Yes, I know, 60 is a big ask. But I listen to a lot of music for this blog, every week there’s so many songs-of-note, and as it’s the end of another calendar year I cannot talk about some of them without talking about all of them. So, here I must present the top 60 tracks you *might* have missed.
Much like this list’s sister, Top 40 tracks you probably heard, there are likely to be some in here you have heard. But this list is more about hidden gems, album tracks, up-and-comers, chart-non-impactors, and the whatever else came my way in the past 12 months that I reckon probably passed most you by.
Whilst I am generally I’m loathe to rank individual songs against one other because they’re all so varied and incomparable, nobody would even skim to the end of this list if I didn’t, so I’ve just gone with gut feelings in creating some semblance of order. I’d just like it on the record that if a song is on this list, there was at least one hour/day/week/month that I was obsessed with it.
Well, here they are: The 60 best tracks you might have missed this year. [Spotify playlist at the bottom]
60. I’m in Love by The Cast of Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars: Season 5
Yes I can feel the collective eyeroll at the inclusion of a Drag Race ‘comedy’ song in here, but those writers gave this song a needlessly good hook and that deserves recognition. The queens’ individual verses are hit and miss, standout moments from Alexis Matteo’s delivery of ‘Daddy Yankee’ and Blair St Claire’s lust for Hannibal Lecter. Haunting stuff.
59. Where Are You Now? by Oscar Stembridge
It’s definitely not an easy thing to be taken seriously as a singer when you’re only 12 years old, but somehow Oscar Stembridge is doing it with this cute-as-heck be-the-bigger-person tune with one of the most infectious hooks I heard all year.
58. Hypnotised by Purple Disco Machine + Sophie and the Giants
It’s that song that will ease you into a big night on the dancefloor. It’s that moment where you’ve been dancing for hours and you’ve hit that sweet spot. It’s the show closer that convinces you stay for that one more song. Hypnotised is relentless disco bliss.
57. The Streets Where I Belong by Annie
That genre of music that fitted into every school-dance/late night drive scene from every 80s film ever is back in a big way. Slow, rhythmic, enticing, infectious – and all the better on songs like this with a flimsily-wistful-yet-still-cohesive narrative that builds perfectly to the final guitar solo from Johnny to take us home.
56. Seven by Claudia Valentina
Pop up-and-comer Claudia Valentina decided to emulate the melody/tone of Rihanna’s Stay and make it a song about waiting around for someone who just ain’t coming. Every single second of this is nuanced ballad perfection – verses that lay the bricks, a chorus that tears them down, a killer crescendo of a bridge, and all layered with genuinely heartbreaking lyrics. A song you can really cry to.
55. Slow Grenade (feat. Lauv) by Ellie Goulding
Say what you will about Ellie Goulding, but her new record was her best since the career-making Lights. The Lauv-featuring Slow Grenade was a clear standout because rather than her trying to be a ‘big’ vocalist, she reigned it in to create a song that is actually fitting to her vocal-style, and is actually really good at being a modern, accessible pop.
54. in the afternoon by Josef Salvat
The upbeat sadboi style is becoming a bit played out, but Salvat really manages to capture that lets-spend-the-day-chilling-in-bed vibe in this cute, catchy love-song-for-the-soul.
53. Halloween III: Seven Days by Ashnikko
The Halloween genre is an underdeveloped niche that hasn’t properly been capitalised properly since Thriller. Don’t people claim love spooky stuff? At least Ashnikko does. A lot of hard to digest lyrics here in this, as they should be, think the best lines are either the opener “On the first day of Halloween, my enemy and me/Dueled in the moonlight, flesh in my teeth” or “on the fifth day of Halloween, I bathed in menstrual blood”. More of this in 2021 please.
52. After All This Time by Allday
A perfect summer-spent-with-pals-video-montage song if ever I’ve heard one. It pulls you in from the first second and doesn’t let up until you feel like you’ve been on a drive around LA at dusk.
51. ATM (feat. Missy Elliott) by Bree Runway
There are few people I’m as excited about as I am Bree Runway. Her 2000and4Eva mixtape is one of the best releases of the year, and ATM is just one of many standout moments – the breathless repetition of the song’s title, lyrics like “Said he wanna take me real higher/But I know he really only want my vagina” and a killer guest spot from Missy Elliott, all make for a relentlessly strong track.
50. Underdog by Alicia Keys
Sure, when you learn that this was co-written with Ed Sheeran you can’t not hear it, but that doesn’t detract from this song-for-the-downtrodden being a perfect uplifting 90s RnB throwback tune, and easily the best thing Keys has done in ages.
49. Being Human by Chaz Cardigan
Impossibly not the most famous Cardigan-related release in 2020, Chaz has thrown out some lyrically astute bangers throughout the year, case and point Being Human – an upbeat anthem for doomed youth whose nonchalant chorus contains one of my favourite lines of the year: “so say hello to being human/we’re all just dancing on the timeline/no on knows where the hell we’re going/we’re all fucked up and we’re all right”.
48. Bang! by AJR
More pop theatre from the nerdiest-seeming ‘alt’ group on the market, AJR entered 2020 with a literal Bang! – sure this song is a little abrasive, but that’s sort of the point of their carefully-nuanced brand of pop-theatre, but the menacing-stare-at-camera undertones and the jaunty orchestral-synth show how intentional and effective that is.
47. Chaila by Denise Chaila
The weary matter-of-fact sweep which Chaila gives in the chorus of a song about having your name constantly mispronounced is, for someone with a two names that perennially need spelling out to new people, this is pure poetry. Every line is poignant, intelligent and challenging, and Chaila’s vocal is bewitching . A triumph.
46. Buzzkill by Baby Queen
A song for anyone who doesn’t want to do things because they wrongly believe it’ll ruin it for everyone else. If I were to spend as much time writing about Baby Queen as I do thinking about her, we’d be here or hours. Genuinely the single most exciting thing to happen to pop in ages: her lyrics are masterful, impeccably delivered, and relatable, one of many case-and-point examples: ‘Well, I was changing the world, but got distracted by my telephone/In every crowded room I feel unnaturally alone’. Combine that with the fact that she knows her way around a hook, it creates the difficult-to-pinpoint feeling she’s doing something that’s both the same and different from everyone else. Get you tickets now so you can experience as much pleasure as I am watching her inevitably huge career unfold.
45. Something In Your Eyes by Steps
Neither you nor I could have predicted I’d be writing about Steps in the year 2020, and yet!! The yesteryear pop legends gave fully fledged album, containing the impeccable Something In Your Eyes: a noughties-pop throwback masterpiece, with far and away the best key change you’ve heard in ages [skip to 2.18].
44. Lightning Strikes by The Shires
Lightning Strikes came out early 2020 and has been a fixture in current playlist as a means to give every day little boost that it needs. I never thought I’d say this about British pop-country music, but it’s never sounded so good – think peak Taylor Swift country era.
43. Jackie Onassis by Sammy Rae
Thank you to my good friend and comrade Lewis for putting me onto Sammy Rae – an exceptional jazz singer who gave us this perfect upbeat vocal masterpiece about the former first lady. The way she pirouettes through endless streams of notes in every single line feels like an Olympic athlete eclipsing a personal best and is simply breath-taking to behold.
42. NY by Emily Vu
A song that encapsulates that feeling of optimistic uncertainty over someone who you don’t know will love you back quite as much, Emily Vu gave us one of the most infectious pop choruses of 2020 tied up in a package so short that it demands to be played on a loop
41. Shameika by Fiona Apple
I’ve definitely read more about Fiona Apple than I have listened to her this year – a truly excellent human being by all accounts. Though I never really found the right time to listen to Fetch The Bolt Cutters, I did hear what was given the lead-billing – Shameika: a rambling, experimental ode to Apple’s childhood best pal, which is by anyone’s standards a masterpiece.
40. Pretty Girl Lie by Baby Queen
It would be laudable in itself to plod out astute, mood-capturing lyrics about the age of social media such as “I get more likes when I don’t look like me well fuck my life” and “You are what you eat so I’ll become nothing/I alter my face and they call me stunning/I hate the egomaniac I’m becoming/But I’ve got your attention and at least that’s something”, but the fact that Baby Queen wraps it up in a perfect pop melody, is a greater gift than we deserve.
39. 929 by Halsey
Halsey’s album Manic was beautifully introspective, no track more so than on the heart wrenchingly honest album closer 929. Every line is a story (‘and hoped that my father would finally call me’), a regret(‘I can’t believe I still feed my fucking temptation’) and a glimpse of her what it’s like to be famous (‘I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met/But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed’). A hopeless, hypnotic ode to the endless anxieties of life.
38. Is It Just Me? (feat. Charlie Puth) by Sasha Sloan
Easily one of the best opening lines of 2020 (“I hate holding babies”), every line of this tongue-in-cheek too-cool-for-life hits a very millennial perspective of trying to be an individual in a world that has never been so connected. Pop duets are just the best things when they come together as neatly as this song about inauthenticity, and Puth’s vocal was the perfect stage-sharing choice.
37. supercuts by Jeremy Zucker
It must be nice to have that foresight that a relationship will end badly. This unrealistic future insight is tackled perfectly by Zucker as he sings this lying-making-himself-feel-better-about-his-decision narrative telling himself that they were great but they are not suited, which he shrouds in this jauntily sweet pop song. Cute, fun, and catchy as hell.
36. She Will Lay My Boy On The Stone by Jack Garratt
Four years after his debut, the former Brit’s Critics choice winner gifted me personally with his sophomore effort: Love, Death and Dancing – a record which brings all three things in spades (as you will see as you make your way down this list). Above everything, Garratt has a gorgeous voice and to hear just him going for it as he bangs away at the piano is a genuine marvel.
35. LMSWU by LEÓNxFLEIM
A euphoric pop song about just having a good time that sounds a bit like how I imagine Rex Orange County does after good sex and ten cups of coffee. Everything about this is perfect, the real high point being he end of the second verse when they sing: “I see now what I did was wrong/And I’m sorry that I took so long”.
34. oops! by Yung Gravy
This song may feel objectively terrible, but you cannot deny that the presentation of that opening lyric “Ayy, supercalifragilisticexpialiexpialidocious/Supercalifragilic-, my ex be on some ho shit” is disgustingly inspired.
33. Crave by Kiesza
I did not expect the return of Whitney Houston in 2020, but she really inhabited Kiesza’s new record, case and point: Crave – a wrought, behemothically powerful, unstoppable, love-demanding RnB/soul-pop anthem.
32. this is me trying by Taylor Swift
Look, I know that this was from the biggest selling album of the year, but anything after track 4 that doesn’t get a single release is basically a hidden gem. In a year such as this where even the smallest things have seemed impossible at times, the sentiment of I’m-just-doing-my-best is one I think we can all connect with. I full on cried she spoke about and performed this in that Disney+ documentary. Gorgeous.
31. Consequence by Patrik Jean
A song that grew with every subsequent listen, Consequence repeatedly delivers on its perfectly positioned hook ‘but I fuckin hate the consequence’. For a white boy, Jean is doing an excellent job of channelling a Khalid-like softness in his vocal. The perfect song if you’re looking to accentuate feelings of regret-fuelled heartache.
30. Someday by Kygo + Zac Brown Band
To paraphrase that awful saying, we must take Kygo at his worst (I’m looking at you, Hot Stuff) in order to deserve him at his best, specifically the pre-chorus [0.39] in Someday, which is probably the most triumphant vocal harmony you’ve heard all year, as presented by Zac Brown Band.
29. Somebody To Tell Me (Theme Song from “Love, Victor”) by Tyler Glenn
Maybe it was my inability to skip the credits during my viewing of the good-but-problematic bisexual-teen-drama Love, Victor, maybe it’s because I have a real soft spot for Tyler Glenn, or maybe it’s just the warmth that this the comfort-seeking Somebody to Tell Me inspires, whatever it is, this is the best thing the Neon Trees front man has done in ages.
28. don’t get caught up by Ziggy Alberts
It might just in part that I fancy Ziggy Alberts that I loved this downbeat acoustic song warning of the the anxiety of being too engaged with the state of the world, but I’d like to believe there’s more to it than that. Think Ed Sheeran, but Australian and without that early-onset-fame-disorder.
27. Lonely Heart by 5 Seconds of Summer
You can sort of tell that the 5SOS boys are trying to emulate the phenomenal Youngblood, but why shouldn’t they when they’re clearly so good at hitting that sweet aggro-heartbreak spot? A song to pound your chest to with an adrenalised rush of a bridge and some intensely satisfying vocal echoes.
26. Somebody by Dagny
Norway’s finest export Dagny gave us her an incredibly solid debut album, the highpoint being the glittery disco-pop perfection that is Somebody. Think Robyn, think Carly Rae Jepsen, think ripping your own heart as you dance your sorrows away.
25. Old Enough by Jack Garratt
Another thing that Garratt does exceptionally well is mesh synths and real instruments into one huge crescendo. Old Enough is a slow building song about trying to figure out when the right time to dive in is and realising there never is a right time, and Garratt delivers it with expert vocals which climax with the perfect escalation of fanfare.
24. Stick To Your Guns by Kelsy Karter
If we’re lucky, female driven pop-rock with real life guitars will see something of a resurrection in the coming year, and Karter is poised to stand at the forefront. On the MCR-emulating Stick To Your Guns, she builds it up with perfectly paced verses and and knocks it out with a slow anthemic chorus. One to watch for sure.
23. the freak show by YUNGBLUD
Not since MCR’s Welcome to the Black Parade has there been a emocore anthem as triumphant as YUNGBLUD’s the freak show. Releasing an album in December can either leave you swallowed up by the Christmas churn, or create a slow burner which could soundtrack the whole of the year to come, and I for one am rooting for this Yorkshire boy to lead 2021 into a full blown pop punk revival.
22. Natalie Don’t by RAYE
If Dolly Parton’s please-don’t-steal-my-him-just-because-you-can anthem were released now, it would something a little like this highly-contagious, expertly-seductive lament from Raye with its melody any pop star would kill for.
21. Italiana by Kota Banks
And the award for the most inspired chorus of 2020 goes to Kota Banks’ Italiana: “Shut up and give me pasta/Penne, penne, lasagna/Side of focaccia”. I’m genuinely dumfounded this plate-clattering plus-size anthem song that sexualises Italian food is yet to be threaded through the TikTok world into a worldwide smash.
20. 15 Years by Vistas
For me, some of the most effective songs are ones which you can run to, and this rush of an indie rock anthem from one of Scotlands best up-and-coming bands, which will have you feeling like you’re 13 years old and discovering music for the very first time, is just that.
19. Pig Feet (feat. Kamasi Washington, G Perico & Daylyt) by Terrace Martin + Denzel Curry
Most of the time I try to manage my anxieties by keeping the state-of-the-world at arms length and use music as a point of escapism from it, but some things have to transcend that barrier, and Curry and Co’s phenomenal Pig Feet serves as a stark, powerful and expertly executed reminder as to why that’s true.
18. Gaslighter by The Chicks
As made refamous by Taylor Swift, the politically polarising band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks came out swinging with the lead single for their first album in 14 years. There’s something so perfect about the intentional irony in the light-hearted feel to a song that is so poignant to the age of political gaslighting in which we exist. A proper anthem that prove the Chicks still got it.
17. Daydream by The Aces
If there’s one thing that we could all use from time to time, it’s a bit of wistful pop escapism, of which Daydream is the pinnacle. That feeling of breathless, inescapable whirlwind romance feeling that The Aces capture here is something that I would like somehow liquidised and mashed into my veins.
16. When I Ruled The World by Hannah Grace
Good ballads are hard to come by, but when they are as good as When I Ruled The World, which came by at the very beginning of 2020, they tend to last. Easily among my most played songs of the year and still a firm fixture of my ‘Current’ playlist. In one word: stunning.
15. Volcano by Twin Atlantic
Lead singer of Twin Atlantic Sam McTrusty has a very polarising voice, it verges on that heavy Scottish West-Coast accent which gets under the skin at the best of times, but somehow when it’s used right, it’s so fucking good. Case and point: Volcano – an alt-rock rush of a song which demands to be heard over and over and over again.
14. betty by Taylor Swift
Swift is an excellent storyteller, and the apologetic boy pondering whether he’d be welcome at a girl’s party after screwing up is a story she brings home in the [SPOILERS] happy ending of the final verse. As she so often does, it’s the little unexpected touches that really elevate her songs and it’s that repeated unexpected question of “would you tell me to go fuck myself” that serve to rank betty among her all time best.
13. Wish You Were Sober by Conan Gray
There was a weird month in which all I could think about was Conan Grey, the pinnacle moment of which: Wish You Were Sober. The rich-kids-in-every-american-teen-drama fantasy it captures and TS1989 style of it had me thinking for a good while that this was going to be the peak moment music of the year. Expertly done.
12. Angels Like You by Miley Cyrus
Once you get past the realisation that the verse melody borrows from Blink 182’s All The Small Things, then you can recognise this nod to her Can’t Be Tamed era as being her best ballad to date. This one felt like it was for the fans, and Cyrus didn’t think before jamming it chockful of heartache and one of her best delivered lyrics to date: “I know that you’re wrong for me/Gonna wish we never met on the day I leave.”
11. Time by Jack Garratt
Whilst the unedited version was a touch overlong and the radio edit cut down on some of it’s finest moment, Time contains the most best song finale that music ever created: that pure rush of unadulterated euphoria that Garratt starts building to from the halfway point and comes to a 40-second-long climax at 4.44.
10. together by Ziggy Alberts
Alberts released together back in January as his call for unity in the face of the fires that were decimating large parts Australia (it’s been a long year hasn’t it?). It’s an understated yet defiant song about togetherness and one which, for me, has felt continuously important in the necessary day-to-day resilience-building we’ve all had to do, and has been a song to lean on in some of the quieter moments of the year just passed.
09. forget me too (feat. Halsey) by Machine Gun Kelly
Halsey, who was already having a good year career-wise, was the perfect voice to bring to this revival of pop punk which has been a point of escapist nostalgia this year that basically made series 1-6 of One Tree Hill flash before my very eyes. Much to enjoy here, but Halsey’s guest verse takes the cake. I still cannot quite believe that Machine Gun Kelly released my favourite album of 2020, but here we are.
08. Fallin’ (Adrenaline) by Why Don’t We
Their sampling of Black Skinhead had me momentarily seething until I took a second to realise just how inspired this was from Why Don’t We. This breed of chest-pounding angsty boyband pop is exactly what 5SOS did so well on Youngblood, and these guys too that and took it to even greater heights. Raucous, reckless, and so, so good.
07. DAMN DANIEL (with Yung Baby Tate) by Bree Runway
I don’t know how Runway and Tate managed to cram so much perfection into three minutes – the reverberating ‘say that shit better watch your back’, Tate’s indescribably powerful ‘What’s up, it’s Felicia, hi’, and the way it just takes off for the final thirty seconds that feel like the plane has just left the runway – not a moment wasted.
06. Block Your Number by Maude Latour
Latour builds Block Your Number up relentessly, with infuriating-yet-perfect lyrics such as the narrative-building opener: “I remember when we first fell in love/ Symphonies at the bus stop on a Tuesday/I was wearing blue Nike high tops/You were annotating Greek tragedies,” the astute “the irony of poor connection is we talk over facetime” and the rip roaring pre-chorus “Blame it on summer, blame it on distance/Blame it on me, on all my resistance” to tell a familiar tale of failed modern love, with a chorus that just won’t quit. I simply cannot wait to see what she does next.
05. i drive me mad by renforshort
The sign of a perfect song is in its ability to play on repeat, a fate for which i drive me mad was perfectly designed. Infinitely singable, suprisingly-difficult-to-get-right lyrics, a consistent build, and a chorus that perfectly evokes the content of its lyrics, Lauren – renforshort – really knocked it out of the fucking park with this one.
04. XS by Rina Sawayama
A star exponentially rising, a critic and fanbase that won’t stop until she has it all, and this, the song which ties it all together: XS. Part mid-noughties Britney, part anti-capitalism, this really is the epitomy of the state of the world – and it’s a fucking banger. Karl Marx found rotting.
03. Better by Jack Garratt
Jack Garratt feels like one of those people who should be too old to be sitting at the kids table, made obvious by sampling a vine throughout Better. But it’s all just part of his schtick that he’s not a cool guy – which you can see from all his solo-dancing videos – but that he also doesn’t care because he’s a perfectionist just doing what he loves. Better is synth, it’s pop, it’s dance, it’s an expertly crafted escapist song, and there’s nothing else quite like it.
02. Want Me by Baby Queen
You can take your Sawayamas, your Thee Stallions, your Runways, your Cyruses – I’ll take the Queen herself. Baby Queen that is. I cannot put into words how alive my body and soul feels when playing Want Me – a song of unhealthy obsession over Jodie Comer which works on that self-fulfilling level where all I’m doing is talking to everyone and anyone about Baby Queen. It’s one thing to be a good lyricist (‘I’m twenty something so I tell myself to just grow up/Ditch my pathetic fascination with this unrequired love’) but to be able to lay those lyrics in amongst an excellent melody that captures that raw feeling of obsession, is simply above and beyond. I’ve said it already but I have to reiterate: she is the best thing to happen to pop in fucking ages.
01. Bloody Valentine by Machine Gun Kelly
I wish I had something cooler or more obscure to put down here, but that would be a lie because ,like it or not, Machine Gun Kelly gave us far and away the best song of 2020. Bloody Valentine served as the introduction to his pop punk album tickets to my downfall and was the song that sound tracked my entire year. It’s nostalgic, energetic, powerful, and I live and breathe every single second of it. On the 1st of May 2020 Colson Baker, aide visually by Megan Fox, put his foot on my neck and he is yet to let it up.