12 Best Frank Ocean Songs
From "Novacane" to "White Ferrari," Frank Ocean has made some amazing songs. Here are our favorites.
We had to wait a long time for Frank Ocean to release the follow-up to his Grammy Award-winning 2012 debut album, "channel ORANGE." But it finally happened in 2016, when the enigmatic artist released not one but two new projects: "Endless," a video album, and the music album "Blonde."
In 2005, Ocean fled New Orleans after his studio was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He went to Los Angeles, where he wrote songs for big artists like Justin Bieber and Beyoncé. Eventually, Ocean fell in with Odd Future, which seemed bizarre but it somehow made a lot of sense. In 2011, his strange, Eagles and Coldplay-loving "Nostalgia, Ultra" mixtape blew minds. The following year he released "channel ORANGE," which earned him tons of praise and awards.
Then, silence. Lots of silence. More silence than an Ingmar Bergman film.
Ocean's second album was supposed to drop in 2013. Then 2014. Then 2015. Then 2016. Then there were more delays. But then Ocean finally delivered the goods. "Blonde" made it onto our list of the 25 best albums of 2016. It was worth the wait. And while we wait for the next big musical statement from Ocean — who knows, it could happen today or could happen in 2020, there's no way to tell — here are his 12 best tracks so far.
12. "No Church in the Wild" (with Kanye West, Jay Z and the Dream)
Perhaps this is cheating because it is not technically an Ocean song. But imagine if this opening track from Jay Z and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne" album did not begin with Frank singing the following:
"Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?"
The song would not be as mesmerizing and powerful and urgent without Ocean. This is heavy stuff. So heavy, in fact, who else but Ocean could even pull it off? Nobody. That's why Kanye and Jay asked him to do it. Ocean has a certain depth others lack.
11. "American Wedding"
So you might think this is just Ocean singing directly atop the music from the Eagles' massive hit, "Hotel California." If so, you are exactly right. Ocean tells an American love story, from the beginning to the tragic end (SPOILER: divorce). And the original "Hotel California" is an epic, nearly seven-minute-long song, so this is also an epic, long, slow burner. Also, since none of the borrowed track is chopped, the entire guitar solo remains. It's ridiculous and perfect.
10. "Super Rich Kids" (with Earl Sweatshirt)
"Start my day up on the roof, there's nothing like this type of view," sings Ocean. He's living *the* life. A pool, surrounded by friends, specifically super rich kids, who, it turns out, are terrible and maybe don't make the best friends. No parents. Maids. Jaguars. Everything perfect, even the shower head, which Ocean, a singer for whom no detail is too jejune, says, "feels amazing." It sorta sounds like Elton John's "Benny and the Jets," right? And in the middle Ocean specifically references Mary J. Blige's "Real Love." Then Frank's Odd Future pal Earl Sweatshirt spits a lethargic but complex verse. And the day ends where it began — on the roof — until the fall.
9. "Strawberry Swing"
So you might think this is just Ocean singing directly atop the music from Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing." If so, you are exactly right. But you really need to pay attention to Ocean's lyrics. The Coldplay song is a typical love story, but Ocean flips it into a post-apocalyptic romance epic that ends with spaceships "lifting off of a dying world and millions are left behind while the sky burns." Let's hope Ocean gets this weird and, actually, even weirder on his new album. More spaceships, please.
This second track from "Blonde" has that same sorta indie rock vibe as "Lost." A guitar line pushes forward, providing a minimal framework as Ocean tells the story of growing up and falling in love and having regrets. "We'll never be those kids again, it's not the same," he sings. It ends abruptly with some falsetto and an autotune scream and clanks and feedback — because Frank loves to keep us guessing.
The nearly 10-minute-long version of this track from "channel ORANGE" is like two tunes crammed into one but seamlessly. It's an odyssey and Cleopatra is involved and it's beautiful. The first part is funky; the second part, smooth. Cleopatra is working at "the pyramid" and Ocean is making very hip demands, such as, "Let it be some jazz playing." Oh yeah, it also features a guitar solo by John Mayer, which is something.
Frank is in love with a woman involved in the adult film business but who aspires to be a dentist on this single from "Nostalgia, Ultra." They met at Coachella. They had a blast. They stayed together. She blew his mind. When she's around, it's like novacane, a local anesthetic often used by dentists when they do stuff like rip teeth out. "I still can't feel my face," he sings, and if that line sounds familiar, it's because the Weeknd borrowed it. This is one of the songs that really shows Ocean's unique storytelling skills. It's a love story, but he slams his own special stamp on it.
5. "Sweet Life"
Pharrell Williams had his paws on this "channel ORANGE" single that earned Ocean comparisons to Stevie Wonder due to its strong '70s R&B vibe. It's a semi-dystopian tale about the bourgeois lives of the Beverly Hills elite who lay around the pool and look at mirrors all day while landscapers and housekeepers do their dirty work. But there's something strange going on, too, and it's not clear what it is exactly: "But this neighborhood is gettin' trippier every day / The neighborhood is goin' ape shit crazy." Another great example of Ocean's ability to tell a story and take it in a peculiar, mysterious direction while holding the listener's attention.
When it comes to switching styles, Ocean is brilliant. It is this chameleonic aspect that has "the world" scratching its head, wondering what the heck this new album's gonna sound like. "Lost," a funky, rocking pop song, sounds like it could be from indie-rock band Spoon's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga." It's romance and the road combined. It's getting lost in the jet-set life, and losing yourself and losing love along the way. (Note: It was later covered by Diplo and Major Lazer, featuring vocals by MO.)
3. "White Ferrari"
This standout "Blonde" track that's about a car but also about so much more than a car was cowritten with Kanye West. The credits also include John Lennon and Paul McCartney, because it includes a reference to the Beatles's "Here, There, Everywhere." That's pretty good company! Like most of "Blonde," it's perfectly austere, with just a guitar and Ocean's voice. "Mind over matter is magic," he sings, "I do magic." It's a powerful, beautiful, magical moment.
2. "Swim Good"
This single from "Nostalgia, Ultra" is cool and bleak at the same time. It's about losing at love and life as a whole, cranking up some banging music in a banging car and then driving that car straight into the ocean. Like the Pixies' song, "Wave of Mutilitation," it is one of the best songs ever made about driving a car straight into the ocean. Frank, unlike many pop stars, can make compelling, fun music about dark subject matter. This is one of the reasons why he rises up.
1. "Thinkin Bout You"
Not enough love songs begin with a tornado. But "Thinkin Bout You," a certified platinum and Grammy nominated single from "channel ORANGE," does — this is why we need Frank Ocean. Also, the man's lovely falsetto burns so bright. There is almost nothing more agonizing than thinking about a future world that deeply involves another person by your side and then finding out that that person's vision of a future world does not involve you. Ocean captures this feeling in such a deeply personal and relatable way here. For now, this is his finest song.