Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Best Of 2017 - part 5

JUMP TO: 100-81 II 80-61 II 60-41 II 40-21 II 20-1

Even in a year that hasn't been the best for new music, the top 20 songs on my annual chart are a pretty solid list. Let's start counting down to the inevitable (and no, I don't mean Ed Sheeran)... 

It'd been a few years since we'd heard music from (as opposed to remixes by) Monsieur Adi, the French DJ/producer who featured in my year-end top 100s for 2013 and 2014. Then, at the tail end of 2016, he returned with "Bad Habits", but it was this year's "Stay Up Late", featuring a thrilling vocal by Red (aka former The X Factor contestant Nicole Simpson), that proved he was back on form. 

I have to admit, I wasn't thrilled when I discovered "Neon Blue" was picked as the third single from Steps's comeback album, Tears On The Dancefloor - I would've chosen a song we'll see in a little while. To me, it felt like it could've been released in 1999, while many of the songs on the new album sound more current. But as its placement here suggests, I came around in the end. It's classic Steps - on a par with, say, "Better Best Forgotten" or "Here And Now" - although one thing that does distinguish it from their previous hits is that Lee gets a decent solo.

Here's another song that sounds like it could've come out years ago. The second single from Automaton, "Cloud 9" has a similar vibe to 2005's "Seven Days In Sunny June" - a breezy disco ballad with a killer melody.

Up until a month or so ago, this UK chart-topper and ARIA chart number 2 hit didn't make my top 100. I understood the appeal of the song and its music video, but I just found the melody a bit underwhelming, especially after "Hotter Than Hell". But it's amazing what a bit of '80s production can do for my interest in a song. Inspired by Stacey Q's "Two Of Hearts"Japanese producer Initial Talk created an unofficial remix of "New Rules" that made it the aerobics soundtrack it never was - and then, to her credit, Dua gave an official release the green light. 

One good '80s remix deserves another - and there are few remixers who can capture that moment in time better than Pete Hammond, the former PWL staffer responsible for countless mixes in the late '80s, and more recent throwback remixes for Kylie Minogue, Mini Viva, Alphabeat and Parralox. This year, he teamed up with the latter again to transform this single from the Subculture album into a glorious burst of nostalgic synthpop.

Three years after "Hideaway" and its one-shot music video, Kiesza returned at the very start of 2017 with brand new track "Dearly Beloved". The seemingly buoyant song was actually inspired by the death of her friend, musician Alicia Lemke, whose white guitar the Canadian singer plays in the music video.

Unlike the track we saw from them in Part 1, this most recent single from Chase & Status is very much what I would expect from the duo behind "Lost And Not Found" and "Count On Me". It's also not a million miles away from Emeli Sandé's "Heaven", making me think the collaboration would've been massive five years ago. In 2017, unfortunately, it wasn't the hit it deserved to be.

Here's the Tears On The Dancefloor track I would've released as third single - Steps' version of Lara Fabian's English-language debut from 2000. A minor hit in Australia and a flop in the UK for the Belgian singer, "I Will Love Again" was a great choice for a remake.

Just when it looked like Rita Ora was going to pull a Samantha Mumba and abandon her music career in favour of exploring opportunities in Hollywood, the singer/actress/reality TV host returned in 2017 with a pair of pop hits (and a feature on an Avicii track that's just outside my top 100). "Your Song" was good (and also just missed by top 100), but "Anywhere" put her back in "I Will Never Let You Down" territory. 

Proof that even the biggest artists in the world can hit a speed bump in their career, Katy Perry's fifth album, Witness, faced mixed reviews, singles under-performing and sales well below what she'd come to expect. And yet, it contained the best song she's ever released as far as I'm concerned.

The original was one of the biggest singles of En Vogue's career and 21 years later, the moody R&B track was transformed into a veritable banger courtesy of British DJ/producer James Hype and singer Kelli-Leigh Henry-Davilla, who actually received a credit for her work, unlike on previous hits she'd performed on by Duke Dumont and Secondcity

After appearing on one of the biggest singles in ARIA chart history (The Chainsmokers' "Closer") in 2016, Halsey's second album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, was one of the most anticipated of 2017. And one of its most buzzed about tracks was "Strangers", the promotional single featuring Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui that delved into a relationship between two women that's gone sour.

Solidifying his status as the best Jonas brother, Nick Jonas released his best single yet in "Find You". The acoustic guitar-meets-dance track was co-written and produced by Swedes Svante Halldin and Jakob Hazell (aka Jack & Coke), who were behind my 2012 number 1, "Euphoria" by Loreen

While Nick Jonas traipses around the desert in the video for "Find You", Dutch DJ/producer Julian Jordan shot his clip in - and got inspiration for "Say Love" from - the freezing landscape of Iceland. The tender electronic track is a departure from Julian's normally harder club-oriented sound.

Twenty-year-old American singer Grace Mitchell has been busy in 2017, releasing upwards of half a dozen singles that span a variety of genres. Naturally, since it appears here, "Now" is the poppiest of those songs - a hand-clapping, big chorused celebration of being in the now.

Just when I'd given up hope that 2017 had anything else brilliant to offer, this Scandipop gem from Swedish singer Anni Bernhard (who goes by Full Of Keys professionally) sneaked out at the end of November. With one of the biggest choruses of the year, "Don't Look Back" was her first new song in over a year-and-a-half.  

Thank goodness for Carly Rae Jepsen and her dedication to big pop moments. While many of her contemporaries do their downright best to avoid anything remotely approaching a melody, the Canadian singer continues to release uplifting, exuberant music, like "Cut To The Feeling", which was recorded during the sessions for the Emotion album but only ended up seeing the light of day after it was used in animated film Ballerina.

Of course not all pop needs to be happy, as this angst-ridden single from PVRIS proves. The second appearance on this list by the electro-rock trio comprised of singer Lynn Gunn, guitarist Alex Babinski and bass player Brian MacDonald, "What's Wrong" is big on energy, emotion and hooks.

Separately, they've been incredibly consistent performers the past few years, with a combined tally of nine singles in my year-end top 100s between 2013 and 2016. Clearly more powerful together than they've ever been apart, dance acts Duke Dumont and Gorgon City both achieve their highest rank in 2017 with "Real Life", a '90s piano house-influenced track with vocals handled by NAATIONS (the Australian duo comprised of Nat Dunn and Van She's Nicholas Routledge).

If you've flicked through my year-end charts from 1998 to 2001, this should really come as no surprise. Steps took out my number 1 spot in the first three of those years (and were at number 4 in 2001), and given "Scared Of The Dark" didn't venture too far away from their brand of perky pop, it was always going to be odds-on favourite to end up as my favourite song for 2017. And so here it is, with all the elements you'd expect - a slow-to-fast intro, a soaring chorus, nods to ABBA, a key change and the obligatory join-in-at-home dance routine. The best of turn-of-the-millennium pop wrapped in 2017 pop/dance production. Welcome back, Steps.

My top 170 for 2017 in full:

1          SCARED OF THE DARK Steps
2          REAL LIFE Duke Dumont x Gorgon City featuring NAATIONS
4          CUT TO THE FEELING Carly Rae Jepsen
5          DON’T LOOK BACK Full Of Keys
6          NOW Grace Mitchell
7          SAY LOVE Julian Jordan x SJ
8          FIND YOU Nick Jonas
9          STRANGERS Halsey featuring Lauren Jauregui
10        MORE THAN FRIENDS James Hype featuring Kelli-Leigh
11        ROULETTE Katy Perry
12        ANYWHERE Rita Ora
13        I WILL LOVE AGAIN Steps
14        LOVE ME MORE Chase & Status featuring Emeli Sandé
15        DEARLY BELOVED Kiesza
18        CLOUD 9 Jamiroquai
20        STAY UP LATE Monsieur Adi featuring Red
22        MOVE SLOW Magdalena Bay
24        SET ME OFF Magdalena Bay
25        1UL Danny L Harle
26        BREAKING KIND Steve Angello featuring Paul Meany
27        HAIDE Helena Paparizou
28        GALAXY Dannii Minogue
29        DISCONNECT Clean Bandit and Marina & The Diamonds
30        MY CONSEQUENCE Hey Violet
31        SUN COMES UP Rudimental featuring James Arthur
32        FEEL THE NIGHT Luxxury
33        DO IT Rae Morris
34        AUTOMATON Jamiroquai
35        HOME Joe Goddard
36        SUPERFRESH Jamiroquai
37        STRANGERS Sigrid
38        SKELETONS MY
39        THIS SUMMER Sigrid Bernson
40        DON’T TAKE THE MONEY Bleachers
41        FAKE FRIENDS Sigrid
42        WINTER PVRIS
43        BAD THINGS Noella Nix
44        LADY POWERS Vera Blue
45        NOBODY Niia
46        NO MORE SAD SONGS Little Mix
47        DARK LOVE Miami Horror featuring Danny Pratt
48        WON’T SAY TOO MUCH Liv Lovelle
50        BEAUTIFUL LIFE The Sound Of Arrows
51        BURNING ECHOES Storme
52        OVERNIGHT Parcels
53        MAN IN THE MOON LCAW featuring Dagny
54        WHITE WING DOVE Priest
55        ONE OF US Nina
56        NEVER STOP FM-84 featuring Ollie Wride
58        ANYMORE Goldfrapp
59        DON’T WORRY The Sound Of Arrows
60        SUNROOF courtship.
61        MOVING ON Roosevelt
62        BACK FOR ME Electric Guest
63        HOT2TOUCH Felix Jaehn, Hight & Alex Aiono
64        SOUNDING THE ALARM The Pigeon Detectives
65        SUPERNATURAL Bright Sparks
66        DIVE IN KYKO
67        READY TO GO Hurts
68        LOS AGELESS St Vincent
69        CLAP YOUR HANDS Le Youth featuring Ava Max
70        LOVERS StéLouse featuring Brave
71        FEELS Calvin Harris featuring Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry & Big Sean
72        BEAUTIFUL ONES Hurts
73        CELEBRATE Sigrid Bernson
74        THE CURE Lady Gaga
75        EYES WIDE OPEN Scavenger Hunt
77        SOMEONE Anna Of The North
78        LOVE IN RUINS Gryffin featuring Sinead Harnett
79        UNPREDICTABLE Olly Murs / Louisa Johnson
80        IN THE WATER Nakita
81        HEAVY Powers
82        TAKE ME ON joan
83        CALL ON ME / RYAN RIBACK REMIX Starley
84        HOPELESS DREAMS Stockholm Noir
85        IS YOUR LOVE ENOUGH? Little Mix
86        BOY LIKE A GIRL Stockholm Noir featuring Ofelia
87        UNCONDITIONAL Sinead Harnett
88        RIVER Adrees
89        ISLAND Stockholm Noir
90        MAKE YOUR MOVE Ronika
91        SAY IT TO MY FACE Maty Noyes
92        CROSS MY MIND A R I Z O N A featuring Kiiara
93        GONE ionnalee
94        WATERSLIDES Pixx
95        THIS MOMENT Chase & Status and Blossoms
96        MOVE YOUR BODY Sia
98        DANGEROUS Glades
99        GAIA Sacre
100      UNUSUAL RAC featuring MNDR
101      LOVER LIKE YOU Rudie Edwards
102      EMPTY BLOCKINGS Amanda Mair
103      WOULD YOU MIND PrettyMuch
104      YOUR SONG Rita Ora
105      CRUEL SUMMER Daniella Mason
106      POWER Little Mix featuring Stormzy
107      TECHNO PARTIES Lustgas
108      SOS LKA
109      LONELY TOGETHER Avicii featuring Rita Ora
110      OUT OF MY HEAD Loote
111      ATLETICO (THE ONLY ONE) Rae Morris
112      THERE FOR YOU Eves Karydas
113      I KNOW Aly & AJ
114      I NEED YOU Luxxury
115      THE CALL Sacre
118      ON MY MIND Disciples
119      HEARTLINE Craig David
120      TOKYO joan
121      DON’T YOU FEEL IT Sub Focus featuring ALMA
122      HUMAN NATURE Paperwhite
123      YOURS Now, Now
124      HOLD ON Flor
126      TEASE Ralph
127      CRYBABY Paloma Faith
128      LOVE YOU LIKE THAT Dagny
129      HIGH ON ME Guy Sebastian
130      LOVE SO SOFT Kelly Clarkson
131      I CAN’T GO ON Robin Bengtsson
132      WARRIORS Tigertown
133      WALK AWAY Le Youth
134      JEALOUSY Disciples
136      IMPOSSIBLE Steve Lipson featuring Avec Sans
137      RUNNING BACK TO YOU Bright Light Bright Light with Elton John
138      WE ARE Avec Sans
140      PHYSICAL The Aces
141      WHAT ABOUT US Pink
142      SYMPHONY Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson
143      GLOW IN THE DARK Force Major
144      CHAINED TO THE RHYTHM Katy Perry featuring Skip Marley
145      DYING TO KNOW Tegan & Sara
146      PLOT TWIST Sigrid
147      CASTLE ON THE HILL Ed Sheeran
148      DON’T CALL Lost Kings
149      OSLO Anna Of The North
150      SHAPE OF YOU Ed Sheeran
151      YOU DON’T KNOW ME Jax Jones featuring RAYE
152      A MILLION SONGS Sophia Somajo
153      ALPHABET BLOCK Marnie
155      GO TO WORK Nadine
156      THE MAN The Killers
158      HIGHER GROUND Roland Tings featuring Nylo
159      FAKE MAGIC Peking Duk and AlunaGeorge
160      LIONS IN THE NIGHT Julia Bergwall
161      GREEN LIGHT Lorde
162      17 MK
163      SILENCE Marshmello featuring Khalid
164      GIANTS Take That
166      LOST IN YOUR LIGHT Dua Lipa featuring Miguel
167      FRIENDS Justin Bieber and BloodPop®
168      ISSUES Julia Michaels
169      WANT YOU BACK Haim
170      FIRST TIME Kygo featuring Ellie Goulding

Yep, only 170 songs on the full list this year - let's hope 2018 has more to offer. And you can listen to them all here:

My 25 Years Ago... recaps return on January 10, with the first chart of 1993. If I have time, I'll sneak something else in before then.

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Friday, 29 December 2017

The Best Of 2017 - part 4

JUMP TO: 100-81 II 80-61 II 60-41 II 40-21 II 20-1

I don't think I've ever felt so disconnected from what's happening on the Australian, UK and US singles charts. It's not like I don't enjoy modern music - we're 60 songs deep into my list of favourite songs from 2017 after all - but many of the tracks that reach the global top 10s do nothing for me. Am I too old to appreciate the world's most popular music? Is my taste in current music too niche? Do we really need anymore tropical pop tunes? While we ponder those questions, here's the next batch of 20 songs I did like this year (only one of which was a major hit).

There are some big names associated with this single by Bleachers, the side-project from fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff. "Don't Take The Money" was co-written with and features guest vocals by Lorde, and it was co-produced by reigning Grammy-winning Producer Of The Year Greg Kurstin and Erasure's Vince Clarke. The music video for the anthemic synthpop track was directed by Jack's girlfriend, Lena Dunham, and features Arrested Development and Search Party actress Alia Shawkat. Not bad company to keep.

Here's another single by the other Sigrid we've encountered so far - the Swedish dancer-turned-singer we saw in Part 2. A joyful burst of pop, "This Summer" preceded "Celebrate" and is by far her most popular track to date. 

Some more uplifting (musically, if not lyrically) pop from Sweden now courtesy of singer My Helmner. As MY, she's been releasing tracks for the past couple of years and really hit the nail on the head with "Skeletons", which is about all the baggage you can bring to a new relationship.  

And it's back to the mononymous Sigrid with her latest single, "Strangers", which really takes off when the second chorus kicks in at 1:07 - a moment which is matched by some amazing dancing in the song's music video.  

A man who's been known to cut some pretty impressive moves in his time made a very welcome return with his band in 2017. Back with their best album in years (and first since 2010), Jamiroquai didn't fix what wasn't broken - as evidenced by third single "Superfresh" - but managed to ensure their trademark disco/funk sound felt current.

Next up, another song that gives some old school disco a modern twist thanks to Hot Chip's Joe Goddard. Taken from his second solo album, Electric Lines, "Home" gets its hook from "We're On Our Way Home" by 1970s funk band Brainstorm.

The lead single from Jamiroquai's album of the same name - the band's eighth since their 1992 debut - "Automaton" was the perfect song with which to make their comeback. A synth- and vocoder-heavy track, its sci-fi soundtrack feel was enhanced by the song's post-apocalyptic (and light-up headgear-featuring) music video.

When we last saw Rae Morris on my year-end chart, it was was with 2015's stormy "Under The Shadows". In 2017, she's considerably less dramatic with the joyful bounce of "Do It". The playful tune will appear on Rae's second album, Someone Out There, which is due in February.

Another retro disco-inspired track now from American DJ/producer Blake Robin, whose stage name was formerly Baron von Luxxury. Besides his original tunes, like "Feel The Night" and "I Need You", which was just outside the top 100, Luxxury has made an impression with his reinterpretations of classic hits by everyone from Michael Jackson and Madonna to The Clash and Talking Heads.

Here's the one song in this batch that was a top 10 hit - in the UK, not in Australia. The lead single from Rudimental's upcoming third album, "Sun Comes Up" is about overcoming negativity in your past - something vocalist James Arthur knows a thing or two about.

Last year, "Pure" from their Brand New Moves EP made my year-end top 20. In 2017, "My Consequence" from Hey Violet's first album (with this band name) almost does the same despite not being one of the three singles lifted from From The Outside

With the exception of "Tears", I've never liked Clean Bandit's songs as much as everyone else seems to. And so it's kind of fitting that the one track of theirs I really took to in 2017 was the one that did absolutely nothing on worldwide charts. The failure of "Disconnect", which was recorded by the electronic band with Marina And The Diamonds in 2015 before going through several revisions ahead of release, was especially surprising because it followed two UK number 1 singles.

In some ways, it wasn't surprising at all that this new single by chart veteran Dannii Minogue didn't blaze a trail up the charts, since she hasn't seen the inside of the ARIA top 50 in 10 years, and her last Australian and UK top 20 hit was 2006's "So Under Pressure". But then again, she also hasn't released very much music in that time - and certainly nothing anywhere as good as "Galaxy", which had the added selling point of being co-written by Sia. A very welcome return to form.

A deserving winner of the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest, Helena Paparizou has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in Greece (the country she represented and where her parents are from) and Sweden (where she was born and raised), with the odd song translating elsewhere. "Haide", which was released in Greek and English versions, has more than a hint of Shakira's pan flute-featuring "Whenever Wherever" about it and gave Helena yet another chart-topper in Greece 

Amazingly, we move from one artist with Greek and Swedish heritage to another (this wasn't deliberate!), and the DJ/producer who used to make up one-third of Swedish House Mafia. Although he's made my year-end chart in other guises like SHM before, this is Steve Angello's first appearance as lead artist. "Breaking Kind" was included on Genesis, the first of three EPs Steve released in 2017, and features vocals from Paul Meany, the frontman for rock band Mutemath.

If you read the initial version of this list, this track by British producer Daniel Harle was absent, since it passed me by during 2017 and I only heard it in the dying moments of the year. A hasty revision was required and now "1UL" (short for "one you love"), the title track of Danny's EP of the same name, takes its rightful place on my top 100.

I've lost track of the number of electronic duos so far in this list, but there's always room for one more. Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin put out five singles in 2017 alone and "Set Me Off" was their second offering for the year. 

By returning with a new album in 2017, Steps not only picked up more or less where they left off, but they also got to indulge in a practice that wasn't commonplace in their heyday: the deluxe edition re-release. Just in time for the start of their UK and Irish tour, their comeback album was repackaged as Tears On The Dancefloor: Crying At The Disco with the requisite new songs and remixes included. One of the previously unreleased tracks was this energetic cover of the Delta Goodrem song from 2012, which was newly recorded for the reissue (and not just a song they had lying around left over from the original album).

Here Magdalena Bay are again - and they saved their best effort for last, with "Move Slow" rounding out the year for Mica and Matthew, who are romantically, as well as musically, involved.

Other than when Sweden win, my favourite song rarely triumphs at Eurovision. Case in point: this slice of Middle Eastern-influenced EDM by Israeli entrant IMRI, a former The Voice Israel contestant and two-time Eurovision backing singer, which placed 23rd (out of 26). Robbed.

In Part 5: my top 20 for 2017, including a few more Steps tracks (sorry, not sorry), two '80s-influenced remixes and a dance remake of a song from 1996. What was that I was saying at the start about liking modern music?

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