Keeping the 10 Best Songs train rolling here with another super obvious choice for an artist and even more obvious choices for my 10 Favorite Songs. Gorillaz were my top favorite group in middle school with the release of Demon Days and the fandom held pretty strong to today, despite a few middling to annoying albums in the late 10s. I gotta hand it to Damon Albarn for consistently getting cool people involved in this understandably cool project. I also realized while making this that 2021 marks 20 years since Gorillaz’s debut was released so – take this as a 20 year anniversary special. Hope you enjoy.
1. “DARE” [Demon Days, 2005]
This is the best Gorillaz song. There’s no question! Sure there’s very little Damon Albarn, but it’s got a great groove, great features, a great video and honestly, what more could you really ask for? I would dance around to this song in middle school when I first got into the band (more on that later) and even then it was my favorite song of theirs. It’s fun without being grating, which I’ve found is kind of a hard thing to accomplish in the Gorillaz discog. Nevertheless, I love this freakin’ tune. Shout out to Roses Gabor and Shaun Ryder!
2. “Tomorrow Comes Today” [Gorillaz, 2001]
The crown jewel of Gorillaz’s debut, taking in every good thing that’s presented on the album as a whole and condensing it into one track. It has the rumbling, metallic bass, it has a tough hip-hop inspired beat, it has melodica, it has a wistful Damon Albarn performance, it has a great melody. What more could you ask for? I found that I gravitate more towards the low key tracks in Gorillaz discography, so get ready for more of that.
3. “Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon)” [Plastic Beach, 2010]
Now we have the crown jewel of Plastic Beach and obvious massive fan favorite. For good reason! The shimmering first half of the track is easy to get sucked into, like watching a undulating school of fish swim in a massive aquarium tank. Halfway through the “beat drops” and you’re plunged into the dark depths of the ocean, with angler fish vaguely illuminating the craggy surfaces of the ocean floor. Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano provides a sublime vocal performance, making herself a sonic chameleon in Gorillaz’s world and fitting perfectly into the song without taking listeners out of the illusion that you’re in a Gorillaz album. A small tangent – the main problem I have with a lot of more modern Gorillaz songs is that their use of guest stars is just kind of “hey look who we have on this song” rather than crafting an experience that skillfully utilizes the talents of the performer without sacrificing the integrity and consistency of Gorillaz’s main sound. Perhaps I don’t feel that way about their earlier material because I didn’t know the guests like I do now, but still. End of the day – it’s a great two-part song that makes sense. It doesn’t feel glued together.
4. “El Mañana” [Demon Days, 2005]
This had the gargantuan task of following “Feel Good Inc.” on Demon Days, taking a sober path rather than keeping that same energy. I love the echoing acoustic guitar that calls back to the parts on the track previous, giving tender moments to the track list so it’s not all doom and gloom. Lovely strings and all that. I love this track!
5. “Hong Kong” [D-Sides, 2007]
I’d like to think this is a dark horse pick, but I think this is the most popular song off their D-Sides compilation album. I’m a super sucker for the guzheng and have always loved the atmosphere this track established with its tender instrumentation and Albarn’s pillowy vocals. I think it works really well as a standalone track too – I think it would stick out in any of their albums, but would definitely work live as well. The little rising string section near the back half of the track? So good.
6. “Feel Good Inc.” [Demon Days, 2005]
It’s the hit. I can’t deny the hit. Like many other people, it’s the song that got me into Gorillaz. Not through the radio though. My seventh grade gym teacher would play music while we did laps (this is also how I started listening to The Killers?) and when she played “Feel Good Inc.” I felt an immediate connection. I know that’s silly to think as a seventh grader and a major alternative pop song, but I hadn’t heard anything like it at the time. I bought the CD at Target not too long after and it held a residency in my walkman that rivaled that of Evanescence’s Fallen from a few years prior. We’ve all heard the song by now. It’s a classic. I can’t say anything more about it to enhance its legacy, but props to Gorillaz’s team for getting this song major radio success at the time.
7. “19-2000” [Gorillaz, 2002]
Hard to choose between this one and the Soulchild remix, but even though I definitely listened to the remix more as a youngin’, after listening to it to compare to the original I found its relentless pep to be incredibly grating to a 2021-bound Warm Visions. It has snap beats and everything. The original offers such a cool, nonchalance about it that perfectly embodies what I look back on as the “aesthetic” of the time – kind of a futuristic slacker. Carried by a simple hip hop looped percussion beat and car-stereo like squelchy synth motif, the track does plenty to try and sound like how the distant future felt in the early 00s. I also vividly remember the music video where the band is driving in the jeep from the album cover. Solid stuff!
8. “Bobby In Phoenix” [The Fall, 2010]
This is essentially just a Bobby Womack song with Damon Albarn production. That’s a great thing. With Albarn providing a lovely instrumental for Womack’s pipes to occupy, full of rich acoustic guitar and glittery electronic ripples, Womack keeps it low key but still flexes his powerful, soulful voice. Doesn’t really feel like it’s trying to do that much, whereas a lot of the more recent Gorillaz output tries to cram 1,000 ideas into four minutes. A moment of respite and reflection.
9. “On Melancholy Hill” [Plastic Beach, 2010]
Honestly so hard to pick the one song to round out this list (so go check the rest of my picks of favorite songs below) but how can you not like “On Melancholy Hill”? The ultra-catchy synth line and washes of therapeutic voice really feels like you’ve been placed in an idyllic landscape, looking out on a vast, flowery pasture with a calm beach a little further out.
10. “5/4” [Gorillaz, 2001]
In middle school I thought this was the hardest song ever created. As a blossoming music nerd, I did enjoy the reference to an odd time signature. The crunchy guitars and synths are great. I definitely had to turn down the volume when the line “she made me kill myself” came on when I was around my parents, but other than that, it’s a slapper.
MORE ESSENTIAL GORILLAZ TRACKS::
- “All Alone” [Demon Days]
- “Aries (feat. Peter Hook & Georgia)” [Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez]
- “Ascension (feat. Vince Staples)” [Humanz]
- “Bill Murray” [D-Sides]
- “Clint Eastwood” [Gorillaz]
- “Cloud of Unknowing” [Plastic Beach]
- “DARE (Soulwax Remix)” [D-Sides]
- “Demon Days” [Demon Days]
- “Désolé (feat. Fatoumata Diawara)” [Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez]
- “Dirty Harry” [Demon Days]
- “Doncamatic (feat. Daley)” [single]
- “Ghost Train” [G-Sides]
- “Kids With Guns” [Demon Days]
- “November Has Come” [Demon Days]
- “O Green Wild” [Demon Days]
- “Rhinestone Eyes” [Plastic Beach]
- “Rock The House” [Gorillaz]
- “Saturnz Barz (feat. Popcaan)” [Humanz]
- “She’s My Collar (feat. Kali Uchis)” [Humanz]
- “Slow Country” [Gorillaz]
- “Some Kind of Nature (feat. Lou Reed)” [Plastic Beach]
- “Stylo (feat. Mos Def & Bobby Womack)” [Plastic Beach]
- “The Lost Chord (feat. Leee)” [Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez]
- “The Sounder (Edit)” [G-Sides]
- “To Binge (feat. Little Dragon)” [Plastic Beach]
- “19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)” [G-Sides]
- “68 State” [D-Sides] (*probably what primed me to get into electronic music??)