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10. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”
Adele’s great pop moment was the No. 1 Billboard single of 2011 and won the Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Why did Adele’s song connect with the zeitgeist? With its Ray Charles gospel stomp, Aretha-like cooing backup singers, and blues rock guitars, there’s something primal and timeless about “Rolling.” But most of all, listeners identified with Ms. Adkins’ pained wail at the poor jerk who broke her heart and to whom she vows revenge. When she sings, “Go ‘head and sell me out, and I’ll lay your sh– bare,” she invokes generations of aggrieved women, and we feel the force of her rage. – Kevin Wicks


9. Sugababes – “Overload”
Other Sugababes songs may have been bigger hits, but none gave the band the stamp of true authority like their first single. A tense party jam that tries hard to attract attention with bongos, cool electric piano and a heavy metal guitar solo, what actually lingers in the mind longest these three impossibly haughty mid-teenagers looking the world up and down and tutting, while maintaining their cool. – Fraser McAlpine


8. Los Campesinos – “You! Me! Dancing!”
A song that’s had something of an extended life for the part-English part-Welsh indie pop band. It was first released as a single in 2007, before being reworked for their debut album Hold on Now, Youngster… in 2008, and in both cases was little more than a minor indie hit—although it did make Rolling Stone’s list of the best tracks of 2007. It was in 2011, however, that it took on a new life thanks to appearing regularly in Budweiser commercials on both sides of the Atlantic. For their part, the band were unrepentant about the notion of a small band “selling out,” with singer Gareth saying, “Where I’m from, people know I’m in a band but they basically think I’m a waster. But after that ad was on, people at the pub knew it was me. I’m actually really proud to have that song on there.” It still stands as probably their most recognizable track, with an utterly infectious sense of joy throughout. It’s also hard to beat lyrics like “In supermarkets, they turn the lights off when they want you to leave, but in discos, they turn them on.” – Seb Patrick


7. The Ting Tings – “That’s Not My Name”
There are approximately two-and-a-half songs’ worth of ideas crammed into this one hit. A rap verse, a chorus that sounds a bit like “Mickey” by Toni Basil, the sound of a skipping rope, a spiraling ascending melody with a lyric that sounds like the singer is offering someone outside for a fight (“are you calling me darlin’?”), a weird droney man voice, some yelping and a fantastic change of rhythm about seven eighths of the way through. Most of the best ideas are all piled up in a glorious mess at the end, and yet it is one of the most defiant and moving pop songs for anyone who has ever felt overlooked or unappreciated. – Fraser McAlpine


6. The Streets – “Dry Your Eyes”
When looking for antecedents to the brilliance that is Mike Skinner, you don’t look to other rappers. You look to great filmmakers like Ken Loach. It’s no surprise: Skinner has a cinematic, almost tactile grasp on his subject matter, which, in this case, is the dissolution of a relationship. He has the mechanics of a break-up down pat: the pushing away, the desperate pulling in, the way she wraps her fingers around his “with the softness she’s blessed with.” This song went to No. 1 in the U.K.; I’m racking my brain to find a comparable chart-topper this bleak and riveting on this side of the pond. – Kevin Wicks


5. The Pipettes – “Pull Shapes”
The brainchild of a Brighton-based musician (and former child actor) called “Monster Bobby,” the Pipettes could perhaps be seen as a slightly cynical marketing exercise: get three cute girls with cute voices, put them in polka dot dresses and have them sing over lush sixties-girl-group-revival melodies. It didn’t work for very long—the band’s lineup changed before their first album was released, and again before the second, before they split up entirely—but when it did, as on this outstanding highlight from debut We Are The Pipettes, it did so spectacularly. Aside from some of the lyrics, it sounds like it could have arrived straight out of the 1960s, and completely fulfills its intention to be an instant dance floor classic. – Seb Patrick


4. Amy Winehouse – “Rehab”
Neo-soul diva Amy Winehouse captured the global stage with this dynamic, autobiographical touchstone produced by Mark Ronson in 2006. A monumental hit sauntering with bad girl attitude, pure ’60s pop niceties, and Stax-like horns, Winehouse’s raw talent is undeniably special. “Rehab” landed on top of the charts, and on nearly year-end list you could imagine. And Winehouse also went on to become the first British female artist to grab five Grammys for the Back to Black album, among countless other awards. For a solid moment there, she seemed to have the world in the palm of her hand. But her addictions would sadly leave Winehouse to lose grasp, leaving fans and naysayers utterly brokenhearted upon her tragic death just five years later. – MacKenzie Wilson


3. Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
No quibbling, this is Mark Ronson’s song and he’s British so it counts. Also, it’s funky as hell, exceptionally daft and has managed to find an even sillier lyric for “oops upside your head” than “oops upside your head” (“uptown funk you up,” indeed!). Not only that, Bruno Mars’s self-kissing lyric also managed to confuse a great portion of British listeners as to what Skippy might be, and why a jar of it is considered smooth. Fans of the British actor and TV presenter Joe Swash like to sing, “Don’t believe in Joe Swash” just before the chorus. That’s how much fun this song is. – Fraser McAlpine


2. Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out”
It’s hard to think of a song that better defines British guitar pop in the first decade of the century than this track, which still has an unshakeable grip on the dance floors of indie discos to this day. It starts with an intro section that fools you into thinking it’s a takeoff of The Strokes, before that incredibly memorable rhythm kicks in, and for the rest of the song, there’s nothing you can do to stop yourself tapping your foot, if not full-on dancing. Fusing together some of the best pieces of the British art-rock tradition, with particular influence from Roxy Music and Wire, its elegant simplicity still sounds fresh even now—and it was a genuine transatlantic hit at a time when few British guitar bands were cracking the charts on either side. – Seb Patrick


1. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes”
Pop music is not about perfection, it’s about personality, and what M.I.A.’s voice may lack in the Celine Dion technical excellence, it more than makes up for in attitude. She does also have that sample from the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” to back her up, and a snotty lyric about robbing people which is brilliantly enigmatic: It’s sarcastic and serious at the same time, a dig not just at the low expectations foisted upon street culture but at the physical consequences of American politics around the world (despite several previous visits, she had been denied a visa on political grounds, when heading to the U.S. to record her album). It can also be read as a song about the callous machinations of the music industry or a song about trying to find a way to thrive when figures of authority seem hellbent on getting in your way. It’s a song of defiance and cockiness, with that high screeching note droning throughout to keep anyone from getting too comfortable. – Fraser McAlpine

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Filed Under: British Music, Music
By staff