Placebo performing live (Credit: Henry W. Laurisch)
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The 15 Best Placebo Songs

Listing the best Placebo songs for me is like picking your favourite ice cream in a shop that has 300 different flavours, it’s almost impossible. I’ll give it a go. For context, this band has sat at the top of my Spotify wrapped for two years, both of which I’ve been in the top 0.1% of listeners. That’s how tough this one is. 

Placebo have solidified themselves in the history of alternative rock with their diverse and deep discography. With music now spanning three decades, there’s a lot to pick from. Bear in mind this is my opinion. I don’t expect you to agree 100% with my picks. 

The List

15. "Loud Like Love" - Loud Like Love (2013)

Sneaking onto the list, “Loud Like Love” is an excellent example of Placebo’s more recent music. Laden with synths, this track is one of the strongest moments on the album of the same name. The song may be a far cry from their earlier guitar-centred sound, but it does display growth within the band’s compositional approach.

The second single from their seventh album, this track was catchy enough to propel the record to number 13 on the UK album chart. While not one of the Placebo songs I would recommend someone getting into the band to listen to, I think it deserves its spot due to the uniqueness in their catalogue.

14. "Slave to the Wage" - Black Market Music (2000)

The 2nd single from Black Market Music comments on the exploitation of modern workers and the mundane nature of working a 9 to 5. The song references a Bob Dylan song, “Maggies Farm”, itself a statement of not underselling your time. 

The song is an anti-establishment anthem, stating all it takes to break free is guts and vision. The almost Orwellian 1989 tone of the song extends throughout Black Market Music, with the song and the album being a comment on society at most points. Catchy and poignant, this song deserves to be on the list of best Placebo songs. 

13. "Special K" - Black Market Music (2000)

The popularity of “Special K” is surprising, considering the song received little airplay due to its topic of drug usage. Released as a single ineligible for charting, this song would not receive commercial success due to these factors. 

Looking past this, however, what Placebo have here is a song that is primed with alternative rock-ready sounds, is catchy, and tackles a darker topic. Showcasing the link between drugs and love, the song highlights the sudden high of falling in love. 

12. "This Picture" - Sleeping With Ghosts (2003)

“This Picture” tells the story of a relationship that is both emotionally and physically abusive. The opening line, “Ashtray Girl”, refers to someone used in a relationship for the other partner to emotionally dump on. The song has a catchy lead guitar line that moves throughout, and the chorus hits like a truck. 

Expressive at all moments, this song features Brian Molko’s signature falsetto voicing, his high-octane rhythm guitar playing, and Stefan Olsdal’s punchy bass playing, making this a perfect example of everything Placebo excel at. The song also explores the theme of sadomasochism and the enjoyment of pain within a relationship. Yeah, the topic is kinda messed up, but it’s a brilliant song.

11. "Meds" - Meds (2006)

Different in tone to a lot of other Placebo songs, “Meds” shows a clear changing point in Placebo’s compositional process. The acoustic guitar opening, which coincidentally opens the album, shows that we are getting a more polished and refined version of the band’s iconic alternative rock. 

Tackling the topic of drug dependency, the song progressively gets more and more heightened throughout the building as the urgency of the narrator’s drug habit increases. The song is innovative for the band in this sense, as even though a verse-chorus structure is used, the song builds. 

The cycle of drug use is excellently accentuated at the end when the last line echoes the first, appearing with the same backing. I believe all of this compositional and direction is why “Meds” stands out within Placebo’s discography.

10. "Black Eyed" - Black Market Music (2000)

“Black Eyed” serves as a euphoric outlier in the sombre tone of Black Market Music. Between wails of the title lyric “Black Eyed”, Molko reels off ways in which the person being spoken about is broken, relating it all to being from a “Broken Home”. 

The walls of fuzz and phased guitars in the chorus are perfectly blended in with an articulate melodic synth which perfectly captures the listener. This song stands as a midpoint between Without You I’m Nothing and Sleeping With Ghosts, catching the high points of both albums. 

Fierce, dark, and unrelenting in everything that makes Placebo the band they are, I could have easily placed this song higher, but as I say there’s a lot of good ones to come. 

9. "Song To Say Goodbye" - Meds (2006)

I would have linked to the music video, although that is 8 minutes long, and we’ve got things to do. This should give you a clue to the song’s strength… its storytelling. Meds is where Placebo branches out the most, “Song To Say Goodbye” is one of the best instances of this.

The lyrics tell a tale of drug addiction and its effect on the relationships of the user. An inward view of Brian Molko’s lifestyle, the self-deprecating lyrics are voiced by an onlooker who no longer likes the person but still reminisces about who they were. 

At the time, Molko was aware of becoming another example of the classic rockstar cliche of dying at a young age. The line “We’ll both just end up with your song to say goodbye” shows that if he continues this path, all he will be remembered for is his music. 

8. "36 Degrees" - Placebo (1996)

“36 Degrees” is hands down one of the best Placebo songs, although it may be one of their rawest songs in terms of production, which does hinder its placement. Brian Molko, when asked to rank the band’s albums, placed it 7th out of 8 at the time due to the low-quality production, although I think that adds to the song’s charm. 

This song is a melancholic masterpiece that is filled with energy as well as sorrow. The title “36 Degrees” references the average body temperature and, in this case, is used to showcase the fading will to live of the narrator. 

The guitars here are thick and textured. This is thanks to the use of distortion and booming bass lines from Stefan Olsdal. In their MTV unplugged set, Molko says, “We think this one still holds up”. I can confirm, Brian, it certainly does. The bridge section is perfect, bringing the song down to emphasise the struggle, and the numbers, well they’re fun to sing along to.

7. "Nancy Boy" - Placebo (1996)

“Nancy Boy” is one of the greatest alternative rock songs of the 90s, but why haven’t I placed it at the top of this list? Well, while I think it is influential and poignant, this list is purely ranked on the total compositional prowess of the song, and I think while this is one of their best, there are better examples of the band’s songwriting. 

A statement of intent against bands at the time using sexuality as a marketing ploy, Brian speaks out about his identity while questioning his contemporaries, such as Suede. This is why the line “It all breaks down at the first rehearsal” is included, saying other bands are posing. You can read more about Molko’s opinions on that here. 

The simplistic riff laden with distortion, androgynous voice, and high-tempo rock attitude combine to create an unforgiving song about the music industry’s obsession with sexuality. The collection of all these factors and themes has made this song an LGBTQ+ anthem.

6. "Every You Every Me" - Without You I'm Nothing (1998)

The first of two inclusions from Without You I’m Nothing, although I nearly included about eight more, “Every You Every Me” was the third single released from their sophomore album. This track is now their most streamed track on Spotify, showing the appreciation for this song from the alternative rock community. 

Gripping you from the very start with a barrage of hard-panned fast-paced chords, the song is catchy memorable, and relatable. The song’s structure is straightforward, following the verse-chorus pattern with no break, the track is filled with energy and is a fantastic listen on a down day. 

So continuously popular, if you ask someone to name a Placebo song this is the one they are likely to give this song as an answer. However, being popular doesn’t mean it is the best, but yeah it is pretty good! 

5. "Pure Morning" - Without You I'm Nothing

“Pure Morning” is Placebo’s joint highest charting song, alongside “Nancy Boy”. Incredibly popular in the rock sphere Kerrang TV has it on about 15 times a day. The beauty of the song is in its simplicity. Written originally as a B-side it was a late inclusion in the album, and what a call that turned out to be. 

The track started as a loop, which saw the opening chord and drum pattern repeated throughout, with little variation in the chorus. I think this is why the song is so impressive. The lyrics depict feeling out of place within society although Molko made them up on a whim in the studio. 

The line “Days dawning, Skins Crawling” is said to be the singer realising when on his way home from partying he could see others heading to their jobs. The lyrics play on the proverb “A friend in need is a friend indeed” and contradict it with the right amount of the usual early Placebo drug references.

4. "Follow The Cops Back Home" - Meds (2006)

This may be my most obscure inclusion on this list as this track was never a single. Placing it so high may be a bold call, but in my opinion, this track is Placebo excelling at something they often don’t get their due credit for… emotional storytelling.

Gone are high-octane guitars laden with distortion, all replaced with a melodic guitar riff that echoes into the distance with a tonne of reverb and delay. Atmospheric, unlike most of Placebo’s music until this point, the song relies on the pacing of the drums to drive the track.

The lyrics tell a story of losing all sense in the world. “The call to arms was never true” is there, citing that Molko is losing his purpose, while the title line, “Follow the cops back home and rob their houses”, shows the risk he is willing to take for the thrill of it. 

I cannot listen to Molko belt the line “I’m medicated, how are you?” without feeling the pain in the song and getting goosebumps. Considering what Brian and Stefan Olsdal were going through at the time, it becomes more impactful.

3. "Bruise Pristine" - Placebo (1996)

Both Placebo’s first and fifth singles, this track was released on a split EP before being rerecorded for their debut album. Showcasing the band’s early rawness while being catchy and energetic. The song is bound to get you off your seat. 

“Bruise Pristine” is somewhat of an oxymoron, saying that what is perfect is also damaged. The song extends this, showing the fragility of things around us and facing decisions against one another, hence “It’s either you or me”, showing no decision is ever without pain.  

The guitar line in the chorus is excellently crafted, with the line moving up the scale but with each repetition starting higher. The bridge of the song also features an unusual technique as the melodic aspect is played behind the bridge. 

I think this track is the best embodiment of Placebo’s debut sound, and that’s why I have it at number 3. 

2. "Special Needs" - Sleeping With Ghosts (2003)

“Special Needs” is a song about the imbalance in a people’s potential, and reflects this in the situation of a relationship. Brian contrasts someone of high potential and big dreams with someone with a disability, although he isn’t explicit about the condition.

The call of “Remember Me” shows a thought that they believe their partner may move up and forget about them. “Silver screens” and “Flash photography and screams” show the narrator’s views of the potential greatness of their partner but these are positioned against their restricted view of themselves.

The sparseness of the opening with the reverb and delay guitar introduces up to the overall tone of the song. When the rest of the band is introduced, the haunting delay-laden piano underpins the reflective nature of the song.

Countless production elements within this song elevate it beyond any previous compositions. This includes whirling self-oscillating delays (yeah, there’s a lot of delay), repeated vocal lines, distant knocks in the verses, and so much more.

1. "Teenage Angst" - Placebo (1996)

“Teenage Angst” is the song I think epitomises the band. Don’t get me wrong, Placebo have gone from strength to strength since this release, but if we go through it as a checklist, “Teenage Angst” goes a long way to establish the band’s early sound. Take a look, and you have simplistic melodic guitar lines, a rapid bass riff, high-pitched androgynous vocals, and introspective lyrics talking about the struggles of early life. Yeah, it ticks a lot of boxes. 

I think the rawness and simplicity of the track add to its charm. Standing as somewhat of an outlier on the record, the major key juxtaposition highlights the self-doubting lyrics which make it a classic teen anthem. Therefore, while it was released in 1996, the timeless nature of the song means it is still relevant now.

You even have the electronic elements underpinning the song, something the band would later have a greater focus on, foreshadowing future musical developments. Essentially, I see this track as Placebo at their most fundamental that’s why I believe it is their best track.

Just missing the list

As stated at the start, I could place every Placebo song on the list, truly I could. That is why even creating an honourable mentions bit is just as difficult. I was torn about including some of these but ultimately a bias sorted had to help me come to final decisions.

Anyway, these just missed out.

You Don’t Care About Us – Without You I’m Nothing (1998)

Drag – Meds (2006) 

Infra-Red – Meds (2006) 

Bionic – Placebo (1996)

Forever Chemicals – Never Let Me Go (2022) 

Second Sight – Sleeping With Ghosts (2003) 

Without You I’m Nothing – Without You I’m Nothing (1998)

B3 – B3EP (2012)

The Bitter End – Sleeping With Ghosts (2003) (Would have been no.16)


Read another list of ours about Biffy Clyro.

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