Your Guide to the Chillest Songs of the 70s, 80s, and 90s
Chill songs to vibe to
Has life been stressing you out? Do you feel anxious a lot of the time? Do you wish that there was some kind of natural remedy for these feelings? Well, we’ve got you covered. Instead of popping pills to chill out, check out our list of the ultimate chill songs of all time. Just sit back and relax and start to let the good vibes wash over you. Life has been super stressful for the last few years, and music is one of the best ways of dealing with the world. So, let’s take a look at the best chill songs to vibe to.
Chill songs of the 1970s
You can make the case that there has always been chill music. After all, the adagio was the original form of chill music dating all the way back to the 1600s. But we’re going to start our list of the most chill songs of all time with the chill songs of the 70s. A decade when it was pretty cool to kick back and enjoy a nice sunny day. It was the decade when yacht rock was born, and it produced a bunch of great chill songs.
“Ventura Highway” by America
From the opening acoustic guitar lines, it’s clear that this is going to be a chill song. Sometimes called the “Topanga Canyon Sound,” “Ventura Highway” is one of many tracks from the 70s that relies on lush vocal harmonies, ethereal guitars, and a silky-smooth bassline that sits in the perfect groove.
Perhaps the best thing about this song is how perfectly it evokes the feeling of being in southern California, perhaps at a time when there wasn’t quite as much traffic on the Ventura freeway. Perhaps the only thing to complain about with this song is that southern Californians don’t say highway. They say freeway.
“Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
This is another one of those chill songs that you know as soon as it gets started. Even before its iconic sax riff takes off, you know you’re about to head down to Baker Street. Combining every trick in the 70s recording book, this song has become a classic, partly due to the unforgettable sax, but also because of the chill verses that lead to it.
Rafferty’s smooth voice combined with subtle Rhodes piano and delicate hand percussion are the perfect formula for one of the best chill songs of all time. And of course, there’s the little trick at the end of the song where the sax riff is replaced by a wicked, 70s guitar solo that totally wails.
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
This may be the most chill song of the 70s or it may be the most chill songs of all time. From the horns on the left side of the mix to the smooth electric guitar right in the middle, the beginning of this track pulls you into a groove from which you cannot escape.
When Al’s voice kicks in, his creamy falsetto and delicate vibrato let you know that this is going to be one of the smoothest jams you’ve ever heard. As the song goes on, light Mellotron glides along with a string tone that is positively 70s. And of course, there are those backing vocals wrapping up in their velvety soft embrace. This is one of those tracks you never want to end.
“Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton
This sweet ballad has endured mainly because of Riperton’s gorgeous vocals that cover an enormous range. We all remember the falsetto trill that Riperton does on this song, and it’s truly remarkable that she’s able to hit notes so high. Unfortunately, Minnie Riperton, who was Maya Rudolph’s mother, died of breast cancer at the young age of 31.
The simplicity of this track allows Riperton’s voice to really shine through because the instrumentation consists mostly of soft Rhodes piano on one side and nylon string guitar on the other. It’s one of the best and most chill songs of the 70s, and it still sounds fresh all these years later.
Chill songs of the 80s
The 80s were a decade absolutely packed with chill songs. Synthesizers were becoming more and more popular, and even rock acts like Motley Crue and Ozzy Osborne started releasing ballads. So, what were the best chill songs of the 80?
“Drive” by the Cars
Another chill classic, this synthy masterpiece by New York rockers the Cars saw them go in a very different direction from the rest of their catalogue. While most of their music pulsed with a feverish new-wave sound, this track made use of lush synths and drums with plenty of reverb.
Another difference between this song and much of the Car’s output was the fact that this song featured bassist Ben Orr on vocals rather than Rik Ocasic. In many ways, “Drive” was one of the songs that set the tone for what 80s music would feel like. Countless other artists started using this style to create lush soundscapes which gave the 80s their signature sound.
“Love on a Real Train” by Tangerine Dream
Chances are, if you’re not a big time TD fan, you heard this song when you watched the Tom Cruise movie Risky Business. This was the main theme and a perfect example of a chill song from the 80s.
Soft analog synths feel as though they’re surrounding you in a dreamy cocoon. As the track moves along more synths join the main part and start shifting the key from major to minor. At nearly nine minutes, this is one of those tracks you can lose yourself in. It was a perfect fit for a movie about a teenager living a dangerous fantasy, and after all these years, it’s still as trippy and influential as ever.
“Time After Time” by Cindi Lauper
Is there any chill song more 80s than this one? It’s remained one of her biggest hits, but it’s also one of her chiller songs. With classic 80s production, this track evokes a kind of nostalgia that you can only relate to if you were alive at the time. When people ask, “what makes an 80s song sound like an 80s song?” the answer is, whatever Cindi Lauper is doing on this track.
Every decade has a signature sound of some kind, and the 80s were all about synthesizers that sounded a certain way. Singers sang in a specific way, and everything had this glossy sheen to it that was new and different. These days, we hear countless artists and producers try to recreate these sounds, and many of them do it rather well. But songs like “Time After Time” are where that sound originated.
"With or Without You” by U2
“With or Without You” wasn’t U2’s first hit, but it was their first hit that was a ballad. But it’s also one of the best chill songs of the 80s. Beginning with Adam Clayton’s oft copied quarter note bass line, the song establishes a laid back but driving beat that continues for the rest of the song. People often wonder what that high-pitched sound is, and it’s often mistaken for synth when in reality it is a device called the Infinite Guitar, and it was built specifically for the Edge.
But it’s perhaps Bono’s passionate vocals searching for a solution to an impossible situation that makes the track stand out. There’s an earnest yearning that wasn’t so common in 1987, and that roughness is what made U2 stand out in the endless field of glam.
“Purple Rain” by Prince
You can’t have a list of chill songs from the 80s without including something by Prince. Choosing just one song was a bit difficult, but this just seemed to be the natural choice. “Purple Rain” was undeniably one of Prince’s biggest hits and most influential songs of his career. The track begins with unforgettable guitar chords drenched in chorus, and then Prince’s voice comes in. Tender and vulnerable, it fits perfectly with the arrangement.
At this point in his career, Prince was still establishing himself as a musical genius, and this was the song that brought his music to the mainstream. On first listen, it’s obviously a legendary ballad, but after repeat listens, you start to understand just how complicated a song it is. The different elements float in and out, and we even get to hear a few of Prince’s legendary guitar licks. It’s safe to say the 80s would have been a very different time if this song never existed.
“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty
The world feels just a little less fun without Tom Petty in it, but at least we still have his enormous catalog of music to remember him. This tune was an entry point for many Petty fans when it came out. A dominant hit single that seemed like it was everywhere for a while, “Free Fallin’” is Petty’s ode to growing up in the San Fernando Valley, despite the fact that Tom Petty grew up across the country in Gainesville, Florida.
But what we likely remember about the song itself are the twelve-string guitars and Petty’s drawling voice. This tune was recorded during a period where Petty had broken from his band the Heartbreakers as well as his record label. The result was an album—Full Moon Fever—that allowed Petty greater control, and it produced a number of other hits.
Chill songs of the 90s.
The 90s were a time of big, grungy rock, but that wasn’t all. There were plenty of artists making some of the most chill music ever heard. Some of them were huge hits, while other flew under the radar. So, let’s take a look at the top chill songs of the 90s.
“Sour Times” by Portishead
While Portishead hasn’t been very active in recent years, they were quite prolific in the 90s, and this track is probably their most well-known. Somewhat lo-fi production was all the rage in the 90s, and this track definitely has a vintage sounding patina on it. A scratchy beat unpins everything as Beth Gibbons’ ethereal voice almost becomes a moan.
There’s also ample vintage-sounding electric guitar with a touch of tremolo, but only as an accent. Throughout their career, Portishead straddled the line between a number of different genres, but today, we’d probably just refer to them as “alternative.” If you haven’t listened to any of their albums in a while, this is a good place to start.
“Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star
This is a track you’ve almost certainly heard before, but you may not know that much about it. Mazzy Star never blew up the way a lot of people expected, and that expectation was largely based on how amazing this song is. As though it is channeling the Stones’ classic “Wild Horses,” “Fade Into You” has an almost effortless quality to it.
Much of the brilliance of the song comes from Hope Sandoval’s intoxicating voice that seems to glide from one note to the next. This is coupled with lazy sounding slide guitar to create a mood that is mysterious and warm and welcoming. Much as Sandoval sings, “fade into you,” it often feels as though the song itself fades in to the listener.
“No Surprises” by Radiohead
Towards the end of their decade defining album OK Computer, we get this track that pairs dreamlike instrumentation with lyrics that hint at great anxiety about the meaning of a life well lived. The song starts with ethereal guitar which has been capoed at the thirteenth fret. Backing that up is a delicate line of glockenspiel played by multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood.
Thom Yorke’s vocals drip with reverb as he discusses the mundane aspects of our lives, and the fact that what we consider a meaningful life might be a lie that the world has made us believe.
“Between the Bars” by Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith’s mysterious death will always leave a dark cloud over his music, but in his fairly short career he turned out many beautifully crafted songs. It’s likely that most people had never heard Smith before his songs were used in the film Good Will Hunting, and he was nominated for an Oscar.
“Between the Bars” is just one of many songs that we could have chosen from Smith’s catalog, but it’s perfectly representative of his hushed style and sensitive lyrics. Many of Smith’s songs were simple affairs and often recorded in his home. Like here, his voice was often doubled to give a unique quality by hard panning the vocals to either side. Because of this, Smith could practically whisper, and you could hear him.
“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
Another artist we lost far too young, and also under somewhat mysterious circumstances, Jeff Buckley only made one proper record. With that one record though, he became a legend. While this song may a cover of a Leonard Cohen song, Buckley has elevated the simple song to new heights by replacing the piano with guitar and adding an extra verse.
But what makes this slow burn song so magical is Buckley’s voice. And this is, ultimately, the reason for Buckley’s legendary status. We’ve never heard a voice just like his before or since. Soft and powerful at the same time, Buckley had a gift for adding depth to every word he sang, and that’s why his treatment of this song is so essential.
Chill songs to listen to while high
Ok, so you don’t have to get high in order to appreciate these songs, but it can’t hurt. We’re going to go way back in time for this one and remind you of some of the best chill songs to listen to while high.
“Wading in the Velvet Sea” by Phish
Phish is one of those controversial bands who have their fans and their haters, but we dare you to find a more chill song that this. The title alone is pretty chill, and the song itself doesn’t disappoint. Just grab the bong, turn on the blacklights, and relax. Dreamy abstract lyrics seems to flow like stream of consciousness until breaking at the middle of the song.
From there, the song starts to climb out of the hole it has dug for itself, and the second verse leads to a transcendent guitar solo from Trey Anastasio. It’s not an epic Grateful Dead jam, but it’s one of the best chill songs out there.
“Echoes” by Pink Floyd
So, you just lit up a big spliff and you’re wondering what to listen to. You also don’t want to have to worry about changing to a different song any time soon. Well, we have you covered. “Echoes” clocks in at just under twenty-four minutes, and when it was released in 1971 it occupied an entire side of the LP it was on.
There is really no way to describe what happens in this song because it is never just one thing. Like most great prog rock, it’s more of a journey than a song, and you won’t recognize where you end up at the end. From moody psychedelia to heavy funk, this track has everything you need to groove out.
So, there you have it. Our list of the top chill songs of all time. Of course, we can’t include everything, but hopefully this gives you some ideas for new music to check out. At Turntable, our goal is to help people find music they’ve never heard before and share it with their friends. So, if you and your buddies are looking to put together a chill playlist, look no further.