ELL’s Top 20 of 23 – the song of the year is…

Pic: PA Wire. Design Harry Merrell

Words and Design by Harry Merrell

It’s that time of year again, when social media is awash with ‘Spotify Wrapped’, exposing everyone’s guilty pleasures, bizarre trends and songs you can’t believe you listened to 87 times.

Here at Eastlondonlines, we wanted a definitive answer to the question: what is the best song of the year, according to people from our boroughs?

‘Now and Then’ some years can really stand out, and 2023 was no exception. In a year that brought Barbie bangers, more collaborations than ever before and the return of a few familiar faces, 2023 had it all.

We compiled a shortlist of 20 songs suggested by journalists at ELL and asked the residents of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Lewisham to have their say.

With over 100 responses we can now reveal the top 20 songs of the year.

The selection shows the musical output of 2023 was unpredictable – and the results are too. Don’t be too ‘Angry’ if your favourite isn’t number one (sorry swifties!)

As arguably one of the songs of the summer, ‘Sprinter’ was enjoyed by fans globally as the pairing of Central Cee and Dave proved UK Rap is now as iconic to Britain as a tin of Heinz Beans. The track was a record breaker, remaining at number one in the UK singles chart for longer than any other rap song. It combines the flamenco-Latin guitars, with summer energy and drill word play, the brilliant combination we expected by arguably the two biggest players in the UK Rap Game. 

Following on from her iconic red crystal Met Gala outfit, Doja cat delivered another statement in red with her fourth studio album, Scarlet, and the lead single ‘Paint the town red’ was a hit. Using Dianne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’ sample, Doja demonstrates her rapping skills with a track that dismisses her critics and settles any issues with fans on social media. Regardless of the context, the song was the fastest song written by a female artist to amass 100 million streams – definitely something to celebrate. 

In a bizarre turn of events, a song that was written and recorded before this year is in the top music of 2023. Thanks to a dispute over the rights of Taylor Swift’s music, Taylor has treated the fans by re-recording all her songs and is due to be touring in the UK next month. Can you hear any differences? I’ll let you be the judge of that. The track has been screamed at the New Cross’ Amersham Arms Karaoke and I’m sure it’s the same story at karaoke events up and down the country. ‘Is It Over Now’ for Taylor Swift? We doubt it; we might even see her performing at the famous pyramid stage – I’m sure the Swifties certainly want to. 

It speaks volumes for the quality of Tyler, the Creator’s sixth studio album, Call Me If You Get Lost, that this song didn’t make the cut. The song is an orchestral marvel, deploying a J-Dilla style beat, and slick wordplay to act as an honest apology to several people for his flaws. The ethereal soulful backing vocals are a staple of Tyler’s latest work, but in this track give an honest interpretation of the person behind the creator.

In Thundercat’s first original piece of work since 2020, he decided to team up with Tame Impala, a match made in heaven. Thundercat’s funk-jazz bass runs integrate delightfully with Tame Impala’s dancing, trancey, psychedelic vocals. The result is a swirling new single that incapsulates the LA scene with lyrics that describe two artists’ dating struggles: “because my emotions have been sanded off/I live in LA, what do you expect?” 

(It goes like) Nanana transports the listener back to retro raves with a bucketful of energy and an earworm chorust. The song encapsulates the summer energy of 2023, with a euro dance beat providing that much needed bit of summer heat. The track peaked at number on in the UK Dance chart and easily cruised to 300 million streams. If you haven’t heard the track, it goes a bit like nanana. 

Viral sensations PinkPantheress and Ice Spice have themselves produced a viral sensation – a track that has amassed 740 million Spotify streams. The song is part two of a Lo-fi classic of the kind we expect from PinkPantheress. The infectious trans-Atlantic link-up with Ice Spice ensured the two-minute song soundtracked almost every TikTok and reel. If anyone says they haven’t heard this song, they must be lying.

The Australian duo Confidence Man are back with another song of the year contender after last year’s Holiday topped the charts in 2022. This uptempo collaboration with DJ Seinfield has catapulted the festival favourites towards the mainstream and was a staple of DJ sets in clubs up and down the country this year. The song is another Confidence Man classic that combines dance music with a quintessential pop hook.

It’s those little things in life (pardon the pun) that fill you with joy, and this Jorja Smith mashup was certainly that. Jorja Smith’s iconic voice transformed Crystal Water’s 2007 dance classic into one of the songs of 2023. This funky floor filler has elements of dancehall, soul, and funk. Simply speaking it is 2 minutes and 11 seconds of feel good.

Speed Drive is Charli XCX’s sixth top 10 single that found a home in the Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, soundtracking the moment Margot Robbie flees from the Mattel top dogs. The song encapsulates Charli’s love for escapism that her Barbie dolls gave her as a child. It is 2 minute hyperpop song full of so much pink energy that we can’t get kenough.

Yet another Barbie OST song, but why not? The song is full of orchestral strings, Mark Ronson production and a cameo from Greta Gerwig. ‘Dance the Night’ reached number one in the UK singles charts and it even had its own dance that trended on social media. For a song about dancing the night away despite the sadness, or simply to allow barbie to have an existential crisis, Dua Lipa knows who to write a pop song. Dance the Night is “sublime!”

The Rolling Stones returned this year with Hackney Diamonds – their first album of original material in 18 years – and the lead single ‘Angry’ was a return to the sound of the Rolling Stones that we know and love. The song is loosley inspired by the film Night at The Museum. With Jagger’s vocals so pompous and prood, Ronnie Wood’s rhythmic groove and Richard’s sloppy blues lead, it is a parcel no-one could be angry with. The song is their best new song in decades and it announces the Stones’ return with a bang.

‘vampire’ was the lead single of Olivia Rodrigo’s second album, Guts, and sat at number one in 6 countries, her third single to do so. So by no means is Olivia Rodrigo drained of ideas. ‘vampire’ is a rock-opera sucker punch, with a rock instrumental leading the track, and a driving piano, Rodrigo fights back at a “fame fucker”. Rodrigo knows how to nail a bitter break up song, such as with ‘Driver’s Liscence’ and ‘Good 4 U’, but ‘vampire’ is a heartbreak song that makes you want to get up and dance.

‘Seaforth’ was the lead single off of his latest album Space Heavy that was released in June. The song is an emotional ballad discussing misery, isolation and finding calm in the chaos of modern life. If you are yet to be entagled in the music of King Krule (Archy Marshall), this is the song to dip your toe in. The song combines psychedelic, jangley guitar rhythms and melancholic vocals, and the visuals of the video provide a view of an artists sleeping mind. This is a new side to King Krule, and one we would love to hear more of.

‘Back on 74’ is a soulful number that combines airy vocal harmonies, a kicking drum rhythm and tight guitar chords, to create a track that saw Jungle return to their very best. The track wasn’t just loved by fans of the band but on social media the track blossomed thanks to the dance moves in the music video. This joyful RnB inspired number puts a spring in your step.

Combine gospel, hip-hop and a sprinkling of punk attitude, and you get Young Fathers. And what a band they are. With Suzi Quatro-esque drumming and guitars, their latest glam-rock stomper single, ‘I Saw’ is truly a ‘Heavy Heavy’ number. The Scottish Trio illuminated the festival fields with this bellowing track. Their harmonies teamed with the almost childlike chant to “Brush your teeth/ wash your face” is almost cultish – and judging by the expressions of the fans in the fields, they are very happy to be apart of the Young Fathers’ cult.

In another shock reappearance, Blur returned to the charts this year with two sellout festivals at Wembley and their first album of new material in eight years. Although they have since broken up again, it was good while it lasted. Despite the album being an obvious Albarn project, and a diversion from Coxon’s traditional sound, The Narcissist is a stand out on the album. The track was a return to original form, closely resembling ‘Coffee and TV’, with the driven drums, floaty guitar and Albarn’s angsty vocals. Will they reform again? Maybe, and hopefully before the End of the Century.

‘Adore u’ is a fantastic example of how revisiting a project can create something that is better than the original. Fred again… took London based-Nigerian Obongjayar’s track ‘I Wish it Was Me’, sped it up, added some pulsating dance keys and a dynamic drum beat to create one of the songs of the summer. Fred has done it again…this time with the help of Obongjayar.

Who would have thought the Beatles would release a new song in 2023, with all four members? Not us! But thanks to AI and Peter Jackson, the music world received an early Christmas present. The song begins with a demo tape recorded on a handheld tape recorder by John Lennon in 1978. The vocals were lost amidst distortion and a muddy piano, but thanks to new technology Lennon’s vocals have been brought back to life. The slide guitar solo of George Harrison, the sloppy Ringo shuffle and the vocals of Paul McCartney come together to create a record that brings to a close the chapter of the Beatles. Now and Then you can be shocked by a song and this is definitely one of those. Take a bow.

Released on Valentine’s Day A&W is yet another example of the talent of Lana Del Rey. The track expresses the unique talent of the American singer (despite her poor time keeping at this year’s Glastonbury festival). The song is named after an American brand of root beer, but can also be seen as initialism for ‘American whore’ as in 7 minutes she presents a summary of her career. The folkloric strings at the beginning of the track give the tune a haunting if sombre note, teamed with a trap-pop beat, and the growing sense of dread in Rey’s vocal performance, the track has it all. Is there any wonder why the song is our number one song of 23?

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