Words: Tim Chester, Ash Dosanjh, Priya Elan, Jamie Fullerton, Tom Goodwyn, Matthew Horton, Luke Lewis, Hamish MacBain, James McMahon, Emily Mackay, David Moynihan, Krissi Murison, Ben Patashnik, Martin Robinson, Rebecca Schiller, Alan Woodhouse, Matt Wilkinson
10‘A Certain Romance’
You might have expected us to go with 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' – but no, NME critics en masse plumped for the subtler charms of 'A Certain Romance', the closing track on Arctic Monkeys' debut album. It's a strangely even-handed song, in which Alex Turner starts out scorning local townies – the "kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands" - then appears to absolve them at the end of the song: "What can I say, I've known 'em for a long long time…" That he can display sympathy as well as mockery is testament to the singer's unique lyrical gift.
Cue kick drum. Cue thudding bassline. Cue keyboards. Is there any intro more guaranteed to make the hairs on your arms bristle in anticipation? From there, the song surges elegantly to a climax so passionate it'd make even the most granite-hearted cynic gaze, clench-jawed, into the middle distance. What's it about? Win Butler's images of paranoia and concealment ("Come on hide your lovers…") hint that it's a song about self-doubt – but the track's sheer, ecstatic propulsiveness suggests otherwise. Like a lot of Arcade Fire songs, it carries a colossal emotional punch precisely because the lyrics are so indistinct.
8‘Out Of Time’
Their first release for three years – and their first without Graham Coxon – ‘Out Of Time’ is Blur at their introspective finest. While there were only three of them, they enlisted the help of numerous musicians from Marrakech on cello, violin, oud and the like, and nicked a sample from Doctor Who for the opening noise. The track came with an anti-war video and was their first to not feature the band in any way. Interestingly, it only made number 16 in our Tracks Of The Year list in 2003, which shows how time – and of course its live airings this summer – have bedded it into our consciousness.
‘Atlantis To Interzone’ and ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ might have been the early rock-rave shots across our bows that first alerted us to the neon phenomenon in our midst, but it was this track that saw Klaxons conquer the classic pop song and wriggle out of any scenester brackets. With a video from cult director Saam Farahmand and clocking in at a give-us-more two minutes 45 seconds, 'Golden Skans' was rightly voted NME’s Track Of The Year in 2007. If only they’d get their act together and pull it off again.
6‘House Of Jealous Lovers’
The scratchy guitars, the frenetic dance-funk drums, a liberal sprinkling of cowbell and that tortured vocal: ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ was a masterpiece in danceable post-punk. Originally released in 2002 but properly grabbing the nation by the gonads in 2003 it was the stand out track on their DFA-produced debut proper and woke both sides of the Atlantic up to the dance-punk the Brooklyn boys had been perfecting for half a decade. A year and one NME tour later and The Rapture were household names, and handclapping in discos was mandatory.
If you were a DJ in the early noughties, this was your secret weapon. From the opening “one two three uh” it saw nonchalant bar-huggers drop their pints and race headfirst onto the dancefloor to shake it like a Polaroid to ‘Hey Ya!’’s bendy pop-hop. The standout track on OutKast’s untouchable double album ‘Speakerboxxx / The Love Below’, it came jammed amongst Andre 3000’s soul/funk/jazz/hip-hop/whatever cuts on the second disc, featured rap lines fed through a vocoder and re-recorded up to 30 times, and came backed by an excellent Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan aping video. Pop perfection.
With Switch and Diplo sharing production and The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’ providing the backbone, this track was always destined for greatness. Peppered with gunshots and confrontational lyrics, ‘Paper Planes’ is one of the most commercially unviable tracks going and yet from the charts to Slumdog Millionaire and Pineapple Express via a Grammy nomination, Dizzee Rascal’s live cover and the clubs of Europe, it’s been unavoidable. The Beastie Boys starred in the video too – and it’s also had about a million ace remixes done. A latter-day classic.
3‘Hard To Explain’
It's hard to imagine just how seismic a change The Strokes caused when they first landed in 2001. Vital, vibrant and just really fucking cool, they were a blast of fresh air and 'Hard To Explain' was their first proper single. Like a nail-barbed plank to the solar plexus it walloped the nation sideways and declared our four-year musical drought over. Backed by the infamous ‘New York City Cops’, the track found its way to the top of DJ boxes from KOKO to John O’Groats and notched seventh place in our Tracks Of The Year list.
2‘Time To Pretend’
“I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life / Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives / I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars / You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars” – thus began MGMT’s tongue-in-cheek ode to the fame that was inevitable after the release of such a classic. Remixed and revamped at the end of 2007 but only hitting 35 in the national charts, it nevertheless shot to number four in our 2008 Tracks Of The Year list and sent a nation tie-dye loopy.
1‘Crazy In Love’
Beyonce’s finest single was released in 2003 to universal acclaim, shooting to the top spot in America and the UK and picking up two Grammy Awards along the way. Built around a horn sample from 1970 hit ‘Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)’ and featuring a rap from boyfriend Jay-Z (reportedly thrown out off the cuff in 10 minutes at a 3am studio session), it remains a classic. If you can judge a song by the amount of times it’s been covered, this track has had the treatment from numerous artists, from Snow Patrol to Switchfoot and The Magic Numbers.