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Best Ed Sheeran Songs: 20 Great Tracks From The Folk-Pop Sensation
Atlantic Records
List & Guides

Best Ed Sheeran Songs: 20 Great Tracks From The Folk-Pop Sensation

From acoustic folk-pop to rapid-fire wordplay, the best Ed Sheeran songs show why he is one of the world’s finest singer-songwriters.

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Without a doubt, Ed Sheeran’s rise from scruffy boy wonder to one of Britain’s biggest pop talents is nothing short of wondrous. Selling out stadiums with just an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal, the talented young singer-songwriter has penned numerous hit singles across the past ten years and written his fair share of songs for other stars, too. Breaking streaming records with heart-rending folk-pop tunes and lusty R&B cuts alike, his trademark sound mixes earnest balladry with rap-inspired rhymes. Here’s how the best Ed Sheeran songs turned an unassuming kid from Suffolk into a world-conquering pop sensation.

Listen to the best of Ed Sheeran here, and check out our 20 best Ed Sheeran songs, below.

20: I Don’t Care (featuring Justin Bieber) (from ‘No.6 Collaborations Project’, 2019)

After the huge international success of Justin Bieber’s Sheeran-penned hit Love Yourself, Sheeran invited the Canadian pop idol to duet with him on I Don’t Care, the lead single from his fourth album, No.6 Collaborations Project. A mix of contemporary R&B and dancehall-inspired beats, the song was produced by legendary Swedish songwriter Max Martin with his protégés Shellback and Fred Again.

Sweeping straight in at No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the US, I Don’t Care found Sheeran and Bieber trading lyrics about how the showbiz party lifestyle had lost its lustre since both stars had gotten married. “That song is about being at [an] industry event with the woman you love,” Ed Sheeran told Power 105.1. A fun celebration of newlywed bliss, it’s escapist pop at its best.

19: Small Bump (from ‘+’, 2011)

A tender acoustic ballad with a devastating twist, Small Bump sees Sheeran sensitively explore the topic of childbirth as he envisions himself as a new parent (“You can wrap your fingers ’round my thumb”). Released as the fifth single from +, the song reached No.25 in the UK with its poignant subject matter, though its tragic denouement was far from autobiographical.

“I wrote Small Bump based on an experience some close friends had,” Sheeran revealed, explaining that he chose to write the song from a mother’s perspective. Ostensibly about the hopes of a young parent being upended by a miscarriage, it proved beyond doubt that the best Ed Sheeran songs showed a maturity far beyond his years, particularly as he was just 20 years old at the time of writing this one. It wouldn’t be his last tearjerker, either…

18: Happier (from ‘÷’, 2017)

Written with Benny Blanco and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Happier was the UK No.6 single taken from ÷ and finds Sheeran on typically melancholic form, accompanied by backing vocals from Jessie Ware and Irish folk outfit Beoga. Reportedly inspired by the singer finding out his first love had started a relationship with a new man, Happier is about coming to terms with a breakup and realising that the woman he loved was better off without him.

“I remember the guy she was with, meeting him one day and being like, he is so much suited to her than I ever was,” Sheeran said. With work on the song beginning on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship, it also saw the singer heading into previously uncharted waters – remarkably, Sheeran plays cello and violin on the song, having first had lessons back in school.

17: Give Me Love (from ‘+’, 2011)

It’s well known that one of Ed Sheeran’s formative musical inspirations was the Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice. At age 11, Sheeran met Rice after a gig, and you can certainly hear the enduring influence of Rice’s acoustic folk on Give Me Love. Considering the song “hard to top”, Sheeran pushed for it to be released as a single in November 2012, and it subsequently peaked at No.18 in the UK and scored him an invite to perform on The X Factor.

Though not as commercially successful as some of the other singles taken from +, Give Me Love stands as one of the best Ed Sheeran songs, and the singer remains justifiably proud of it. Calling it “an important song for me”, Sheeran reflected, “It’s got a more fleshed-out sound, which I think is where I’m headed in the future.” An exquisite work of plaintive folk-pop, Give Me Love was Sheeran’s stepping stone to greater things.

16: Bloodstream (from ‘×’, 2014)

Co-written with Snow Patrol members Johnny McDaid and Gary Lightbody, Bloodstream was a trippy, MDMA-inspired vortex of a song that swept into the UK No.2 spot after being remixed by DJ outfit Rudimental. Built around Sheeran’s looping acoustic riff and with a chorus throbbing to the hum of his voice, it’s a woozy listen made all the more disorientating thanks to its high-energy drum’n’bass loops.

Based on an experience Sheeran had in Ibiza after he took MDMA, Bloodstream tackles the topic of drug-induced inertia, but it in no way glorifies it. The singer later claimed he preferred alcohol and he wouldn’t be in a hurry to try the drug again. “I fell in love with a beanbag,” Ed said. “I felt anxiety. I felt love. I felt warm. I felt a bit weird.” Weird or not, Bloodstream reveals how the best Ed Sheeran songs are, at their core, robust enough to support anything producers or DJs throw at them.

15: Afterglow (single A-side, 2020)

Dropping Afterglow as a surprise gift to fans in December 2020, Sheeran’s comeback song following a brief hiatus recounted the time he spent in Antarctica with his wife, Cherry Seaborn (“We were love-drunk, waiting on a miracle/Tryna find ourselves in the winter snow”). The couple had reportedly travelled on a Ponant Le Lyrial cruise ship to take in the sights of the South Pole.

Approximately nine months after the trip, Ed and Cherry’s daughter, Lyra Antarctica Seaborn, was born. With this in mind, Afterglow is not just a warm, meditative portrayal of marital harmony, but also a prelude to Sheeran’s impending journey into fatherhood. A delicate acoustic number recalling some of the low-key moments of +, Afterglow climbed to No.2 in the UK.

14: Drunk (from ‘+’, 2011)

The responsibility of being a father brough a happy stability to Sheeran’s life, but Drunk – the fourth single from + – remains a diary-like epistle of how he turned to booze to cope with the breakup with his first girlfriend. “I didn’t intend to drink a lot, but I ended up drinking every day,” Ed once recalled.

Reaching No.9 in the UK back in February 2012, the song is a sobering reflection of how alcohol induces nothing but regret in the broken-hearted (“What didn’t kill me, it never made me stronger at all”). Wearing his heart on his sleeve as always, Sheeran’s half-rapped vocal is accompanied by a rolling boom-bap beat co-written and produced by Jake Gosling.

13: Galway Girl (from ‘÷’, 2017)

A mix of a Gaelic jig with rapid hip-hop-inspired lyricism, this single from ÷ was backed with fiddle-playing from Irish outfit Beoga and saw Sheeran flirt with the sort of traditional folk sounds made famous by Sheeran’s songwriting hero, Van Morrison.

Pushing hard for the song to be released as a single, Sheeran stood by Galway Girl and felt it showcased a more roots-based approach to his brand of folk-pop. “Galway Girl’s proper Marmite, which is good,” Sheeran reflected. “I get called ‘beige’ a lot. But I can’t be beige if it’s splitting this much fucking opinion.” Needless to say, his musical instincts proved correct. The single hit No.2 in the UK, justifying its place among the best Ed Sheeran songs.

12: I See Fire (from the ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug’ soundtrack, 2013)

After receiving a surprise email from Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson, Ed Sheeran was asked to write a song for the second instalment in the filmmaker’s The Hobbit trilogy, 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. As a fan of JRR Tolkien’s books, Sheeran came up with the a cappella intro while singing in the shower (“Oh, misty eye of the mountain below”) and subsequently crafted I See Fire, a mellow acoustic ballad played after the climactic scene where the dragon Smaug sets Laketown ablaze.

Totally at home in the world of Middle Earth, the affecting song went on to peak at No.13 in the UK. Sheeran based it on the Dwarf-King character depicted by actor Richard Armitage. “I wrote it from the perspective of Thorin [Oakenshield], as he was standing on the mountain watching what was going on,” Ed revealed in his photographic memoir, A Visual Journey.

11: Don’t (from ‘×’, 2014)

Sheeran’s vengeful, angry lyrics on Don’t were always going to be controversial, with many claiming they were aimed at a celebrity love interest. Gossip magazines had a field day speculating over the identity of the girl who was “only looking for a lover to burn” but, needless to say, Sheeran himself kept schtum on the matter.

“People can make their own minds about it,” the singer said. “The truth of Don’t is the frustration and anger of being cheated on. Everyone can relate to that.” Musically, the song was a masterstroke, becoming his sixth UK Top 10 hit and showcasing how the best Ed Sheeran songs can be a cathartic mix of lyrical wordplay and acoustic-slapping R&B grooves.

10: Lego House (from ‘+’, 2011)

The third UK Top 10 hit from Ed Sheeran’s debut album, +, Lego House married a low-tempo ballad of lovestruck angst with child-like poeticism. “I tried to be creative and imaginative with the song, using Lego as a metaphor for the relationship,” Sheeran said. “I was thinking about how it can take hours to build up a complex design, yet seconds to destroy it.”

Originally written as a dubstep track with Auto-Tuned vocals, producer Jake Gosling urged Sheeran to rethink the song, transforming it into the No.5 hit it became. Memorably, the Lego House music video featured Harry Potter star Rupert Grint in full-on Stan mode, portraying an Ed Sheeran lookalike who stalks the pop star by breaking into his tour bus. As if waving a magic wand, Sheeran and Gosling’s inspired reassembly of Lego House resulted in one of the best Ed Sheeran songs.

9: Bad Habits (single A-side, 2021)

Immediately flying in at No.1 in the UK upon its release in June 2021, Bad Habits was a delectable dance-pop tune that instantly asserted itself as one of the best Ed Sheeran songs. With the singer lamenting the hard-partying lifestyle he used to lead before he got married, the song apparently began life as a good-natured experiment in techno with producer Fred Again.

“I had never really written dance music properly,” Sheeran told Zane Lowe, “but actually Fred is such a connoisseur of dance music that he kind of guided me into it.” Toning down the techno elements, Bad Habits recalls the 80s synth nostalgia of The Weeknd along with the club-friendly Europop of Cheiron Studios in its mid-to-late-90s heyday. “I just wanted to put out a tune that would surprise people and make people talk,” Ed told radio station Kiss FM.

8: Photograph (from ‘×’, 2014)

A nostalgia-laced ballad that tugs at the heartstrings, Photograph was co-written with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and released as the fifth single from ×. Described by Sheeran as “the backbone of the whole record”, Photograph was somewhat overshadowed by Thinking Out Loud’s success at the time, but still peaked at No.15 in the UK and No.10 in the US.

Standing tall among the best Ed Sheeran songs, Photograph exemplifies the singer-songwriter’s talent for wooing listeners with sentimental lyrics and heartfelt melodicism. Though the song was written about Sheeran’s long-distance relationship with fellow-songwriter Nina Nesbitt, the music video shared home-recorded footage of Ed growing up as a baby, documenting his rise from a bespectacled ginger kid to a guitar-toting troubadour packing out stadiums. If ever there was a reminder of just how far he’d come, this was it.

7: Shape Of You (from ‘÷’, 2017)

As the most-streamed song of all time, Shape Of You’s contemporary R&B spin on tropical house rhythms powered a raunchy celebration of no-strings sex which seduced its way into the charts and scored Sheeran his first-ever US No.1. Surprisingly, however, Shape Of You almost never happened. Written under the working title of In Love With Your Body, it was nearly offered to Little Mix or Rihanna to record instead.

“It took a month or two to convince me that it should even be on the album,” Sheeran later admitted. However, when former Atlantic Records president Ben Cook heard the demo, he was so impressed by its twerky marimba hook that he convinced Sheeran that Shape Of You was destined to be “a fucking smash”. Quite right.

6: You Need Me, I Don’t Need You (from ‘+’, 2011)

Originally written when the singer was aged just 15, the masterful loop-pedal wizardry of You Need Me, I Don’t Need You deserves its place among the best Ed Sheeran songs – and not just because it’s the one that made him famous. Backing his rap-inspired verbosity with acoustic guitar and a Boss loop station at his feet, the song explores Sheeran’s view of the music business as he was starting out.

Jamal Edwards, founder of SB.TV, saw potential in the tune and invited Sheeran to perform it live on the company’s YouTube channel. The resulting video quickly went viral, and the song’s popularity helped the singer secure a record deal. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You later reached No.4 in the UK when a re-recorded version was released as a single. A live favourite, Sheeran refers to it as his calling card. “It has never failed, anywhere. If I’m having a tough show, I do that song and it turns things around.”

5: Castle On The Hill (from ‘÷’, 2017)

Boasting a bigger and bolder sound than before, Castle On The Hill saw Ed Sheeran grow more ambitious in his songwriting. Taking inspiration from Coldplay and U2, Sheeran said he “wanted to make songs that sounded big, but weren’t necessarily just euphoric stadium anthems”. The song’s lyrics saw him wistfully reminisce about getting drunk with friends on the hills of Suffolk, watching the sunset over Framlingham Castle.

Perhaps more controversial was the line about speeding (“Driving at 90 down those country lanes”). Still, Castle On The Hill hurtled to No.2 in the UK, only to be kept off the top spot by Shape Of You. Nevertheless, it crosses our finish line to take its place among the best Ed Sheeran songs.

4: Sing (from ‘×’, 2014)

The lead single from his sophomore album, ×, Sing afforded Ed Sheeran the unique opportunity to collaborate with Happy songwriter Pharrell Williams. “People enjoy listening to your music,” The Neptunes producer told him, “but you don’t have anything that makes them want to dance.” Inspired by the mid-2000s funk-pop of Justin Timberlake’s Like I Love You, a floor-shaking beat formed the basis of Sing, with Sheeran successfully adding a choppy acoustic riff on top.

The resulting single not only made people want to dance, it also gave Ed Sheeran his first UK No.1 and provided him with a chart breakthrough in the US. Lyrically, Sing was said to be based on a wild night out in Las Vegas that Sheeran shared with Gangnam Style hitmaker PSY and his Korean entourage, though nobody has yet confirmed whether they performed “the invisible horse dance” by the slot machines…

3: Perfect (from ‘÷’, 2017)

Following the success of Thinking Out Loud, Ed Sheeran went a step further for his next love ballad. “I wrote a lot of songs, trying to beat it,” Sheeran said, “and I think I have beaten it.” Penned in honour of Cherry Seaborn, inspiration arrived when the lovestruck couple were dancing barefoot on the lawn of James Blunt’s villa in Ibiza.

With lyrics reflecting on being stunned by the beauty of the woman you love, the single swept in at No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic. An instant classic, Perfect is destined to be played at weddings forevermore, and will always stand as one of the best Ed Sheeran songs.

2: The A Team (from ‘+’, 2011)

For Ed Sheeran, everything started with The A Team. Having met a homeless girl called Angel at a crisis shelter, the singer listened to her tragic life story and was so moved that he wrote this acoustic folk song. A maudlin ballad exploring grim topics such as prostitution and drug addiction, it depicts a troubled girl who’d “go mad for a couple grams”, and a world where it’s “too cold outside for angels to fly”.

Released as his debut single, in June 2011, the song reached No.3 in the UK and instantly turned Ed Sheeran into a household name. “The A Team opened up the doors and made everything else possible for me,” Sheeran later admitted. “It won an Ivor Novello, which is definitely one of my best achievements. It doesn’t get better than winning an Ivor Novello.”

1: Thinking Out Loud (from ‘×’, 2014)

The UK’s sixth biggest-selling single of all-time, Thinking Out Loud is the song that truly propelled Ed Sheeran to global superstardom. It even became the first ever single to spend an entire year in the UK Top 40. The track came about when, in February 2014, songwriter Amy Wadge was experiencing financial difficulties and asked Sheeran for help. Unsurprisingly, a visit from the star soon turned into an impromptu songwriting session.

After picking up a guitar, Wadge came up with some chords and, together, she and Sheeran wrote Thinking Out Loud, a track that easily tops our list of the best Ed Sheeran songs. Despite being a late addition to ×, Sheeran was always convinced the song, a ballad about everlasting love, would be a success: “This is the one that will change everything for us,” he told Wadge. As it topped the singles charts worldwide, he was proven right. “Now she never has to worry about money again,” Sheeran quipped.

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