In honor of the new releases, here are five of my favorite songs by the master musician who stole my heart some years ago, in no particular order.
5) The A Team
The debut single released in 2011 that catapulted his career, Sheeran credits this song as having forever changed his life. It was inspired by a woman at a homeless shelter where, at the young age of 18, Sheeran once played a gig. Overhearing a conversation at the shelter, he tells the woman’s story: a life consumed by her crack cocaine addiction (a Class A drug) and prostitution. A bold choice of topic as a musician’s first single, no doubt.
Noting the incredibly dark subject matter, Sheeran chose to give the song an upbeat melody to make it more listener-friendly. While it’s a deceiving move similar to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” it sure did work (for both of them)! If I could define the term “cognitive dissonance” in a song, it would be “The A Team.” Sheeran definitely delivered with this hauntingly sad, but simultaneously catchy track.
4) I’m a Mess
I have always felt this song is severely underrated. I love the driving force behind the semi-acoustic track, reminiscent of “Give Me Love” from Sheeran’s first album. “I’m a Mess” always makes me want to sing along. It has a super-catchy melody and rhythm, plus a great instrumental evolution. Take a listen!
Seemingly inspired by a long-distance relationship, “Photograph” was the final single released off of Sheeran’s second studio album, X. It’s a beautiful love song with some of my favorite Sheeran lines: “Oh you can fit me / Inside the necklace you got when you were 16 / Next to your heartbeat / Where I should be / Keep it deep within your soul.”
While reading the lyrics alone may make them seem overly cheesy to some, when coupled with the melody, the cheese-factor somehow goes away. It’s a feat that only master songwriters can accomplish. The song isn’t overly ballad-y (as opposed to the classic love song), it has a driving movement, and it’s touching — all elements that helped it become a radio hit and reach #10 on the U.S. Billboard charts.
2) Afire Love
A tribute to Sheeran’s late grandfather, the lyrics to this song make me tear up every time. The words describe the inability of Sheeran’s grandfather to recognize his grandson, as well as the beautiful love Sheeran’s grandparents shared before his grandfather succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. The beautiful melody, coupled with Sheeran singing the lines “My father told me, son / It’s not his fault he doesn’t know your face / And you’re not the only one,” is heart-breaking. Make sure to grab a tissue before taking a listen!
1) Give Me Love
I know I said my list is not in any particular order, but this is my forever favorite Ed Sheeran song. The final track from his debut album, +, this song has the perfect combination of gut-wrenching lyrics and vocals, as well as diversity in melody and rhythm.
The song begins with a rhythmic guitar intro and is then joined by Sheeran’s beautiful and pleading vocals. What captures me the most is the unapologetic desperation in Sheeran’s voice as he sings. The track oozes with raw and unfiltered emotion, especially when it transitions into the chant-like bridge. I still get shivers down my spine when Sheeran emerges from the bridge into the final chorus. It’s as if he has escaped a tangled web of chaotic battles to make his final plea. It’s downright incredible.
After the song ends, the track keeps rolling in silence for several seconds before Sheeran embarks on a rendition of the old Irish folk song “Parting Glass.” I have nothing else to say other than it’s the perfect conclusion to both his album and my list.
For more information, please visit Ed Sheeran’s website.