Singles file: The top 25 songs of 2010
Hip-hop. Brooklyn indie rock. "Glee." It was a great year for pretty much everything. Even the terrible songs ("Teach Me How to Dougie," anything by Waka Flocka Flame) were terrible in an entertaining way. Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Fridays tracks could have populated this list virtually by themselves. The omissions were painful (sorry about that, Surfer Blood, Tim McGraw and Big Boi) but necessary. For the survivors, read on:
1. Cee Lo Green: "[Expletive] You"
The most interesting thing about this song wasn't its T. Rex of a hook, or Green's smiling/unsmiling delivery, but the way it barreled its way into the pop-cultural mainstream, cleaning itself up as it went (who can forget "Forget You"?) but still baring its teeth.
2. Sleigh Bells: "Rill Rill"
They're better known as sound collagists than as songwriters, but Sleigh Bells perfectly captured the awkward hopefulness of the teenage girl on this "Treats" highlight.
3. Kid Cudi featuring Mary J. Blige: "These Worries"
"Mr. Rager" was oppressive and self-pitying, except when Blige was around. This track was both moving and, in its seamless mix of hip-hop, soul and space-age rock, undefinable.
4. Sharon Van Etten: "Don't Do It"
She previously occupied a patch of earth somewhere between Beth Orton and . . . a lot of people who sound like Beth Orton, but this sad, sublime song was Van Etten's coming-out party.
5. Cults: "Go Outside"
The mysterious Cults (a boy/girl team from Brooklyn, apparently) married a thin, chugging beat to disembodied Up With People vocals and came up with an irresistibly creepy pop song that was out of this world.
6. Kings Go Forth: "High on Your Love"
Between Sharon Jones and Cee Lo, retro soul had a pretty good year. But behemoth Milwaukee band KGF's '70s-inspired debut, epitomized here in this swinging, sizzling funk track, may have been superflyest of all.
7. Kanye West featuring Pusha T: "Runaway"
West took time out from his year of quiet self-reflection to deliver a such humdinger of an album, filled with such a treasure trove of great songs, that to pick just one seemed impossible. Because it's the disc's frankest track, raw and kind of ugly, this one wins by default.
8. Taylor Swift: "Mine"
There was a comforting consistency to Swift's first post-super-superstardom single, a thematic and musical quasi-sequel to "Love Story."
9. Titus Andronicus: "A More Perfect Union"
We still can't figure out if these Jersey punk rockers really love Springsteen or really hate him. Either way, this vibrant, punchy track sounded like something Gaslight Anthem would do if they were really, really mad about something.
10. Jamey Johnson: "Can't Cash My Checks"
Most of the great recession songs have so far come from hip-hop: Johnson's proud, defiant Everyman anthem is a glowing, glowering exception.
11. Peter Gabriel: "Flume" (Bon Iver cover)
Gabriel's "Scratch My Back" covers collection was a well-intentioned misfire; this haunting, somber take on Justin Vernon's best-ever song was one of its few bright spots.
12. Freddie Gibbs featuring Bun B., Chuck Inglish, Chip Tha Ripper and Dan Auerbach: "Oil Money"
More proof, in case you needed it, that the Black Keys make everything better.
13. Tabi Bonney featuring Pusha T: "Make a Killin"
Also making everything better: Clipse's Pusha T, who invigorated this already pretty great banger by DMV star Tabi Bonney.
14. Sia: "The Fight"
It's easy to imagine Sia's giddy, '80s-devoted pop gem being a hit for Madonna in 1985. In 2010, though, it wasn't even a hit for Sia.
15. Phosphorescent: "It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)"
The consistently amazing Matthew Houck, who records as the lo-fi art-country act Phosphorescent, was one of 2010's under-the-radar success stories. This track, with its welter of hillbilly horns, was one of countless standouts on "Here's to Taking It Easy."
16. Brian Eno: "2 Forms of Anger"
The God of All Things Ambient resurfaced with this scrappy, almost accessible, almost math-rock-y track.
17. Kylesa: "Tired Climb"
The Georgia headbangers mixed regular metal, sludge metal, other kinds of metal and Built to Spill-style psychedelia, and somehow came up with one of the year's smartest, deftest and most anxiety-provoking tracks.
18. Paramore: "The Only Exception"
Practically invented for high school slow dances and background play on a second-tier WB network show, this uncharacteristically soft emo ballad was one of the year's sweetest.
19. Yeasayer: "Ambling Alp"
We haven't heard the other ones, but we're willing to bet this utterly fantastic art-pop track is the best song ever written about boxing champ Joe Louis.
20. Robyn: "Cry When You Get Older"
Like a great retro roller-disco anthem, except it's incredibly wise. And Swedish.
21. Dierks Bentley featuring Alison Krauss: "Draw Me a Map"
Bentley wisely enlisted Starbucks Americana Queen Krauss for this killer track from his (mostly) acoustic bluegrass disc, "Up on the Ridge."
22. Pantha Du Prince featuring Panda Bear: "Stick to My Side"
The German micro house star teams with Animal Collective's Noah Lennox for this beautiful exercise in techno funk minimalism.
23. Rihanna featuring Drake: "What's My Name?"
Drake's features have been saving lesser artists for years. This time, he rescued Rihanna from herself, thawing out the pop star, if only temporarily, on "Loud's" greatest single.
24. jj: "My Life"
Everyone dealt with Lil Wayne's incarceration in their own way. The dotty electro-Swedes in jj coped by shoehorning Weezy samples and interpolations into seemingly every song in their catalogue, including this haunting Game cover.
25. Chiddy Bang: "Opposite of Adults"
The cheerily lightweight Philly hip-hop duo sample MGMT's "Kids," and get away with it. Any comparisons to that city's long-ago Fresh Prince are purely intentional.
| December 28, 2010; 12:15 PM ET
Categories: Singles file
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