Welcome to the tracks that rocked our world over the past year. Disagree with our choices? You can vote your own favourites to the top, over on the Tracks Of 2009 Reader Poll.
You’ll also find our 50 albums of the year here.
Plus, to read all-new reviews of the 50 best albums and tracks of the year, plus all the trends that defined the year, pick up the new issue of NME, on sale from Wednesday December 9.
50 I Became A Prostitute
Despite the title – and lyrics such as “you are the bearer of a womb without love” – this track won them a following in the US, and deservedly so.
49 Cheat On Me
‘Cheat On Me’ showed that yes they can, sharing the same skies with the scrappy glories of the past, yet proving the addition of Marr was no hollow gimmick.
48 Drumming Song
In ‘Drumming Song’, she created possibly one of the most intensely passionate and physically aching love songs we’ve ever heard.
47 No Kind Words
What wasn’t inevitable, however, was that the results would be this good.
Turning a familiar playground taunt into something irresistibly catchy, Hova was on top form here.
46 DOA (Death Of Auto-Tune)
Turning a familiar playground taunt into something irresistibly catchy, this was a welcome return from the King Of New York.
45 Two Weeks
This beautiful track saw the Brooklyn boys reimagining The Beach Boys’ classic pop for a colder century.
44 Skeleton Boy
This dancefloor bomb was a perfect example of their ability to write cheeky, brilliant hooks, drenched in euphoria.
43 The Captain
They’re now using this track to single-handedly teach trainee rock tykes around the world how to hand-on-heart sing.
42 Jackie Collins Existential Question Time
Richey Edwards begged questions of adultery, James Dean Bradfield made his guitar sound like a siren and they stuck in a maddeningly catchy chorus – perfect.
41 I’m Not Your Toy
As she cast off unhealthy love and walked away through a pinball-machine of sound, she held her quiff high.
40 Swim Until You Can’t See Land
It was this song of hope, with its calls to “Swim until you can’t see land/Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?” that proved the Selkirk quintet were anything but northern miserablists.
39 Surf Solar
Beautifully nasty, and a clear pointer that the following ‘Tarot Sport’ album would really be something else.
38 Hellhole Ratrace
It’s an existentialist surf-rock waltz that rallies strength against fate with a searing wall of sound.
37 Blood Bank
As you listened past Justin Vernon’s howling at the waning crescent moon, the elegant metaphor of blood as love appeared.
36 Feel It All Around
Imagine an Ibizan utopia from which the pricks in shutter glasses ripped to the tits on poppers were banned, Washed Out ruled, and comedowns were a gentle caress of languid sand-coated sunrises with sleazy basslines strobing sleepily through your heart rate.
35 New In Town
This chirpy song was the one that most fulfilled Little Boots’ pop promise, charming the charts and hearts of the nation with its promises to take every last one of us out on the razz.
34 Jump In The Pool
From St Albans to São Paulo, it’s samba summer for all mankind for ever more… at least for a few minutes.
A skippy romp through barely suggested orgies of excess, this return to form was light, taut, precise and dancing on air.
32 While You Wait For the Others
Never mind the blog buzz. With this richly harmonied track, Grizzly Bear demonstrated why they were always destined for an audience wider than that of a few cooler-than-thou websites.
31 Arming Eritrea
Listening to Gallows and Pulled Apart By Horses is all very well, but it’s also a reminder of how difficult a balancing act it is to pair rock intensity with tunes the size of an elephant’s Y-fronts. Future Of The Left, however, managed it on this.
30 If I Had A Heart
A song so full of tension that that even after multiple listens (which it will compel you to) you’re no closer to understanding the extent of its power.
29 She Wolf
Featuring a funky bassline and sex robot vocals, ‘She Wolf’ was a nu-pop anthem for the ages penned by the unlikely hand of The Bravery’s Sam Endicott.
Propelled by shuffling drums and characterised by beautiful boy/girl vocals, ‘Islands’ retains all the starkness that made so many fall for its creators.
A terrifyingly compulsive, buoyantly innocent sugar-rush combining Mario-bleeps and heart-in-mouth desperation, the only sane response to which was bouncing, flailing, and then pressing ‘play’ again.
26 Hooting And Howling
A slice of exquisite English eccentricity worthy of Kate Bush herself, even in a renaissance year for the strange and the left of field, these confessions of rowdy revelry and lust still sounded like nothing else out there.
25 That Golden Rule
The lead single from ‘Only Revolutions’, ‘That Golden Rule’ perfectly captured the fast-grunge/orchestral battle scenes formula of new-era Biffy.
The vulnerable girlette of ‘Quicksand’ became an androgynous, adamantium-clad automaton that marched ever onwards up the charts on the back of this bouncy, bubbly wonder.
23 Stillness Is The Move
Gives wiry post-punk a liquid, libidinal R&B weave that stems from a genuine fondness for late-’90s black soul.
It might not have been ecstatic enough to sell satellite TV, but The Big Pink’s second single certainly crystallised the decade; the circuit-blowing culmination of new shoe with an ultramodern throbtronic pulse and a filthy smack-rock stench to its trouser.
21 Poker Face
As well as being an utter TUNE, Pah-Pah-Pah ‘Poker Face’ signalled the arrival of an extraordinary star, the best since Ma-Ma-Ma Madonna was good.
20 The Fear
Catchy, clever and riddled with angst even as it laughs heartily at itself, this is pop reappraised for the modern age. Oh, and also the line “It doesn’t matter, ’cos I’m packing plastic/And that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic” is shamelessly laugh-out-loud brilliant.
19 In For The Kill (Skream’s Let’s Get Ravey Remix)
Skream’s ‘Let’s Get Ravey’ remix transformed ‘In For The Kill’ from La Roux’s most accessible chart hit to the darkest remix to ever come from these shores. No surprise then that at Bestival, La Roux opted to cover his version rather than perform her own.
18 Hyph Mngo
‘Hyph Myngo’ burst from its chrysalis of an intro and proceeded to bounce off walls and through floors like a butterfly the size of a wrecking ball. It bangs hard, basically – ’til death.
Initially it sounded like dull blog electro… then that little-boy-lost vocal kicked in. Then it went gospel-pop. Basically, it didn’t know what the fuck it was doing, and we loved it.
The lyrics read like Romantic poetry, the synths sounded like score music to an ’80s French melodrama – and Natasha Khan’s voice could make a bollard shiver.
15 Crying Lightning
Ever the expectation-averters, Arctic Monkeys’ first offering from ‘Humbug’ was worlds away from any fruit machines or tykes in balaclavas. It left us clinging on to the most fascinating transformation of the year.
14 Sticks N’ Stones
A song so runaway it only feels right listening to it while hurtling down a hill holding your arms out like an aeroplane.
13 11th Dimension
’11th Dimension’ oozed into our brains and then stuck fast. The standout Strokes solo effort by a mile.
Hands in the air, live highlight from Leicester’s favourite ‘outlaws’.
Alex’s poetry sliced straight to the heart of lovelorn obsession, while Jamie teased the sound of snapping heartstrings from his guitar.
10 Die Slow
A driving, relentless riff, guitars put through pedal after pedal until they sound like hell’s own rave, Jake Duszik’s ghostly, coldly lustful vocals oozing contempt and desire at the same time.
Referencing everything from Hitchcock to House Of Holland, it culminated in our gal Gaga killing her boyfriend as a publicity stunt. Postmodern comment? Or simply par for the course? One thing’s for sure, Lady Gaga has devoured Stefani Germanotta for good. The Haus Of Gaga always wins, and this Lady’s not for moving.
8 In For The Kill
Strangely powerful yet angel-wing-light at the same time. This will still sound staggering in a decade’s time.
7 Let’s Go Surfing
The sort of tune that screams “play me!” 12-months-a-year, eight-days-a-week, packing as it does the three key ingredients of perfect pop: nagging riffs, swoon-inducing harmonies and handclaps aplenty.
6 Empire State Of Mind
“The city never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien” he spat, but this had a power way beyond pharmaceutical.
5 My Girls
For nearly six minutes it teetered on the edge of Frankie Knuckles’ classic ‘Your Love’ (also the base for the much-covered ‘You Got The Love’), but teasingly never quite dived in. Plus the gradual realisation that the “I just want four walls and adobe slabs” lyrics were a paternal rumination over the housing conditions of Noah Lennox’s ‘…Girls’ showed a more human, emotional side to the band.
After ‘Dance Wiv Me’ annihilated dancefloors nationwide, no-one expected its follow-up to enjoy anything like the same level of success. Yet ‘Bonkers’ was such a cast-iron belter it made everyone from skinny-jeaned fops to sportswear-clad trainee muggers make the letter ‘T’ with their hands and bellow “TUNE!” long and loud.
A song that bleeds belief, thanks to Milo Cordell’s swaggering beats and Robbie Furze’s coldly nonchalant lyrics, which combine to create something with the rage of a whirlwind trapped in a very small room. It’s the Big Pink’s equivalent to ‘I Wanna Be Adored’; big, brash and absolutely magnetic.
2 Sea Within A Sea
Drumbeat from Neu!. Morbid croon from Nick Cave. Bassline from Can’s ‘Yoo Doo Right’. Synths from Portishead’s ‘The Rip’.
Yep, The Horrors’ ‘Sea Within A Sea’ wasn’t the most original song of the year. Talent borrows, genius steals though, and when the aural patchwork quilt is as enthralling, scary and menacingly euphoric as this, who cares.
Beginning with a synth pulse straight from Studio 54, ‘Zero’ was immediately, grippingly the sound of Yeah Yeah Yeahs emerging from their red booth in the shadows onto the dancefloor. Not just emerging either: as the song stepped up its disco beat with Karen O exhorting you to “climb, climb, climb high up”, then exploded into an ecstatic, multiply-climactic thriller, it was apparent they were storming the floor astride a strutting mirrorball horse.