We’ve all either liked a girl/boy that didn’t like us back or were dumped in a brutal fashion. Emo music is needed during those times. Our grandparents had sad Elvis songs, our parents had The Cure and we had our generation of sappy songs, emo.
I could have easily added bands like The Smiths, The Cure and Joy Division to this list, but I tried to put the focus narrowly to the mid-90’s to mid-00’s range. I feel like that is the time frame in which true nationwide emo music originated and sort of died.
Emo music came into form when the second-wave of punk hit America. It kind of started about the same time. Emo hit the D.C. area in the mid-80’s, but didn’t hit everywhere until Sunny Day Real Estate and Jawbreaker became popular with college kids.
We list the best 20 emo rock songs of all-time by 20 different bands…we also post YouTube videos of every song on the list.
Something Corporate – “Konstantine”
I could have put a handful of Something Corporate tracks on this list, but Konstantine is probably the best emo track they’ve ever produced. It was on every Winamp playlist in the early 00’s.
The Format – “On Your Porch”
I saw The Format open up for Yellowcard over a decade ago. It’s sad they didn’t have a long shelf-life as a band, but I’m glad that Fun. still happened later. The Format’s songs still all hold up today.
Taking Back Sunday – “You’re So Last Summer”
Taking Back Sunday got popular with their emo-esque punk songs. They never fell into the ‘screamo’ category, but did have mainstream success later on.
Brand New – “Me vs Maradona vs Elvis”
Brand New’s Deja Entendu album was probably the best album released in 2003. I used to listen to it on repeat while doing college homework. Their stuff can be really sad, but it’s emo, so that’s fine.
Saves the Day – “At Your Funeral”
I really wish Saves the Day had a longer peak period. Their early stuff is great, but At Your Funeral is really their last great song in my opinion.
Jimmy Eat World – “12.23.95”
Jimmy Eat World could also have many other tracks on this list, but I’ve been trying to keep it down to one track per band. Their Clarity album is a masterpiece, but actually didn’t sell well and got them booted from their label. Their comeback album Bleed American is just as good. 12.23.95 is like many ‘last track’ emo songs, it’s long and sappy.
The Starting Line – “Best of Me”
I tried to limit the amount of pop punk bands on this list, but I couldn’t help myself. The Starting Line made some really good records and Best of Me helped push emo to the mainstream…which is good and bad I suppose.
Piebald – “Grace Kelly With Wings”
Most consider Piebald as a post-hardcore band, but many of their lyrics are straight up emo. Bands like Thursday also fall into the category of post-hardcore bands that made emo songs.
The Promise Ring – “Stop Playing Guitar”
I really wish I got to see The Promise Ring live. They actually broke up soon after their Wood/Water album was released in 2002. They have reunited multiple times since, but I still kick myself for not seeing them earlier.
The Get Up Kids – “I’ll Catch You”
Many of the emo bands that rose to success in the early-00’s usually credit The Get Up Kids as a major influence. After they broke up, members went on to join groups like The New Amsterdams, Spoon and Reggie and the Full Effect.
American Football – “Never Meant”
I remember when I found American Football on Napster back in the day. I downloaded it because of their quirky name, but kept listening to it because it’s masterfully well done. It’s not your straight-forward acoustic music. The arrangements are simple yet weaves in all directions.
The Anniversary – “All Things Ordinary”
Ugh, another band I wish I saw play live. I must have saw them listed to play withing driving distance a few dozen times. I just assumed they’d be together forever…nope, they broke up in 2004.
Death Cab for Cutie – “Transatlanticism”
If you dated someone into music in the mid-00’s, chances are you made out with someone with this track playing in the background. It’s still my favorite Death Cab song.
Thursday – “Understanding in a Car Crash”
Like Piebald, this post-hardcore band had a very emo-esque feel to them. Geoff Rickly’s vocals helps push the very emo vocals to the next level.
Bright Eyes – “First Day of My Life”
I have to admit that I don’t really care for 99% of Bright Eyes songs. A list of the best emo songs of all-time wouldn’t be complete without at least one Bright Eyes track. You really can’t get any more emo than The First Day of My Life.
The Juliana Theory – “Into the Dark”
This is one of my sleeper picks. The Juliana Theory is underrated and definitely had some great emo songs. They experimented with some electronics on their Emotion Is Dead album and it worked. I recommend checking them out if you’re not already a fan.
Mayday Parade – “One Man Drinking Games”
I remember listening to this song during a really bad breakup. It seemed to help because sometimes it’s okay to feel sad. You kind of need to get it out and not let it fester inside. Mayday Parade’s first EP had some great songs on it.
Coheed and Cambria – “Wake Up”
I decided to include the acoustic version of this song since it feels more emo. Coheed had a lot of emo music, but it’s wrapped up in mystical creatures, since many of their albums are conceptual.
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.