The Weeknd hit an ultimate high, Jarryd James’ last shot hit paydirt, Drake blew up our cellphones, Courtney Barnett rocked out while she freaked out, and more.
Here’s the tracks that moved us — emotionally or towards the dance-floor — in 2015:
25. Frank Turner, “Get Better”
The most rousing, motivational call to arms of 2015: “We could get better,” yells Turner, “because we’re not dead yet!”
24. Chvrches, “Leave a Trace”
The finest neo-New Wave song of the year, from a Scottish band that made a ton of ’em.
23. Beck, “Dreams”
Beck shook off those Morning Phase blues with this slinky disco jam. Please: More happy Beck in 2016!
22. Eves the Behavior, “Electrical”
Hannah Karydas announced she’d arrived with this gorgeous soupçon of moody electro pop.
21. Gang of Youths, “Magnolia”
Easily the most upbeat and infectious song about a near-suicide attempt you’ll ever hear.
20. Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”
The Shakes get way down into the groove on what might be their dankest, funkiest tune to date. Brittany Howard’s opening howl is a hurricane.
19. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, “S.O.B.”
“Son of a bitch, give me a drink!” 2015’s wildest vintage-soul rave-up came from an ex-folkie straight out of Denver.
18. Lana Del Rey, “High by the Beach”
This narcotically catchy anthem was prime Lana in a year when we often just wanted to toke up and stare at some waves.
17. Tame Impala, “Let It Happen”
Somehow this impossibly warm, pillowy synth-pop groove reminds us of Syd Barrett partying with Gary Numan.
16. Madonna, “Ghosttown”
An indomitable power ballad for a ruined world that sounds so great you might start rooting for the apocalypse.
15. Grimes, “Flesh Without Blood”
Addictive dance pop as only Canadian oddball Claire Boucher could conceive of it: A chrome-shiny liberation anthem full of turbocharged electro beats and airy, ghost-diva hooks. It’s currently ruling the clubs on Mars.
14. The Arcs, “Stay in My Corner”
A sweet falsetto-soul valentine from Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach’s other band, complete with a hook that splits the difference between Curtis Mayfield-style guitar heat and the pretty melody of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”.
13. Bully, “Trying”
In a year that was lousy with great young Nineties-drunk guitar bands, Bully stood apart – channelling Hole and Veruca Salt with loads of heart and resilience on this gold-plated shouter about toughing out a so-called life.
12. Foals, “What Went Down”
Ambitious British art-rock dudes reboot their sound with a seething guitar epic that sounds like Radiohead and My Morning Jacket going in together on a souped-up space vessel and setting the controls for the heart of the sun.
11. The Weeknd, “The Hills”
The Weeknd’s second Number One smash of 2015 is much more like the guy we knew from his old mixtapes: Horror-movie shrieks and stormy electronics punctuate his seductive moans about a nihilistic affair, and somehow it’s all catchy as hell.
10. Troye Sivan, “Wild”
The most unlikely new star in music comes in the form of an already made YouTube superstar. But this single from Perth’s Sivan quickly moved to dispel any scepticism. Resting on jaunty electronic production, it’s modern pop at its finest.
9. Tobias Jesso Jr., “How Could You Babe”
The NBA-tall Canadian with the Harry Nilsson voice stole our hearts with this defeated piano ballad about watching an old flame move on without you. No wonder Adele tapped him to co-write a song for 25 after this.
8. Bad//Dreems, “My Only Friend”
“You were my only friend,” laments Ben Marwe on this, a song so great that Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens recently expressed a desire to cover it. World weary and wounded, it’s already an Australian classic.
7. Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”
The fiercest and most funkadelic track on To Pimp a Butterfly takes aim at everything from Lamar’s haters to “the power that be”. We already knew Kendrick was a great lyricist; turns out he’s kind of a badass, too.
6. Adele, “Hello”
When Adele says “hello”, people listen – like, tens of millions of them. Whether she was singing to an ex (as the video seemed to imply) or to her younger self (as she’s maintained), this achingly intense ballad hit home like an emotional sledgehammer.
5. Jamie xx “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”
2015’s sunniest jam came from the unlikely trio of Jamie xx, Young Thug and Jamaican toaster Popcaan – plus sweet R&B harmonies sampled from the Persuasions, for a true street-corner symphony.
4. Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”
The most thrilling four minutes in rock in 2015: garage-y guitar crunch and a darkly hilarious rant lead to a chorus that your favourite Nineties alt band would have eaten its Doc Martens to have written.
3. Drake, “Hotline Bling”
A vintage Seventies drum-machine sample powers Drake’s exquisitely rueful remembrance of booty calls past. Now all he can do is miss that girl, brood about her new life at the club and dance like the world’s biggest fool for love.
2. Jarryd James, “Do You Remember”
It’s only by a small miracle that Jarryd James is even releasing music anymore. After years slugging it out in the Brisbane music scene with little success, James was dejected, quitting music to have a ‘real job’. A chance support slot with Angus & Julia Stone brought him back to the fold, and the release of “Do You Remember” ushered in his new found stardom. And what a comeback: “Do You Remember” is a near perfect slice of scratchy neo-soul, with James’ cracking falsetto gliding over the densely percussive rhythm section. At its core, it’s an immensely relatable yearning for a relationship past.
1. The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”
It was the “oooooh!” that changed everything. That single ecstatic syllable, slipping out just before each chorus, transformed Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. the Weeknd) from a cult R&B singer to a full-on pop star – just as decisively as a similar yelp of joy marked a new era in Michael Jackson’s career when “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” hit 36 years earlier. Max Martin’s satin-smooth production helped, too, vaulting “Can’t Feel My Face” straight to Number One on the pop charts with Scandinavian efficiency. But Tesfaye’s showstopping vocal performance is what makes it an instant classic. He spends the song remaking himself as a pop giant – cleverly disguising his obsession with drugs beneath a metaphor about a dangerously hot fling, and playing down his angst-y tendencies until there’s just a hint of existential pain in his lighter-than-air falsetto. By the time the song is over, you’ll do anything for another hit.