John Mayer’s guitar chops helped him become one of the most popular artists of the early 2000s. But it is his ability to write deeply human songs that fans and listeners immediately connect with that has fueled his career spanning over two decades. His effortless playing style (he prefers to pick his guitar fingerstyle, nothing standing between him and his strings) and his breathy vocals have birthed hits from ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ to ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.’
Often labeled a lothario type, especially at the height of his career, his early efforts focused on the hardships one faces while trying to grow up, and his later singles delve into tormented romance. His discography is vast, but we put our best foot forward with this ranked playlist of the best John Mayer songs.
12. Why Georgia
‘Why Georgia’ dives deeply into the musician’s feelings of “drifting” in his mid-twenties as he tried to make it in the music industry (he studied at Berklee College). Written while he lived in Atlanta, Georgia, the famous lines from the song, “I am tempted to keep the car in drive, and leave it all behind,” perfectly summed up his mental state as he worked on the future hit in a small apartment with nothing but his music equipment. The song deals with life’s bigger questions, especially with younger generations, who take more time to grow up these days than their predecessors. Over-saturation caused this track to have a love/hate relationship with his fans. Love it or hate it, the hit single was instrumental in the formative years of Mayer’s career, and comes in on our list at number 12.
11. Bigger Than My Body
“I guess I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for.” John’s follow-up album to Room for Squares highlighted his efforts to expand his songwriting horizon and write about deeper subject matter. A few years into his experience with fame and fortune, instead of his music becoming more sanitized in an effort to appeal to the masses, he drilled down into discomfort and insecurities that helped his fans relate to him even more. This uplifting single didn’t chart as high as his others, but the release marked a milestone for Mayer, who wanted to move people with his new work after being inspired by attending a Coldplay show. For anyone who has ever felt underestimated, ‘Bigger Than My Body’ stands as a resounding, highly relatable anthem for you. It also shows even the biggest celebrities, like Mayer at the time, still struggle with self-doubt.
10. Free Fallin’
In 2007 John released a live album, Where The Light Is, featuring his concert at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles while on tour. The performance featured blazing electrified guitar riffs, high-powered covers including the classic ‘Everyday I Have the Blues,’ and an extended version of ‘Why Georgia’ that drew passionate applause from the crowd. But perhaps the most moving part of the live album, and concert itself, was when John Mayer quieted things down by going acoustic and playing softly with the John Mayer Trio seated on stage. One of the songs performed trio-style was an acoustic-based cover of Tom Petty’s signature hit, ‘Free Fallin.” Leaning on his falsetto prowess and tender fingerpicking patterns, Mayer delivered one of the most personal, emotional covers of all time.
9. Half of My Heart
Mayer’s love life is no stranger to high-profile romances. One of those romances was supposedly a short-lived relationship with pop star Taylor Swift. It’s long been rumored her song ‘Dear John’ from her Speak Now album was penned for the rocker. With ‘Half of My Heart,’ Swift’s melodic, falsetto background vocals can be heard towards the end of the track, giving the single an intimate, mournful feel. The lyrics focus on Mayer’s inability to remain stable within relationships: “Half of my heart is a shotgun wedding to a bride with a paper ring. Half of my heart is the shape of a man who’s never truly loved anything.” Whether the song is about his time spent with Swift, or his role with romances in general, ‘Half of My Heart’ is another solid effort by the dynamic songwriter and comes in at our number 9 spot.
“Walking like a one man army.” An inspirational track with swelling drums and a rare “Guitalele” appearance (more on that in a second), the singer-songwriter wrote ‘Say’ for the 2007 film The Bucket List. Movie watchers quickly took to the featured track, which tells listeners to be honest in life and speak the truth even though it can be a hard and lonely road. Much debate went into how Mayer produced the high-pitched opening fingerpicking riff that became one of its signature elements. After some digging, dedicated fans figured out Mayer played a “Guitalele” for the recording, a hybrid ukulele/guitar instrument perfect for guitarists who want to produce a softer Uke sound. The moving ballad won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, scored a slew of other nominations, and comes in at number 9 on our playlist.
7. New Light
Though many of his hits came from his first few album releases, John Mayer proved he has staying power with his 2018 release of ‘New Light’ from his critically-acclaimed album Sob Rock. Featuring a collaboration with R&B producer No I.D., the single kept enough classic “Mayer” elements, like yearning vocals and a catchy backbeat, to entice his fans, but unique keyboard work colored the track with a retro-pop feel, reeling in new audiences who dig modern takes on the popular ’70s subgenre, blue-eyed soul. After just a week on the charts, it broke into the top ten on Hot Rock Songs, and for the year 2018 consumers in Mexico helped it become the second best-selling single. Not many mainstream artists in today’s volatile music market can continue to churn out hits 20 years after they scored their first one, which is why ‘New Light’ comes in at number 7 on our list.
Mayer put down his electric guitar and picked up his acoustic for his top twenty single ‘Daughters.’ Trading in soaring Memphis-style licks for gentle fingerpicking phrasings, he sings about the prevalence of women who are unable to trust men due to childhoods with absent or abusive fathers. Appearing on his album Heavier Things, he wrote the tune after a breakup when he realized it didn’t work out because the woman had “daddy issues” (Mayer’s words spoken during a concert, not ours). Mayer reminds parents to treasure their daughters so they can grow up and have successful relationships before becoming parents themselves.
5. Your Body Is a Wonderland
Shortly after John Mayer released his cheeky single ‘Your Body Is a Wonderland,’ rumors flew that the girl in the video closely resembled who he was dating at the time. This romantic, sugary number solidified Mayer’s early status as a heartthrob, winning over millions of adoring female fans. Much speculation pointed to the song being about actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, who the rocker dated briefly after the song debuted. As theories swirled, ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ became Mayer’s breakout hit, and it took him years to finally admit who he wrote the song for. In an interview with American Songwriter, he confessed he wrote it for his high school sweetheart long before he was even introduced to Hollywood celebrities. He won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the song in In 2003.
4. Waiting On the World to Change
“When they own the information they can bend it all they want.” John Mayer’s third studio album Continuum was full of memorable songs, including ‘Waiting On The World to Change,’ a top 20 chart topper the bluesy musician wrote in an effort to “…start a debate,” he said in a Daily Mail interview. Though the track’s instrumentation is cheerful, featuring a groovy backbeat, bells, and a mid-song funk breakdown, its lyrical content speaks to Mayer’s generation—one that he says feels a bit “helpless” when it comes to trying to enact global change.
3. Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
John Mayer has a unique ability. He’s able to turn the most crushing situations, like the torment of a breakup, into something beautiful. He once again utilizes confessionalist lyrics with his widely successful track ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,’ adding a curse word midway through that commercial stations had to bleep out when they put it on steady rotation. The expletive doesn’t feel forced. Rather, the line drives a metaphorical dagger into the heart through the mournful guitar work and evocative prose. Though Mayer never released the song as a single, listeners became so enamored with it that radio stations took notice, and the song ultimately went platinum in America. The song is one of his most intense efforts and one that has been covered by country heavy-hitters like Lindsay Ell, so we put it high on our list at number 3.
Even if you don’t listen to John Mayer on a regular basis, it is almost impossible not to be familiar with one of the rocker’s biggest hits of his career, his buttery-bluesy single ‘Gravity.’ The John Mayer song oozes emotion, as Mayer’s lyrics are revealed in a confessionalist tone while smooth, clean electric guitar fills swell into empty spaces between vocal lines. “Gravity, stay the hell away from me.” One of fans’ favorite things about Mayer is his brutally honest lyrical mastery. He says so much so simply, and that’s the mark of a brilliant wordsmith. Though the song opens with quiet desperation, by the end of the track classic blues instrumentation and honey-dipped gospel harmonies back up the musician as he half-screams into the mic at the “gravity” holding him down that he’s trying so hard to escape. Listeners connected so intimately with this single that after its release in 2007, results from a Watch and Listen Magazine poll showed their supporters voted the song as “The Greatest Song in the History of Music.”
1. Stop This Train
One of the pop-rock musician’s more eclectic tunes, ‘Stop This Train’ might not have the streaming stats other Mayer tracks like ‘Your Body Is a Wonderland’ has, but it continues to have a big impact on fans in countless, unique ways since its release on Continuum in 2006. Mayer wrote the track from a deeply personal space himself, including lyrics like “I’m so scared of getting older. I’m only good at being young,” and “Don’t know how else to say it. Don’t want to see my parents go.” Though he released it about a decade later, into his thirties, the musician wrote the gentle lullaby in his 20s when he was struggling with a self-described “quarter life crisis”. Fans have revered the song since its debut, using it as part of their healing process when leaving abusive relationships, grieving lost loved ones, and graduating high school. Their deep connection with its message is why we think ‘Stop This Train’ deserves the top spot on this list, making it the ultimate John Mayer song.