There’s nothing quite like a truly great song. Just a few short minutes of musical brilliance can change your life. It can be the backdrop to falling in love and be the soundtrack to the first dance at your wedding, or it can be the voice you rely upon to talk you down from the edge when your world feels like it’s falling apart. Great songs can stay with you for a lifetime, and there was no shortage of songs like that over the course of the past ten years. We did our best to narrow it down to our top 50, and as with our albums list we limited it to one song per act. Let’s get to it!
50. Marah in the Mainsail – Fisticuffs
Any song that sounds like it should soundtrack a bar brawl in a saloon in the wild west always gets a tick in my book. The gritty lyrics and the gusto of the arrangement really give this track bite, but what really sells it is that glorious sing-along chorus and its killer opening line: “Never throw the first punch, but always throw the last…”
49. Ben Howard – The Wolves
God what a shot of nostalgia this track is. Ben Howard was on top of the world with his first record Every Kingdom, and ‘The Wolves’ was everywhere back in the day. Even at the time it sounded like a montage song for some video of a carefree summer, and now it has become just that by conjuring up summer nights it has soundtracked over the years.
48. The Staves – Make It Holy
Those vocals are just sheer bliss, and when their incredible harmonies kick in they make the world feel like a more beautiful and magical place. This song has become one of my defining memories of my first proper festival, and as such it’s also been a highlight of their set every time I’ve seen them live since.
47. Gabrielle Aplin – Home
True to its name it’s a track that makes you feel at home. A song that makes you feel safe and loved no matter where you are. From the comforting feeling of its gentle folk intro to the uplifting swell of the final crescendo, it’s a song that embarks on a voyage to raise your spirits and remind you of the things that truly matter.
46. Rag’N’Bone Man – Lay My Body Down
One of the finest voices to hit the mainstream in recent years. Though he’s had some fantastic tracks that have gone on to be hits, I find it’s his earlier work that I keep coming back to. There’s just something so engrossing about ‘Lay My Body Down’ in particular, a dark and powerful farewell from a troubled soul embracing the end.
45. Ed Sheeran – The A Team
He may be overplayed now, but at the start of the decade Ed Sheeran was just a ginger ragamuffin with an acoustic guitar. Now he’s one of the biggest stars on the planet, one of the most prolific songwriters in modern pop, and has played the biggest stages in the world with just his guitar and some effects pedals. What a remarkable journey it’s been, and this is the song that started it all.
44. Jack Garratt – Weathered
None of Jack’s recorded work is a patch on his live performances, but ‘Weathered’ probably comes closest to capturing the magic. You still get a taste of that gorgeous guitar tone and his raw and earnest vocals, as well as sampling his finest lyricism to date. Fingers crossed he makes a return with more great tracks like this in 2020.
43. James Bay – Hold Back The River
Chaos And The Calm was the backdrop to both some of the best and the worst times of my life, and this was the big single from that record that took the world by storm. I choose to dwell on the good memories it holds, hearing it live from the festival main stage on a glorious summer night and the thrill of an artist you supported from the beginning being the name on everyone’s lips.
42. Benjamin Clementine – London
I remember diving into his debut album after it won the mercury prize a few years back and being taken by how different it was from anything else I’d heard at the time. It’s so refined and otherworldly, his voice so unique and the songs so timeless. ‘London’ is the track that best blended the strange and the familiar and helped pull me in deeper.
41. Sigrid – Strangers
I just adore everything about Sigrid’s take on pop music. There’s none of the usual style over substance nonsense, it’s just pure, honest, wholesome fun. This is everything that pop should be: not a dirty word or a guilty pleasure, just a great artist making something to put a smile on your face while remaining true to themselves. The world would be a brighter place with more people like Sigrid and more songs like ‘Strangers’.
40. Foals – Spanish Sahara
One of the finest examples of a slow burner you could hope to find. The path from its quiet desolate opening to its final cinematic crescendo is one of the most poignant and spiritual musical journeys I’ve been taken on in the past decade. It’s the kind of song you treasure but don’t come back to as often as you should because it’s the emotional equivalent of a punch to the gut.
39. Feist – The Bad In Each Other
Just one of those songs that does a great job at setting itself apart. The off-kilter beat, the simple yet striking main riff and the menacing buzz of the brass do a fantastic job of building a unique atmosphere, with Feist’s gorgeous vocals and the stunning strings in the chorus proving to be the cherry on top.
38. Lanterns On The Lake – Through The Cellar Door
It has the same bewitching atmosphere that permeates all of Beings, which made it one of my favourite albums of the decade and made me fall hard for Lanterns. Even surrounded by other great tracks however this one stood out by having real bite to it, an edge that works alongside the softness rather than against it.
37. Coheed and Cambria – The Pavilion (A Long Way Back)
This is Coheed at their best. The drums are phenomenal, the drop that leads into the chorus just makes you want to leap to your feet and go crazy, and the chorus itself is the kind you want to sing along to at the top of your lungs. It’s an epic track with not a single wasted note, and it’s rare these days to come across a rock anthem of this calibre.
36. Mystery Jets – Bubblegum
It claimed the top spot on our first ever songs of the year list back in 2016 and it has remained in heavy rotation ever since. Fantastic lyrics and riffs, a great rising tension lying just below the surface, and some wonderfully bright and uplifting keys all work together to make this track an absolute gem.
35. Father John Misty – The Ideal Husband
Lyrically ‘The Ideal Husband’ is everything that you’d expect from a Father John Misty song; a wry and witty social commentary, this time turning his lens on to his own faults. Musically though it is a singular moment in his discography with its wild raucous energy, bombastic drums, and the guitar caterwauling like an air raid siren.
34. Haim – Change Your Mind
What a bop this is! Not only does it ooze just the right amount of retro 80s charm, full to the brim with earworm melodies and bright harmonies, but it also embodies that all too rare universal appeal. It’s the kind of song you could play to anyone, anywhere, and they’d jam along to it without a care in the world.
33. Arcade Fire – Ready To Start
A stand-out moment from one of the best records of the 21st century so far. It’s the perfect marriage of grit and grandeur. It brings together all the artfulness, refinement and bright melodies of the baroque pop sound that dominated most of the album, while feeling feral and unpredictable with its coarse riffs and its unrelenting frenetic energy.
32. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
Short and simple, but oh so moving. The delicate shrill guitar piercing the silence, the open and vulnerable lyricism reflecting on insecurities in a way that you just can’t help but connect with, and the kind of voice that offers a sense of quiet reassurance. I wish this song was longer, I wish there was more of it to love, but sometimes good things come in small packages.
31. Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
To further prove the point, here’s another brief but brilliant banger. Everyone’s favourite camp and quirky song with wordplay in the title! On paper I feel like I shouldn’t like this, it’s repetitive and messes around with silly vocal effects, but in practice it’s hands-down the most fun track you’ll find on this list. A shot of pure joy!
30. Foy Vance – Make It Rain
Picking just one Foy song was no easy task, but in the end I had to give it to ‘Make It Rain’. (Specifically the live version, which was released first and is better than the studio one by a country mile). Foy’s incredible vocals are at their most powerful on this captivating blues tour de force. In many ways it feels like his magnum opus and shows just what a vastly underrated artist he is.
29. Maggie Rogers – Light On
I saw Maggie live going in with no prior knowledge, not having heard a single song, and let me tell you I was absolutely mesmerised from start to finish. Easily one of the best live sets I’ve ever seen. It felt like a euphoric dream, but the standout moment, the moment that felt the most real and tangible, was ‘Light On’. Listening to it brings it all back like it was yesterday, each and every time.
28. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B.
This is about as infectious as music gets. Despite its decidedly dark lyrics about alcoholism, musically it’s just so warm and welcoming. It’ll get anyone with even half a heart humming and clapping along in no time, and before you know it you’ll be up singing and dancing in the highest of spirits to this golden slice of old-school rhythm & blues.
27. Bent Knee – Holy Ghost
Courtney Swain is one of the best singers in the industry today, and if you want proof then look no further than ‘Holy Ghost’. Her voice at the climax of this track gives me goosebumps every single time. Musically it also finds the band striking a great balance between their quirky and eclectic tendencies and their talent for writing compelling hooks.
26. Wolf Alice – Moaning Lisa Smile
Wolf Alice have already established themselves as one of the most important British bands on the scene right now, and this was the song that first made people sit up and pay attention. Channeling 90s grunge, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ remains their heaviest song to date and a firm fan favourite. Plus it’s named after an episode of The Simpsons which is a definite plus in my book.
Be sure to check out part two!