Calvin Harris’s 20 greatest songs – ranked!

With his new album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2, out next week, we take a look through the Scottish producer’s hit-studded career

20. Scissor Sisters – Only the Horses (2012)

Having met Jake Shears during sessions for Kylie Minogue’s 2010 album, Aphrodite, Harris was asked to do some extra knob-twiddling on this barnstorming single from the band’s Magic Hour album. The lyrics eschew camp in favour of melancholic soul-searching, while Harris guides the song into its chorus with an audible snap, like a discharging party popper.

19. Calvin Harris – Hard to Love ft Jessie Reyez (2017)

While 2017’s career-redefining Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 dabbled in laid-back funk, 80s bounce and disco, it was this album closer – anchored by Canadian-Colombian Reyez’s roughly hewn vocal – that showed Harris could do downtempo. Over a simple scratchy guitar figure and pitter-patter beats, Reyez is allowed the space to pull the listener into her orbit.

18. Love Regenerator – Lonely ft Riva Starr and Sananda Maitreya (2022)

In recent years, Harris has funnelled his more dance-leaning output through his Love Regenerator pseudonym, creating ad-hoc singles that feel less pressured than his major-label output. The best of the bunch is the slowly unfurling Lonely, which features additional production from Riva Starr and a gorgeous central performance from the artist formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby.

17. Sophie Ellis Bextor – Off & On (2011)

Originally recorded, although not used, by Róisín Murphy for her 2007 pop opus Overpowered, this Cathy Dennis co-write eventually found its way to Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Utilising an oscillating synth riff to anchor the lyrics’ sense of confusion, it eventually starts to disintegrate like the relationship Ellis-Bextor is airily describing.

16. Calvin Harris – New Money ft 21 Savage (2022)

Of the handful of Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2 singles to emerge so far – all crowded by guest stars fighting for their 10 seconds in the sun – only this svelte slice of cascading funk has a chorus that sticks. And what a chorus it is, with Atlanta rapper 21 Savage cooing: “Gucci garments / Kush smell like armpits,” over Harris’ strutting bass.

15. Calvin Harris – Acceptable in the 80s (2007)

With an instantly recognisable central riff – utilised ad infinitum on various Channel 4 TV shows – Acceptable in the 80s channels the titular decade and the playful electronic mode of Around the World-era Daft Punk. Any hint of French fancy is undermined, however, by Harris’ deadpan singing style.

14. Dizzee Rascal – Dance Wiv Me (2008)

Head turned by Acceptable in the 80s, Dizzee Rascal asked Harris to be part of his pop-leaning fourth album, Tongue n’ Cheek. As well as conjuring up the song’s gloriously sloshed backing track – referred to by Pitchfork as sounding like “H&M disco” – Harris delivers some key lines including the brilliant instruction: “Tell your boyfriend hold your jar.”

13. Cheryl – Call My Name (2012)

While it definitely suffers from being a We Found Love redux, there is something beautifully basic about the way Call My Name hoovers up various EDM strands. From the simple synth riff and signposted drops to the lacklustre “ah, oh, oh, oh” ad-libs, so much of it feels phoned in, yet as a whole it carries a strange magic.

12. Calvin Harris – Slide ft Frank Ocean and Migos (2017)

Calvin Harris: Slide ft Frank Ocean and Migos – video

As Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’s lead single – and Harris’ slinky sidestep away from pure dance – Slide had some pretty heavy lifting to do. Built around a breezy, handclap-heavy beat and warm organ sounds, it features a horizontal-sounding Frank Ocean sleepily ekeing out the song’s chorus before Migos quickly counters that energy with a delirious verse.

11. Calvin Harris – Outside ft Ellie Goulding (2014)

Outside – the pair’s second collaboration following 2012’s I Need Your Love – places Goulding’s ethereal voice lightly atop a swirl of strings that eventually form the song’s piercing riff. While other songs from 2014’s hit-heavy album, Motion, tried hard to tick dance-pop’s boxes, Outside feels relatively restrained.

Normani performing at the 2021 MTV Video Music awards.
Normani performing at the 2021 MTV Video Music awards. Photograph: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS

10. Normani x Calvin Harris – Checklist ft Wizkid (2018)

Six months after the demise of the sporadically good girlband Fifth Harmony, every discerning pop fan’s favourite member, Normani, teamed up with Harris for two singles. The pick of the pair is this Afroswing-inspired, Wizkid-assisted banger, which finds Normani half-rapping her frustrations over a nocturnal, club-ready beat that seems to ooze sweat from its pores.

9. Calvin Harris – This Is What You Came For ft Rihanna (2016)

Co-writer Taylor Swift was originally credited under a pseudonym to avoid her brief relationship with Harris dominating the discourse; Harris later confirmed the co-write, but pointedly noted he “wrote the music, produced the song, arranged it and cut the vocals”. Despite initially being overshadowed by the drama surrounding its creation, this third Harris/Rihanna collaboration is a downbeat-yet-danceable opus that swirls like a tornado.

8. Calvin Harris – I’m Not Alone (2009)

Described by Harris as “a big stadium dance tune, somewhere between Snow Patrol, Faithless and Grandaddy”, the melancholic I’m Not Alone starts small, with Harris intoning mournfully over a scratchy guitar riff, before suddenly building to its glow-sticks-in-the-air climax. Part of the US EDM explosion, in 2010 it was sampled by Chris Brown on his US Top 10 single Yeah 3x.

7. Rita Ora – I Will Never Let You Down (2014)

Channelling the overwhelming joy of 80s Whitney, this 2014 single – solely written and produced by Harris – is built around a squirming synth riff that slowly detonates into the song’s skyscraping chorus. In fact, just when you think it has peaked, Harris unleashes a heavily filtered guitar riff for an extra dash of hysteria.

6. Kylie Minogue – In My Arms (2007)

Harris’s first high-profile production for another artist, In My Arms encases a lovely lyric about the power of a good hug in a hermetically sealed electropop confection. Starting with a delicious spoken-word intro that poses pop’s eternal question – “How do you describe a feeling?” – the song is quickly launched skywards by Harris and co-producer Biff Stannard via a cavalcade of synths.

Dua Lipa at the Primavera Sound festival in Spain.
Dua Lipa at the Primavera Sound festival in Spain. Photograph: Alejandro García/EPA

5. Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa – One Kiss (2018)

Eschewing EDM for a club-ready BPM, the sophisticated, Brit-award-winning One Kiss finds Harris dabbling in everything from UK garage to diva house, its post-chorus a wordless nostalgia spiral back to 90s dancefloors. Dua Lipa’s typically aloof vocal performance makes its lyrical come-on feel strangely tinged with sadness.

4. Calvin Harris – Bounce ft Kelis (2011)

After a run of singles featuring his own … unique vocals, Harris utilised Kelis’s deliciously husky tones on this buoyant lead track from his third album, 18 Months. “We bounce to this track / And I don’t care what anyone thinks about that,” she sings nonchalantly over a pinging synth riff that slowly builds into one of his best hands-aloft explosions.

3. Calvin Harris – Feels ft Pharrell, Katy Perry and Big Sean (2017)

After helping confirm EDM as the planet’s biggest, noisiest genre, Harris changed tack on his fifth album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1, switching pounding house riffs and earthquaking drops for featherlight disco. The relaxed pace works perfectly on this sun-drenched UK No 1, in which an audibly smiling Pharrell and a restrained Perry, piña colada in hand, slink around Harris’ airy production.

2. Calvin Harris and Sam Smith – Promises (2018)

Featuring playful, giggly background vocals from co-writer Reyez, the heady Promises feels buoyed up by the rush of new love. Harris allows Smith’s soaring vocals to shine and finesses the production with house-style piano stabs, roving bass and delicate little funk guitar flourishes. It is a further reminder that Smith should swap bloated balladry for lithe dance music for good.

1. Rihanna ft Calvin Harris – We Found Love (2011)

Rihanna ft Calvin Harris: We Found Love – video

Originally recorded by Leona Lewis and later offered to Nicole Scherzinger, the strangely profound We Found Love’s journey to Rihanna may have been bumpy, but it is difficult to imagine it being sung so well by anyone else. Solely written and produced by Harris – a rarity in a pop world where credits often read like Wikipedia entries – it is a dance banger that celebrates simplicity even while discussing something as complex as love. Harris conjures up a frantic backdrop of two-finger synth riffs and firing EDM beats, while Rihanna’s repeated mantra of “we found love in a hopeless place” shifts from being an ingeniously simple pop lyric to somehow encapsulating every unspoken emotion. Cementing Rihanna’s superstar status, it propelled Harris into the production big leagues.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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