It was November, 2013, and I was making out with a boy on the dancefloor of a club with the words “Bar and Grill” in its name, while wearing denim shorts over a pair of tights.
These were halcyon days, truly, perhaps even the prime of my life. I’d recently started my second year of university, and my hobbies primarily consisted of drinking Caribbean Twist and cutting my own fringe. I’d been courting the boy in question for a couple of weeks via the medium of posting “cool” music (i.e. “Provider” by N.E.R.D.) on my Facebook status, and waiting for a notification to say that he’d Liked it. When I finally kissed him as a smoke machine wheezed out dry ice, it was late but not too late – those nowhere hours between Friday night and Saturday morning. The only light came from the stage, and it was harsh and blue. Everyone I knew watched. Afterwards, I think I had cheesy chips.
A number of the details remain quite vivid in my mind – a surprise, considering I’d spent the hours preceding it double-fisting orange and passionfruit VKs – but most palpable of all is the song that was playing. It was “Timber” by Pitbull, featuring Kesha. You know in romantic comedies, at the end, when the camera sweeps and pans and spins around the couple? Well, it was just like that, but soundtracked by the lyric, “This biggity boy’s a diggity dog.”
At the time, “Timber” was newly released, but already accepted as a club classic – you couldn’t get away from it on a night out. And the reasons for this are important. Down to a combination of its lyrics (another sample couplet: “Swing your partner round and round / End of the night, it’s goin’ down”), its instrumental, which sounds like sexy “Cotton Eye Joe”, and its subject matter, which, ultimately, centres on shouting a word commonly associated with tree felling because you’re gonna fuck tonight, “Timber” possesses a special, almost ineffable quality, which places it in a long lineage of songs to have achieved popularity within the context of a certain type of British nightclub.
I am talking about clubs where Barry from Eastenders and Proudlock from Made In Chelsea regularly make personal appearances. They have names like “Flame”, “Vybe Lounge” and “Cameo”. Inside, the walls are silver, adorned with framed posters telling you about the student night (“DARE on WEDNESDAYS” – it is always Wednesdays) or advertising drinks deals that seem illegal (“JÄGERBOMBS £1 / SPIRIT AND RED BULL £1.50 / SHOTS 99P”).
Despite still existing today, these clubs are inextricably linked in your mind to the time in your life where you sincerely felt it was good to wear a trilby, and they are are home to experiences both ecstatic and banal: hugging a friend with toilet paper stuck to your shoe; reaching the transcendent level of drunk at which you believe you can “do choreography” just as the DJ drops “Yeah!” by Usher, only to have your head in the toilet bowl by the time he’s playing “Low” by Flo-Rida. You have almost certainly fallen down the stairs in one of these places, and if you haven’t, you simply weren’t doing it right.
While these clubs share a number of physical and spiritual characteristics, what really unites them is the music. I could write about these places for thousands and thousands of words, but there would still be nothing more effective at mentally transporting you to one of them than hearing the actual music they play. These are songs which tickle the spot in your brain that makes you absolutely hellbent on getting a round in at 2:30AM, and that you still sprint inside from the smoking area to hear. We’ll call them “High Street Club Bangers”.
High Street Club Bangers resist too much categorisation, but in general they’re songs which probably came out between 2003 and 2013 (the decade in which most millennials were of university age). They vary in genre – from R&B to dance to crunk, via rap, pop and electro house – though because most at least flirted with the mainstream, they do sometimes share sonic elements that were popular at the time. Namely: synths that sound like lasers, AutoTuned vocals, thumping percussion and choruses larger than the entire United Kingdom, often preceded by a beat drop.
Thematically, these songs generally centre on life’s great pleasures – shagging, getting pissed, dancing – but what they most have in common is that sort of indescribable affect I mentioned earlier on. High Street Club Bangers embrace a particular type of radge-ness fostered by the Great British Night Out. They are all utterly maximalist, and match weekend binge drinkers pound for pound in energy and determination.
The artists who made the songs which have remained so popular are bonafide geniuses, from Rihanna to Britney Spears, Tinie Tempah to Pitbull, Timbaland to Cascada. Each of them, of course, has a legacy that reaches to more important places than the sticky-floored context we find them in here (though, interestingly, the High Street Club Banger’s larger-than-life tendencies live on in particular through hyperpop and its immediate forebears: 100 gecs just released a song with 3OH!3, glaive cites Kesha as an early influence, and PC Music’s A.G. Cook recently told me that the work of his close peer, the sound designer SOPHIE, is directly inspired by “Like a G6”). But at a time when we can’t be together, railing sambuca in dingy clubs where there’s no point in talking because “Bonkers” is always on too loud, it feels important to acknowledge the particular magic that these songs and artists have created in unassuming venues on high streets across the UK, wedged between building societies and nail shops.
These places, in their total, monolithic embodiment of mainstream culture, are not cool or glamorous or mysterious in any sense. But that’s what makes them better and more fun than any swanky £50-cover-charge venue, or ticketed London affair where everyone is wearing G-Star Raw and competing to look the most miserable. These are Holy Churches of Having a Laugh (patron saint: Wayne Lineker) where you go on the night of your A Level results, and then every single Christmas Eve until you have a kid or die. And while, right now, we may not be able to wrestle to the bar through a sea of lads in Topman shirts, or show the DJ drunkenly typed notes on our phones – “please play Lday GAga” – or indeed snog boys in the year below after drinking approximately one hundred alcopops, what we can do is write at length about the music you used to hear while you were doing that stuff, and which you’ll hear again soon enough.
With great love, affection and admiration, here are the Top 50 Greatest High Street Club Bangers of All Time. – Lauren O’Neill
50: “Party Rock Anthem” – LMFAO
There were two ways to know if someone was genuinely laughing from behind a screen in the early 2010s. They might leave a trail of o’s behind them (lmaooo :P) or they’d be laughing their fucking arse off. LA-based electronic duo LMFAO harnessed this unhinged energy for their 2011 hit “Party Rock Anthem”: the sound of neon shutter shades, shot girls and your weird American cousins finally “getting” dance music.
It has the power to drag uncles from their seats at a wedding reception of any religious denomination (incidentally, the members of LMFAO are uncle and nephew). “Party Rock Anthem” knows it isn’t a technically great song, which helps make it an offensively class one, sort of like Eiffel 65’s “Blue” or Crazy Frog’s “Axel F”. It brought hen parties, footie dads and all of your sixth form – and the teachers – together. One nation, under one roof, partying together for one night only. – Hannah Ewens
49: “Alors On Danse” – Stromae
Remember the saxophone? All it took was one little parp and suddenly Europop became full of rude anthems featuring a sexy sax that seemed to be having an aneurysm. No doubt the instrument will be heavily represented in this list.
“Alors On Danse” is different, though. Its super smooth production evokes the feel of bottle service in a semi-decent nightclub – close your eyes and you’ll see your friend in full dancefloor pout mode, jabbing their fingers as they grind their teeth – but it’s also rooted in how empty the process feels. The vocal delivery is repetitive, literally saying “so we dance” again and again, as a response to life’s problems. It’s almost mechanical in how serviceable it is to the cause, helping even the moodiest of dancefloor rudeboys jump on the floor and giving the song a cold edge. Also, Kanye released a remix. – Ryan Bassil
48: “Don’t Stop The Music” – Rihanna
There used to be one of those bars with sticky dancefloors and cheap pitchers of watered-down cocktails back home, and we would go most weekends. One night, my mate got so drunk she got sick on the staircase there and we sheepishly tried to help her clean it up – but very quickly after we were all back dancing (honestly, god bless club staff having to deal with that kind of grimness on the regular).
In my memory, the soundtrack to this moment was “Don’t Stop The Music”. Of course, every Rihanna song from this era is a verified banger, but the intense thumping bass drum on this is just undeniable. She sings about going out to party and then locking eyes with a “possible candidate”, quickly finding herself grinding up close with them on the dancefloor. There are many Big Club Tunes out there, but what Rihanna does so perfectly is imbue them with slinky sensuality and powerful emotion. An all-time great that, of course, would make you keep dancing and shake it all off, even through the vom. – Tara Joshi
47: “Stereo Love (UK Radio Edit)” – Edward Maya, Vika Jigulina
Edward Maya did for the accordion what Future did for the flute: plucked the instrument out of its niche and transformed it into an international call to “vibe” with one iconic melody. Adding a hypnotic beat to a reworked refrain from the Azerbaijani tune “Bayatilar”, “Stereo Love” is evocative of muscle vests, fake designer sunglasses and hurling yourself at a night out to escape your feelings. Like many beloved dance hits, it’s about a relationship in turmoil, with lyrics about inaccessible souls and dying love delivered in plaintive sighs. It’s a very specific brand of European melodrama – a hand-written letter sent after an Erasmus romance gone wrong – but one that permits fist-pumpers everywhere from the Middle East to the Jersey Shore to feel their feelings, if not their teeth. – Emma Garland
46: “From Paris To Berlin” – Infernal
In the very unreal world of Infernal, bills and rent don’t exist. You’ve never known the shame of a Tinder date walking out after catching sight of you at the bar, or the embarrassment of having to ask an Alpha gym-goer how to use the lateral raise machine one cold January evening. You’re in Infernal’s cavernous Euroclub now. Welcöme. Nothing matters here except for snogging fit people and going out out. You’re at peace. – Hannah Ewens
45: “Changed The Way You Kissed Me” – Example
This song was so omnipresent it reminds me of everywhere but the club. It prompts a mental montage of people getting furiously shredded in the gym, speeding round B roads at night or sitting on the top deck of a bus – windows all steamed up, iPod Nano on the go – shedding a single tear as they take the lyrics “Now I'm chilling on my Jack Jones” way too seriously two days after being dumped. It absolutely reeks of mephedrone breath and Homme by David Beckham, but it also has this soothing quality of pouring into your body like liquid nitrogen and temporarily filling whichever voids you’re working on. Kind of like a guy you’d pull on a night out where this would have been on rotation. – Emma Garland
44: “We Speak No Americano” – Yolanda B Cool & DCUP
A fundamentally quite embarrassing genre, electro-swing melded modern dance music with stuff like brass and early swing recordings. This was one of its biggest songs – and I kind of get why. Possibly lockdown has broken me, but writing this has meant the song festering in the back of my head for the past week, leaving me with no choice but to enjoy the ride!
Released back in 2010 on an Australian indie label, I imagine not even the creators behind “We No Speak Americano” realised how ubiquitous it would become. In the 2012 video game Kinect Star Wars, there is a parody song called “We No Speak Huttese” you can play in the Galactic Dance Off. What speaks more to its cultural significance, however, is that US athlete Gabby Douglas won gold at the 2012 Olympics performing her floor gymnastics routine to this song. The Olympics! This song!! Someone won a gold medal at the Olympics with this song!!
Whether or not you think this song was a cultural reset, one thing I know is that if this came on during the early-2010s and no one you knew started doing some take on the Inbetweeners dance, then you were much cooler than I have ever been. – Tara Joshi
43: “Promiscuous” – Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland
Timbaland ruled 2000s pop music with his trademark production style of soft synths, sultry syncopated beats and mouth clicks. He’s responsible for the slick, trance-like sound of Justin Timberlake’s FutureLoveSexSounds, and Jay Z’s “Dirt Off My Shoulder” employed one of his beats (watch him make it and lose your mind). His best work, though, has to be with Nelly Furtado; together they released a stream of muggy alt-pop singles like “Say It Right” and “Maneater” that demonstrated how compelling two artists can be when they just click.
“Promiscuous” is the big stand-out of these. The lyrics go back and forth like a ping-pong match, or two would-be lovers’ eyes locking across a swirling mass of bodies on the dancefloor. The song is undeniably sexual in its atmosphere, but it’s pretty too. Timbo’s synths in the chorus sparkle and shimmer like sunlight hitting iced-out diamonds. Meanwhile, Nelly Furtado’s hook guides you on a crash course in swagger. It’s sexy and hot and over in four minutes and two seconds, which is longer than 95 percent of the casual sex it has probably inspired. – Ryan Bassil
42: “On The Floor” – Jennifer Lopez ft. Pitbull
I’ve long been a combination of fascinated and scared by Pitbull – the most threatening aura in the VIP lounge, a man built for the nighttime, a sort of free-pouring vampire whose very raison d'etre is to wear more aftershave at once than has collectively ever been worn inside the walls of 1OAK – and this showcases him to perfection: snarling out the names of major international cities while J.Lo spins in a circle beneath him.
“On The Floor” isn’t a wildly sophisticated song – insert two more anonymous performers where J.Lo and Pitbull stand and it becomes one of those weird summer one-hit wonders where a rumour always starts about the singer dying “weirdly young of a heart attack” – but it does understand the primal needs of the club more than many of the songs on this list, which is: the Big Moment in a song needs to happen three times in three-and-a-half minutes, and that Big Moment can either be three separate Big Moments, or it can just be the same Big Moment repeated three times, and it doesn’t really matter which because everyone’s too drunk to really notice.
J.Lo and Pitbull made the first 80 seconds of “On The Floor” and realised they didn’t need to make anymore original song, because most of the people listening to it would be on cocaine. They were right to do this. – Joel Golby
41: “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” – Fedde Le Grand
This insidiously catchy song, with its depraved wriggling synth, was nominated for “Sexiest Video” at the 2007 MTV Australia Awards (and lost to “Fergalicious”). In the video, we find a conveyor belt of some presumably-cloned men being tested for their ability to dance and/or get aroused by women in white lab coats and lingerie – a veritable time capsule of those aggressively sexy visuals that dominated the era.
To be honest, most of the creative decisions behind this song are largely unclear to me, but I do know that “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” makes me feel like I’m back at the after-school aerobics class I did briefly as an awkward teen, raising my limbs gracelessly and somehow shouting the song’s ten words incorrectly. – Tara Joshi
40: “Dynamite” – Taio Cruz
It’s rare for anything to stir feelings of patriotism in me, but a back-to-front play of The Rokstarr Collection never fails to make my chest swell and my heart soar. The Brent-born semi-anonymous Taio Cruz had to bring out his greatest hits after two albums – that’s how many hits the man had.
He was filling dancefloors with euphoric sad-bangers before your Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommys were out of primary school (“Break Your Heart”). He was teaching you how to slut-drop at a British school disco (“Come On Girl”). And, most memorably, he lit up that local club of yours like it was filled with explosives (“Dynamite”). If you think there’s anything more life affirming than being out with the girls, off your nuts on Smirnoff Ice, and screaming “I wanna celebrate and live my life, saying ‘ayo, baby, let’s go’” then you need better mates. – Hannah Ewens
39: “Now You’re Gone” – Basshunter
The best bit of Basshunter’s “Now You’re Gone” comes around a minute in. You’ve heard the yearning break-up lyrics. You’ve been bumped along by a Eurodance bassline that consistently humps and wumps through the verse and is iced off with a cold snare kick. Then spshhhhhhhhh, the drum crackles and fades away and a new synth line meanders into view. It jigs around, like a cheeky elf on crack. Then a high-pitched voice emerges from an interdimensional universe. “Ready for take off,” it commands, not asks, then you’re gone, submerged in a Eurodance fantasy where it seems like anything is possible and all the pain and joy in the world exists in a single synth line. And then: fade… and you’re back to the cheesy vocal.
But hey, that’s enough of being wistful. This song went Number One in England, Ireland and Scotland, even beating Basshunter’s home country, Sweden where it came in at Number Two. Fun fact: it was originally released with Swedish lyrics under a different name (“Boten Anna”). It was also remixed by Crazy Frog on his third (??) studio album. A haunting legacy perhaps, but entirely fitting for a song that plunges you deep into the bizarre, hallucinogenic world of heartbreak. – Ryan Bassil
38: “Fergalicious” – Fergie
Rest assured that if this list was a rundown of the best “Songs About Being Extremely Hot and Knowing It”, “Fergalicious” would have earned its place in the Top 10. Not only is Fergie so aware that she’s good looking, she knows it makes the boys go so loco that she had to invent a word for it. Here we have a song so perfect I’m willing to overlook the images this lyric – “They want my treasure, so they get their pleasures from my photo” – conjures up. It’s so timeless there’s even a TikTok trend of it. – Nana Baah
37: “American Boy” – Estelle ft. Kanye West
Some of the sentences you read stick with you forever, especially during that post-adolescent, pre-reality moment in your twenties when your brain is still malleable and you can be influenced by something as off-hand as a tweet. I think I was 22 when I read the opinion, “if you sing along to a song while you’re dancing to it, that’s embarrassing”, and it’s embedded within me forever like shrapnel: a small dark shard of metal, bulging at the edge of my gut whenever I find myself drunk and dancing and getting too carried away. There I am, clumping from side-to-side, lips forever sealed, constantly burning with the shame of pre-embarrassment. And then “American Boy” comes on and all decorum is lost.
Who killing ‘um in the UK / everybody wanna say you, K – and there I am, and there you are too, and everyone is fingers in the air thinking they are nailing every beat of it, but if you cut the audio and isolated your group it’s just six people leaning in to one another and shouting “FIVE FOOT SEVEN GUY” two seconds behind the beat. But that’s the point: some songs are for the dancers to dance to, some songs are for the flirters to flirt to, some songs are for everyone to mass into a crowd, and then there’s “American Boy”, a song to sing your heart out to, and nobody can stop you because they are singing it, too. – Joel Golby
36: “Frisky”– Tinie Tempah ft. Labrinth
This one wins the following 2000s dance-rap awards: Suavest Use Of Non-Prescription Black Frame Glasses, Best Upvoted YouTube Comment (“when we thought we were hard in year 7 with this on our blackberrys”) and Greatest Lyric (“Her dress from All Saints, but I think I've found a sinner”). – Hannah Ewens
35: Rihanna – “Only Girl (In the World)”
Name a better time in your life than when Rihanna (and by default, you) had red hair? Even though you’d stained your mum’s best towels, life was good; Schwarzkopf XXL LIVE’s sales were through the roof and you were yelling along to the chorus of “Only Girl in the World” at any chance you got. – Nana Baah
34: “Call On Me” – Eric Prydz
What is early-to-mid 2000s club music if not lots of naked bodies coming together in a sexually suggestive manner? It was a time of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back”; of oiled up bodies and butts taking centre stage on music video channel TMF. At the genre’s peak is the aggressively sexy music video for Eric Prydz single “Call On Me”, which features lots of charged up thrusting and arses in aerobic thongs.
The video had the nation spaffing over their sofas when it was released in 2004, but the song’s success is down to more than pure sex appeal. Based around a sample of Steve Winwood’s 80s yacht pop track “Valerie”, “Call On Me’s” repetitive hook brings power balladry to progressive electro house. Supposedly Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk sampled the same song and played it live during sets as part of his DJ duo Together with DJ Falcon years before the Prydz version was released. Their song “So Much Love To Give” sits in the same euphoria-via-repetition register as “Call On Me”. However, it’s Eric Prydz’s banger that reigns supreme as the most euphoric UK Number One single of the 2000s. – Ryan Bassil
33: “Right Round” – Flo-Rida ft. Kesha
The only appropriate way to pay homage to the late Pete Burns and Dead or Alive’s 1984 hit “You Spin Me Round” would be to reproduce it in the genre lovingly known to some as “booty-bass”. To me, this song is flavoured condoms, dry ice and Yankee snapbacks with the sticker left on. To Kesha, it’s her most deliciously acidic feature and one of her most memorable performances. To Flo-Rida, the pioneer of this era’s dance-rap, this is child’s play. “Right Round” is another casually thrown-together ditty from the Pied Piper of Oceana. We are merely his rats. – Hannah Ewens
32: “Bonkers” – Dizzee Rascal
I think if you collected every US Colonel, every CIA terror expert, every human rights disrespecting Russian operative ever born, and put them in a studio for a week with the express mission to create a piece of music that could occupy both the British charts and a Guantanamo Bay torture loop beatbox, they would just make “Bonkers” by Dizzee Rascal again.
From the very opening second – the sound of a car siren being frantically rewound on cassette, blared out of a rewired fire alarm – the song is a panic attack, and that’s before the fuzzing background guitar clash and the you-are-coming-up-in-a-hospital-waiting-room drop and Dizzee Rascal rapping right on the very edge of someone five lines deep trying to tell you how mental health is important. But then that is the point of “Bonkers” – it is impossible to listen to without your blood pressure spiking through the roof and your heart rate increasing like you ran up some stairs – and there is something primal within that.
“Bonkers” necessarily tricks your body into thinking that it’s having a good time. It just does it by engaging your fight-or-flight response like no other song ever recorded. Some animals have evolved beyond the need to be primally scared by “Bonkers” by Dizzee Rascal. Humans, sadly, are not among them. – Joel Golby
31: “Talk Dirty” – Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz
To begin, I’d like to remind you of a selection of lyrics included in this song:
“Been around the world, don't speak the language / But your booty don't need explaining”
“Our conversations ain't long / But you know what is”
“Sold out arenas, you can suck my penis”
“Got her saved in my phone under ‘Big Booty’”
There are more #lines in “Talk Dirty” than in the men’s toilets of a City of London All Bar One on a Friday night, and on top of this poetic buffet (I’d like to stress that I’m not being sarcastic) you also get a saxophone riff that is arguably the most accurate representation of the process of losing your sanity ever committed to recording – which, if you ask me, is the exact vibe one should be going for when one is on a bender. Just another day at the office for Mr. Jason Derulo, silken voiced prince of nightclubs where you can buy a tray of chips at the bar. – Lauren O’Neill
30: “Number 1” – Tinchy Strider ft. N-Dubz
I feel like I never truly appreciated “Number 1” when it came out. Two titans of the early 2000s UK charts, Tinchy Stryder and N-Dubz, came together to give us this gift. It’s technically a love song, but with nonsense lyrics like “Now I'm in deep, flames, lava, breathe, karma” it is quite clearly only good for shouting along to in an Uber. – Nana Baah
29: “Evacuate The Dancefloor” – Cascada
As a thought experiment, I got up early one Saturday and, with the fragile winter morning light pouring weakly onto the balcony and a mug of steaming Earl Grey cupped in my soft little hands, listened to “Evacuate The Dancefloor” by Cascada. Here, in this context – nobody is trying to spray Joop! on me and give me a mint, absolutely zero bouncers are threatening to “skull my cunt in” – “Evacuate The Dancefloor” is a fine if underwhelming song: only the exemplar Europop vocal and the ever-grumbling everybodyintheclub! background yodel elevates it from being Hungary’s first-reserve Eurovision entry. It’s a bit like a rights-free song played in a Disney TV movie where the final set piece happens in a nightclub: banger-adjacent, if not yet full banger.
But then I put it to you that “Evacuate The Dancefloor” is in a symbiotic relationship with the very floor it is about: the song does not exist without the dancefloor, and the dancefloor no longer exists without it, and by extension both elements make sense when clicked together. Evacuate The Dancefloor is for that moment in the night where the vodka cokes haven’t quite kicked in enough for you to feel euphoria, where nobody has gotten off with you even once, and you cast around the club, legs tired, looking for somewhere to sit. But then: whoosh. Those massive, massive keyboards. The electric feeling that there’s a spotlight on you and you alone as you curl a single palm across your fringe and down your body. Steal the night / kill the lights / feel it under your skin. You don’t remember getting up but you’re as close to the speakers as it is possible to be without your brain bleeding. Time is right / keep it tight / ‘cause it’s pulling you in. Somehow, without you knowing it, you just saved someone’s number in your phone as “Revolutions?????”.
This is where Cascada makes sense: with a Smirnoff Ice in each hand, with blue then purple lights blaring over your sweat-slicked skin, with the threat of the rest of the adventure – ears still ringing in the kebab shop, yelling at people in the taxi queue for cutting in, sneaking a boy in a crisp white River Island short-sleeve out of your house before your dad gets back from his dog walk – unfurling in front of you. “Evacuate The Dancefloor” isn’t about dancing wildly in a nightclub. It’s a prophecy that your body is about to foretell. – Joel Golby
28: “Riverside” – Sidney Sampson
Sometimes I lay awake at night, worrying about the future, or else torturing myself over the past and questions I’ll never have the answers to. Lately, the thought that’s been whirring around my head over and over is: would Tupac Shakur have liked the Sidney Samson song “Riverside”?
For context, the Dutch DJ’s inimitable party track samples Pac’s line from 1992 film Juice – “Riverside, motherfucker!”, punctuating the wonky, incessant keyboard riff with increasing, climactic urgency. Soon after its 2009 release it became an obsession for the laddiest guys at my school: a tender but euphoric first love that grew with every hearty yelp of “Riverside, motherfucker!”
It was the throbbing sound of someone taking the AUX and playing the same song five times in a row for a laugh; the score to teenage boys wagging fingers and dancing on chairs as tunes blasted out of tinny phone speakers at the back of the top deck of the bus, sniggering at a swear word. This was excess, this was foolishness, this was Riverside, motherfucker! I will never know if Tupac would have liked this song but, I’m afraid, for that one brief moment in time, I did. – Tara Joshi
27: “Gimme More” – Britney Spears
There’s a strong case to be made for Blackout being Britney’s greatest album, but we’ve done that before, so I will simply say that opening a song with the lyric “IT’S BRITNEY, BITCH” is both a potent comeback move career-wise and an immortal battlecry to absolutely shatter your knees slut-dropping in ASOS platform heels. – Emma Garland
26: “Levels” – Avicii
Avicii’s smash hit “Levels” is synonymous with getting on the lash here and abroad. Beginning with an easy-to-sing topline that’s pretty much the sound of several thousand hairless bodies moving as one lubricated mass (“dunun nun, dunnun nun, dunnunnunnun”), it is the stadium anthem of getting absolutely “mortal”, AKA getting so wrecked the night ends on the scale of “traffic cone in your home” to “having a screaming match with your partner because you accidentally spewed in the Uber”.
Supposedly the music video concept centres on the idea that “we are already in Avicii and that maybe we at times are aware of this and the existence of other levels”, which despite being pretty “out there” definitely isn’t the craziest thing anyone has ever said in a nightclub. Thankfully, this doesn’t take away from the fact that “Levels” was a true EDM crossover hit. It set the standard for a generation of booming club anthems and perhaps introduced a new set of listeners to Etta James (she’s the sample on the hook).
“Levels” is accessible euphoria – a song beloved by EDM nerds, shirtless bros, wedding DJs, TV programmers and the gals, all at once. – Ryan Bassil
25: “Earthquake” – Labrinth ft. Tinie Tempah
In an interview with MTV, Labrinth said that “Earthquake” is “about having people look my way because of how much noise I'm making”, which sounds very much like me in 2011, licked off Cactus Jack at someone’s 16th. – Nana Baah
24: “Stronger” – Kanye West
At the height of nu rave, Kanye blessed us with a track that married electro, rap and Nietszche in such a way that club speakers and house parties tepidly inspired by Skins would, for the next few years, be dominated by Strongbow-drinking white dudes wearing neon shutter shades and white jeans, trying to talk about philosophy. Kanye’s influence!
Of course, “Stronger” was one of many Kanye singles from this era that would leave their mark for years to come. What works about “Stronger” in particular, though, is that riff on the Daft Punk sample. It should be super cheesy, but is actually so inventive and fun, like you’re being soundtracked on some kind of Tron fantasy dancefloor. Also, while I cannot reasonably draw a causal link between people doing strawpedos and listening to this song without hard data, in retrospect “that that don’t kill me can only make me stronger” is exactly the kind of lyric that could inspire inadvisable decision-making on a night out. – Tara Joshi
23: “Yeah!” – Usher ft. Lil Jon and Ludacris
If you take the energies of Messrs Usher, Ludacris and Lil Jon, you can form a rough topography of club personalities. Ones that, in combination, make up every solid group: the smooth dancefloor star, perfectly groomed and in fashionable (for the time) jeans, luring in everyone’s stares with their sheer movie star charisma (Usher); the too-smart-for-this fast talker, who bumps in for the last minute of the song and then vanishes away again like a ghost, and you keep sneaking glimpses of them on the edge of your periphery (did he just go into the bathroom? Or is that him at the bar?) until, eventually, you see them perfect and whole for the lights up debrief at the end of the night (Ludacris); and then someone who is so intoxicated they have basically become pre-verbal (Lil Jon). “Yeah!” teaches us that these three levels of club intellect can co-exist, and that they can have fun together, and they all have a role to play, and that’s reflected in the way the dancefloor reacts to the song: yes, you can slide around on your tiptoes like Usher does, or you can just do a stunted robotic walk-to-the-dancefloor dance like Lil Jon, or you can wait until the end and, between tucking your bottom lip beneath your top teeth and pushing up gunfingers, you can take that, rewind it back, Lil Jon got the beat that make your booty go: clap. – Joel Golby
22: “Destination Calabria” – Alex Gaudino
The dancefloor loves nothing like a rousing track about a mystical clubland that’s far better than the one you’re in. “Destination Unknown” is one of those. Powered by a cheeky sax line and a thumping beat, it is the spiritual sibling of Mousse T’s “Horny”. This song positively honks with handsy uncle energy. It is the sunglasses emoji made sentient.
As the final orgasmic syllable (unknown-known-known-known-known-known) repeated like a siren across the Liquid and Envy dancefloor, you could only guess at where you were going. In 2003’s case, it was: another three years of Blair, tripled tuition fees and landfill indie, honey. – Hannah Ewens
21: “Temperature” – Sean Paul
The best songs are the ones where Girls Who Can Dance can dance to it and Lads Who Can’t Dance can do that sort of “Godzilla stomp” thing boys do when they are too self-conscious to actually dance, and then, magically, somewhere in the middle of the dancefloor the two opposite factions can meet and get off with each other and maybe, if the night goes well, there’ll be some light-to-heavy fingering.
So, “Temperature” by Sean Paul is rare because it allows two different sets of people to make two different sets of movements to the same song, and in that moment – lights pulsing, bodies moving, stomp stomp stomp, then some tongue action – there is alchemy, lurid sticky alchemy. In ancient times knights would have warred across lands in search of “Temperature” by Sean Paul. It is the philosopher’s stone of mashing some tits. – Joel Golby
20: “Gangnam Style” – Psy
There is nothing I can say about this song that it does not say more eloquently for itself. Oppan Gangnam Style. – Lauren O’Neill
19: “Day ‘n’ Night” – Kid Cudi vs. Crookers
This remix simply doesn’t exist outside the confines of a club promising free cloakroom, cheap entry before 11PM and a PA from Paul Danan. It is the sonic embodiment of the Oceana “Ice House”; its glacial production and harsh stylistic choices perfectly mirroring the ritual of queuing up to receive a one-size-fits-all puffa jacket and a drink so cold you can’t actually hold it, while choking on the smell of TRESemmé Freeze Hold and sick.
In retrospect, there’s something comically disrespectful about this remix, which has simply layered an intrusive alarm noise and dirty wobble on top of an introverted meditation on grief and regret, but if there’s one thing that defines the British partying experience it’s taking an emotion and quite literally screaming over it. – Emma Garland
18: “Mr. Saxobeat” – Alexandra Stan
Can anyone tell me who, exactly, Mr Saxobeat is? We know from the lyrics of this 2011 Alexandra Stan thumper that he is both a “sexy boy” and a “dirty boy”, and that his woodwind noodling could put you at very real risk of moving “like a freak”.
Might he be infamous sexy boy Kenny G? The guy who played the solo on “Careless Whisper”? Any one of the many saxophonists to have parped along with ska-punk superstars Reel Big Fish? Whoever he is, I want to personally thank him for inspiring this song, which is actually less of a song and more of an energy. So much so that it once motivated me to scream the words “Don’t be so shy, play with me” directly at my colleagues during a work karaoke party. – Jamie Clifton
17: “Miami 2 Ibiza” – Swedish House Mafia ft. Tinie Tempah
Despite being comprised almost exclusively of dated shout-outs to Blackberry, JVC, FHM and Lindsay Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson, this remains a high watermark for collaborations between British rappers and European DJs. With an aspirational message (show me a weekend agenda more desirable than “I got my visa and my Visa / A diva and her dealer / Bitch I’m up on the guest list with the Swedish House Mafia”) and a drop that demands to be played above the decibel limit at a club with indoor palm trees, “Miami 2 Ibiza” is the ideal soundtrack to a good time that hasn’t happened yet. It’s what plays in your subconscious as you rapid-text the girls things like “u wearing a dress?” and “what time shall we start drinking? 5?” at least 24 hours ahead of a big Wednesday night at Walkabout. – Emma Garland
16: “Low” – Flo-Rida ft. T-Pain
A song that graced the soundtrack of Step Up 2: The Streets, the best instalment of the franchise, so for that alone it deserves its flowers. But ultimately, it’s that T-Pain chorus that makes “Low” what it is. I guarantee that you don’t know the lyrics to the verses, and that’s OK. – Nana Baah
15: “The Way I Are” – Timbaland ft. Keri Hilson & D.O.E
There’s something elite about the Timbaland sound. Something that says “while you were buying three VK’s for a fiver, I was supping of the vodka luge, we are not the same”. Everything Timbaland touched turned to gold, but the pulsating synths and undulating rhythm of “The Way I Are” – that swirling intro and full-bodied drop, like a whitey and a bounce-back before even leaving the house – make it one of the stand-out beats of the 2000s.
Thematically it was unique, too. On one side we have Timbaland essentially saying, “I don’t have shit but I can give you a good seeing to,” like a mid-twenties Tinder skater with a nice mouth and a mattress on the floor; on the other we have Keri Hilson saying “cool I’ll be there in five” and offering to pay him to strip for her, like the straight women who swipe for them. A timeless hit celebrating intimacy over materialism, which also predicted the millennial dating landscape by half a decade. – Emma Garland
14: Kesha – “Tik Tok”
I’m not sure anyone perfectly captured the pure madness of going out when you’re 16 until Kesha. “Tik Tok” sounds exactly like strawpedoing that little 70cl bottle of Glen’s, one of your friend’s throwing up outside a club and then crying because it means all six of you have to get a cab back to that one friend’s whose parents wouldn’t kick off about having a bunch of drunk teens in their living room. Plus, yodelling for no apparent reason? Huge vibe. – Nana Baah
13: “Satisfaction” – Benny Benassi
Released in 2003 but forever in our hearts, “Satisfaction” is best known and loved for its DIY SOS-but-make-it-softcore music video, and the carnal throb of its bass. Its synth line seemingly doubles as an electromagnetic signal, pulling everyone in a five mile radius onto the nearest dancefloor in order to behave as if they are auditioning for the 1AM slot on Babestation.
If you magnified the sound a shot glass makes when you bang it down on the bar, tequila all down your chin, you would hear this song. Indeed, “Satisfaction” has, for almost 20 years now, been the official soundtrack to rubbing your arse, bodyconned within an inch of its life, against the crotch of a stranger wearing carrot jeans. We can only hope for 20 more. – Lauren O’Neill
12: “Just Dance” – Lady Gaga
The song that launched a thousand disco pants / wet-look American Apparel leggings / whatever your chosen imitator was. In short: a moment. “Just Dance” is the sugary rush of confidence you got after an alcopop – the throb of drums and pummel of synths that felt like glitter and gave you the energy to stand in that weird, communal circle of friends on the dancefloor, clutches piled in the middle, getting in the way of annoyed strangers. But you don’t care! You’re living in a time where The Fame, one of the tightest pop debuts of your lifetime, is storming the charts. Someone will poke your face during “Poker Face” – you will laugh! Right from the start of her career, Lady Gaga was giving us synth-pop perfection, and that simple, freeing imploration to Just Dance could not have felt easier. – Tara Joshi
11: “We Found Love” – Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris
You know how, at funfairs, they often have the ride that moves you around in a very high circle at increasing speeds, and it’s invariably decorated with, like, airbrushed illustrations of The Mask and Britney Spears in the “Hit Me Baby One More Time” video? That ride, to me, is what “We Found Love” sounds like.
It is at once one of those rare, transcendent pieces of music that actually physically whirls you around – removing you from inside the four walls of a club called “Petrol” and taking you somewhere else entirely – AND a song with a chorus that generously makes space for the “OOH OOH” chant beloved on UK dancefloors. As such, it is utterly and perfectly complete. Easily Calvin Harris’ finest moment, and a jewel in Rihanna’s especially decorated tiara too. – Lauren O’Neill
10: “Starships” – Nicki Minaj
If you unspool “Starships” by Nicki Minaj, stretch it thin and peer deep into the DNA of it, there is no planet on which the song makes sense at all. It opens with a cheerful beachy electric guitar sound, (at which point the song could, feasibly, turn into anything: S Club 7 TV show theme, ukulele cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, Ed Sheeran’s next wedding dance megahit), then kicks in with a beat that makes your chest start aching before Nicki starts rapping about being in debt. Then there’s the get on the floor / oor yodel, the europop pulse of the chorus, the enormous blocky drop, the squeal of higherthanamotherfucker, and then it ends, insanely, on a football chant. I have not even mentioned the words “jump in my hoopty hoop-de-hoop” or the bit where it turns, briefly, into a revved up version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. This song has seven or eight different personalities, and each one of them – if they were a person – would be absolutely unbearable to spend a long car journey with.
Before all 100 million of Nicki Minaj’s fans get in touch: I need you to know that this isn’t a criticism.
“Starships” works despite everything fitting together at the wrong angle, and I suppose that is a testament to the weird magic that sits over the top of bangers of this size. The video doesn’t make sense (Nicki Minaj in a bikini, smiling, writhing on a beach, something a shade or two more low-budget than we’re used to from her now), the lyrics don’t make sense (everybody let me hear you say ray-ray-ray), the sheer sound of it doesn’t make sense (from her first album, where she crossed over from “snarling mixtape demon” to “the highest possible level of pop”, and critics were distantly wondering whether it would ever work).
But really, none of that matters, because it’s ten to midnight, you’ve got a substantial amount of someone else’s drinks spilled down you, you’ve already spent the £20 note you tucked into the secret part of your wallet to buy chips and a taxi back and you’re facing the prospect of walking home, and you know a hangover looms at you for the rest of the weekend that will see you catatonic, watching E4+1 on the little TV you have in your room, and rolling around in your duvet eating oven pizza and drinking tea. At that exact moment – ecstasy, essentially – the lyric “starships were meant to fly” suddenly becomes profound, means everything, is about you. ‘Yes,’ you think, as you hobble to the bar to ask for a glass of water and secretly pray to the nightclub gods that they don’t charge £1.50 for it here: ‘Yes,’ you think, ‘starships are meant to fly, and I am one of them.’ ‘Yes,’ you think, hands in the air with your fingers outstretched to the ceiling: ‘yes, hands up and touch the sky.’ The song doesn’t make sense if you look at it in a lab like a scientist investigating a cell. But if you look at it through the lens of a drunk person just trying to have Britain’s Biggest Saturday, “Starships” is so meaningful that it's close to holy. – Joel Golby
9: “Sexy Bitch” – David Guetta ft. Akon
You are a Frenchman in his forties arriving at a particularly high-spirited pool party in Ibiza. You are wearing a fresh tee adorned with the appliqué words “I <3 BAD GIRLS” as you stroll poolside to double high-five men and kiss hot chicks in bikinis on the cheek. Everyone is here for you – the hyperactive hit-maker, the Lord of the Dance, the Owen Wilson lookalike of the moment – every last stacked and oiled club-fiend. They’re here for Pierre David Guetta.
Guetta was central in bringing EDM to the American mainstream in the early 2010s and, with the possible exception of Calvin Harris, the only producer with the pulling power to get any global superstar to feature on his tunes. Nicki Minaj? Go ahead. Rihanna? No problem. Snoop Dogg? Whomst? Like every generationally-defining track, “Sexy Bitch” emerged from a single inspired moment. Guetta and Akon hired a studio for one night only, and this was the result: three minutes and 16 seconds of highly sexualised but sexually impotent gold. A spanking snare-and-clap beat breaks out to a warbling synth pre-chorus as Akon goes wild explaining the visual brilliance of this specific woman (she’s “nothing you can compare to your neighbourhood hoe”).
What, “Sexy Bitch” asks, can one say when searching for the words to describe a smoking hot girl without being disrespectful? This song knows that sometimes you just have to go with your base impulses and call it how you see it. The bombastic repetition of those two words left critics like Eric Lyndal Martin of Popmatters wondering “just how sexy this bitch actually is”. This is one sexy bitch, Lyndal!
It’s troubling to consider that if this track had been released even 20 months later, it may have been subject to think-pieces about misogyny in music. This song wasn’t made for the mildly sexist teenage boys and uni lads of 2009 (when it was performed live, Guetta was assaulted with bras). This song was made for every young woman in a Lipsy dress and cage heels to have her coming-of-age moment walking onto a Yates dancefloor and thinking to herself, only of herself: damn, girl. – Hannah Ewens
8: “Replay” – Iyaz
One of those songs made for being set as your ringtone and then forcing your friend to call you so it plays again and again. Once upon a time, I wanted someone to dedicate this song to me – and by that I mean send it to me on MSN – so that it would become “our song”. But on further inspection, Iyaz sings things like “that girl, like somethin' off a poster” and “that girl, like the gun to my holster” which, along with being likened to a song that simply won’t get out of your head, are actually not compliments at all.
But as a song co-written by Iyaz and the two patron saints of Tiger Tiger, Jason Derulo and Sean Kingston, it’s no surprise that “Replay” absolutely bangs. – Nana Baah
7: “Everytime We Touch” – Cascada
The top comment on the YouTube video of Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” reads “Yes I’m having a mental breakdown”. This is apt, considering this song immediately pulls your synapses into hyperdrive. Pumping hard and fast pretty much from the very beginning, its baseline is like musical speed. It never ever gives up, and it feels like it wants you to die, which might actually be the point.
Members of straight thru crews and hard dance raves the world over could perceive the unrelenting nature of “Everytime We Touch” as joyful, especially as the song is stupidly up-tempo. But “Everytime We Touch” is written in the F minor key – a scale that 16th century German composer Christian Schubar reckons evokes “deep depression, funeral lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave”. Combined with lyrics about falling in love and feeling like you can fly, you end up with a fairly harrowing dance tune that nails the pendulum-like swings of emotion that beset anyone going through a moment of turbulence.
Though the production is an original composition, the iconic chorus lyrics are borrowed from “Everytime We Touch” – a song released in 1992 by Scottish singer Maggie Reilly. But where that song captures the dizzying euphoria of falling in love (sample lyric: “A strange kind of magic / Running through my brain / Feel I'm in heaven / Or going insane”), Cascada’s version is a lament for the good times from someone who has already lived them. This is what makes it special.
Ramping up the already hyper-intense experience of falling for someone, then cranking everything up by 10,000 watts and adding suggestive lyrics that hint at a literal death (so, not just losing someone in a relationship, but literally losing them), “Everytime We Touch” is extremely intense. It, therefore, deserves to be on any dancefloor until the end of time. Dancing is fun! – Ryan Bassil
6: “Gasolina” – Daddy Yankee
Like if a song was a Jägerbomb, “Gasolina” is warm, sticky and can cause an unfortunate bout of heartburn if approached in the wrong way. Before his “Despaçito” feature was but a twinkle in Daddy Yankee’s eye, his original cross-cultural mega-hit was this, a wall-shaking ode to girlies who love having a good time – which, other than “getting drunk”, is the number one best song topic, as voted for by experts ten years in a row.
Weighing in at the upper limit of the Richter scale as soon as it starts playing, “Gasolina” – which might as well have the alternate title “Music: Tokyo Drift” – is three minutes and 13 seconds of quickfire reggaetón, as Daddy Yankee virtuosically rides the sparse, jittering synths like a jockey in expert control of a runaway racehorse. It’s unsurprising that a song this straight up good was a global hit regardless of language barriers, and even more unsurprising that a track that so embodies the exact type of chaos you unleash when you drink Smirnoff Ice as a mixer for gin would find an alternate life in the inner sanctums of the clubs of the UK.
Here, after all, “Gasolina” has been the soundtrack to many happy hours spent by girls shaking their Lipsy-clad arses and sexually intimidating men wearing button down shirts, bootcut jeans and brown shoes. As they should. – Lauren O’Neill
5: “Ayo Technology” – 50 Cent ft. Justin Timberlake
Fun fact: “Ayo Technology” was originally titled “Ayo Pornography”, which, I’m sure you will agree, lacks some subtlety. Another fun fact is that I agreed to partake in this list solely so I could write about this song. That is how much I love “Ayo Technology”. And let’s be clear, 2020 has only proven its enduring relevance. Sure, as stripper jams go, I do wonder if this one’s a little too male gaze-y. But as soon as those atmospheric synths kick in and Fiddy proclaims “Somethin’ special! Unforgettable!”, I simply do not care.
There’s an intricate musicality at play here, with the blips and ripples like something from a video game, making me wonder whether we’re all living in Timbaland’s simulation. “I’m tired of using technology” as a refrain left things open to interpretation, not least when you were a teen with very little grasp of the world: was a nympho some kind of woodland creature? I low-key figured our protagonist was tired of sending flirty exchanges on MSN. In the years since I now recognise our guy is bored of only seeing his camgirl’s hypnotising hips and thighs virtually – or, possibly, he’s just straight-up tired of watching porn. However you look at it, at its core this is a song about the necessity of IRL human interaction over exclusive cyber existence and our universal need for human touch. Did someone say “mood”?
My favourite hub of cultural criticism, Wikipedia, wrote: “As revealed within its lyrics, “Ayo Technology” puts a strong emphasis on hot-blooded sexual fantasies, explicit body movements (such as when Timberlake utters the line “Why don't you sit down on top of me”) and wild festivities at nightclubs.” Remember wild festivities? Remember feeling hot-blooded and alive?? I, too, am tired of using technology! Here’s to dreaming of a return of the club, where a DJ might stick this on, and I might once more be washed over by the bass hitting me in the chest; once more struck by JT’s horny falsetto ringing in my ears. Surrounded by my friends, strangers and people I fancy, not a phone in sight, just living in the moment. – Tara Joshi
4: “Dance Wiv Me” – Dizzee Rascal, Calvin Harris & Chrome
“Dance Wiv Me” is literally a call to arms. The first few seconds have an almost Pavlovian effect on people. They grab your wrist and scream “Oh my gooood, I love this one!!” and, before you know it, that infectious little riff kicks in, your drink has been jostled out of your hands and you’re up and dancing.
Even sitting down and listening to this on full volume, my heart is racing. “Dance Wiv Me” is unlike anything Dizzee had released before. After splitting with his former label, XL Recordings, he teamed up with Calvin Harris and Chrome and released the grime/dance single with his own label, Dirtee Stank, and it became the best-selling indie single of 2008. Some might say that rapping both “wally” and “boom ting” on a single song is simply unnecessary, but “Dance Wiv Me” has proved them wrong.
“Dance Wiv Me” is loved universally because it’s essentially a song about pulling. But it’s not just a song that you can dance up against strangers to, it’s one that your auntie will get up for at family parties, and the one that used to make your kid cousins knee slide like they’d downed a whole tube of blue Smarties. – Nana Baah
3: “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” – Pitbull
The clubs of Costa Brava didn’t stand a chance when Mr Worldwide unleashed this scientifically perfect blend of reggaetón and Eurodance in 2009. Has a song ever screamed “foam party where you win a free T-shirt if you can do eight shots in a row” so loudly? Has a man counting to four ever filled you with such an overwhelming sense of purpose? Has there ever been a beat so robust you can almost literally straddle and ride it around the club?
With its syncopated rhythm and cartoonishly horny lyrics, “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” was destined for greatness. It was the most viewed music video on YouTube the year of its release and earned Pitbull his first Top 10 single in the UK – but it also has a rich musical lineage dating back to 1978. Recognising the weight of responsibility that comes with pumping up multiple samples into an international good-time anthem, Pitbull shouts out half the key players within the first 15 seconds (the list is extensive but includes the Dominican mambo artists, El Cata and Omega, who created the hook, and Nicola Fasano and Pat-Rich’s “75, Brazil Street”, which samples Chicago’s 1979 take on Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Street Player” and provides the backbone of the song) before moving swiftly on to the main business of: appreciating butts.
Suggestive and rowdy, “I Know You Want Me” effortlessly accomplishes what “Blurred Lines” could only grasp at four years later (as well as the general sentiment, both videos feature prominent block lettering, stark white backgrounds and suited-up men dancing among scantily clad ladies) – and there’s a vital lesson to be learned from the difference in aesthetics. While “Blurred Lines” has profuse “elite sex party at 33 Portland Place” energy, “I Know You Want Me” sits on the right side of the fence between cheeky and sleazy. Quite simply, Pitbull has too much of a sense of humour to be anywhere else. – Emma Garland
2: “Like A G6” – Far East Movement ft. The Cataracs & DEV
The best thing about “Like A G6” – a piece of music synonymous to this day with early 2010s Gossip Girl-level prestige – is that, at its heart, it’s a MySpace song. The ill-fated social media platform – famous for its professionally popular scene queens – was once one of the most influential cultural breeding grounds in the world, and it gave rise to a sub-genre of electronic music that can be generalised as: waved party princesses with vodka in their hair extensions rapping over chilly synths about GETTING fucked up and BEING hot.
Artists from Uffie to The Millionaires contributed to this particular style, and it’s possible to see “Like A G6” as its zenith in the mainstream, thanks to Far East Movement’s blend of champagne rap with sampled vocalist Dev purring over a beat that sounds like dial-up internet. As a track that takes luxury and opulence as its main subject matter – the makers of the G650 Gulfstream aeroplane went on record to say they were “thrilled” by the reference – the song might seem an unlikely bedfellow with the high street clubs of the UK, but for me that dissonance only heightens its effect. The power of “Like A G6” is such that it transforms any room where it’s played into an Upper East Side hole-in-the-wall with a gold-plated bar and Cristal on tap. The coolest song on this list, by far. – Lauren O’Neill
1: “Pass Out” – Tinie Tempah
No one can say what sound the UFO makes when the tractor beam extends and lifts you to outer space, but it would be good if cues were taken from Tinie Tempah’s extra-terrestrial-like smash hit “Pass Out”. It’s a song that sounds how high-tech space travel must feel, opening with a pulsating bassline that sounds like a warped message from the mothership. It seems to dial in and out, as if stretching across galaxies. Then – because “Pass Out” is a tune, not general ambience – the hi-hats clatter into action, the bass drops, and whooooooooooooooosh; “Yeah, yeah, we bring the stars out / We bring the women and the cars and the cards out” go the lyrics as you seamlessly collide with pumping drums and bass.
When “Pass Out” was released in 2010, it was genuinely groundbreaking for a British rap act to cross-over with ballsy, high-fidelity production rooted in British – rather than American or European – club music. Drum’n’bass is on the menu here – the song’s high-octane closing moments are purpose built for skanking your way across a dancefloor. Tinie’s vocals are crisp and remain omnipotent almost a decade on. The production also nods to dubstep and grime, fusing together several prominent British genres. “Pass Out” is practically timeless as a result, and arguably the commercial peak of several genres. It was Tinie Tempah’s debut single and it landed straight at Number One.
Besides being sonically amazing, “Pass Out” also works incredibly well in British clubs because it’s about getting so mashed up that you end the night wiping the floor with your face, making it resonate well in a country that is responsible for binge drinking. It’s also a song made for that last blast on the bluetooth speaker before the Uber arrives, when you need something to ramp up the excitement for the night ahead as everyone pours one more shot and grabs their shoes and purses. Plus, it’s funny. “I got so many clothes I keep some in my aunt’s house” is one lyric that stands out in a song made of one liners, proving that UK Number Ones can be cheeky and charming while also breaking new musical ground.
“Pass Out” won British Single of the Year at the 2011 Brit Awards. But – in a story I reckon adds to its connection with British nightlife – Tinie Tempah refused to accept the award unless the song’s producer Labrinth came to the stage. In fact, the first words that excitedly come out of Tinie’s mouth when he grabs the mic from British comedian Alan Carr are “Where’s Labrinth? LabrinthLabrinthLabrinth. ComecomeCome. Where is he? Lab?? Where’s Lab?” Presumably Labrinth was in the toilet as he never emerges, leaving the world to watch while Tinie awkwardly laughs. Maybe Labrinth was mashed up, maybe he just needed a wee. But considering that “Pass Out” has soundtracked thousands of drunken nights, it felt fitting that it’s co-collaborators couldn’t find one another to accept its award, both lost in the same venue. One of those nights, I guess. – Ryan Bassil
If you feel compelled to revisit all these songs again, we’ve put the full playlist on the VICE UK Spotify: