Jack Johnson is an American singer songwriter who has also had a busy career in other areas, including surfing (he started out as a professional surfer), acting, and documentary creation. However, he is probably most celebrated for his music within the acoustic pop and soft rock genres.
Here’s our pick of the best Jack Johnson songs, in no particular order, that showcase the high points of his career. Grab yourself a cold one, kick back, and chill :-).
20. One Step Ahead
From Jack Johnson’s 2022 release Meet the Moonlight, ‘One Step Ahead’ sees him in a world weary mood, obviously inspired by the pandemic. Technology, especially social media and its effect on human communication, are in his line of fire here. “No one sees face-to-face, or eye-to-eye,” with everyone wanting to be “first to the punchline.” The track is about the growing polarisation in the world, with strongly held, political views often getting in the way of relationships. However, he reminds us, “how can I be so certain that my first impressions are mine?”
19. Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
This track was written to cheer up one of Jack Johnson’s friends who was pursuing a romantic interest to no avail. One interesting fact about this song is that the music video was filmed in one take and then played backwards; Johnson had to learn to sing backwards as a result.
Related: see songs about wanting someone.
18. Do You Remember
Another feel good song from In Between Dreams. Apparently the song popped into his head while driving and was inspired by silly little moments with his wife. It sees Johnson reminiscing about the day that he and his wife met and his first attempts to woo her.
17. Upside Down
Written and recorded for the soundtrack of 2006’s animated film Curious George, this infectious little song is textbook feel good Jack Johnson. It’s not Proust, but it’s fun.
This song tells the story of a young woman in the world’s oldest profession by the name of Taylor. Jack Johnson’s native Hawaii is referenced in the line, “Two thousand miles from here.” Taylor Swift apparently had this as her cellphone ringtone due to the Taylor reference – well, how sweet! Nice little cameo from Ben Stiller in the music video too.
15. Good People
In this protest song we see Johnson flicking through (“changing channels”) on his TV and being utterly depressed by what he sees. “Where did all the good people go?” he muses. “We’ve got heaps and heaps of what we sow.”
14. Bubble Toes
‘Bubble Toes’ is apparently the nickname for his wife, Kim. The track, which was never supposed to be anything more than a private and silly song for her, ended up on Johnson’s debut album, Brushfire Fairytales, released in 2001.
Related: check out our playlist of bubble-related songs.
13. Never Know
‘Never Know’ is about religion and the ways that people are cruel and pushy toward each other in its name. He promotes tolerance toward others, whether their beliefs match yours or not.
With some gorgeous fingerpicked guitar, this laidback track (that wouldn’t sound out of place of a Neil Young Harvest era album), celebrates the magic of the outdoors at sunset, looking forward to the moonlight. It was apparently inspired by childhood experiences with his father (“listened to papa’s translations”). It encourages listeners to value the small things in life.
11. Escape (The Pina Colada Song)
This cover was originally written and performed by British-born American singer Rupert Holmes. It’s a humorous tale about a couple who are bored with their relationship and end up “meeting” each other again. It reminds you that you might already have what you need right in front of you.
Related: hear the original version of song on our songs about the beach playlist.
Life can get pretty frantic sometimes, even when you live on a the golden shores of Hawaii. “Breakdown’ is a song about feeling the need to stop – or the need for society to stop – but you know you can’t. “I wanna break on down”, he sings, “but I can’t stop now.” Played on the native instrument of his island (a Ukulele), it’s a lovely little track about resilience.
Here we see Johnson at his philosophical best, trying to understand “what I can’t hold in my hand”. He realises that ‘home’ is ‘being in love’, and isn’t a place at all. “Home is wherever we are if there’s love here too” he concludes.
Related: check out our home songs playlist.
A great song about dealing with your problems while you can, what Johnson refers to as “subplots”. “Give me a red pen”, he says, “I will simplify your story” (a red pen is typically used to cross things out, or at least was when I was at school.) The opening track for Johnson’s album All the Light Above It Too, ‘Subplots’ does a great job at reminding us to get on with life, and to stop the spiral of regret, self-doubt, or whatever your hang up is. Life’s too short, and over in the flap of a moth’s wing. “we’ve all got this moment, it’s ours to lose,” he sings.
7. I Got You
Another romantic song is one of many dedicated to Jack Johnson’s wife, Kim. On paper it looks like yet another soppy romance song “I got you, I got everything”, but somehow Johnson delivery gives is an edge. He admits his partner is his rock, and that “some days I can’t hold it at all, you take it on for me.” Very sweet.
6. Times Like These
As we’ve seen, while Jack Johnson has written his fair share of romantic songs, his songs are often pretty deep. Here’s one about acceptance and seeing the bigger picture. He mentions the circle of life and death (“there’s always been laughing, crying, birth, and dying”). Hearts will be broken, (“boys and girls with hearts that take and give and break”). And life goes on, no matter what (“and heal and grow and recreate and raise and nurture”). With a line that’s straight out a Marcus Aurelius book (the famous stoic) , he accepts “what will be will be, and so it goes.”
5. Sunsets for Somebody Else
Written while he was on a surf trip in Micronesia (as is often the case), Johnson said “something about being on boats always pulls songs out of me”. With a soothing, lullaby sound, it deals with those moments when anxiety takes over, and you can’t even sleep, “No, did your sheep start jumping?”
While a good deal of Jack Johnson’s are about the power of love, here’s one of this early breakthrough numbers about the opposite: a relationship on the rocks. “I’m so tired of trying,” he laments. There’s also a nod to the Beatles song ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ with the lyric “Please, please, please don’t pass me by.”
3. Banana Pancakes
This sweet little song is “a wakeup in the morning and make breakfast with your family kind of song”, according to Johnson. We see our man trying to distract his sidetracked wife, encouraging her to come and hang out with him. He’s brilliant at these sweet little romance songs. His wife must have been suitably charmed.
Related: this appears on our songs with food in the title mixtape.
2. If I Had Eyes
Time is the greatest healer, they say. Well, not in this case. Here, the protagonist can’t get over his lost love. “Sometimes time doesn’t heal, no not at all” he sings. “I doubt I’m gonna win you back, when you got eyes like that” he laments. Some lovely electric guitar vibes and Beatle-esque organ on this track and I completely freakin’ love it when the chorus kicks in. “In or out of love again I doubt I’m gonna win you back”. Damn. Well, you got a great song from it :).
1. Better Together
With one of the longest opening lines of any song (try saying “there’s no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard” and watch yourself get tongue-tied), this sweet love song is his most popular tune. Never one to shy away from the deep questions such as “why are we here?, and where do we go?”, he admits, “love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart.” Life is hard, but with this girl by his side, she makes everything good again.
Related: this track appears on our sticking it out through tough times playlist.