Analogue Music | The Top 75 Counting Crows Songs Ever: No. 1 to 25

The Top 75 Counting Crows Songs Ever: No. 1 to 25

By John Barber Matt Conner Mark Geil Glenn McCarty Pete Peterson PC Walker

We've reached the Top 25 and likely the part of the countdown for which you were most excited. We were, too. You can tell by how much more descriptive each writer gets when explaining his love for a given song. Most of the all-time favorites are here in this set, but it's also interesting to see how a couple of newer(ish) songs climbed their way up the rankings to knock off some Crows classics.

All of this just goes to show that the Counting Crows remain one of pop/rock music's most formidable acts. The band's hallmark of excellent craftsmanship and emotional vulnerability mark each new entry into the catalog—which is why we'll keep listening (and re-ranking) as long as Adam Duritz and company keep writing and releasing new music.

Click here for Part One (No. 75 to 51).

Click here for Part Two (No. 50 to 26).

Read on for the Top 25 Counting Crows songs ever.

25. “Cowboys” from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings

The halfway point—and the end of the Saturday Nights section of the “grand experiment” of the double album—has a bit of an identity crisis, which might be expected from this sort of positioning. There are some rampaging bits, harder than anything since Satellites, some quieter bits, a whole bunch of archetypal mentions of cowboys and “Circle K killers” and those lyrics about “Mr. Lincoln’s head…” What does it add up to? I find what sticks in the memory the most is the recklessness, a careening, break-neck speed that reaches unsafe levels by the conclusion. It’s not the tightest of song constructions, but it totally works. (GM)

24. "Mr. Jones" from August and Everything After

This was the gateway drug for all of us Crows fans, and it all started with a “sha la la la la la…” Where is the New Amsterdam, and can I go there? For me and everyone else in my generation, all we wanted was to sit at that bar with Adam and Mr. Jones and talk about being famous. Adam wants to be Bob Dylan, Mr. Jones wants to be someone a little more funky, and I don’t know who I want to be—I didn’t know then and I still don’t. But I do know that the tales that get told there are fairy tales at best. We tell each other things like, “when everybody loves you, you can never be lonely.” We say “I wanna be a lion,” but if we skip a couple of tracks back, we know that “we talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs.”

“Mr. Jones,” the real Mr. Jones may have been Adam’s bandmate in The Himalayans, but he’s really any of us listening to the song. We’re along for the ride, stumbling through the barrio, looking at the beautiful women, and knowing that if that one thing could just go our way, we’d be famous too. And then, of course, we’d be happy.

This is the one that started it all, and it’s because, from the first moment we met the Counting Crows, they were us. Normal dudes just hoping to catch a break and hit it big. We all want to be big stars, after all. (JB)

23. “Black And Blue” from Hard Candy

The Crows do sad well, and this is a sad, sad song about a couple of sad people. When he sees her, she’s so fragile that she’d “shatter in the blink of an eye.” She’s in such a bad place that she dreams of cutting her hands, just to feel something. She dreams of her friends and family reading her suicide note. And he, well, he isn’t any better off. He just asks her to lie down next to him, where he starts to dream of dying too.

But maybe it’s not so sad after all. The piano, right before that first word, turns hopeful. So maybe the song has some hope in it, too. Maybe, if we’ve found someone who can share in our lowest points, maybe that’s enough. Maybe these two people, fast asleep next to each other, are enough. (JB)

22. “August and Everything After” from Rarities

This is the newest song on the list. It’s also one of the oldest. It was cut from the band’s 1993 debut, though it loaned the album its title. A quarter-century later, the lyrics were tweaked and finished, composer Vince Mendoza arranged a new version, the band joined a London orchestra for an extraordinary session, and the song was finally released as an Amazon Prime exclusive in early 2019.

A somber cor anglais opens the track over subtle strings that eventually layer under a pedal steel, and the languid song tells a profound spiritual story. There is raw confession, regret, resignation, and, ultimately, a plaintive cry for help made sincere by its helplessness. “Yeah, it’s midnight in San Francisco,” Duritz sings, “And I’m waiting here for Jesus on my knees. In August and everything after, I need somebody else to bleed for me.” This is a masterpiece, a quarter-century in the making. (MG)

21. “Hanging Tree” from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings

Duritz supposedly wrote this song after visiting his grandmother, who hardly recognized him, before she passed. It’s the realization that “this dizzy life of mine keeps hanging me up all the time.” He’s a touring career musician, a man who has abandoned all attempts at home or smaller connections for the sake of larger ones from the stage.

On some days, it’s the dream, but in uncomfortable, intimate moments such as this, Duritz sees his life as a “Hanging Tree.” Beyond the vulnerable lyrics, it helps that it’s also a great rock song. And I’d be remiss if I left out the lyric, “She calls a waitress when it’s time for her to go / And I know everyone’s eventually leaving.” (MC)

20. “American Girls” from Hard Candy

Sheryl Crow. Coca-Cola. This is the “sellout song” that many fans hated so much, Duritz was compelled to write “I’m truly sorry if it upset some of you but that’s the breaks.” (Of course, he then went on to lecture those fans about the music business.) However, beyond the smiling, wet video and jangly pop, these are rough lyrics about a failed relationship. “She had something breakable just under her skin.” Maybe that line is as much about the song as the American girl. (MG)

19. “Angels of the Silences” from Recovering the Satellites

I remember when Recovering the Satellites came out. I put it in the CD player and the first song, “Catapult,” exploded out of the speakers and I wasn’t sure I liked where the album was going. I wasn’t sure this was the band I’d come to love on August and Everything After. It just didn’t feel right to me. (Don’t worry, I’ve come around on it since.) But then along came this song and even though it was bigger and faster and stranger, I knew everything was going to be okay. And just like with other songs, Across a Wire gave it a new spin and made me love it even more. I’ll never get tired of it, and I’m happy to go on dreaming of Michelangelo for another twenty years. (PP)

18. “Catapult” from Recovering the Satellites

On the band’s biggest hit, “Mr. Jones,” Duritz is painfully honest with a longing for success. "We all wanna be big, big stars," he sings. The reason? "When everybody loves you, you can never be lonely." One album later, "Catapult" leads out with an opposing sentiment. "I wanna be scattered from here in this catapult," Duritz sings. On one level, it's a breakup song, but it's also a cultural response to getting what you want. Duritz craves a very real, meaningful connection in the midst of superficial stardom and it's a brave, brilliant and beautiful statement to start out an album that follows a 7x Platinum debut. (MC)

17. “A Murder of One” from August and Everything After

No matter where I am or what’s going on, if someone says “Counting Crows,” this is the song that starts playing in my mind. It’s the quintessential Crows song and I expect it’ll always be my favorite. A few weeks ago we were in England, walking through the moors and woodlands and rolling hills of Devon and all I wanted to do was to put this on repeat and cry happy tears and sing the days away to the tune of “I will walk along these hillsides in the summer ‘neath the sunshine / I am feathered by the moonlight shining down on me,” world without end, amen. (PP)

16. “Have You Seen Me Lately?” from Recovering the Satellites

This one initially snuck by me in its release form on Recovering the Satellites. It was just too hard and too fast. It didn’t connect for me. But then the Across a Wire live acoustic CD came out and this song hit me like a freight train. Suddenly all the pain and confusion of losing oneself in a facade of fame moved front and center and it broke my heart. In fact this version might be my most played Crows song. And the great thing is that once that acoustic version opened itself up, I was able to go back to the original and fall in love with it too. I love them both. And I pray for Adam, because I really just want that guy to be okay. I hope he’s found someone to color him in. (PP)

15. “Palisades Park” from Somewhere Under Wonderland

Nearly eight-and-a-half minutes of what Adam calls “about the best thing I’ve written in my life.” This epic tells you just enough of the story of Andy to make you understand and care, but not quite enough to fill in all the blanks. The song structure is brilliant, with the opening horn-and-piano serenade followed by movements that surprise, changing the nostalgia from melancholy to sweet in equal turns. The metaphors are not forced, and the sentiments are surprisingly understated. It’s tough not to worry when the friend asks, “Hey, have you seen Andy around?” (MG)

14. “Raining In Baltimore” from August and Everything After

Perhaps the strongest imagery of any song in the CC canon is found here, on a song in which you just want to need something to cope—a connection, a covering, a way out. It’s clear the singer will take anything you’ve got. ”I need a phone call,” he pleads, “a raincoat.” Later it’s a "plane ride" and/or "a big love." Either an escape from it all or company for the journey. A brutal, beautiful listen. (MC)

13. “St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream” from This Desert Life

I’m a total sucker for two things: “ba-da-da’s” and a B-3. “St. Robinson” kicks off with both. Like most of the people in the Crows catalog, Arthur Robinson is stuck. He’s watching the world go by outside of his window, and he’s left inside—endlessly waiting, endlessly dreaming of big black Cadillacs that can take us to the carnivals of our dreams.

“St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream” includes some of Duritz’s best lyrical work: “Carrie's down in her basement all toe shoes and twinned / With the girl in the mirror who spins when she spins” is the kind of tongue-tied internal rhyme that songwriters dream of. But even better, it’s tells the truth. As we approach our dreams, they still escape us, like a reflection receding in a mirror.

This song is lively, the hook is killer, and that ending—“And there are people who will say that they knew me so well / I may not go to heaven / I hope you go to hell”—is one that you want to scream at the top of your lungs. (JB)

12. “Miami” from Hard Candy

Amy and angels are familiar characters in the Crows catalog and they both show up here on “Miami” (or should it be “My Amy”?), one of the most musically compelling songs ever composed by Counting Crows. “It looks like darkness to me,” sings Duritz, realizing that this woman on the way to visit him for part of a tour run is likely going to end things (or vice versa). All good things come to an end, and within the larger catalog, Duritz has focused more on the outcome than the present moment. “Miami” is no different, but it’s lovelier than similar expressions. (MC)

11. “Sullivan Street” from August and Everything After

“The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.” Frederick Buechner got it right. After hearing the story behind the writing of this song on 2011’s Live at Town Hall album/DVD, it continues to blow my mind how such a seemingly insignificant moment in the life of one person can become a sing-along anthem for so many millions over the years.

So there was this girl, Adam says, just another relationship in a lifetime full of them. “One day I got this feeling. I knew it wasn’t going to last much longer,” He goes on, “It doesn’t matter how good it is, it’s just going to be over soon.” Whoa. Of course, regarding the titular street, he also confesses, “I didn’t live anywhere near any place named this.” Poetic license at its finest.

As with most sparsely-produced songs, it’s deceptively tight, every beat accounted for. And out of that simplicity, the lyrics and Duritz’s voice are featured. It’s the way it builds to the chorus— “I’m almost drowning in her sea / She’s nearly falling on her knees”—and soars into the upper register with that rare combination of power and desperation, and frailty, with Maria McKee’s backing vocal, that’s made all of us want to return to Sullivan Street over and over in the years (decades, actually…) since. (GM)

10. “Rain King” from August and Everything After

Adam Duritz only wants the same as anyone: everything. He wants heaven, but heaven is all of it—faith, sex, God, death, the Queen, and you know what? He deserves it.

“Rain King” kicks off with those driving drums, jangly guitar, and ringing mandolin, and it feels like this is going to be a happy one (considering we just came off “Time and Time Again,” that’s a welcome thing). But, oh, this one is so much more than just happy or sad. “Rain King,” like all of the best Crows songs, considers everything—life, death, and meaning.

What really sets this one apart from the others is that it’s the quintessential live Crows song. This song is their concert jewel. When they play this one, everything else pales in comparison. In concert, “Rain King” inevitably gives way to another favorite of theirs, Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” Elbow’s “Lippy Kids,” or some other wonderful tune. Then, Adam comes crashing back in with, “When I think of heaven / deliver me in a black wing bird,” and the energy explodes off the stage.

When the aliens come down and ask who the Crows are, you hand them “Rain King." With a premise that borrows from Saul Bellow, but becomes an anthem of longing, “Rain King” is a masterpiece. (JB)

9. “Amy Hit The Atmosphere” from This Desert Life

The (rain) king of piano ballads has several relational lamentations in this Top 10 for good reason, and Amy was an obvious choice to make the final cut. Whether this is “Miami” Amy or not is unknown, but the stage set for “AHTA” is about as bleak as any Crows’ song: a song ripped straight from the midst of drug addiction.

From the opening refrain of wanting to “wash away this sunny day down to the gutter,” to the absolutely brutal, “Meanwhile the days go drifting away / And some of us sink like a stone / Waiting for mothers to come,” Duritz paints a pitifully accurate portrait of short-term desperation and/or high in the midst of long-term need.

Does Amy make it out? It’s impossible to tell. She “caught herself a rocket ride out of this gutter.” It feels like she doesn’t, with a wonderfully haunting closing line that slowly shifts from “All I really know is I want to know” to “All I really know is I don't want to know.” An instant Crows classic. (MC)

8. “Goodnight Elisabeth” from Recovering the Satellites

There was a season when my now-wife and I did not talk. That break was a rough summer for both of us. We dealt with it very differently. She “wrapped herself in daffodils” and listened to a lot of encouraging religious music. Me, I lit myself on fire and listened to a whole lot of Dashboard Confessional.

We dealt with the break and the distance very differently, neither one of us more healthy than the other, but each of us wondered if the other would be found waiting. We each wanted the other to be there on the other side of all the wonder.

Adam sang about Elisabeth, a girl to whom he was always faithful, even though she questioned his road habits. When they inevitably broke, he could never stop thinking about her, even after he moved on to “slipping in between” other women. I can still vibe with that hope of us coming back around to one another, even if in the moment, it felt painfully impossible. (PC)

7. “Hard Candy” from Hard Candy

This one checks all the boxes for me. It’s a quintessential exploration of the bittersweetness of memories in which so many elements contribute to that beautiful aching: the chiming echo of the guitar riff, the twinkling piano hiding in the background, and Adam’s vulnerable delivery. But I love that despite the lyrical vulnerability—opening literal and figurative drawers—the song conceals as much as it reveals. Sure, it shows how our memories capture only the obscurest details—the smile, the hat, that moment by the water—but it also conceals. “I put my summers back in a letter and I hide it from the world.”

What was in the letter? We’ll never know. As with so many of Adam’s lyrics, this one articulated a phenomenon that 20-something me was just starting to recognize: “You send your lover off to China/ and you wait for her to call/ You put your girl up on a pedestal/ and you wait for her to fall.” Putting your girl on a pedestal? That one hit a little too close for comfort. And it’s only four minutes long. (GM)

6. “Possibility Days” from Somewhere Under Wonderland

There is a tender spot in the memory that sits right between nostalgia and regret. It’s the sweet recollection of something that seemed so full of potential, that still seems so right, and the pain of seeing where it all went wrong. It’s the smile you can’t hide when you think of a person who fits you so well, and the sadness of the loneliest two words: “If only.”

A particular Rush lyric has always stuck with me: “Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it.” Is it? Garth Brooks would disagree, he of the famous line, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” A nicely framed debate, but sorry Neil Peart and Garth Brooks, you’ve got nothing on Adam Duritz and his exposition on memory, “Possibility Days.”

It’s not just that the tone of this song is exactly right. It’s not just that the setting is perfect: tempo, piano, surprisingly non-melodramatic vocals. It’s that the lyrics are so well-crafted that this song is transcendent. Storytellers know the value of tension in a narrative. Few songs employ tension as effectively as this one. So many lines serve later lines. The possibility/impossibility motif is a simple word play but it undergirds the song’s allusions. The contract is carried through references to seasons, directions, colors, and salutations. And in the middle of the song, that tension is summarized in a single line: “So I’m scared that you’ll leave and you’re scared that I’ll stay.”

In the end, she’s long gone, but that can’t take away the “best part of a bad day”: the little pearl of memory untainted by the inevitable regret. It seems Tennyson had the answer all along: better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. (MG)

5. “Recovering the Satellites” from Recovering the Satellites

In 1974, the final humans left the first U.S. space station, Skylab. The station orbited the earth for five more years until its orbit decayed, it re-entered the atmosphere, then broke apart and fell from the sky. Those of us old enough to remember the event recall widespread fear that flaming pieces of Skylab would kill us in our sleep. Ultimately, parts of the station landed in Australia, and (in good fun) a town named Esperance fined NASA for littering.

“But you only stay in orbit for a moment of time / And then you’re everybody’s satellite.” The extended metaphor forms this song and gives the band’s second album its title. Duritz has created a world where it’s possible to soar to heavenly heights, but even while you enjoy the scenery, you are aware that all anybody really wants to know is, when are you gonna come down?

A sense of transience pervades this song, and this album, but it only tinges the view of shooting stars and comet tails. Even in the breaking apart, in the falling from the sky, there is the memory of a spectacular vista and the lifetime commitment that someone will pick up the pieces. (MG)

4. “Mrs. Potter's Lullaby” from This Desert Life

First came “Mr. Jones,” where Adam wondered what it would be like to be famous. Now here on the epic 7:45 track “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” he’s “an idiot walking a tightrope of fortune and fame.” And like all of the Crows songs that explore themes of fame and celebrity, this one plays both sides.

Our narrator rejects the shiny but empty Hollywood culture that will smash a glass on the floor just to order another. Instead, he heads out on a pilgrimage to the desert where he can see forever. But he’s also prone to stare at the movie screen and fall in love with the artificial person he sees there. So which is it? Authenticity or artifice?

Supposedly, this song is about actress Monica Potter, with whom Adam had a brief relationship. But really, the identity of the eponymous Mrs. Potter is irrelevant, because she’s just a creation of a beam of light, a “swirling dust sparkle jet stream” of light that you can interrupt with a hand. And whoever she is, she probably isn’t what she seems on that screen anyway. Our lives are circuses, where we’re responsible for everything, where we’re haunted by our mistakes, and where we can’t escape our memories. And so, when we look up at the movie screen, does it matter who looks back at us? Does it matter if that person is who they seem? Does it matter who can cure our loneliness? Which is it? Authenticity or artifice? Turns out it doesn’t, because, at the end of the day, we all just need someone to help us sleep. (JB)

3. “A Long December” from Recovering the Satellites

Has there ever been a song that strung together so many beautifully vulnerable couplets that mirror the human experience as this Counting Crows classic? Adam Duritz's finest hour can be found on this closing track to Recovering the Satellites, an almost overwhelming yearning that maybe, just maybe, this year really will be better than the last. In the live setting, it's even more potent as Adam sits alone at a piano and allows the lyrics to take their time.

No matter the setting, however, "A Long December" is a masterclass in how to bleed onto the page. Small, hopeful fragments intermixed with deep longing. "I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass," sings Duritz to fleeting life, to fleeting love.

By the time he realizes a view of something bigger than him is needed ("It's been so long since I've seen the ocean... I guess I should"), he closes simply by singing "yeah" over and over again. It's the slow realization that his senses have clued in to something true, something needed, something important. He does need it. It's been a long year. He's orienting himself, once again, toward hope. Yeah. (MC)

2. “Anna Begins” from August and Everything After

Who hasn’t at some point in their lives (probably in college) known unrequited love? Who of us hasn’t been the one wondering if we really wanted to love the person more than they wanted to love us back? It's a mess, but a very familiar one.

“Anna Begins” is so familiar for me that my college journals are filled with references to my back-and-forth with a girl whose name I changed to “Anna” in all the shitty poetry I wrote. No matter how many times I told myself I "would not worry about this anymore," I have chronicled evidence to the contrary—wondering whether or not this was love. These sorts of relationships are not that easy, and the most difficult part about it is how long you hold on for a little more maybe, a little more please come back around for me.

Eventually Anna comes around and realizes it actually is love, and we can talk about it. At least, my “Anna” did. I am still writing poetry about my Anna. It’s still shitty poetry, but at least she’s here. (PC)

1. “Round Here” from August and Everything After

Here it is, then. The number one song. The iconic representation of the band and their place in the musical landscape of the 1990s For many, it's also the gateway drug.

I’ll admit that I didn’t like “Round Here” when it was all over the radio in the summer of 1994. I had heard “Mr. Jones” and my interest was piqued. But I was way over the grunge movement and as skeptical as I’d ever been about new music, so when I heard Adam wail about staying up very, very, VERY late, I dismissed the song—and the band—as more ‘90s angst and melodrama.

I remained cynical, even as I came to love the follow-up album, and then the rest of August. I finally gave the song a second chance when a certain pair of phrases grabbed me by the ears:

Round here, we’re carving out our names
Round here, we all look the same

Those are the 14 words that define a generation. A people who yearn for independence and conformity at the same time, who don’t want to be told to “stand up straight,” but recognize that sometimes the worlds they make for themselves can be pretty messed up.

Adam Duritz once said, “This is a song about me.” It may be, but it has resonated as the personal anthem of multitudes. Duritz and his mates wrote it back in 1989 (pre-Crows), and it followed the success of “Mr. Jones” to 14 weeks on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. It has emotion, symbolism, confession, Maria (of course), and a surprisingly funky breakdown about halfway in. And I could write for the rest of my life and never accomplish a set of four lines with such profound imagery as that opening verse.

Ultimately, I think it’s the final plea for help that made me come to love this song so much. There is desolation and hopelessness, and then an anguished cry, “Will you catch me if I’m falling?” Ironically, that’s what so many of the Crows songs do. They step into our falling with the comfort of recognition and the hope that someone will be there to catch us. (MG)