Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Songs of 2010

Cee Lo's got two words for us this year...and their not "Merry Christmas."

Screw “Best of…” right? There’s really no such thing anyway. Instead, there are lists that tell us more about the listmaker than they do about the quality of the things on the list.

With that in mind, these are the songs that meant the most to me in 2010. They touched my heart, made me groove, made me reflect, inspired me, and “wowed” me. I’ve put them in alphabetical order, by artist. I’ve come to find that on any given day any of these songs could be my favorite.

“I Was a Teenage Anarchist” – Against Me

No song this year caused me to flashback to my teen years more than this fist pumping anthem by Against Me. The chorus is a rousing sentiment: “Do you remember/ When you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?” All those hours spent thinking about how I’d do just that as an adult came back to me. It left me feeling depressed at how “square” I’ve become, yet optimistic that some of those naïve, idealistic feelings are still burning in me.

“Modern Man” – Arcade Fire

It was hard picking a song off the Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs, which is on my year end favorites list. There are many amazing, worthy tracks to pick from. Nonetheless, this simple, mid-tempo number connected with me immediately. It’s about feeling valueless in a society where people are told they are among the “chosen few,” but are still viewed as a number. “In a line for a number/ but you don’t understand/ like a modern man.” Win Butler’s hypnotic guitar makes the process sound as machine-like as the lyrics suggest, with just a hint of hope in the beautiful bridge. Sometimes hope seems like the only good feeling left.
“Tighten Up” – The Black Keys

Simply fun. The whistling hook beats most guitar licks, and the passionate vocal by Dan Auerbach is as rough and urgent as the classic blues vocals of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. But it’s the bridge of the song where the Black Keys let their mojo hang-out with a powerful electro-blues jab to the gut. I picked up my air guitar more than a few times to this one.
“Fuck You” – Cee Lo Green

By now, this song has no doubt been played out as the radio-friendly “Forget You,” which was also covered by the Glee kids. Fortunately, I don’t listen to the radio much, especially pop radio, so Cee Lo’s inventive modern take on the classic Stax soul record is this year’s feel good song about not feeling very good. With a voice that ranks right up there with Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, and Al Green, Cee Lo is playful, energetic, spirited, and dripping with sarcasm. Who hasn’t felt this way after a break-up, right? I know I wanted to sing this to the ex-wife more than a few times.
“I’d Do It All Again” – Corinne Bailey Rae

Here resides a gorgeous melody embraced by a soulful, haunted voice that only grows in power and strength as the song hums along. Corinne Bailey Rae’s confessional song about the loss of her husband is a tear-jerker, but not in that weepy, Hallmark-card sort of way. At the end of the song, she revisits the opening lines, but with a different tone in her voice. “I’m done feeling sorry for myself,” she seems to be saying. “It’s time to move on.”

“On My Feet” -- Eels

Winner of the Sad Bastard Award for Most Depressing Song of the Year goes to the Eels for this weepy acoustic ballad. Sometimes we need songs like this, though, to help us heal, and I know how badly I needed it this year. “I’m a man in great pain/ over great beauty,” singer E emotes at the opening, and precedes to show us what this pain has done. It’s in the good memories where he finds the greatest pain, as he sings, “So many thousands/ Of days in my life/ That I don’t remember/ And a small handful/ Of days that I do/ I hold near to my heart.” Sometimes when we’re hurt, it’s the memories of the good times that break us up the most, not the regrets left from the bad ones. And, like E, we have to keep reminding ourselves to “get back on my feet.”

“Not Afraid” – Eminem

Eminem’s Recovery was not the year’s best rap album, but it was the most inspiring. Having overcome drug addiction, Eminem came back and wrote what may become an anthem for recovering addicts. The chorus is beautiful, but as always with Eminem, the greatness comes in his rapping. “It was my decision to get clean/ I did it for me,” he tells us, before adding, “Admittedly, I probably did it subliminally for you.” He lays himself out, raw and exposed, and that level of transparency is an inspiration to me.
“Dog Days are Over” – Florence + the Machine

Florence, you had me at the hand claps. With a voice like a pixie, Florence urges us to run and hold on to whatever happiness we can. I don’t know about you, but 2010 has been a tough year, as many of the last few years have been. This song is a reminder that if we want happiness, we have to grab it for ourselves, leave all the shit behind, and run as far as we can with it. I love the sentiment.

Paris (Ooh La La)” – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

With a guitar lick that belongs somewhere on classic rock radio and a siren’s cry, Grace Potter’s “Paris” is by far the sexiest song of 2010. She’s all sexual aggression and seduction – “You got me down on the floor/ So what’d you bring me down here for?” Even if Potter wasn’t one of the hottest rock stars out there, this song would be enough to give me a hard-on.

“You and Your Heart” – Jack Johnson

Maybe it does sound like every other Jack Johnson song, but I never thought that was a bad thing. Jack Johnson’s music is an old friend, like the music of the Eagles or James Taylor. It is lazy, bubbly, and groovy. Besides, “You and Your Heart” has one of his best choruses.
“Let’s Get Out of Here” – Les Savy Fav

Doing a little research, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Les Savy Fav. Apparently they’ve been around since 1997. 2010’s “Let’s Get Out of Here” from the album Root for Ruin is enough to make me take notice now. The style is 80s Darkwave meets 00s Indie rock. Lead singer Tim Harrington’s voice over the chorus is like a war cry, and as the song builds to its climax, there’s nothing more I want to do that go jump in a mosh pit.
Dark Tower” – Miniature Tigers

The chiming acoustic guitar is like raindrops, and the lead singer’s voice is like silk. For my money, this is the most romantic song of the year. In my imagination, it evokes images of dancing in rain puddles, making love on the beach amidst the rolling waves, and the simple act of wiping a tear off a lover’s cheek.
“Tightrope” – Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi)

The most danceable song of the year. Janelle Monae is the indie queen of hip-hop, and this song reveals that she has no aspirations to be a rapper in the vein of Nikki Minaj. She wants to groove and get funky, mixing soul-funk jams that would make George Clinton proud with a modern hip-hop flair. I dare you not to shake your ass when this track pops on the iPod.

“S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” – My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance has always been good at creating powerful stadium-ready anthems of angst and rebellion. “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” is one of their best. The lyrics play second fiddle to a beautiful chord progression that puts you in a pensive mood to say the least.
“You Are Not Alone” – Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples returns with this beautiful, rustic gospel song that is the most spiritual song of the year, at least for me. “A broken dream/ A broken heart/ Isolated and afraid/ Open up this is a raid/ I wanna get it through to you/ You’re not alone.” The best gospel songs are about the downtrodden finding hope and joy, and this is one of those. It’s amazing how this is a message that never gets old.
“Little Lion Man” – Mumford & Sons

I give my girlfriend shit all the time about how much Mumford & Sons seems to take their style from the Avett Brothers, yet is constantly referred to in the press as “original.” While I didn’t think much of their debut album, this song, “Little Lion Man” is a rousing roots-based track. I love the vocal, the arrangement, and most of all, the confession in the chorus – “I really fucked it up this time/ Didn’t I, my dear?” Man, I’ve been there.

“I Should Have Known It” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Damn, where have you been Tom Petty? Tom and the boys haven’t rocked this hard since “Cabin Down Below” on 1994’s Wildflowers. This song benefits from a carefree spirit, a wicked guitar lick, insane Mike Campbell guitar solo, and Petty’s defiant whisper, “It’s the last time you’re gonna hurt me.” Welcome back, Tom!
“Unbreak My Heart” – Weezer

This was released this year for the first time on Weezer’s Death to False Metal, a compilation of unreleased songs from their career. Recorded in 2005, it seems at first like a novelty until you realize about halfway through the chorus that Rivers Cuomo really loves the Diane Warren-penned tune. From that moment, the song has a new life, and sheds the R&B/Pop of the Toni Braxton original. By the end, you can see how much Cuomo feels the lyrics, and immediately want to hear it again.
“Runaway” – Kanye West

A nine minute hip-hop/rap song? Seriously? Kanye West is many things – douchebag, scoundrel, narcissist – but atop the list is musical visionary. On “Runaway” he addresses all his critics with humor, ego, and perhaps the greatest melody of his career. This hypnotic track, built on a plinking piano and echoing beat, gets stuck in your head, but in a good way. Not to be outdone by himself, though, Kanye put together a 30 minute music video for the song.

“Ambling Alp” – Yeasayer

Quirky, and reminiscent of mid-80s XTC, Yeasayer’s beautiful “Ambling Alp” is an great pop tune by way of the arthouse. The rhythm is a fantastic mix of synth beats and African rhythms, combined with a smattering of different sounds that makes it sound like the invention of a mad scientist. No song was more fun to listen to this year.

Yeasayer - Ambling Alp by musicmule

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