Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.
“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.
“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.
“Baby,” Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris
I make no excuses for liking this guilty pleasure. When a song reminds you of your kids, it becomes a favorite whether it’s cool or not. Plus, come on, Luda’s rap is pretty choice.
“The Weary Kind,” Ryan Bingham
“Crazy Heart” was a great movie and Jeff Bridges was definitely worthy of his Academy Award, but the film wouldn’t have succeeded if the song Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, wrote in the film, wasn’t perfect. Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett wrote that perfect song in the form of “The Weary Kind” and Bingham captures everything about Bad Blake and delivers it in his performance of the Oscar winning composition.
My big discovery this year was Lissie’s, Catching a Tiger, a collection of lovely melodies combined with the singer’s remarkable voice. “Cuckoo” is the song I played most from the album. It’s one of the finest expressions of being a teenager and feeling like an outcast that I’ve heard in years.
“Can I Change My Mind,” Stone River Boys
Guitarist Dave Gonzalez and singer Mike Barfield, aka the Stone River Boys, blend Memphis soul, Austin blues and old time country for music they like to call country funk. Their cover of Roy Buchanan’s “Can I Change My Mind,” conjures images of warm summer evenings with my family and friends, the grill cookin’ steaks, the kids playing corn hole, and the cooler stocked with ice cold beer.
“Fuck You,” Cee Lo Green
Besides being one of the catchiest songs of the year, and also one of the slickest, there’s an emotional side to “Fuck You,” that taps into the wounded heart of every young guy who’s been jilted or turned down by the girl of his dreams. Show the dejected face of that kid, and I guarantee he’s thinking everything that Cee-Lo is singing on this damn fine song.
“Crash Years,” The New Pornographers
Neko Case and her band mates reconvene for another great jangly rock song. My favorite whistle solo of the year.
“The Power of the Heart,” Peter Gabriel
Gabriel does a cover of Lou Reed and creates magic.
“My Brand New Day,” Michael Stanley
Stanley is a musical icon in Cleveland whose height of popularity was the ’70s and early ’80s. These days he’s a well-loved DJ for Cleveland’s classic rock station, but he continues to write and record music. This unabashedly romantic up-tempo rocker somehow found its way to my favorite L.A. station and made my spring much brighter.
“Bring It On,” The Gaslight Anthem
These Jersey boys shed the Springsteen label with an intense album, American Slang. Although lead singer Brian Fallon received the lion’s share of the press, the album is truly a band effort, best exemplified on this phenomenal track. Drummer Benny Horowitz lays down a tight, solid foundation, bassist Alex Levine holds the song together like glue, and lead guitarist Alex Rosamilia uses his instrument like a second voice, as it sings a counter melody to Fallon’s vocals.
“January Wedding,” The Avett Brothers
The Avetts certainly know how to rock out with their acoustic guitars, bass and banjos, but they also have the ability to pull back, as they do on this lovely ballad from their album, I and Love and You.
“He’s Not a Boy,” The Like
Capturing the joy and harmonies of ’60s girls groups and blending it with the edginess and short precision of the British Invasion, the Like, had one of the most biting and danceable records of the year. Listening to “He’s Not a Boy” makes my head bounce, my foot tap, and makes me happy that I’m not the subject of lead singer Z Berg’s biting words.
“Wake Up Everybody,” John Legend & the Roots, featuring Common and Melanie Fiona
Teaming up with the Roots, the most important band in popular music right now, John Legend takes a brief respite from being the utmost authority on love to record Wake Up!, a collection of socially conscious songs. On this track from that superb album, Legend duets with Melanie Fiona, then steps aside for Common, who delivers a classic rap that carries this cover of a cover of a 1975 song by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes into the 21st Century.
“Anchor,” Alejandro Escovedo
This meaty rocker wears its heart on the rolled up sleeves of the sea-faring protagonist. With songs like this, it’s no wonder that cult figure Escovedo has fans like Springsteen.
“Women of the Ages,” Laura Cortese
I was riding the train to work one October morning, as I read the tragic account of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old teen who chose to take his own life instead of enduring another day of abuse from his “peers.” This gorgeous song by Laura Cortese was playing while tears rolled down my cheeks.
“Silver Rider,” Robert Plant
On his new album, Band of Joy, Robert Plant found kindred spirits in Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin. The way Plant and Griffin complement each other on “Silver Rider” is uncanny, while Miller goes all Spyboy on us with a chilling guitar solo. Before the new album, Plant and Daniel Lanois did some sessions together. This song may give us an idea of what they would have sounded like.
“Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem, featuring Rihanna
It’s impossible to listen to this explosive number and not think about the tumultuous histories of both Eminem and Rihanna. Em spits out his lyrics like a machine gun and Rihanna makes your heart hurt in one of the best rap collaborations of all time.
“Bloodbuzz Ohio,” The National
I hear this song and I can’t help but think of the gray winter skies of my home state of Ohio. Not sure if that was the intention of the National when they recorded this song, but the song makes me homesick as the end of the year approaches.
“Looking Out,” Brandi Carlile
Another strong, emotional song by the underrated Carlile. The singer-songwriter seems incapable of singing a false note, plus she kicks some serious ass when it comes to rocking out. “When you feel like giving in… like your heart could break in two / Someone loves you!” What better message to end the year on.
Tags: Alejandro Escovedo, Brandi Carlile, Buddy Miller, Bullz-Eye Year in Music 2010, Cee Lo Green, Common, Crazy Heart, Dave Gonzalez, Eminem, Jeff Bridges, John Legend, Justin Bieber, KT Tunstall, Laura Cortese, Lissie, Ludacris, Melanie Fiona, Michael Stanley, Mike Barfield, Patty Griffin, Peter Gabriel, Rihanna, Robert Plant, Ryan Bingham, Stone River Boys, T-Bone Burnett, The Avett Brothers, The Gaslight Anthem, The Like, The National, The New Pornographers, The Roots, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers