We all like to see ourselves in the music we listen to, whether it’s a peppy tune about being a great friend or a sweaty lovemaking ballad (especially if it’s a sweaty lovemaking ballad). That’s doubly true when it comes to the best inspirational songs. There’s something cathartic about knowing that our favorite singers must overcome the same struggles as we do: Sure, they may be rich and famous, but even the most glamourous rocker has had to get past their fair share of obstacles. Multimilionaires – they’re just like us!
Next time you’re feeling down and looking to fight through your own troubles, take a cue from these 30 best inspirational songs of all time. You’ll find classic rockers pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and divas declaring themselves queens, rappers beating their chests and Motown heroes standing tall after conquering the world. And in each, you might just find a little bit of yourself, too.
1. ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967, this Ashford and Simpson-penned song was covered by Diana Ross three years later, becoming a hit. The original, however, is still the most uplifting version, full of hope and determination, proving that love can conquer anything that stands in its way. If at all possible, seek out the live version to take the motivational factor up to stratospheric heights.
2. ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor
Another number that proves life goes on after a break-up, this ultimately empowering disco anthem is a classic motivational tune and an essential track on any Pride playlist. Gaynor later used it as the backdrop for a 2013 anthology of inspirational stories called We Will Survive. Destiny’s Child may have shouted about it the loudest, but GG was the original survivor.
3. ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem
Putting all the memes about ‘Mom’s spaghetti’ aside, if you’ve ever felt like the underdog (and who hasn’t at some point?), then ‘Lose Yourself’ is for you. Em’s Oscar-winning pick-up anthem is all about seizing the moment and giving it all you’ve got, plus a bit more – and what’s more inspirational than that?
4. ‘I’m Still Standing’ by Elton John
Originally written as a kiss-off after a breakup, this seriously up-tempo Elton John smash has been co-opted by the masses as an anthem of steely resiliance for basically any occasion. It’s a musical embodiment of perseverence from a man who has been defying the odds for decades.
5. ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child
A true lesson in resilience from Queen Bey and co, this classic is a motivational poster turned into an R&B banger. The song came off the back of problems within the group, but it silenced their critics and inspired fans in the process.
6. ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ by Daft Punk
Even the title of this dance duo’s repetitive electro-banger is seriously motivational. It’s been hijacked a bit by gym bros, but don’t let that stop it from picking you up when you need a lift. For extra motivational kudos, the track was later sampled by Kanye on his 2007 hit ‘Stronger’.
7. ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’ by Jackie Wilson
Possibly the greatest feelgood song of all time, this tune is three minutes of pure happiness and will fling you straight into summer. There are loads of cover versions knocking around, but – surprise surprise – the joyous original still wins hands down.
8. ‘***Flawless’ by Beyoncé
Sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s inspirational feminist call to arms, there are many layers to ‘***Flawless’ and just too many motivational lines to count. The overriding message, however, rings clear and true: ladies, you’re flawless – and you shouldn’t be defined by a relationship.
9. ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen
The Boss’s defining 1975 album Born to Run was the one that catapulted him to stardom, and its title track remains inspirational, also acting as the highlight of every epic Bruce live show. Written as a love letter to a girl named Wendy, it’s all about running away – which initially doesn’t sound too inspirational, until you realise it’s also about starting all over again with a fresh outlook. Plus it has a killer sax solo courtesy of the late, great Clarence Clemons.
10. ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie
From the second album in his ‘Berlin Trilogy’, this is one of Bowie’s signature songs. Over the years, it’s become associated with optimism and hope – some even associate it with playing a part in the fall of the Berlin Wall, after Bowie performed it live in front of the Reichstag in 1987, in an emotionally charged concert. It’s since become a staple of movie trailers, which isn’t quite as stirring as scoring the crumbling of a monument to oppression, but is impactful nonetheless.
11. ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry
A perfect companion to the razzle-dazzle of ‘Firework,’ ‘Roar’ is very much a feminist anthem, and one of modern pop’s best. But it’s also a hair-raising tribute rising above bullying to fully realize yourself, then shouting it from the mountaintops. Or, in Katy Perry’s case, from the shoulders of a gigantic kaiju-like robotic lion in the middle of a stadium.
12. ‘Started from the Bottom’ by Drake
Once upon a time, before he was a certified loverboy, Drake was just like you, arguing with his mum and sitting in traffic. Now he wears all the chains – even when he’s doing the washing up – to remind him how far he’s come. After listening to this for a few minutes, you’ll feel like you and your crew can go that far too.
13. ‘Girl on Fire’ by Alicia Keys
Seemingly penned as a walk-on song for Hunger Games tribute Katniss Everdeen, Keys – the human embodiment of grace and confidence – penned this rousing anthem about the ability to stand up to any and all challenges, her voice practically soaring above her signature piano work. The message? Keep your head in the clouds, continue dreaming… and burn any and all naysayers to the ground.
14. ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty
The late Wilbury’s ode to picking yourself up from the mud is one of the rocker’s biggest hits thanks to its universal message of staring adversity in the face and standing your ground. It’s a common theme, but with Petty’s ascendant bridge paired with one his catchiest melodies, it’s become the stuff of underdog legend.
15. ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta ft. SIA
‘You shoot me down, but I won’t fall/I am titanium’ SIA wails from behind a wall of hair on David Guetta’s breakout anthem to confidence, and it’s almost impossible to not feel like you could stop a train with your bare hands while listening to the beat climb to the sky.
16. ‘True Colors’ by Cyndi Lauper
This simple, stripped-down ode to being your best authentic self has been striking a chord with outsiders for over three decades. It’s been particularly embraced by the LGBT+ community, one Lauper has supported for years, so it’s heartening to know that she co-founded the True Colors Fund in 2008 to help fight homelessness among queer young people.
17. ‘Touch the Sky’ by Kanye West
The rapper has a few inspirational songs under his belt, but ‘Touch the Sky’ – with its Evel Kneivel-inspired video and aspirational lyrics – is up there as being one of the most uplifting, motivational tunes of all time, sung by someone who knows a thing or two about self-motivation.
18. ‘The Show Must Go on’ by Queen
While ‘We Are the Champions’ is the conventional choice here, the final track from Queen’s 1991 album ‘Innuendo’ was recorded when Freddie Mercury was gravely ill, from complications due to HIV/AIDS. Guitarist Brian May reportedly had concerns about whether Mercury would be able to sing the song, who responded with ‘I’ll fucking do it darling’, before downing a shot of vodka and delivering a stellar performance. Nailed like a true icon.
19. ‘Unwritten’ by Natasha Bedingfield
This uplifting smash hit from 2004 encourages us to admit that we make mixtakes, learn from them and then ‘Live your life with arms wide open’. Every line of this tune –which earned Bedingfield a Grammy nomination and helped her break the US – oozes encouragment and champions the possibilities of a fresh start.
20. ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’ by Kelly Clarkson
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ sings the first ever winner of American Idol on this 2012 hit, which takes lyrical inspiration, believe it or not, from Friedrich Nietzsche. This one is all about dusting yourself off and getting the hell back out there, no matter what.
21. ‘Encore’ by Jay Z
An unapologetic list of the rapper’s attributes and achievements, ‘Encore’ was called one of his ‘happiest cuts’ by one critic. Crucially, it’s also a warning to other rappers that might follow in his path: Jay Z is the greatest, and he knows it. Sometimes, all you need to be inspired is your bad self. Many fans cite the Linkin Park remix with the late Chester Bennington as the superior cut, but the Black Album version – with John Legend, Kanye and GLC providing support – is the definitive version.
22. ‘Live Forever’ by Oasis
This 1994 hit was a response to Nirvana’s ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’ (the B-side to ‘Pennyroyal Tea’, intended as a jokey response to Kurt being asked how he was), with Noel Gallagher saying he wasn’t ‘having that… kids don’t need to be hearing that nonsense.’ The result? A brazenly optimistic indie anthem full of arrogant Mancunian swagger.
23. ‘I’m the Best’ by Nicki Minaj
‘I hear they comin’ for me / because the top is lonely,’ Minaj sings on the standout track from her first album, Pink Friday. Looking back now, it’s obvious at this point that Minaj knew she was about to become the globe-smashing star she is today – and it’s this level of self-belief that we all should aspire to have… unless that self-belief concerns medical advice, in which case, maybe listen to doctors instead.
24. ‘Unstoppable’ by Santigold
This Diplo-produced track became massively popular after it soundtracked a viral video back in 2009: one guy dancing enthusiastically on his own at Sasquatch! Festival, as Santigold plays a live version of the song. This one dude gradually inspires hundreds of others to rush towards him and join in the fun, inadvertently starting a huge dance party. Great, uplifting vibes, pure and simple.
25. ‘So What?’ by Pink
Pink’s a fount for inspirational tunes, but her ‘screw you’ to her husband (they had separated at the time) was praised by critics for its empowering message. It’s not hard to see why. The song is full of aggressive swagger and is definitely one to scream along to if you’ve had a bad day: ‘I got a brand new attitude and I’m gonna wear it tonight / I wanna get in trouble, I wanna start a fight.’ A pretty clear statement of intent.
26. ‘Can’t Hold Us Down (ft ‘Lil Kim)’ by Christina Aguilera
Ladies, if you’re sick and tired of gendered double standards, you’ve got two allies in Xtina and Lil‘ Kim. This song is a mega-bold statement on female sexuality, with a brilliant accompanying video that features creepy men getting their comeuppance. It’s the polar opposite of Christina’s other motivational hall-of-famer ‘Beautiful,’ and all the better for it.
27. ‘Don’t Give Up’ by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush
Elton John famously said that this song is the one that ‘saved his life’ and helped him get sober. Though Peter Gabriel’s verses are those of despair, Kate Bush swoops in to provide an optimistic counterpoint with words of hope and encouragement: ‘Don’t give up / you’re not beaten yet’.
28. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor
Yet more survivors, this time providing the tune that got Rocky Balboa out of his rut and back in the ring (after a brief sunrise beach run with Apollo Creed, naturally). We defy you to hear those thudding, opening guitar chords and not feel 110 percent ready to deal with whatever nonsense the day throws at you. Just like Rocky, you got this – just don’t start punching people, okay?
29. ‘Break My Stride’ by Matthew Wilder
Wilder’s synth-pop/reggae hit saw new life in the ‘90s when Puff Daddy sampled it on ‘Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,’ a song that serves the dual function as a self-motivating banger and a tribute to Puff Daddy’s favorite subject, Puff Daddy. But the stripped-down 1983 original is a simple earworm about the urge to continue moving forward no matter the obstacle, and as such it’s endured much further than any song featuring rapper-turned-preacher Mase could ever hope.
30. ‘Express Yourself’ by Madonna
One of Madonna’s very best pop songs is also a feminist classic. Empowerment has always been a core theme in La Ciccone’s work, and it comes to the fore in this funk-fuelled floor-filler written as an homage to Sly & The Family Stone. ‘What you need is a big strong hand to lift you to your higher ground,’ she tells her female listeners, urging them to find a partner who treats them right. Preach, sis, preach.
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