With over 20 million records sold worldwide, Sheffield‘s Arctic Monkeys are one of Yorkshire’s finest and most successful musical exports. Their debut album, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, is the fastest-selling debut album of all time by a British band. As the world eagerly anticipates the release of their seventh album, which is due out this year, we take a look back over the band’s back catalogue and pick out our top 10 best Arctic Monkeys songs.
10. The View From the Afternoon
One of the brilliant features of the first album was the tales it told of growing up in the UK’s towns and cities. This song takes the listener on a journey through a great British night out. It speaks of cheap drinks, fancy dress, fruit machines, and late-night drunken texting.
Turner commented on the song’s themes, “There’s nothing clever, it’s just about anticipating the evening, finding comfort in familiarity and the fact that you know you’re bound to send a daft message or something before the sun comes up.”
The music video is brilliantly creative, focusing on a drummer who plays incessantly in the middle of an estate. He is confronted (not completely surprisingly) by tough-looking locals, angered by his playing. He is then comforted by a lone young girl who provides him with milk to drink.
Rumour has it the video is inspired by the story of Buddha, who whilst mediating is confronted by devils but is also comforted by a girl who feeds him milk.
The music video was directed by Richard Ayoade, whom Turner would go on to work alongside in the film Submarine.
The song was the fifth single from the band’s AM album. Far Out magazine fittingly described the tune as a ‘fusing of late ‘90s hip-hop and R&B with ‘70s hard rock’.
Like 505, fans have drawn parallels between the song’s lyrics and an ex-lover of Turner. This time it is then partner Arielle Vandenberg who is the subject of the frontman’s writing talents.
The name Arabella is thought to be a cross between the Arielle and the 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella, which is mentioned in the song. The lyrics speak of gushing admiration and love for Arabella, with illustrative and poetic lines; ‘she’s a modern lover, it’s an exploration, she’s made of outer space and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge’.
The riff is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath’s anti-war song ‘War Pigs’. The band pay tribute to Sabbath by performing the classic riff in their live performance of the song, just before the solo comes in.
8. Piledriver Waltz
Like Love is a Laserquest, the subject of heartbreak brings us to another example of Turner’s fine songwriting. The song was first created for Richard Ayoade’s 2010 film ‘Submarine’, in which Turner performed the entire soundtrack. The film’s story of the turmoil of young love fits in perfectly with the sombre mood of the track.
Turner takes us into a melancholy and slightly nonsensical world with lines such as ‘if you’re gonna try and walk on water. Make sure you wear your comfortable shoes’, which can have so many different interpretations.
It is fitting for the ‘Submarine’ soundtrack as it is a style of writing in keeping with the chaotic and often confusing world of being a teenager, especially one in love.
The track was later re-recorded with the involvement of the whole band, and appeared on the Suck it and See album.
7. R U MINE?
Heralded as the song which helped the band finally crack America, R U Mine? is a highly significant and barnstorming track. The band were musical darlings back in the UK and had established themselves as one of the country’s finest acts. In America, success had proved tougher and took longer to come.
R U Mine was an unexpected release in 2012 and took the fan base and the wider music community by surprise. The band drew on influences for the track whilst on their North America tour supporting the Black Keys.
In the UK, the band were used to headlining shows and being the main focus of attention. Their role as the support act meant they had to create something that would capture the American audience and so R U Mine was created.
‘We’d exhausted Suck It And See, so we thought we should do a new tune. That tour made us raise the bar as a live act: you’re playing as everyone’s walking in and buying their hotdogs; you’ve got to bring a little more. R U Mine was a ray of light moment.’
The song became the blueprint for the sound for the 2013 critically acclaimed AM album, which was released the following year. AM captured the imagination of the American people and the band finally found well-deserved success in the States.
6. Love is a Laserquest
Arguably one of Arctic Monkeys’ most underrated songs lyrically, it is one of Turner’s finest out of their entire back catalogue.
It is one of the band’s saddest songs and is very much a classic heartbreak song. The unknown source of Turner’s affection is playing a game of lover’s laser quest, letting potential partners fall in love and then zapping them away.
The use of emotive language throughout the song creates sombre but beautiful lyrics, and reinforces the feeling of ‘I’ll never forget you’ which Turner is trying to portray, ‘Don’t worry I’m sure that you’re still breaking hearts with the efficiency that only youth can harness’.
The song features on the 2011 ‘Suck It and See’ album, but its most perfect rendition is when the song is performed acoustically, as the sad and lovesick lyrics sit beautifully alongside the calmness of the guitar.
‘I crumble completely when you cry’ is a lyric that pulls on the heartstrings. 505 has become a fan favourite both on record and as a live performance. The band proclaimed it was the first proper love song they ever wrote and it is rumoured that the song is about Turner’s ex, Johanna Bennett. Bennett contributed to the single ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, which she and Turner wrote on holiday whilst in a hotel room. This led to many fans wondering if that hotel room was the inspiration for 505.
The distinctive organ sound which opens the track is a sample from the 1966 Western classic, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.
Close friend and member of Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets, Miles Kane, makes a guest appearance on guitar. A regular feature of the track’s live performance is Kane joining the band on stage.
In 2020, the song was voted the most popular Arctic Monkeys song in a poll carried out by Radio X.
This song has become synonymous with a striking red turtle neck which frontman Alex Turner sports in the video. Debatable fashion choices aside, Cornerstone is one of the band’s finest tunes and is taken from the 2009 album Humbug.
Humbug was a complete step away from the band’s first two releases. Produced by Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme, the album took on a more desert rock sound with a dark undertone. Cornerstone is arguably the poppier offering from the album and it is mixed with a touch of humour.
It takes the listener on a fictional pub crawl, from the ‘Battleship’ to the ‘Rusty Hook’, to the ‘Parrot’s Beak’, finally ending up in the ‘Cornerstone’.
Turner is chasing a love interest whom he is hoping to run into in one of the watering holes. The girl never appears, but the last verse describes running into her sister instead. It is not clear whether this is based on a true tale or just a figment of Turner’s incredible imagination.
Turner has stated that he was listening to a lot of country music at the time of writing. This influenced the layout of the song, Turner said that country “had that formula where the verses always end the same way. That happens a lot in Patsy Cline tunes.”
A firm fan favourite and a storming live spectacle that couldn’t be left out of the top 5 best Arctic Monkeys songs, never mind the top 10. With loud distorted guitars and Matt Helder’s ferocious drumming, we couldn’t leave Brianstorm off the list.
The song was the band’s fourth single and was taken from the critically acclaimed album, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. It took its inspiration from a real-life ‘Brian’ whom they met whilst playing a show in Osaka, Japan.
He had managed to talk his way into their dressing room and was a strange and larger than life character. He was wearing a round neck t-shirt with a tie loosely around it and was holding a business card. Guitarist Jamie Cook said it ‘felt like he was trying to get inside your mind’ and thought he might be a magician.
The band were ‘freaked out’ by his presence, so decided to brainstorm about him as a method of calming down. They drew pictures and wrote descriptions. ‘Brianstorm’ became a pun for this exercise and the title of one of the band’s greatest hits.
2. Leave Before the Lights Come On
It is worth listening to for the video alone, which displays the acting talents of Paddy Constantine and Kate Ashfield. It was the band’s third single, following ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ and ‘When the Sun Goes Down’.
Despite being another fine example of the band’s ability to turn acute social observations into blistering Indie Rock, the song didn’t make the final cut for the band’s debut album.
However, like ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, the song guides the listener through the scenarios of youth. This time it is a regret over a drunken one-night stand.
The song is a humorous and often innocent take on the situation, ‘My friend fancies you, oh what a way to begin it all’. It does, however, cast a critical and thought-provoking eye over the night’s proceedings, ‘How can you wake up with someone you don’t love? And not feel slightly fazed by it’.
The song is a key moment in the band’s history, as it was the first single released with current bassist Nick O’Malley, following the departure of Andy Nicholson.
1. A Certain Romance
‘They might wear classic Reeboks Or knackered Converse, or trackie bottoms tucked in socks’ starts a song full of noughties nostalgia. It tells the tale of those people ‘over there’, where everything seems so rough, loveless and violent. It is a brilliant portrayal of Chav culture which plagued the country’s towns and cities throughout the decade.
Fighting, drinking and bad musical taste were common traits among those ‘over there’ and they have, for good or bad, become part of Britain’s social history. The song to us Brits and especially us Northerners is a trip down memory lane; to international audiences, it is a fascinating cultural insight into a subculture that may seem alien to them.
The song has become one of the surviving songs from the band’s early work in their current live shows and is one of the best Arctic Monkeys songs in our eyes. It is regularly performed as an acoustic version with the willing crowd singing along.