In celebration of Midnights, here’s my take on the best song from each Taylor Swift album, based on lyrics, music, and enjoyability to sing and play on guitar. There were some close calls in these cases I called on techniques like putting songs on repeat and asking which one I’d be happy to listen to over and over (most fun I ever had).
I discovered her music during lockdown and exclusively chose her songs to learn on my guitar, which I dusted off, restrung and started over with. I haven’t listed a favorite song from her first album because I haven’t listened to it yet – I wanted to give each album space rather than rushing through them all.
So, here goes!
Favorite song: Forever & Always
There several other contenders on the album (Breathe, Fearless, You Belong With Me) but I think that Forever & Always is probably her best work here for its consistency and emotional energy. Like many of her later songs (and unlike most pop music) the song avoids slumping or feeling repetitive at any point.
So here’s to everything coming down to nothing
Here’s to silence that cuts me to the core
Interesting versions: Forever & Always (Piano Version) has a slower tempo and an extended bridge, providing a nice alternative to the more energetic album version. On the other hand, the live version (featured strongly in the Journey to Fearless documentary) involves young TayTay throwing an armchair onstage. Ohhhhh (*throws chair*) back up, baby, back up!
Speak Now (2010)
Favorite song: Back To December
My favorite on Speak Now may change over time because I haven’t yet listened to it as much as her later albums. I was tempted to pick the second track on the album, Sparks Fly, as it sounds more welcoming next to Back to December, which at first sounds a bit drippy. But that’s part of the appeal of Back to December – she paints the scene so well here with her choice of music and, of course, her lyrics. The first verse illustrates her growing ability to bring the mood of a story through life through her words.
It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you
Wishing I’d realized what I had when you were mine
Interesting versions: Of all her albums, I’d say that Speak Now is the one that would benefit most from a revamp for Taylor’s Version. This live version of Back to December merges into You’re Not Sorry, bridged by One Republic’s Apologize.
Favorite song: All Too Well
What else?! Actually there are lots of great songs on Red to choose from – Treacherous is probably my second choice.
Photo album on the counter, your cheeks were turning red
You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin size bed
Interesting versions: Here’s Taylor performing the 10 minute version on SNL with her short film playing in the background. After releasing Folklore and Evermore in 2020, the 2021 release of Red (Taylor’s Version) and the extended All Too Well kept her in the spotlight throughout lockdown.
Favorite song: All You Had To Do Was Stay
1989 has a lot of big hits but rather than choosing one of the seven (!) singles, I’m going for All You Had To Do Was Stay. I’m choosing it as much, if not more, for the melody than the lyrics. The runner up was close: Out of the woods.
Here you are now, calling me up, but I don’t know what to say
I’ve been picking up the pieces of the mess you made
Interesting versions: playing/singing it yourself! Here’s a live version but it would be nice to see an acoustic version.
Favorite song: Call It What You Want
Reputation took some getting used to after I had spent lockdown listening to Folklore, Red, and Evermore. With many songs focusing on cadence and intonation over lyrics it seemed like a different world. I did stumble across her Delicate music video (who said research scientists don’t get out much?) and fell in love with it. However, I’m picking Call It What You Want as my top song from Reputation.
And I know I make the same mistakes every time
Bridges burn, I never learn
At least I did one thing right, I did one thing right
Interesting versions: This live acoustic version on SNL:
Favorite song: Soon You’ll Get Better
I’m picking this song because it’s hard not to. Even for someone known for her emotion and openness, this song stands out. Soon You’ll Get Better is not the first time Taylor sung to her mother, but it’s the most poignant. It’s Nice To Have A Friend is also outstanding – it uses rhythm in a playful way, perhaps foreshadowing Closure from Evermore.
Holy orange bottles
Each night I pray to you
Desperate people ﬁnd faith
So now I pray to Jesus too
Interesting versions: This performance in April 2020 was the first time I noticed TS. Within a year she had become my favorite artist.
Favorite song: Seven
My favorite song from Folklore has definitely shifted over time. I was first attracted to Exile, initially because of Justin Vernon who I was more familiar with than TS. I love Aaron Dessner’s guitar on Invisible String, which is also a sweet, whimsical song. But I’m picking Seven as my favorite song from perhaps the most important Taylor Swift album – the one that got us through one of the toughest years of our lives. Seven is all about childhood and it best represents Folklore’s wonderful innocence.
Please picture me in the trees
I hit my peak at seven feet
In the swing over the creek
I was too scared to jump in
But I, I was high in the sky
With Pennsylvania under me
Interesting versions: The Long Pond Studio Sessions are a great way to experience Folklore.
Favorite song: Right Where You Left Me
This album has grown on me more and more and I’d count several songs as general favorites – Marjorie and Evermore in particular. But I think the best song on the album is actually a bonus track: Right Where You Left Me. In time, I think it’ll be counted as one of her masterpieces.
Matches burn after the other
Pages turn and stick to each other
Wages earned and lessons learned
But I, I’m right where you left me
Favorite song: You’re On Your Own, Kid
As soon as I heard this song – even the first five seconds of it – I knew it would be a favorite. I immediately put it on repeat and told the rest of the album that it can wait until 2 am.
Summer went away
Still the yearning stays
Agree or disagree with these choices? Comment below!
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