The 50 best songs of 2015

Posted by
Dave Fawbert

What a year it's been for music: Kanye played Glastonbury and everyone got angry, Madonna fell over at the Brits and Taylor Swift invited all seven billion of the earth's inhabitants to join her on the stage during the 1989 World Tour.

And throughout, there've been millions of songs released all hoping to be the next big thing - in fact, so many that it's hard to keep a handle on them.

Fortunately, we've been listening throughout, with our Song of the Day feature The ShortListen alerting you to the best new artists each day.

So we've picked our 50 favourite tracks of the year - big, small, old and new artists alike: it's all about the song. Check out the full rundown below, and a Spotify playlist of the lot is at the end.

  • The 50 best songs of 2015

    Tobias Jesso Jr - How Could You Babe

    As well as coming up with one of our favourite promotional images of the year, Canadian singer/songwriter Tobias can also turn his hand to classic seventies style songwriting. How Could You Babe appeared in January and was an instant favourite with us - and also a certain artist called Adele, who heard it and promptly invited him to write with her. Their composition When We Were Young appeared on her new album 25 (you might have heard of it).

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 1

    Ryn Weaver - Travelling Song

    We were hooked on Californian artist Ryn Weaver ever since her opening one-two of Octahate and Promises last year. Her debut album The Fool did not disappoint, with her varied influences of Joni Mitchell through to Charli XCX coming through. Our personal fave was the touching tribute to her late grandfather - the moving, acoustic Travelling Song.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 2

    Tinie Tempah feat. Jess Glynne - Not Letting Go

    Everything Jess Glynne touched in 2015 turned to gold and she worked her magic on this summer banger with Tinie Tempah which sounded like Will Smith updated for 2015 (and even managed to reference R Kelly's Ignition (Remix)). And it doesn't get much better than that. Irresistible stuff.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 3

    Hot Chip - Dancing in the Dark

    Hot Chip's new album Why Make Sense? was warmly received when it was released in May, but it was this cracking cover, later in the year, where they took their own advice from that album title, reminding us why we loved them. Turning The Boss' best song into a six minute electro thrillride which sampled LCD Soundsystem's All My Friends, complete with retro video was not exactly what we expected them to produce, but we'll take it with gusto.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 4

    Years & Years - King

    After being nominated for the Critics' Choice BRIT, it was always a solid bet that Years & Years would do well - and so they did, dominating the airwaves with their bouncy synthpop. The whole album was a little bland, but there was no denying the quality of January's King, with pulsing synths and a massive singalong chorus.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 5

    Skream - Still Lemonade

    Much like Skrillex, having been at the forefront of dubstep, Skream made the wise decision to jump ship and stay ahead of the curve before everyone else got bored of it. One of the fruits of that decision was this stunning track, Still Lemonade, an eight minute house/techno journey with one of the best breakdowns we heard all year.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 6

    Etherwood feat Zara Kershaw - Souvenirs

    While Sigma were doing their drum and bass thing at the top of the charts, Lincoln-born producer Etherwood was doing his rather classier version, releasing material on the legendary Hospital Records' Med School imprint. Souvenirs, which came out in June, was a beautiful, smooth track which also called to mind the old garage work of MJ Cole, with Zara Kershaw lending a smoky vocal to proceedings.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 7

    XYLØ - America

    February saw LA-based duo XYLØ appear from nowhere to dominate the blogs with this dark, sultry piece of Lana Del Rey-meets-Banks slice of electronica. It still sounds amazing now (as does its followup Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), so in it goes to the list.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 8

    Kacey Musgraves - Dime Store Cowgirl

    Of all the artists out there, Kacey Musgraves is the one who has the tools to become the next Taylor Swift. Two great country records, with seriously smart lyrics and hooks aplenty have led her to conquer that particular scene with ease. Dime Store Cowgirl was the highlight of album Pageant Material, although its lyrics suggest that perhaps she doesn't want to be the global superstar that she could be if she wanted. And that's just fine.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 9

    Miguel - Coffee

    As you can probably tell from the image above, Miguel isn't exactly shy about coming forward. And, much like The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness, while his third studio album Wildheart had a little too much sexytime R&B, when he got it right, as on tracks like Coffee, it was magical. A glorious melody and latenight production: this is superb.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 10

    Gaz Coombes - Detroit

    Former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes' second solo album Matador was one of the sleeper hits of the year, deservedly reaping a Mercury Prize nomination. For many of us though, its quality was no surprise, with Supergrass' songwriting rarely given the respect it deserves. Detroit was a standout moment from the record, ebbing and flowing, reminding us of the music Radiohead used to make when they actually wrote tunes.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 11

    The Weeknd - Can't Feel My Face

    Pop genius Max Martin doesn't mess about, and he took The Weeknd firmly into the mainstream with this track, which was (and still is) inescapable following its release in June. Crucially though, it wasn't straightforward pop: it was cool, funky and had an unusual lead lyric. It's no exaggeration to compare this to Michael Jackson - and like most of his music, you'll still be singing along to this in a decade.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 12

    WSTRN - In2

    Much like Can't Feel My Face, resistance to this track, from West London newcomers WSTRN, is futile. After not initially getting the fuss about In2, repeated listens proved this to be one of the most insistent earworms we heard all year.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 13

    Max Jury - Great American Novel

    Like Tobias Jesso Jr, we're suckers for a bit of classic seventies songwriting, and this track from US singer-songwriter Max Jury is right up there with the best from that era. Some beautiful strings, perfectly pure vocals and plaintive piano: this was magnificent.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 14

    Halsey - Colors

    Halsey was the underground pop sensation of the year with her album smashing in from nowhere with a perfect, edgy style and seriously strong social media game (yes, that's a thing these days) to hit number two on the US Billboard chart in August. The highlight of the record was Colors, a brilliantly-produced mid-tempo Lorde-with-balls electro blast. Still relatively unknown in the UK, expect this to change pretty soon.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 15

    Lauren Aquilina - Ocean

    A 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Bristol who'd built up an organic following before getting an endorsement from none other than Taylor Swift, this track fooled us by starting like any other John Lewis nice girl with a piano track. How wrong we were to judge so quick, as it exploded into an M83-meets-Sigur Rós conclusion. Simply a brilliant track and one to watch for 2016.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 16

    Death Cab For Cutie - Black Sun

    January saw us welcome the wonderful Death Cab For Cutie back to the fold with open arms. Album Kintsugi was very good indeed, with this lead track a majestic five minutes, complete with a beautiful guitar sound, mellow organ, shuffling drums, lovely electronic touches and the simple, plaintive vocals of Ben Gibbard. It's not in a rush to go anywhere - it just gradually unfolds over five luxurious minutes. Magnificent.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 17

    New Order - Plastic

    Leaving aside all those Peter Hook arguments, counter-arguments and legal action, it was an absolute pleasure to welcome New Order back for their first new studio album since 2005. They sounded hungry and energetic, with Plastic best summing up the return to an electronic sound, with echoes of Barney's Chemical Brothers track Out Of Control back in the day and La Roux's Elly Jackson contributing some cracking backing vocals. Seven minutes of driving electronic bliss.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 18

    All Tvvins - Thank You

    2016 could bring big things for Irish duo All Tvvins. They came bursting out with this debut single, comprising pounding, thrusting rhythms, flashes of synths and Editors-style post-punk guitars. It holds its nerve before exploding into life at the last second. No, thank you, All Tvvins.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 19

    Flawes - Don't Wait For Me

    Well, what a start this was. The debut track from London trio Flawes was a heady mix of dubby electro acoustica, sounding like a mix of Jack Garratt and Ben Howard. Vocalist Josh Carruthers' luxuriously warm vocals took the track to a higher level to create a magical three and a half minutes.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 20

    Lake Komo - Tides

    We've always been a sucker for anything that reminds us of those great Manchester artists Elbow, Doves, Badly Drawn Boy and the rest - and Mancunian four piece Lake Komo managed to combine the sounds and feel of all of them in this superb track.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 21

    The Twilight Sad - It Was Never The Same (Òran Mór Session)

    2014's Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave was one of the best albums of that year - and it was so good, an alternate version managed to work its way into our 2015 list. The band's Òran Mór Session mini album saw them strip away the production, with this song a highlight: just sparse fingerpicked guitar and the glorious Scottish burr of James Graham's vocals allowed to ring out. Magnificent.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 22

    Adele - Hello

    The first time we heard Hello we thought one thing only: that's how you do it. How do you follow a gargantuan album like 21? By unleashing a giant power ballad of regret with a chorus that you can scream at the top of your lungs. It even had a name that meant the internet could mash it up with Lionel Richie. Clearly, the world agreed with us, as the song's release was met with a universal cry of 'OK, we're in, let's get the album. In our millions.'

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 23

    MDNGHT - Into The Night

    This was a song that we kept coming back to, again and again, and it slowly grew into one of our favourite tracks of the year. Fantastic production courtesy of the legendary Steve Osbourne gave this track from the Manchester three piece MDNGHT a sultry, late night balearic feel, complete with a Years & Years-style vocal. A seriously classy earworm.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 24

    Chvrches - Leave a Trace

    It is scientific fact that you cannot beat a bit of well-crafted synthpop, and Chvrches really nailed it on their second album Every Open Eye. Both Leave a Trace and Never Ending Circles were great tracks but the former just edges it for us, with squelching synths, a general sense of majesty and Lauren Mayberry's angelic vocals.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 25

    Calvin Harris & Disciples - How Deep Is Your Love

    Who would have ever thought that pineapple-shaking, Jam TV-making Calvin Harris would be comfortably the world's biggest pop producer in 2015? You cannot argue with the hits he constantly produces, not least this brilliant team-up with Disciples, who produced one of the best songs of 2014 in the form of They Don't Know. Far smarter than the average EDM copycat, Calvin is always one step ahead of the game.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 26

    One Direction - What a Feeling

    Just like their forebears Take That (first time around), the closer One Direction have got to splitting up, the better their music has become. Farewell album Made in the A.M. had some seriously good pop music on it, with Drag Me Down and Infinity both great tracks. The standout though, was the Fleetwood Mac-influenced What a Feeling. Yes, you read that right - One Direction take on Dreams. If only they'd got Lindsay Buckingham in for a guest solo.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 27

    The Slow Show - Bloodline

    Manchester band The Slow Show took heed of their name on this beautiful track which builds from a soft opening, before Elbow-style horns mark the song's takeoff, all while Rob Goodwin's National-esque croon directs proceedings, like a growlier Guy Garvey. A mini-epic - and if there's any justice this will soundtrack a poignant movie moment before long.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 28

    Carly Rae Jepsen - All That

    You probably know Carly from Call Me Maybe, but its unfairly overlooked parent album Kiss was something of a lost pop masterpiece. Second album Emotion will probably suffer the same fate, given the success of bubblegum lead single I Really Like You, but hidden in it was the magical All That. Produced by Dev Hynes and superproducer Ariel Rechtshaid, this was a slinky, majestic, retro eighties ballad of genuine emotion. Appropriately.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 29

    School of Seven Bells - Open Your Eyes

    A song with a sad story: it's the lead single from the final album from New York's School of Seven Bells, following the sad death in 2013 of keyboardist Benjamin Curtis. Vocalist Alejandra Deheza completed the album using his parts and his influence is clear in this utterly stunning, heartbreaking track. It's a masterclass in dream pop: swelling synths, big drums and breathy vocals. Like the greatest music: gloriously sad yet uplifting.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 30

    KDA feat. Katy B & Tinie Tempah - Turn the Music Louder (Rumble)

    Much as we enjoyed Katy B's second album Little Red, there was something fantastic about seeing her return to producing straight up club bangers, with a rip-roaring vocal on this track from DJ KDA. Nothing too complicated, just in your face with tons of energy and a massive synth hook. Superb.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 31

    Daughter - Doing The Right Thing

    London-based trio Daughter wowed us all with first album If You Leave, and this song was a stunning, beautiful and at times harrowing comeback track, tackling themes of ageing, loneliness and dementia. Powerful and uncomfortable, and sometimes that's exactly what you want to grab your attention. We await new album Not To Disappear with anticipation.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 32

    Say Lou Lou - Nothing But a Heartbeat

    Lucid Dreaming, the debut album from Swedish/Australian twin sisters Miranda Anna and Elektra June Kilbey-Jansson, aka Say Lou Lou, finally came out this year and was a masterclass in immaculately-produced dream pop. Best of all was this track with lovely sonic flourishes, string touches and a huge chorus.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 33

    Gordi - Taken Blame

    Young Aussie singer/songwriter Gordi has something special about her, with a distinctive wall-of-sound vocal style planted on top of plaintive acoustic strumming and electronic touches. Haunting stuff.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 34

    Justin Bieber - What Do You Mean?

    Yes, Justin Bieber finally got round to actually making some decent music and using that enormous fanbase he had inexplicably picked up. Turns out, if you actually release a good, relevant song, with quality minimal production and a massive hook line, then people will like you a hell of a lot more than before. An unarguable massive tune (as was Sorry, while we're at it). Sorry, not sorry.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 35

    Alabama Shakes - Don't Wanna Fight

    Alabama Shakes blasted out of nowhere in 2011, with frontwoman Brittany Howard's howling, bluesy vocals gaining attention across the board. Their 2012 debut album Boys & Girls fulfilled the promise, and they announced their return with this lead track from second record, Sound & Colour. A funky, dense groove which lay the foundations for Howard's stunning vocals once again. It's not a million miles away from James Brown - and, in the chorus, even the Bee Gees - and that is never a bad thing.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 36

    Foals - Give It All

    It was always going to be difficult to follow the incredible 2013 album Holy Fire - and they didn't quite manage it, but they came very close. What Went Down was, therefore, still an excellent record, and Give It All stood out, with its widescreen sound and Yannis' vocals sounding more confident than ever before.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 37

    Chemical Brothers feat Q-Tip - Go

    Not much to really explain here, quite simply yet another classic Chemical Brothers track, 24 years after they started making massive tunes. Another star turn from Q-Tip, another brilliant chorus and another amazing Michel Gondry video. What more do you want?

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 38

    Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta

    To Pimp a Butterfly was, almost without debate, the best hip hop album of the year, oscillating wildly between musical styles and being a dense record to navigate. It's hard to pick a highlight, but King Kunta was a gloriously funky track, with a rubbery bassline and a lyrical grab from Smooth Criminal. Irresistible.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 39

    Brandon Flowers - Can't Deny My Love

    Never mind My Love, you Can't Deny that this is a massive tune. Brandon fully embraced all of his eighties tendencies on this riproaring pop track with crazy Peter Gabriel-esque production and - he never forgets does he? - a massive chorus.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 40

    Oh Wonder - Heart Hope

    Releasing a single every month, slowly building up steam until the album is finished is a pretty cool way of doing things these days. And that's exactly what London duo did, with the best of them being the final track, this utterly gorgeous, slow-burning electronic track.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 41

    The Wombats - Greek Tragedy

    Glitterbug, the third album from the Scouse/Norwegian/Scouse trio, saw them cement their place as one the UK's best indie-pop acts, with the electro-assisted blast of Greek Tragedy the highlight of an excellent record. Much like the lyrics to the chorus, this hits like a drug.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 42

    Palace Winter - Menton

    This one came out of nowhere; with Palace Winter, a Danish/Aussie duo, producing an epic six minute journey sounding like The Smiths fronted by a softer Neil Young. Stunning guitar work, a dark atmosphere and an outro that could go on forever.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 43

    Public Service Broadcasting - Go!

    This time last year, we tipped this London duo to produce one of the albums of 2015 and we were not disappointed, with the thrilling musical ride of The Race For Space. This song, Go!, was the album's emotional peak - documenting the moment that Apollo 11 made it to the moon, allowing the first man to walk on our celestial neighbour.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 44

    Cubicolor - Magnum

    Anjunadeep is a label that can be 100 per cent relied upon every time for quality output, and they gave us our favourite dance track of the year in the form of Magnum by Dutch act Cubicolor. It's a truly beautiful nine minute-long, delicate, warm bath of a track: turn off all distractions; hit play, and lose yourself in it.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 45

    Day Wave - Drag

    We called it very early (July) that the debut EP, Headcase, from Oakland's Jackson Phillips, aka Day Wave, would be the best of the year. And we were right. Drag is still probably the best track from it - a fantastic lo-fi loner anthem for 2015.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 46

    Shura - 2Shy

    Live To Tell-era Madonna, mixed in with Jessie Ware and a touch of Cyndi Lauper? We're in. From the first listen, we were hooked on this brilliant track from Moscow-born producer/singer Shura. "It’s taken me so long/Maybe I’m just too shy to say it/We could be more than friends/But maybe I’m just too shy". We've all been there. We've all been there...

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 47

    Ryan Adams - Out of the Woods

    We'd already been obsessed with the pop perfection of Taylor Swift's 1989 for nigh on a year when Ryan Adams' cover album emerged and gave it another lease of life. You could feel a sincere and genuine attachment with every song throughout its course, with Out of the Woods arguably better than the original, transformed with a waltz feel, complete with a stunning, heartbreaking two minute-long instrumental outro.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 48

    Major Lazer & Dj Snake feat. MØ - Lean On

    Hey, there's a reason this track is the most-streamed ever. After years of being painfully cool but neglecting to write any actual tunes, Major Lazer teamed up with DJ Snake and the brilliant vocal talents of MØ to create this deceptively-simple-yet-effective track. It's understated, yet huge. What a tune.

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  • The 50 best songs of 2015 49

    Muna - Loudspeaker

    Our song of the year comes from an LA-based all-girl three piece who'd been quietly releasing good tracks before they hit the motherlode with Loudspeaker. Fleetwood Mac updated for 2015: fantastic production; the distinctive vocals and lyrics of Katie Gavin and the most euphoric outro of the year. "I don't know where the blame/But you'd better believe I'm not gonna carry it all/I don't know when the shame dies/But it's helping me to scream 'this is not my fault'." We'll be screaming along too.

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