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Best songs of 2021: Musicians from Duran Duran and Blondie to Wolf Alice and UB40 reveal their favourites

Instead of giving you a list of the best tracks of 2021, we thought we’d ask musicians themselves.

Sky News got in touch with dozens of artists to ask them for their favourite song of the year (other than their own).

The outcome? A tribute to the great music that was released this year, despite the difficulties posed by COVID – and a few older suggestions for your next playlist because, well, why not?

We heard from Duran Duran, Talking Heads, Wolf Alice, The Offspring, KISS, Ella Henderson, Def Leppard, HRVY, Eve, UB40, alt-J, Courtney Love, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, The Wombats, Happy Mondays, The Lumineers, Papa Roach, Two Door Cinema Club, Armin van Buuren, The Darkness, Blondie, ABBA, Mötley Crüe, Maisie Peters, Alok, Joel Corry, You Me At Six, CeeLo Green, Kool & The Gang, Nathan Evans, Above & Beyond, The Levellers, AFI, Dire Straits, Miles Kane, The Snuts, Theory of a Deadman, Grouplove, Lost Frequencies, Alex Clare, Spoon, Mother Mother and ELO.

Here’s what they had to say.

Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran)

"Wet Leg is definitely my artist of the year. This female duo is from the Isle of Wight and their track Chaise Longue is genius! I just love it."

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club)

"Tina and I both agree that Chaise Longue by Wet Leg is our favourite song of 2021."

Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice)

Posing In Bondage by Japanese Breakfast

"This song is so dreamy to me, I am the main character in a movie when I listen to this. I see myself dancing in slo mo or walking through the streets at night. It falls under no bracket, it made me wonder what it was about. I played it several times in a row when I first heard and I still do, which doesn’t happen often for me."

Noodles (The Offspring)

"There’s been some great music made during this pandemic. Two of our favorite bands, The Descendents and The Bronx, both released great new records this year. So did our old friends NOFX with Single Album (F**k Euphemism and Fish In A Gun Barrel are among NOFX’s best songs) and Jim Lindberg with Songs From The Elkhorn Trail.

"Jim’s record is mostly acoustic and it is such a pleasant surprise. Check out the songs Blood On Your Hands and On Fire and you’ll want to get the whole record. It’s really good!"

Gene Simmons (KISS)

Leave The Door Open by Silk Sonic

"Or anything from that magnificent album. Simply the best record of the year. It harkens back to a time when soul music ruled. A time when melody, interesting jazzy chords, harmonies, musicianship and pure talent existed."

Holding Poison by Foo Fighters

"A solid walker that connects the Kinks’ You Really Got Me aesthetic to modern times and fresh, young years. Viva Foo Fighters."

Ella Henderson

Leave The Door Open by Silk Sonic

"It reminds me of the music I grew up listening to but with a modern flare. The vocals and instrumentation are amazing!"

Joe Elliott (Def Leppard)

"Well, it’s really hard for anyone to pick one song, so it’s between two songs with a common thread – and that’s Dave Grohl. The first song would be the Foo Fighters track Waiting For A War from the new album. It’s my favourite ever Foo Fighters song and is phenomenal.

"But, if I was forced to choose one it would be another song Dave Grohl plays on, and that’s Easy Sleazy by Mick Jagger. Grohl plays every instrument bar Jagger’s vocals and rhythm guitar. It’s really punky and sounds like The New York Dolls, who people say sound like The Rolling Stones – so there is that symmetry. Jagger is 78 and sounds like a guy half his age, which gives someone like me hope that I can keep going for a while yet!"

HRVY

drivers license

"This song is an absolute power ballad. I chose this song because it was a song that broke Drake’s streaming record and it was released by Olivia Rodrigo who at the time was relatively unknown. So just proves what a great song can do."

Save Your Tears

"The Weeknd has such a nostalgic sound, and this song in particular really captured an ’80s sound. Very much a song of the summer for me and the fact Ariana Grande did a remix feature was even better!"

Easy On Me

"Adele is Adele, and Easy On Me was such an incredible ballad. Delivered what the whole world needed and that was Adele singing a sad song! This also broke records, so just shows how much the world loves sad songs."

Eve

"My favourite song for this year is Woman by Doja Cat especially now that I am expecting my first child. The words make sense for how I feel in my body right now."

Earl Falconer (UB40)

West Indies by Koffee

"I love this tune, it’s like a beam of sunshine especially this time of the year when it’s so gloomy over here in the UK. It reminds me of times spent in Jamaica. Really love this artist, I’ll be sure to go and see them when they come to England."

Jimmy Brown (UB40)

"I don’t really keep up with contemporary artists much these days.

"But I like Point and Kill by Little Simz. It’s got an old school sound that reminds me of music I was enjoying back in the ’90s."

Matt Doyle (UB40)

"It’s hard to choose just a few as there’s been so much incredible music released over the last year, but some of my favourite tracks of 2021 have got to be the title track from Sam Fender’s latest album Seventeen Going Under, Blvk H3ro’s Live in Love and What a Joy by fellow Brummies Young Culture Band, which technically came out at the end of 2020 but it’s been blasting through my car stereo all year and probably will next year too!"

Gus Unger-Hamilton (alt-J)

Lily by Richard Dawson and Circle

"I’ve become a big fan of Richard Dawson in the last few years. He manages to combine the moving, humorous and melodic in a truly unique way."

Courtney Love

"My favourite song this year is a tie.

"Wolf Alice’s Delicious Things and Lipstick On The Glass off the brilliant Blue Weekend album, a twofer song. And Yves Tumor’s Jackie.

"Wolf Alice is entirely original and embodied. Ellie Rowsell is an iconic frontwoman. I’ve been intrigued by them for a while, but now I love them. With this almost rock-opera two for one song – you need to hear them both in sequence.

"Since I’m sequencing my own album, it’s heartening to see bands sticking to sequencing in order of intent, as opposed to all these ridiculous, phony demands on artists per streaming demands. It is amongst the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard, along with ‘kids don’t like live drums anymore. It f***s up their phony drums on their playlists’. (Umm… never!)

"As for Yves Tumor – he’s got everything. What is not to like? F***ing genius.

"If I get a fourth? And I’d like one… it’s The National’s ‘Cyrano’ soundtrack. Oh to be a kid – seeing my first musical and it be the flawless Cyrano with an entirely game-changing soundtrack by the amazing National (one of my favourite bands ever) – absolute game changer!

"If I get a fifth (and I SHOULD!) it’s Black Bathing Suit off LDR’s (Lana Del Rey) Blue Banisters. I told her: ‘You’re being too prolific! Roll it back!’ But then I listened and called her back and said: ‘Ignore me. You’re on the hottest streak in history. F*** it and go.’

"If I get a sixth, it’s a genre. UK female drill!"

Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike

Do It To It by ACRAZE (feat. Cherish)

"The Acraze rework of Cherish’s 2006 hit was one of the biggest party tracks of the year. It got a massive reaction from fans and DJs alike since its release. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we only managed a short run of shows in 2021, but this track was a monster crowd-pleaser in all our sets."

Dan Haggis (The Wombats)

I’m Alright In The World by BC Camplight

"Such a beautiful song that I discovered towards the end of lockdown. Hypnotic, melancholic but ultimately uplifting. From the catchy, spritely opening hook line melody to the unexpected B section, it feels like a warm hug and takes you on a dream-like journey that came along at just the right time for me in 2021."

Rowetta (Happy Mondays)

Power (Ultra) by Solardo and Maur

"Manchester lads Solardo teamed up with Maur on this infectious dance tune. I love it as it’s so uplifting, catchy and gives me that ‘feel good’ feeling.

"Was also great to see people dancing in clubs again and this was the perfect tune to get people raving."

The Lumineers

We Shall Live Again by The Felice Brothers

"It’s been a privilege to get to know the brothers in this great band – a band I’ve loved since I first heard them in 2007. This particular song is filled with lines that somehow make me both laugh and weep – ‘from Francis of Assisi to the fans of AC/DC, we all shall live again’. It’s an eight-minute powerhouse poem, delivered in our time of need."

Jerry Horton (Papa Roach)

"If I had to choose one song this year, it would be DiE4u by Bring Me The Horizon. The juxtaposition is brilliant, and the guitar leads FTW!"

Two Door Cinema Club

F**k That by ​​Just Wondering

"Best pop song of 2021 by Dublin’s best new band, a breath of fresh eire!"

Armin van Buuren

"Every week I scroll through thousands of new songs. 2021 has been a particularly good year for new music.

"I think it has a lot to do with the fact that many producers and DJs were stuck at home due to the pandemic.

"One of the few good things this pandemic gave us is some remarkable music. Kryder – Piece of Art is exactly what it says: a Piece Of Art and has been going down well in my recent sets and A State of Trance radio shows."

Dan Hawkins (The Darkness)

"I really love Wolf Alice’s new album Blue Weekend.

"I know I’m certainly not the only one who thinks that these guys have made an amazing album but I just have to give them their dues from across the border (over here in hard rock land).

"I wondered how they would follow the last album but it really is crazy good. I’m a sucker for experimental/shoegazey bands from the ’90s, classic English folk singers and also punk music, and this album is kind of a mix of the lot – which on paper sounds impossible but it just works!

"I have listened to it every time I have been in the gym and to fill the void of the hotel room on tour since it came out, and I hear something different in the production each time.

"It can be totally minimal at times and then stretch out expansively to almost Phil Spector in outer-space insanity!

"Just love these guys for not following that ‘overly authentic’ trend (that has currently infiltrated nearly every genre) and doing their own thing.

"Hard to pick one but Delicious Things just does it for me big time. It’s that folk vibrato in her voice that gets me every time!"

Justin Hawkins (The Darkness)

"Everything needs to be made fun of eventually – reverence leads to stagnation – and I’m pleased that NuMetal has finally found itself in the crosshairs of Eskimo Callboy. My favourite track of 2021 is Eskimo Callboy singing Pump It. Amazing video, and at long last an inspiring fusion that is the very distillation of nu-metal."

Rufus Tiger Taylor (The Darkness)

"My favourite song released in 2021 is a bit of a cheat because it’s Let It Be by The Beatles (2021 mix). They didn’t give anyone else a chance, rightly so!

"Other than that it’s probably my American ‘big brother’s’ new project NHC, with either Devil That You Know, or Lazy Eyes. I chose NHC because it’s interesting and unapologetic – you can tell they had fun writing the songs."

Clem Burke (Blondie)

"I really liked Maneskin’s cover of The Four Seasons’ song Beggin. In fact, I enjoyed their entire 2021 album Teatro d’ira: Vol. I. They are young and sexy and seem to be borrowing from the best of ’70s glam, disco and alternative with great style and musicianship. The best thing to come out of the Eurovision Song Contest since ABBA.

"I also liked the new Dublin-based band Inhaler and their track Cheer Up Baby with its obvious U2 influences."

Some of the members of Blondie, ABBA and Mötley Crüe responded with songs that were older than 2021, but their responses were nevertheless intriguing so we’ve included them here.

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein (Blondie)

"Check out The Bobby Lees, an American rock band founded in 2018 in Woodstock, NY. The future is minimal proto slash punk!"

The band’s last release was in 2020.

Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA)

Hotel California by Eagles

"It’s the most mysterious and at the same time beautiful song ever written. Perfect lyrics and melody and an extraordinary recording."

This classic is from 1976.

Nikki Six (Mötley Crüe)

Nikki Six said he did not have a 2021 favourite, but named this one from 1968 instead:

Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone

"I love this song because of the musicianship, lyrics and attention to the hook.

"No Pro Tools. No auto-tune. Just a real band recording an amazing song live in a recording studio."

Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe)

Weak by AJR

"Incredibly hard to choose only ONE song – there’s been so many that have infected me with their beautiful venom!!"

This track came out in 2017.

Maisie Peters

Industry Baby by Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)

"It sounds simultaneously like the future and the best of the past, and I fall in love with them both separately as soon as they start doing their verses."

Alok

Love Tonight by Shouse

"This record came out a couple of years ago but thank God it got discovered and recognised this year. What a tune!! I love the energy it creates when I drop it on the dance floor. It’s magical."

Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) by Fred Again.. and The Blessed Madonna

"Such an original tune. It’s really THE dance anthem produced during the lockdown pandemic. The music is so unique. I always like to embrace those new fresh sounds. I still remember playing it on my first festival after the lockdown at UNTOLD in Romania."

Friday by Riton, Nightcrawlers, Mufasa, Hypeman and Dopamine

"This one is coming straight from the UK. Such a clever and hooky record! Riton and the artists incorporated the existing TikTok hype into a track with this golden Nightcrawlers sample. I played it many times also in my weekly radio show during the last year! This track will stay forever my favorite "Friday" anthem!!"

Joel Corry

Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) by Fred Again.. and The Blessed Madonna

"As a DJ I connected with the message in the record. It captured a moment in time that had a big impact on dance music. It has become a great set closer for me and already feels like a classic."

Dan Flint (You Me At Six)

Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) by Fred Again.. and The Blessed Madonna

"It’s a tune!"

Josh Franceschi (You Me At Six)

Rent Free by 6lack

"Just feels like a total jam. Been on repeat since I heard it."

Matt Barnes (You Me At Six)

A Hunger in Your Haunt by Biffy Clyro

"Another monster song from the kings of rock music – we saw them recently at the forum and they were amazing."

Chris Miller (You Me At Six)

Scarlett by Holly Humberstone

"I love the production, it’s a great pop song that makes you feel something."

Max Helyer (You Me At Six)

Greatness by St. Panther

"If you are fans of Drake and Kendrick Lamar you will love this – a great upcoming artist that I’m sure people will hear more of in 2022."

CeeLo Green (also part of Gnarls Barkley)

Peaches by Justin Bieber (feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon)

"His manager Scooter introduced him to me very young and I had the opportunity to sign him but did not. Yet we’ve remained friends through the years, and I loved that he mentions Georgia – my hometown – in the song."

George ‘Funky’ Brown (Kool & The Gang)

Easy On Me by Adele

"Great song, tells the story, classic writing."

Cold Heart by Sir Elton John and Dua Lipa

"One of Elton’s greatest reloaded."

Kiss Me More by Doja Cat

"I love the groove and melody."

Leave the Door Open by Bruno Mars

"I love the throwback style of the ’70s. Great Vocals."

Explode by Chelsea

"Strong vocals, great groove."

Nathan Evans

Overpass Graffiti by Ed Sheeran

"When I first heard it I wasn’t too sure because it was a bit different. But after hearing it a few more times it grew on me and now it’s one of my favourite Ed Sheeran songs!"

Easy On Me by Adele

"It’s amazing to have Adele back and making music. Her voice is just incredible and Easy On Me just reaches into you and touches your soul."

Tony McGuinness (Above & Beyond)

"It’s so hard for me to pick a track of the year out of the 1,000+ tunes I’ve made, released, bought, or been sent this year, but I’m going to pick a tune from Bangalore, India, that moved me so much I had to sign it: Hyper Dream from Weird Sounding Dude.

"It’s hypnotic, uplifting, distinctive, driving and delicious, and is one of many great tunes this guy has released this year. I got to play it in public at Anjunadeep Open Air at The Drumsheds in the summer as we returned to live gigs and heard Nick Warren playing it at the only indoor club gig I’ve attended since lockdown began in 2020, so it’s made two very special moments for me. Hopefully, it will do the same for you."

Jeremy Cunningham (The Levellers)

"The only track that really pricked my ears up in 2021 was We Live Here by Bob Vylan. Been a while since I heard a really good street level tune with three chords and the truth. Punk as f*** and I’m with him all the way."

Davey Havok (AFI)

White Horses by Low

"Low is one of the greatest bands of our generation. Combining darkness with beauty as only they can, Alan and Mimi harmonise: ‘The consequences of leaving would be more cruel if I should stay, though it’s impossible to say, I know. Still, white horses take us home,’ weaving through a fuzzed, claustrophobic angular loop of sound – genuine, haunting and gorgeous."

Adam Carson (AFI)

White Horses by Low

"The musical highlight of 2021 was the release of Hey What by one of my long-time favorite bands, Low. It’s difficult to pick a true stand-out on this exceptional offering, but forced to choose, the lead track, White Horses, might just be that.

"What’s familiar is the time-honored Low formula of beautiful, intimate vocal melodies with angelic and haunting harmonies. What is unique and fresh sounding is Low’s continued deep dive (begun in 2018 with Double Negative) into noise exploration.

"White Horses begins with and sustains a cacophony of digital distortion throughout but somehow still maintains the trademark Low minimalist approach to space within the music. The highlight is the final distorted guitar part, a series of digital ‘blips’ that morph in frequency and tempo which disorient and hypnotize the listener before ultimately serving as a clever lead-in to the second song on the album, I Can Wait."

Jade Puget (AFI)

Across That Fine Line by Nation of Language

"Spiky drum machine groove? Angular post-punk bassline? Ennui-laden vocal? This song was tailor-made for me. Nation of Language’s A Way Forward was one of my favorite albums of 2021 and this is a standout track."

Hunter Burgan (AFI)

I Won’t Let You Down by Curtis Harding

"This track, like all of Curtis’s songs, embodies the spirit of some of my favorite southern soul music of decades past but gives it a timeless voice. I really love the arrangement of the horns, piano and backup singers. It’s tasteful and feels like a classic."

Alan Clark (Dire Straits)

Winter Song by Sam Fender

"I love this. Sam is an intriguing talent. I love that he sings in his Geordie accent. And this song! It was written by another Geordie: Alan Hull of Lindisfarne, who I had the pleasure of playing it with a few weeks before I joined Dire Straits in 1980."

Miles Kane

“One of my favourite tracks from the year is Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under.

"I think he’s had a belter year and he’s exploded – I think the lyrics on this one are why that’s happened. It resonated with me straight away as soon as I heard it."

Callum ’29’ Wilson (The Snuts)

Seventeen Going Under by Sam Fender

"This track takes me back to being a kid finding my feet in the world – pure nostalgia-laden indie rock and roll. Something special about when music can take you back to a time in your life."

MT 420 RR by Idles

"This is the haunting first track off of their new record Crawler. It’s a gritty punk ballad and totally draws you in."

Smoking Out The Window by Silk Sonic

"Total tongue and cheek heartbreak vibes. Hard to not listen with a smile on your face – the album is actually a modern soul classic too."

Bev Bevan (ELO, Black Sabbath, Quill)

Natural Blues – Reprise version by Moby, Gregory Porter and Amethyst Stone

Just One Kiss by Imelda May, Noel Gallagher and Ronnie Wood

Rock Me Baby by Tito Jackson, George Benson, Claudette King and Michael Lee

"From former Jackson 5 member Tito Jackson’s solo album Under Your Spell. The Jacksons visited ELO backstage after our show at Anaheim Stadium in Los Angeles in 1978."

Just A Man by Chris Norman

Raise The Roof by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

Tyler Connolly (Theory of a Deadman)

A Thousand Words by Myles Kennedy

"Always been a huge fan – love the slide guitar and his voice is flawless as usual on this track!"

Dave Brenner (Theory of a Deadman)

"Jerry Cantrell released a solo album called Brighten in 2021. His writing and playing have always been a big influence on me, and I really love what he’s done with the track Atone. He bridges the gap between musical genres and always brings the emotion!"

Dean Back (Theory of a Deadman)

Mercy by Ayron Jones

"Theory of a Deadman were fortunate enough to tour with Ayron a couple years ago. I watched his show every night and it was evident he and his music were destined for mass attention.

"Not music per se, but Daniel Johns’ "Who is Daniel Johns?" Podcast was a highlight of the year for me. As a long-time Silverchair and Daniel Johns fan, this opportunity to experience his career through his unfiltered eyes and the uncensored stories from those that know him the closest was thoroughly entertaining."

Joe Dandeneau (Theory of a Deadman)

Lady Mine by Josh Ramsay and Chad Kroeger

"I love the instrumentation and the songwriting. Feel good vibe and very enjoyable to listen too."

Hannah Hooper (Grouplove)

Social Cues by Teezo Touchdown

"Hearing him tell me ‘you’re not alone’ repeatedly over a dance beat and ‘I may be just like you’ became a mantra for me. It was my daily dose of hope."

Christian Zucconi (Grouplove)

Hit Em Where It Hurts by PawPaw Rod

"This song has become a staple on tour, we play it way too much. I just love his style and playfulness, especially the way he delivers the line ‘so I hit em where it hurts, set sail, lighthouse search’. I’m always on the lookout for a good lighthouse journey."

Andrew Wessen (Grouplove)

Driving by Willow Avalon

"Willow went through hell to finally get her music out into the world. Now it’s here and I love this tune so much… it will always remind me of recklessly falling in love, Mexico trips and East LA studios. Cheers to the best possum mama in the world."

Daniel Gleason (Grouplove)

Many Times by Dijon

"It has that elusive effect of a song you listen to 20 times in a row so it can wrap itself around you, and you just keep thinking ‘I hope I can be a part of something that feels like this for someone else’."

Ben Homola (Grouplove)

Juggernaut by Tyler, The Creator

"I’m a huge fan of the production on this album and song but what made me love it the most is the video. The visuals and music create something really great. It’s a whole thing and I’m here for it."

Lost Frequencies

Guidance by Redfield

"I’ve been loving everything Redfield has been releasing ever since his debut with Axwell and have kept an eye out for what he’s been releasing throughout the year. Guidance has a really progressive breakdown which I love to play in my live sets and the vocal is so epic – the track takes you really on an exciting journey and I’m excited to see what he does next!"

Running by Anyma (feat. Meg Myers)

"This has to be one of Anyma’s most buzzing releases. It starts off relatively ‘tame’ with some nice simmering high hats before it dives in really deep and pushes the tempo into a whole new place – Meg’s vocal really lifts the track too and I’m sure you guys will recognise the vocal inspiration! A big peak time sound on this one."

Reach Out by FDTD and Ryan Konline

"I’m a big fan of both artists so much that we released this track on my Found Frequencies label – I always want to champion artists from across the spectrum of dance and electronic music but this one I felt really tied two vibes together.

"It’s a melodic, feel-good house track with the production but then the vocal just adds a richness that is almost soul-like, but also reminded me of a classic house sound that you’d hear on the likes of a Strictly Rhythm track with the ‘I believe in myself’ line on the breakdown. Super proud of this one!"

Alex Clare

Keep Moving by Jungle

"I’m a sucker for cinematic strings and francophile disco and this track has both in abundance! Up-lifting would be an understatement!"

Britt Daniel (Spoon)

Doers by Bodega

"The first song from Bodega’s upcoming album Broken Equipment is a rave-up that clues us in they’re ready to expand on the sound of their great first LP Endless Scroll. And it’s funny too. An astute rap concerning modern stress, competitiveness, the pace of the city and Hemingway."

Black Curtain by Cola

"Alex sent me this last month and it’s killer, a new project from the guys in Ought. If Sterling Morrison made a solo record it might sound like this."

The Beachland Ballroom by Idles

"Idles does a soul song in the way only Idles could do a soul song. When I first heard it I had to listen five or six times in a row to fully take it in. Punishing, but somehow hopeful. My favourite song of the year."

Molly Guldemond (Mother Mother)

Like I Used To (Acoustic) by Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen

"I am a big fan of both of these artists. Hearing them harmonise on this track is my idea of heaven."

Jasmin Parkin (Mother Mother)

Life Is Not The Same by James Blake

"A stunningly beautiful track from a ridiculously talented artist. Having lost someone close to me recently, this one really hits home."

Ryan Guldemond (Mother Mother)

Holiday by Turnstile

"This one makes me feel like a teenager on a skateboard, which I can attest is one of the better feelings in life."

Mike Young (Mother Mother)

Distance by Yebba

"Beautiful lyrics and melodies, and some of the most crushing singing I’ve heard. Chill, groovy, and musically brilliant. I feel this one deeply."

Ali Siadat (Mother Mother)

The Ocean by Said the Whale

"This band always makes me happy. Adventurous opening track to their latest album sounds like what the name suggests: wild ocean waves of music crashing against my ears and my soul."

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