Girls Aloud’s 20 best songs – ranked!

Twenty years since their debut single Sound of the Underground, we assess the ITV talent show winners’ tracks

20. No Regrets (2005)

Ballads were seldom Girls Aloud’s forte – they were better at songs with bolshie attitudes, which seemed to suit their personalities – but No Regrets is the exception that proves the rule, dispensing with the usual pop-ballad cliches in favour of a tinny vintage drum machine, a French chanson-inspired melody and I Will Survive strings.

19. Graffiti My Soul (2004)

The irony of Girls Aloud’s career is that it flourished because – the band members suggested – their managers weren’t interested. Happier working with boybands, they let adventurous production team Xenomania do what they wanted, hence tracks like this, built around country-ish acoustic guitar that builds into something like hard rock overlaid with screaming synths.

18. Long Hot Summer (2005)

Girls Aloud: Long Hot Summer – video

It says something about how big Girls Aloud were that Long Hot Summer was considered a flop because it only reached No 7, breaking a run of eight Top 5 hits. It’s hard to see what the problem was: its characteristic blend of dance beats, noisy guitar and electronics clicks perfectly and the song itself is pop heaven.

17. The Loving Kind (2009)

Originally written for the Pet Shop Boys’ Xenomania-produced album Yes, The Loving Kind neatly performs Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s patent trick of taking a lushly melancholy tune that should theoretically belong to a ballad and dragging it to the dancefloor.

16. Models (2005)

Improbably, Girls Aloud’s third album, Chemistry, felt almost conceptual, wittily depicting an aspect of 00s pop culture guaranteed to be swept under the carpet when 00s nostalgia kicks in: the grotty vacuous “glamour” of Heat magazine, reality TV and low-rent lad mags Nuts and Zoo. The dead-eyed chorus and jerky new wave-inspired sound of Models captures the era perfectly.

15. Black Jacks (2007)

A Saint Etienne-esque diversion into 60s pop – there’s a distinct hint of Petula Clark’s Downtown about the melody – that quickly abandons the business of verses after its opening 60 seconds, essentially devolving into one long chorus for the remaining three minutes. Intriguingly pugilistic lyrics, too, their ire aimed at a mysterious “New York nothing”.

Kimberley Walsh, Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Cole and Sarah Harding perform on their ‘Ten – The Hits Tour’ at The O2 Arena in 2013.
Kimberley Walsh, Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Cole and Sarah Harding perform on their ‘Ten – The Hits Tour’ at The O2 Arena in 2013. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

14. Hoxton Heroes (2008)

A B-side that sounds like it should have been on Chemistry, Hoxton Heroes is a fabulously bitchy assault on the mid-00s trilby-clad “indie clones” that followed in the Libertines’ wake: “You said you played at Reading then you chart at 57,” they snap, fabulously, over a tumult of distorted guitars.

13. Wake Me Up (2005)

A gloriously dumb four-note garage rock riff – the fuzz pedal and the flanger cranked up to 10 – over a banging house beat and Blue Monday-ish electronic bass line, lyrics depicting a booze-fuelled romance and sung as if Girls Aloud know of what they speak: Wake Me Up is an almost indecent amount of fun.

12. Untouchable (2009)

The experimentation found on Chemistry and Tangled Up was largely absent from Girls Aloud’s final album, Out of Control, but there was a hint of it about Untouchable, which stretches a fantastic song out for nearly seven minutes, has an intro that sounds like Moby’s rave anthem Go and once again bears the influence of New Order.

11. Sexy! No No No (2007)

Girls Aloud: Sexy! No No No – video

The last really WTF?-sounding Girls Aloud single – a broiling, warp-speed stew of distorted guitar, Auto-Tuned vocals (more of a novelty then than now), and a sample from, of all things, Hair of the Dog by hoary 70s rockers Nazareth. In truth, there isn’t much of a tune, but it fades out before you notice.

10. The Promise (2008)

“They were ready to sell a million albums immediately,” Xenomania’s Brian Higgins noted of the final Girls Aloud album. “They didn’t need something a bit highbrow, they needed something that would hit you between the eyes.” Which is precisely what the gorgeous Phil Spector-influenced The Promise – a No 1 – delivers.

9. Can’t Speak French (2008)

On the one hand, Can’t Speak French is the de rigueur 90s/00s girl band homage to 60s soul. (In Wigan Casino terms, its rhythm is a floater, rather than a stomper.) On the other, its production feels too supercharged to count as mere pastiche, and the melody is just fantastic. Brilliantly, given the title, they also did a version in French.

8. Swinging London Town (2005)

Another of Chemistry’s vicious pen portraits of 00s pop culture, populated by “price-tag starlets” “full of gear” (“gear, gear, gear, gear”, it repeats, lest anyone miss the druggy point): “We’re down the slide to rehab and all of it’s for free.” The music is a furious, noisy chatter of distorted synthesisers and squelching, screaming acid lines.

7. Sound of the Underground (2002)

Girls Aloud: Sound of the Underground – video

With hindsight, it was clear from the start that Girls Aloud were a slightly different to most TV talent show winners: where the others sailed to No 1 with a big ballad or obvious cover, Girls Aloud’s debut was a fizzing cocktail of drum’n’bass and surf guitar, with a title that – coming from a manufactured pop band – seemed impressively provocative.

6. No Good Advice (2003)

My Sharona bass line, monster chorus, guitar apparently nodding in the direction of the Ruts’ Babylon’s Burning, lyrics noticeably more screw-you (“a finger to the world below … I’m already wasted”) than you might expect from a band created on prime-time ITV: clearly Sound of the Underground wasn’t a one-off.

5. The Show (2004)

The lead single from a second album that nearly didn’t happen – their record label were threatening to pull the plug, assuming their success would be short-lived – The Show is a triumph: rave synths behind lyrics that sharply reflect on a failed relationship: “I should’ve known, should’ve cared / Should’ve hung around the kitchen in my underwear.”

4. Call the Shots (2007)

The supreme example of a Girls Aloud track where Xenomania dialled down their eccentricities and just came up with a preposterously hook-laden melody, Call the Shots’ synth-laden sound is noticeably more straightforward than that of their more out-there singles, but it scarcely matters given the classy earworm quality of the chorus.

3. Something Kinda Ooooh (2006)

The best Girls Aloud singles often sound like someone had a mad idea about pop music in the pub – in this case: what would a relentless hi-NRG track sound like with glam guitars over the top of it? – then went home and set about making it happen. The results are deliriously exciting.

2. Love Machine (2004)

Certain Girls Aloud members apparently thought Love Machine was “career suicide” – what mid-00s pop band released a rockabilly- influenced single? – but it turned out to be the making of them, at least as avatars for an original and idiosyncratic approach to making hits: a manufactured pop band who did things manufactured pop bands weren’t supposed to do. It’s also a fantastic song.

1. Biology (2005)

Girls Aloud: Biology – video

Biology sounds even more remarkable 17 years into a more straitened era of pop tailored to fit streaming algorithms. That said, it sounded incredibly bold in 2005: a single that dispenses with standard verse-chorus structure for something more expansive and episodic, leaping from an intro that samples the bluesy riff from the Animals’ 1965 single Club A-Go-Go, to a gliding, synth-heavy verse that slowly builds to what sounds like the chorus, but isn’t: the actual chorus doesn’t turn up until well past the halfway mark. Audacious and beautifully executed, teeming with hooky melodies, it’s not just Girls Aloud’s best single, it’s one of the best pop singles of the past 20 years.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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