What were the pop-music high points of 2006? A hologram version of Robbie Williams, for one, says Lucy Gollogly
No musical round-up of 2006 would be complete without mentioning Take That, with four of the five - Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald and Jason Orange - reunited in 2006. Unswayed by Robbie Williams' absence, the Mancunian heartthrobs embarked on a 30-date stadium tour of Britain and Ireland, to the delight of their now rather older, but still wildly excitable, fans.
Cheekily, Williams was represented during performances of Could It Be Magic? in the form of a 20-foot hologram. Meanwhile, their three albums - Take That and Party, Everything Changes and Nobody Else - were re-released in November, just in time for Christmas. A new LP, Beautiful World, was also released last month, and reached No 1 in the albums chart.
Another 1990s band on the comeback trail this year were All Saints (below). Having split acrimoniously in 2001, Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, and Nicole and Natalie Appleton signed a deal with Parlophone and their new album, Studio 1, came out amid much fanfare in November.
The first single, Rock Steady, made No 3 in the UK singles charts but the album only just scraped into the Top 40 and subsequently slipped to No 74 - disaster for a mainstream act.
Parlophone denied rumours it planned to drop the band and a new single, Chick Fit, is set to hit the shops in February. With a tour planned for 2007, fans will be hoping they can match the hype this time.
Although many more people have probably read about her in the tabloids than have heard her LP, Lily Allen's debut, Alright, Still caused a stir on its release in July. And with heartfelt, biting lyrics and catchy tunes, MySpace queen Allen showed she could come up with the goods.
The 21-year-old singer was later included in the NME's Cool List for 2006, but she denounced the "f****** patronising" comments editor Conor McNicholas made about female artists ("you can still rock a crowd when you're wearing stilettos"). But it would be a pity if Allen's propensity for put-downs overshadowed her reputation as one of the more charismatic, promising new talents of the year.
A band who couldn't be more on-message are Brighton band The Kooks (above), who dominated the airwaves during 2006. Their radio-friendly debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, has sold more than one million copies in the UK since its release in January, achieving triple platinum status - not bad for fresh-faced teens.
The youthful quartet even supported the Rolling Stones on their Bigger Bang Tour at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Just as youthful but nowhere near as squeaky clean, Arctic Monkeys (below) was the name on everyone's lips early in 2006. The Sheffield quartet's album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, was released in January, after months of build-up. Much was made of the band's route to success, which bypassed the major labels and was fuelled instead by MySpace and internet downloads.
The album - which showcased the band's explosive, chaotic but always tuneful sound - became the fastest selling debut in the UK, shifting 360,000 copies in its first week. Critics have compared singer Alex Turner's pithy lyrics to those of Jarvis Cocker and even Morrissey - high praise indeed.
Snow Patrol (above) continued their assault on the charts during 2006, thumbing their noses at the cool crowd who love to hate them. Eyes Open, the follow-up to aptly named breakthrough album Final Straw, was released in May and has become one of the best-selling albums of the year. The band played Wembley Stadium earlier this week, with a triumphant homecoming scheduled for last night in Belfast. Further proof, if any was needed, that Gary Lightbody knows how to write a tune.
And what about the joyfully camp New Yorkers, Scissor Sisters? Their dazzling debut was the best-selling album of 2004, so much rested on the follow-up, Ta-Dah, released in September. It went to the top of the albums chart, while they scored their first No 1 single with the insanely catchy I Don't Feel Like Dancin'.
That track was co-written and featured a guest appearance by Elton John, a sign of the high esteem in which the fivesome are held. And if that's not enough to confirm their position as pop royalty, they're also good friends with Kylie.
Gnarls Barkley - aka singer Cee-Lo Green (left) and Gorillaz producer Danger Mouse - also took the UK by storm in 2006, and it all started with the infectious single Crazy. On its release in March, it became the first single to top the charts on download sales alone and stayed at No 1 for nine weeks. It had been leaked on the internet months before that, and was withdrawn from shops in May so that "people wouldn't get sick of it".
The genre-smashing album, St Elsewhere, an innovative mish-mash of funk, soul and hip-hop and a lot more besides, was a commercial and critical success, and the duo's internet-led way of doing business is likely to become even more the norm.
Indeed, whether this type of 'best of the year' round-up will still be relevant in a few years remains to be seen, with internet downloads becoming as much, if not more, of a barometer of public tastes as the charts - but harder, at times, to read. Time will tell. But one thing's for sure . . . . . . despite the demise of Top of the Pops, despite the rise in new technologies (and perhaps because of), pop music is clearly still in a healthy state and created many new sounds - and, of course, stars - in 2006. Let's hope for the same sense of excitement and discovery in the year to come.