50. “Gangnam Style” Psy
How could the song that brought K-Pop to the West not be something extraordinary? Korean rapper Psy absolutely dominated 2012 with his hit “Gangnam Style,” thanks in part to its hilarious video, but also because the song is actually pretty good. A dance track just as club-ready and catchy as anything else out there, there’s a noticeable absence of anything cheap or contrived. Not to mention, the track is far less hokey than it is hilarious.
49. “Locked Out Of Heaven” Bruno Mars
When Bruno Mars thinks he’s Sting, the end result is not nearly as awful as you’d think. His hit “Locked Out Of Heaven” was one of the best songs to hit radio in 2012, playing into not only top-40’s recent embracement of the “alternative,” but this short-lived window of opportunity where the public is open to new sounds. The track has many great moments, including clever carbon copy Police verses that lead brilliantly into familiar Bruno choruses.
48. “Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Remix)” – Florence + The Machine
Florence Welch and Calvin Harris: 2012’s Clash of the Titans…in one corner, Alternative’s reigning Queen, and in the other, dance music’s DJ Du Jour. When Harris took on the The Machine’s “Spectrum” and morphed it into a “hands in the air” dance floor filler, the end result was nothing short of brilliant. Any time you can take a euphoric dance track and have Florence Welch’s unparalleled voice pierce right through it, you have a masterpiece on your hands.
47. “Skyfall” Adele
In the middle of reveling in the residual effects of her monumental 21 album (including a number one hit) and having a baby, Adele managed to find time to sneak in a Bond theme. The track is everything you’d expect from the parties involved… her perfectly controlled voice surrounded by menacing strings… but the end result manages to be pretty awesome. It’s the best Bond theme in a long, long time.
46. “Shady Love” Scissor Sisters featuring Azealia Banks
Just when you think you have the Scissor Sisters figured out, Jake Shears & Co. are bound to throw you a curveball. Cue “Shady Love.” The track, a flamboyant dance-rap romper, is jam packed with one-liners and features a sung guest spot from Azealia Banks. For something this exuberantly cheeky, the song is really an overwhelming success, whether you’re left laughing, dancing, or embarrassingly rapping along.
45. “Melancholy Sky” Goldfrapp
The concept of Goldfrapp already being at the point of releasing a greatest hits compilation is almost incomprehensible. One of the greatest acts to ever hit electro-pop, the duo celebrated their Singles collection with a pair of new songs, “Melancholy Sky” being the clear standout. The track is a sparkling, almost jazzy ballad centered around Alison Goldfrapp’s sultry voice, which pairs brilliantly with the simplistic bassline and subtle string sounds.
44. “Reptile” Citizens!
One of the most exciting new bands on the scene, Citizens! are injecting new life into dance rock, bringing their masterful forefather, Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand,) on board to produce. “Reptile” was a subtle standout this year, with its simplistic disco rhythm section, sparkly guitar, and slithery lead vocal. The track is beautifully understated, but when that kick drum comes thundering in, it’s impossible to not move.
43. “Climax” Usher
Usher didn’t have the stellar year I’m sure he hoped for, but the lead single from his Looking 4 Myself album, “Climax” was a masterpiece of a song. Brilliantly produced by Diplo, therefore sparkling with spitfire bloops and beeps, the track is a feast for the ears. Usher’s tender faucetto juxtaposes surprisingly well with the electronic ballad backing, but it’s really the restraint shown in actually not reaching any sort of soaring climax that proves to be highlight.
42. “Runaways” The Killers
The hype surrounding the return of The Killers was huge, and rightfully so. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that their comeback tune, “Runaways” could actually out-Springsteen The Boss himself this year. In fact, it’s almost unsettling when Brandon Flowers’ pure belt barrels through in place of Bruce’s growl. It’s probably the only quality that convincingly makes it a Killers song. Truth be told, though, the track is pretty awesome, no matter who recorded it.
41. “Gang Bang” Madonna
Madonna had a strikingly successful year for not particularly having a major hit to run off of. Despite a series of poor single choices, she criminally sat on one of her best tracks in years, “Gang Bang.” A bizarre, dark dance track with a dubstep-lite breakdown and violent climax, the song is everything there is to love about the Queen of Pop. It’s controversial, imaginative, and packed full of balls.
40. “ill Manors” Plan B
British rapper Plan B took a stand with his politically-tinged title track to the ill Manors film soundtrack. For the first time in what seems like decades, a song has come along that expertly portrays our state of existence (or at very least one’s perspective of our existence.) Aside from the palpable anger in his protest, it’s the swirling strings and “Oy!” hook that makes “ill Manors” pack so much punch.
39. “Timebomb” Kylie Minogue
It’s hard to believe Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue spent 2012 celebrating her 25th anniversary in music. It’s harder to believe that the single she snuck out in the middle of it all, “Timebomb,” went almost completely unnoticed. The track embodies all of the sass and balls we’ve been missing from Kylie lately, laid beautifully over a house-inspired set of roaring synths and dizzy hooks. It’s a beautiful whirlwind.
38. “Blue Jeans (Smims & Belle Remix)” Lana Del Rey featuring Azealia Banks
There were no two new acts more exiting in 2012 than Lana Del Rey and Azealia Banks. Putting them together is like some sort of musical wet dream. Smims & Belle’s remix of Lana’s “Blue Jeans,” which incorporates a prominent rap verse from Banks, is a triumph for the ages. Although, it has to be noted that there is a striking lack of Del Rey’s original recording, but when viewed as a new track all to itself, the remix is totally brilliant.
37. “Goldie” A$AP Rocky
Every now and then a rap song comes along that embodies the whole sex & drugs lifestyle without sounding too “been there, done that.” A$AP Rocky’s “Goldie” was one of hip hop’s stand out moments in 2012 for just that reason. With vocals distorted so far down, like some sort of stoned comatose, the meat of the song is laid so far back that when a haunting, effected chant is tacked on underneath, the end result is borderline frightening… in the most awesome way possible.
36. “Primadonna” Marina & The Diamonds
Marina & The Diamonds made a tongue-in-cheek stand for divas far and wide with her engaging single “Primadonna.” It partly feels satirical, it party feels like a page out Marina’s diary, but with hook after hook and more “hands in the air” moments than any pop song could hope for, it doesn’t really matter. Throw in there an enviable amount of personality, and you’ve got yourself a killer tune. From start to finish, it’s the song Katy Perry wishes she recorded, but could never pull off.
35. “Follow Baby” Peace
Peace is one of the greatest new bands that you’ve probably never heard (yet.) Updating 90s Britpop with a punky attitude, their single “Follow Baby” reminded us that the UK still has the ability to crank out awesome rock and roll. The track harks back to Suede’s early days (total compliment,) with piercing guitars, an addictive chorus, and a captivating lead vocal. Britpop feels exciting again.
34. “Push & Shove” No Doubt featuring Busy Signal and Major Lazer
No Doubt’s return was one of the most anticipated comebacks of the year, and the group did not disappoint. The title track from their Push & Shove LP was their standout masterpiece. Bringing Busy Signal and Major Lazer on board, the album’s only collaboration, Gwen and the boys crafted a multi-faceted run through of various sounds, instruments and tempos. With upbeat, ska-esque verses and slower, jamming chorus, the track stays brilliantly engaging from start to finish.
33. “Next To Me” Emeli Sandé
British newcomer Emeli Sandé more or less just picked up where Adele left off, but that is in no way a bad thing. Her thumping single “Next To Me” was the full-package deal, with a beat that dares you to move, gospel-inspired energy, and first-rate vocal performance. Whether the song is about God, her lover, friend, or whomever, there is a genuine sense of authenticity and passion so rarely demonstrated these days.
32. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” Taylor Swift
When America’s sweetheart Taylor Swift finally admitted that she’s far more a pop act than country superstar, the end result was a relief-sighing masterpiece. Co-penned with one of pop’s most in-demand songwriters, Max Martin, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is a highly-addictive stomper of a breakup song. On top of it all, T.Swift’s effortless sass and residual country flair just absolutely made for one of 2012’s crowning moments.
31. “Beez In The Trap” Nicki Minaj featuring 2 Chainz
Nicki Minaj had a fantastic year as a pop act, but an embarrassing one as a rapper. Luckily, she had one great hip hop moment that reminded us all why, at one point not too long ago, she was one of the most exciting artists in music. “Beez In The Trap” is uncharacteristically pure hip hop without any gaudy excess, but still has the spunk and personality that we all love from Nicki. The track is wildly catchy and effortlessly endearing without feeling tailor-made for radio.
30. “I Will Wait” Mumford & Sons
“I Will Wait” doesn’t break new ground for Mumford & Sons, but their old ground is pretty awesome, so it’s hard to complain. Kicking in with the energy right from the get-go, the track is a harmony-filled, banjo-strumming ball of emotion with a tailor-made encore quality. I’m not sure, in this case, that the Sons going out on a limb and making a completely different record would have been as successful as releasing one that feels like home.
29. “Losing You” Solange
If there was one song to finally (and deservingly) break Solange Knowles from her big sister’s shadow, it’s “Losing You.” Easily one of R&B’s finest moments in 2012, the track is an update on a classic through and through without tackling a single cliché. With a beat lifted from hip hop’s early days and synth line pulled straight from the 80s, there’s a calming simplicity to the track, and Solange’s reserved delivery is its standout highlight.
28. “Live and Die” The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers were instrumental in this recent embracement of indie folk, despite being around for over a decade. This year, they offered up their most palatable tune yet, in the form of “Live and Die.” Having all the spark of a great crossover pop song, but never straying from their folk roots for even a moment, the track triumphantly stands out from the pack as a candy-coated reminder the A. Bros are hardly a one-trick pony.
27. “Doom & Gloom” The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones haven’t needed to record a new song in about 30 years, but we can all be thankful they celebrated their 50th anniversary with one as good as “Doom & Gloom.” The track has all of the spunk of their classics with a clear flavor of something new, proving they still have more to offer; even Mick Jagger steps out of his usual role and plays the opening riff. The Stones really have still got it, and this track runs circles around half of the rock music being made today.
26. “Diamonds” Rihanna
What sets Rihanna from the pack is her refusal to stay static. She seemingly never stops cranking out material, yet always manages to keep it fresh, and somehow always walks out with major hits. This year she offered up “Diamonds,” co-written by one of the most under-appreciated acts in pop, Sia, a beautifully, understated mid-tempo tune that gets caught in the crosshairs of dance and R&B. The track is really just striking, sitting amongst the best of her best.
25. “Red Lips” Sky Ferreira
In stark contrast to her dancy, electronically-tinged previous work, Sky Ferreira embraced her inner rock star with “Red Lips.” The track, (audibly) co-penned by Garbage’s Shirley Manson, doesn’t totally abandon her electronic roots, but roars with grungy guitars and an intentionally lackluster, yet commanding vocal performance.”Red Lips” exemplifies how, no matter what Ms. Ferreira takes on, she’s going to be insanely awesome at it.
24. “Mercy” Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz
Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music crew were fairly prolific this year. His “Mercy,” which also brought on Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz was their standout track. With a dancehall sample, driving dance breakdown, and ridiculously tight breakdown, the song is a production masterpiece, but what really sticks out is how seamless the verses are. The track is far too polished to just be a series of freestyles, but it’s that organic quality that makes “Mercy” so great.
23. “It’s Time” Imagine Dragons
The (embarrassingly named) Imagine Dragons easily had one of 2012’s most epic indie anthems with “It’s Time,” in a year when alternative rock saw incredible success on the pop charts. The track was the perfect cross-over, without having to suffer any “cool” casualties. It’s not so much a matter of catchiness as it is about a sense of euphoria. It’s easy to get lost in the song, and that’s always a winning quality.
22. “Adorn” Miguel
2012’s Baby-Maker Award easily goes to Miguel’s “Adorn.” A “Sexual Healing” for the 21st Century, the track is a groovy, soulful, smooth slice of heaven with an absolutely flawless vocal delivery. It may call upon sounds from soul’s most prolific era, but “Adorn” sounds as fresh as anything on the radio today. For someone as new to the game as Miguel, to make a song this confident is truly astounding. Marvin would approve.
21. “Poetic Justice” Kendrick Lamar featuring Drake
“Poetic Justice” is not just a noteworthy organic being, but also an update on an under-championed classic. Borrowing heavily from Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place,” Kendrick Lamar not only spices up the original track, but lays down one of the greatest rap performances in recent years. In addition to all, Drake exceeds expectations with his verse. Kendrick Lamar is one of the most exciting things to happen to hip-hop for a while and “Poetic Justice” is his pièce de résistance.
20. “Call Me Maybe” Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is that “blue moon,” all-encompasing pop song that cuts through the pack and lands in the hearts and ears of pretty much everybody on planet earth. Dazzling with strings and a dancy beat, the track is a euphoric series of candy-coated hooks that guiltlessly beckon a sing-along. Pop music doesn’t get “Call Me Maybe” moments as often as it should.
19. “Ride” Lana Del Rey
After failing to live up to the excitement surrounding her going into the year, Lana Del Rey redeemed any and all missteps with her single “Ride.” Lifted from the Paradise edition of her Born To Die album, the track is a grand pitch-perfect, string-driven ballad. With the incomparable Rick Rubin on board to produce, and Ms. Del Rey showcasing her admirable resilience, “Ride” is the kind of song Adele wishes she recorded… and that’s saying something.
18. “We No Who U R” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Australia’s resident rock god and poetic genius, Nick Cave, along with his Bad Seeds, were able to sneak one last moment of brilliance into the tail end of 2012. Their new single, “We No Who U R” sees the group, once again, enter new territory. The track harks back to their 2-disc masterpiece Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, but in a reflective, “janitor sweeping the floor after the party” kind of way. There’s a striking beauty in its simplicity.
17. “Express Yourself” Diplo featuring Nicky Da B
Finding a way to make hip hop, dubstep, dancehall, and house work together, Diplo easily made one of 2012’s most intriguing dance records. “Express Yourself” isn’t the usual run-through of long builds and soaring climaxes, but instead works around syncopated beats, growling synths, and guest vocal spot for rapper Nicky Da B to create something far more interesting to listen to.
16. “Teenage Icon” The Vaccines
The Vaccines are quite possibly the greatest band on the planet at the moment. Their roaring single, “Teenage Icon” was absolutely the kick in the pants alternative rock needed this year. The track is an anthemic triumph blaring with guitar and bass and infectious melodies, almost custom made for festival audiences far and wide. “Teenage Icon” is an anti-pop anthem that manages to be just as delicious and addictive as anything on the radio…except better.
15. “Yet Again” Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear’s exquisite “Yet Again” is easily one of the most perfect moments of 2012. Part-indie, part-psychedlic, part-folk, the track feels ripped right out of the west coast circa 1974, excepting the Radiohead-like sonic jam in the middle. The song is so beautifully poignant that it doesn’t matter that it’s not the catchiest number, or even something that can be fully understood on the first listen.
14. “Sixteen Saltines” Jack White
Jack White is pretty much a living legend, and in 2012, released his first solo long play, Blunderbuss. The clear standout from the pack, “Sixteen Saltines” managed to capture all of the angst of punk’s early days with a powerful double-tracked lead vocal adding a flair of metal to the mix for good measure. The track is a rock and roll hurricane from start to finish, in the best way possible. Jack White proved that as a Stripe or Just Jack, he’s a freakin’ genius.
13. “Ho Hey” The Lumineers
Tapping to the sudden folk revival, newcomers The Lumineers made a stand for themselves with their simplistic “Ho Hey.” The group managed to really find a balance between proper folk and indie rock, but somehow ended up with a pop hit. Juxtaposing an almost unnerving chanted hook with rather peaceful instrumentation makes for an interesting listen, but somewhere in the middle there’s a cute, bouncy little tune that is so worth putting on again.
12. “Every Single Night” Fiona Apple
Lifted as the first single from Fiona Apple’s highly anticipated and unanimously praised fourth album, “Every Single Night” is the comeback we all hoped for. The sparse track feels like an unsettling lullaby, almost completely built around a music box and Fiona’s menacing voice. The juxtaposition of its childlike qualities and haunting delivery somehow results in something rather endearing, pleasant, and, quite frankly, genius.
11. “Take A Walk” Passion Pit
Indie pop masterminds Passion Pit had a lot to live up to after their stellar debut, Manners. With the odds stacked against them, their single “Take A Walk” bounced in and put us all at ease. The song is a delightful anthem with pounding drums, whiney synths, and daringly infectious melodies. Being their most marketable single to date doesn’t distract from its greatness, but, instead, provides the group for a festival-ready sing-along.
10. “Thinkin’ Bout You” Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” is a spell-casting, mind-blowing, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking song; it’s mesmerizing. The track digs into the depths of our emotions with his smooth voice singing on behalf of his palpably aching heart, the simplicity of lazy synths and slow-grooving drum loops, and dizzy lyrics. There’s a genuine sense of authenticity in “Thinkin’ Bout You” that R&B is so shamefully lacking these days.
09. “Liquorice” Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks is, hands down the most exciting newcomer of 2012, thanks her sassy, often vulgar raps that pair brilliantly with her indie dance backing tracks. “Liquorice,” lifted from her 1991 EP, was her most magical moment this year, thanks to her witty spitfire lyrics, more-than-competant singing parts, and euphoric dance builds. There’s almost too much to fully comprehend on first listen, but the track is almost instantly captivating.
08. “Forever” Haim
Comprised of three sisters from quite possibly the coolest family ever, Haim reminded us all why indie pop is so monumental at the moment with their debut, “Forever.” Like some sort of strange cross between Alanis Morissette and Lionel Richie, the track enthusiastically pops with its addictive melody and simplistic bounce. “Forever” brings “alternative” out of all the dark and strange forests it’s being taken down and injects some bubbly life into it.
07. “Hold On” Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes made a grand musical statement this year with their bluesy, soulful Southern rock-inspired debut single “Hold On.” Lead singer Brittany Howard’s howling voice manages to capture all of the pain of Sam Cooke and river-deep emotion of Mavis Staples, and strangely enough give Jack White a run for his money. The track is a truly beautiful piece, that easily strikes a nerve that will have you emotionally invested even before the breathtaking climax.
06. “Under The Westway” Blur
Blur, one of Great Britain’s seminal 90s acts, made a triumphant comeback this year, following their reunion gigs in 2009. Released ahead of their much-praised headlining post-Olympic gig at Hyde Park, “Under The Westway” picked up right where the group left off. The track, a masterfully melancholic ballad jam-packed with emotion, melts with a sense a yearning and simultaneously grows into a hopeful piece, and the end result is chillingly beautiful.
05. “Gun Has No Trigger” The Dirty Projectors
The Dirty Projectors’ managed to make something absolutely beautiful out of very little. “Gun Has No Trigger” relies heavily on rhythm section, but replaces any trace of guitar with magically angelic, dissonant backing vocals, layering a breathtaking lead on top. Keeping it simple allows the track to really go places and climax appropriately, and at the end of it all, once your breathing starts back up again, pressing replay is almost always an inevitability.
04. “Bad Girls” M.I.A.
Just when M.I.A. couldn’t get any more awesome, she goes and makes “Bad Girls.” The track is one of the most “worldly” to hit hip hop for quite some time, folding in everything from Indian sounds to Jamaican dancehall, and at the center of it all is the English rapper’s trademark laid back, almost apathetic delivery. Between the exotic beats and insanely catchy hook, there’s no reason the song wasn’t enormous other than it was quite possibly too cool to be a hit.
03. “Some Nights” fun.
“Alternative” band fun. had quite a year on the pop charts. The title track from their debut LP started out as “We Are Young’s” significantly better, yet overshadowed little brother, but ended up taking a stand for itself. “Some Nights” is an intentionally-crafted anthem that revels in its own grandeur (in the best way possible.) An emotional journey with larger than life vocals, thundering tribal drums, and strangely pitched faucetto, the track is a masterpiece from start to finish.
02. “Oblivion” Grimes
Canadian experimentalist Grimes left music aficionados absolutely breathless this year with “Oblivion,” quite easily the coolest track of the year. The song creates a peacefully haunting, electronic atmosphere, almost like a sirens’ song; it will pull you in and tear you up. Between its synth pop-esque bounce, hazy vocals, and sparse drum loops, there isn’t a single quality that isn’t flawless and captivating. “Oblivion” is the kind of song that transcends genre or emotion. It’s quite simply a song to get lost in.
01. “Pyramids” Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean was undeniably 2012’s MVP with his flawless debut LP, channel ORANGE. Tacked right smack dab in the middle of the record was his magnum opus, “Pyramid.” The track is a 10 minute journey that takes us through more musical landscapes and ideas that most fit into an entire career, all the while telling the tale of a pimp falling in love with one of his prostitutes. Over the course of the song, Ocean explores everything from dance to hip-hop to soul to rock, and sews it all together seamlessly, ending with a slow-jam guitar solo from John Mayer. There’s always something exciting to find in “Pyramids,” no matter how many times you listen. There isn’t a song released in 2012 quite this momentous, imaginative, or well-crafted.