Apparently inspired by the suicide of a friend and remixed by Cedric Gervais into that rarest of things – a party-starting Lana Del Rey banger – Summertime Sadness was a hook-laden highlight of her second album Born to Die, later becoming a key text in the #prettywhenyoucry “sad girl” aesthetic Del Rey inadvertently spawned.
19. High By the Beach (2015)
High By the Beach sounds superb: shimmering organ, exhausted-sounding washes of synth, a trap rhythm that seems to have been sapped of all its swaggering machismo. It perfectly fits the song’s mood of weariness, an early sign of its author’s wariness about her celebrity: “I can’t survive if this is all that’s real.”
18. Blue Banisters (2021)
There was a time when Lana Del Rey singing about riding a tractor in Oklahoma would have seemed no more likely than Lana Del Rey doing a cover of the Hokey Cokey, but here we are. Even by her more recent standards, the music here is minimal, which only adds to the song’s mood of creeping disquiet.
17. Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019)
It’s hard not to be cheered by the lyrics of Norman Fucking Rockwell: after umpteen songs in which she pledged undying fealty to some appalling-sounding character, it offers the sound of Lana Del Rey telling one of them where to get off in pleasingly direct terms. Also: fantastic chorus.
16. Wild at Heart (2021)
It was probably only a matter of time until Lana Del Rey named a song after a David Lynch movie – Lynch’s 80s collaborations with singer Julee Cruise have clearly been a major influence from the start. Wild at Heart is a striking, hazy imagining of a world without Lana Del Rey in it: a fantasy of escape from celebrity.
15. Terrence Loves You (2015)
Lana Del Rey’s favourite song from Honeymoon, apparently because it was “jazzy”. It’s jazzy in the sense that a torch song is jazzy, but – beyond the parched, reverb-heavy guitars that recall Mazzy Star – the most obvious influence is John Barry’s Theme From Midnight Cowboy, echoed in the lovely descending vocal melody.
14. Lust for Life (ft the Weeknd) (2014)
Like Dory Previn’s Mary C Brown and the Hollywood Sign, Lust for Life is haunted by the 1932 suicide of failed actor Peg Entwhistle: like the relentless pulsing synthesiser in the background, the allusions to it add a dark undertow to what initially sound like bullish assertions of strength from Del Rey and Abel Tesfaye: “We’re masters of our own fate.”
13. Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – But I Have It (2019)
A cynic might suggest that, from its title to its lyrics (“24/7 Sylvia Plath”, “spilling my guts with the Bowery bums is the only love I’ve ever known”), this is a song that teeters on the verge of self-parody. But it’s hard to be cynical while it’s playing – just a piano and voice, it’s the model of elegant simplicity.
12. National Anthem (2012)
The height of Lana Del Rey in Stepford-Wife-as-pop-star mode, National Anthem pitches her blank vocal delivering satirical sex-and-materialism lyrics – “Money is the reason we exist, everybody knows it” – against jarring musical euphoria: a skyscraping chorus, a string arrangement with a hint of Bitter Sweet Symphony about it.
11. Mariners Apartment Complex (2018)
With its song titles borrowed from Neil Young and its lyrical nods to Joni Mitchell, Norman Fucking Rockwell! is an album immersed in Laurel Canyon’s late 60s singer-songwriter scene, an inspiration that finds its fullest expression on Mariners Apartment Complex, a beautifully sullen, icy update of said scene’s folk-based style.
10. West Coast (2014)
The first evidence of Ultraviolence’s sonic shift – aided by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys – into more guitar-driven territory: the initial riff is equal parts Blondie’s Atomic and the Beatles’ And I Love Her, the lyrics a tribute to a mythologised California, the sudden slowing of tempo that announces the chorus is fabulous.
9. Black Bathing Suit (2021)
Lana Del Rey’s lockdown song, which captures something of the lockdown experience by being impressively scattered. The lyrics leap without warning from posturing (“Let me show you how bad girls do”) to tearily confessional (“I’m not friends with my mother”), the music from exquisitely controlled – the tempo shifts in the chorus – to unravelled and chaotic.
8. White Dress (2021)
Tellingly, Lana Del Rey’s songs have gone from fetishising fame and success to yearning for a life without either. A distant spiritual cousin of Joni Mitchell’s For Free – which she covered – White Dress breathily suggests she was happier as a waitress or unknown singer: ironically it’s set to the kind of irresistible tune that sent her Chemtrails Over the Country Club album to No 1.
7. Love (2017)
An ambiguous ode to youth: the lyrical message is be-young-be-foolish-be-happy but the tone of the vocal coolly indifferent, there’s something noticeably ominous about the music. How you take it probably depends on how old you are, but there’s no arguing with the power of the tune, or the sweet reference to the Beach Boys’ troubled ballad Don’t Worry Baby.
6. Ride (2012)
Released in the aftermath Born to Die’s success – and appended to the album’s deluxe Paradise Edition – Ride was produced by Rick Rubin and drenched in strings, but beneath them lurks a supremely classy country-soul song: for someone whose vocal abilities were mocked early on, Del Rey’s octave-leaping performance is nervily powerful.
5. The Greatest (2019)
Shortly after the release of Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey shared a cover of Rolling Stone with Elton John. You can hear his influence on The Greatest, a gorgeously elegiac song that could have made it on to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: its everything-is-screwed mood – “I want everything to feel like it used to” – however, is pure Trump-era America.
4. Brooklyn Baby (2014)
Self-baiting autobiography, or bitchy hipster character assassination? It isn’t clear, and perhaps it doesn’t matter: just luxuriate in Brooklyn Baby’s swooning melody, the lovely moments where the beat drops out, leaving just Del Rey, a trebly guitar and the buzzing of an amplifier. Lou Reed was meant to sing backing vocals, but died the day of the session.
3. Young and Beautiful (2013)
By some distance the best thing on the star-studded soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Young and Beautiful is Lana Del Rey at her most haunting. Co-opted by rather than commissioned for the film, its saga of fleeting youth and celebrity fits its story perfectly, the melody is exquisite.
2. Venice Bitch (2018)
Nearly 10 minutes long, Venice Bitch hypnotises the listener for its entire duration. It shifts, subtly, from tender folk rock – replete with references to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 album Déjà Vu – to a heady swirl of synthesiser and guitar feedback, to a refrain based on Tommy James’s Crimson and Clover. It’s expansive, experimental and enveloping: a triumph.
1. Video Games (2011)
With Lana Del Rey a constant, influential presence in pop over the last decade, it’s easy to forget how striking her first appearance was. She’s written umpteen fantastic songs since, but Video Games is the kind of once-in-a-career song that stops you dead in your tracks: the slow building strings, the funereal beat, the lyric’s unsettling combination of romance and dread, the glassy-eyed vocal, the sense that it was utterly unlike anything else happening in pop at the time. As introductions to a new pop phenomenon go, it may well be the best of the past 20 years: the passing of time has done nothing to dim its potency.