20. Angel Olsen – ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’
Here the Missouri-born musician takes the folk label she was previously pegged with and smashes it to bits with a three-minute grunge banger that’ll warm your cockles and rattle your bones. “Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight,” she demands, sounding like the ultimate badass.
19. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – ‘A 1000 Times’
What initially seemed an unlikely union – the raspy ex-Walkmen frontman plus Vampire Weekend’s baroque-pop producer pro – became a totally disarming one with the timeless, infatuated roar of ‘A 1000 Times’. You could imagine this deceptively simple song in a book of standards: shuffling but sinewy, misty-eyed but moody, and rip-roaringly romantic.
18. Blossoms – ‘Charlemagne’
Shimmering guitar riffs, a disco bassline, and just a touch of lover’s anxiety; ‘Charlemagne’ was the made-for-radio indie-pop song 2016 needed. Opening lyrics ‘Hello, Hello’ were equal parts whining and gut-wrenching, the fussy top layer on a glittery, crowded single. There was a lot going on in this record – all of it good.
17. Drake – ‘One Dance’
15 weeks at Number One, Spotify’s most-streamed song ever, 1.8 million sales – but was ‘One Dance’ actually any good? Yes, of course it was: its inescapable dancehall rhythms burrowed their way into your ear like Drake never has before – with more than a little help from contributors Kyla and Wizkid, of course.
16. Kaytranada – ‘Lite Spots’
A souped up version of Gal Costa’s 1973 Tropicalia tune ‘Pontos De Luz’, ‘Lite Spots’ was frenetically sunny, impossible to ignore low-key smash. The standout track on an album full of standout tracks, this marked the Canadian producer’s beautiful birth into the mainstream.
15. Bastille – ‘Good Grief’
The comeback single from Dan Smith and co was brilliantly subversive: a cheery pop song about coping with death. It made up for its lack of ha-has in its hum-ability, and the dialogue tapped into ’80s movie nostalgia.
14. Tove Lo – ‘Cool Girl’
Sweden’s sex-positive darkwave synth-pop sensation delivered an impossibly chic appraisal of the joys of casual relationships. “Let’s not put a label on it / Let’s keep it fun,” she sang. Whatever you say, Tove. Features the year’s best key change, too.
13. Warpaint – ‘New Song’
The notoriously proggy LA quartet took their first turn to out-and-out pop with ‘New Song’, and goodness did it suit them. Like Stevie Nicks getting down on a Friday in an Essex nightclub, it was carefree and just a tiny bit weird.
12. The 1975 – ‘The Sound’
Referencing every trashy ’80s synth band from The Human League to ABC, ‘The Sound’ still managed to perfectly nail the sound of 2016, soaring above the bulls**t with style, grace and one hell of a chorus. Impossible to shake out of your head once heard – and it didn’t matter in the slightest.
11. David Bowie – ‘Lazarus’
Released just days before his death, ‘Lazarus’ was David Bowie saying goodbye. “Look up here / I’m in heaven,” he whispered in the track’s devastating opening lines. As exits go, it was classy as hell and one of the most powerful songs of his career.
10. Charli XCX – ‘After The Afterparty’
Girl power was strong in ‘After The Afterparty’, a candy-coloured techno-pop daydream that came over like the Spice Girls produced by Major Lazer. “I got glitter in my underwear like it was Studio 54,” sasses Charli, before Lil Yachty rocks up to worship at the altar of partying.
9. Lady Leshurr – ‘Where Are You Now?’
The Brummie grime queen was on fast, furious and downright funny form on this supercharged smash, which channelled Dizzee Rascal at his most outrageous. A guest verse from Wiley was the icing on an already delicious cake. Mouthy as f**k and all the better for it.
8. Skepta – ‘Man’
“I got bars like Camden Town,” shrugged a casual Skepta on the heavy but hilarious ‘Man’. A heady mixture of north London knowledge and social media shout-outs, here the Tottenham titan pledged allegiance to his crew over some seriously gnarly beats.
7. Kanye West – ‘Ultralight Beam’
The gorgeous gospel opener of ‘The Life Of Pablo’ proved that Kanye can be chill when he wants. Lifted further by a guest spot from Chance The Rapper, it showed hip-hop giants present and future united in the pursuit of greatness. Good for an off-key singalong.
6. Beyoncé – ‘Formation’
This year there was no pop cultural image as iconic as Beyoncé lounging on a sinking police car in a flooded New Orleans for the ‘Formation’ video. The song itself was just as powerful; here was Beyoncé celebrating black culture through the medium of transcendent trap. She slayed this year.
5. Christine & The Queens – ‘Tilted’
One of those songs that stops you in your tracks, ‘Tilted’ was the English language version of Christine & The Queens’ French hit ‘Christine’. Nothing was lost in translation: utterly gorgeous electro-pop with a smooth R&B edge, ‘Tilted’ remains totally timeless.
4. Iggy Pop – ‘Gardenia’
Iggy’s gloriously weathered baritone was at the helm of this strutting garage groover. Deeply sexual, this was Iggy channelling his inner Leonard Cohen as Josh Homme led the band down some dark and sinister backstreets. Divine.
3. Chance The Rapper – ‘All Night’
Chance’s third mixtape, ‘Coloring Book’, may have been typified by some serious spirituality, but he didn’t let that get in the way of a damn good night. The golden age of hip-hop got its due on this devilishly good dancefloor jam.
2. The 1975 – ‘Somebody Else’
Matt Healy enters full heartbreak mode on this slow-burning beauty that sounds like it’s been lifted off the most atmospheric part of the Drive soundtrack. Also notable for the fact that Matty has sex with himself in the back of a car in the song’s moody video.
1. Rihanna – ‘Work’
This downbeat dancehall anthem was the hottest thing to hit 2016 – a mating ritual set to music, and yet another chance for Rihanna and Drake to flirt outrageously on record. “If you had a twin / I would still choose you,” purred Drake on this sonic fireball.