This month, the Arctic Monkeys’ seminal album AM turns 10 years old—a truth that has made me feel incredibly old, given that I got my learner’s permit just a few days after it came out. At the time, the record was beloved by folks online and beyond—as Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders had re-invented themselves and made one of the best rock statements of the era, distilling psychedelic, blues, garage and indie rock into beautiful pop skeletons. But, for 21 years, the Sheffield-born quartet have been revered as one of the best bands since the start of the millennium.
From their groundbreaking, star-making debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not to their risk-filled pivot to lounge-singer/songwriter conceptual musings on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the Arctic Monkeys have never stayed in one place for too long—opting to follow their sonic inclinations wherever they dare to go. Today, we’re not just celebrating the upcoming big birthday for AM; we’re paying homage to one of the best rock bands of this century. So, without further ado, here are the 40 greatest Arctic Monkeys songs, ranked.
40. “Piledriver Waltz” (Suck It and See, 2011)
Though “Piledriver Waltz” wasn’t released as a single from Suck It and See, the track found its first iteration on Alex Turner’s soundtrack for Submarine. The film version is more subdued and gentle, while the album take is cosmic and entrancing in a smoke-filled ballroom type of way. The song is as dreamy and cutting as its title suggests, as Turner does his best Morrissey affectation—as he waxes poetic on heartbreak in his textbook, cosmic way. “You look like you’ve been for breakfast at the Heartbreak Hotel and sat in the back booth by the pamphlets and the literature on how to lose,” he sings. “Your waitress was miserable and so was your food. If you’re gonna try and walk on water, make sure you wear your comfortable shoes.” Jamie Cook’s lead guitar shines here, as it cuts through Turner’s breakup renderings with a bright, endearing sharpness.
39. “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” (The Car, 2022)
Upbeat, full of blues and funk and dazzling as all get-out, “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” juxtaposes greatly with its preceding track, “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball.” The backing vocals on this track? Hoo boy, heavenly to the max. “It’s the intermission, let’s shake a few hands,” Turner sings. “Blank expressions invite me to suspect I ain’t quite where I think I am.” There are renderings of displacement and disillusioned alienation living and breathing beneath the film of poetic jargon and metaphorical paste that Turner glosses the track with ample amounts of. If you can wade through the expositional adjectives and candy-coated, hypnotic language, you’ll find a portrait of someone just trying to get to a vantage point where he can see some semblance of the full picture stationed before him.
38. “Riot Van” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
Subdued from beginning to end, “Riot Van” certainly doesn’t reach the energy levels of its own title—but it’s still a slick track that works to center Turner’s voice much more than anything else. Though it sounds eons removed from the high-volume compositions from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not that engulf the track, “Riot Van” is not a laid back effort. It’s intricate, polished and hypnotic—and what more could you ask for? Rid of a climax, chorus or easily decipherable destination, “Riot Van” is a moment where Turner can be a storyteller without having to give much space and thought to what the band does behind him. Sometimes it’s fun and easy to sing about getting your rocks off on a long, drunken night out that ends in police cramping your style.
37. “From the Ritz to the Rubble” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
Though it’s only three minutes long, “From the Ritz to the Rubble” is dangerous and in-your-face—in a good way. Turner and the boys howl about changing towns and changing women, lamenting how everything is passing them by in real time—which is a funny thing to conceptualize a bunch of 20-year-olds attempting to articulate. Nevertheless, “From the Ritz to the Rubble” is just solid gold, stone-cold rock ‘n’ roll that will grab your soul by the collar and throw it through a brick wall. “Well, I’m so glad they turned us all away, we’ll put it down to fate,” Turner sings. “I thought a thousand, million things that I could never say this morning.’ Got too deep, but how deep is too deep?”
36. “Secret Door” (Humbug, 2009)
The day that Alex Turner writes a song that makes complete sense all the way through is the day Hell freezes over. That’s not a knock against the songwriter—in fact, I prefer it this way. His poetics are what drives the lore and multiple-meaningness of the Arctic Monkeys’ canon. Untangling the romantic incantations of “Secret Door” is a fun undertaking, because the song can be interpreted in so many ways. “There’s absolutely nothing for us here, it’s a magnolia celebration to be attended on a Wednesday night,” he sings. “It’s better than to get a reputation as a miserable little tyke.” Poetic, full of emotion and postured with a terrific crescendo, “Secret Door” is a marvelous piece of Humbug—and a magnetic offering that has made being a “fool on parade” sound like a pretty neat and cool destiny.
35. “Cigarette Smoker Fiona” (Who The Fuck Are The Arctic Monkeys?, 2006)
A cut from the Who The Fuck Are The Arctic Monkeys? EP released after Whatever People Say That I Am…, “Cigarette Smoker Fiona” is the Arctic Monkeys at one of their loudest heights. It finds Turner lamenting his hometown and the cursed, exhausting people in it (“Worlds collide as the evening continues, the dignity fucks off”). “Cigarette Smoker Fiona” was initially demoed as “Cigarette Smoke” on the band’s Beneath the Boardwalk collection in 2004, making it, likely, the oldest entry on this list. It captures that early energy of the band, where Turner and the boys are getting loud for the sake of making a worthwhile noise. But, even then, you can hear the blistering guitar tendencies and propulsive, brash drumming that would become even more pointed and revered two years later on their debut.
34. “When the Sun Goes Down” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
“They’re all infected, but he’ll be alright—‘cause he’s a scumbag, don’t you know?” Turner cheekily sings before the club breakdown of “When the Sun Goes Down.” A relentless anthemic of knife-sharp melodies and outrageous frontman-led bravado, the song is Arctic Monkeys at their most timeless. For every reason that “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is a canonized, career-defining foray for the band, “When the Sun Goes Down” is the masterpiece that lives in a high-mark’s shadow. Magnetic and thunderous and stuffed full of life and euphoria, “When the Sun Goes Down” isn’t just a good time—it’ll purge every spirit from your dancing, shaking body whenever it pours through a speaker.
33. “Four Out of Five” (Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, 2018)
Probably the most popular track off of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, “Four Out of Five” is Elton John and Billy Joel-core to the max. Turner has never gone so man-at-a-piano before, but it’s a welcomed change-of-pace. “Take it easy for a little while, come and stay with us,” Turner proclaims in the midst of a theatrical, Jim Steinman-style choral harmony swell. There’s Bowie and King Crimson in there, too—but Turner seemed to be evoking his side project The Last Shadow Puppets as well. “It’s all getting gentrified, I put a taquería on the moon,” Turner announces in the track’s outro. “It got rave reviews.” “Four Out of Five” was the first single released post-AM, and it quickly signaled a brand new era that would be unlike anything the Arctic Monkeys ever made before.
32. “Teddy Picker” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
A striking post-punk-inspired lament of success and popularity, Turner delivers some of his most cutting and poignant verses on “Teddy Picker”—the perfect compliment to “Brianstorm.” “It’s the thousandth time that it’s even bolder, don’t be surprised when you get bent over,” he sings. “They told ya, but you were dying for it.” Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? was their first foray into that world of rotten splendors, but Favourite Worst Nightmare was where they could really sharpen their unminced words—a proper portrait of a post-Whatever People Say I Am… landscape for one of the UK’s best post-Y2K bands.
31. “I Wanna Be Yours” (AM, 2013)
“I wanna be your vacuum cleaner breathing in your dust; I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust” is, very possibly, one of the most recognizable first couplets in all of the Arctic Monkeys’ catalog—maybe even their best. Turner adapted the song from John Cooper Clarke’s 1982 poem of the same name, as the whole point is to translate a love for someone else through industrial, tangible, material possessions and household objects. As cheeky, cliché and wedding speech-fodder as “I Wanna Be Yours” is, it’s undeniable and relentlessly hypnotic. It’s nowhere near the best part of AM, but it’s still great, haunting and downright impactful—and it’d likely chart higher here if Turner had actually written it.
30. “My Propeller” (Humbug, 2009)
The opening track on Humbug, “My Propeller” is a dashing, sweeping, urgent, innuendous welcome to the third chapter of the Arctic Monkeys career arc. Psychedelic and serious all at once, Turner takes his phallic prophecy and spins it into a roaring modern classic that was even put out as Humbug’s third single. Nick O’Malley’s bass guitar really shines here, as it offers a dark, brooding underscore to Turner’s haunting lead vocal. “It’s a necessary evil, no cause for emergency,” he sings. “Borrowed the beak off a bald eagle, oh, momentary synergy.” Few bands would dare to kick off a record with a metaphorical ode to their large hog, but, then again, how many bands out there are the Arctic Monkeys?
29. “The View from the Afternoon” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
The first track on a band’s first record can be a make-or-break moment. It’s what gets you on the radars of everyone else, and you’ve only got one chance to get it right. Luckily for us, the Arctic Monkeys got it right on “The View from the Afternoon,” the first chapter of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Damn near a self-referential undertaking, Turner seems to (perhaps subconsciously or unknowingly) tap into the forthcoming destiny of the band when he sings “Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment.” Stuffed full of heavy, delicious and powerful guitar chords and brash, machine-gun percussion, “The View from the Afternoon,” to put it plainly, would be an essential Arctic Monkeys song on the basis that it’s album one, track one. Luckily for us, it’s a damn tough song, too.
28. “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” (The Car, 2022)
Recency bias plays a factor here, as the first single from the Arctic Monkeys’ most recent record, The Car, is, if I do say so myself, pretty damn good. Of course, it’s not their best—not even close. But, it took the man-at-the-piano foundation of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and gave it the panache of stadium-sized rock ‘n’ roll. There’s some real “Bennie & the Jets” flickers in here, as Turner is confident, patient and full of sublime and subtle finesse across the track’s four minutes. “You’re getting more cynical and that won’t do,” he sings. “I’d throw the rose tint back on the exploded view, darling, if I were you.” The Car contains some of Turner’s most poetic musings, some of which makes the record indecipherable to a woozy extent. But “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball,” strings, falsetto and all, is charming, low-key and, at its core, a rewarding, deftly beautiful ballad.
27. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” (AM, 2013)
Funky and hypnotic, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” is the what “Do I Wanna Know?” would sound like if you put a little spunk into the latter’s step. It’s practically one big flirty, drunken voicemail, as Turner laments drug-addled conversation skewing a relationship still in need of a spark. It’s one of Turner’s least vivid songwriting performances, as the track really skates off the title-evoking chorus. His message of “I’m having bad ideas that become bad decisions” trope runs thin by the track’s end; what helped “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” make it this far into our ranking is the sheer enchantment of its instrumental.
26. “Hello You” (The Car, 2022)
The smoothest song Alex Turner has written in 10 years, “Hello You” is a godsend—if I’m being real here. Absolutely not the most popular track from The Car, “Hello You” is a deep cut that is just as rewarding and perfect as “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” and “Body Paint.” It’s in the same conversation as a track like “Jet Skis On The Moat,” in that it’s orchestral and thoughtful and wayfaring in ways that speak greatly to Turner’s penmanship at this point in his career—as he bends language to fit his stream-of-consciousness storytelling and whimsical, beguiled persona. “As that meandering chapter reaches its end and leaves us in a thoughtful little daze, this electric warrior’s motorcade shall burn no more rubber down that boulevard,” Turner croons against James Ford’s enigmatic, beautiful and operatic string arrangements. “Hello You” is understated and beautiful, a track that gets stronger the more it floats under the radar.
25. “Brianstorm” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
If you thought the band was going to leave the high-volume impact of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not behind when they hit the studio to make their sophomore record, you were sorely mistaken. Opening track “Brianstorm” obliterates the gate with an indie-rock blast of volcanic melodies and a stadium-sized bravado. “I doubt it’s your style, not to get what you set out to acquire. The eyes are on fire, you are the unforecasted storm,” Turner sings, confidently. It’s here where he seizes his role as a practitioner of garage-rock mayhem—and he passes every test with flying, soaring colors.
24. “Do I Wanna Know?” (AM, 2013)
It’s hard to rank “Do I Wanna Know?” so low, especially given how—in terms of the latter half of Arctic Monkeys’ discography—it’s definitive of their post-Suck It and See years. I mean, AM is that bitch for a reason, ya know? It kicks off the record that vaulted them into spokesmen of the Tumblr generation with an unbelievably blockbuster opening riff and some of Turner’s most confident singing across a 20-year career. Much less energetic than “R U Mine?” but 100-times as poised, “Do I Wanna Know?” holds up well 10 years later. What keeps it out of the Top-20 is its tempo, as the track never fully gets off the ground, rid of a true, bonafide climax—though that “crawling back to you” breakdown is pretty damn great. There are better AM songs, but you can’t have a Greatest Arctic Monkeys Songs list without paying your respects to the rejuvenating legacy of “Do I Wanna Know?”
23. “Star Treatment” (Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, 2018)
The opening track on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, “Star Treatment” is the first chapter of—and an intimate look into—the Arctic Monkeys’ greatest sonic pivot to-date. Gone were the greaser fantasies of AM from five years prior; in came Turner’s own lounge-singer fantasies. “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make,” he proclaims at the track’s beginning. “Hitchhiking with a monogrammed suitcase, miles away from any half-useful imaginary highway.” It’s a brooding, cosmos-inspired lament of mortality. The band could have played it safe with another garage rock record, but that would’ve been too easy. Their foray into a conceptual, polarizing story of a bar on the moon and all who inhabit it, Tranquility Base and “Star Treatment” were risks—both paying off and cementing the Arctic Monkeys as incapable of staying in one familiar place too long.
22. “R U Mine?” (AM, 2013)
Oh, yeah, this is still the one. Few rock tracks from the last decade—let alone 2013 altogether—arrive as fierce and blistering as “R U Mine?,” the chapter of AM that showcases that those tracksuit-clad UK boys were still deeply embedded in the DNA of Arctic Monkeys. By this time, Turner had adopted his greaser personality, playing these sensual riffs with slicked-back hair and leather stuck to his body head-to-toe. If you have a pulse, you’ll recognize that opening riff; if you don’t think the band has been able to melt faces after Whatever People Say I Am… and Favourite Worst Nightmare, then, boy, do I have the track that’ll convince you otherwise. “R U Mine?” is braggadocious Alex Turner at his best and sensualist. The track oozes sex and confidence, punctuated by that “misbehaving for days, great escape, lost track of time and space” line.
21. “Pretty Visitors” (Humbug, 2009)
One of the louder offerings from Humbug, “Pretty Visitors” preceded a shrinking catalog of raucous cuts from the Arctic Monkeys—a style of theirs that would quickly grow fewer and farther in-between on subsequent albums. Employing a distinct, White Stripes-styled garage recital, “Pretty Visitors” is bombastic and delightful witty in that very Alex Turner way: “What came first? The chicken or the dickhead?” he ponders at the beginning of a particular verse. There’s nothing overly fancy about “Pretty Visitors”; it’s a hard-rocking, intricate fit of noise shouldered by a really in-your-face drumming performance from Helders and a perfect, cutting and gravel-coated vocal performance from Turner.
20. “Knee Socks” (AM, 2013)
Admittedly, “Knee Socks” might be the Arctic Monkeys track that took me the longest to fall in love with. It’s great and a wonderful highlight of AM, but I can’t really pinpoint why it didn’t resonate with me initially. Now, though, 10 years after AM crashed our parties, “Knee Socks” is groovy and grabs your attention immediately. Returning to this project, it’s clear that Turner wasn’t at the top of his songwriting game—at least not lyrically—but “Knee Socks” is a real outlier, as it combines pop sensibilities with poetic waxings. “You’re kissing to cut through the gloom with a cough drop-colored tongue,” Turner sings. “And you were sitting in the corner with the coats all piled high and I thought you might be mine.” You can hear how this track influenced stars like Harry Styles, or, really, anyone who’s tried their hand at fusing post-Y2K pop music with glam rock.
19. “One Point Perspective” (Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, 2018)
“Dancing in my underpants, I’m gonna run for government. I’m gonna form a covers band,” Turner opines atop a staccato piano note on “One Point Perspective.” Few entries in the Arctic Monkeys’ catalog have ever arrived so cinematic and awe-inspired. Turner surfs across octaves here, spending a good while in the space of his own falsetto (which is both dreamy and a welcomed change of pace from the brooding, rockstar bravado he normally embodies), and there’s a real rewarding instrumental living and breathing across “One Point Perspective.” It’s truly a sprawling, kaleidoscopic poem that unravels to the beat of Turner’s own drum. When he sings “Bear with me, man, I lost my train of thought” after ushering a coterie of silky, slow-burn linguistics, you can’t help but believe him.
18. “Love Is a Laserquest” (Suck It and See, 2011)
Part of the reward of “Love Is a Laserquest” is how it is one of the most definitive renderings of Arctic Monkeys’ signature, woozy, dream-pop-style of balladry. Turner painstakingly mourns a bygone love, while Cook’s guitar work is slow and buoyant. Suck It and See allowed the band to go down a road of delicate rock ‘n’ roll—and it is, perhaps, no more evident anywhere else than it is on “Love Is a Laserquest,” where Turner sings “Do you still feel younger than you thought you would by now?” in a way that’s so bruised and heartsunk. “Now I can’t think of air without thinking of you” is a particularly devastating line, but it’s such a beautiful sight to behold when Turner simmers on the abstract poetics in favor of haunted, mesmerizing longing.
17. “Crying Lightning” (Humbug, 2009)
Humbug’s lead single is enigmatic and rigid and splendid—if all three could ever possibly work in seamless harmony with each other. Turner adopts a dramatic, theatrical lead conduction, as he sounds like he’s singing from a riser in an amphitheater. “Your pastimes consisted of the strange and twisted and deranged,” he sings. “And I loved that little game you had called ‘crying lightning’ and how you liked to aggravate the ice-cream man on rainy afternoons.” Humbug is often overlooked, but “Crying Lightning” is one of the reasons why, in actuality, the record is (maybe, probably) the Arctic Monkeys’ all-time best.
16. “Old Yellow Bricks” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
Grossly underrated in the Arctic Monkeys cinematic universe, “Old Yellow Bricks” is a Wizard of Oz-inspired articulation of abandoning your hometown for the sake of striking out on your own elsewhere. “She was enraged by the way that the emperor were trapped in the cage,” Turner sings. “And the days she deemed dull leading to nights reading beer bottles, you’re such a fugitive but you don’t know what you’re running from.” Built on the shoulders of pure, unabashed hard rock and punk confidence, “Old Yellow Bricks” is a stunner that lurks far beneath the radar of the Arctic Monkeys’ catalog—which is a shame, because it’s an invigorating tale of displacement told with relentless pontification.
15. “Mad Sounds” (AM, 2013)
My pick for the most underrated song the Arctic Monkeys have ever made, “Mad Sounds” rarely—if ever—gets talked about as one of the best AM songs. It’s devastating, how “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?” and, virtually, every other big-budget track on the album gets prioritized—because “Mad Sounds” is the kind of waltz that the band had never taken such a hard foray into before 2013. Packed with “ooh la la”s and a bluesy guitar riff that is so delicate and subdued beneath the vocal harmonies, “Mad Sounds” has aged better than 90% of the Arctic Monkeys’ catalog—and it deserves ample amounts of praise.
14. “Body Paint” (The Car, 2022)
The Achilles heel of The Car is, likely, the fact that it doesn’t have an obvious centerpiece song to boast. There’s no “Do I Wanna Know?” or “505” or, even, “Four Out of Five.” If I had to guess what track would be the worthiest of that distinction, it’s far-and-away “Body Paint,” one of the catchiest and coolest tracks that Turner has ever penned. With a mixture of string arrangements from James Ford and a Wall of Sound-style chorus that lovingly kisses Turner’s gritty, airy vocal whisps, “Body Paint” is theatrical and dazzling from end to end. “And I’m keeping on my costume and calling it a writing tool,” he sings. “And if you’re thinking of me, I’m probably thinking of you.” The whole track is cosmic and luminous, built to get big on stage while remaining sublime enough for casual listening anywhere else. It’s one of the better-constructed songs of the post-Suck It and See era and the definitive offering from The Car.
13. “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
The crux of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is interesting because, deep down, we all know it’s nowhere near the best Arctic Monkeys song. But, it’s practically the track that made the band the next big rock ‘n’ roll revolutionaries 17 years ago. It’s the lead single—and energetic soul—of their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, but it’s also a picturesque vignette of New Wave sensibilities sharpened into raucous contemporary panache. Turner fantasizes about dancing with a stranger, how they might look even more breathtaking and wondrous if they were banging out to DJ sets in dirty nightclubs. “I wish you’d stop ignoring me, because you’re sending me to despair,” he sings. Cook and Helders go absolutely ape-shit on this one with their combination of blistering riffs and captivating percussion, and it’s one of those instances where it seemed—against all odds—that four lads in tracksuits were going to conquer the world. In many ways, they certainly did.
12. “Snap Out of It” (AM, 2013)
Though it’s in the same realm as “Mad Sounds,” in terms of popularity over the years, “Snap Out of It” still gets much, much more love and adoration—mostly because it was released as AM’s last single. However, “Snap Out of It” is great and deliciously catchy—maybe the catchiest thing the Arctic Monkeys have ever made, to be completely honest. Much like a lot of AM, it’s not a pinnacle lyrical performance from Turner. But, that bounce and jangle-pop instrumental goes so hard that its glitters could crack a mirror in half. “Forever isn’t for everyone,” Turner laments. “Is forever for you?” I’d wager that “Snap Out of It,” in all of its magic and splendor, is certainly forever—or pretty damn close to it.
11. “That’s Where You’re Wrong” (Suck It and See, 2011)
Yes, perhaps there is a tiny Suck It and See bias in this house—but how can there not be? When you’ve got a tracklist as packed as that one, it’s hard to keep the hits away from a list like this. “That’s Where You’re Wrong,” the bright, upbeat, buzzing finale of Suck It and See, is one of the slickest tracks Turner has ever penned—as he lets himself unravel alongside joy and warn us of “jealousy in technicolor” and “wanderlust hiding in a blunderbuss.” It’s poetic and full of shimmering, pensive word-candy. “All the old flames fastened on. Make a wish that weighs a ton,” Turner vividly sings. “There are no handles you can hold, and no understanding where it goes.”
10. “The Ultracheese”(Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, 2018)
In another 10 years, I bet we’ll be looking at why “The Ultracheese” is a Top-3 Arctic Monkeys song ever. Since it’s only five years old, it’s hard to place it in a higher spot than something like “505” but, mark my words here, it’s one of the best songs released in the last decade—a stirring, piano-based singer/songwriter’s lament. “What a death I died writing that song,” Turner sings. “Start to finish, with you looking on, it stays between us, Steinway and his sons—‘cause it’s the ultracheese.” The track is a very once-upon-a-time type of fantasy, and one that serves as the ultimate finale to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino—and it’s littered with some truly beautiful lines, especially ones like “I still got pictures of friends on the wall. I might look as if I’m deep in thought. But, the truth is, I’m probably not—if I ever was.” “The Ultracheese” is very antithetical towards everything that has ever made the Arctic Monkeys famous—which is why it registers so greatly now and will only continue to pull reverence as time passes. “Oh, the dawn won’t stop weighing a ton. I’ve done some things that I shouldn’t have done, but I haven’t stopped loving you once,” Turner spells out. It’s a passionate coda to one of his most personal projects ever.
9. “Fluorescent Adolescent” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
The closest we’d ever get to “Mardy Bum” post-Whatever People Say I Am, “Fluorescent Adolescent” is a gooey, rapturous slice of glory-soaked, itch-scratching pop-rock. Innuendos and comedic verses come aplenty, but it’s the “The best you ever had is just a memory, and those dreams weren’t as daft as they seem” line that hits the hardest—as it can be read as a cheeky nod to whether or not the band could ever again live up to the hype of their debut album. But, at its core, “Fluorescent Adolescent” is a perfect romance song packed to the brim with mainstream architecture, addictive, poised and looping backing hormones, guitar-driven melodies and riffs and a dream destination of “last laugh lane.”
8. “Suck It and See” (Suck It and See, 2011)
Greatly underrated in critical spaces, Suck It and See is one of the band’s very best records—and its title track lives on similarly. Full of English colloquialisms and the glitter of Stooges-style guitars, “Suck It and See” is Turner going all in on a glam-rock song rife with the poetry of a Beatnik. “Jigsaw women with horror movie shoes, be cruel to me ‘cause I’m a fool for you,” Turner muses. A Beach Boys type of choral harmony floats in, as Cook and Helders race each other in the backing instrumental. It’s a gorgeous, incandescent fusion of everything the Arctic Monkeys do best. It’s hard to do anything but fall madly in love with the song anytime it comes on; hard to not fully buy into the idea that another human’s kiss could turn a thunderstorm inside out.
7. “Do Me a Favour” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
“It’s the beginning of the end,” Turner proclaims on “Do Me a Favour,” as Helders employs a Tusk-like drum thud behind Cook’s shimmering lead guitar melody. “It’s these times that it tends to start to breaking up, to start to fall apart. Hold on to your heart,” Turner refrains. There’s so much regret across every inch of “Do Me a Favour” that there’s a lingering sense of eruption at every verse turn. Turner’s embittered, scornful singing is what vaults the track in perpetual motion, while the band’s precise rhythm tumbles into a loud, volcanic and defiant climax of noise and furious rock ‘n’ roll. For all of the rowdy, blistering sonics of the Arctic Monkeys’ early years, “Do Me a Favour” is, maybe, the best encapsulation of all that clicked the band into such an enigmatic, star-quality focus.
6. “505” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
No Arctic Monkeys song has become as definitive of the band’s existence more than “505.” Sure, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is what made them a household name, but there’s a reason that Turner and the boys closed their sets with this song for more than a decade. It rips and roars, building through different acts and octaves until it hits its final resting place of a gravity-defying climax where Turner yells “I crumble completely when you cry!” to the heavens, the mountains and the galaxies above him. “505” is one of those rare instances where a career-defining song is actually worthy of being memorialized as being the best of the best. It’s cinematic, dense and full of twists and turns—and it even samples an organ arrangement from Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that Turner transforms himself. Miles Kane taps in on the guitar parts, and the song then bends and breaks into whatever shape it needs to. “505” is, perhaps, one of the most important rock songs of the last 25 years.
5. “Mardy Bum” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
The antithesis of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” “Mardy Bum” is the sun-soaked Britpop resplendent of your dreams. The Arctic Monkeys have made some truly stunning upbeat numbers in their career, but so few have even been able to sniff what “Mardy Bum” has got cooking. Turner sings of an argumentative girlfriend and daydreams about her softness with some seriously clever lines, especially the “Oh, but it’s reyt hard to remember that on a day like today, when you’re all argumentative and you’ve got the face on” standout. It’s a shame that the band never took a stab at making anything else that sounded quite like “Mardy Bum,” because Turner’s cocksure, smoke-stained-yet-boyish intoning was (somehow) perfect for a brisk, fluffy, playful arrangement. It seems that those days are far gone now. That’s okay, we’ll always have cuddles in the kitchen.
4. “Arabella” (AM, 2013)
With a hook that is so uncannily indebted to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” “Arabella” is, maybe, Arctic Monkeys’ best and most thunderous rock track they ever penned. The guitar work here from Cook is nuts, as is Turner’s garage vocals. The band took a 2006 version of themselves and plugged some electronica and subdued intervals of downtempo in there someplace—slowly revealing that distortion doesn’t have to live at a 100% volume 24/7. Singing of fantasies about a mid-century, sex-symbol lover, Turner cannonballs into the deep end of some real dreamy, sexy waters here. “My days end best when the sunset gets itself behind, that little lady sitting on the passenger side,” he sings. “It’s much less picturesque without her catching the light. The horizon tries, but it’s just not as kind on the eyes.” Barbarella-conjuring imagery and a monumental, career-defining bridge send “Arabella” to the moon—perhaps even farther north than that.
3. “Only Ones Who Know” (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
The best ballad Alex Turner has ever written, “Only Ones Who Know” was the sharpest detour he and the band had ever taken by the time it arrived at the halfway point of Favourite Worst Nightmare in 2007. Punctuated by a guest slide guitar part from producer James Ford and another one of Turner’s recurring Shakespeare motifs, the song takes a devastating, longing shape. The closest the Arctic Monkeys ever got to a cowboy lament, “Only Ones Who Know” may, perhaps, be the most tragic outlier in the band’s entire catalog. Everyone I’ve met who loves the quartet love this track, but critical and ranking consensus across the board rarely give it its fair and warranted due. Turner singing “And even if somehow we could have shown you the place you wanted, well I’m sure you could have made it that bit better on your own” is the cut-through-the-noise, haunted, star-making moment that any band would kill to have. The Arctic Monkeys were so full-to-the-brim with wall-to-wall heaters that this one, often, gets lost in translation.
2. “A Certain Romance” (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)
The closing track of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is the people’s champion of the Arctic Monkeys’ wide-spanning catalog. Rife with bombastic punk melodies and pop-rock riffs, “A Certain Romance” is a perfect slice of five minutes. It’s some of Turner’s best wordplay and language-crafting, as he sings lines like “‘Cause over there, there’s broken bones. There’s only music so that there’s new ringtones. And it don’t take no Sherlock Holmes to see it’s a little different around here.” As much about teenage disaffection as it is about suburban displacement, “A Certain Romance” is universal angst boiled down into a painfully killer and anti-trite sequence of rock ‘n’ roll that can only be described as Arctic Monkey-core. No choruses can be found here, only a climax of a towering, skyrocketing, shape-shifting guitar solo that lends a hand to the gods—the only spirit that could possibly be higher than what Turner and the band take to the bank on “A Certain Romance.”
1. “Cornerstone” (Humbug, 2009)
When I began assembling this list, there was truly no debate over what would take the top spot. It was always going to be “Cornerstone,” the best track off of Humbug and the best track the Arctic Monkeys have ever made together. With a jubilant, sun-soaked melody and Turner’s whimsical frontman eccentricities on full display, “Cornerstone” is one big déjà vu—where Turner reflects on a devastating missteps of fumbling someone he cared deeply for, a lover who he’s not so certain ever existed to begin with. “I smelt your scent on the seatbelt and kept my shortcuts to myself,” he sings. “Cornerstone” is a magical examination of how heartbreak can change our entire understanding of absence. Turner wrote the song about Patsy Cline, which explains the vignettes of daydreams and half-finished thoughts. But it’s, truly, one of his cleverest songwriting forays—as he struggles with remembering his lost flame, only to strike up some intimacy with her sister. “She said, ‘I’m really not supposed to but, yes, you can call me anytime you want’” is one of my favorite closing lines in any song ever—and it’s just pure fun, the way Turner coils the meaning around his soulful croons.
Listen to a playlist of these 40 songs below.