A queen of sultry and emotive music, Lana Del Rey is known for churning out music at a rate of knots—which is excellent news for fans. The last two years have given us two albums already, with a third coming shortly. She, to date, has seven studio albums.
Picking just ten songs from Del Rey’s repertoire is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do when planning my writing. With so many options, I have painstakingly chosen what I think is the best playlist to introduce you to or refresh you with Lana Del Rey.
Venice Bitch (NFR, 2019)
‘Venice Bitch’ is a beautifully paced introduction. This track is number 3 on Del Rey’s 2019 album Norman F*cking Rockwell. The song has a catchy melody, a calm presence, and leads into a long instrumental. The instrumental features a lot of guitar and is perfect for driving or as background noise when you’re doing something relaxing. The song’s full length is 9:36 minutes, and it wouldn’t be the same if it were any other way.
I love the first line of the chorus, that goes, “oh god miss you on my lips”, for how nice it sounds in Del Rey’s vocal style. This song shows off the talent of Del Rey subtly and without arrogance. The gentle melody allows her to shine, and the guitar riffs and intricate outro reflect her passion and commitment to her work.
Off To The Races (Born To Die, 2012)
One of Del Rey’s faster-paced songs, ‘Off To The Races’ begins with the first line mirroring the first line of Lolita, the infamous novel by Vladimir Nabokov. There are a lot of literary references in Del Rey’s work, always cleverly woven in and never feeling unnatural. This gives many of her songs double meanings and extra depth.
In this song specifically, the references to Lolita only serve to emphasise how bad and doomed the relationship she is singing about is. While the track seems to tell the story of a lover who is being sent to jail, the undertones of more sinister relationship issues add to the meaning of the song. Del Rey has a separate song called ‘Lolita’ itself.
The melody of this track twists and turns and uses the lyrics and vocal ornaments to rhyme and create such an interesting sound pattern. The emphasis on the words, “starlet” and “scarlet” and their subsequent rhymes is so well done. It is enthralling and incredibly difficult not to sing along. To me, this is one of Del Rey’s most artistically clever tracks.
The pace of this track leads wonderfully into ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, which is why I have chosen that next.
Diet Mountain Dew (Born To Die, 2012)
I almost listed ‘National Anthem’ in this spot. Both tracks are from Born To Die, and have very similar sounds. In the end, I chose ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, the slightly lesser well-known of the two. It also, lyrically, perfectly bridges the gap between ‘Off To The Races’ and ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ on this playlist. The opening lyrics, “you’re no good for me”, reflect the relationship perspective of the previous song, and the ending lyrics, “but baby I want you” reflect the passion that ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ is about.
This song is also fast-paced. Many of Del Rey’s early songs are, but newer tracks are typically slower and more atmospheric. Both are unmistakably Lana Del Rey—you could hardly mistake her vocals—but there is a clear distinction between her two styles. This playlist displays both, but ordered carefully so the dissonance is not jarring.
Tulsa Jesus Freak (Chemtrails Over The Country Club, 2021)
Chemtrails Over the Country Club is Del Rey’s most recent album. This is one of my favourites of her newer work, and it has stood the test of time—still standing out to me when I listen to the album again.
Featuring the lyric, “white hot forever”, the original album title, this song is gentle but with substance. It reflects on the consequences of alcohol and feels a little bit like a diary entry. The song is delicate without losing any of its magnetism, and the chorus feels sensual and classically Del Rey in style.
There’s something about the mood to this song that can’t be put into words. It isn’t one single aspect of its lyricism or its instrumental melodies, it’s something about the ensemble that penetrates deeper and makes it feel addictive. This song is creative and impactful.
Gods and Monsters (Born to Die, the Paradise Edition, 2012)
This is easily and by miles my favourite Del Rey song. Released in late 2012 on the Born to Die Paradise Edition, this song mesmerised me. Something about the desperation in this song has always struck a chord with me. It tells the story of a young woman who wants everything but is a little bit lost. I can’t help but feel some of Del Rey’s best songs (Cola, Ride, Body Electric) were on this extended edition of Born To Die. Almost a waste, as I feel those tracks could have been an album in their own right.
What I love most about this track is how much it conveys without even saying very much. It contains multitudes of juxtapositions, somehow managing to feel catchy and fun whilst being depressive and dark. Everything about this song made it my favourite from Del Rey, and the one I always find myself returning to, despite how long it’s been since I was first introduced to it.
Money Power Glory (Ultraviolence, 2014)
‘Money Power Glory’ is from the 2014 album Ultraviolence. This entire album was a masterpiece of talent, mood, and power. My favourite album of Del Rey’s, I feel this song captures the feeling of that album better than any of its other tracks. I would like to give an honourable mention though to ‘Brooklyn Baby’. It didn’t quite make the list, but if you love this you would likely love that too.
It speaks to the power of its narrator, but is a story told slowly and with deep percussion, suggesting that this strength has come from pain. The lyrics are confident—the claim that you can financially drain someone and feel good for doing so can only come from a supreme level of confidence and self-assurance. While not the most wholesome concept, you get the feeling that it is aimed at those who deserve it, and that instead of being a selfish, cruel act, it is more one of revenge.
Art Deco (Honeymoon, 2015)
I played this song to dance into my 2021 on New Year’s Day. It is intensely atmospheric and conjures images of early 20th century fashion, parties, and nostalgia in general.
The line, “a little party never hurt no-one” is possibly a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line, “a little party never killed nobody”, in The Great Gatsby. Two years before the release of this song, in 2013, Baz Luhrmann used Del Rey’s song ‘Young and Beautiful’ in the score of his screen adaptation of the classic novel.
The only thing this song could have done with is a key change in the final chorus. During the track Del Rey sings in a higher octave for some of the bridges, but I think the final chorus could have been made more spectacular which a similar change in key or pitch.
Young and Beautiful (2013)
Penned for use in Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby, this song is a hauntingly beautiful homage to love and loss. There are so many lines I could pick out of this track to demonstrate its emotion, but, at least for me, the one that really gets me is, “all that grace, all that body, all that face, makes me want to party”. The way this line is sung so clearly expresses love for someone with so much passion. The song was perfect for the film but is stunning in its own right.
More so than anything else that Del Rey has written, this song tells the story of romance in a loving and healthy way. There are none of the undertones of exploitation or misogyny that are present in so much of her work.
Wild at Heart (Chemtrails Over The Country Club, 2021)
Much like the other songs on this album, there is a very mellow sound to this track. That being said, the quick lines during the chorus, “I escaped Calabasas, escaped all the ashes, ran into the dark”, and the easy-flowing, “I love you lots like polka dots”, from the first verse pull this song into its own.
There is a lot of speculation over what this song represents. There are lines that clearly reference the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and a rejection of the paparazzi culture, but also a recognition that Del Rey herself is not enough of a star (“but I’m not a star”) to fully understand the consequences of the over-zealous press.
Overall, it is a wonderful song to relax to, but it means so much more than that once you begin to think about its lyrics.
Happiness is a Butterfly (NFR, 2019)
This is the perfect closing track. The penultimate track from Norman Fucking Rockwell is heavy with emotion and swelling piano chords.
The references to serial killers, to butterflies, and to self-destruction would make this instantly attributable to Lana Del Rey on paper, before you even heard the first note. The beauty in the way that emotion is conveyed is not only typically Del Rey, but also works to perfection here.
I felt haunted by this song after I first heard it. I wasn’t even sure I liked it at first, but it grew on me until I found myself singing, “Hollywood and Vine Black Rabbit in the alley I just want to hold you tight down the avenue” all over my house. I hope it haunts you how it did me.