#RSEssential10: Ed Sheeran
From folk ballads to pop hits, the British singer-songwriter has often let his rapper persona show, with resounding success
With his fourth solo album = slated for release this week, we’re taking a look back at the 10 Best Ed Sheeran tracks in our #RSEssential10. In the past decade, Sheeran has become one of the biggest recording artists of the era, a singer-songwriter at heart but one who has won over legions of fans across the globe because of his pop sensibility. Not afraid to collaborate with the likes of artists as diverse as the genres of music itself, Sheeran shows no signs of stopping with two singles, “Bad Habits” and “Shivers” from the new album currently ranking in the Top 10 in most markets.
10. “Lego House”
This + track was one of our first glimpses into the lyrical and melodic sensibility of the artist. There is a sweetness to the track that immediately attracts the listener to his earnest vocals. While not his biggest or loudest hit, this soft romantic track has managed to stand the test of time and remains one of his underrated gems.
After slowly conquering the world with his first album across the globe, Sheeran came back with quite the roar with his first single from his second album ×. “Sing” was a wake-up call to the world that Sheeran was more than just an indie folk singer (with some rapping skills). Collaborating with Pharrell Williams was a genius move to make himself look and feel more “pop.” While not necessarily his finest single, it’s an essential listen because the song marked a strong departure for the musician and preludes his rise and consistent staying power.
8. “Shape Of You”
What a rise he has had! The best example of Sheeran’s meteoric rise has inevitably got to be the “No Scrubs”-sampled megahit “Shape of You.” Part of Sheeran’s success has been his ability to look cool by just being himself. Unlike many other pop artists who seem to pander, Sheeran is unapologetic about his love for all genres. He doesn’t physically or vocally change his style to fit what’s on-trend. As a result, that authenticity sells and this single crossed over big time, likely a result of that.
Co-written with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, this nostalgic ballad became the fifth hit single from ×. While not the biggest single from that monster album, “Photograph” showcases what Sheeran has done best over the past decade – creating heartfelt melodies with just the right amount of sentimentality. The song, written about Sheeran’s long-distance relationship with singer Nina Nesbitt, has universal appeal and it is his ability to emote what we all feel when going through similar moments that have made Sheeran the powerhouse that he’s become.
Sheeran’s third release from his latest album has already earned a spot on the list for two very important reasons. For some time now, Sheeran has seemed a bit misdirected between all the collaborations and trying to “Sheeran”-up every style of song. But his music works best when the honesty of who he is comes out. While “Bad Habits” wasn’t a bad song and predictably has slayed the charts, for many it felt safe, very much on-trend, very much a song he should have perhaps given to The Weeknd. Here, the artist is in his wheelhouse but with a more modern approach, a groove that’s there from start to finish and a hook and chorus made more enjoyable by the inclusion of brass instrumentation. This is how you evolve as an artist.
5. “Castle On The Hill”
Ironically released the same day as “Shape of You,” “Castle On The Hill” was an equally important song for the artist. The song narrates the story of Sheeran’s life as a young lad in his homeland. There’s a bit of the first album version of Sheeran here lyrically (which for many indie pop fans – they’ve been missing after his musical evolution) but with an updated musicality, thus making for a more perfect coming together of the old Sheeran and the Top 40 juggernaut.
The ÷ track highlights Sheeran’s ability to spit bars. Yes, Sheeran has tried his hand at rapping across numerous tracks most notably on his debut album with “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” but it was probably not as masterfully and intricately done as in “Eraser.” While none of us knew we needed Irish rap in our lives – the artist offers us that and more in this extremely catchy and deeply personal song.
3. “Thinking Out Loud”
With lyrics like “Me, I fall in love with you every single day/And I just wanna tell you I am” and a most melodious sway to it – it’s no wonder the song has become the staple first dance song at nearly every wedding. Rarely in modern times do we have a song that so seamlessly fits into any slow dance playlist. A romantic ballad sung endearingly – this is again where who Sheeran is matters. While Sheeran tried to replicate the exact same formula with “Perfect,” “Thinking Out Loud” is the far superior choice.
FYI: Both “Shape Of You” and “Thinking Out Loud” also resonated because of their music videos, both have over 3 billion views on YouTube.
2. “Visiting Hours”
Sandwiched between two big pop hits, Sheeran quietly released the single “Visiting Hours” just a couple of months back. “I wish that heaven had visiting hours / So I could just swing by and ask your advice.” Much like “Thinking Out Loud” has set the standard for weddings, it wouldn’t surprise me that this much under-the-radar second release from = makes its way as a funeral favorite. The song pays tribute to Australian music executive, Michael Gudinski who died in 2021. Sheeran actually debuted the single at his funeral. A truly heartfelt and emotive single that perfectly showcases Sheeran’s growth as an artist over the years, he’s expressive and he shines and he doesn’t let the loss hide behind the guitar, he wears his grief on his sleeve.
1. “The A Team”
This was the world’s first real introduction to Ed Sheeran back in 2011. The folk ballad, which recalls a prostitute addicted to drugs, came to be after Sheeran visited a homeless shelter. At the time I remember feeling like a song was finally unabashedly trying to step into the space that was perhaps last occupied by Phil Collin’s classic “Another Day In Paradise.” In many ways, the two artists share a deeper connection than we’d otherwise think – they both have penchants for soul, rock and everything pop, and both have never really tried to change who they are even when releasing such a diverse array of songs across genres. They both generate respect from the industry and musicians across the board. “The A Team” holds up really well 10 years later because of its lyrical content, the still hummable melody but most importantly because we know just how far Sheeran has come.