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Top 40 Songs of 2010

December 17, 2010


Out of the many songs released this year I chose 40 that I felt were the strongest, that contained the components of poignant or thought-provoking lyrics, innovation in production, complex arrangements, soul-stirring melodies, endless replay value, and effortless catchiness.

40. Joanna Newsom- “In California”

Joanna aimed to have each song sound epic on her overzealous 3-disc album, Have One on Me. While her intentions were good, the length of the songs and album itself were a bit overbearing, even for some of her most devoted fans. However there are flashes of genius scattered throughout the album; this song is one of them, and a huge fan-favorite.

39. Plants and Animals- “The Mama Papa”

La La Land was one of the most enjoyable indie albums to come out this year (it unfortunately doesn’t make the Top 20 Albums list). This is one of the funnest and catchiest songs that the band have written thus far.

38. Yeasayer- “Madder Red”

Odd Blood was Yeasayer’s attempt to tackle pop after making a debut as a psychedelic indie rock band (it too unfortunately doesn’t make the Top 20 Albums list, but is an honorable mention). The album yielded songs that sounded like *N Sync and Animal Collective mashups, that are catchy but left some fans feeling a little confused. This single from the album is one of its strongest songs.

37. Tame Impala- “Solitude is Bliss”

Released as the lead single from the album, this song showcasts the band’s ability to effortlessly write catchy vintage rock songs. The music video to it is slightly dark, but amusing.

36. Nas & Damian Marley- “Count Your Blessings”

One of the more upbeat songs from the Distant Relatives album; Damian Marley channels his legendary father and Nas shows why he still deserves to be in that Top 5 MC list.

35. Little Brother- “Second Chances” (featuring Bilal and Darien Brockington)

Arguably the best song on the album is one in which Little Brother goes back to its soulful roots; this track sounds like The Listening-era Little Brother. Bilal and Darien Brockington help take this song to perfection.

34. The Black Keys- “Tighten Up”

The first single on the album exhibits the blues-brothers branching out their sound. The music video is must-see hilarity.

33. Usher- “Mars vs. Venus”

Usher ruled pop music this year with his string of hits, but none of them were as beautiful and captivating as this spaced-out arpeggi-driven non-single track. This is Usher at his best, smooth, seductive, and raw.

32. B.O.B.- “Nothing On You” featuring Bruno Mars

B.O.B. may have started off as an underground rapper, but things quickly changed when this addictive, fun track was released as a single. It put him and Bruno Mars on the map in the world of mainstream music.

31. Jazmine Sullivan- “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles)”

One of the best feel-good party songs of the year, with throwbacks to early ’90s Mary J. Blige and late ’80s hip-hop break-beats.

30. Erykah Badu- “Out My Mind, Just In Time”

The closing track on New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh) is one of the best ballads she has ever written. The 10-minute song is broken into three segments and has Georgia Anne Muldrow backing her on piano.

29. Avey Tare- “Laughing Hieroglyphic”

The opening track on Avey Tare’s debut solo album, Down There is otherworldy and sultry. The Animal Collective member channels Sam Cooke in his own psych-folk indie way. This is the most soulful you have ever heard any member of Animal Collective sound before.

28. Kings of Leon- “Pyro”

The second single from Come Around Sundown is a great example of why Kings of Leon is a superior band. Caleb’s raspy sultry voice croons and wails over  dreamy watery guitar pluckings. It contains the Southern comfort heard on Aha Shake Heart Break, but the maturation present on Because of the Time. Mainstream or underground, the Kings can write the hell out of a song.

27. Sade- “Soldier of Love”

The title track from Sade’s latest album is slick and urban; this is the most gangsta you’ll ever hear the band get.

26. Beach House- “Lover of Mine”

Arguably Beach House’s best song; Victoria sings soulfully over the atmospheric and phantasmagoric instrumentation.

25. Monica- “Everything to Me”

Monica’s reworking of “Silly” by Denise Williams is pure gold. The singer started her career as a mature 14 year old with a grown woman’s voice. On this track she reminds us why we fell in love with her, and shows growth as a singer and artist. She aimed for a classic R&B sound, and nailed it.

24. Sleigh Bells- “Rill Rill”

Backed with a sample of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That,” the catchy indie pop song is one that will involuntarily provoke head-bobbing, two-stepping, and foot-tapping. It’s also the most tame song on the band’s debut album Treats which is beautifully chaotic and perfectly abrasive (it unfortunately didn’t make the Top 20 Albums list, but is nevertheless a good album).

23. Eric Benet- “Sometimes I Cry”

Because Eric has an older audience, he has always been a bit more obscure than his fellow R&B contemporaries. But beyond marrying and divorcing Halle Berry, he is a great singer whose songs ache with emotion. When he sings “Sometime I cry,” you can hear it and feel it. By the song’s climax, he is pouring all of his heart out, hitting high notes that creates the most beautiful weep.

22. Brandon Boyd- “Runaway Train”

The frontman of Incubus released his debut solo album The Wild Trapeze this year, and although it didn’t get the attention it deserved, it produced this exuberant lead single which packs all of Brandon’s strengths as an artist into one song. (And he plays all of the instruments on this track, impressive.)

21. The Roots- “Dear God 2.0” (featuring Jim James of Monsters of Folk)

Monsters of Folk’s 2009 single, “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” was dreamy meditative bliss. The Roots flipped it and turned it into one of the year’s best hip-hop songs. Black Thought rhymes flawlessly about real-life issues that plague our society in modern times, and Jim James brings a soulful vulnerability to the bridge and hook.

20. Deftones- “Sextape”

This aquatic song was arguably the most popular this year amongst alternative music fans. The Deftones venture away from metal on this track to show off its musical flexibility and supreme songwriting. It is one of the best songs the band has ever written.

19. Arcade Fire- “Ready to Start”

From one of the best albums of the year, this energetic single is just yet one example of why many of us fell in love with the Arcade Fire. The urgency of the chorus and Win’s Springsteen-esque vocals elevates this song to great.

18. R. Kelly- “When A Woman Loves”

The first single from Love Letter is an early ’60s R&B throwback. It is R. Kelly’s best single in years, exhibiting the talent that many forgot that he had. Live performances have dropped jaws and commanded standing ovations. This is what music sounds like when an artist doesn’t have to hold back on his genius.

17. Raheem DeVaughn- “Garden of Love”

The self-proclaimed “R&B hippie neo-soul rock star” lives up to that title on the dreamy semi-psychedelic 6-minute ballad from his third album, The Love & War MasterPeace, (which is also another great album released this year that didn’t make the cut).

16. N.E.R.D- “God Bless Us All”

This funky gospel-inspired track is one of the best songs written in N.E.R.D’s entire career. It shows essential growth and maturity as serious music artists.

15. Kid Cudi- “Mr. Rager”

Kid Cudi isn’t a trained singer, but is able to pull it off nevertheless. This fan-favorite is Man on the Moon II‘s equivalent to his debut album’s “Sky Might Fall.” It is ridiculously addictive and full of emotion; whatever he’s going through, you can feel it. The strings that come in at the end seals the deal.

14. Drake- “Fancy” (featuring T.I. and Swizz Beatz)

A fan-favorite before it dropped as a single, “Fancy” is one of the strongest songs in Drake’s catalog. He’s not rhyming like Talib Kweli or anything, but his approach to the song is what give it its strength. Swizz Beatz’s production is top-notch, and the transition into the second segment takes it beyond mediocrity. Drake is known for making songs for the ladies, and this is their official anthem. “Oh you fancy, huh?”

13. Cee Lo Green- “Fuck You”

Who knew that a derogatory phrase could sound so sweet and cheerful. Kanye isn’t the only artist that can score a hit on the subject of gold-diggers. This Motown throwback was one of the top-songs of the year and gave everyone an excuse to be crass with a smile on their face. Who can’t resist a line like, “I guess he’s an Xbox, and I’m more Atari/But the way you play your game ain’t fair”?

12. Reflection Eternal- “Just Begun” (featuring Jay Electronica, J Cole And Mos Def)

Kanye received a lot of credit for producing the most memorable posse cuts of the year, but Reflection Eternal’s jazzy comeback track is not to be overlooked. Reflection Eternal released its sophomore album, Revolutions Per Minute after a 10-year absence with Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek both focusing on their solo careers. The most promising underground rapper in the game, Jay Electronica shows why he has such a devoted following. Mos Def and Talib Kweli are on point as usual, teasing fans who yearn for another Black Star album. Even with freshman rapper J. Cole being the potential weak-link here, his flow makes up for the lack of substance in his lyrics and the song still manages to be one of Kweli’s best.

11. Local Natives- “Cards & Quarters”

This non-single gem is uber-chill and soulful; the band proves why it isn’t just another indie rock band with its superior songwriting, in lyrics and musical composition. The 3-voice harmonizing is Buffalo Springfield meets Tony! Toni! Toné! With music this good, Local Natives can do no wrong.

10. Alicia Keys- “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” (featuring Drake)

The biggest R&B jam of Summer 2010, features Canadian rapper Drake backing Keys on vocals. The catchy fourth single from The Element of Freedom is reminiscent of feel-good R&B songs from the ’90s. The music video makes a powerful statement about interracial relationships and their acceptability to society over the decades.

9. M.I.A.- “Teqkilla”

M.I.A. was taken by surprise when she was launched onto the mainstream platform with the success of  her 2008 single, “Paper Planes.” So she went and recorded a 6-minute experimental electronic IDM and glitch song that raised a middle finger to the pop world. Alcohol brands are stand-in metaphors for men, and she shamelessly gloats “I got sticky sticky icky icky weeeeeeed/I got a shot of tequila in me.” While mainstreamers complained about the song giving them a headache, the rest of us turned it up louder and sang along.

8. MGMT- “Siberian Breaks”

The stand-out track on MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations; this 12-minute jam is a psychedelic adventure that hints at Simon & Garfunkel, early and late Pink Floyd, and Air.

7. Deerhunter- “Helicopter”

From Deerhunter’s fourth album Halcyon Digest, this song became the year’s most popular one amongst indie music fans. The trip-hop-like beat and the dream-pop lush aren’t even the most compelling attributes of the song. It is based on a real-life story about a gay teenage Russian prostitute named Dima who got involved with a member of the Russian mafia. Dima was last spotted by a friend being forcibly gang-raped by a group of 10-15 men in a sex club. The last known whereabouts of Dima came from a crime leader, who confessed after being taken into custody for an unrelated murder, that he witnessed a young men matching Dima’s description being pushed from a helicopter over a forest in Northern Russia. Dima’s former lover later admitted to selling him as a sex slave in 2005.

6. Kanye West- “Lost in the World/Who Will Survive in America?” (featuring Bon Iver and Gil Scott-Heron)

These two songs originally leaked as a single song earlier this year; understandably so, Kanye was very upset about it. But the leak drived Kanye fans crazy with anticipation for his album to drop; it received widespread critical acclaim. Kanye samples two songs here: “Woods” from Bon Iver’s 2009 EP Blood Bank and Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1.” The album version of “Lost in the World” splits Gil Scott-Heron’s poetry freestyle into a separate track and adds additional background vocals (most likely due to the leak). “Lost in the World” starts with Bon Iver’s auto-tuned vocals and builds into a raw eclectic tribal celebration. In “Who Will Survive in America” the revolutionary afrocentric legend says “What does Websters say about soul?/All I want is a good home and a wife/And children, and some food to feed them every night/After all is said and done, build a new route to China if they’ll have you/Who will survive in America?” This isn’t just a song, it’s a goddamn movement.

5. Big Boi- “General Patton”

With a beat so immaculate it would make Mozart jealous, Big Boi and Jbeatzz pull of producing one of the best songs ever in hip-hop history. Yes, “Shutterbug” was very catchy, but this has epic written all over it. Big Boi rhymes effortlessly over an apocalyptic opera sample and a royal brass section. user Drthatguy commented “This is like what crunk would sound like if it were good.”

4. Sufjan Stevens- “Impossible Soul”

The closing track on his ambitious eighth studio album The Age of Adz is an epic 25-minute jam. The song is so moving and mesmerizing that the 25 minutes fly right by. The song is comprised of several segments and includes horns, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and electronic beats. The biggest surprise to fans was Sufjan’s experimentation with auto-tune on the track. But instead of it being used as a crutch for talentless singers, it is used as an otherworldly vocal effect; it just works, similarly to how Bon Iver used auto-tune for “Woods” and Imogen Heap used it for “Hide and Seek.”

3. Janelle Monae- “Tightrope” (featuring Big Boi)

Monae channels James Brown on this relentlessly funky lead single from her masterpiece album The ArchAndroid. Her energy, talent, and sophistication puts other urban female vocalists to shame. There are others that are worthy of the title, but it would be a sin for “Tightrope” to not be song of the year (or at lest in the top 3).

2. Kanye West- “Power”

Kanye shows off  his eclectic music taste sampling “21st Century Schizoid Man”  by British progressive rock band King Crimson and the obscure tribal jam “Afromerica” by Continent No. 6. Kanye’s rhymes are on fire; witty wordplay and aggressive lyricism shuts up anyone questioning his MC skills. Not only is it a top song for this year, but it is a modern classic.

1. John Legend and The Roots- “I Can’t Write Left Handed”

Bill Wither’s version itself was quite a statement, but John Legend and The Roots outdid him and took it to the next level. The song starts off with a slow-paced piano-driven gospel tune and climbs to a full-blown holy ghost spiritual experience. Captain Kirk baptizes listeners with his frantic psychedelic guitar solo and John wails like the bullet hit his soul instead of his shoulder. Overlooked by many music publications, this non-single track is not only the finest effort put forth this year, but the sound of a generation that has everything to prove. This is one of the best songs ever recorded in the history of music.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 11:56 am

    cool list. tho about a quarter of these joints are kinda questionable. That Ceelo joint is terrible to me. I HATE how Ye’ used that Gil Scott heron sample, and that ROBERT joint sounds so bush league to me. But i LUv the site holmes and im glad i found it. i’ll def be puttin it on my favorites..


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