2012 turned out to be a great year for music. We’ve already counted down songs #50-21, so here goes the Top 20…
20. Scissor Sisters “Let’s Have a Kiki” (#1 Dance US)
“And I’m greeted, not by Miss Rose at the door
But our friend, Johnny Five-O
Yes honey, the NYPD shut down the party
So no fee for me, and I don’t even know what’s the tea!”
While the song doesn’t SAY “gay,” “Let’s Have a Kiki” became a gay anthem at the clubs and on patios around the country this past summer. Coming from an album that many thought was a bit neutered, “Kiki” proved that there was still a twisted soul to the Scisters screaming to come out. Literally.
19. Bruno Mars “Locked Out of Heaven” (#1 US)
“You bring me to my knees
You make me testify
You can make a sinner change his ways”
Yes, I know. “Message in a Bottle.” I heard it the first time I listened to the track, and I didn’t care. “Locked Out of Heaven” is a jam no matter what way you cut it. After some more downbeat singles (and the HORRIBLE “Lazy Song”), Bruno kicked off his sophomore release with a an upbeat cut that had an irresistible energy. World domination was inevitable.
18. Pink “Just Give Me a Reason” (Not Charted in US)
“I never stopped
You’re still written in the scars on my heart
You’re not broken just bent and we can learn to love again”
I won’t lie…Pink’s new album The Truth About Love completely underwhelmed, save a few ballads that I thought were really powerful. By far the strongest of these to my ears is the duet with Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me a Reason.” The dialogue between the two as a couple in trouble when one of them doesn’t even know it is so clever in structure yet simple in concept that the listener is drawn into the conversation going on. Add to that the magic from Pink and Ruess’ vocals, and you have a almost-certain smash waiting to happen.
17. SHINee “Sherlock” (#3 KPOP US)
“Oh I’m curious yeah
Sajin sok nega sungan misojieo wae
Oh I’m so curious yeah
I’m so curious yeah”
“SHINee’s in the house!” Sorry…couldn’t help myself. While I’ve enjoyed English songs from crossover KPOP stars Wonder Girls over the past few years, I didn’t fully get on board the KPOP train until 2010, when blogger extraordinaire Mel introduced me to Onew, Jonghyun, Key, Minho and Taemin, otherwise known as SHINee. “Lucifer” caught my attention partially because a boyband was actually DANCING. I know, right? But from the opening strings of “Sherlock,” I was hooked. To my ear, it sounds like a brilliant continuation of the Michael Jackson/Teddy Riley sound of the 90s, and I need more of that in my life. (For some more recommendations, you can check out the KPOP feature I did here back in October)
16. Carly Rae Jepsen “Curiosity” (Not Charted in US)
“Walked the streets all night
Until you came around
Knew that you would come
Before you ever even made a sound”
My favorite Kylie Minogue song of 2012 was not by Kylie Minogue. As I already attested to, I love me some “Timebomb,” but the best Kylie Minogue song for me was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Curiosity.” Released in May in Canada on the heels of “Call Me Maybe,” the original version was a more Gaga-esque version, but by the time “Curiosity” made it onto Carly’s US debut Kiss, it had been remixed into a pop song Kylie’s people would have snatched up in a heartbeat. Was it the best Carly Rae song of 2012? Stay tuned…
15. Carrie Underwood “Blown Away” (#20 US)
“There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma
To wash the sins out of that house
There’s not enough wind in Oklahoma
To rip the nails out of the past”
The above quote wins my award for best lines from a song. It’s not rocket science, but the visual those words create brought this song to life for me. Yes, Carrie is Country Pop, but man, she does it so well. “Blown Away” should have done better at Top 40 radio than it ended up doing. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Carrie Underwood is going to be around for a LONG time.
14. The Wanted “I Found You” (#89 US to date)
“Found you in the river of pure emotion
I found you, my only truth
I found you with the music playing
I was lost ’til I found you”
There already was no question in my mind about which boy band from the UK I put my support with, but The Wanted took a huge leap forward with “I Found You.” While “Found” was reminiscent to their US breakthrough “Glad You Came” with the accordion synth, the lyrical content and the falsetto vocals showed a more mature sound that helped differentiate The Wanted from One Direction. The band has indicated they may actually have two albums in 2013: one in April and a second one before Christmas.
13. fun. “Some Nights” (#3 US)
“Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights I call it a draw
Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights I wish they’d just fall off”
The fun. bandwagon circled me a few times in 2012 before I got on board, but when I did, it was full-fledged support. Debut single “We Are Young” was a killer sing-along with PMN favorite Janelle Monae along for the ride, and then “Some Nights” dropped with yet another sing-along chorus. It wasn’t all about the songwriting, though. Lead singer Nate Ruess has a distinctive voice that you would know anywhere, and he knows how to use it. Third single “Carry On” should keep them at the top of the charts, and the odds are strongly in their favor to pick up Best New Artist at the Grammys this year.
12. Frank Ocean “Thinkin’ Bout You” (#32 US)
“No, I don’t like you, I just thought you were cool
Enough to kick it
Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho
Since you think I don’t love you, I just thought you were cute
That’s why I kiss you
Got a fighter jet, I don’t get fly it, though”
This slot could have easily been filled by “Sweet Life” or “Pyramids,” but since “Thinkin’ Bout You” was the only one released as a single, this made my decision easy. Ocean’s narrative style comes across so effortless and natural that he could probably record a song about grocery shopping that would be compelling. Bonus points for living life matter-of-factly.
11. Sam Sparro “Happiness” (Not Charted in US)
“But if you’re blinded by the light
You can’t see anything in sight
Sit tight sit tight it’ll be alright”
Preach, Brother Sam! If this song doesn’t make you at least dance in your chair when it comes on, check your pulse. This isn’t what I was expecting to follow up his “Black and Gold” era music, but I’ll take it. Second single “I Wish I Never Met You” was outstanding as well. This was my go-to “make me happy” track for a good month.
10. The xx “Angels” (#103 US)
I’m learning about you
The things that no one else sees
And the end comes too soon
Like dreaming of angels”
Would it be clichéd of me to say that it’s appropriate for Romy Madley Croft sounds like an angel? Because she does to me, and it creates a cool counterpoint when singing a song like “Angels” where she is talking about someone else. The lyrics, the stripped-down track, the tone of Madley Croft’s voice…it’s a magical combination.
9. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe” (#1 US)
“Your stare was holdin’,
Ripped jeans, skin was showin’
Hot night, wind was blowin’
Where you think you’re going, baby?”
I struggled with how high to rank this song, but if you stick with the facts, “Call Me Maybe” is a perfectly executed Pop song. The lyrics are basic and relatable, the chorus is hook-tastic, and the delivery by Jepsen captures the angst and the joy of unrequited love. If you have to have cheese in your diet, why not have high-quality cheese.
7. Estelle “Thank You” (#100 US)
“Sometimes I wonder could she be
More of a woman to you than you were a man to me”
Estelle doesn’t get nearly the credit she deserves, both as a vocalist and a versatile performer. While US fans may consider Estelle a one-hit wonder, she has had several hits in the UK since 2004, although none of her recent singles have hit the UK Top 100. “Thank You” is a throwback to that Quiet Storm vibe that seems to be making a comeback. Lush.
8. Anita Baker “Lately” (#13 US R&B)
“Don’t think twice of our love
I say these things because
I love you but it’s hard to explain
And I’m hoping that you’re feeling the same”
Welcome back, Anita! “Lately” embodies everything I love about Anita Baker and her musical legacy. The stunning thing about this is that “Lately” sounds classic and current, all at the same time. Now, if we could just get her to let Blue Note release the full album…
6. Frankie Knuckles presents Director’s Cut featuring B. Slade “Get Over U” (Not Charted in US)
“I can’t get over you
No matter what I say or what I do
I can’t get over you”
My pick for best dance track of the year would also be a huge Pop hit in a perfect world. “Get Over U” is truly irresistible, and I couldn’t get the groove out of my head for weeks at a time. I love it when the old guard comes out and shows the new school how to do it, and Frankie’s team is doing it well.
5. Lee Brice “Hard to Love” (#27 US)
“I am a short fuse
I am a wrecking ball
Crashing into your heart like I do.”
If there is a guy who can’t relate to this lyric, I want to meet that guy and ask him the secret to his mellowness. We all have our moments as guys where we don’t handle a love situation as well as we should, and Lee Brice summed that all up into a three-minute song called “Hard to Love.” Unlike the usual cliché-laden country songs that we have become used to, Brice took a different take on the “you’re better than I deserve” theme and hit a home run.
4. Jessie Ware “Wildest Moments” (Not Charted in US)
“Baby in our wildest moments.
We could be the greatest, we could be the greatest.
Baby in our wildest moments.
We could be the worst of all.”
Rookie of the Year has to go to Jessie Ware, who melded early 90s influences including Soul II Soul, Sade and Lisa Stansfield with contemporary production and soulful vocals that made her one to watch throughout 2012. “Wildest Moments” is an epic ballad that captured the feeling a relationship can generate when it’s at its best or at its worst. Here’s hoping Ware expands her US tour plans in 2013.
3. Miguel “Adorn” (#17 US to date)
“These lips, can’t wait to taste your skin…baby
And these eyes, can’t wait to see your grin
Just let my love, just let my love adorn you”
To my ears, R&B music made a rapid recovery in 2012, and no song impacted me more rapidly and completely than “Adorn,” which helped propel Miguel from just R&B sensation to Pop sensation as well. There is a lushness to “Adorn” that would make any potential paramour swoon if it was directed to them, as well as a sexiness that still shows restraint compared to most “sexy time” songs. If this is the sound of where R&B is going, I’m right on board.
2. Phillip Phillips “Home” (#8 US to date)
“Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home”
After a year of not watching American Idol, I came back for Season 10 and was a bit underwhelmed at times. For some reason, I continued to watch in Season 11, and I was struck by Phillips’s raw and powerful voice, which originally sounded too much like Dave Matthews but eventually evolved into a more distinct vocal tool. Despite his ending up the fifth white guy with a guitar in a row to win Idol, something miraculous happened: an Idol winner got a good song released as their introduction to the rest of the world! Not only did “Home” debut strongly, but it then went on to be the theme of the US women’s Gymnastics team on TV and a standalone hit on its own.
1. Bright Light Bright Light “Moves” (Not Charted in US)
“Cause I can see you in me and me in you
And no matter what the distance it comes through
In a laugh, in a shadow, in a dream, when we move
No matter what the distance it comes through”
In a year where many of my contemporaries are singling out the deserving “Feel It” for their Best Of lists, I have to go in a different direction and choose an album cut as my top song of the year. Rod Thomas took a subject that has been written about so much that it has become clichéd and gave it new life, thanks to a collaboration with Jon Shave that only took four hours to pull together. On an album (Make Me Believe in Hope) that has so many standouts, “Moves” is Pop music perfection.