Written by Dave Fawbert with Gary Ogden, Sam Diss, Tristan Cross and Alex Finnis
Good grief there’s been a lot of music released this year. Every week, a thousand new tunes hurtle into the streaming ether, begging to be liked, to be loved.
How on earth to make sense of it? Well, fortunately, we have remained on high alert, like a meerkat on pro plus, ready to spot the biggest tunes and round them all up into one giant end-of-year playlist.
- We welcome a broad church: all genres welcome, all styles of song encouraged.
- We don’t care if the album was rubbish, if a tune’s a good tune, it’s a good tune.
- No more than one song per artist*
- If you disagree make your own playlist.
- Sam and Gary didn’t want U2 (“this is awful”). Stan didn’t want the Foo Fighters (“the Foo Fighters? The Foo Fighters?”). Alex lobbied for ‘Slow Hands’ to be elevated nine places (“It makes you tap your feet and move your head”). Dave overruled Sam, Gary and Stan and listened to Alex.
Shall we begin? Yes, let’s.
*With one exception because we made the rules so we can break them and it’s justified because one of them is a remix
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This track, co-written by Dev Hynes and taken from their first album for three years, Pollinator, is a song that sounds exactly how you want a Blondie song to sound. Drumbeat like ‘Heart of Glass’? Check. Euphoric build and chorus? Check. Debbie Harry sounding like Debbie Harry? Check. A joyously brilliant track.
It’s easy to take the Foo Fighters for granted, but their Glastonbury headline show reminded us just how many total bangers they’ve churned out over the years. You also get the feeling that Dave Grohl is a man who never takes anything for granted, remaining determined to keep the Foos at the top of the tree, and this track, complete with Grohl-directed video, was the best thing they’d done in ages, sounding massive, riffy and very Foo Fightery. Could have held its own on The Colour and the Shape and there’s no higher praise than that.
We’ve had an ask around the office and nobody can quite work out what it is that makes ‘Bodak Yellow’ so good, but we understand that it definitely is. From the dark minimalism of the beat to the charm of Cardi’s Bronx accent and hilariously dirty lines like “My pussy feel like a lake/He wanna swim with his face”, the song is infectious (which is probably why it went viral).
There have been a few of these ‘80s-style remixes knocking about on the internet for a few years - Bieber’s ’What do You Mean it’s 1985?’ being a particularly incredible highlight - but this was the moment they finally went legit as, instead of the usual record company practice of either pretending they don’t exist or trying to take them down under copyright infringement laws, Warners embraced this lovingly excellent retro reworking of the Dua Lipa hit and gave it an official release. Like virtually all of these, they are a brilliant reminder that pop was rarely more exciting-sounding than back in the ‘80s.
We’re not sure we will ever forgive Charlie Puth for indulging in the aural atrocity that was ‘Marvin Gaye’ with Meghan Trainor but we are forced to admit that he has produced two absolute jams in 2017 with this and ‘How Long’, either of which deserved a place in this hallowed list. Both of them fit snugly alongside peak-era Timberlake. We realise the gravity of what we are stating there, and we stand by it.
Hot Chip man Alexis Taylor has always produced fascinating solo stuff, and his twin album project, Listen with Piano and Listen With(out) Piano was no exception, with the latter an even more sparse version of the already-contemplative original. ‘I’m Ready’ is a beautiful, reflective track with Taylor’s fragile voice, soft piano chords and a lovely choral backing. Ease yourself out of your busy lives and take three minutes to stop, think and listen.
Calvin finally decided he’d had enough of EDM bangers and spent the year earnestly proving that he could play real instruments and showing off how many famous people he now knows. The relief of having a greater sonic palette to play with was clear as his album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1, was a laid-back, fun-sounding sun-kissed summer album led by this mid-tempo grooveathon where Frank manages to sound even more horizontal than normal.
After building a loyal and passionate live following since reforming in 2007, the Sheds finally took the plunge and released their first new album in 16 years in the form of Instant Pleasures - and it was far better than it had any right to be, ranking alongside any of the high points of their ‘first’ career. Sounding like a long-lost Britpop classic (yet with updated production) this opening track was a statement of intent, complete with a full wig-out middle section. They don’t make ‘em like that any more; except, it seems they now do, and that’s a great thing.
Second album Visions of a Life confirmed Wolf Alice as one of Britain’s best bands, and ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ was a gorgeous, woozy track perfect for a late-night driving soundtrack.
While, all told, Haim’s second album Something to Tell You, was a little dull, this track was an absolute no-nonsense belter, weaving together funky bass and stuttering hi-hats with some truly glorious vocals as the track progresses.
Happily long since graduating from sophomoric rape lyrics, Odd Future (remember them? lol) honcho Tyler the Creator has grown into a properly skilled writer and producer, lacing this double banger with fuzzy jams, blip-blooping middle-sixes, and Mobb Deep-level drum programming as well as at least four or five totally different flows. Plus it’s got Frank Ocean! Anything with Frank on it is gonna be pretty good, right?
Britain’s leading terrorism expert Olly Murs has slowly and surely become one of the UK’s best popstars. Sure, his cheeky chappy, puppy-on-MDMA persona can grate with some people, but you cannot dispute the fact that, regular as clockwork, he’ll pop up with an undeniable pure pop banger - and this, in the footsteps of ‘Heart Skips a Beat’, ‘Troublemaker’ and ‘Wrapped Up’ is his entry for 2017. While we’re at it, Louisa Johnson doesn’t get the props she deserves, effortlessly turning in a great vocal performance. Sometimes you just need a bit of nice pop, alright?
A lovely warm summer night of a tune, with lush chill electric guitar and Carner’s playful rapping about falling in love. A throwback to classic tunes from the likes of Common and CL Smooth, with the added bonus of Misch’s satisfyingly flat voice over the chorus and a melody you’ll find yourself humming along to on your train train home, ‘Damselfly’ is the gem in Loyle Carner’s Mercury-nominated debut album Yesterday’s Gone.
A glorious slice of woozy old school, yet also fresh-sounding, sun-kissed hip-hop from the New Jersey-based artists; stick this on and feel your troubles wash away. Bright and soulful; two words that we like very much indeed.
The intro to ‘other voices’ reminds us a little bit of early Foals and Hot Chip – rolling along with an irrepressibly head-noddy propulsion – before James Murphy’s typically witty lyrics waltz into the frame. His laconic style always fits skittering tracks and he gets a few curiously catchy lines in there (“You’re just a baby, now/ You’re just a baby with/ soft feet and everything”) and lulls you along until the timely pop of the chorus call of “OTH-ER VOICES!” comes along. You’re already won over before the guitar solo and another, separate synth solo.
Who is Boba K? Not many people know, it turns out. However, what we do know is she’s Ukranian, 24, lives in London and absolutely punted out one of the greatest pop stonkers of the entire year. The sign of a proper, bona-fide slammer, in our opinion, is one that you’re able to listen to on repeat, for the entirety of a good half an hour commute - that one song, and nothing else. We have done this numerous times with ‘What She’s Like’ and we urge you to, as well. What a large one.
Steeped in nu-New Jack Swing vibes, a 16-bit vision of ‘Paradise Garage’, pitched-up vocal, and funky Chic guitar, NAO’s track is a surefire party winner. At once slow and fast, young and old, simultaneously looking forward and backwards, it’s more than enough to tide over fans until the East London artist finally drops her new album.
Despite the underwhelming comeback single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ leading to fans thinking Swifty had lost the plot, all was revealed to be well when Reputation finally dropped and turned out to be yet another brilliant album; a darker companion record to 1989. As ever, the slower moments were the best and this aptly-titled track was a true standout, with its deft sonic touches and a classically vulnerable Swift lyric: “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me”. Also features a sensationally beautiful key chanhe middle section which shifts the whole thing into a different dimension.
It’s not just because the man with the straightest moniker in music played ShortList’s 10th anniversary party that we’re fans, Drake-favourite Dave’s also one of the most interesting artists to come out of grime in years. Managing to exude both confidence and vulnerability, childish innocence and world weariness (bit like Drake, then), all delivered with a half-chuckle that can veer from world-is-my-oyster to witheringly self-deprecating, ‘No Words’ is actually a track that barely features much Dave on it at all, instead offering an absolute masterclass as a chorus that’s perfect for mumbling under your breath at a so-so after-party.
In a year of terrible albums, Oliver’s Full Circle, was a triumph, simply because it’s an album you can listen to all the way through, without skipping. There are no duds, and that is a very rare thing indeed, nowadays. And of those not-skipped tracks, ‘Chemicals’ is the stand out, a song that showcases Oliver’s weirdly-successful mix of funk, electro and pop in the best way. It sprints all over the shop, but once you hit that chorus, it all comes together, and everything is right with the world.
You couldn’t avoid Migos this year as they took the guest rapper dollar on absolutely every track they were offered (leading to a comically awkward performance alongside Katy Perry) but their biggest and best new track in 2017 was ‘T-shirt’, which offered their usual blend of massive subby bass, reverb-soaked backing and their marmite stop/start rapping style.
We’d virtually given up on Zayn after he followed his incredible debut single ‘Pillowtalk’ with a truly dull album and an underwhelming ‘will this do’ duet with Taylor Swift for the 50 Shades movie. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear this utterly brilliant slice of perfect pop, aided and abetted by Sia, who is clearly some kind of evil genius in the way she manages to drum up total drama in a song at the drop of a hat. Epic and glorious.
No one does dark glacial electronica quite like the Scandis, and when you’re a) Swedish and b) have the word ‘snow’ in your band name, you know it’s going to be good. A big, dark, brooding masterpiece complete with a Dave Gilmour-style guitar break in the middle. What more do you want?
We had very high hopes for the Zara Larsson album but, despite the presence of a load of undeniably great singles, the whole thing didn’t quite hang together that well. However, nestled in the middle, and inexplicably not chosen as a single, was this brilliant piece of classily understated pop. ‘Lush Life’ is also still brilliant, in case you’d forgotten.
After the iTunes giveaway PR disaster, U2 reminded everyone that they were once rather good with their Joshua Tree anniversary tour which hit the UK this summer. However, a pleasant surprise: new album Songs of Experience showed everyone that they could be rather good in the present day, being their strongest album for a good 15 years. What was different on this one? Well, for once, it sounded like they weren’t trying too hard to please and just allowing themselves to make songs they enjoyed, with this majestic track not shying away from using the classic Edge guitar sound and allowing itself to gently build, ably assisted by gorgeous production from Lamb’s Andy Barlow.
You may or may not have heard of Dej Loaf, and chances are, if you were aware of her music before she released ‘No Fear’, you’d have had her pegged as a hip-hop artist. Well, wrong, it turns out, because she had pop well-and-truly covered in 2017 with this beautifully upbeat love song; an open-road, breezy summer tune that suffocated my speakers whenever the sun was out this year.
If there’s a more polarising song in the world than ‘Hey QT’ then, given the reaction it gets whenever it’s put on the office stereo, we’ve yet to hear it. But while that song, co-produced by Scottish artist SOPHIE, is undoubtedly an entirely love it or hate it experience, this song deserves to be universally loved - a twinkling, delicate, beautiful twisted electronic ballad with truly touching lyrics.
Katy Perry’s Prism album campaign was perceived to be a bit of a damp squib, but all of the singles are strange beasts which reward repeated listenings, with ‘Swish Swish’ and ‘Bon Appetit’ both being rather understatedly excellent - probably the reason why they weren’t hits per se - but this doesn’t diminish their quality. The same can be said of ‘Chained to the Rhythm’, with a groove that gets under your skin, a brilliant pre-chorus, an inspired guest spot from Skip Marley, and a classic Max Martin outro in the form of the “It goes on and on and on” ‘second chorus’, together with appropriately woke lyrics from the newly political Perry.
How to follow the almost universally acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly? Well, by making another record which was equally lauded in the form of DAMN.. And this lead single, complete with a phenomenal video, ensured that Kendrick came out of the traps with a bang, taking it back to hip-hop basics with an insistent Dre-esque piano hook, some heavy low end and his unmistakable flow.
Big Boi hadn’t had a hit for a good while, and, well, this wasn’t one either. And we truly can’t tell you why - it boggles my skull. It’s got Big Boi on top form, and it’s mainstream enough to please the masses, but not overly poppy so as to completely throw off the hip-hop heads. Sure, Adam Levine guests on it, but if you ask us - you can even @ us if you want - he makes that funky chorus slap. Also, we really, really want the top he’s wearing in the video.
This year saw the release of the second solo record from Dan Haggis, aka Dan the Man, aka the drummer from The Wombats, who showcased the full extent of his talents on Circadian Circus. ‘Something Good’ is a truly gorgeous track with Dan’s gentle vocals holding you by the hand and guiding you through the song as a range of instrumentation weaves in and out. A real treat.
It was such a relief to see Stormzy blast his way into the mainstream in 2017, having laid the foundations in the previous years. Even though now it seems like it was a formality, making that final move onto daytime radio is not the easiest trick to pull off, but ‘Big for Your Boots’ did it with absolute perfection, retaining the energy and inventiveness of his work and finessing the sound ever so slightly to get it into the ears of Radio 1-listening mums everywhere. After this banger, world domination was inevitable.
You’d think we’d all be bored of steel drums and go-go bells by now, given the many hundreds of thousands of tropical house tracks that circulate around the nether reaches of Soundcloud. But in the expert hands of Jens Lekman, this track, taken from fourth album Life Will See You Now, is big, bouncy, awash with percussion and lots and lots of fun.
2017 saw Paramore fully embrace a move into indie synth pop and bloody hell were they good at it. The whole of After Laughter is an absolute joy, but ‘Hard Times’ was an irresistible, infectious instant indie disco dancefloor classic.
Charli XCX can pretty much do no wrong these days, and ‘Boys’ was a maddeningly simple, yet fiendishly clever slice of minimal electropop. Of course, the video was a mini masterpiece, but that shouldn’t overshadow the song itself - and within two seconds you know it’s Charli XCX; that’s the sign of an artist who knows exactly what they’re doing.
It’s official: the best song in 2017 released by someone in the Drake family was by Drake’s dad. We’ll freely admit, when we first saw he’d released something, we were expecting it to be terrible; to be a bit of a joke. In fact, the joke was on us as this is a slice of utterly glorious, slinky soul with a classic, yet modern, feel. And if that wasn’t enough, the video, with Dennis looking like an absolute boy was incredible. All we can say is bring on the album.
It’s not often you get a debut single that makes you sit up like a meerkat and ask ‘who the hell is this?’ But that was the near universal reaction to the first track from Norwegian artist Sigrid, which was just a 24-carat belter with anthemic vocals. Still only 21, it’ll be fascinating to see if she can break through fully in 2018.
Our initial reaction to the unexpected announcement that there was going to be a ‘new’ George Michael single was one of panic: what if this is terrible? Luckily, in the safe hands of Nile Rodgers, it was nothing of the sort, with the Chic man overseeing a reworking of a Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1-era B-side. Such was the level that George was operating on at the time that a reworked B-side is comfortably one of the best songs of 2017; an utter vocal masterclass on an infectious and joyful track.
When Jessie Ware gets it wrong, she can come across as a little bland and unexciting. But when she gets it right (’Say You Love Me’, ‘Wildest Moments’, ‘Night Light’), she is capable of magnificence. And ‘Alone’ is possibly her best-ever track, with a glorious pre-chorus, followed by a massive chorus underpinned by a big, booming low end with Ware’s vocals floating above.
We’ve already written extensively on why Niall is the best of the One Directioners and the one who we would most like to go for a pint with (the offer’s still open, mate) but suffice to say that this is an absolutely bloody brilliant song. Great groove, great chorus, an absolute giant earworm and no mistaking. And the rest of the album’s great too (although as we have established that is irrelevant to this list).
How do they do it? Regular as clockwork. New Killers album: at least one absolute belter. ‘The Man’ is a funky, strutting, massive beast of a song - the production is sensational, gospel backing singers and all. Walking down the street with this in your ears makes you feel like a total king. For our money, their best song since ‘Mr Brightside’. They should not still be this good.
This is just a brilliant, brilliant record. Intense, heavy, produced-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life-but-in-that-good-American-way and with impassioned angsty lyrics sung by the enigmatic Lynn Gunn. Turn this up, remember the last time you were wronged and then scream your lungs out to the “No I never sold my soul” middle eight bit.
The best bouncy instrumental electronic song since Todd Terje’s ‘Inspector Norse’? You bet your big bouncy bass it is. An instant classic from the Italian producer.
Muna claimed the top spot in our 2015 list with ‘Loudspeaker’ - released when they were then unsigned. And 2017 finally saw them release their debut record about u, which was every bit as good as we were hoping. Brutally honest lyrics, crisp production and fantastic melodies are present and correct but on ‘If U Love Me Now’ they gave us a magical piece of heartbreak. If there’s not a tear in your eye at the end of the chorus you’re made of stone.
Walsall-based 20-year-old Jorja managed to snag a top five spot in last year’s top 50 songs and we wrote then: “For our money, she’s the only one on that list [the BBC Sound of 2017 list] that we could see genuinely crossing over into the mainstream in a big way next year.” She’s taken a little longer than that (and Rag’n’Bone man was the only one on that list to prove us wrong) but, given her recent BRITs Critics’ Choice nomination (and she will surely win) and Drake collaborations, we are not changing our mind any time soon, especially after she showed us that she could lend her sensational voice to a spot of UKG in this total old/nu school banger.
5. MK - ‘17’
This track is just an absolute blast. It is everything that a great dance record should be. It’s got rave pianos, a massive soulful vocal and a big bouncy beat. It is just totally EUPHORIC from start to finish. What more do you want from life?
Dua Lipa was unavoidable in 2017 and, following a bucketload of hits, she’s well and truly broken through to be one of our premier new pop stars. But while ‘New Rules’ has taken the glory, it was ‘Be the One’ that set it up; a truly classy, and classic piece of dark, smoky electropop, weirdly reminiscent of early Pet Shop Boys. It doesn’t try too hard, it’s just a fantastic song, and worthy of us breaking our own ‘one song per artist’ rule for.
Speaking of the Pets, we are longtime fans of The Rhythm Method, who are clearly influenced by the work of Neil and Chris as witnessed on ‘Party Politics’ (last year’s 23rd best song according to us), and this year saw them put out another absolutely glorious track with an irresistibly toe-tapping backing and the distinctive vocals of bandmates Joey and Rowan swapping between verses and choruses complete with their usual distinctive lyrics. Just an absolute banger.
We wrote a long and very detailed love letter to London Grammar’s second album Truth is a Beautiful Thing back when it came out in June, so if you want the extended version of why this song, and the rest of the album is a truly stunning piece of work, click here. For those who do not have the time - or are simply keen for us to get on with it and say what the best track of 2017 was - suffice to say that you have the angelic vocals of Hannah Reid, delicate, nuanced production and a glorious hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck final 90 seconds. Just total bliss.
For some reason, Carly Rae Jepsen still isn’t the biggest pop star on the planet. We have no idea why. Consider the evidence: 2011’s Kiss is a genuinely fantastic pop record, even if no one seemed to pay any attention to it, other than ‘Call Me Maybe’. 2015’s Emotion is just as good and contains two of the finest songs of the millennium in ‘I Really Like You’ and ‘All That’. And now this. This. This absolute 100%, 24-no-make-that-25-carat balls-out pop anthem banger. It is hard to imagine how you could fill three minutes and 27 seconds of your life with more joy and singalongability. It is amazing and it is the best song released in 2017. Best bit? The ‘woo’ at 2:08, followed closely into second place by the ‘hey’ which immediately follows: for this is the stardust from which great pop is constructed.
(Images: Rex/Press shots)