20 best stripped-down songs, from Spiritbox to Silverstein
Perhaps the best way to know that a song is well written is to strip it down to its most natural and intimate form. If a song can elicit an emotional response from a listener with simply the artist’s voice and a singular instrument, then it's clear that everything is there to lay the foundation for a truly great composition. Whether these are stripped-down reimaginings of classic songs or tracks written and recorded acoustically from the start, the scene's heaviest hitters have always benefited from having numbers like this in their arsenal.
We'd be remiss not to mention the famous Fearless Records Punk Goes Acoustic compilations of the early to mid-2000s. The albums not only highlighted some of the scene’s brightest stars revealing a different side to themselves but also showed the importance of thinking outside of the box and creating compositions that could stand on their own. In fact, it has almost become required for bands to offer a break from the noise and offer a moment for everyone to pull out their metaphorical or physical lighters (now cellphones) and sing along to songs that are not only deeply personal but, most importantly, relatable.
Read more: 20 greatest Fearless Records bands, from Underoath to iDKHOW
Throughout every generation of the scene, bands and fans alike have and always will continue to gravitate toward emotional and transparent songs. What better way to embrace this than an acoustically driven song? We're highlighting 20 of the best stripped-down songs and shining a light on some you may have missed along the way.
Sleeping With Sirens – “Scene One - James Dean & Audrey Hepburn”
When Sleeping With Sirens exploded onto the scene with their 2010 single “If I’m James Dean, You're Audrey Hepburn,” it was abundantly clear that this was a band not only here to stay but one who would lead the next generation of metalcore bands throughout the 2010s. Following their 2012 album Let’s Cheers To This, Sleeping With Sirens swiftly released their acoustically driven EP If you were a movie, this would be your soundtrack. It instantly became a fan favorite, with intimate renditions of some of their most beloved songs as well as entirely new material.
Fans were treated with a reimagined version of their 2010 breakout single that transformed the original metalcore track into a delicate, breathtaking ballad that showed the true power of vocalist Kellin Quinn’s range. In the chorus, Quinn reaches literal new heights with his voice, opting to use high-pitched falsetto vocals that are sure to give you chills upon first listening. The result is a track that has gone on to be as well loved as its original counterpart.
The Scene Aesthetic – “Beauty In The Breakdown”
Seattle’s own musical duo the Scene Aesthetic penned one of the most timeless songs of the independent Myspace music era. At one point in 2006, if you didn't have “Beauty In The Breakdown” as your Myspace profile song, or a section of its heartfelt lyrics as your away message on AOL Instant Messenger, then you weren't a true scene kid. The duo released three studio albums and played shows sporadically until 2011 and have been largely inactive, but their influence lives on in many modern acts.
Silverstein – “My Heroine”
Silverstein released an acoustic version of their biggest and most beloved song, “My Heroine,” in 2006. It showed just how good of a songwriter frontman Shane Told truly is and also how well the song could translate into softer territory, a stark contrast to the original version’s heavier elements. Legend has it that when Told brought the original demo of the song to the band early in their career, they were uncertain if it would make the cut. However, Told was persistent that they pursue the song, and it paid off. To this day, the band regularly opt to play the acoustic version in place of the original for every encore performance at their shows. In response, die-hard fans sing every word, and a sea of cellphone lights illuminate the stage.
Rise Against – “Swing Life Away”
Rise Against are no stranger to writing anthemic and progressive music set to a soundtrack of double-time drum beats and metallic guitar riffs. So when the group unleashed “Swing Life Away” as part of the first Punk Goes Acoustic compilation, it was in many ways a radical departure. Quite simply, the song showed a tender side to the band. This track is a shining example that less is more. If the song is well written, then it will resonate in its most pure form.
The Used – “On My Own”
On their 2002 debut self-titled album, the Used embodied every emotion possible. The tracks ranged from anthemic songs about leaving your hometown for greener pastures, heavy arrangements about sharp objects and just about everything in between. However, the album’s most impactful moment is “On My Own,” which sees lead vocalist Bert McCracken at his most emotionally vulnerable. Starting with an acoustic guitar and vocals, it eventually leads to orchestral arrangements and the song’s chills-inducing climax, where McCracken frantically screams the words “On my own.” The Used, while having written a wide range of exceptional material, have still never come close to the raw intimacy they captured with this track.
A Day To Remember – “If It Means A Lot To You”
It comes as no surprise that “If It Means A Lot To You,” the closing number on A Day To Remember’s breakthrough album Homesick, is the band’s most beloved and recognizable song in their discography. The track, which features Sierra Kay of the criminally underrated band VersaEmerge on guest vocals, is chock-full of iconic singalong lines and universally relatable lyrics that are delivered through passionate performances. It'll make even the toughest music fans shed a tear or two.
The Audition – “Don’t Be So Hard”
The acoustic version of the Audition’s 2005 classic “Don’t Be So Hard” appeared on the second installment of the Punk Goes Acoustic series. The reworking elevated the song from its fast and scrappy pop-punk roots to an uplifting and anthemic acoustic singalong. Danny Stevens, who's severely underrated as a singer, uses his signature R&B-influenced inflections and scales to create a sound that is fresh, heartfelt and simply candy to the ears.
Meet Me @ The Altar – “Feel A Thing” (feat. Dan Campbell) acoustic
Meet Me @ The Altar's acoustic rendition of their single “Feel A Thing” feels like the perfect balance of early 2000s nostalgia while still bringing out fresh, modern energy. Vocalist Edith Johnson has incredible range and control of her voice that shows a distinct and captivating personality coupled with the band’s upbeat and well-crafted instrumentation. Additionally, the song features the Wonder Years frontman Dan Campbell, who wastes no time giving his all vocally.
From First To Last – “Emily”
The world wasn't ready when From First To Last released their debut full-length record, Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Body Count. But when it finally arrived, it became the soundtrack for the Myspace generation. With vocals that embodied pure despair and angst, From First To Last became synonymous with scene culture through their transparent subject matter and high-intensity moments. However, on the album’s sixth track, the band bring the intensity to a calm with “Emily,” an impassioned love song led by a then-16-year-old Sonny Moore over a brooding acoustic guitar progression. “Emily” continues to be a musical monument that fully embodies the spirit of scene music and mid-2000s culture. While Moore has gone on to become a superstar in his own right as Skrillex, he has performed the song on select occasions, most notably during a surprise reunion set at 2017's Emo Night LA.
Daphne Loves Derby – “Sun”
Hailing from Kent, Washington, a suburb just south of Seattle, Daphne Loves Derby had an incredibly underrated gift of crafting heartfelt and timeless indie-inspired emo. With “Sun,” a standalone track that also appeared on the second installment of the Punk Goes Acoustic series, the group capture the sonic spirit of the Myspace bedroom emo-pop sound with a simple acoustic guitar and emotionally delicate vocals.
Bayside – “Winter”
In October 2005, Bayside were on the Never Sleep Again tour alongside labelmates Silverstein and Hawthorne Heights when they were involved in a tragic van accident that caused serious injury to bassist Nick Ghanbarian and took the life of their beloved drummer John "Beatz" Holohan. Following this heartbreaking event, Bayside had to pull out of the tour. However, within weeks, vocalist/guitarist Anthony Raneri, along with guitarist Jack O’Shea, who sustained minor injuries, remarkably returned to finish out select dates, performing acoustically as a duo.
The band’s emotional return to the tour received universal support from their tourmates, the music community and their longtime fans. Following this tour, Raneri and O’Shea jumped into the studio to record Acoustic, which featured stripped-down renditions of classic songs from their discography, a cover of Smoking Popes’ “Megan” and the beautifully written original new song “Winter” that intimately unpacks the tragic event of losing their bandmate and the pain that followed. Even though there's a somber tone, “Winter” does an amazing job at paying homage to Holohan and serves as a touching tribute to a young talent lost too soon.
Spiritbox – “Constance” (Acoustic)
Spiritbox vocalist Courtney LaPlante is hands down one of the most versatile singers the scene has witnessed in decades. Listeners expect to hear a mix of angelic and delicate vocals from LaPlante, coupled with her brutal and aggressive screaming on a majority of the band’s material. However, when they stripped down “Constance,” it showed just how strong of musicians and performers they truly are. The acoustic version is technically a live version as well, featuring an ensemble orchestra accompanying the band in a church. If Spiritbox ever decide to create an album in the same vein as this acoustic rendition, we'll certainly be in for a treat.
The Story So Far – “Clairvoyant”
While fans initially gravitated toward the Story So Far due to their melodic-hardcore-infused brand of pop punk, the group could also ace softer numbers. To date, “Clairvoyant” has become a scene classic with iconic lines such as “Don’t paint me black when I used to be golden.” For years, the band rarely played the track live despite the overwhelming demand from fans. However, recently on their last headlining tour, they finally gave the fans what they asked for by opening every show with a delicate performance of the track before ripping into their usual high-intensity set.
Taking Back Sunday – “New American Classic”
While it was no easy feat to follow up their stunning debut album, Tell All Your Friends, Taking Back Sunday avoided the sophomore slump in 2004 with their (sorry, superfans) best record to date, Where You Want To Be. “New American Classic” resides at the album's halfway point, which is hands down the best ballad the band have ever written. The track starts with a tender vocal performance from lead singer Adam Lazzara over an acoustic guitar that leads into a gorgeous string arrangement before letting co-vocalist and guitarist Fred Mascherino take over as the main singer for verse two. When the song reaches its climax, the drums kick in, the strings swell and the two singers harmonize in perfect fashion. This is acoustic emo at its peak form.
Forever Came Calling – “Endangered Innocent”
Forever Came Calling created undoubtedly one of the most special acoustically driven emo songs of the mid-2010s. While the band never reached the same popularity as some of their scene counterparts, they remained committed to writing sincere music. This is exemplified by their 2013 song “Endangered Innocent,” an acoustic and orchestral track that captures the spirit of young love in a tangible and relatable fashion. In speaking with vocalist and guitarist Joe Candelaria, he once mentioned to this writer that the song was musically inspired by scene ballads such as “Two Zero Two” by Northstar and the aforementioned “New American Classic” by Taking Back Sunday. However, the band created something entirely their own with this song. Forever Came Calling have since reunited after a brief hiatus and are coming to a city near you.
Bring Me The Horizon – “Drown” (Acoustic)
There are two things to take away from this list: If your band are going to do an acoustic song on a record, it’s almost always going to be the sixth track. Secondly, it's always best to pair it with lush orchestral arrangements, the latter of which Bring Me The Horizon executed flawlessly with the stripped-down arrangement of their beloved single “Drown.” While the original song offered a clear glimpse of where the deathcore-turned-genre-bending superstars would go in the future with more accessible material, the acoustic version offered something entirely new for the band.
The 2015 rendition captures vocalist Oli Sykes up close and personal without the cacophony of heavy guitars or screams. The acoustic track was recorded specifically for BBC at the historic Maida Vale studios in London. The track features cinematic string arrangements, delicate backing vocals and even a light guitar solo. When the acoustic version was released, it was truly remarkable to see how far the band had come from screaming over drop-tuned guitars on tracks such as “Pray For Plagues” to writing radio-ready ballads that have proven to be timeless over the years.
Hot Milk – “Glass Spiders” (hangover version)
Hot Milk write insanely catchy hooks and exceptionally crafted pop rock that dives into various subgenres as if they've been a band for decades. When the group transposed their single “Glass Spiders” acoustically, it gave the song a new dimension and captures the song’s somber and personal tone. Hearing co-vocalists Han Mee and Jim Shaw harmonize together is truly something special and is a testament to how in sync they are.
MOD SUN and Avril Lavigne –“Flames” (Acoustic)
MOD SUN clearly knows his way around crafting emotional music. The artist has deep roots in the scene as the former drummer for the underrated Four Letter Lie and his brief stint with Scary Kids Scaring Kids. When MOD SUN joined the recent pop-punk revival, he fit in perfectly. Plus, what better way to come out of the gates in a blaze than to enlist Avril Lavigne? The pair, who are now engaged, possess undeniable musical chemistry. It's exemplified brilliantly in the stripped-down version of their joint single “Flames.”
This Wild Life – “Sleepwalking” (Bring Me The Horizon cover)
It would be impossible to ignore acoustic duo This Wild Life and their wonderful contributions to the scene. The band showed that even with the absence of loud guitars and drums, the music can be just as impactful. When This Wild Life covered Bring Me The Horizon’s 2013 single “Sleepwalking,” it put this humble southern Californian duo on the map and jump-started a long and fruitful career. Clocking in at over 31 million streams on YouTube alone, the duo transformed the song into something entirely their own while also paying homage to its original songwriters.
Real Friends – “Tell Me You’re Sorry” (Acoustic)”
When Real Friends parted ways with original vocalist Dan Lambton in 2020, there was no doubt that there would be large shoes to fill. Remarkably, the band found the ideal person to take the wheel with lead singer Cody Muraro, who joined with confidence, grace and an impressive knack for songwriting. Muraro is a strong singer who can easily navigate from tender vocal parts to high-range parts, where he lets his voice shine with ease and control. On the acoustic rendition of their recent single “Tell Me You’re Sorry,” listeners get to hear Muraro’s voice up close. The song’s catchy chorus is at the forefront, making it impossible to get out of your head.