It's been another spectacular year for music, but what were the highlights? Here's our pick of the 50 best songs of 2011. We also asked NME readers to vote for theirs - you can check out the readers' top 20 here.

20Beyond Living

Indebted to Hüsker Dü, Milk Music are the most exciting underground act of next year. Straight-up guttural rock, no gimmicks, a no-sell-out ethic pounding through their veins. Whooda thought the year ‘Nevermind’ turned 20 stoner rock would return in such a headfuckingly brilliant way?

19Blackout

Anna’s influences may take in Debussy and Ravel, but this stood out on her debut as its most perfect pop manifestation – not to take away the dynamism, ostentation and grandeur of this dark-hearted dynamo, like some preternatural consummation of the Bad Seeds and Pretenders.

Anna Calvi - 'Blackout' Music Video Anna Calvi - 'Blackout' Music Video
Video: Anna Calvi - 'Blackout' Music Video

18212

This year, the two biggest songs – by Lana Del Rey and Adele – were rather plain love ballads. ‘212’, by comparison, is mischievous, quick-witted and full of filthy cunnilanguage: it’s made Azealia Banks, the coolest girl on the planet, and it delivered on 2011’s forward-thinking promise.

Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay - '212' Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay - '212'
Video: Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay - '212'

17Broken Record

It was the tough club-kid sass of ‘Katy On A Mission’ that seduced us, but she snapped our willing hearts like reeds with this massive, glossy garage-pop ballad and, in “I know though we make our mistakes/That you’re holding every breath I take” one of the love lyrics of the year.

16I Want You

If every Summer Camp song has its ’80s movie equivalent then this is ‘Fatal Attraction’, Elizabeth Sankey threatening to “kiss your lips so hard your entire face would bruise” as it breaks into a synth-pop strut. A stalker’s anthem to rank alongside ‘Every Breath You Take’.

15Never Fade Away

Proke and pod as you might round the incisors of this gift horse, there was no plaque of irony, no inset of scurvy scenesterdom. Just a healthy, grandiose indie single, with hooks as sharp and nagging as a No 2 drill to a nerve ending, and as lush as an afternoon on laughing gas.

14If You Wanna

Dumb to the point of having a PhD, this was raw excitement from start to soon after finish, with nothing in the way of fluff. Clanging guitars, relentless drums, simple lyrics – “Give it just another couple of months or so/Then you’ll be OK” – with the arrogance of people who knew they were about to silence their doubters.

13The Fox

A breath-taking snapshot of a world in which fauna and flora could prove the key to freedom or the cliff edge to extinction. Zig-zag rhythms filled with crunching percussion, wizard-ish keyboards, fledgling desires and a need to be which sparkled out of every nuance of Malin’s vocal.

12Baby's Arms

The sort of song you scrabble for on YouTube and weep to in the drunken small hours, ‘Baby’s Arms’ was the most succinct example of the potent intersection between shivering sentimentality and dissipated despair that Kurt Vile wanders with his lonely, echoing guitar.

11The Look

The restrained but on-edge emotional tone of Metronomy’s third album, ‘The English Riviera’, is at its highest-strung on ‘The Look’. A nervy, skittish single, its haunted dancehall-on-the-pier keys and Joe’s malnourished, morose falsetto are shored up by deliciously dreamy bass. Neurosis never sounded so damn hot.

Metronomy - 'The Look' Music Video Metronomy - 'The Look' Music Video
Video: Metronomy - 'The Look' Music Video

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