A Year In Music: My Top 50 Songs Of The Year

Look at me, actually managing to get my Top 50 of 2013 list done before February of 2014! You know that here at Happy we’re big on the royal “we” when we write, but this list is most emphatically mine, and I doubt any other Wonkette or Happy writers want to take ownership of it, because best of lists are a highly personal thing. With that, these are not likely your top songs of the year.

Yes, I’m perfectly aware that under no circumstances would you have included Eminem/Miley Cyrus/Black Joe Lewis/Haim/whatever. That’s OK. Happy is not the paper of record, or Rolling Stone, or Pitchfork, or a tastemaker. No one is telling you that these should be your favorites, but for me at least a huge part of my love for end of the year lists of any sort is that you discover something you overlooked during the last 12 months, so if nothing else, I hope it does that for you.

A few ground rules I set for myself that are utterly arbitrary. First, I’m not limited to singles. If it came out in 2013, it’s fair game. Next, I never put the same artist on the list twice, even though it breaks my heart to do so sometimes (looking at you, David Bowie). Finally, I never have songs in the top 50 that are from my album of the year.

To write about all 50 songs would have been ridiculous, so I’ve only shared my feels on my top 10. To embed 50 videos would also have been ridiculous, so again, you only get the first 10. However, there’s a full playlist of all 50 songs below in both Spotify and Rdio — and yes, the playlist is in ranked order.

1) Q.U.E.E.N – Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu

In any year where Beyonce hadn’t dropped a secret bombshell of a record in December, Monae would have album of the year. (Without a doubt, she had concert of the year.) Her ongoing conceptual scheme — Monae as a messianic android that could have inhabited a Fritz Lang movie — is subtle enough that you can ignore it if that’s not your bag, or immerse yourself in it if you are. Q.U.E.E.N. easily stands apart from the concept album, veering from jazz-inflected soul to booty funk and back again, finally dipping into Monae dropping one of the most literate and literary raps of the year:

Mixing masterminds like your name Bernie Grundman/Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman
You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly/And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie
Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs/I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”
March to the streets ’cause I’m willing and I’m able/Categorize me, I defy every label.

2) Man – Neko Case

In a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first New Pornographers record with its piano echoing the guitar line, Case genderbends all over the place about what it means to be a big strong man and turns in by far the best lyric of the year: “And if I’m dipshit drunk on the pink perfume/I am the man in the fucking moon.”

3) Cover Me Up – Jason Isbell

I always thought of Jason Isbell as a country hellraiser, which was basically what he was in the Drive-By Truckers, so I never expected this spare gorgeous song about love as safety, as something that you can have even when you’re bruised. It makes me think of the Rilke quote from Letters To A Young Poet: “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”

4) FOH – Superchunk

Whatever Superchunk does to stay as youthful and kickass and vibrant as they do on this record, I would very much like to do or purchase or make that thing. I keep having to remind myself that these guys gave us “Slack Motherfucker” 23 years ago and you wouldn’t blink an eye if FOH had been the B-side of that record. You’ll wish you could destroy an amp or a drum set while you listen — not out of rage, but out of sheer overwhelming joy.

5) The City – The 1975

The 1975 pulls off this neat trick of making their record sound like everyone else’s and no one else’s at the same time. The Manchester accent at the forefront and the drums could be an old Stone Roses song, but the looping guitar throws you off in the best way. I’m probably a bit biased here, though, as I’m not sure there’s a Mancunian band in the last 30 years that I haven’t been head over heels for.

6) The Secret – The Airborne Toxic Event

To be honest, I’d ignored The Airborne Toxic Event for quite a while because their origin story is just so twee: started by a novelist, named after something in a Don DeLillo novel, really?? But I was missing out. So well constructed that you can’t help but see the lyrics: the lonely car on the road, the feeling of the pavement beneath your wheels, the jealous ache as you remember dancing with her. This is the most cinematic song of the year.

7) Royals – Lorde

First, Lorde had a self-released EP, and there was much love for the then-15-year-old girl that came out of nowhere, New Zealand, with a set of fully-realized grown-up sounding songs. Then “Royals” shot to the top of the charts, and everyone had to be like naw mang, I don’t like her anymore because something something something. “Royals” — and really her whole debut record — is the pop song you wanted this year. With its multitracked vocals over an unexpectedly low bass line to ground things, this was the record you kept thinking Lana Del Rey would make but didn’t.

8) Recover – CHVRCHES

There was so much hype surrounding CHVRCHES this year that you’d be forgiven for giving this song a pass, but you really shouldn’t miss it. There’s a ridiculously poppy retro bed of synths and and those faux-strings that sound so terrible when they’re done wrong and so great when they’re done right like they are here. The lyrics don’t match up with the crystalline happiness of the synths, and that’s what makes this a great song — that disconnect.

9) Teenage Rhythm – GRMLN

Big dumb fun teenage pop-punk that could have come out in 1996. You can yell along with the lyrics and pretend you just lost your high school girlfriend, because hopefully that’s a thing that happened to you long enough ago that you can think of it as a silly thing.

10) Roar – Katy Perry

Katy Perry is never going to bring you to tears with the depth of her lyrics, but she’s a reliable practitioner of pop music. That sounds like I’m damning her with faint praise, but I’m not. In an era where fauxthenticity reigns supreme and everyone has moved to Brooklyn or grown a beard or employed a team of tuvan throat singers to act as backup, a great pop record is an unexpected joy. With its cheesy empowerment message and its anthemic sing-a-long chorus, it’s the record that was my very guiltiest of pleasures this year.

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