I’ve never really admitted this before, but I’m a huge fan of Kelly Clarkson. No, I didn’t watch her compete on or win the inaugural season of American Idol. I fell in love with her after hearing “Breakaway” for the first time in 2004.
When I bought her album in Jan 2005 I was surprised to like it. As a country music fan, I’m not easily drawn to pop music. But I didn’t just like the Breakaway album I loved it. It’s easily my favorite pop recording of the 00s. I had become a fan.
On that premise I bought My December in 2007. I was so shocked by the contrast in sound to Breakaway, I sort of gave up on Clarkson. Fearing All I Ever Wanted would only make me wish for a return to her Breakaway glory, I skipped that album entirely.
Now, I’m hardly a fair weather fan. I love Clarkson’s music so much, I begged for her to be good again. After she sang “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean, she reclaimed the glory I was hoping she’d come back to.
Now I’m mad I skipped All I Ever Wanted but consider it a lesson learned. It’s taken until this year to finally dive in and become the fan I should’ve been since that day in 2004 when she captured my attention with one little song.
Here are my 25 personal favorite Clarkson recordings with my two favorite albums Breakaway and Stronger receiving ample attention. If this level of quality continues into the next ten years of her career, there’s no telling where she’ll be able to go.
25. A Moment Like This
The first in more than ten years worth of AI “winner’s singles.” It’s just as sloppy and unintelligent as all of them. But it’s worth remembering where everything started so appreciation of how far Clarkson’s come artistically in the years since can better be understood.
24. The Trouble With Love Is
From the romantic comedy Love Actually, “The Trouble With Love Is” may be the most memorable song from the Thankful era. With the soft and tasteful production she’s able to show off her voice with some cool R&B stylings.
It’s worth keeping in your collection, but exists more as a stepping stone to her better material. In the years since she’s done much better work (and killer ballads) but we all have to begin somewhere, right?
23. Don’t Wast Your Time
I wonder how different this would sound if the production wasn’t so damned distorted and loud? Those distractions were proof that My December was an artistic failure and beneath Clarkson’s level. (She just can’t pull off punk).
But the songs were there. “Don’t Waste Your Time” is a perfect country tinged mid-tempo rocker and my second favorite song from that project. It’s just as great a song and deserves better. May it see better days in the future.
22. Let Me Down
This is Clarkson’s Katy Perry moment. Not the “I Kissed A Girl”/ “Last Friday Night” Perry but rather the “ET” one. It’s also her ode to Florence + The Machine.
This pop thumper is actually better than all of them. The beat of this song sticks with you first before you realize you cannot get the lyrics out of your head.
21. Standing In Front of You
With all the attention paid to “Breaking Your Own Heart,” I feel like this is the other ballad from Stronger. It hasn’t received anywhere near the attention but it’s just as good and worthy of equal the praise.
20. I Forgive You
One tune she knew she couldn’t write. At least she’s honest. For someone who sings about being burned so easily, forgiveness doesn’t come naturally.
But like “Let Me Down” and “Dark Side,” “I Forgive You” adds that punch to Stronger that helps it stand out. Songs in this vein are Clarkson’s sweet spot and I can’t get enough.
19. “You Still Don’t Know What It’s Like”
Regarded as her Africa song, Clarkson wrote this after coming back from a visit to the country. It’s a touching tribute to her experience and a reminder of something we should never forget.
This is one of those songs where it doesn’t matter how it’s styled, you can’t help but sing along. Clarkson infuses so much energy and charm into “Gone” it makes the whole listening experience all the more fun.
Plus, the testament to the power of a great songs comes when the fans demand it be sung in concert. She took it out during her last tour and was requested to add it back in. A very smart move.
17. Breaking Your Own Heart
This ballad, which closes the standard edition of Stronger, is being billed as the most country sounding song she’s recorded thus far. AOL’s The Boot (a country music blog) even placed it on a list of songs they hoped would be released as singles in 2012.
Who knows, maybe it will see the light of day. But what what it’s worth, this isn’t a country song, at least in the formable hands of Clarkson. But it doesn’t matter as she nails this heartbreaking tale of a person who’s alone in the dark and traveling down a lonely road. Once again, she proves she can sing just about anything given to her.
16. Why Don’t You Try
Clarkson has had her Katy Perry / Florence + The Machine moment. She’s had her country moments. She’s also dabbled in the soul sounds and participated in last year’s VH1 Diva’s Soul concert.
But until now, she’s yet to have her Alicia Keys moment. Not that every singer has had their Alicia Keys moment, but Clarkson has hers here. She says her fans allow her to sing all kind of music and here’s the proof of how good she is when she doesn’t conform to one genre. It’s a bit too bad this is an iTunes album only bonus track but if you don’t have it, it’s worth seeking out.
15.I Know You Won’t
The debate will rage on forever – who sings this song better, Clarkson or Carrie Underwood? Both have a wide range to work with and the emotional conviction to pull it off.
In truth, neither singer have the better version as both bring a unique approach to the song. Underwood gives it country flare while Clarkson keeps it bluesy. In this battle, they’re tied.
But to hear Clarkson sing this is to hear a singer giving the vocal performance of her life. She brings a quitter element to the lyrics and allows a deep appreciation of the woman’s pain. She feels like the song was written for her and it’s only a matter of time before she finally records her version. Let this be the smash hit it was always meant to be.
14. Walk Away
Another infectious Breakaway rocker. Much like Lorrie Morgan’s “What Part Of No,” Clarkson is telling this guy trying to pick her up to walk away as he wasn’t there when she wanted him and it’s too late now.
Guys, timing is everything. Let this be a lesson learned.
13. What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)
To regain your rightful place atop the pop charts, you need to have the right material and for her latest album Stronger Clarkson’s hit all the right buttons. Sometimes you don’t know you need a song dripping with such an infectious melody until it comes along.
But the real achievement here is in the writing. This is how you base a song on a proverb and mike it work with our sounding preachy or cliche. Its hard to do, but when it works, the results can be a real treat.
I can only imagine how fun this must be to perform as it is to sing along with and listen to.
12. Don’t You Wanna Stay
Clarkson says her fans let her sing all types of music from pop/rock to R&B to country. When you’re convincing at all three, there is less a granting of permission and more sitting back and listening to an artist at work.
It took me a while to warm up to this duet but it’s easily the highlight of Aldean’s career to date and a shining moment for both superstars. She’s as home here on a love song as she is singing her revenge classics. It proves Clarkson is only getting better and more confident with age.
11. You Love Me
Clarkson spent the last ten years crafting this, her ode to how she’s been treated by the members of the pop/rock music community. Take a closer listen to the words – she says it all and then some – all while coming out the bigger person on the other side.
This is how to have the last word.
10. Dark Side
“Everybody’s got a dark side/can you love me/can you love mine?”
What I find most intriguing about Clarkson is her ability to choose songs that work on a pop confection level but also have something deeper to say. I’ve never given it much thought, but everyone does have a dark side no matter how sweet or kind they may seem. Just wait long enough and it’ll come out.
Oh 2004, how I remember thee. It was when I first heard this song and fell in love with Clarkson. The effortless charm of this song, complete with almost country tinged production, suits her voice and style perfectly.
She’s grown expodentially since, but “Breakaway” hasn’t lost any of its magic over the years and the story of leaving your small town to chase your dreams will be lived out by everyone following their passions for the rest of time.
8. My Life Would Suck Without You
A true indication she learned her lesson from the misstep of My December. Much like Faith Hill, going dead serious for an entire album doesn’t work. That playful side is as much Clarkson’s wheelbase as the gut-wrenching ballads.
But unlike other singers, Clarkson’s “playful songs” are often rooted in something deeper than fairytales and romantic aspirations. Her life may suck without him, but she’d rather let it suck than let him off easy. She’s learned her lessons from being burned and she isn’t about to let her guard down or a man off the hook when he’s done her wrong. But she also isn’t scared to admit when the absence of said man leaves a gaping hole in her life.
Of all the tunes from Breakaway, this is the one I come back to the most frequently. Why? Everything about the song from the vocal, to the production and the lyrics are flawless.
But the added mystery intrigues me. Just who is she addicted to – “It’s like your a drug/it’s like you’re a demon I can’t face down/it’s like I’m stuck.” We may never know and all the better for overall enjoyment of the song.
6. Behind These Hazel Eyes
With this one song, I knew I was hooked. The simple verses complete with the rocking chorus hasn’t let go in the eight years since its release.
This is the perfect example of what I mean when I call Clarkson a pop singer with a country artist’s attitude. It’s one of my favorite things she’s ever done.
5. Already Gone
Even though he couldn’t have loved her better, she wants him to move on. She’s making it easy by leaving the relationship first because, no matter what, it never would’ve worked out right.
Of all Clarkson’s hit ballad singles, this one is easily the most sonically striking. I love everything about this track. But most of all I enjoy Clarkson taking on a breakup ballad where she admits he couldn’t have done anything more yet they weren’t supposed to work out. In contrast to her revenge rockers, this one shows vulnerability and proves it’s okay to end something so right, it’s wrong.
4. Mr. Know It All
This is one of those songs where the melody and lyrics flow so effortlessly off the tongue you don’t realize you’re singing along until its over. Plus, its so infectious, you can’t help but be drawn right in.
Until this surfaced last fall, I didn’t know how much I’d missed her. “Mr. Know It All” (the original pop version) is one of my favorite singles of any genre right now and proof that modern country has become very stagnant.
3. Because Of You
Clarkson is a pop singer writing country songs. It’s a truth that’s been known for years, and “Because Of You” is perfect evidence. The story of an emotionally drained mother leaning on her young daughter in wake of her divorce (coupled with the effects it had on the girl) leaves nothing to the imaganation and puts all the raw emotion out for the world to feel.
This may have been reworked as a duet with Reba McEntire, but it’s Clarkson’s original recording that remains essential listening.
2. Since U Been Gone
The pop breakup anthem of the last decade, bar none. Clarkson’s biggest hit firmly broke her away from the American Idol mold and proved a contestant from the show can go on to have a superstar career.
It’s also one of her greatest artistic achievements to date – the opening guitar riffs and rock attitude are perfect company to Clarkson’s biting vocal. Like Miranda Lambert, this woman’s been done wrong and we don’t want to mess with her.
1. Never Again
The lead single from My December is the grown-up “Since U Been Gone.” The lyrics are ever darker and even more biting – “I hope the ring you gave to her turns her finger green.”
But what sends it over the top isn’t the hit recording but rather a suggestion by a fan that Clarkson turn “Never Again” into a piano ballad. This reworking strips away the atrocious production and leaves Clarkson’s voice and the lyrics front and center. Without the directions, the fullness of what she’s singing can finally be heard. A career moment.