An old soul trapped in the body of an indefatigable frontwoman with boundless energy, Florence Welch (born on 28 August 1986), of Florence + The Machine, has made a career out of defying trends, sneering at convention and always setting the dial to 11. Since forming in 2007 and delivering her band’s landmark debut album, Lungs, just two years later, the torch-haired singer immediately drew comparisons to other UK pop eccentrics like Kate Bush and Annie Lennox, and is on her way to amassing an equally impressive discography. Narrowing down the best Florence + The Machine songs proved to be a challenging task, with four studio albums, remixes, soundtrack work and countless covers to choose from – but we’ve attempted to do just that.
Think we’ve missed some of your favourites? Let us know in the comments section.
20: ‘Jenny Of Oldstones’
If you were tap anyone to carry the spirit of a medieval folk ballad, Welch’s otherworldly soprano is second to none. Continuing their tradition of having contemporary acts provide cover songs for their end credits, Game Of Thrones showrunners recruited Florence to tackle the haunting ballad ‘Jenny Of Oldstones’ that the character Podrick Payne (played by Daniel Portman) sings in episode two of the final season of the show. As Welch explained in an interview, the creators kept a tight wrap on what visuals the song would accompany. “They just had a simple, stripped-back, lilting melody,” said Welch. “The notes of it sounded like a Celtic folk song to me. I love the idea of dancing with ghosts and never wanting to leave. I feel like I do that every night on stage.”
19: ‘Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Remix)’
This bombastic Ceremonials track was a prime candidate for a remix project. Florence recruited the newly famous Calvin Harris in 2012 to rework ‘Spectrum’, along with host of other UK dance artists and producers for an EP. Welch chose Harris for his “blend of euphoric and melancholic” styles that match her own. Adding a four-to-the-floor beat and classic house-style piano breaks, the track quickly topped the charts, earning Welch her first No.1 single in the UK and becoming one of the best Florence + The Machine songs.
18: ‘Drumming Song’
The entirety of the band’s 2009 debut album, Lungs, is punctuated by various forms of percussion, no more so than the straightforwardly-titled, ‘Drumming Song’. At times, it sounds like a rehearsal for Stomp, as every surface provides an opportunity for sound. Inspired by hip-hop’s aggressive energy, Welch perfectly captures the electric feeling of attraction and, in this case, running far away from it.
Written during the same period as High As Hope, this bluesy soul number didn’t fit the kind of slow burn, introspective nature of the album, so Welch saved it for her live sets before dropping the studio version after the album release. Working with longtime producer James Ford, the scorching piano-driven single sees Welch once again staring down a reluctant lover, just as she did on ‘What Kind Of Man’. It’s the kind of witchy tune that would have been right at home on her previous album, Ceremonials.
16: ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’
The last in a trilogy of star-making singles that introduced Florence Welch to the world, ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ was the first to feature a mass choir of Florences, with layers of vocal overdubs that resemble a gospel call and response. In true Florence fashion, she reinterprets the story of King Midas and his golden touch as a parable for young artists who sacrifice too much for fame. “How quickly the glamor fades/Was that the wrong pill to take (raise it up)/You made a deal and now it seems you have to offer up.” The song was a radio smash that just so happened to feature harps, flutes and choirs, and established her as the soulful eccentric we know and love.
15: ‘Never Let Me Go’
The sheer breadth of sound in the best Florence + The Machine songs means the band have something to suit any mood. If you’re looking to commune with higher powers, this hymn will take you there. Co-written by Welch and producer Paul Epworth, ‘Never Let Me Go’ alternates between delicate piano and euphoric gospel, as Welch turns in one of her most impressive vocal performances yet.
14: ‘Only If For A Night’
Church bells ring out, followed by clamouring drums and a bellowing choir… Welch pulls out all the stops on Ceremonials’ opener. This time around, the supernatural tale is based on personal experience, as Welch sings about being visited by her late grandmother in a dream. After hearing the cathedral bells on an instrumental demo sent by longtime producer Paul Epworth, Welch was suddenly transported back to her grandmother’s house and her funeral.
13: ‘Sky Full Of Song’
Like many artists, Welch was of the belief that her art was fuelled by hedonism, but High As Hope was proof that her creative spark was always there. Consumed by the adrenaline of touring and performing, Welch yearns to be tethered back to earth. You can hear the world-weariness in her voice. Most singers carefully plan out their breathwork, as if to hide the seams of the songs, but on this raw performance Welch lets you hear every breath.
12. ‘What Kind Of Man’
It had been a while since we’d last heard Welch fully rock out, and ‘What Kind Of Man’ was a swift reminder of the her rock’n’roll beginnings, picking up where ‘Kiss With A Fist’ left off. Welch goes all in on the kind of changeable lovers who try your patience with this blazing rock anthem, contributing to the canon of spurned-woman songs, but with a poetic flair that turns a break-up anthem into one of the best Florence + The Machine songs.
11: ‘You’ve Got The Love’
With a dynamic vocal range like Florence’s, there is no shortage of excellent covers to choose from, but her cover of Candi Staton’s 1986 LGBTQ anthem turned 90s rave staple ‘You’ve Got The Love’ remains a fan favourite. The Lungs closer swaps out the synths for strings and harps, and embraces Staton’s soulful delivery to create another towering stadium anthem.
10: ‘Ship To Wreck’
Kicking off with a shimmering jangle that sounds straight off a Smiths record, ‘Ship To Wreck’ stands in stark contrast to Ceremonials’ opening track. The nautical metaphors are still present – as the story goes, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful producer Markus Dravs asked the singer to not write any more songs about water, but she insisted he make an exception. Like much of the record, ‘Ship To Wreck’ finds the frontwoman facing her self-destructive tendencies and taking stock of what she’s lost in the process (or, as Welch calls it, “the purgatory of heartbreak”).
9: ‘The End Of Love’
As one of the most gorgeous compositions from High As Hope, ‘The End Of Love’ was an early contender for the album’s title track. One of the best Florence + The Machine songs, it switches from being impossibly delicate to unleashing a powerful blare, and is one of Welch’s most poignant statements. Even with its towering Greek chorus and Biblical references, ‘The End Of Love’ proves that her poetic yearnings are not relegated to flights of fancy but are rooted in very human desires.
8: ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’
On her third studio album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Welch does away with artifice and comes to terms with herself – both literally and figuratively, in the accompanying visual. After taking a break from touring and other distractions, she’s opened the Pandora’s box of her problems and “now it’s all coming through”. The track title refers to the wide expanse of the Los Angeles skyline, but could also apply to the expansive arrangement that swells and soars.
7: ‘What The Water Gave Me’
As the first single off Welch’s sophomore record, ‘What The Water Gave Me’ captures the glittering maximalism of Ceremonials. Injecting some highbrow references into pop radio, the single takes its name from a Frida Kahlo painting and even refers to Virginia Wolfe’s tragic demise. Boasting her signature hard-hitting hooks and percussion, ‘What The Water Gave Me’ is a perfect slice of 80s gothic pop that primed Florence for her return.
Welch and her songwriting partner Isabella Summers had struck gold with ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Cosmic Love’, so it comes as no surprise that this collaboration would result in one of Florence + The Machine’s best songs. Technically speaking, it’s another break-up song, with Welch trying to convince herself she’s “gonna be free and fine”, before it erupts into a disco-fuelled Northern soul-inspired number. Despite the Biblical references, Welch speaks to a more contemporary concern: “the agony of the mobile phone in modern relationships”.
On High As Hope, Welch stripped away the metaphors to create her most revealing album to date. ‘Hunger’ is the most explicitly personal track on the album: Welch finds cathartic release, turning her struggle with eating disorders and other vices into a vibrant anthem. With its driving beat and infectious chorus, Welch reflects on her naïve youth and the void she was trying to fill.
4: ‘Queen Of Peace’
A master of the bait and switch, almost every track on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful features a musical breakout that catches you off guard. ‘Queen Of Peace’ opens with a sweeping orchestral suite that resembles a cinematic score before the tambourine beat kicks in and breaks the spell. Given the scope of the song, it’s fitting that ‘Queen Of Peace’ was accompanied by double-feature short film. Set in the Scottish countryside, it matches the emotional intensity of the song.
3: ‘Dog Days Are Over’
‘Dog Days Are Over’ remains one of the best Florence + The Machine songs and the group’s highest-charting hit, essentially launching her from the MTV Video Music Awards stage and into the stratosphere. It also laid the foundation for the type of genre-defying sound that would continue throughout the course of her career, from theatrical arrangements to audaciously large choruses flanked by Welch’s seismic vocals. A decade later, Lungs is considered a classic album, and this single is what set everything in motion.
2: ‘Cosmic Love’
The result of a “magical hangover”, as Welch tells it, ‘Cosmic Love’ was the sixth single of her landmark debut album. It gave audiences the first taste of the emotional wallop Welch was capable of as an artist, as well as the vocal calisthenics she would become known for. This slice of celestial pop, dotted with plinking, harps really did convince you Welch hailed from another planet. The track quickly went platinum and has appeared in numerous TV and film scenes as a go-to song for reducing audiences to tears.
1: ‘Shake It Out’
This is Florence at her poppiest: all flailing arms, thumping beat and a tidal-wave-sized chorus. ‘Shake It Out’ became one her biggest crossover hits, hitting No.1 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative chart and earning a Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category. As the first single from Ceremonials, the bombastic track sets the tone for the pomp and circumstance that pervades the rest of the record. Even with its Eyes Wide Shut-inspired visual and demons who demand a pound of flesh, it’s still one of Florence’s most jubilant anthems, earning its place among the best Florence + The Machine songs while skirting the line between darkness and light.
A 10th-anniversary coloured vinyl reissue and cassette edition of Lungs is due for release on 16 August. Pre-order them here.