“I feel an earnest and humble desire, and shall do till I die, to increase the stock of harmless cheerfulness.”
Hello again, friends of my friends. Today I’m coming at you with something a little bit different than usual. At least as far as my blog is concerned. As far as my general daily life, this is par for the course. This is The Essential Playlist For People Who Haven’t Listened To One Direction’s Music And Perhaps Think One Direction Doesn’t Make Good Music. But it’s also going to be a complete narrative deep dive into the band, the lyrical context, and why exactly it is that I will defend these five idiots until the day I die. Now, I’m going to briefly talk about outside factors from the music, but this is centrally focused on the songs themselves and the context of them – this isn’t The Essential One Direction Funny Moments Found Family Themes Silly Stupid Dudes Hanging Out Playlist designed to help you fall in love with them as people – that playlist is just the DVD This Is Us. This is a playlist for explaining how you can’t judge a band’s music by their singles.
Firstly, here is the playlist on Spotify. For those without, no need to worry – each song will also be linked on YouTube as we move along. Oh yeah. That’s the level I’m at with this one. Please note that this playlist is not chronological. While 1D’s first two albums are pop masterpieces, they are not exactly the most welcoming to people who might not be super into pop, which is where I’m coming from here. I want to give a little bit of context to the band before we get into the back catalog, so to speak. I’ve also specified which album the song comes from, and indicated whether any of the member themselves wrote on the track. Without any further ado, let’s get too into this. Take a deep breath. You will not see me for several months.
1. Fireproof – FOUR, Payne / Tomlinson
I’m starting this off with probably my favourite One Direction track of all time. This song was released in advance of their fourth album, creatively titled FOUR. It also came before the Coleman Hell song, just, like, for the record. This one is short and sweet and calm – the gentle lullaby to many of my anxiety attacks. One of the reasons I love this band is that they know they’re a boyband, and they know what kind of music their audiences want, and they provided that over seven years and five albums while managing to evolve and grow as artists without sacrificing the warm, gentle positivity of their boyband roots – I think I’m gonna win this time. Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, who have cowritten a huge number of 1D’s later discography, were really growing as a writing team (FOUR was the second album they wrote for) and it shows in the maturity of this track, especially when compared to some of their early stuff. This song feels like a Saturday morning lie-in on a big weekend.
2. Through The Dark – Midnight Memories, Payne / Tomlinson
Next, we have the only other song to challenge Fireproof for my favourite 1D hit of all time – Through The Dark. This song has a certain Mumford & Sons indie-folk influence, both in sound and in lyrical content. This song is pretty much point blank about loving and supporting someone through their struggles with mental illness. I’m not even stretching for that one. That’s just what it’s about.
I’m sure it was meaningful to many fans, just as it was meaningful to me, to hear their favourite band sing about this as upfront as they did, and not only that – framed as a situation that is not only hopeful, but inevitably something that will be gotten through. Sure, One Direction will not personally support you, but they can provide a vehicle to connection and hope that can sometimes be elusive to someone struggling. Especially if that struggling person is, say, a teenage girl without much else of a support system.
On top of all that, this song slaps. Zayn is, I will begrudgingly admit, a beautiful vocalist, and he’s never sounded more beautiful than on this one. In my opinion.
3. Happily – Midnight Memories, Styles
Now, the version on the Spotify playlist is a little different than the one I linked up there. The one up there is the acoustic version, which I included because 1. I love it, and 2. Zayn hits a high note at 2:21 that haunts my dreams and also my nightmares. Seriously. Go listen to that note. What the fuck, Zayn.
Anyway. Enough about that guy. Happily was one of the first tracks that Harry Styles wrote on, and centres around a theme that One Direction are absolutely not strangers to – being in love with someone who’s in a relationship with someone else. This theme comes up on multiple other songs just on this playlist, let alone their whole catalog, and who can blame them? It’s a pop standard for a reason. Beyond that, it’s still got that eternal optimism, fun, and warmth I fell in love with this band for – the heavy, quick beat, the yelled chorus, the blatant plea baby be with me so happily. This song feels like yelling along with the radio on a road trip. This song feels like spinning around with your arms out. It’s happy. Leave me alone.
4. Kiss You – Take Me Home
Okay, let’s get in our red convertible or our motorcycle with a sidecar and travel back to 2012, when One Direction were pure boyband magic and didn’t write their own songs. Kiss You was, fun fact, actually the song that got me into One Direction in the first place. Corbin Bleu danced to it on an episode of Dancing With The Stars, and I was immediately enraptured with the upbeat pop temp and easily learned lyrics, and I bought the song on iTunes. I’m a sucker for any song with a na-na-na-na break. What can I say? After listening to it on repeat for the next week straight, I finally caved in and purchased their albums. The rest, as they say, is history. (That’s a joke. They have a song called — you know what, you’ll see.)
Kiss You is absolutely the epitome of a flawless boyband song. This is the absolute perfect bubblegum pop song. It’s innocent, infectious, and buoyant. You can sing along the first time you hear it. It’s fun. It’s flirty. It’s the best pop has to offer.
5. Girl Almighty – FOUR
I’m all for a girl power jam, but I have to come straight out and say this before we start: the lyrics to this song are 100% nonsensical. There’s nothing to glean from analysis of her laugh is as loud as many ambulances as it takes to save a saviour. It’s just some words in an order that sounds fun to sing. The only couplet that has any merit is in the pre-chorus – Let’s have another toast to the girl almighty / let’s pray we stay young, stay made of lightning. Everything else might as well be sung in Simlish. Don’t bother listening to it too closely.
However, despite all of this, this is probably the most represented 1D song in tattoos. Why? For two reasons. 1. “Girl Almighty” is, quite frankly, a genius turn of phrase, especially in the context of playing to their demographic. 2. This song is so fun. It’s a musical amusement park. The nonsensicalness of the lyrics add a sort of absurd charm to the bouncy and dreamy instrumentals. It’s fun. Have a little fun for once in your life.
6. Never Enough – Made in the A.M., Horan
Speaking of fun, let’s get into some MOUTH NOISES, BABY! Made in the A.M., the most recent (and, as it stands, final) album from the boys showcased a variety of musical styles, experiments, and vocal fun. Niall wrote on this one, but Liam’s voice takes the forefront, and he has the fun part of sing-screaming “COME ON!” at the end of the lines and getting to do the extremely fun breakdown/crawl up into screeching in the final third of this song – it’s never it’s never it’s never it’sneverit’sneverit’SNEVERIT’SNEVER. This song’s got a Hooked On A Feeling ‘ooga-chaka’ style acapella beat and, much like that song, it uses both its presence AND absence effectively. A-HOO-UGH indeed.
7. Temporary Fix – Made in the A.M., Horan
Another Niall-written banger off the MitAM album. The album was named after their writing/recording process – they released an album every year for five years, and they toured each of those albums. If you’re thinking, gee, when and where would they have time to write AND record an album while on tour? And the answer is ‘on their tour busses, in the dead of night and early morning while on the move.’ No wonder they burned out a bit, huh?
This album might be named after that, but this song was made more in the A.M. after hooking up with a FWB and being a little hungover but mostly really keen to make sure it’s not a one time happening. This song is more rock than pop and Harry Styles does his best Alex Turner impression to create a smooth, sleazy masterpiece. Compare this lyrically to Kiss You – 2012 One Direction could only hint at kissing behind closed doors. 2015 One Direction point-blank offer to come over for a quick hook up, if they can manage to keep their clothes on during the taxi ride over. Ah, character development.
8. Drag Me Down – Made in the AM
Okay. Okay. Give me a minute to collect myself here. Drag Me Down is maybe the most important song on this list. Musically, it’s fantastic – this is a 1D song with a drop, y’all. But the context behind this song is the most important. This song was the first release after Zayn left the band. The world was frenzied – was this the end for 1D? Would they be any good without Zayn? Would fans care without him there? Were they going to crumble in the wake of this tragedy?
No. And fuck you.
Sorry, sorry. I got a little heated there. Drag Me Down was dropped by surprise with NO PROMOTION, NO WARNING in the dead middle of the night – it was about midnight for me, and I never SHOT out of bed so fast. I stayed up until two am playing it on repeat and I had to work the next morning. This song was the perfect storm. It sounded mature. It sounded complete with just four voices. It was both a fuck you to Zayn – nobody can drag me down, and a thank you to the fans – all my life, you stood by me / if I didn’t have you there would be nothing left. It created a frenzy, caused meltdowns, exploded off the charts. It was the perfect narrative moment, the perfect end to the arc. I fucking love this band.
9. No Control – FOUR, Tomlinson / Payne
I love stories. I love narratives more than just about anything in my life. I love pop culture because the stories we tell about celebrities are really stories about ourselves. And, like anyone, I love an underdog story. No Control is a One Direction under dog story.
Without getting into it too much, Louis Tomlinson does not necessarily have the best voice in One Direction. I love his voice, personally, but many do not. His range is not as dynamic as Harry’s, he doesn’t have Liam’s consistency and smoothness, and he’s not got the confidence and control that Niall has. While his songwriting talents are key in many, many, many of the band’s hits, and while his unique tone adds an extremely valuable element to the band’s harmonies, Louis tends to have the least amount of ‘solos’ on songs, and rarely takes the lead role. He knows this. Fans know this. It’s not really a point of contention.
After the release of MitAM, a group of fans got together and decided to find a way to let Louis know that his voice, while not necessarily technically the strongest, was certainly appreciated by fans. They picked a song (one of the only ones to date where Louis’ solo helms the chorus), they picked a date, and they went wild. Project No Control involved streaming, buying, gifting, and requesting the song at their local radio stations, all on one date. No Control was never a single, but wound up one of the most impactful songs on the album. It’s also about morning wood. So there’s that.
10. Act My Age – FOUR
This one’s just a little Irish drinking song that’s really fun. I got nothing else important to say about this one. I’ve tried to do an Irish jig to this song more times than I’d like to publicly share. I have not successfully done it ever.
11. Best Song Ever – Midnight Memories
This is probably not one you haven’t heard before. Yes, I know, it’s not-so-subtly ripping of Baba O’Reilly with that guitar. No, I do not care. This is another flawless pop song, and it was perfectly balanced in the band’s timeline – not as innocent or sweet as Kiss You, but not as serious or suggestive as Temporary Fix. This song lands right in the middle – a little mischievous, a little sweet, a little clever. She said her name was Georgia Rose and her daddy was a dentist / said I had a dirty mouth, but she kissed me like she meant it. Not to harp on this, but Zayn’s falsetto at the end is fantastic. I don’t want to talk about it.
12. Wolves – Made in the AM, Horan
Wolves is a bonus track off Made in the AM and sounds like a song that plays in a cool, chill bar at like 3pm, and you’ve only stopped in for lunch, and you’re on a road trip with your best friend, and you don’t know where you’re going but you know it’s going to be the best summer ever. I am in love with using the oooo-woooo-ooos as actual howls. I love this song. This is a song from a grown up band.
13. Olivia – Made in the AM, Styles
Olivia is like a musical theatre off-off-off-Broadway number from a play loosely inspired by Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s got swelling instrumentals (STRINGS! HORNS!) and fun, sometimes staccato lyrics – I love you, I love you, I love uh I love uh I love Olivia. It’s fun, it’s stylish, it’s theatrical – tailor made for me. I love you, that’s all I do, I love you!
14. End of the Day – Made in the AM, Tomlinson / Payne
End of the Day is a classic, larger than life track. I don’t have much to say about this one besides that the lyrics “Had nothing left to do / just me, her, and the moon” are some of my all time favourites. This song is exactly the sort of enduring, gentle warmth I’ve been going on about this whole time. All I know, at the end of the day, is you love who you love. There ain’t no other way. There’s also a really unexpected guitar at the end that just surprised me right now even though I’ve heard this song a thousand times. Literally.
15. Fool’s Gold – FOUR, Horan / Tomlinson / Styles / Malik / Payne
Aw, look! All of them wrote on this one! Good for you guys. Proud of you. This song is sad and sweet. One Direction doesn’t have altogether all that many slower songs, and most of the ones they do have don’t make my list, so this is a special case. It’s about loving someone who likes you, but doesn’t love you back. It feels melancholy but (of course) slightly hopeful anyway. I’ll keep falling for your foooooool’s go-ooo-old.
16. What A Feeling – Made in the AM, Payne / Tomlinson
This song is disco smooth and sensual. It’s like a spiritual successor to Careless Whisper. Imagine holding a single, flickering candle while wearing the finest of satin clothes, but you’re also on roller skates. That’s the feeling they’re singing about. This song is great.
17. I Would – Take Me Home
I don’t have anything for this one except it’s so much FUN, it’s a pure bubblegum blast, and it’s hilarious to hear this band, with barely any uninked skin left amongst them, lament how they can’t compete with your boyfriend because he has 27 tattoos. I can’t say this enough – early One Direction was flawless pop music at its best.
18. She’s Not Afraid – Take Me Home
Again – fun, perfect pop. That’s it. For the record, I am afraid of everything listed in this song, so if you’re trying to narrow down who it’s written about, you can cross me off the short list.
19. History – Made in the AM, Payne / Tomlinson
This song makes me feel the same way I felt when I graduated university. It was the perfect, bittersweet end to what is potentially (I don’t want to believe, but I won’t put up a fight for the sake of this pretty bow wrapped up on this narrative) their last album. An anthem dedicated to their time as a team together, and their time as a team with fans – literally in this case. The gang vocals on the chorus were actually fans brought into the studio so that, in the words of Niall Horan himself, the song was ours as much as theirs. Shut up. SHut up. Im not crying. Your e cryING
20. What Makes You Beautiful – Up All Night
Fittingly, I will close this playlist off with the song that started their careers and ends all of their concerts. It’s sweet. It’s harmless. It’s a fantastic pop song.
Ultimately, the reason I love One Direction’s music is because it makes me happy. One Direction made music that made me happy during a time in my life where virtually nothing made me happy at all. In the darkest, dreariest, most depressed era of my life, where I found no hope or excitement in much of anything at all, I was happy to listen to some 1D. I was excited to see them in concert. I was giddy to talk about them with my friends and count the days down until new music, new videos, new tour announcements. One Direction were and still are an endless source of positivity, hope, and simplicity in a world where that is much, much needed. The happiest moment of my life was standing in an arena filled with people who loved them as much as I did – it still stands out starkly in my mind how the best feeling at the concert wasn’t necessarily seeing them and sharing space with them, although that was amazing and I definitely 100% cried as soon as they stepped on stage. The best feeling was looking around that arena and feeling connected, and happy, and excited all together.
I am absolutely 100% positive there are very, very few people who will have made it this far in this post. And I’m at peace with that. If you did, I’d love to hear how you feel. If you gave up ten songs ago, well, you’re not reading this any more, but I understand that too. One Direction are not, probably, the technical best band in the history of the world. But they had the biggest, most positive impact on my life. So I love them. And I love you! Thanks for reading!