Emo songs got many of us through high school and hold a special place in our hearts still. A single G-note catapults us back to a simpler time where romances were chemical and discos incited panic. Grab your eyeliner and your iPod Nano, these are the 47 best emo songs of all time.
1. “Helena” – My Chemical Romance
Only one word for this song: iconic. Arguably “Welcome to the Black Parade” is more recognizable, but “Helena” was the breakout on Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. This is also the last song My Chemical Romance played live before the *shudder* break-up. This means their last words in concert were “so long, and goodnight.” Heartbreaking, but beautiful just like “Helena” itself.
Next: The best songs about being 17 to add to your playlist
2. “All I Wanted” – Paramore
This song perfectly captures the listless, directionless depression that comes from loss. It starts quiet and dissociated. Slowly it builds as she becomes more connected to the pain of her broken heart until she’s belting “All I wanted was you,” in that incomparable voice of hers.
Next: The top songs about depression of all time (a list of our picks)
3. “Sugar We’re Going Down” – Fall Out Boy
It’s impossible not to sing along to this song. Fall Out Boy brought emo to the masses with this song. The simple ouchie of young, unrequited love is universally relatable. Pete Wentz always seemed to perfectly paint a picture of feelings you couldn’t quite define yourself.
Next: The top songs about secret or forbidden love of all time (our list)
4. “Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team)” – Taking Back Sunday
Taking Back Sunday united the 90’s emos and the tweens beginning to get into the genre. “Cute Without the E” is chaotic with overlapping vocals and frequent changes in pace. It captures the confusing and overwhelming emotions related to finding out you’ve been cheated on.
Next: The top songs about cheating in relationships (a list of our favs)
5. “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us In Prison?” – My Chemical Romance
Two My Chemical Romance songs in the top five?! Yes, of course! Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is a story album. This number describes the protagonist’s capture and experience in prison. It paints a vivid and emotional picture of raging against a system that doesn’t understand you.
Next: The top emo bands of all time (our full list)
6. “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t” – Brand New
Brand New’s sound is quintessentially emo. Ultimately this track is a dig at Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara. It makes fun of his exaggerated ego, according to Lacey. Removed from the drama, it reads like conversing with your insecurities.
7. “The Futile” – Say Anything
We listen to this song whenever we’re having a terrible day and we’re mad at everything. “The Futile” draws you in and invites you to wallow in your pessimistic banal desires. Then it lovingly shakes you by the shoulders basically saying “What are you going to do? Cry about it and eat some rat poison?” Say Anything has a knack for self-awareness. This is a good listen for self-pity.
Next: The top songs about suicide of all time (a list of our picks)
8. “Sweetness” – Jimmy Eat World
We had to have a hard talk with ourselves about whether we were going to include “Sweetness” or “23”. Eventually “Sweetness” won out due to seniority and cultural impact. But nothing got 17-year-old us crying quite like “23”. “Sweetness” is a call into the void. We think it’s reaching out for support, as Jim is struggling with the aftermath of an abusive relationship. “Sweetness” analyzes using alcohol to cope while also being upbeat and catchy.
Next: The best toxic relationship songs of all time (a list of our picks)
9. “You Couldn’t Teach Me Integrity” – Crywank
This song, as with all Crywank songs, is brutally honest. The raw vocals let all the pain shine through. “You Couldn’t Teach Me Integrity” is like a journal entry. Its honest reflection on mental illness hits hard for anyone in the same boat. Don’t listen if you’re already in a hole unless you want to pick at the scab. This song hurts.
Next: The best songs about pain & suffering ever (our list of picks)
10. “Fences” – Paramore
If “There’s A Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey” was written about Hayley Williams, this is her response. Hayley Williams seems bitter and rebuffed, it comes across like she’s tried to help this person but was told off. “Fences” is best sung to frenemies who can’t put their money where their mouth is.
11. “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville” – My Chemical Romance
“Early Sunsets Over Monroeville” is a gem from My Chemical Romance’s first album. The song is about a man who has to kill his zombified lover. Removed from that literal interpretation, it communicates the guilt and helplessness associated with watching a loved one slowly die. Gerard Way’s vocals are strained and raw as the song swells, revealing deep lonely pain.
Next: The best songs about death ever made (our list of favs)
12. “Tibetan Pop Stars” – Hop Along
Frances Quinlan’s vocals are *chef’s kiss*. “Tibetan Pop Stars” is a ballad about wanting more out of life, but falling short. The emotional struggle of someone constantly seeking the thrill of new and exciting loves, while the person that cares for them deeply waits with nothing but an “average love” to offer.
Next: The top songs about life of all time (our list of picks)
13. “Constant Headache” – Joyce Manor
“Constant Headache” is an anthem for the insecure. It tells the story of a one-night stand, caught feelings, and unrequited love. Have you ever had to pretend you’re not into someone just to keep them in your life? To feel like the second choice? Joyce Manor perfectly encapsulates that vibe.
Next: The best love songs of all time (a list of our absolute favs)
14. “The Future Freaks Me Out” – Motion City Soundtrack
Justin Pierre’s lilting vocals provide a whimsical quality to the saddest of subject matters. “The Future Freaks Me Out” is no different. It describes the emotional turmoil of someone losing friends while they’re trapped in the past. The ability to turn dark subjects into a catchy hit puts this song on the list.
Next: The saddest songs of all time (our list of favorite sad tracks)
15. “A Picture Postcard” – The Promise Ring
What’s more emo than unfettered yearning? The bittersweet goodbyes. Just one more kiss, just five more minutes. This song’s power is in its simplicity. It takes real talent to capture deep emotion in so few words.
16. “Ohio Is for Lovers” – Hawthorne Heights
If every emo could mind-meld and write a song together, this would be it. “Ohio Is for Lovers” is Hawthorne Height’s debut single. With a chorus that croons “cut my wrists and black my eyes,” it spoke to those struggling to contain their negative feelings. As upsetting self-harm can be, it helps to not feel so alone in your strife.
17. “MakeDamnSure” – Taking Back Sunday
The first single from Taking Back Sunday’s third album is a staple on any throwback playlist. An intense number describing an unhealthy relationship. If anyone you’re dating ever proposes this as your song, run.
18. “Existentialism On Prom Night” – Straylight Run
The quintessential coming-of-age song. “Existentialism On Prom Night” is about finding your place in the world and discovering even though you aren’t the center of everything you still have the right to take up space. It speaks to youngsters in transition, making it an emo classic.
Next: The best songs about growing up of all time (a list of our picks)
19. “Dark Blue” – Jack’s Mannequin
The very mention of this song gets it stuck in our heads for days. It is a catchy lil’ number. “Dark Blue” talks about emotional strife, feeling lost in a relationship, but eventually rekindling that love. Its poppy sound and catchy chorus captured the hearts and minds of the lovelorn, so it’s in the top 20.
20. “Seven” – Sunny Day Real Estate
People that say “real emo” listen to Sunny Day Real Estate. It’s true though, Sunny Day Real Estate is genre-defining. Listening to “Seven” you can clearly hear its influence on bands like Paramore. We forgive the pretentious fans, Sunny Day Real Estate slaps.
21. “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” – Panic! At The Disco
Ryan Ross’s lyrical genius smacks you across the face here. Brendon Urie is undoubtedly talented, but Ryan is the true magic. How a scrawny sixteen-year-old managed to write something this spicy and resentful is beyond us. But we thank him for it every day.
22. “At Your Funeral” – Saves The Day
Saves the Day had a distinctly poppier sound than most of their comrades at the time. They dabbled in surrealism, evidenced by “At Yor Funeral.” The song starts out as your average revenge fantasy until it devolves into Chris Conley becoming a roasted pig served at the wake. Metal.
Next: The top funeral songs of all time (a list of our picks to choose)
23. “American Hearts” – Piebald
“American Hearts” breaks the mold in its empathetic tale of solidarity. Reminding the listening that change begets community involvement. We love this song for its message. reminding us all to be there for our neighbors.
24. “Beating Heart Baby” – Head Automatica
Is this the deepest most complex song ever? No, definitely not. “Beating Heart Baby” takes us back to the simpler times. It fits perfectly on that throwback playlist you’re making.
25. “At the Bottom of Everything” – Bright Eyes
“But what about ‘First Day of My Life’?” we hear you scream. We appreciate both tracks but slightly prefer “At the Bottom of Everything” due to it’s impact as an optimistic nihilism anthem. Death could come at any minute, you are a speck in a massive universe. In accepting that comes true freedom and peace.
Next: The best songs about loneliness of all time (our list of picks)
26. “Konstantine” – Something Corporate
A nine-minute epic detailing fraught relationships. It’s packed with metaphors that paint both a physical and an emotional picture. The romantic strife is palpable. Something Corporate skillfully captures young love’s chaos.
27. “Letters to You” – Finch
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s a straightforward love song about missing your partner. We’ve all spent sleepless nights wishing we were next to the one we love. With a classic emo sound, “Letters to You” is a well-loved hit.
Next: The best songs about long distance relationships ever made (our list)
28. “Do You Compute” – Drive Like Jehu
“Do You Compute” fits into the transitional period between 80’s emo and more melodic 90’s emo. Lyrics are few and far between, but the song’s emotional weight lies in its raw chaos. It plays like a frustrated scream. It’s cathartic.
29. “The Taste of Ink” – The Used
The emo version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” An optimistic number about getting out of a limiting situation. It feels like struggling to express yourself in words for fear of how others will read them, only to realize the most important aspect of creation is self-expression.
30. “Different Names for the Same Thing” – Death Cab for Cutie
“Different Names for the Same Thing” is wistful and slow. Hopelessness carves a black hole into your chest. As the song progresses to something more upbeat what was once monotonous loneliness becomes hopeful universality. Perhaps others feel the way you do, they just have different names for the same thing.
31. “The Recluse” – Cursive
In this number, Cursive provides a softer perspective to the themes of The Offspring’s “Low Self Esteem.” A man wakes in a woman’s bed all alone. She has presumably left him to see himself out, but he stays in the bed to pretend it’s home. Such naked longing for finding real love and fitting in with someone else’s life.
32. “Planetary” – Rainer Maria
“Planetary” portrays the moments between knowing the end is coming but not yet knowing what it looks like. It takes inspiration from the band’s namesake. This poet once wrote in a letter, “The future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.”
33. “Action & Action” – The Get Up Kids
It’s ironic that “Action & Action” ends with “here’s all you get from me.” Defiant, sarcastic, and grateful. It’s rough around the edges with overwhelming riffs that swing effortlessly from major to minor chords. The Get Up Kids were a defining band of 90’s emo.
34. “Hands Down” – Dashboard Confessional
An anthem for the hopeless romantics. It’s a feel-good number about an excellent first date. “Hands Down” is as if the iconic Spider-Man kiss was a song.
35. “Burial Society” – Have A Nice Life
A graphic description of suicidal ideation, this song is a gut punch. “Burial Society” embodies loneliness, dissociation, and self-loathing. The sound is shoegazey. Definitely listen to this one when in a mood that requires it, we wouldn’t suggest just seeking it out or it can really drag you down.
36. “Just Until Sundown” – Further Seems Forever
“Just Until Sundown” expresses the feelings that come after heated arguments. It describes watching the one you love falling out of love with you, and the crushing heartbreak that comes with it.
37. “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White” – Underoath
Underoath paved the way for bands like Pierce the Veil. Underoath guitarist Timothy McTague explained, “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White” was about the repercussions of defying your moral code.
38. “Bleeder” – Alkaline Trio
Alkaline Trio started out as a scrappy Bay Area punk band with their hearts on their sleeves. Unpredictable guitar and overlapping vocals make “Bleeder” a rollercoaster that could fling you off at any moment. The ragged vocals create an air of vulnerability well-suited to this heartbreaking tale of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
39. “When Paula Sparks” – Copeland
“When Paula Sparks” features on Copeland’s debut album. Its primary theme regards illness and death. This particular song describes spending a sleepless night next to someone’s hospital bed. It’s a powerful examination of grief and longing.
40. “The Anthem” – Good Charlotte
We should conduct a poll to determine if Good Charlotte is actually emo or not. We’re sure that it would be a split vote… Due to this controversy, “The Anthem” comes in at the end. Good Charlotte deserves this spot in emo history if only to please the Raven, Acid Bath Princess of Darkness.
41. “Something That Produces Results” – The Early November
This feels like a relationship falling apart. Going unheard because someone is so absorbed by their own emotions is endlessly frustrating. The catchy guitar and sarcastic tone earn this song’s place.
42. “Chinatown” – Jets to Brazil
Jets to Brazil is a uniquely expressive band. Their songs often start slow and emotional until they progress into a distinctly punk sound. “Chinatown” is about the process of writing and finding new ways to get across. It’s experimental and twisty, you find something new to love with each listen.
43. “If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?”- The Juliana Theory
Spite is such a consuming emotion. Sometimes it’s impossible to break away from because of how good the wallowing feels. “If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?” is a scathing critique of some sorry individual. Like a less abusive version of Green Day’s “Platypus.”
44. “Twin Size Mattress” – The Front Bottoms
The Front Bottoms exist in the liminal space between 2000’s emo and pop-punk when everyone thought emo was dead. “Twin Size Mattress” is a poetic love song for a friendship lost to addiction. It’s a desperate offer of support, only to be shunned. One of the Front Bottom’s most beautiful and well-loved songs.
Next: The top friendship songs about best friends of all time (our list)
45. “A Favor House Atlantic” – Coheed and Cambria
In this song, Coheed and Cambria bring the psychedelic themes of bands like Rush to the mall goths. The squeaky vocals a poppy sound fit in with trendy nu-metal. The subject matter, however, adds depth and solidifies its place in emo history.
46. “Back and to the Left” – Texas is the Reason
At first, the simplicity and repetition of this song make it seem like nothing special. Then you realize it’s intentional. It communicates that feeling where hoping hurts more than letting go. It’s unhealthy, it’s painful, and it’s cyclical. It’s an unequivocal staple.
47. “Face Down” – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
To wrap up, we’ll honor another giant to the genre. “Face Down” is a classic that’s easy to sing along with. It addresses the insecurity of an abuser by sarcastically asking him if his actions make him feel like a man. Another dark subject set to a catchy tune, it’s the perfect record to round out our list.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.