5. “Hello Cold World” (Singles Club, 2011)
If you’ve never heard Paramore’s 2011 Singles Club series, which offered a monthly new song for a quarter of the year, you owe it to yourself. All three (four counting the adjacent “Monster”) are great, including “Renegade,” which painfully just missed this countdown. But the very best is “Hello Cold World,” the band’s best pop song before they started to actually change into pop form. Over one of Williams’ finest melodies, she spins the astounding “22 is like the worst idea I have ever had / There’s too much pain, there’s too much freedom” and York fires off a great solo. Even the bass breakdown and four-on-the-floor drums have their spotlight moments. Paramore esta una banda.
4. “Playing God” (Brand New Eyes, 2009)
It’s not really fair that the somewhat unheralded Brand New Eyes remains Paramore’s best album because nothing Hayley Williams did afterward is meat-and-potatoes in the slightest. But risks are risks, and if a few of Paramore’s 17 tracks are among the greatest of the 2010s, several are not. There’s something to be said for Williams’ talent as a pure rock’n’roller though, and the best of Brand New Eyes’ many highlights mounts a strong argument for why she should be primarily remembered as such. Here’s where all of Paramore’s boiling-over tensions are choreographed into one perfect fight: Gorgeous backing vocals and twinned guitars propping up their very accuser as she threatens “If you point a finger / I might have to bend it break or break it / Break it off.” The frayed, estranged song doesn’t resolve anything, but the exquisite melody does. That’s just how this stuff works.
3. “(One of Those) Crazy Girls” (Paramore, 2013)
A girl-group mini-drama every bit as superbly crafted and musically plotted as “Leader of the Pack,” Paramore’s greatest deep cut is just such a work of art. Hayley Williams throws herself into a Best Coast pastiche with the vocal performance of a lifetime, Meat Loaf-by-way-of-Phil-Spector production moves, and a guitar solo that could’ve been personally donated by Rivers Cuomo. Every second of this song is a peak for everyone involved. It will remain supreme until Rilo Kiley reunites to dethrone it.
2. “Hard Times” (After Laughter, 2017)
Where to begin to even describe “Hard Times?” The rubbery, muscular rhythm, informed by Talking Heads and the Gap Band and all kinds of interstitial funk and house signifiers already just from that perfect opening drum fill? The impossibly interwoven microtones of that minimalist Afropop funk with marimba hits and microscopic synth fills that bridge one candy-coated section to the next? The grunts and mock ad-libs that send the song crashing back to earth every time Hayley Williams demands, out of key, that she’s gotta get to rock bottom? The bizarre melodic similarities of the chorus’ harmonized latter half to Janet Jackson’s on Busta Rhymes’ “What’s It Gonna Be?!” The fact we all needed this song so unbelievably badly once the world began falling apart? Bill Withers is dead, this is the future of “Lean on Me.” And you can dance to it hard.
1. “That’s What You Get” (Riot!, 2007)
Don’t think of “Hard Times” or “That’s What You Get” as one being better than the other. Twin peaks ten years apart are a great sign for an icon who’s still creating her greatest hits. They’re opposite sides of the same coin, and if “Hard Times” is a sign of how far Hayley Williams has come, “That’s What You Get” is a reminder of what a fire she was to begin with. The verses’ impossible, reggae-informed rhythm showed a rock band with a mind to travel new places, and the stuttering drum rolls showcased Paramore’s need to blast every idea they had from a cannon. Back in 2007, someone was lying to you if they experienced this song and heard a mere pop-punk band. Even Taylor Swift couldn’t deny the power of “That’s What You Get.” Williams was ready to take over the planet on this chorus, and then she did.