Spinner – Best Songs of 2010: 50 Tracks That Blew Our Hair Back This Year
Some tracks on our list of the best songs of 2010 were so gorgeous they gave us goose bumps; others rocked our freaking faces off. Some left us blissed out or melancholy, while others propelled us onto the dance floor. The common thread? Each speaks to the kaleidoscopic nature of the musical landscape today, and we’re embracing the beautiful chaos with open arms and iPods. We’ve whittled down the hundreds of tunes that we dug throughout the year to those we think best represent 2010 musically. Dive in, get rocked and here’s to 2011 one-upping what has been an incredible year in music.
‘Rolling in the Deep’
This stomping, bluesy cut from the North Londoner’s much-anticipated sophomore outing is also that album’s first single and makes full, triumphant use of the singer’s soaring vocal talents. The song finds Adele in a brooding but determined mood, ruing that “you could’ve had it all” but making it clear she’s well beyond any mournful feelings, she’s moving on and she means business.
‘Nothing but the Whole Wide World’
With his Wallflowers on possibly permanent hiatus, the Royal Son released his second solo album this year. Produced by that maximally praised minimalist T-Bone Burnett, ‘Women + Country’ opens with this lovely, homespun rumination. Sounds like a father’s uneasy hopes for his own kids, though Dylan does mention a certain deity by name.
‘Angela Surf City’
“Life goes on around you.” This is what Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser chides almost tauntingly to his former lover in this tropicalia-infused tune. Far from laid-back and breezy, this is an anthem that swells with passion and bravado, drawing you into Leithauser’s typically discontented world with a lovelorn fervor that’s impossible to discount.
Right down to the addition of a flute, Lidell pays tribute to freaked-out ’70s funk on ‘Enough’s Enough’ while throwing in his own unique forward-looking style. With an airtight rhythm section, call-and-response backup vocals and Lidell’s pitch-perfect falsetto, this track has had us tapping our feet since last spring.
You know what brings black-clad aging hipsters and neon-crazy dance kids together? This song. This five-piece from Oxford, England, do the song’s name justice with a bright bounciness that, when paired with desperate lyrics, result in the sonic equivalent of naughty dance-floor contact.
With their trademark surgical masks, Clinic look like doctors ready to cut. On ‘I’m Aware,’ they offer up aural anesthesia, using lush ’60s instrumentation — strings, rolling acoustic guitars, trippy keyboards and Summer of Love harmonies — to induce a psychedelic sleep state. “All the love is gone,” frontman Ade Blackburn sings as our eyes begin to close, making this sound like a good thing.
‘Shark in the Water’
Combining retro influences, oddball lyrics and a modern pop sound, Brown’s breakout hit from her debut disc, ‘Travelling Like the Light,’ may be the catchiest single of the year (though it was released in Brown’s native UK in ’09). Who knew a song about a stalker boyfriend could be so much fun?
If the Drive-By Truckers were a barfly’s usual order, they’d be a Boilermaker — can of beer, shot of whiskey. No grenadine, no lime wedges or muddled sugar, no paper umbrellas. ‘Birthday Boy’ ain’t destined to replace ‘Happy Birthday’ anytime soon — it’s written from the perspective of a jaded working girl. “I ain’t got all night,” she says. We’ll make some time.
This upstart duo has a simple formula: Take one huge beat, one tossed-off guitar riff and one line of lyrics, turn the recording levels way, way into the red and then sit back and watch everyone’s speakers smoke. Simple? Sure. Effective? Just ask all the sweat-drenched, dancing kids with bleeding eardrums.
The title of this track from Wavves’ third long-player may suggest a psychedelic comedown, but there’s nothing remotely tired about this reverb-soaked summer jam for adderall addicts. With a shout-along chorus that insists, “I’m just having fun … with you” ad nauseam, this snotty anthem all but dares you to jump around like a hyperactive idiot.
‘I Learned the Hard Way’
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
On the title track of their fourth LP, Jones and her band boldly left their comfort zone, adding a symphony orchestra and backing vocalists. With the retro-soul diva holding back just enough of her vocal prowess to add to the heartache, the end result is nothing short of a soul classic.
‘Bright Lit Blue Skies’
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Pink is plenty capable of writing his own ’60s-style pop songs, but with ‘Bright Lit Blue Skies,’ he unearths a genuine psychedelic artifact, a swinging garage nugget recorded in 1966 by Boston’s Rockin’ Ramrods. The original should have been a smash, and even if Pink’s cover isn’t exactly burning up the charts, it’s a little bit of cosmic justice: a second chance for a first-rate tune.
Janelle Monae, Feat. Big Boi
Ever fantasize that a great Bond theme song would come from George Clinton? We’re thinking Monae did just that, as ‘Tightrope’ proudly boasts one of 2010′s most infections rhythms, paired with Monae wailing on about naysayers, a guest spot by Big Boi and a well-timed orchestral moment. It’s nothing you’d want to listen to while on an actual tightrope: You’d be way too inclined to move.
‘Written in Reverse’
Over the past several years, Spoon have transformed from a little angular guitar band to a full-on soulful combination of modern rock and classic R&B. But ‘Written in Reverse’ immediately recalls what we loved about Britt Daniel and Co. in the first place: audible angst, cryptic wordplay and a strong sense of urgency throughout these Texans’ standout single from ‘Transference.’
Co-written by drum & bass producer High Contrast, with a huge nod to Underworld’s epic live song “Do You Scribble,” the UK duo’s first offering in almost three years is everything we hoped for, and nothing we expected; melodic D ‘n’ B with a blissed-out Underworld sensibility. Galloping drums deliver the rising synth line to an exultant finish, while Karl Hyde’s vocals tell us what we knew all along: “And it’s OK/You give me everything I need.”
‘We Don’t Want Your Body’
The lyrics for Stars’ ‘We Don’t Want Your Body’ sound like the secret thoughts of a partygoer who just turned down the village idiot. But rather than reading like a non-redacted cable from WikiLeaks, ‘We Don’t Want Your Body’ is way more inviting, musically, than the lyrical interpretation would ever let on. The devilish dichotomy makes it intriguing, but it’s the music itself that makes it so damn good.
“Can I get/Can I get get?” With its ’80s R&B-influenced congas, bells and synths, German disco/house producer Tensnake’s breakthrough single “Coma Cat” was ubiquitous in 2010. The infectious hook inspired by Jellybean Benitez along with its gratifying payoff insure that “Coma Cat” will continue to be a dance floor favorite, from the dankest backrooms to the most mainstream nightclubs, for years to come.
Noise duos are dime-a-dozen nowadays, but none boast the striking songcraft that grounds Japandroids’ two-ply rock propulsion. The emotional undercurrents first heard on the Vancouver group’s breakthrough LP, ‘Post-Nothing,’ rise to the surface on this anthemic 7-inch, which continues the young pair’s fearful, fuzz-laden fixation on growing up. Such premature nostalgia may be unearned, yet it still sparks fire.
‘One Life Stand’
Starting off as a cool come-on, complete with a big, dark bottom end and sneaky steel drum samples, the title track from Hot Chip’s latest somehow ends up at a bright and sunny chorus about getting all hot and … monogamous? All the ladies in the house, let me hear you say, “Awwwwww, how sweet.”
‘Good Morning (The Future)’
Everyone loves a comeback story, and after a freak accident that left Rogue Wave’s Zach Rogue nearly paralyzed, the Oakland, Calif.’s group seemed kaput. Which is why ‘Good Morning (The Future)’ felt all the more poignant: The clarity in Zach’s voice has a ring to it that that you find in those who are cheerful not because they’re in a popular indie rock band but because they’re living to write another song.
This honeysuckle charmer is such a throwback it just begs to be put on the soundtrack of some early-’60s period piece. But just sounding retro isn’t enough to make this list. The Morning Benders’ Wall of Sound tribute scores big for its lulling chamber orchestra intro, its earworm melody and a sweetly layered a cappella break that should inspire contestants on ‘The Sing Off.’
John O’Regan, aka Diamond Rings, admits on ‘Something Else’ he’s not his crush’s cup of tea. “But just in case you change your mind,” the androgynous Ontarian croons, “I wrote this song for you to sing.” And what a fine song it is: four minutes of earnest vocals, subtle synths and understated post-punk guitar — all set to a minimalist electro-pop beat. If O’Regan’s potential paramour doesn’t sing along, the rest of us will.
Shad masterfully bookends a jewel of a sample (“I didn’t promise you a rose garden/Along with the sunshine/There’s gotta be some rain sometimes”) with witty observations on the neuroses of modern life. This soulful throwback — helped along by the sunny vocals of Broken Social Scene’s Lisa Lobsinger — is a killer head-nodder, proving the rapper’s prowess as a wordplay master.
‘Say My Name’
From its somber opening notes to its anxious crescendo, the Brooklyn-based disco-synth group’s dance floor-shunning, night driving, slow burner “Say My Name” is a dark piece of melancholic mastery. As Holy Ghost! are fans of both Sunny Day Real Estate and Larry Levan equally, the duo’s moody song manages to be both upbeat and depressive, eerily marking itself as one of the most poignant songs in recent memory.
Some have suggested this song refers to recent Wall Street woes, but, really, it could apply to any troubled era. With its thick orchestral arrangements and glass-half-empty lyrics, ‘Crash Years’ conveys a sense of looking-back sadness, of having survived something bad — but not necessarily for the better. The song is lush and complex but not bloated. And even though the Crash Years were surely dark, the New Pornos’ ‘Crash Years’ is a beacon of light.
Clearly shaken by his own hype whirlwind, Drake drops a surprisingly pissy first single, especially coming from a first full-length. But as longtime beatsmith Boi 1da alternates between gloriously uplifting horns and a clap-driven drum barrage, the Toronto MC emerges from his paranoid funk (“Who the f— are y’all?”) to take his place at hip-hop’s head table. “Point the biggest skeptic out,” he spits, “I’ll make them a believer.” Then he follows through.
While the cold-blooded electro-terrorism of tracks like ‘Baptism’ and ‘Doe Deer’ proved that Crystal Castles still have plenty of anger issues to work out, the standout single from their (second consecutive) self-titled album proved that the Toronto duo can sigh as beautifully as they can scream. There’s still plenty of unnerving glitch lurking behind that big, floor-filling beat, but it’s nice to know there’s a beating heart behind all the broken glass.
Despite being produced by James Murphy himself, Free Energy, as DFA Records’ atypical ’70s-style pop-rockers, have little interest in appeasing hipsters, not when they could be brightening up your suburban bush party. The Philly band swaggers its way through this bouncy throwback, complete with air-guitar-ready axe solos, which practically promises to turn any given teenage weekend into a ‘Dazed and Confused’-style bacchanal.
The video for Tame Impala’s psychedelic journey ‘Lucidity’ appears to echo the interpretation that the song is all about coming back down to earth after being, well, really high. Even if the narrator is asking for clarity from a different kind of haze, this is one dream you just don’t ever want to wake up from. Consider this song a damn good argument for always keeping your totem handy.
‘Dog Days Are Over’
Florence and the Machine
Hollywood may have co-opted this song for ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ but it still retains all the luster that first made jaws drop when it arrived on the scene for a second time this April. Thanks to Florence Welch’s luscious nightingale voice, cutesy girl-group flourishes and a climatic kick-up-your-heels closing — not to mention her breakout performance at the MTV Awards — this rerelease from 2008 just might be 2010′s most memorable call to arms.
The casual Vampire Weekenders probably default to ‘Holiday’ or ‘Cousins’ from the group’s sophomore set, ‘Contra,’ as the standouts, but smack-dab in the middle lays ‘Run,’ as close to a ballad as Ezra Koenig and company have written. You don’t necessarily want to run, but instead ponder the idea that deep down the dudes in Vampire Weekend might be sweetie-pies.
If you’ve ever been to the beach, you know undertows rank right up there with jellyfish as far as buzzkills go. For Los Angeles’ dream-fuzz quartet Warpaint, these ladies take the concept of being dragged to death by rippling waves and compare that to a relationship. For nearly six minutes, the song builds into a melodic, mid-tempo jam that slowly takes you into a miniature aural undertow of its own accord. Trust us, it makes sense.
This Vancouver six-piece helmed by Edo Van Breemen essentially reimagines indie rock as orchestral pomp. Brasstronaut’s unconventional instrumentation (lap steel, clarinet, piano, the rare EWI wind synth and, of course, lots of brass) amazes throughout the debut album, ‘Mt Chimaera,’ but scales impossible heights with this epic, which, true to its title, makes the heart burst as those trumpets blare.
‘Where I’m Going’
Cut Copy’s Beach Boys-influenced single “Where I’m Going” is a surprising turn for the Australian synth-pop outfit, but after a few listens, the ebullient, slightly psychedelic pop song does exactly what it’s supposed to — get you bobbing your head, singing “wooo” and wishing you were on a road trip with your surfboard in the 1960s.
Appearing toward the end of Arcade Fire’s ode to life outside the city limits, ‘Sprawl II’ presents a resigned sense of longing as the narrator grapples with the same sort of personal dilemmas that Bruce Springsteen encounters — except we’re not just talking about the dead shopping malls of New Jersey here. While escape may seem impossible (that’s kinda the point of the song) listening to it with headphones on, eyes closed, certainly helps.
Stoic vocal delivery layered on top of transporting melodies create an emotive, swirly soundscape in this standout track off the Altanta rockers’ Top 30 Album of 2010, ‘Halcyon Digest.’ “Come with me,” Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt beckons. And why not oblige? Go ahead, lose yourself.
‘Bang Bang Bang’
Mark Ronson & the Business Intl.
This infectious bit of space-age funk is shockingly devoid of the ’60s soul sound that made Ronson a household name. Armed with vintage synths, the DJ/producer gives vocal duties on the hook to MNDR’s Amanda Warner. And when you’re making a party-starting anthem, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Q-Tip lending the smoothest voice in hip-hop on one of the year’s best guest appearances.
Much like their 2007 hit ‘Fake Empire,’ the National’s ‘England’ builds from a commanding but mellow piano intro to a booming, horn-fueled peak. Thanks to a standout arrangement, the Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati band turns a lonely lament into a beautiful epic that’s one of the standouts of their ‘High Violet’ album.
‘The Mighty Sparrow’
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
The muscular opener from this year’s ‘The Brutalist Bricks’ grabbed us by the lapels and didn’t let go. Punk-rock stalwart Leo’s busked-up vocal and ever-clever lyrics are up to attention-snatching snuff with first line “When the cafÃ© doors exploded/I reacted, too/Reacted to you,” and the tension never lets up from there. Who knew a tiny bird could pack such a wallop?
With conflicted hearts — “Hold me like you used to” one second, “You don’t move me anymore” the next — and Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” on the brain, Yeasayer create a new-old sound: tribal synth-pop. This may be a song about willing oneself through a breakup, but by the sound of it, the worst of the pain is in the past. All that remains is to light the bonfire, toss in a few photos of the ex and dance all night to the wiggly New Wave grooves.
‘Need You Now’
An undeniable force to be reckoned with, this Nashville trio had us all high-fiving over their “booty call” lyrics and humming their absurdly catchy melodies. We’ll be damned if we aren’t suckers for those ringing guitars Lady Antebellum are plucking and strumming.
The Black Keys
There’s no way to refrain from grinning like a goof during the playful whistle-filled intro that kicks off this infectious gem. The Black Keys will make a believer out of anyone with this deceptively simple bluesy stomper, which rockets forward with rump-shaking rhythms and Dan Auerbach’s walloping falsetto — no doubt a career-defining song.
Band of Horses
Ben Bridwell and band pull out all the stops on this expansive anthem. It’s radio rock in all the best ways: Rollicking Southern guitar lines, a mid-tempo pace that never becomes pedestrian, packed with watertight harmonies and entirely conducive to road-tripping. If we’re honest, we’re still not entirely clear what the song is about, but we do know we want to go to Laredo, and if there’s a lake there for a-dippin’, we’re in.
Posse cuts tend to be soulless and bloated, but this time the all-stars went all in. Rick Ross barrels through, making room for West’s self-aggrandizing jaw-drops and Jay-Z’s hard-fought flow, while Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon adds indie framing. Amid this, Nicki Minaj flips schizophrenically between accents, time signatures and personalities as she rampages through 32 bars, each one “hotter than a Middle Eastern climate.”
‘Dance Yrself Clean’
Though you could probably pick a handful of equally deserving tracks from ‘This Is Happening,’ the wonderfully weird, synth-driven slow-burner “Dance Yrself Clean,” is a quintessential LCD Soundsystem song: nine minutes long, quirky, awesome.
‘Wake Up Everybody’
John Legend and the Roots
Inspired by Obama’s election and the ‘Hard Times’ in America of recent years, the talented smoothie Legend and Jimmy Fallon’s house band turned a one-off session into a killer album of classic conscious-soul covers. Their stylish version of this Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes nugget lent the album its title, and its attitude.
‘Dancing on My Own’
For anyone who’s watched across a crowded room while his or her biggest crush crushed on someone else, Robyn’s tale of unrequited dance floor love might hit a little too close to home. Calling a club hit “emotionally devastating” isn’t usually a rousing endorsement, but this track packs in so much ass-moving brilliance that we can all just dance the pain away.
Though the radio-friendly version comes off as relatively less significant, Cee-Lo’s gleeful joint about being an Atari dumped for a richer Xbox is more than some curse-filled novelty. It sounds like a lost Stax deep cut, and while the chorus’ lushly profane f-bombs add a humorous punch, they also emphasize that even a soul machine like Cee-Lo can get all tore up inside, as becomes epically clear during his “I still love youuuuu” breakdown on the bridge.
‘The High Road’
Becostumed beatmeister Danger Mouse and Shins melodist James Mercer were the Oscar and Felix of “indie” pop on a major label in 2010. First released as a download giveaway on Broken Bells’ website, ‘The High Road’ began the year promising a Danger-ous bounty, which included a second Black Keys album and a second collaboration with the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.
The rubber-ball bass line alone makes any car ride feel like an adventure (just ask Bruce Willis, who hot-rods his way through the video). Then, when you throw in Damon Albarn’s silky lead vocals and smoking guest appearances from Mos Def and Bobby Womack, you’ve got the Gorillaz’s slick, soulful soundtrack to a never-ending road trip, as well as the makings for our top song of the year.