This year, Laura Marling released her seventh studio album, the brilliant Song For Our Daughter, and completely took over my airwaves. Over the last few days, I’ve been ranking her songs, and finally we are here at the very best of the best, the twenty ultimate Laura Marling songs that you need to make time for. Check out parts one, two, and three. Find the review for Song For Our Daughter here.
20. Failure, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008)
Failure is one of the more tongue in cheek Marling numbers, one that doesn’t necessarily grab your attention immediately, but upon repeated listens of the album will grow on you until it’s become one of your old time favourites – a strongly recommended deep cut.
19. Sophia, A Creature I Don’t Know (2011)
The first Marling song I heard, and the one that first got my interest piqued. Sophia is a song that starts gently, as many Marling songs do, and builds to a gorgeous crescendo over the course of the song. It’s elegantly constructed, shifting through phases as it continues. Marling sings of how she’s been wandering and pondering, and that essence fills the track, taking us on a journey into the restless mind of the singer.
18. Where Can I Go?, Once I Was An Eagle (2013)
Marling’s best songs often have a habit of pairing bitterly sad ideas with a tongue-in-cheek response – take the refrain of Where Can I Go? where she sings late at night he’ll come to me / and he’ll tell me I’m alone / don’t you think I don’t already know? This song is bursting with energy, harmonica sliding all over the place as Marling’s voice goes from a low whisper on the verses into slick high tones in the chorus.
17. For You, Songs For Our Daughter (2020)
The final song on this year’s Song For Our Daughter, For You is one of Marling’s happiest songs, an ode to the titular (yet imaginary) daughter, but one that can be adapted to almost any kind of relationship. This is unwavering love, a graceful display of thankfulness as she reflects back on her life.
16. Hope We Meet Again, Songs For Our Daughter (2020)
Hope We Meet Again isn’t an immediate standout on Marling’s brilliant seventh album, but it is one that when given its time can really shine, placing it among her best. This is a song that really feels like a person at the peak of their career looking back over their life and using all of the songwriting skills they’ve picked up along the way to do so in the most elegant and touching of ways.
15. Only The Strong, Songs For Our Daughter (2020)
Only The Strong has some of Marling’s best lyrics including the brilliant Perhaps I could unknot us from this awful bind. Marling’s storytelling has always been one of her strong points, but this tale of a woman trying to break free of an abusive relationship is one that sinks its teeth in and doesn’t let go.
14. Goodbye England (Covered In Snow), I Speak Because I Can (2010)
This is Marling’s best guitar song, so warm, so lush. This is a song that, while brilliant in its studio form, takes on a whole new life during live performance. A love letter to hometowns, this is a song bursting with nostalgia and Marling’s typical wise-beyond-her years storytelling. It’s a beautiful journey, so let it take you along for the ride.
13. Always This Way, Semper Femina (2017)
Always This Way might be one of Marling’s most unique sounding songs. While the classic plucked acoustic guitar is present, it’s paired with other sounds that shift and change throughout the song. A bass introduces us into the track, it’s heavy tones plunging downwards before that acoustic guitar comes in to brighten things up. The light drumwork that comes in as the track progresses keeps things moving and energised. It’s an exceedingly well constructed piece.
12. Gurdjeff’s Daughter, Short Movie (2015)
This stream of consciousness of advice sparks and fizzes, Marling’s voice soaring high and low as she passes along words of wisdom including, but not limited to don’t be impressed / by strong personalities / sincere words / are rarely sickly sweet. This might be one of Marling’s most humorous songs, even if some of the suggestions ought to be taken seriously. Truly the highlight of Marling’s fifth album.
11. Devil’s Spoke, I Speak Because I Can (2010)
Devil’s Spoke is a song that deals with some heavy topics – fate, the hopelessness of an unrewarding love, a sense of unease in oneself – and actually for once sounds pretty heavy while doing it. It broods ominously, a heavy burden placed upon its narrator as she laments her ills. This is the first song on Marling’s sophomore album, and it kicks things off with that arresting lyric: I might be a part of this / ripple on water from a lonesome drip. As the song heads into its outro it shifts gears and that dark but contained energy from the first part of the song explodes as the narrator is thrown into a fit of passion with her lover.
10. Song For Our Daughter, Song For Our Daughter (2020)
This message to an imagine daughter is emblematic of Marling’s latest album – an elegant, classy bit of folk music that comes with a bite. Here Marling sings warnings about the hurdles and sexism that the daughter is going to experience as she grows up. Marling’s voice is used sparingly here – she doesn’t change pitch very often, lending the track a starkly conversational tone.
9. The End Of The Affair, Song For Our Daughter (2020)
This might be one of the most heartbreaking songs that Marling has recorded so far – the story of two people in love who have been having an affair but accept that it’s time for it to be over and for them to get on with their lives, to be loyal to their partners. It’s a beautiful take on the idea of the affair, one that turns the traditional viewpoint on the subject matter on its head. Of the song, Marling said that the song spoke of ‘great passions that have to die very quietly’ and if there is a more eloquent way to describe this track, I haven’t found it yet.
8. All My Rage, A Creature I Don’t Know (2011)
All My Rage is very much Devil’s Spoke‘s big sister track. While the latter is brimming with anxious energy, All My Rage is a more refined affair, where Marling lets out her anger in a cathartic release of a song. Marling’s voice is soaring here, adeptly gliding upwards to her head voice. The guitar here is energetic, propelling the song forward and whisking you along with it. This is an expulsion of rage, a release of all of the negative energy she’s been holding onto, and a great closer for her third album.
7. Ghosts, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008)
The poppiest-sounding track on Marling’s debut album, Ghosts shows us a glimpse of what could have been had Marling chosen a more singer/songwriter or indie-pop path through her career. We can see her storytelling talents begin to bloom here, and although it doesn’t quite have the refinement of Marling’s later songs, there’s something to be said for the raw energy that this song, released when she was just 18 brings to the table. It’s unbearable catchy and will sit around in your head for a while after it’s finished.
6. The Captain And The Hourglass, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008)
Marling has never shied away from heavy topics, and this debut album cut, which echoes with the sound of the wind as it sweeps across the song, deals with themes of death and a deep-seated distrust of religion. It’s an oddly smooth listen, even as Marling reminds us of what little time we have left with that darkly ominous chorus just tick, tick, ticking away as she reminds us that time is slipping through our fingers. The mixing here is especially good – the song is cavernous, the vocals, the instruments and the wind all seem at once unified but clearly separated from each other. That use of the wind however is what really makes it stand out among Marling’s catalogue.
5. Fortune, Song For Our Daughter (2020)
With the release of Song For Our Daughter, Marling revealed to the BBC that her music-teacher mother once kept a pot of money as a ‘running away fund’ in case she ever decided to leave her family behind her. It’s a personal story, but one that Marling makes relatable to her listeners – after all, who hasn’t felt at least once in their life that calling to leave everything behind? It’s a song that mixes feelings of guilt, loss and even a little bit of hope, and does so with Marling’s typical grace and works it into a heady mix that sinks its teeth in and doesn’t let go.
4. Blackberry Stone, I Speak Because I Can (2010)
An understated yet beautiful tune in which Marling sings of karma coming round to bite her: And you did always say that one day I would suffer /
Did always say that people get their pay. It’s one of the quieter moments in her catalogue, one that is often overlooked, but its lyrics and melody place it firmly among her very best work.
3. Old Stone, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008)
Old Stone feels like one of the most epic songs on Marling’s debut album. Drums roll and the song continuously builds as Marling sings of eternity and loneliness. It has its tongue-in-cheek moments too as she gives the her targeted advice: best leave her well enough alone as she tries to, in her words, fuck up my own life.
2. Blow By Blow, Song For Our Daughter (2020)
Blow By Blow is the most heart-wrenching song that Marling has released, if not one of the most heart-wrenching ever written. Accompanied by blissful piano and strings in a sparse arrangement, Marling confesses that she has no words to left to say. It’s a breakup song for when there is no going back, when the damage is done, and all that is left is to sit in your feelings and the mess that you made. It’s a painful song throughout, but Marling twists the knife further in the outro, confessing: I feel a fool, so do you / For believing it could work out / Like some things do. This was doomed from the beginning, an effort in futility, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
1. Rambling Man, I Speak Because I Can (2010)
A guitar strums. The feeling of winter swells around you, and then Marling’s voice comes in, incredibly tender in tone, but she sings of terrors at night, the lack of a future for her children who live just to grow old, and the difficulties of accepting yourself as somebody you don’t want to be. This is an incredibly accomplished piece of work, even more so when you consider Marling’s youth at the time of release. This was the song that got me hooked and made me listen to her albums, and here we are, almost a decade later, with Rambling Man still standing up as one of the greatest songs of the 2010s, if not this century.
Thank you for joining us on this countdown of Marling’s best songs! What is your favourite Laura Marling song? Do you agree that Rambling Man deserves the top spot? Let me know!