend introduced me to the Piano Orchestra Version, which is vastly superior to the album version. Why is this my #1? For me, it has everything. The brilliant piano, the irreverent humor, the emotional intensity, and of course the best opening period for any of his works to-date. This is also my favorite because it was done completely improv at a performance. It really doesn’t have a meaning aside from being a spectacular piece of work.

I will let go. If you will let go. 

Honorable Mentions:

Every other Ben Folds song.

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4 Replies to “Top 10 Ben Folds Songs”

  1. I really enjoyed this, I actually only found it because I saw someone link to your Pixar theory article.. Ben Folds is my favourite artist and pretty much my idol, and I found myself agreeing with pretty much every choice on your list (Rockin’ the Suburbs is also my favourite album, closely followed by Songs for Silverman)
    I can never explain my love for Ben Folds to other people, and no one else ever seems to understand it (I study music in Trinity College and no one there seems to appreciate him either), so it was nice to read this and realise I’m not just broken

  2. I thoroughly agree with every choice made here. Ben Folds is my favourite artist, and to me his music is complete perfection. I always find it hard to decide on a favourite Folds album. Each one has it’s own sound, whilst remaining completely in his style, which has never changed significantly. I would probably have to say Supersunnyspeedgraphic, but Rockin’ The Suburbs coming very close, or even, as it was the first Ben Folds album I bought and it began my obsession. I’ve listened to it probably more than any of his other albums.
    My top ten (rough, as this is improvised, and it is so hard to choose, every song he’s ever done is perfect):
    1. ‘Not The Same’. The first song I was obsessed with by him, and I’ve never got tired of it. The “Ahhhh”s make it perfect. Amazing live, gives me goosebumps just to think of it.
    2. ‘Still’. This, tied with ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’ by The Smiths, epitomises more than any song I’ve ever heard how it feels to be sad. Not so much the lyrics, but the music itself. Ends with a complete musical orgasm.
    3. ‘Belinda’. Was obsessed with this for a long time when I was sixteen. Just overall incredible.
    4. ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’. Such a hilarious idea of Ben, and a genuinely great piece of music. He sings about sucking dicks with such sincerity.
    5. ‘Kylie From Connecticut’. The only Folds song I can play on piano. It’s the most overwhelmingly lovely song to play and listen to. The break down near the end is, again, an absolute musical orgasm.
    6. ‘Draw a Crowd’. Such a cool sound with humorous lyrics that make you want to shout them.
    7. ‘In Between Days’. The Cure being one of my favourite bands, I already love this song. Folds’ cover is exciting and gives it a summer/roadtrip feel.
    8. ‘Side of the Road’. Another cover (only a bonus track) that I couldn’t stop listening to when I found it. I like the original, but I think Folds makes it his own, very beautiful.
    9. ‘Landed’. An instant, overwhelmingly feel good song.
    10. ‘Effington’. A Ben Folds classic. I’m interesting in writing musicals, and in my mind this would be the opening to the Ben Folds musical.

  3. Good list, but Ben has so many good songs that every fans’ top 10 will probably be completely different. His best songs, in my opinion, are the ones that tell a subtle story that makes you think (which is why Nick Hornby’s lyrics worked so well for him). I don’t like to rank because my “favorite” varies depending on my mood, but here are some of my favorites that I absolutely recommend checking out. I tried to hit on some of the lesser known awesome songs, too.

    Always Someone Cooler Than You
    Bubble gum pop song that actually is pretty deep when you listen to it. About recognizing what’s under the surface and making your life about more than superficial things.

    Belinda
    A couple other commenters mentioned Belinda, which is another song that sounds superficial and meaningless on first listen (mainly due to the “breasts” line) but is surprisingly deep underneath. About lost love and regrets. Rock stars have feelings too, you know! Trivia fact: the orchestral parts were composed by Elton John’s former composer. You’ll hear the similarity!

    Cigarette and Fred Jones Part 2
    This is a two-fer as they’re both part of the same story. Both songs can get me choked up. Poor Fred.

    Carrying Cathy
    Highly underrated song. Very moving portrayal of where unchecked depression can take someone. Spoiler: It’s not a good place. Yes, Ben admitted he wrote this to try to make people cry, but so what? It’s still really good.

    The Luckiest
    My wedding song! This is the song that made my wife fall in love with Ben Folds (well, his music anyway… at least I hope). I would’ve chosen a different lyric than the “I love you more…” one, though. That one makes it sound cliche when in fact it is the most original and heart-felt love song I’ve ever heard. I dare you not to tear up. (Aside: For a hilarious spoof of cliche’d love song lyrics, check out Axis of Awesome’s Love Song: http://youtu.be/fSuIZ11JdUg.)

    Landed
    Excellent song and a good pick for your list. I love the imagery and also the piano runs in it.

    Don’t Change Your Plans
    The song that convinced me to move to NC instead of CA after college. What east coaster can stand not seeing the leaves change in the fall?

    Adelaide
    Ben’s shout out to his home (at the time) in Australia. There really are silver balls at Rundle Mall, by the way! http://goo.gl/AohYVJ

    Songs of Love
    I don’t care that it’s a cover. Like Sleazy, it’s way better than the original and Ben’s portrayal of it makes it a funny but also really sweet little tune about adolescent love. We only get to experience that period in our lives once, so we better enjoy it while it lasts.

    You To Thank
    Marriage, it is a bitch (well, not always, but it can be). And how ’bout that piano! All about what happens when the wrong people get together and then stay together way too long. Oh, like you’ve never “smote down your doubts” about a boyfriend and girlfriend?

    Where’s Summer B?
    Fuzz bass FTW! This songs makes me think of high school. A great little nostalgic trip.

    Selfless, Cold, and Composed
    My original favorite song when I started listening to Ben back in 1998. I still love the key changes and the subtle lyrics. And the piano solos are amazing.

    Battle of Who Could Care Less
    Awesome little tune. This might be my favorite Ben song on pure music alone. Really captures the falsetto harmony that BFF did so well.

    Wow, ok I just realized I have about 15 other songs I’d include if I don’t stop myself. I don’t know if I should be proud or sad that I did al of this entirely from memory, but Ben’s music has been the soundtrack of my life since the late 90’s. I hope you all enjoy him as much as I have!

  4. I love One Angry Dwarf and his cover of Video Killed the Radio Star. I actually hate his Sleazy cover but maybe that’s because I love Kesha’s original so much. And speaking of Kesha, Ben wrote the violin part of her song Past Lives and he did a fantastic job. Brick is still my favorite song from him and Whatever and Ever Amen is still my favorite album. But I love most of his stuff.

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