In 2002, Norah Jones came from nowhere and conquered the world with her debut album, Come Away With Me. With her velvet voice, unique storytelling ability and understated piano accompaniment, the New York-born Texas-raised chanteuse quickly established a substantial international following. As Grammies rained down on her, Jones grew into an accomplished songwriter, one unafraid to experiment along the way. Ranging from solo albums to side projects, the best Norah Jones songs chart her remarkable artistic progression.
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Best Norah Jones Songs: 20 Essentials From The Queen Of Confessionals
20: ‘Here We Go Again’ (2004)
One of Jones’ career highs was being invited by the late Ray Charles to duet with him on this stunning revamp of the R&B legend’s 1967 ABC single. Despite the contrasting textures of the two singers’ voices, they complement each other beautifully. The recording also featured a sanctified organ solo by Billy Preston and went on to net two Grammies. It appeared on Charles’ studio swansong, a duets album called Genius Loves Company.
19: ‘Jesus, Etc’ (Puss N Boots, 2014)
Away from her solo career, Jones is part of two informal groups: The Little Willies and an all-female trio, Puss N Boots. With the latter, she sang this warm rendition of a Wilco song penned by the alt.country band’s Jeff Tweedy. Vocal harmonies come from Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper. The track featured on the group’s first Blue Note album, No Fools, No Fun.
18: ‘Tell Your Mama’ (2009)
Defined by a jaunty two-step rhythm, this country-flecked kiss-off song found Jones once again joining forces with Jesse Harris, writer of her debut smash, ‘Don’t Know Why’. Barbed and recriminatory in tone, ‘Tell Your Mama’ casts Jones in the role of a long-suffering lover who has seen the light and vows not to waste her time with someone who has neglected her.
17: ‘Love Me’ (The Little Willies, 2006)
Norah Jones has participated in several side projects during her 18-year career, one of which is her membership in the country supergroup The Little Willies. ‘Love Me’, lifted from the first of their two albums, is the band’s most famous tune: a plangent cover of a classic 50s Elvis Presley-associated Leiber & Stoller number. Jones stays true to the wistful spirit of the original but her uniquely soulful interpretation gives it her own unique twist.
16: ‘Unchained Melody’ (2017)
Jones put her own inimitable and alluring spin on this, The Righteous Brothers’ 1965 blue-eyed soul classic, for the soundtrack to the Amazon TV series The Man In The High Castle, based on a dystopian story by sci-fi writer Philip K Dick. Producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), who had worked with Jones on her 2012 album, Little Broken Hearts, helmed the song.
15: ‘Happy Pills’ (2012)
One of the more accessible moments from Little Broken Hearts, Jones’ surprising collaboration with Danger Mouse, ‘Happy Pills’ is a chugging pop-rocker about exorcising the ghost of a failed love affair. Co-written by the singer with her producer, ‘Happy Pills’ saw Jones chart in Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart for the first time, where the record peaked at No.44.
14: ‘Wintertime’ (2019)
Jones’ seamless fusion of gospel and country elements reflects two of her main musical influences, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. Their presence, though filtered through Jones’ sensibility, is felt in the sonic DNA of this subdued winter-themed ballad penned with Wilco guitarist and producer Jeff Tweedy. Released first as a single, it later appeared on Jones’ 2019 mini-album, Begin Again.
13: ‘Tragedy’ (2016)
Written by Jones with co-producer Sarah Oda, ‘Tragedy’ is one of the outstanding songs on the singer’s sixth album, Day Breaks, which witnessed her return to the acoustic piano-led style of her earlier records. It’s a mellow romantic ballad whose vocals – and, indeed, minimalist piano solo – encapsulate Jones’ understated style.
12: ‘After The Fall’ (2012)
One of the standout tracks on Little Broken Hearts, an album Jones created in tandem with producer Danger Mouse during the aftermath of a romantic break-up. An oblique reflection on the events that led to the lovers parting ways, Jones’ voice achieves an ethereal, siren-like quality as it floats over a dense, bubbling tapestry of intermingled guitar, synths, piano and strings. Magical and haunting.
11: ‘Chasing Pirates’ (2009)
Though the musical backdrop to this, the infectious, Grammy-nominated lead single from Jones’ The Fall album, was radically different from anything she had done before, there was no mistaking Jones’ beautiful voice. Written by Jones and produced by Kings Of Leon collaborator Jacquire King, ‘Chasing Pirates’, with its whimsical tone and fuzzy, rock-tinged vibe, proved that the singer could comfortably stretch beyond her jazz roots.
10: ‘Thinking About You’ (2007)
A midtempo paean to desire, with a nostalgic tinge, written by Jones with Ilhan Erşahin of her pre-solo-career band Wax Poetic, this Lee Alexander-produced song was the lead single from the singer’s third album, Not Too Late. It saw her enter Billboard’s Hot 100 for the first time since ‘Don’t Know Why’. Legendary New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas covered the song a year later.
9: ‘What Am I To You’ (2004)
Reflecting her growth as a songwriter, Norah Jones’ second album, Feels Like Home, featured five original songs, including ‘What Am I To You’, a soulful midtempo ballad. It’s an aching love song on which Jones bares her heart with a plea for honesty from her paramour, hoping that he shares her depth of passion and devotion.
8: ‘Those Sweet Words’ (2004)
With its simple but eloquent combination of delicate piano and soft guitar chords framing Jones’ sonorous vocals, this mellow meditation on romance is a quintessential example of the singer’s indelible low-key style. Co-written by Jones’ then producer, Lee Alexander, for Feels Like Home, the track also features ‘Don’t Know Why’ writer Jesse Harris on guitar. The apparent simplicity of this heartfelt performance masks Jones’ innate musical sophistication.
7: ‘Turn Me On’ (2002)
Jones channels an old-school R&B vibe on this, her fabulously soulful cover of a vintage and obscure John D Loudermilk tune that first appeared as the flipside of US singer Mark Dinning’s 1961 MGM single ‘Lonely Island’, and was later covered by Nina Simone. A meditation on longing and desire, Jones’ version of ‘Turn Me On’ turned up on the soundtrack to the 2003 movie Love Actually.
6: ‘It’s Not Christmas ’Til You Come Home’ (Puss N Boots, 2017)
Recorded exclusively for Spotify in the company’s New York studio, this song is a high-quality Jones original whose theme of hope and yearning is delivered in the intimate country-esque style of the singer’s first two albums. Jones later recorded the song live using a different arrangement with her part-time trio Puss N Boots for the group’s 2019 EP, Dear Santa. Already a popular addition to Jones’ repertoire, it seems destined to become a classic Yuletide favourite.
5: ‘Seven Years’ (2002)
Though Jones’ debut album came out on the iconic jazz label Blue Note, as this gentle folky rumination vividly demonstrates, it was both stylistically and conceptually far removed from the world of bebop. Written by Lee Alexander, the song highlights Kevin Breit’s soft acoustic guitar filigrees along with his bluesy slide guitar solo. It is a sublime example of the heart-on-sleeve emotional honesty that defines Jones’ approach to singing.
4: ‘Carry On’ (2016)
After the stylistic detours of her more experimental albums, 2009’s The Fall and 2011’s Little Broken Hearts, on which she played the guitar and delved into alt.rock and electronic music, Jones returned to her trademark piano on the more jazz-infused Day Breaks. ‘Carry On’ is a self-penned gem whose theme is shrugging off romantic disappointment and moving forward. It recreates the intimate country-meets-gospel approach of her earlier work.
3: ‘Sunrise’ (2004)
The real power of Jones’ vocals lies in her delicate phrasing, conversational delivery and nuanced emotional expression. Those qualities are perfectly illustrated by ‘Sunrise’, the lead-off song and first single from her second album, Feels Like Home. A gently undulating folk-tinged ballad, ‘Sunrise’ proved captivating because of Jones’ magnetic vocal performance. She wrote the tune with bassist and producer Lee Alexander, selling enough copies to earn a gold record and also grabbing a Grammy in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category.
2: ‘Come Away With Me’ (2002)
This, the arresting title song from Jones’ debut album, proved that the Big Apple-born singer was much more than a gorgeous voice: she could also write well-crafted and emotionally-affecting songs. Dreamy in mood and evincing a yearning quality, ‘Come Away With Me’ is a country-inflected ballad that shimmers with a haunting beauty. Released as Jones’ second single, it was a hit around the world and peaked at No.20 in the US Adult Top 20.
1: ‘Don’t Know Why’ (2002)
Topping our list of the best Norah Jones songs, this Jesse Harris number, helmed by veteran R&B producer Arif Mardin, launched the singer-songwriter’s career and was hailed as an instant classic. Its low-key ambience and subtle blend of soul, jazz and country elements epitomised Jones’ distinctively warm and intimate style. The first single from her multi-platinum debut album, Come Away With Me, ‘Don’t Know Why’ proved a global smash and earned Jones three Grammy awards.