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If there’s one post in a year that most excites me as head writer of Anglophenia, it’s the Best British Songs of the Year list. After all, British bands like The Beatles, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Pulp, Radiohead, and Pet Shop Boys ignited my love affair with all things UK. And, for a relatively puny nation of 60 million, British music continues to have an outsize impact on music here and all over the world.

I’ve also traditionally dreaded doing the list because, well, up until this year, it was a one-man show around these parts, and whittling thousands of yearly UK releases down to 40 or 50 songs is no small task. But this year, I have the crack music staff of MacKenzie Wilson, BBC Chart Blog writer Fraser McAlpine, and Lindsay Davis, and together we compiled all of our favorite tracks of the year, debating the merits of each and every one, and using a secret algorithm — so secret I don’t even know it — we arrived at 40 amazing tracks.

Of course, there are big names we left off. For example, even though UK music magazine NME gave These New Puritans their “Album of the Year” title, we don’t have a single track on here by them. (Yes, “We Want War” is a really good song with a bangin’ beat. It’s just not in my top 20.) It happens. You probably won’t agree with every track we included, but that’s the whole marvelous fun of lists — pointing at other listmakers and calling them idiots for omitting X song. Hey, we do it too. (You should have heard my piercing scream when I learned Katy Perry was nominated for Grammy’s Album of the Year over Florence and the Machine. I made my own ears bleed.)

But we love British music, and we love these 40 songs. And we hope that you might find some tracks on here that will become your new favorites as well. Without further adieu, here we go… – Kevin Wicks


40. Corinne Bailey Rae

“I’d Do It All Again”

Grammy nominee Corinne Bailey Rae understandably retreated for two years after the drug overdose death of her husband, and she emerged with The Sea, a Laura Nyro-esque suite of jazz-inflected confessionals. “I’d Do It All Again” is the emotional centerpiece of the album. This isn’t “Put Your Records On,” this is searing, near-the-bone stuff, more than delivering on Bailey Rae’s early promise. – Kevin Wicks


39. Tindersticks

“Black Smoke”

Filled with chug-a-chug rhythms straight out of White Light, White Heat, “Black Smoke” finds the Tindersticks shaking off the depression and charging along with renewed vitality. The heightened tempo suits them, as this is one of the most infectious tracks they’ve ever done. – KW


38. Summer Camp

“Ghost Train”

Like any other relatively pleasant indie song, Summer Camp‘s “Ghost Train” just screams, “Commodify me, Apple. Put me in a commercial.” It happened to Feist and Chairlift before, and this song even has a lyric that goes, “Tryin’ to get through to you my dear, dear, dear.” (I smell iPhone ad!) But “Ghost Train” is also a genuinely disarming tune, and those female harmonies in the chorus are killer. – KW


37. Ellie Goulding

“Starry Eyed”

Ellie Goulding makes good on the hype with “Starry Eyed,” and there’s a reason why this song is one of the most remixed tracks of 2010. Ellie’s elfin voice is both girlish and erotic, taking us from “the paper planes in playground games” to that very adult discovery of sexuality. “Next thing, we’re touching,” she sings over the skittering beats. “You look at me, it’s like you hit me with lightning.” The song’s chorus is filled with Björk-like coos and sighs, which, of course, lend themselves well to the tinkering of remixers. But, after the smoke has settled from all that knob-twiddling, the original track still holds up. – KW


36. Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow

“Shame”

Take That bandmates Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow mend fences in this homespun country duet, and rarely in music do you witness two men revealing themselves to each other with such frankness. “Out of some sentimental gain, I wanted you to feel my pain,” Williams sings, “But it came back return to sender.” To which Barlow replies, “I read your mind and tried to call, my tears could fill the Albert Hall, is this the sound of sweet surrender?” It’s the “Islands in the Stream” for a new generation. The song’s video, which spoofs Brokeback Mountain, is a kick, too. – KW

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35. Karen Elson

“The Ghost Who Walks”

Mrs. Jack White saunters into the darkest parts of your rock ‘n’ roll heart with this twangy gothic ballad. The Manchester-born fashion model will bewitch you with her frosty vocals and sinister word play à la Nick Cave and Neko Case. Prepare to lurk around for a while. – MacKenzie Wilson

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34. Bryan Ferry

“You Can Dance”

At 65, the Roxy Music frontman does not disappoint. He’s still hot and still classy and this sultry number is just as modish as earlier solo standouts like “Don’t Stop the Dance” and “Kiss and Tell”. – MW

RELATED LINK:
Music Roundup: Bryan Ferry Is Still the Original ‘Casanova’


33. Everything Everything
“My Kz Ur Bf”

This song is stuffed with so many inventive ideas that it can be overwhelming at first listen, but man, it’s also exhilarating. Frontman Jonathan Higgs‘s hyperneurotic vocals can twitch from a low note up to a falsetto in a second’s notice; he sings almost like an MC raps, with improvisational flair, and his bandmates match his every move. But wherever these crazy boys go, I’ll be sure to follow, just to witness whatever parlor tricks they pull next. – KW


32. Fyfe Dangerfield

“Faster Than the Setting Sun”

What happens when you pair rich, lush rock music arrangements with an equally rich, lush alt-rock voice? You get a really good song. Add poetic lyrics like “Try to understand, love lands faster than the setting sun,” and you get a great song, which lands in your gut, perfectly timed. When it ends, don’t be surprised if you have the same reaction as watching a sun slip behind the horizon — satisfied and struck calm by beauty. – Lindsay Davis


31. Frightened Rabbit

“Living In Colour”

This glorious fist-pumper can leave a permanent smile on your face. Emerging from some of life’s darker spots can lead to a much brighter space, as frontman Scott Hutchison beams, “Living in colour, we’re living and even in the blackout, I know.” A little tug at the heart strings always does some good. – MW


30. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl

“Bang Bang Bang”

Mark Ronson makes Francophilia fun again with this lead single from his Record Collection album. It’s like an ’80s soirée at a Parisian nightclub, with MNDR‘s Amanda Warner rattling off lines from French nursery rhymes — Je te plumerai la tête is the year’s unlikeliest pop hook — and rapper Q-Tip popping in to crack wise about the “bon bon vie.” Merveilleux. – Kevin Wicks


29. Paul Weller

“Wake Up The Nation”

It would be condescending to call Paul Weller‘s Wake Up The Nation a return to form for the former Jam and Style Council frontman. The man is still pushing forward and making classics that can stand proudly beside “A Town Called Malice” and “Shout to the Top.” “Wake Up The Nation” is one of those songs; it’s a rallying cry that is as committed and agitated as any of his best punk work, imploring the digital generation to put aside their Facebook (“THE Facebook,” he calls it) and their smartphones and wake up. Yet he doesn’t come off as a fuddy-duddy nag. He’s the Modfather, after all. – KW


28. The Wanted

“All Time Low”

OK, forget the video, which features the studly quintet performing awkward choreography in a crumbling warehouse. (They even do a synchronized squat when they sing “all time low.” Yikes.) You’re likely not the right audience for it. But the song itself is fetching pop. That single repeated string riff classes up the joint quite a bit, and the chorus has some unexpectedly clever wordplay that wouldn’t be out of place in Tin Pan Alley: “I’m in pieces/Seems like peace is, the only thing I’ll never know.” Certainly, compared to the overproduced sludge we’re often fed from pop bands in this country, this feels almost minimalist. Not bad for the group’s first time at bat. – KW


27. Tom Jones

“If I Give My Soul”

This isn’t your “Sexbomb”/”It’s Not Unusual” Tom Jones. We’ve been so accustomed to regarding the Welsh sexagenerian as a cartoon character that we forget that his rich baritone is one of pop’s greatest instruments, and Jones strips away all of the bombast for this slowed-down, gospel version of the Billy Joe Shaver classic. Jones finds time to tease out all the nuances of the lyrics and even surpasses the aching depth of Johnny Cash’s great rendition. Revelatory, in more ways than one. – KW


26. Bonobo

“Eyesdown”

“Eyesdown” is a single off the album Black Sands, the fourth studio compilation by the artist Bonobo (a.k.a. DJ/producer Seth Green). It’s chill out music done right — a beautiful balance of electronic sounds, live instrumentation and vocals by Andreya Triana, who uplifts and brightens the down tempo beats. The heightened collaboration leaves you with the feeling you’re swimming under water without wanting for breath. – Lindsay Davis


25. Killing Joke

“European Super State”

The classic Killing Joke lineup comes together for the first time in nearly 30 years and this searing trance-tinged number thrives on their politically-charged M.O. with no missteps. Furor at its finest and KJ remains remarkably solid. – MacKenzie Wilson


24. Stornoway

“Zorbing”

This shouldn’t work. A mimsy folk song about going out on a sunny day, with flashbacks to when the singer “started uni”, and a video filmed on a child’s roundabout. I know, very punchable, eh? Well no. It’s sung with total sincerity, over wonderful harmonies, and rises and falls like the branches in the trees on the best day of your best summer ever. Sincerity is clearly more robust than it seems. – Fraser McAlpine


23. MIA

“XXXO”

Leaving her more world-music inclinations behind, MIA gives her sauciest, and most accessible, single yet. Fans feared that the “Paper Planes” singer sold out with the poppy, deceptively simple “XXXO,” but this dirty grind proves MIA can compete with Gaga without sacrificing her “outsider” sensibility. – KW


22. Hurts

“Wonderful Life”

Definitely just as striking as “Better Than Love” but its gray-colored undertones of love and death are twisted up in slight nostalgia for the mid-eighties (Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, etc). Theo Hutchcraft‘s somber delivery depicts crying into leather seats and fiery kisses with such finesse. Flawless, really. – MW


21. Danny Byrd

“Ill Behavior”

When the early ’90s British rave scene spawned drum and bass music, a young DJ/producer Danny Byrd was there taking notes. Cut to 2010 and Byrd is an international star with a body of work under his belt that reflects his roots and crosses into house, garage, R&B and funk. It’s a hot track (much hotter than its chart performance) which samples and slings Wildchild‘s “Renegade Master” back to the people like a comet speeding across the sky. You’re in DB’s D&B galaxy now, so enjoy the trip. – LD


20. Plan B

“Stay Too Long”

The great soul rehash has been with us a while now, but only Amy Winehouse has managed to deliver more pure Motown gold, still drenched in the blood of her own wounds. Plan B‘s wounds are fictional, but no less grisly, as the last minute of this song proves. It starts like Lenny Kravitz, rises in intensity with Mr B’s furious shriek, and ends like a fight in a pub car park. Listening for the first time can leave you winded, so be careful. – Fraser McAlpine


19. Blood Red Shoes

“Light It Up”

Brassy dance-punk that truly goes for it without an unruly homage to yesteryear. Laura-Mary Carter‘s grinding riffage and Steven Ansell‘s propulsive drumming provide that well-needed shock to the alt-rock system. – MacKenzie Wilson


18. Biffy Clyro

“Many of Horror”

A rocking, proper power ballad that is constantly threatening to teeter over into mawkishness yet never does. There’s an earthiness and sincerity to frontman Simon Neil‘s vocals and lyrics (“I’ll take a bruise, I know you’re worth it/When you hit me, hit me hard”) that allow you to fully commit to the song’s tale of a conflicted yet loving relationship. Many an emo band could learn from this Scottish outfit. – Kevin Wicks


17. Steve Mason

“All Come Down”

This song sounds like it was recorded in an open space, like a field or a forest. Every instrument – the drums, Steve Mason‘s half-whispered voice, the strummed guitar – echoes, making “All Come Down” feel both spare and epic. But two minutes into the song, all that open space gets filled in with organ like a blinding light, and Mason belts out some of his most passionate vocals to date. It’s not often that a dramatic finish to a song feels so earned. And former Beta Band visionary Steve Mason, the genius that he is, pulls it off. – KW


16. Rose Elinor Dougall

“Find Me Out”

Dougall finally steps out from behind the Pipettes shadow for this lovely heartbreaker. Her Phil Spector-esque dream pop shimmers as she exposes some of love’s hardest parts so effortlessly. – MW


15. Cheryl Cole

“Parachute”

Never mind the tabloid hooey surrounding her marriage and the X Factor and malaria, that’s not why Cheryl Cole triumphed in 2010. This song is. Specifically the chorus to this song – a hugely affecting sob of a thing, given in thanks for the support of a loved one, but one which sounds like it came from a place where the person singing feels utterly helpless and vulnerable. It’s a kind of terrified reassurance, and not the kind of thing you’d expect from an imperious superstar. – FM


14. Magnetic Man

“I Need Air”

Autotune is rubbish. It’s a voice-killer and a song hurter. However, this song features an agonized plea for space, in the midst of the first rush of love, coming straight from a robot larynx. And it is welded to a beat which is fast and slow, light and heavy, warm and cold, all at the same time. Never has android giddiness sounded so heartbreaking. – FM


13. Florrie

“Call 911 (Fred Falke Remix)”

For fans who have been in Girls Aloud withdrawal during the band’s hiatus, seek some relief with Florrie. But in the sexually charged “Call 911,” Florrie demonstrates enough energy and scrappy intelligence here to supply two Girls Alouds. And a couple of Annies. And, Lord forgive me, maybe a Robyn. – KW


12. The Domino State

“We Must Not Shut Ourselves Away”

This majestic guitar-driven anthem has it all: arena-sized guitar riffs, soaring vocals and an earnest disposition that should leave Coldplay and U2 anxious for more. Honestly, the London fivesome’s intention is pure here, and you can feel it. Such a rush. – MW


11. Tinie Tempah

“Pass Out”

This is yet another hip-hop track about riches, fast women, and drinking until you “pass out.” But Tinie’s boundless charm and the track’s absolutely sick beat more than compensate for those deficits. Probably the only rap track that gives a shout-out to Heidi and Audrina from The Hills. – KW


10. Laura Marling

“Devil’s Spoke”

Laura Marling is younger than Dappy from N-Dubz, but she carries herself like Maggie Smith in the Harry Potter films, albeit a Maggie Smith that could conceivably get up to saucy business in a barn and then sing about it, primly. That voice is pure authority, being a rock in a world of wishwash and flimflam. Small wonder people were so attracted to her, something that solid comes with its own gravity. – Fraser McAlpine


9. Underworld

“Bird 1”

Underworld‘s Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have aged gracefully throughout their 20-plus years together. This hypnotic stunner with Deep Dish‘s Dubfire sees the pair twisting up their classic techno groove for a sparkling, yet slick modern jaunt. And while “Born Slippy” might be their most triumphant single, this mesmerizing album opener is just as rich in desire and verve. You’ll be dancing just the same — count on it. – MacKenzie Wilson


8. Everything Everything

“Schoolin”

A song which exists to prove that men can indeed multi-task: it’s part electro, part jibber, part Coldplay croon, and ALL addictive, and delivers the goods in a fragmented rush. It could literally be about anything, but it is probably about something clever. Clever is always welcome, especially when it’s delivered as compellingly as it is here. – FM


7. Massive Attack

“Paradise Circus”

Few bands build atmosphere better than Massive Attack, and their track “Paradise Circus” crafts a spooky sense of foreboding with its haunted house piano chords and layers of handclaps and martial drums. Hope Sandoval, lead singer of Mazzy Star, brings in a tangy, teasing sexuality in her gritty vocals, and all of the elements converge upon a swirling string coda that releases the tension. A triumph for a band many thought was past its prime. – Kevin Wicks


6. Kate Nash

“Do Wah Doo”

There’s more cattiness, coyness, and cleverness packed into this too-short two-minute song than most artists can manage in an entire album. In “Do Wah Doo” nice girl Nash flouts feminism with a caustic put-down of a female rival and does it with a deliciously tongue-in-cheek take on the ’60s girl group song, right down to the surf-rock intro, cutesy lyrics, wink-wink-nudge-nudge censorship (“I think she’s a b—”), and bum-da-dum-da-dum chorus. – KW


5. Gorillaz

“On Melancholy Hill”

Unrequited love is one of pop music’s most well-trodden topics, but never has one line summed it up so succinctly: “You can’t get what you want, but you can get me,” Damon Albarn sings to his love object in “On Melancholy Hill.” It’s a heart-crushing lyric. The production here just enhances the song’s sense of longing: a persistent haze of static looms over the track, giving it a misty rain quality, and a repeated synth line sounds like birds sweetly chirping. Keep a tissue handy. – KW


4. DJ Fresh

“Gold Dust”

A perfect soul hurricane, with dubstep beats and helter-skelter velocity. It was accompanied by a double-dutch video which made everything seem even more exciting than it already was, but watching it with your eyes shut does nothing to dent the bubbling joy of the music. – FM


3. Hurts

“Better Than Love”

The Manchester duo’s stylish synth-pop palate sounds as fantastic as they look. Seriously. Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson conjure up the panache of the Pet Shop Boys with the ambitious immediacy of Tears For Fears, while aching to bring “you closer to God”. Ultra ultra-sexy. – MW


2. Hot Chip

“One Life Stand”

Hot Chip‘s adorkable, playful irony — witness “Over and Over” and “Ready For The Floor” — brought a bit of Devo-esque wit to the club in the past decade. But lead singer Alexis Taylor drops the façade and goes straight for the heart strings with “One Life Stand,” which, as the title implies, is an ode to monogamy. “I only want to be your one life stand,” he sings in the chorus. “Tell me, do you stand by your whole man?”

Just about everything in this song works, from the distortion in the keyboard parts to the quirky use of steel drums. But it’s Joe Goddard‘s repeated line in the chorus that gives “One Life Stand” its emotional heft. “Keep on feeling,” he sings, in an almost whimsical falsetto. It’s an invitation to the audience to feel deeper themselves. – KW


1. Foals

“Spanish Sahara”

Is it fair to say some songs cultivate a searing awareness of the human condition by confusing the heck out of you? Who or what is “the horror” to forget, “choir of fury” to abandon and “ghost in the back of your head” to outrun? What is that sound — a synthesizer or guitar that starts in whole notes and splits rapidly into halves, thirds and quarter rhythms while dwelling in the space of a single drum beat and climbing in speed and pitch? The chords stir your core, only to slow down and drift away like it never happened.

There is so much refreshing ambiguity in the Foals’ “Spanish Sahara,” you may find yourself waking up to your own emotion, not to mention the possibility of a new frontier in popular music. It’s like a compelling piece of fine art whose meaning you may not understand entirely but whose magic and power you won’t soon forget. – Lindsay Davis


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Filed Under: Best Worst 2010
By Kevin Wicks
Kevin Wicks is the founding editor of Anglophenia.