The Best Ballads of the Noughties

After publishing The Best Songs of the Noughties – Uptempo last week Diary of a Pop Fan is back with the second half of the Best Songs of the Noughties saga. Yes it’s definitely saga-worthy. This time I’ve noticed that most of the tunes are quite uncomplicated, containing a few simple hooks. However, do prepare yourselves for a hell of a lot of unrequited love, songs about learning to love yourself and just general love basically. It’s going to be wild:

20) One Republic Feat. Timbaland – Apologise

After spending two and a half years writing their debut album, in 2005 OneRepublic were suddenly dropped by their record label, leaving their work unreleased. However, “Apologise”, a song from the band’s recording sessions, found its way onto producer Timbaland’s album Shock Value and was eventually released as the third single from the studio set in late 2007. “Apologise” peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, staying in the top 10 for 25 weeks, the longest stay there for any song since “Smooth” by Santana, which spent 30 weeks in 1999. The success of the song helped singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder rise to prominence as one of the most prolific songwriters of the last decade.

19) James Morrison Feat. Nelly Furtado – Broken Strings

British singer James Morrison hooked up with Canadian singer Nelly Furtado on this heartbreakingly honest ballad which became another worldwide smash for the pair but somehow inexplicably failed to crack the US charts. We can deal with that though because “Broken Strings” got a lot of love in Morrison’s home country, ascending through the charts during the busy Christmas period of 2008 and eventually peaking at No.2. “Broken Strings” is one of the most beautiful metaphors ever for a relationship beyond repair and shows both singers at their most vulnerable, which is both harrowing and inspiring to behold.

18) Nelly & Kelly Rowland – Dilemma

“Welcome to Nellyville”. One of the best hook-ups in history, even down to the rhyming names. In 2002 Nelly was on fire. Hot off the back of his No.1 smash “Hot in Herre”, Nelly decided to take it down a notch for the third single from his second studio album Nellyville. “Dilemma” is a light and fluffy duet which was Kelly’s first solo outing after the disbanding of Destiny’s Child. The duo’s vocals blend beautifully to create the perfect smooth and silky confection which helped it win a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2003. Sure fire hit “Dilemma” also peaked at number one in the US, becoming Nelly’s second consecutive Billboard chart topper and Kelly’s first solo hit (and last single to break the US top ten to date). Interesting, the music video for “Dilemma” was shot on the same set which would later become Wisteria Lane a.k.a home to the ill-fated Desperate Housewives. In the video Nelly and Kelly can be clearly seen cavorting through the neighbourhood and Nelly performs a good portion of his rap on Susan Mayer’s front porch right where Mike was shot. 😦

17) S Club 7 – Never Had A Dream Come True

“Everybody’s got something they had to leave behind”. It impossible to leave this classic, wintery ballad behind. “Never Had a Dream Come True” was released when S Club 7 were at their prime at the turn of the century and it was that year’s Children in Need single to boot which meant it was a guaranteed hit. Sure enough, it became the first of S Club 7‘s three consecutive number one singles in the UK when it shot to the top of the charts in late November 2000. The wistful and yearning “Never Had a Dream Come True” proved that S Club 7 were just as good at the ballads as with the uptempo stuff and even managed to chart in the US where it became S Club 7’s first and last top ten single.

16) Justin Timberlake – Cry Me a River

After breaking free from shackles of poptastic boyband NSYNC Justin was first off the mark to score a hit single with the slinky “Like I Love You” which became a transatlantic hit single but it wasn’t until “Cry Me a River” that he really solidified his place as one of pop’s leading men. The Timbaland-produced “Cry Me a River” is a sonically unique synth ballad which combines a hodgepodge of genres, including gospel and beatboxing. The bittersweet kiss off was inspired by his former relationship with Britney Spears and even features a creepy Britney-lookalike in the video with Justin breaking into her house and stalking her. How did this video ever get approved by Justin’s record label? I still wish Justitney has been endgame. Perhaps he could have stopped her shaving her head…

(Did I get away with the Justitney portmanteau there…?)

15) Nelly Furtado – I’m Like a Bird

No-one really knows what happened to Nelly Furtado as she kind of just disappeared after 2006’s chart-conquering Loose album, featuring monster hits “Promiscuous”, “Maneater” and “Say It Right”. But fans can always look back to the earlier part of the noughties to fondly reminisce about a time when Furtado was on top of the world. Released in 2001 “I’m Like A Bird” served as a cooler alternative to the pop princesses who dominated the charts at the time.  A true liberation anthem, “Bird” manages to be empowering but unusual enough to avoid the pitfalls which takes a song into the realms of corniness. It exudes a positive and effortlessly sunny vibe which still strikes a chord with listeners today. For her efforts Furtado scored herself a hit both sides of the Atlantic and won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, making her the first female act to win the award for her debut single since Mariah Carey did so ten years earlier.

14) Alicia Keys – If I Ain’t Got You

Inspired by the death of R&B singer Aaliyah, Alicia Keys wrote “If I Ain’t Got You” for her second studio album The Diary of Alicia Keys. The already highly successful R&B diva brought things back to basics with this soulful ballad about letting go of what doesn’t matter and focus on the important things in life. It is a timeless message which rings as true now as it did back in 2003. Keys’ inherent musicality means she knows exactly when to let this powerful ballad breathe in a way which enhances rather than diminishing its potency. As a result, the song deservedly received two nominations at the 2005 Grammy Awards, for Song of the Year and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, winning in the latter.

13) Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why

A little known fact about Norah Jones’ signature song “Don’t Know Why” is that it was actually written by singer Jesse Harris and originally appeared on his 1999 album, Jesse Harris & the Ferdinandos. So the song which catapulted the Indian-American beauty to fame, helping her debut album Come Away with Me sell 26 million copies worldwide and winning her three Grammy’s for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance is actually a cover. Mind officially blown! Despite Jones’ innocent, youthful voice this is undoubtedly one of the sexiest slow jams of all time with simple chords and progressions which create a luxuriously mellow vibe perfect for making babies to. Oh and “Don’t know why I didn’t come” is still one of the naughtiest lines in one of the nicest songs ever.

12) Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

This slow-burning classic proved that a whisper is sometimes louder than a shout when it was released in 2006 to overwhelmingly positive critical reception. The song was inspired by lead singer Gary Lightbody‘s father who, in response to Gary telling him about a girl he fancied, commented “You’re like a dog chasing a car. You’ll never catch it and you just wouldn’t know what to do with it if you did”. Upon release, “Chasing Cars” became the group’s most successful single, initially peaking at No.6 in the UK but selling consistently for years until it finally sold over a million copies in 2013. That’s 7 years after it was released! It also has several other distinctions, including being the last song performed live on the BBC‘s Top of the Pops and being most played song of the decade in the UK. Snow Patrol are so greedy with their record-breaking.

11) Dido – White Flag

What noughties list would be complete without some input from this soft-voiced queen of heartbreak. After the massive success of her debut album No Angel, history decided to repeat itself with her second studio effort Life for Rent. “White Flag” was issued as the first single from this studio set and was met with critical and commercial success, as well as winning a Brit Award for Best British Single. A song about unrequited love, “White Flag” literally defines the word “wistful” with Dido’s stunning vocals taking centre stage.

10) Take That – Patience

During Take That’s inactive years between 1996 and 2006 I doubt Gary Barlow even remotely dreamed of having as successful a comeback as Take That enjoyed in the latter half of the noughties. But it really was the fairytale comeback to end all comebacks. Timed to perfection, Take That renewed interest in their back catalogue in late 2005 with the release of a greatest hits collection which went on to become one of the best-selling albums of the year. They then quickly capitalised on this success with the release of their first album of original material in 11 years Beautiful World, preceded by lead single “Patience”. Showcasing their new mature 90s-boyband-turned-00s-manband-look Take That succeeded in rekindling the UK’s love affair with them. “Patience” is was the perfectly titled comeback single complete with earth shattering harmonies, a grandiose organ and weathered man faces. Such was the success of the single that it shot straight to number one and subsequently won Best British Single Award and Record of the Year at the 2007 BRIT Awards.

9) James Blunt – You’re Beautiful

This heartfelt ballad from 2005 is without a doubt one of the greatest love songs of all time. James Blunt, who had previously served as a soldier in Kosovo, became one of the biggest international stars in the world seemingly overnight when “You’re Beautiful” took him to number one all over the world.  Upon hitting number one in the US he became the first British artist to have a UK number one single in this territory since Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” in 1997 breaking a drought of 8 years and it later receive Grammy nominations for Record of the YearSong of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. It’s not all positive however as many now consider “You’re Beautiful” to be one of the most annoying songs ever with even Blunt himself stating that he hates the song. But the fact is that songs as popular as this take on a life of their own and “You’re Beautiful” means so much to so many people that it rightly deserves to be celebrated as one of the best songs of the noughties.

8) Atomic Kitten – Whole Again

So much of pop is down to fate. Well…to be more precise fate and record labels. After the failure of previous single “Follow Me” and their debut album Right Now peaking at a lowly No.39 the kittens were on last chance saloon, but they managed to convince their record label to release one more single which turned out to be the now classic “Whole Again”. This was the group’s final single to feature founding member Kerry Katona (now better known as a Reality TV star and general train wreck) after she fell pregnant Kerry and left the band a few days before the release of “Whole Again”. The definition of bad timing., Katona was quickly replaced by new member Jenny Frost (whose band Precious had previously competed in Eurovision) and “Whole Again” shot to No.1 in the UK. Atomic Kitten then went on to become one of the most successful girlbands of the 21st century, enjoying 2 further number ones and a string of top ten singles in the UK.

7) Black Eyed Peas – Where Is the Love?

What noughties list would be complete without the Black Eyed Peas? They dominated the charts throughout the decade with a succession of ruthlessly effective chart assaults which solidified their place as one of the biggest bands in the world. “Where Is the Love?” was their breakthrough international single in 2003 and the beginning of their chart domination, but it is important to not forget that they too had their go through their share of hardship in order to attain commercial success. In fact, at the turn of the century the Black Eyed Peas sans Fergie had already released two rap albums to little chart success. There were doubts that BEP would survive and will.i.am was adamant that they would not compromise their sound for fear of being accused of selling out. However, he eventually agreed to adopt a more mainstream pop sound, even deciding to include a female singer in the band to increase commercial appeal. This very nearly could have been Nicole Scherzinger by the way, but she was busy with her band Eden’s Crush at the time and Fergie was chosen instead. During the writing sessions for what would eventually become the bands third album Elephunk Fergie invited former flame Justin Timberlake along and he expressed an interest in recording with the band which is why we can hear his vocals on the chorus of “Where is the Love?” However due to concerns of overexposure (Justin was promoting his debut solo album Justified at the time) his record label asked that his part on the track go uncredited. Upon release, “Where is the Love?” was met with critical acclaim for its universal message of love, as well as for tackling heavy hitting issues such as terrorism, U.S government hypocrisy and racism to name but a few. The track also attained massive commercial success, peaking at No.1 in the UK for 6 consecutive weeks and becoming the highest-selling single of 2003 in that territory. The Black Eyed Peas were officially the next big thing.

6) Gabrielle – Rise

“Look in my life. Look in my heart. I have seen them fall apart but now I’m ready to rise again”. Simple lyrics which ring true due to the real life hardships suffered by the singer. After achieving success with her debut single “Dreams”Gabrielle shot to fame very quickly, being heralded as the Queen of British Soul. Her dream had literally come true. But little did she know, the nightmare was still to come. In 1995 the love of her life and father of her son was sent to jail for the brutal murder of his stepfather who he stabbed 52 times before dumping his headless body at Cut Throat Bridge in Derbyshire. Most people wouldn’t have been able to survive living through real life horrors such as this, but not Gabrielle. She turned her emotional turmoil into motivation, making a spectacular comeback at the beginning of 2000 with the unashamedly autobiographical “Rise” which became her second number one single in the UK. “Rise” is both authentic and inspirational which is why it is one of my favourite songs of the last decade. It is also worth mentioning that this was the first time Bob Dylan allowed another singer to sample one of his songs, in this case “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.

5) Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love

Melismas galore! “Bleeding Love” was originally written by Ryan Tedder with US pop singer Jesse McCartney for McCartney’s third studio album, Departure. But shock horror! The record label vetoed the tune and it ended up with Simon Cowell who was searching for the perfect debut single for his X Factor protégée Leona Lewis. Her obvious vocal talent and stunning appearance made her the perfect vehicle to promote the fledgling show which had, up till that point produced only a slew of cruise ship quality winners. From then on it must have seemed like a dream for Cowell, “Bleeding Love” debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for 7 weeks, the longest run for a homegrown female solo artists in British chart history. It was also named the best-selling single of 2008 worldwide after peaking at No.1 in 35 countries. Even more importantly, the effect of Lewis’ success renewed interest in the X Factor and turned it into the hit factory whose alumni have dominated the charts for the last decade.

4) Christina Aguilera – Beautiful

Prolific singer/songwriter from 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry, originally wrote the deeply personal “Beautiful” for her comeback to the music industry. P!nk heard the song during the recording of her album Missundaztood (“Get the Party Started”, “Just Like a Pill”) and expressed her strong desire to include it on her album but Perry stuck to her guns and said she would keep it for herself. However, during the recording of Stripped Perry was so blown away by Aguilera’s vocal that she decided to let her include it on her album, sparking a feud between P!nk and Christina Aguilera. Upon release, “Beautiful”buoyed the flagging sales of Stripped in the US and was eventually adopted as a LGBT anthem for its uniting message of self-love and inner beauty.

3) Enrique Iglesias – Hero

The King of Latin ascended to his throne after the release of this breathy piano ballad dripping with more drama than an episode of Pretty Little Liars. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the dishy Spaniard’s love interest in the music video which sees the Latino heartthrob taking on the role of lovable money launderer who is hunted down and eventually mortally wounded by his enemies (played by Mickey Rourke). Although he had enjoyed considerable success worldwide by this point, he was still relatively unknown in the UK until “Hero” sent him flying to the top of the charts where it stayed for four weeks and ended as one of the biggest selling singles of the year, not to mention of the decade.

2) Coldplay – Yellow

“Yellow” will forever be known as the song which catapulted Coldplay into the public consciousness, revealing the London-based quartet to be the true heirs to U2’s suitably overblown “The Biggest Band in the World” title. Although “Yellow” has certainly cemented its status as an anthem, it never seems too overblown as can easily happen with bands who enjoy their level of success. Martin’s lyrics succeed in striking the perfect blend between a powerful, immediate chorus and simple yet intimate verses with his upper register being put to good use throughout. Ultimately “Yellow” is one of the band’s most simple tracks with a Martin singing about a classic case of unrequited love. In this way, it still serves as a sparkling indicator of everything that people love about Coldplay: big sing-a-long choruses, martin’s soft falsetto and universal lyrics that cut straight to the heart.

1) All Saints – Pure Shores

I immediately knew that this had to be my number one ballad of the noughties purely for the fact that it hasn’t aged a day since it came out 16 years ago in early 2000. “Pure Shores” has an ethereal, dreamscape vibe which is completely timeless. I could easily see it being a chart hit today. It’s undoubtedly still one of the most relaxing songs ever due to the futuristic William Orbit-production which incorporates elements of ambient music. “Pure Shores” gained notoriety due to being included on the soundtrack for the high profile film adaptation of the book The Beach which featured from a very fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio as the protagonist. Upon release “Pure Shores” opened at the top of the UK charts and finished 2000 as the second highest-selling single of the year. It also won various accolades including an Ivor Novello Award for Most Performed Work and was nominated for two Brit Awards. Never was there a more majestic and uplifting song released in the noughties.

 

Agree with my choices? Think I’ve missed something out? Whatever the case I would love to hear what you think! Please put the comment box below to good use as that’s what it’s there for! Also, please like and share and if you want to listen to any of the songs mentioned in this blog I have provided a handy Spotify playlist below. Good pop just makes me so generous 🙂

 

 

 

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The Best Pop Songs of 2015: 80-61

Welcome to the second part of Diary of a Pop Fan’s Best Pop Songs of 2015 list. Let’s kick things off with a nice bit of soulful balladeering from Will Young shall we:

80) Will Young – Like A River

“Like A River” may not have been an official single from Will Young’s sixth studio effort 85% Proof but it was certainly the most beautifully understated track on the whole album.  I do love it when songs refuses to follow a traditional verse-chorus structure and on “Like A River” it only helps to intensify the drama on this smoldering, classy production

79) Cheryl – Only Human

Cheryl has produced some thumping good pop tunes over the years but ballads have never been her strong suit…until now. “Only Human” is the title track from Cheryl’s fourth studio album and her most personal effort to date. The Imogen Heap-esque ballad sees the Geordie songstress’ voice layered in vocoder in a not-unlike-Cher cerca 1998 fashion and, interestingly, she has never sounded more sincere.

78) Galantis – Peanut Butter Jelly 

For the fourth single from their debut full length album Pharmacy the Swedish newcomers decided to go disco. As a result, “Peanut Butter Jelly” is one of the most explosive and feel good tunes of the year and it stood out on the radio for all the right reasons.

77) DJ Snake & AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It

DJ Snake’s remix of London duo AlunaGeorge’s debut single breathed new life into the track, making it an international hit and a radio staple all throughout the summer. Like it or not, there was no getting away from that infectious hiccuping beat in 2015.

76) Zedd Feat. Selena Gomez – I Want You to Know

“I Want You to Know” may be a little by numbers but sometimes there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This euphoric, joyous pop delicacy comes courtesy of two stars at the top of their respective games and you’d better believe that no one was complaining this pairing.

75) Nicky Jam Feat. Enrique Iglesias – El Perdón

Following on from 2014’s hip-swivelling “Bailando”, Enrique was at it again this year, yet again producing what is undoubtedly THE Spanish language hit of 2015, . “El Perdon” was literally inescapable all summer long.

74) Sara Bareilles – She Used to Be Mine

One of 2015’s most random pop albums came from an unlikely source. Sara Bareilles’ fifth studio album What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress actually serves as the soundtrack to the stage adaption of the 2007 Adrienne Shelly film Waitress and lead single “She Used to Be Mine” perfectly encapsulates the main plot in one beautiful, vulnerable four and a half minute song.

73) Ariana Grande – One Last Time

Grande’s My Everything album was chock full of big tunes but for her fourth single she chose to take it down a notch with mid-tempo EDM ballad “One Last Time”. The production is flawless but it’s Grande’s angelic vocals which take centre stage here.

72) Robin Schulz Feat. Ilsey – Headlights

German producer Robin Schulz followed up a stellar 2014 with more entrancing deep house offerings this year. “Headlights”, the first single from his second studio album Sugar and focuses heavily on Isley’s ethereal, soaring vocals.

71) The Weeknd – The Hills

The Weeknd kept surprising us throughout 2015 and “The Hills” is a prime example of why he is one of the freshest things in pop right now. The spooky track somehow manages to combine hammer horror style screams with The Weeknd’s silky falsetto to create a something truly original and not to mention sexy.

70) Enya – Even In the Shadows

Irish songbird Enya is one of the biggest selling artists ever, having sold an estimated 80 million albums worldwide. After a lengthy 7 year absence, Enya returned this winter with her eight studio album Dark Sky Island which was met with universal praise and returned her to the top 10 across the globe. “Even In the Shadows” is shining example of Enya’s ability to transport the listener to another world and fits neatly into her already existing opus.

69) David Guetta Feat. Afrojack, Nicki Minaj & Bebe Rexha – Hey Mama

We always knew that an Afrojack and David Guetta hook up would be explosive but this four way tag team power tune far exceeded expectations. Tribal wailing never sounded this good!

68) One Direction – Drag Me Down

Among the slew of tears following One Direction’s announcement that they were going on hiatus appeared some of the boyband’s finest work. Made in the AM shakes off the faux rock shtick found  on Midnight Memories and Four in favour of full throttle pop anthems, the best of which is the irresistible lead single “Drag Me Down”.

67) Avicii – Waiting For Love

When I first heard this, I could have sworn it was Chris Martin singing on the track, but it turned out to be Simon Aldred from Cherry Ghost doing his best Martin impression. But once I got over that “Waiting for Love” turned out to be one of Avicii’s finest productions to date and features what is probably his stickiest synth line. Delectable.

66) Years and Years – Shine

This 80’s inspired piece of synthpop ensured that the London electronica trio had longevity past their Spring smash hit “King”. Once that huge chorus kicks in you soon fall under “Shine’s” spell and by the time the breakdown comes around, you’ll be begging for more.

65) OMI – Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)

Summer 2015’s most ubiquitous tune and one of the highest selling singles of the year. The insanely catchy sax loop on this track just drills into your brain and refuses to let go.

64) Mørland & Debrah Scarlett – A Monster Like Me

Norway has been knocking it out of the park the last couple of years in Eurovision but this year they surpassed themselves. “A Monster Like Me” is an intelligent, brooding classic ballad which boasts some of 2015’s most stellar harmonies. Sadly, the Eurovision 3 minute rule  does this haunting masterpiece an injustice. I could have done with another 2 minutes at least!

63) Iggy Azalea Feat. Jennifer Hudson – Trouble

This jaunty piano jam continued Iggy’s chart dominance into 2015. Her slick, punchy verses marry well with Jennifer’s sassy, soulful choruses. It’s good to hear good ol’ Hudders on the radio again after a series of recent flops.

62) Madonna – Joan of Arc

Not the best year for Madonna by any stretch of the imagination. Her comeback album Rebel Heart may have been a tad patchy but, when it was good, it was very good and “Joan of Arc” is a prime example of this. It’s one of Madonna’s most autobiographical songs and affords us a rare glimpse of vulnerability from the material girl.

61) Leona Lewis – Thunder

After breaking free from the gilded cage that was Simon Cowell’s record label, a newly liberated Leona Lewis burst free from her shackles and made a glorious comeback with this fighter anthem. She may have gone through the wringer to get to this point, but her music is all the better for it.

 

Thank you for reading and feel free to comment and share.

You can also listen to all the tracks on The Best Pop Songs of 2015 playlist:

spotify:user:1151803087:playlist:7fcwgDNbrmE4WWjkoRYAo1

The Best Modern Christmas Songs

Sick of Slade? Has enough of Shakin’ Stevens’ wiggling hips? Wish “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” would just bloody go away? There’s nothing wrong with taking a little break from the tried and tested Christmas classics and why not start by exploring some modern Yuletide treats. I have compiled a list of some of the best festive tunes since 2000 for you lovely readers. You never know, you might find a few hidden classics among them:

1) Ariana Grande – Santa Tell Me

Ariana Grande christmas
That’s how you rock the Christmas jumper look

2014 has really been a fantastic year for the 21 year old. With her second studio album My Everything peaking at No.1 in the US she became the first female artists to have two consecutive her first two albums top the charts since Susan Boyle. My Everything also peaked top 5 in basically every country in the world and solidified her as a premium pop princess to be reckoned with. Lead single “Problem” managed to peak at No.1 in the UK and became a massive worldwide smash. Subsequent singles “Break Free” and “Love Me Harder” also managed to peak top 10 in the US and chart worldwide. Grande has also managed to spend 26 straight weeks in the top ten of the US Billboard Charts with “Problem”, “Break Free” and “Bang Bang”. This girl is on fire! “Santa Tell Me” is the icing on the cake of an incredible year for the diva-in-the-making. Though it’s far from her first festive offering. In fact, she released a whole EP of holiday tunes entitled Christmas Wishes last year, featuring cover versions of “Last Christmas” and several new tracks. However, “Santa Tell Me” is by far her best Christmas release to date. It’s really everything you’d want from a future holiday classic: jingly bells; warm vocals; lyrics about snow and Santa. Of course, she’s not managed to record the next “All I Want For Christmas Is You” for the moment, but a few more smart, well-intentioned tries and she just might!

2) Leona Lewis – One More Sleep

Leona Lewis One More Sleep
A festive Christmas Cyclops

After the weak commercial performance of Leona’s third studio album Glassheart the ex-X Factor starlet decided to go down the well-trodden Christmas album route to try and remind us why we fell in love with her in the first place. Luckily, she really did throw everything and the kitchen sink at this project and the result is one of the best Christmas albums in recent memory. Lead single “One More Sleep” sees Lewis counting down the days until her lover comes home on Christmas day. It’s not the most original of concepts, but the holidays are not a time for originality and the Phil Spector wall of sound Motown vibe more than makes up for it. When “One More Sleep” climbed to No.3 in the UK last Christmas Lewis became the British female artist with the most top 5 singles in chart history with a total of 8. Not a bad Christmas present for the Hackney lass.

3) Kelly Clarkson – Underneath the Tree

Kelly Clarkson Underneath the Tree
It wasn’t just the logs on the fire that were smouldering that year.

Up till last year it was generally accepted that if and when Kelly Clarkson decided to release a Christmas album that it would be an absolute corker, and boy did she not disappoint. Wrapped in Red boasted Wall of Sound throwback vibe which was perfectly offset by Kelly’s powerhouse vocals. The album went on to become the highest selling 2013 Christmas release, despite facing strong competition from Mary J Blige and Duck Dynasty. Lead single “Underneath the Tree” became a worldwide top 40 smash and received extremely positive critical praise, with critics comparing it to Mariah Carey’s seminal classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. Sleigh bells, chimes and saxophone solos all come together on “Underneath the Tree” to create the perfect festive feel filled to the brim with unbridled optimism. You can’t help but like this one!

4) Gabriella Cilmi – Warm this Winter

Gabriella Cilmi Warm this Winter
That is not how you’re gonna keep warm this winter Gabriella

She may have faded into obscurity since her platinum selling debut album Lessons to Be Learned and all-conquering single “Sweet About Me” but when she was still at the peak of her fame in 2008 Gabriella Cilmi was approached to record an updated version of Connie Francis’ classic “I’m Gonna Be Warm this Winter” for the Co-op’s holiday advert. The advert became an instant favourite and the single rose and rose up the ranks of the UK singles chart. Cilmi’s hearty vocals form the core of this bubbly, festive offering which features copious amounts of brass. It also helped to open up Francis’ version to a whole new market. Finger snappin’ fun!

5) Britney Spears – My Only Wish (This Year)

Britney Spears My Only Wish This Year
If only she’d wished not to go friggin’ mental

Although in 2000 Britney had already declared that she wasn’t “that innocent” (“Oops I Did It Again”) and that her loneliness wasn’t killing her no more” (“Stronger”), this era is still a throwback to when Britney’s image was whiter than white and her head was still full of luscious blonde locks. “My Only Wish (This Year)” is a bubblegum pop tune that could have come direct from her …Baby One More Time album. It’s a throwback to a simpler time that is just as potent now as it was back then. It was recorded by Britters for Platinum Christmas, a compilation CD put together with festive recording made by famous pop singers at the turn of the century (such as Dido and S Club 7!). Typically, Spears sings about wanting her love to be returned to her underneath her Christmas tree (prickly) by jolly old Saint Nick. Although it is revered as a modern Christmas classic to this day it didn’t really chart anywhere, except in South Korea where it did spectacularly well, selling over 600,000 copies…

6) The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)

The Darkness Christmas Time Dont Let the Bells End
You don’t see that kind of Christmas passion often enough nowadays

An oft forgotten yuletide gem which was engaged in one of the most epic chart battles ever in 2003 against Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ gloomy cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”. “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End”) was released at The Darkness’ peak of popularity, coming off their most popular single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” which had just peaked at No.2. At this point they were one of the biggest bands in the UK and everyone believed that they would bag the Christmas No.1. That is, until the relatively unknown Gary Jules and Michael Andrews emerged as challengers at the last minute. The glam rockers were No.1 with “Christmas Time” all throughout the week until Saturday when they were pipped to the post by the newcomers. Nevertheless, The Darkness’ seasonal offering still crops up every December and keeps us wondering how they managed to get away with saying the word “bellend” in a Christmas song.

7) Michael Bublé & Thalía – Mis Deseos/Feliz Navidad

Michael Buble ft Thalia - Mis Deseos / Feliz Navidad
Hael Uble is my favourite artist

Michael Bublé´s Christmas has been a phenomenon. Even in markets where holiday albums done usually sell well such as the UK it managed to break records. As of last year it has sold over 2 million copies in the UK alone and has charted in the top 10 of the album charts every December since release. It also peaked at No.1 in 14 other major markets, including the US, and has sold an impressive 8.5 million copies worldwide. Personally, the highlight of the album is the heartfelt cover of “Mis Deseos/Feliz Navidad” with Mexican singer Thalía. Even the detractors can’t deny the magic of their cover of Puerta Rican singer José Feliciano’s 1970 classic which is tucked away at the end of the Canadian smooth talker’s 2011 Christmas album. It brings an exotic Latin feel to the holiday period which is always welcome.

8) Idina Menzel & Michael Buble – Baby It’s Cold Outside

Indina Menzel Holiday Wishes
Wait a minute! Isn’t she Jewish?

More Bublé you say! Well he is the king of the cheesy festive tune after all. This one comes fresh off the pipeline from Idina Menzel, the singer who “let it go” this year, who has just released a new Christmas album entitled Holiday Wishes. The album of classic covers is her first in 6 years and follows her commercial success as the voice of Queen Elsa in the tremendously popular Frozen. The album has also become her highest charting and first top ten US album, having peaked so far at No.10. The lea single “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has become her second charting single in the US, after “Let It Go”. Idina’s voice blends perfectly with Michael’s and the little ad-lib quips that they make throughout add colour and personality to this cover. Sure sometimes Bublés accent is really corny and irritating on this track but I’ll let it go because it’s a great cover in all other areas.

9) Natasha Bedingfield – Shake Up Christmas

Natasha Bedingfield Shake Up Christmas
Is Natasha’s dismembered head wrapped in a bow really an appropriate Christmas present?

You don’t hear much about Natasha Bedingfield anymore do you? She kind of disappeared off the face of the earth after the flop of her last album Strip Me which peaked at an embarrassing No.103 in the US. She hasn’t even bothered releasing anything in the UK for years anyway! I still have blind faith that she will come back and smash it up again, but that hope is diminishing with every year that passes. The last bone she threw us Bedingfield fans was “Shake Up Christmas” which she recorded for the Coca-Cola Christmas advert. It’s the last piece of evidence that there is left of Bedingfield’s signature cheery peppiness which suits the festive period to perfection. It’s not quite your typical Christmas song, in fact the verse is half rapped. But the chorus is immediate and catchy as hell. You’ll find yourself singing along before too long.

10) Kylie Minogue – Santa Baby

Kylie Minogue Santa Baby
“Don’t you dare look up my skirt!”

In 2010 Kylie decided to throw us a season treat in the form of her 5th EP A Kylie Christmas which featured a cover of “Santa Baby” and “Let It Snow”. Kylie’s cover of “Santa Baby” serves as a good reminder of all the things we love about the diminutive princess of pop. Kylie dishes out just the right amount of sugar and spice to make this cover the ideal blend of naughty and nice. I’m sure Santa was very happy that year. Kylie also manages to preserve the original tongue-in-cheek vibe but also enhances it tenfold to make it one of the best “Santa Baby” covers out there. Only Kylie would have the audacity to flirt with Santa that much!

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment. Oh and Merry Christmas Everyone!!!!!

Best Pop Album of 2013

These are very difficult times for the once mighty album. Sales have dropped dramatically in recent years and show signs of continuing this downward trend in future years. A wide array of reasons have been suggested for this, such as the economic crisis reducing the amount of money people are willing to spend on music, meaning they focus more on singles, which incidentally have shown positive growth in recent years with an unprecedented amount of singles selling more than 100,000 copies in their first sales week this year. Some people attribute the drop in album sales to YouTube, which allows people to listen to a full album and select their favourite songs, making the full album redundant. There is evidence for this theory as certain tracks from albums released this year have charted alongside the lead singles, for example, several albums promotional singles taken from one Directions new album Midnight Memories reached number one on the iTunes download chart (and then subsequently quickly dropped down the chart). However, there are still some who consider the album an invaluable part of the music experience. Beyoncé herself, upon releasing her new album this year, claimed that she missed “the immersive experience” that albums provide for the music fan. Indeed, this is the main attraction of an album, to allow the listener a window into the singer’s consciousness and feelings. Music, after all, is a very personal experience (despite will.i.am reducing it to mindless electronic beats). Therefore, I have compiled my favourite albums of the year in order to help the undiscerning pop fan decide what is still worth listening to.

20) Leona Lewis – Christmas, with Love

Leona Lewis - Christmas, With Love
Leona Lewis – Christmas, With Love

This deserves its place on the list purely in the interest of encouraging good behaviour. The Christmas album is a genre which has been widely abused by music artists wanting to cash in on a holiday smash and, therefore, is often written off as a novelty genre. But this is a rare thing: a well sung, well produced, classy affair clearly inspired by the classic Christmas albums of times gone by (cue Phil Spector). As well as the obligatory reinterpretations of Christmas classics Christmas, with Love contains several new songs. It also helps that lead single One More Sleep is quite possibly one of the best contemporary Christmas singles in recent memory.

Listen to: One More Sleep, Ave Maria

19) Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain 

Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain
Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain

Despite being a slightly bleak listen, from the offset it is clear that Aplin is a talented singer and writer with a pleasingly folksy warmth to her voice. Singles Please Don’t Say You Love Me and Panic Cord, believe it or not, are some of the most upbeat but don’t let this detract from what is a beautifully crafted album. It would definitely be your loss.

Listen to: Home, Please Don’t Say You Love Me.

18) Avril Lavigne – Avril Lavigne 

Avril Lavigne - Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne – Avril Lavigne

Album number 5 and Avril is still plugging the brattish rebellious teenager shtick which made hits such as Sk8er Boi and Complicated so successful. Sure, progression is not her forte but there is something pleasantly refreshing about an artist who knows exactly who they are and remains the same through thick and thin. Even blatant copies of current trends such as the Katy Perry-inspired Sippin’ On Sunshine are stamped with Avril’s vivacious personality. Simon Cowell would definitely declare her to have the X Factor. The irony lies in the fact that this collection of songs is actually one of her best and most coherent, yet it is one that most of the public are not likely to listen to, taking into account Lavigne’s decreasing popularity which is visible album by album. All the more Avril for us then.

Listen to: Give You What You Like, Here’s to Never Growing Up

17) Jessie J – Alive    

Jessie J – Alive
Jessie J – Alive

The curse of the sophomore album strikes! We’ve seen it time and time again. An artist has great success with their debut album but fails to replicate it with their second. There are many reasons for this: pressure to grow musically, time constraints from record labels, the constantly evolving music scene. After the whirlwind success of Who You Are, Jessie J was always going to find it difficult to follow it up, but having said that, Who You Are was a very bumpy ride indeed. It experimented with several different styles and in the end, it felt as if she never really settled. This album demonstrates that Jessie J, at the very least, is on her way to finding herself at last. It’s a more coherent album and in that way it is more satisfying that the collection of random singles that was Who You Are. And while the first half is much better than the second, there is much less filler in general.

Listen to: Breathe, Thunder.

16) Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience 

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

2013 signalled Justin Timberlake’s triumphant return to the music scene after his foray into the acting world over the past few years. He has been rewarded with not one, but two global smash albums this year, with the other half of his 20/20 Experience album also being a big commercial success. But here were concerned with the first part of Justin’s 20/20 Experience, which is better crafted and catchier than the second instalment. Of course, Justin does have a tendency for indulgence, with several songs bloating to over 8 minutes long and the songs themselves aren’t nearly epic enough to warrant that length. But the progression from his previous albums is tangible and the album is infinitely listenable.

Listen to: Mirrors, Tunnel Vision.

15) Rebecca Ferguson – Freedom

Rebecca Ferguson – Freedom
Rebecca Ferguson – Freedom

Rebecca Ferguson is arguably one of the main reasons why the X Factor still deserves to exist. Her last album was a huge success, selling 600,000 copies in the UK alone; despite producing only one hit single Nothing’s Real But Love (which only reached number 10). This set the foundation for a long and successful career and here’s round two. The stomping kiss off to a past love I Hope opens the album, which is appropriate as the whole album is about a messy break up anyway. There are several other highlights off the album that show that, in the time that she has been away, heartache  has made her developed an attitude…in the best possible way. The differences from her first album Heaven are what make this album exciting, namely that her personality is allowed to show through more (always a good thing). So, while there is more filler here than on her previous album, there are a lot of killer tracks here to enjoy.

Listen to: All that I’ve Got, Fake Smile

14) Alison Moyet – The Minutes 

Alison Moyet – The Minutes
Alison Moyet – The Minutes

Often when a musician has been in the game for so long they show signs of career fatigue and lack of creativity, after all, the music industry can be a lonely place (fig.1 Britney Spears – “my loneliness is killing me”). However, Alison Moyet shows no sign of a lack of new ideas and even managed to sound a lot fresher than some of the 20-somethings on the music scene nowadays. The Minutes presents us with some of her best work to date: the crashing crescendo of When I was Your Girl and the electro squelch of Apple Kisses make this album a joy to listen to from start to finish. And most importantly, no filler.

Listen to: When I was Your Girl/Apple Kisses

13) Katy Perry – Prism 

Katy Perry new album
Katy Perry – Prism

This year marked the return of one of the most successful pop stars of the minute, Katy Perry. Immediately the media set about creating rivalry between her and Lady Gaga, who released her comeback single Applause at the same time. Fortunately for Perry, her single Roar trounced Gaga’s in most charts all over the world and set the scene for her massive comeback. Teenage Dream, was always going to be a hard act to follow but Prism manages to keep the fun of her previous albums, while avoiding re-treading old ground. There are several standout tracks such as Dark Horse and Walking on Air which show Perry experimenting with her music. But the second half is overcome by ballads and songs such as International Smile and This Moment demonstrate how Perry’s song writing abilities can come off as cheesy. Nevertheless, this is a fun album and, if you consider it independently of Teenage Dream, it’s is a great album in its own right.

Listen to: Dark Horse

12) Goldfrapp – Tales of Us

Goldfrapp new album
Goldfrapp – Tales of Us

Perhaps one of the most pleasing things about Goldfrapp’s new album is how they are clearly not making music in order to be commercially successful. Especially nowadays, it seems that artists don’t care about the music itself and just want to make money, but not Goldfrapp. This album is a lovely blend of sonic textures with Alison’s voice cooing delicately over gorgeous piano driven tracks. Gone is the electro influence of Supernature, and while this was successful in its own right, it has now given away to a more delicate beauty. Every track blends into the next, making the album as a whole a hugely relaxing and gratifying listen.

Listen to:  the whole thing!

11) Icona Pop – This is…Icona Pop.

Icona Pop's album
Icona Pop – This is…Icona Pop.

Few people would have suspected that Icona Pop would be more than a flash in the pan when theyre catchy hit I love It shot straight to the top of the charts in June. But their debut album shows that they are much more than a one trick pony. In fact, it is filled to the brim with catchy hits which will keep the listener dancing all night and, crucially, never bored.

Listen to: Girlfriend, In the Stars.

10) Diana Vickers – Music to Make Boys Cry 

Diana Vicker's second album
Diana Vickers – Music to Make Boys Cry

There once was a time when Diana Vickers seemed to be on top of the world. After her debut single Once shot straight to number one, her debut album Songs From the Tainted Cherry Tree also went straight to the top of the charts. 3 years on, it was always going to be a struggle to regain such success and unfortunately it seems she has been struck by the sophomore curse again with Music to Make Boys Cry limping in at a low 37 in the UK album charts and her lead single Cinderella only reaching number 76. Another album doomed to obscurity. It’s a huge shame actually seeing as it’s a huge improvement on her debut. The album has been criticised for being vapid and the lyrics uninspiring but this album contains something that many artists have lost nowadays – fun. Lead single Cinderella, while admittedly not too inspiring, is a slice of electro-pop perfection and Boy in Paris shows Diana exploring new musical territory. Let’s hope next time round she gets the recognition she deserves. Heck she even show side boob on the album cover!

Listen to: Music to Make Boys Cry, Cinderella

9) Lorde – Pure Heroine

Lorde's debut album
Lorde – Pure Heroine

2013 saw the rise of 16 year old Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, otherwise known as Lorde. Her debut single Royals peaked at the top of the charts internationally and her album Pure Heroine offers plenty more to enjoy. There is something refreshing about the teenager, who reportedly was sonically inspired by Lana Del Rey but found it difficult to relate to the messages about opulence and wealth that were prevalent in Del Rey’s music. Her distinctive voice and minimalistic style coupled with the contemporary references present in her songs are what makes this record so captivating.  Simply, she is one of the most exciting acts to appear in a while and her debut shows a lot of promise for future records to come.

Listen to: Tennis Court, Team, Royals.

8) Birdy – Fire Within

Birdy's second album
Birdy – Fire Within

Birdy’s eponymous debut, while not a runaway success, did establish the then 15 year old as a respectable artist. Her second album sees her singing original material and the result is pleasantly surprising with the quality of the new material matching that of the covers on her debut. Interestingly, this time round someone in her team has clearly identified her tendency to lean on slow ballads, the result of which is inevitably depressing. This has led to the inclusion of several more upbeat tracks such as Light Me Up and Maybe. These work quite well on the album and make it a more uplifting listen than her debut (which isn’t really saying much).

Listen to: Light Me Up, Standing in the Way of the Light

7) Lady GaGa – Artpop 

Lady Gaga's new album
Lady GaGa – Artpop

The controversial pop diva returned this year with her long anticipated third album Artpop. Unfortunately, despite debuting at number one on both sides of the Atlantic, it has failed to replicate the massive success of her previous two albums and has drawn a huge amount of criticism. The marketing campaign for the album was spearheaded by GaGa herself, but unfortunately rather ended up backfiring. It seemed as if the album was around for ages before it was eventually released and the lofty statements that came with it didn’t create any more sympathy for the once all conquering chanteuse. However, upon closer inspection the album, although admittedly patchy, is a very enjoyable listen. Several tracks such as Aura and Swine are messy and sound unfinished. But for all the misfires, the album contains a larger amount of hits such as the heartfelt Dope, the sultry R Kelly assisted single Do What You Want and the soaring Gypsy. It doesn’t help that most of this good material is on the second half of the album, making it seem as if the latter half is a reward for listening to all the experimental tracks earlier on the album. But Artpop is not nearly as bad as people say and GaGa shouldn’t take it too personally, after all, success inevitably attracts criticism and “her ArtPop could mean anything”.

Listen to: Dope, Gypsy, GUY

6) Little Mix – Salute 

Little Mix second album
Little Mix – Salute

One of the biggest shocks of 2013 came from an unlikely source. The X Factor winners Little Mix released their debut album DNA to reasonable success, including a number one single and the album was, as a whole, enjoyable. However, few would have predicted that the group would grow so much in less than a year and end up releasing one of the most spunky and interesting albums of the year. Several tracks stand out after the first listen such as Little Me and Move but the repeat listener will note that, strangely it is the ballads here that stand out such as the beautiful These Four Walls and powerful Towers. The same attitude which drove All Saints to the top of the charts is present in the Little Mix girls and the group’s sublime harmonies are the glue that keeps it all together.

Listen to: Towers, Little Me

5) HAIM – Days Are Gone 

HAIM's debut album
HAIM – Days Are Gone

Big things were predicted for the 4 piece band from California after they won the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll which meant that expectations were high for their debut album. Luckily, Days Are Gone does not disappoint and provides the listener with one of the most coherent, fresh albums of the year. The songs conjure up breezy images and transport the listener to an endless summer, especially If I Could Change Your Mind, which is simultaneously reminiscent of a bygone era, while remaining astonishingly contemporary.

Listen to: If I Could Change Your Mind, The Wire.

4) Beyoncé – Beyoncé

Beyonce's new album
Beyonce – Beyonce

Years later, after scores of copycats with varying degrees of success have tried to emulate the flash release that Beyoncé’s eponymous album received this December, we will always remember that Beyoncé did it first. And in some style. Critics had been commenting on the lack of new music from Queen B for a long time with the disappointing Grown Woman and the crass Bow Down failing to hit the mark. But Beyoncé managed to stay one step ahead of the game and surprised us all with this her most diverse work to date. Upon listening to the album however, the bigger surprise is the experimental nature of Beyoncé. The album has no standout single and it actually benefits from this, as the listener has to listen to the whole album to decide on their favourite tracks. Ultimately, this is how Beyoncé achieves her goal of listener immersion, though defying music industry norms and doing things her way. The lyrical content is surprising as well, with Beyoncé declaring herself to be bored with the music industry and, if this is the result, may she remain bored for a very long time.

Listen to: Drunk in Love, Haunted

3) Passenger – All the Little Lights 

Passenger's solo album
Passenger – All the Little Lights

Passenger has had a great year with his single Let Her Go becoming one of the bestselling singles of the year and his album finishing as the 15th best seller. His debut solo album is definitely worthy of such success, with folksy, ethereal musical textures grounded by his witty, relatable lyrics. The album itself is a very calming listen, never boring, always charming, like a male Lily Allen with folk roots. Either way he definitely deserves praise for delivering the gutsiest line of 2013 “Who needs love when you’ve got silicon and strap-ons”.

Listen to: Staring at the Stars, Holes

2) Imagine Dragons –Night Visions

Imagine Dragons album
Imagine Dragons – Night Visions

The musical diversity is what gives Night Visions its unique charm: from the mandolin on It’s Time to the dub step influenced Radioactive. However, the album works as a whole as well and is a very joyous experience with sing-along chorus after sing-along chorus. The clapping and drum driven It’s Time is a particularly uplifting but the less bombastic tracks such as Every Night also are thoroughly enjoyable as well. The band can really do no wrong on this debut and really they could have really picked anything as a single. It seems that Imagine Dragons really are On Top of the World.

Listen to: On Top of the World, Radioactive.

1) KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon 

KT Tunstall new album
KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon

Yet another album where I could recommend any song, but that does not always translate to commercial sales as seen with this country folk inspired offering from KT Tunstall. Upon its release in June it reached number 14 in the UK and failed to produce a hit single. Though something tells me that KT doesn’t mind, as her fourth album is intensely personal (several songs are written about her father’s death) and she reported the experience of making the album as cathartic for her. It shows when an artist offers us everything and here it yields beautiful consequences. There is nothing of her flashy predecessor Tiger Suit here, it’s all about giving yourself up to the music and letting it wash over you.

Listen to: Invisible Empire, Made of Glass

So that’s it! Thank you for reading about my favourite albums of the year. I hope you enjoyed it and here’s hoping for big things for 2014.