As a journalism student, the importance of objectivity has long been instilled in me. Nonetheless, what fun is writing without a little bit of subjectivity every once in a while? Consider the past ten years my objective analysis of the music of 2013. Today, I’m throwing aside those numbers to rank what I believe to be the ten best songs released in 2013. To gain a spot on this list, a song needed to be a great piece of songwriting and production, as well as a song that I wanted to (and did) listen to many, many times. Here’s a few guidelines I set for myself in compiling this list:
- Only one song per artist. Not that I was planning on breaking this rule, but some of my favorite artists released albums this year, so it was certainly tempting.
- In order for consideration, the song had to actually be released in 2013. So any album cuts from 2012 that got popular this year are off the table. So no “Treasure,” which makes me sad. But that’s the rules.
So with that behind us, here’s a look at my picks for the 10 Best Songs of 2013! These are not necessarily aimed to please, so feel free to let me know where I messed up in your mind. Here we go!
#10: Changing Of The Seasons by Two Door Cinema Club
As Spotify’s personalized year in review told me, Two Door Cinema Club was far and away my most listened to artist of 2013. However, almost all of those listens came from their 2010 debut album Tourist History. I found their Beacon album from last year to be highly dissatisfying, and my expectations were thus low for this summer’s Changing Of The Seasons EP. Fortunately, the titular track was a much-needed return to the Two Door sound that made me love them in the first place. The two-guitar interplay, punchy bass riffs, and strong lyrical content about moving on after a breakup left strong impressions on me.
#9: Beneath Your Beautiful by Labrinth & Emeli Sandé
You might not guess it, but I am an unashamed fan of slow songs with steady buildup, better known as the colloquial “power ballad.” And in a year filled with successful ones, the best one of 2013 in my opinion was “Beneath Your Beautiful.” Combining the vocal talents of Brits Labrinth and Emeli Sandé, the song begins with a lone vocal and piano, gaining volume and instrumentation throughout until becoming a powerful duet. Although it didn’t become as big of a hit as I’d hoped, I think that helped its ranking here, as so many of the other ballads of 2013 were played to death on the radio, souring my impressions of them.
#8: The Outsiders by Eric Church
I have been a quiet yet adamant country fan since my parents first introduced me to Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith a decade ago, and ever since then, I have been watching the genre slowly decline into weak songwriting, attempts to be pop-friendly, and general mockery by the average music listener. Thus, when Eric Church released “The Outsiders” this fall, it served as a throwback to the reasons why I enjoy country in the first place. Sounding closer to the Outlaw brand of country-rock prevalent in the 1970s, the raucous track proudly proclaims why country and the lifestyle it entails is different than everything else. And you know what? That’s how it should be! Country music has only been harmed quality-wise by trying too hard to be like pop music, so kudos to Eric Church for consistently being one of the few remaining traditionalists.
#7: Do I Wanna Know? by Arctic Monkeys
I’ve never really considered myself an Arctic Monkeys fan, although I’ve always respected them for gaining such an established reputation in just seven years. But when my friends recommended, no, begged me to listen to their 2013 album AM, I obliged them, and man oh man was it good. It was a tossup between which song I wanted to include in my rankings, but in the end I realized that “R U Mine?” was actually released in early 2012. Featuring the most memorable guitar riff of the year, “Do I Wanna Know?” reminds me of pre-Resistance Muse with its full-band participation and grating vocals. If both songs had been eligible, I’d likely have to call it a tie.
#6: Team by Lorde
I was so ready to write Lorde off as a flash in the pan. Sure, I thought “Royals” was a fun enough song, and I was certainly impressed that she wrote and recorded the song at just 16 years of age. But I didn’t think that she would have any other great songs in her repertoire immediately. But then “Team” was released in September, and my world was rocked. Replacing the self-harmonization and minimalism of “Royals” with layered synthesizers and a booming beat, “Team” most definitely shocked me. The best track on Pure Heroine, a pretty solid debut album in its own right, this second single is a perfect example of a precocious artist not trying too hard to be precocious. She’s just singing about her pals, and can’t we all dance to that?
#5: Falling by Haim
I stumbled across the sister act Haim by chance, when I checked the Billboard Albums chart this fall and saw that their Days Are Gone album debuted inside the Top 10. I gave it a listen-through, and left the experience feeling quite impressed. Their style reminded me very much of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, perhaps mostly due to their very effective harmonies. The opening track “Falling” was my first impression of them, and by far left the most lasting one. With a heavily-produced breakdown that reminded me of 1980s Genesis, I found myself hooked to the catchy, yet almost passive-aggressive delivery of the track.
#4: Love Me Again by John Newman
I didn’t find out about “Love Me Again,” John Newman’s debut single, until late November, but I am enormously grateful that it was able to dominate my listening time these past five weeks. I simply love everything about this song. The Brit Newman sings with a booming tenor reminiscent of Van Morrison’s glory days, and the instrumentation backing him is superb, from a large string section to the ever-present bari sax. It’s nearly impossible to listen to “Love Me Again” without wanting to dance, and the Romeo & Juliet-inspired music video showcases many people doing just that. This song is finally catching on here in the United States, and I will not rest until this song reaches the Top 40. It’s the ultimate throwback track in a year defined by them.
#3: Afterlife by Arcade Fire
Upon my first listening of the Reflektor album, “Afterlife” was already far and away the standout track on the album for me. On an album plagued by songs lasting a few minutes too long, the penultimate track had perfect pacing as it moved from contemplative verse to the effortless yet anthemic chorus via my favorite fill of the year (Win Butler belting “I’ve gotta know” over a creative drum riff). The pervading influence of Caribbean music and beats which inspired Reflektor proved an unlikely match made in heaven for the always-experimenting rock outfit. Further increasing my enjoyment of “Afterlife” was the creative lyric video posted by the band featuring clips from Black Orpheus, an excellent 1950s Brazilian film I had the great privilege of watching for a class last fall. I could cause a scandal by saying this, but I personally liked “Afterlife” better than any track from The Suburbs.
#2: Get Lucky by Daft Punk f/Pharrell Williams
Looks like Rolling Stone and I are almost in agreement. Earlier this month, the magazine crowned “Get Lucky” the best song of 2013. And I can’t argue with them at all. The throwback style punctuated by Nile Rodgers’ iconic guitar playing was insanely satisfactory. Pharrell’s easygoing R&B vocals made the song groovy and sexy. And most importantly, everybody’s favorite almost-anonymous Frenchmen pulled yet another rabbit out of their seemingly bottomless hat, following up the hardcore techno of the Tron: Legacy score with the vastly different vocoder-friendly disco that defined Random Access Memories. The radio played “Get Lucky” probably a little bit too much over the summer, but I didn’t mind. As a lifelong Daft Punk fan, I was shocked that they could continue to keep surprising me by stamping their unique brand of electronic music. I know what you’re thinking. With all these accolades, how could I have one song ranked higher? Well…
#1: Wake Me Up! by Avicii
For all the incredible strengths of “Get Lucky,” its weakness is its repetitive lyrics. I’m sure many of you got a slight bit tired of hearing “We’re up all night to get lucky” multiple times throughout the course of the song. That issue of repetitive lyrics has long plagued electronic music and kept it from being taken too seriously by most music purists. But then along came Avicii. His 2013 album TRUE was a tour de force in every sense of the word, incorporating country and folk music, as well as some incredibly thoughtful songwriting, with the club-dominating beats of EDM to create a sound undeniably unique, yet somehow familiar. With lead single and first track “Wake Me Up!“, Avicii introudced the world to this new genre of “folktronica,” and competitors are already clamoring to capitalize on what he created. And I never thought I’d say that I listened closely to the lyrics of an EDM song, but Aloe Blacc’s pleading uneasiness about the future ensnared my attention. The song takes a steady minute and a half to build to its foot-stomping post-chorus climax, and every moment is worth it for the best musical payoff of 2013. I truly hope (and realistically believe) that “Wake Me Up!” will be regarded years down the road as the song that defines 2013’s contribution to the historical timeline of popular music. It is my pleasure to award it my choice as the Best Song of 2013.
So there you have it, let the debate begin! Did I get it right? Did I get it hopelessly wrong? Let me know what you think, as I’m very curious to see how you all would rank your picks for the best songs of 2013. Tomorrow, I will do the same thing again, but by finally switching over to the world of the cinema. I’ve been thinking about this list for a long time, so check back here tomorrow for my choices of the 10 Best Films of 2013!