Some months ago I listed my 20 favorite unreleased Kelly Clarkson songs. She has so many amazing hidden gems that deserved to be on albums, and though it was hard to narrow down my list, I’m glad that we can at least hear these unreleased tracks.
Now it’s time to pick out some of Kelly’s best album tracks. This list won’t include any signature singles (sorry, “Since U Been Gone” and “Piece By Piece”), and it doesn’t include those unofficial, unreleased songs either. But for all her album-loving fans, this list is for you. Here are 20 of my favorite songs from Thankful, Breakaway, My December, All I Ever Wanted, Stronger, and Piece By Piece. Many of them could have done well as singles, while others may be best left as fan favorites, but all show Kelly’s talent and emotion.
20. Let Your Tears Fall
Kelly worked with hitmaker Sia Furler on two songs on her most recent album, Piece By Piece. The last one she recorded, “Invincible,” ended up being the album’s second single. But the first song she recorded was a Sia-penned track called “Let Your Tears Fall.” With its sweet, I’ll-be-there-for-you message and quickly crooned lyrics, it’s hard not to enjoy this album highlight. “Let Your Tears Fall” is about friendship, love, and being able to express yourself fully and free of judgement.
19. Save You
In 2009, Kelly released her most dynamic pop album, All I Ever Wanted. Hidden in the latter half of the tracklist is “Save You,” a gorgeous ballad with a similar message as “Let Your Tears Fall” above. Kelly sings to a loved one who’s going through a tough time. As much as she wishes she could do something to help, all Kelly can do is assure that all be alright in the end. “Save You” is a personal song for me, and likely for many other fans as well.
18. Don’t Be A Girl About It
2011’s Stronger was famous for the wildly popular single of the same name, and it was filled with many signature Kelly songs that reflect her range of emotions. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think “Don’t Be A Girl About It” is an amazing song. The (superior) demo leaked a few months before the album was released, and I was instantly hooked on its fun, feminist-empowering subject matter and delicious “oohooh”s in the pre-choruses. Kelly turns the common phrase back at the accuser, winning the upper hand and crafting a brilliant song at the same time. It was only a bonus track, but “Don’t Be A Girl About It” is definitely worth the listen.
17. Be Still
Kelly’s third album, 2007’s My December, remains her most personal, raw, and heartfelt to date. Layers of gritty guitars and seething angst made the album a hit among fans despite unfairly weak label support. Buried amongst all the rougher and sadder songs is a sweet, low-key track called “Be Still.” Kelly takes on a protective, almost motherly role as she soothes and reassures her foolish companion. “Be Still” plays like a lullaby, and is a standout ballad among her album tracks. Shout out to Kelly’s mom for insisting that “Be Still” be included on the album.
16. Bad Reputation
On the opposite side of the musical spectrum we have “Bad Reputation,” a groovin’ and sassy bonus track from Piece By Piece. Though it came out in 2015, “Bad Reputation” sounds like it would have been right at home on Kelly’s first album, Thankful; it has a soulful, R&B vibe that we don’t see from Kelly often enough. With lyrics about trading in her tough-as-leather heart for lovesick pup smiles and shining eyes, “Bad Reputation” sounds like an updated version of her “Miss Independent” message.
15. Where Is Your Heart
Breakaway remains Kelly’s biggest album to date, with five hit singles and lasting pop culture impact that will never fade away. But one song you may not hear enough is the beautiful, sweet ballad, “Where Is Your Heart.” The song is delicate, with gentle piano and strings complementing Kelly’s emotional observations. Kelly doesn’t believe in his smile and his cold love, but she hopes he’ll eventually open up his heart. “Where Is Your Heart” is sincere and tender, and an underrated gem among Kelly’s catalog.
14. Just Missed The Train
Thankful was Kelly’s first album and it launched her hit single, “Miss Independent” and the less popular “Low” and “The Trouble With Love Is.” But the best song on the album is “Just Missed The Train.” Most fans probably agree that this should have been a single, because it reflects Kelly’s perfect blend of pop and rock into one romantic track about love that’s a little too late.
13. I Want You
One of the more polarizing songs in Kelly’s catalog is her All I Ever Wanted track, “I Want You.” Let it be known that this is the cutest, most adorable song Kelly has written or released yet. “I Want You” finds Kelly forgetting all the heartbreak and independent-minded feelings she’s built her career on, and instead gives us the fun, hopeless romantic we all know she truly is. “I Want You” is the sweet love song you’d play for your crush if you had the bravery, or that you’d expect to hear in a romantic comedy just as things start to go right. We need to hear more of this Kelly in the future.
12. Standing In Front Of You
For truly mysterious, unfathomable reasons, “Standing Front Of You” is not well-liked among many Kelly fans. But they are wrong, somehow missing how gorgeous and meaningful this song truly is. A flawless demo of the song leaked a few months before Stronger was released, but both versions capture the beauty and sincerity of the music and lyrics. The song’s gentle pulsing is accented with strings and light piano, the choruses ending with cascades of vocals. “Standing In Front Of You” is an ode to all those don’t see the love right before their eyes. This is another special song for me, and one that should have universal acclaim.
11. The Day We Fell Apart
All I Ever Wanted is a great album, but one of its very best songs was somehow relegated to being just a bonus track. This was a mistake, because “The Day We Fell Apart” could have been a single, let alone a standard album track. It has punchy, slick energy and mesmerizing “ohh” vocals at the launch of the song and end of each chorus. Kelly sings of grass that’s greener on the other side, desperately loving the man whose heart she just broke. “The Day We Fell Apart” is a highlight among her bonus tracks.
“Fading” is a special song from 2007. Though I got it as a b-side on an imported “Don’t Waste Your Time” single, it was also released as bonus track on Japanese editions of My December. Despite its limited availability, “Fading” is a highlight from the My December era. The lyrics are central, as Kelly sings of misplacing your smile and hiding behind masks, losing yourself when you need saving. Kelly’s emotionally charged vocals match the hammering energy of the song. “Fading” conjures up enough imagery that it deserved music video treatment.
One of the most beloved album tracks among Kelly’s fanbase is definitely “Addicted,” off her sophomore album, Breakaway. While the singles chosen for the album were nearly perfect, it is generally agreed that on more song could have done well: “Addicted,” though somewhat dark, could have been that song. (Though “Gone” may have been the more radio-friendly choice.) “Addicted” is a stormy song of love or obsession, a song that’s dramatic and impactful. The lyrics paint pictures of haunting ghosts, life-sucking leeches, and suffocating fixation on “nothing but you.” The bridge is among the most hypnotizing of Kelly’s catalog. “Addicted” is one of the best songs on Breakaway and of Kelly’s career.
Speaking of haunting songs, Kelly went even darker on My December. “Haunted” is an amazingly powerful yet sad song inspired by a friend who had committed suicide. It tackles the shocking loss of someone who was smiling up until the very end, a blur of memories collapsing as grief takes hold. Kelly pleads her friend not to “leave me here on my own,” stuck in the aftermath and lonelier than ever before. “Haunting” is a moving song and in spite of its tragic subject, it should have been a single.
7. You Love Me
Stronger is an overall lighter and more empowering album, and one of its highlights is a sassy track called “You Love Me.” Don’t be fooled by its cheery title – the song shows that those words mean nothing when actions speak louder. For all the criticism she receives and all the lack of faith people have in her, Kelly can see through the back-handed compliments. She knows that it’s not her, it’s them. They can’t handle her and they’re not good enough. The song was inspired by Kelly’s tumultuous relationship with her record label (which has, in recent years, improved noticeably). “You Love Me” has ’80s flair and infectious lyrics and melody, and it really should have been a single.
6. If I Can’t Have You
One of the best songs on All I Ever Wanted is the upbeat, electro-dance styled “If I Can’t Have You.” It was a new sound for Kelly, one that was as surprisng as it was fitting. And “If I Can’t Have You” isn’t just a fan favorite – her team also seriously considered it for single #4; that didn’t transpire, but it should have been a single. (For better or worse, the flawless title track was unceremoniously made the token single, with no promo or video to help it along.) In contrast with Kelly’s love-gone-wrong image, “If I Can’t Have You” gives us another side of Kelly that falls in love, and falls hard. The song is sexy and in-your-face and a clear album highlight.
Note: In case you haven’t heard it, there’s also a slow version of “If I Can’t Have You.” Kelly performed this sadder, magical version on tour, and eventually released a re-recorded slow-jam version of “If I Can’t Have You” on her Smoakstack Sessions EP in 2011. It has a totally different vibe from the album version, and you must hear it.
5. Hear Me
Breakaway introduced a side of Kelly that is more rock and dramatic, and this is best epitomized in her song, “Hear Me.” Kelly sings of being afraid of letting someone in but finding that loneliness has taken its toll; she’s just a face in the crowd waiting for the right person to come along and change her world. What really makes the song, though, is the music and Kelly’s powerful singing. The tune is moody and brimming with explosive energy, and Kelly’s belted vocals bring the song to new heights. “Hear Me” is epic and hardcore. The album version is amazing, but this live performance is probably the most stunning version:
4. In The Blue
Bonus tracks are frequently better than the album tracks, and one of the best is the Piece By Piece song, “In The Blue.” It’s one of only a handful that Kelly wrote for the album, and it’s among the most beautiful tracks on the record. The best part of the song is Kelly’s delicate head-voice vocals soaring in the gorgeous choruses. Kelly may be almost alright in the lyrics, but a piece of her heart will never stop looking for the love she lost, the one that got away. “In The Blue” is a clear standout on Kelly’s most recent album.
Perhaps you’ll tell me that “Sober” doesn’t belong on this list. “It was technically a single,” you might point out. But in my mind, it was never really a single. It had no promotion, no video, nothing to indicate that it was anything more than a poorly advertised promo track. It was done so wrong. “Sober” should have been a PROPER single with music video, and it deserved to be heard by more than the hardcore fans that actually bought Kelly’s best album, My December. Kelly said at the time that “Sober” was her favorite song she’s ever written, and it seems that a good number of her fans would agree with that. “Sober” is a tremendously powerful song, slowly building from being on the verge of breaking down up to the crashing bridge. You will get chills listening to it. “Sober” is a masterpiece of a song and does not get the recognition it deserves. It is epic, emotionally vulnerable, and hesitantly empowering.
My December closed with an even more personal song than “Sober.” “Irvine” is perhaps the most vulnerable song we’ve heard from Kelly, and the only one that we may never hear live. Kelly wrote “Irvine” in Irvine, CA while she was on tour. She had reached her lowest point, feeling lonely, miserable, and overworked due to the impact Breakaway had had on the world. Kelly wrote “Irvine” from a bathroom floor, pleading and praying for help. It’s a heart-wrenching song. The “Irvine” recording on My December is actually the demo Kelly had first done, and it captures the pure emotion of her voice in a way that no other song can.
1. Take You High
Though I clearly am drawn to the sadder, darker songs in general, the track at the top of my list veers in the opposite direction. The Piece By Piece tune “Take You High” is hands-down the most euphoric, heavenly song Kelly has ever released, and it would be impossible to capture its full beauty in words. “Take You High” complements Kelly’s angelic high vocals with sweet strings and a gorgeous melody. The song is more electric and dance than Kelly is generally known to do, and her chopped up chorus vocals give it a surreal, frantic quality. “Take You High” is divine, both in the studio recording and in Kelly’s live tour performances. It needs to be a single, yesterday.
And those are 20 of my favorite non-singles from Kelly Clarkson. What do you think? What songs would you have included? Let us know in the comments below.
If you liked this list, be sure to check out my 25 best Avril Lavigne album tracks, too.