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It’s the vinyl countdown: Europe’s 50 greatest pop singles

This list puts an emphasis on the perfectly formed pop single

Kraftwerk. Image: The New European

What are the best European singles of all time? This list puts an emphasis on the perfectly formed pop single, with a preponderance of euphoric dance music, but the best of pop-savvy European rock also makes an appearance, as do the most evocatively Continental ballads.

There’s only one track per artist here to avoid domination by the giants of
Stockholm and Düsseldorf, and many tunes on the list have also earned their
mentions as we Brits bothered to put on our hats and coats and go out and
buy them. Some will be less familiar.

  1. Kraftwerk, Das Model (1978)
    The self-described “European band with German passports” had already troubled the UK Top 20 with Autobahn in 1975, introducing
    Britain to a hugely influential electronic sound being pioneered in
    Germany. But when The Model hit No 1 on its 1981 re-release, that week’s Top 20 also included OMD, the Human League, and Soft Cell – a
    generation of British musicians who were busy making electronic pop a
    national forte. The icy synths and Ralf Hütter’s emotionless delivery
    fitted a stereotypical view of German efficiency and coldness, but it was
    still inherently danceable and was one of those rare moments a chart
    hit was also revolutionary.
  1. ABBA, Dancing Queen (1976)
    Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus usually worked in broad-brush
    imagery and sledgehammer metaphors and this signature hit was
    sandwiched between the high kitsch of Fernando and the unreconstructed bombast of Money, Money, Money. But this, ABBA’s greatest song, had genuine pathos, the narrator standing on the outside, aware of the irretrievable carefreeness of youth. But sonically, with those crashing piano chords and soaring harmonies, it mainlined the joy of the dancefloor straight into the listener’s veins. The ultimate proof that pop genius is in the Swedish DNA.
  1. Stardust, Music Sounds Better with You (1998)
    French house claimed the monopoly on pop euphoria in the early 2000s and this one and only single by an act made up of Thomas Bangalter – one half of Daft Punk – fellow Parisian DJ Alan Braxe and French singer Benjamin Diamond was a sign of things to come. Built around a sample from Chaka Khan’s 1981 song Fate, the song’s transcendent power was enhanced by the facelessness of its creators – it was like it had been simply handed down from heaven. The feel-good anthem of summer 1998, it now seems like the sound of a more innocent, pre-9/11 era.
  1. Daft Punk, One More Time (2000)
    The Parisian duo’s biggest hit until 2013’s Get Lucky was a manifesto for
    the transformative effect of music: “Music’s got me feeling so free”. The
    extended breakdown exuded genuine emotion.
  1. Stromae, Alors on danse (2009)
    While the fatally catchy hypnotic synthetic horn hook is what strikes you first about the breakthrough hit for the Belgian-Rwandan original, the lyrics are soaked in millennial scepticism about the status quo in post-financial crisis Europe: “We go out to forget all the problems/ And so we dance”.
  1. Robyn, Dancing On My Own (2010)
    The only track by an artist from Continental Europe to make the top
    250 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this almost unbearably wounded break-up song (“I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her”) is a modern pop classic and proof that melancholy is a Swedish speciality.
  1. Black Box, Ride on Time (1989)
    Italo house’s ultimate triumph topped the UK chart for six solid weeks in the autumn of 1989 and is hard to beat for pure Eurodance euphoria. Released in the infancy of sampling, the track used Chicago disco diva Loleatta Holloway’s vocals, lending the track serious gravitas.
  1. Neneh Cherry, Buffalo Stance (1988)
    Born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and Sierra Leonean father, Cherry’s creative influences may have come from teen years in New York and London, but the Swedes can still claim her as their own. At once sassy and tender, rough-edged and accomplished, this hybrid
    track didn’t sound like anything else before or since.
  1. Loreen, Euphoria (2012)
    Loreen’s energising, emotional dance single won the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest for Sweden and is a strong contender for best Eurovision song of all time. It was co-written by Thomas G:son who has crafted songs for the contest for multiple nations over the last 20 years.
  1. Spiller, Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) (2000)
    The Venetian producer’s house hit won a tabloid-hyped battle pitting
    Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who provided the track’s seductive vocals, against
    Victoria Beckham’s maiden solo single. That faux controversy may have been very much of its time, but over two decades on Groovejet still sounds like a fresh-as-a-daisy summer anthem.
  1. Roxette, Joyride (1991)
    It’s difficult to think of a better pop lyric than “Hello/ You Fool/ I love you”, and the Swedish duo topped charts across Europe with this accomplished pop rocker.
  1. Avicii, Levels (2011)
    The Swedish progressive house DJ’s breakthrough hit using vocals sampled from Etta James’s Something’s Got a Hold on Me has become ubiquitous in the last decade.
  1. Charles Aznavour, Tous les visages de l’amour (1974)
    Recorded in five different languages, it was as She that Aznavour and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer’s achingly romantic song topped the UK chart for a solid month in the summer of 1974.
  1. Air, Sexy Boy (1998)
    The duo from Versailles broke the UK Top 20 with this moody yet whimsical debut single, marking the onward march of French electronica into the international consciousness.
  1. Plastic Bertrand, Ça plane pour moi (1978)
    Belgian Bertrand’s mid-1978 one-hit wonder set out to take the mickey out of British punk when it was still in full flow and made a classic pop single in the process.
  1. Röyksopp, Eple (2003)
    The Norwegian electronic duo’s transcendent second single was destined to soundtrack a million adverts and marked a rare incursion of ambient music into the UK Top 20.
  1. Snap!, Rhythm is a Dancer (1992)
    The Germans proved their Eurodance credentials with this huge track, which combined the stomping weight of techno with somewhat mystical lyrics.
  1. 2 Unlimited, No Limit (1993)
    Abrasive, yes, but this track was evidence of the Dutch genius for the
    hardest of electronic dance music and was lifted into pop territory by Anita Doth’s knock-out vocals.
  1. Falco, Rock Me Amadeus (1986)
    German has hardly been pop’s natural language but the Austrian musician nevertheless scored a No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic with this pop-rap about Vienna’s finest.
  1. Enigma, Sadeness Part 1 (1990)
    Romanian-born producer Michael Cretu created this Frankenstein’s
    monster of a track, stitching together Gregorian chant, panpipes and a
    James Brown sample. Silly but atmospheric.
  1. Bob Sinclar, Love Generation (2005)
    With its message of children being the future and a video featuring a little boy going across America on his bicycle in a single day, Sinclar’s single typified the wholesome euphoria of French house.
  1. Aqua, Barbie Girl (1997)
    The cartoonish Danish pop quartet’s smash single may have been a novelty song but it had a pop alchemy many would sell their soul for.
  1. Technotronic, Pump Up the Jam (1989)
    Eurodance was the all-consuming pop force in the late 80s and early 90s
    when this Belgian act had an international hit with this infectious
    house classic – “Get your booty on the floor tonight”, indeed.
  1. Corona, Rhythm of the Night (1993)
    The Italian project’s debut single was one of Eurodance’s most life-affirming offerings and even became a hit in the US.
  1. O-Zone, Dragostea Din Tei (2003)
    The Moldovan trio’s Romanian-language hit used a nonsense lyric to
    entrance the record-buying public, and “Ma-i-a hee/ Ma-i-a hu/ Ma-i-a ha/ Ma-i-a ha-ha” echoed around the world in the summer of 2004.
  1. Scorpions, Wind of Change (1991)
    Germany’s biggest rock band wove themselves into the fabric of history
    when they released this impeccable rock ballad in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  1. Los Del Rio, Macarena (1995)
    The old track by the middle-aged duo from Seville was remixed by Miami record producers the Bayside Boys and hit US No 1 in August 1996 where it stayed for three and a half months.
  1. Army of Lovers, Crucified (1991)
    The ultimate in camp, the Swedish trio’s gospel-flavoured hit proved that European pop often mixes extreme weirdness with sheer brilliance.
  1. The Hives, Hate To Say I Told You So (2000)
    The Continent’s impressive contribution to the early 2000s garage rock revival. Frontman Pelle Almqvist appeared to be exactly equal parts Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop.
  2. Telex, Moskow Diskow (1979)
    The Belgian experimental trio’s proto-techno single sounded like an express train steaming across Europe. It announced “C’est ça la nouvelle musique/ Et les rythmes automatiques”.
  1. Nena, 99 Luftballons (1983)
    The West German band made an international hit of this song in its
    English-language incarnation, 99 Red Balloons. Its perky sound belied its lyrics about nuclear armageddon.
  1. Kaoma, Lambada (1989)
    The French act’s massive Portuguese-language hit of mid-1989 was the
    soundtrack to many a summer holiday as it swept charts across Europe.
  1. Focus, Sylvia (1972)
    Amsterdam’s prog lunatics had two singles on the UK chart in early 1973, this Hammond-soaked instrumental outstripping the manic yodelling of Hocus Pocus by 16 chart places to get to No 4.
  1. Vanessa Paradis, Be My Baby (1992)
    Written by Lenny Kravitz, Paradis’s biggest international hit captured the early 1990s appetite for 1960s nostalgia – it was hard to believe it
    wasn’t a pop standard from decades before.
  1. The Wannadies, You and Me Song (1994)
    The faultless power pop and quirky lyrics of this hit showed that the
    Scandis could beat many Britpop bands at their own game. Bonus points for the mellotron.
  1. Alphabeat, Fascination (2006)
    Having apparently listened to Bowie’s Let’s Dance on endless repeat, the Danish power poppers came up with this retro, almost psychotically cheerful single.
  1. Demis Roussos, Forever and Ever (1976)
    Amid Britain’s record-breaking heatwave, Roussos brought the
    sunshine of the Greek islands to the top of the UK charts (and to Abigail’s Party) via this overwrought but undeniably romantic hit.
  1. The Rasmus, In the Shadows (2003)
    Finland’s premier pop-rock export had an international smash with this
    anthemic song in 2004, making emo culture more than just an American affair.
  1. The Cardigans, Lovefool (1996)
    Deceptively perky, the lyrics for the Swedish indie outfit’s biggest hit were unnervingly pathetic, begging “Pretend that you love me”.
  1. Gipsy Kings, Bamboléo (1987)
    The French-born children of the Spanish Romani who fled during the
    civil war, the Gipsy Kings made rumba flamenca a chart force in the
    late 80s, representing a transnational culture.
  1. A-ha, Take On Me (1984)
    An unforgettable synth hook and Morten Harket’s impressive falsetto
    make the Norwegians’ hit a 1980s classic.
  1. Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Je t’aime… moi non plus (1967)
    Having been chronically overused, it’s difficult to recapture how revolutionary the song must have sounded when it became a UK chart topper in the autumn of 1969.
  1. Luciano Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma (1990)
    As a No 2 hit during the 1990 World Cup and a No 12 in 2007 – the year
    Paul Potts sang it on Britain’s Got Talent – this is perhaps the most
    successful “pop” single to ever come out of Italy.
  1. Las Ketchup, The Ketchup Song (Aserejé) (2002)
    The three daughters of flamenco guitarist Juan Muñoz, known as “El
    Tomate”, had a global smash with this novelty song that foreshadowed the triumph of Latin-flavoured pop.
  1. Sash!, Encore Une Fois (1997)
    The lengthy preamble in spoken French on the huge German Eurodance act’s signature single didn’t stop it from becoming one of the
    bestselling singles in the UK in a vintage year for pop.
  1. Françoise Hardy, Tous les garçons et les filles (1964)
    One of the few yé-yé stars to break into the British market, the teenage
    Hardy’s broken-hearted little song typified fashionable Gallic sophistication.
  1. Modjo, Lady (Hear Me Tonight) (2000)
    The short-lived Parisian duo’s smooth house track triumphed as the “French flavour” became a chart force.
  1. Robert Miles, Children (1996)
    Swiss-born Italian Miles pioneered dream trance with this piano-led
    track. The video showed a young girl being driven through European
    landscapes from London to Geneva.
  1. David Guetta feat. Sia, Titanium (2011)
    Parisian Guetta has been a pop juggernaut for over a decade, with a
    virtually unrivalled string of EDM hits. This typically massive-sounding track was one of his six UK No 1s to date.
  1. Europe, The Final Countdown (1986)
    Arena-filling poodle-rock it may have been, but the Swedes topped pop
    charts across the Continent with this song, which only the truly sullen could fail to be motivated by.

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