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.

10Midnight City

Anthony Gonzalez drew on Jean Michel Jarre’s synth-work and John Hughes’ spunky ’80s teen films to come up with the most heart-bursting, euphoric anthem since Daft Punk’s ‘Digital Love’. And are we permitted to use the phrase “awesome sax break”? Looks like we just have.

M83 - 'Midnight City' M83 - 'Midnight City'
Video: M83 - 'Midnight City'

9I Told You Once

This preposterously hook-filled, highly danceable surf guitar beauty straight away felt like The Next Step in the long line of Saviours Of Guitar Music and, in “I hate myself more than I hate you” featured probably the best line anyone sang all year. No wonder folk got so excited.


This lion-eyed plea to an ex, channelling minimal splashes of soul, R&B and larksome Animal Collective exuberance, sent us spare with joy. As Michael Gove proceeded to wank the bare essence of our education system into a copy of Hard Times, ‘Bizness’ offered a DIY lesson in mind-expanding, culture-blurring ingenuity.

7The Bay

As the global economy goes arse over tit, it’s all about staycationing to save a buck, folks. And who better to make the sewage-spattered English seaside look appealing than Metronomy’s suave supremo Joe Mount? With its crooning electronic funkola, ‘The Bay’ is the soundtrack to all your future holidos. Time to hi-di-flipping-hi campers

Metronomy - 'The Bay' Metronomy - 'The Bay'
Video: Metronomy - 'The Bay'

6Ice Cream

Like an erratic, erotic cuckoo clock, this shows its charms one-by-one before going SEX MAD, beating you around the face with its gaudy mechanical wang. The glimmer of fingers stroking the surface of a pool trails sexy grunts, before Ian Williams’ keyboard explodes into Matias Aguayo’s waterslide-slippery vocals. Best enjoyed dripping down your chin.

5Bed Of Nails

‘Bed Of Nails’ distilled ‘Smother’’s splendid brand of smooth sleaze into four minutes of sublime synth-pop sauciness. Nods to Mary Shelley and Shakespeare, as well as spellbinding beats, lifted it from pure perversity into something quite beautiful, yet still utterly shaggable.

Wild Beasts - 'Bed Of Nails' Wild Beasts - 'Bed Of Nails'
Video: Wild Beasts - 'Bed Of Nails'

4The Words That Maketh Murder

The folly of war could hardly have been captured more succinctly in song. The sombre opening lines: “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget/I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat”. A haunting indictment of what happens when diplomacy and humanity fail us.

PJ Harvey - 'The Words That Maketh Murder' PJ Harvey - 'The Words That Maketh Murder'
Video: PJ Harvey - 'The Words That Maketh Murder'

3Still Life

We’ve long since ceased trying to prepare ourselves for what The Horrors get up to next but “A-listed on Radio 1” threw us. The siren song that drew their biggest audience yet was scarcely less of a shocker. The dark, krauty thrums of ‘Sea Within A Sea’ smoothed and rippled into a gorgeous groove, Faris’ voice rich and devoid of ire and irony as he promised “When you wake up/You will find me” over that deliciously dripping bassline. Easily the song of the summer.


OK, so his album turned out to be a bit of a dud, but for a brief moment in 2011 there was only ‘Yonkers’ — and ‘Yonkers’ felt like a very big deal indeed. No other track this year screamed ‘star appeal’ louder than this, and danger seeped out of its pores from the opening bars. Over a beat that sounded like the clanking cogs of a psycho-killer’s mind in motion, the Odd Future lynchpin introduced himself in the way only this 20-year-old son of an absentee father could (“I’m a fucking walking paradox — no I’m not/Threesomes with a fucking triceratops”). If Tyler can get near this kind of greatness again, the world better watch the fuck out.

1Video Games

You probably won’t be too surprised to find ‘Video Games’ topping this list. Lana Del Rey’s debut single racked up over seven million YouTube views and spawned its own viral literal-video parody, as well as numerous lame cover versions by awestruck indie bands. It’s the most blogged-on, most meme-able and most unashamedly gushed-over song of the year, and if its position seems a tad inevitable, that’s only because putting anything else in its place would be a rank act of outright contrarianism too hard to swallow. Taking all that into account, it’s a wonder everyone isn’t sick to the back teeth of it by now. But that’s the thing about ‘Video Games’: you might tire of the debate about whether Del Rey herself is just a sadcore Frankenstein stitched together by industry Svengalis, or whether the lips that form the impossibly beautiful “Is that true?” around the 1:20 mark are collagen-enhanced or not, yet the song itself remains near-as-dammit perfect. Hearing its mix of eerie Blue Velvet Americana and bruised old-Hollywood glamour for the first time makes for a genuine drop-everything moment, but even as its ubiquity snowballs, each subsequent listen just seduces you further. Sometimes it’s enough for a song to be simply brilliant.

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