The best Blur songs
If the past seems a bit of a blur, this list of the band's greatest ever tracks will clear things up.
Blur are back. They have undertaken a tour, released a cracking single — The Narcissist — and announced the next Blur album is out in July.
Is it time for another Blurrenaissance? Judging by the reception of the first song, and breathless reviews of Blur's 2023 gigs, it looks like this one is going to be even better than 2015's Magic Whip. While a fine enough album, it's one of Blur's weaker releases and didn't really give us any classic songs we long to revisit every now and then.
UPDATE: Blur's ninth studio album is out. The Ballad of Darren released on July 21 2023. Judging by early reactions it could be the best since 1999's 13. We'll be combing through the tracks to see which, if any belong on our best Blur songs list. Bar The Narcissist, which we added a few weeks earlier. Have suggestions? Leave them using the feedback box at the end of this shortlist.
And Blur sure have a lot of those over their 30-plus year career. What's your favourite track? Whether you are more a fan of the more experimental 13 era, or are all about the Britpop brilliance of Parklife, there are tracks below to donate your vote to.
- Next up, vote for the best britpop albums ever recorded
Best blur songs
1. The Universal (1995)View now at Amazon
Blur’s prettiest song is The Universal. The orchestral backing, the swooning chorus and Damon Albarn’s wistful vocal style come together in a track that has entranced folks who have never heard a Blur album in full. You don’t have to listen hard to the lyrics to appreciate this song. But “the universal” appears to refer to a Soma-like effect that helps people career through life. Classic early era Damon Albarn, then.
2. End of a Century (1994)View now at Amazon
Pop melancholy doesn’t get much better than Blur melancholy. End of a Century references the meaninglessness of milestones, and is about “how couples get into staying in and staring at each other. Only instead of candle-light, it's the TV light,” Damon Albarn said in a 1995 interview with Select magazine. The song demonstrates how Albarn had levelled-up his lyric writing dramatically since the band’s earliest years.
3. Tender (1999)View now at Amazon
Tender was the most successful single off Blur’s 13, whose cover design is a painting by Graham Coxon. It is loosely about Albarn’s break-up with Justine Frischmann, but the lyrics were co-written by Coxon. He is also a “co-lead” vocalist on the song, although he is rather overshadowed by The London Community Gospel Choir, which acts as a choral back-up through parts of the song. It reached number two in the charts, held off the top spot by Britney Speakers and her pop classic ...Baby One More Time.
4. Song 2 (1997)View now at Amazon
You may have heard Song 2 was written as a parody of the US grunge scene — a borderline joke. However, to characterise this number two single in such terms is to do it a disservice. Those hard-hitting drums, the way Graham Coxon can make such simple guitar lines seem quite so deliberate and textured. It’s special stuff. Song 2 was held off the top spot in the UK by R Kelly’s I Believe I can Fly.
5. Beetlebum (1997)View now at Amazon
While Song 2 is the most memorable track from the post-britpop era, it was Beetlebum that announced this shift of direction in 1997. It was a number one UK chart hit. The title reportedly refers to "chasing the beetle”, a term for heroin use. Unusually, Damon Albarn found the drug a creative catalyst, as discussed in a 2014 interview with GQ Magazine.
6. Coffee & TV (1999)View now at Amazon
The most-streamed song of the album 13 according to Spotify’s stats, Coffee & TV is a Blur rarity at this point, as a single with a Graham Coxon lead vocal. Those who were around at the time may remember this more as the single with the music video featuring a dancing milk carton. It also features one of Blur’s most memorable guitar solos.
7. There’s no Other Way (1991)View now at Amazon
While There’s no Other Way clearly owes a debt to the Manchester scene of the early 90s, it’s still one of the catchiest tunes in Blur’s line-up until the Parklife days. And Graham Coxon’s unmistakeable talent for writing singular guitar lines is already absolutely in place even in these early days of the band. There’s no Other Way reached number 8 in the UK singles charts on its original release in 1991. It was also the band's first collaboration with Stephen Street, who produced this track.
8. For Tomorrow (1993)View now at Amazon
This track opens up Modern Life is Rubbish, and announces a fresh songwriting approach that would come to define the style of their next two, supremely popular, albums. There’s a direct sense of story-telling, addressing specific characters right from the first line. This was the first single from the album, but only reached number 28 in the UK charts.
9. Girls & Boys (1994)View now at Amazon
This is Blur’s second most-played song on Spotify, and marked the beginning of Blur as a britpop phenomenon. It was released in March 1994 and hit number 5 in the UK singles chart. In a 1995 NME article, Damon Albarn wrote about experiencing a panic attack after learning about the song’s success — and a period of depression followed. It’s a simple, arch track that, while it may not always rank high on the lists of Blur obsessives, is an undeniably catchy floor-filler.
10. Chemical World (1993)View now at Amazon
Despite a swooping chorus similar to those of Blur’s most successful years, Chemical World is one of the band’s weaker-performing singles before they hit it big. It was released in 1993 and, just like For Tomorrow before it, only managed to worry the upper end of the Top 40, reaching 28 in the UK singles charts. Still, it is one of the defining tracks of Blur’s early career.
11. This is a Low (1994)View now at Amazon
While This is a Low is one of Parklife’s best songs, you can understand why it was not a single. Five minutes long and downbeat as the album gets, this is nothing like Girls & Boys. It’s a dreamy track, with a chorus hard enough not to sing along to, even if the shipping forecast-referencing lyrics aren’t exactly the stuff that usually gets a song onto people’s wedding and party playlists.
12. Charmless Man (1995)View now at Amazon
The Great Escape has never been viewed quite as highly as its predecessor Parklife, but Charmless Man is one of the most vivid examples of Albarn’s songwriting-as-storytelling. It’s weaves the image of a man obsessed by status and people-pleasing. And it’s widely reported to be based on Suede’s Brett Anderson, who was a former partner of Justine Frischmann. Frischmann and Albarn were in a relationship at the time.
13. The Narcissist (2023)View now at Amazon
After 2015's slightly disappointing Magic Whip, you might not have expected from the latest return of Blur. But The Narcissist has that anthemic sadness that we heard from some of the best tracks from the band's middle years. Will the rest of the album match this initial single? Let's hope so.
14. Sing (1991)View now at Amazon
Blur’s first album Leisure only contains glimmers of the band they would grow into. But Sing evokes some of the dramatic swooping melancholy we’d get in future classics like This is a Low and The Universal. It all hinges on a set of repeated piano chords that play through almost the entire song. Sing was part of the soundtrack to the film Trainspotting.
15. Parklife (1994)View now at Amazon
If you were to know one song from Blur’s classic britpop era, it would likely be Parklife. This song was everywhere in the mid-90s, and famously features Phil Daniels as the song’s “narrator”. Despite its ubiquity, Parklife only ever made it to number 10 in the UK single chart. It was during the long reign of Wet Wet Wet’s Love is All Around, which spent 16 weeks at number one.
16. No Distance Left to Run (1999)View now at Amazon
The third of three singles from Blur’s 13, and the second that appears to directly deal with Albarn’s break-up with Justine Frischmann. We say “appear”, but the lyrics make it pretty damn obvious. Still, this maudlin track is beautiful and raw, and has undoubtedly graced many a break-up playlist since. The name would also be used for the 2010 documentary covering Blur’s reunion.
17. Advert (1993)View now at Amazon
This track was not a Modern Life is Rubbish single, but is one of the catchiest tunes on the album. A plinky-plonk piano line gives way to a wall of distorted guitar, emblematic of the sense of humour that so many of Blur’s tracks have. In classic Blur fashion, the lyrics also tell of a sense of malaise with everyday existence.
18. Out of Time (2003)View now at Amazon
Out of Time was the lead single of 2003’s Think Tank and is surely one of the best showcases of how Damon Albarn’s vocals have developed over the years. His tentative vibrato is the highlight of a track packed with interesting instrumentation. It features the Group Regional du Marrakech, playing instruments as unusual (for a pop-rock band) as the rehab, oud and kanoun.
19. Look Inside America (1997)View now at Amazon
If you missed the older Blur sound when 1997’s self-titled album arrived, you might have appreciated Look Inside America. Its lyrics tell of the band’s disaffection with America, a market Blur had failed to crack before this album. His partner at the time, Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, had had some success in the US, which was reportedly at the root of some of the issues in their relationship.
20. Good Song (2003)View now at Amazon
By this point guitarist Graham Coxon had left Blur, and Good Song arguably serves as a preview of the sort of sonic exploration Damon Albarn was getting up to in his next big group, Gorilllaz. That ultra-catch repeated sampled guitar refrain? The meandering vocal? It’s a little like a Gorillaz track if you removed all rapping.