Whether you love them or hate them, numbers are a fact of life. Sometimes, music and numbers collide in an unlikely pairing of art and math to create something unique. Here are some of the most popular and interesting songs with numbers in the title and the stories behind each one.
One – U2
This is a somewhat abstract song open to many interpretations, even according to U2 themselves. The band has suggested that it is about resignation, romantic breakups, or the breakup of a band. It’s also about people who are different coming together but retaining their dissimilarities. It has been said that most of the track was written in about 30 minutes. It was originally released as a single to benefit AIDS research in various countries in 1992.
Song 2 – Blur
‘Song 2’ is often referred to as ‘Whoo-Hooo,’ due to its chorus. In fact, ‘Song 2’ was supposed to be a working title, but the name eventually stuck. The lyrics are quite cryptic, but the song’s overall purpose was simply to poke fun at the grunge music that was popular in the United States at the time of its release. Ironically, this track was Blur’s only US hit, although the group is very popular in the UK.
3 is a Magic Number – De La Soul
This track is unique in that it samples ‘Multiplication Rock’ from the US children’s animated series Schoolhouse Rock! It’s partially about the three members of De La Soul and is somewhat abstract in meaning. However, it’s considered a somewhat “hippie” hip-hop track, especially for the era in which it was released. ‘3 is a Magic Number’ is the lead single from the album 3 Feet High and Rising, which has been chosen by the United States Library of Congress as an addition to the National Recording Registry.
4 Minutes – Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland
Here’s a dramatic track about saving the world in four minutes; in a more literal sense, it’s about saving the environment in an enjoyable way. The title also refers to the length of the song, which was designed to showcase the talents of its performers. Madonna performed her second duet in history for this track. ‘4 Minutes’ was nominated for two Grammy Awards and charted in 21 countries, selling five million copies worldwide and three million in the US.
Related: see our list of songs about the end of the world.
Five Years – David Bowie
David Bowie sings of the world ending in five years due to a lack of resources. It introduces the album on which it appeared, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders from Mars, which is about an alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust who will save the world from destruction. It’s a very apocalyptic and entertaining track that is considered one of Bowie’s best pieces of work as well as one of the world’s best album opening tracks.
7 Years – Lukas Graham
This tune follows vocalist Lukas Graham Forchhammer’s life from age seven to age sixty in a fictional setting. Much of the song is autobiographical and highlights Forchhammer’s disenchantment with fame. The sound of a film projector was used throughout to evoke feelings of nostalgia. This popular song was nominated for three Grammy Awards and was the seventh best-selling song of 2016 worldwide. It has been compared to the Beatles hit ‘When I’m Sixty-Four.’
Related: see songs about boys growing up.
Eight Days a Week – The Beatles
‘Eight Days a Week’ was specifically written for the Beatles film Help!, and was the first pop song to fade up from silence. A number of famous artists have covered it over the years and it has made pop culture appearances, as well. Its lyrics are all about loving someone so much that you need more than seven days a week to show your appreciation. The song was only performed live once, on a UK television show called Thank Your Lucky Stars. The episode is now lost.
#9 Dream – John Lennon
This track’s lyrics have a mysterious feel, and it’s hard to interpret their meaning—though the song is often perceived as a love song. John Lennon’s lover May Pang makes a vocal appearance when the name “John” is called. The string arrangement from Harry Nilsson’s ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ was used in the song. This was actually a track that Lennon produced himself. ‘#9 Dream’ charted in the United States and the UK after its release.
Ten Years Gone – Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant wrote this song about a girlfriend who made him choose between her and his music ten years before the track was made. This was originally supposed to be an instrumental song and has 14 guitar tracks overdubbed on its harmony section, rather than relying on guitar riffs. This made it an unusual song for Led Zeppelin. A live version of the track was released in 2000 and reached Number 33 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart at the time.
13 Beaches – Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey sings of an empty beach free of photographers’ prying eyes as she says, “It took 13 beaches to find one empty/But finally, it’s mine.” The song is an autobiographical account from a 2016 day when Del Rey was trying to find some peace and quiet to read a book. While she usually records her vocals in only a few takes, Del Rey has said that she worked considerably longer on this track to perfect its sound.
Fifteen – Taylor Swift
‘Fifteen’ is about Taylor Swift’s best friend Abigail Anderson and the fun times they had together in high school. It was also about the romance at age fifteen that hurt Anderson. It serves as a cautionary tale for teenage girls, warning them not to put too much trust in their love interests. The song charted in numerous countries after its release and has been certified gold in Canada and double platinum in the United States.
Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
While it may not be immediately understood from the lyrics, Stevie Nicks wrote this song about her uncle’s rapid death from cancer as well as the death of John Lennon, who is referred to in the line “Words from a poet and a voice from a choir.” The track focuses heavily on the fact that only Nicks and her cousin John Nicks were present when her uncle died. The white-winged dove in the track serves as a symbol of the two lost lives and as a symbol of peace.
Related: go to our playlist of songs about loss.
18 Years – Daughtry
Chris Daughtry was inspired to write this song based on his best friend and their wild youthful adventures. A dangerous car wreck that the two experienced together also made its way into the song, though Daughtry has said that the song isn’t meant to glorify recklessness. Rather, it was supposed to highlight the intense experiences the two had and serve to make the piece a realistic and dramatic song to end the album on which the track appeared.
24 Hours from Tulsa – Gene Pitney
Temptation is one of several troublesome human conditions that plague everyone from time to time. Gene Pitney addresses it in this track, which went on to be one of his biggest hit songs. It has been included on at least 80 albums, with at least 48 of those albums containing Pitney’s original version. Many famous artists have covered the hit track. It has appeared three times in the Stephen King-inspired Hulu series Castle Rock during its first season.
25 Hours – Johnny Marr
Here is a powerful autobiographical track that details how singer-songwriter and musician Johnny Marr used music as an escape from his Catholic school days and oppressive childhood. It shows how music and art can be not only an escape from tough situations, but an actual means of changing your life and future when there seems to be no other way out of a path that was chosen for you, especially as a young and somewhat powerless child.
33 Crows – Kula Shaker
This track was meant to be a country track about heartbreak and breaking up with a romantic partner. Its lyrics are all about coming to terms with the fact that a breakup between two lovers is inevitable. It was written with guitar tech Modi, who was friends with Kula Shaker’s frontman Crispian Mills. It highlighted how the band mates’ friendships with each other and relationships with others in their lives helped shape their songs into great pieces of art.
A Pirate Looks at 40 – Jimmy Buffett
This song is about Phil Clark, a colorful man that Jimmy Buffett met in Florida who was involved in a number of questionable activities. He reflected with Buffett on whether or not his chosen profession would still be around as he approached 40. This was one of Buffett’s most popular songs and was performed at each of his live concerts as a result. Buffett’s autobiography A Pirate Looks at Fifty was named after the song.
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon
The opening lyrics for this song popped into Paul Simon’s mind one morning after waking up. It looks at the feelings that occur while trapped in a bad relationship and approached Simon’s divorce in a humorous way through rhyming lyrics. While the title suggests that there are 50 ways to leave a lover, Simon only mentions five in the song. The hit was certified gold in the United States after more than one million copies were sold.
Related: see our list of songs about being yourself.
99 Red Balloons – Nena
This track approaches obsession with war in a somewhat comical way, as 99 balloons are released into the air and perceived as dangerous unidentified objects by opposing military powers. The contrast between innocent balloons and calculated military attacks makes it an interesting piece of art. It’s also about the lost hopes and dreams of the German people during and after the darkness of World War II. An English version was recorded for a United States audience, but the original German song remains the most popular release to this day.
8 Million Stories – A Tribe Called Quest
‘8 Million Stories’ is about having a bad day no matter what one does, from helping friends to simply waking up in the morning. A Tribe Called Quest also addresses the challenges faced by those living in project housing in the track. It is one of only two songs that was not self-produced on its album and has been sampled by other artists. Jay-Z also honors the track in his hit song ‘Empire State of Mind.’
More songs with numbers in the title:
- Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa – Gene Pitney
- Seven Curses – Bob Dylan
- Five Man Army – Massive Attack
- Seven Wonders – Fleetwood Mac
- 3’s and 7’s – Queens of the Stone Age
- Two Princes – Eddie Money
- Two Ghosts – Harry Styles
- 7 Things – Miley Cyrus
- 100 Years – Spice Girls
- The One – Elton John
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
- The Four Horsemen – Metallica
- 911 – Lady Gaga
- Land of 1,000 Dances – Wilson Pickett
- Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
- Take Five – The Dave Brubeck Quartet
- 7 Days – Craig David
- Four Hours from Tulsa – Spin Doctors
- Seven Seas of Rhye – Queen
- Love Me Two Times – The Doors
- Back To Zero – The Rolling Stones
- Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford
- Seven Little Girls (Sitting In The Back Seat) – Paul Evans
- Two Tickets to Paradise – Eddie Money
- Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
- Cloud Number 9 – Bryan Adams
- One (Is the Loneliest Number) – Three Dog Night
- Two of a Kind, Workin on a Full House – Garth Brooks
- FourFiveSeconds – Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney
- Sk8ter Boy – Avril Lavigne
- Seven Turns – The Allman Brothers Band
- Hit Me Baby One More Time – Britney Spears
- 5 Minutes to Live – Johnny Cash
- 14 Years – Guns N’ Roses
- Disco 2000 – Pulp
- Three Dollar Hat – The Dead Weather