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 days my objective analysis of the music of 2014. Today, I’m throwing aside those numbers to rank what I believe to be the ten best songs released this year. 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 “Am I Wrong,” which makes me sad. But those are the rules.
Before getting started, here’s a few songs that I really enjoyed this year, but came up just shy of making my Top Ten. Consider these honorable mentions of a sort:
- Take Me To Church by Hozier
- Problem by Ariana Grande f/Iggy Azalea
- Can’t Remember To Forget You by Shakira f/Rihanna
- I’m Not The Only One by Sam Smith
- I by Kendrick Lamar
- Black Widow by Iggy Azalea f/Rita Ora
- Geronimo by Sheppard
- Animals by Maroon 5
So with that behind us, here’s a look at my picks for the 10 Best Songs of 2014! 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: Rather Be by Clean Bandit f/Jess Glynne
From the very first time I heard that unforgettable string intro, I knew I was hooked. Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” is a perfect blend of modern dance-pop infused with some true musicianship and soothing string undertones. Its simple lyrics about the comfort of a best friend or significant other hit home with the greatest of ease, and the track glides along seamlessly through its surprisingly brisk four minutes. When everything but the strings and Jess Glynne’s voice drop out right before the final chorus, the song really swells to something special in one final crescendo. Moreso than any other radio staple of the summer, this was the one that always made me want to roll down the windows and jam along in full voice.
#9: Chandelier by Sia
Of all the songs on this list, “Chandelier” was certainly the one which took the longest to grow on me. On first listen, Sia’s eerie magnum opus struck me as too bizarre to be truly enjoyable, and certainly unlike anything I’d heard from an artist with Top 10 singles to their name. But as the months passed by and the song’s popularity grew, I began to see the track for what it really is. Simply put, “Chandelier” is today’s en vogue epicurean lifestyle in musical form, delivered to us by a nearly 40-year-old Australian. When Sia really begins to belt at the beginning of “Chandelier”s towering chorus, no one in music today has the pipes to challenge her. Daring us to sing along but knowing full well that we can’t, Sia showed us all that she can make a song famous all by herself.
#8: Afire Love by Ed Sheeran
I knew that I wanted to have a song from Ed Sheeran’s excellent X album on this countdown, but it took me quite a lot of thought to determine which one I would pick. For most of the past few months, it was more or less a given that I would pick “Don’t,” the young Brit’s aggressively angry but undeniably catchy breakup track about Ellie Goulding. But in recent weeks, the lyrical power and impressive arrangement of “Afire Love” eventually won me over. Written about his grandfather’s lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s, “Afire Love” manages to brim with a bittersweet sense of optimism as its chorus describes how the power of love is the one thing that memory loss can’t affect. Settling into a wholeheartedly satisfying groove, this is true songwriting of a high level, and I’m grateful that the Grammy committee has honored Sheeran with an Album of the Year nod.
#7: She Came To Give It To You by Usher f/Nicki Minaj
If you told me at the beginning of the year that an Usher song would find its way onto my best songs of the year list, my first reaction would be “Usher has music still?” My second reaction would be “his new stuff isn’t really my style.” But all that changed this summer when he dropped “She Came To Give It To You.” I first heard it (of all places in the world) used in a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial, and its funky beat caught my ear. Looking up the full version, I was more than pleased with the complete product. Brimming with energy and Usher’s trademark bravado, “She Came To Give It To You” is easily my favorite Usher song since “Yeah,” and all my friends know how much I loved “DJ Got Us Falling In Love.” I even was a fan of Nicki Minaj’s humorous verse, and I am the furthest thing from a Minaj enthusiast.
#6: I Will Never Let You Down by Rita Ora
If you checked the honorable mentions, then you know that I was a big fan of Rita Ora’s 2014. Her contributions to “Black Widow” were what made it a great track for me, and she came through again on her own single “I Will Never Let You Down.” Featuring the instantly recognizable production of her then-boyfriend Calvin Harris, the track makes excellent use of the “muted verse, explosive chorus” method, culminating in a saccharine burst of pop goodness oozing with happiness and toe-tapping energy. I was extremely saddened that it didn’t make more of a dent on the Hot 100 this year, but it still easily became one of my ten most-listened to tracks of the year, probably because I couldn’t bring myself to stop singing along.
#5: Blame by Calvin Harris f/John Newman
I’ve been a Calvin Harris fan for a long time, and I’ve always been a bigger fan of the tracks which he sings himself, often finding his guest performers slightly disconnected from the feel of the song overall. However, there’s usually one exception on each of his albums which becomes far and away my favorite track of all. On 18 Months, that song was “Let’s Go,” featuring Ne-Yo and one of the best drops of 2012. With this year’s Motion, the standout track by a wide margin was “Blame,” featuring one of my favorite up-and-coming artists, John Newman. The “Love Me Again” singer holds nothing back in his contributions to “Blame,” belting the titular phrase with an almost iconic level of confidence. Throw in one of my favorite Calvin Harris post-chorus interludes to date, and you have a dangerously effective pop-EDM blend. No song this year made me feel more like I was already in the club than “Blame.”
#4: Jealous (I Ain’t With It) by Chromeo
Nothing makes me happier as an 80s music fan than when a contemporary artist reaches back to the past to infuse a retro feel into the more advanced production values afforded to musicians these days. One of the best groups at achieving this is the Canadian duo Chromeo, who feel like a bizarre but wholly satisfying blend of Daft Punk and Hall & Oates. Their 2014 album White Women was one of my favorite sets of the year, with each song brimming with a distinctly 80s feel that was music to my ears. The most danceable track on the album was without a doubt “Jealous,” which started with a catchy guitar riff and exploded into a funky post-chorus synth groove which almost single-handedly carried me through Finals Week of my winter quarter. If you’re noticing a pattern here, I’m an unashamed fan of upbeat tracks which make me want to get up and dance along to the beat. What a perfect segue for…
#3: Shut Up And Dance by Walk The Moon
I always have given props to Walk The Moon, one of the only popular music acts from my native Ohio. Having seen them live, I can testify that the energy they put forth in all their studio recordings translates perfectly into their live shows, and nearly all their songs seem to have dancing on their mind. As the lead single of their excellent 2014 album Talking Is Hard, “Shut Up And Dance” caught my eye in October as one of the catchiest songs I’d heard in a long time. Starting with one of the year’s easiest-to-recognize guitar riffs and turning into yet another showcase of Nick Petricca’s powerful tenor, “Shut Up And Dance” maintained its absurdly high energy level throughout, making it a whirlwind of a 200-second song. Throw in the fact that it was free on iTunes for a while, and you have all the pieces for a truly great listening experience.
#2: Bailando by Enrique Iglesias f/Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona
Replace Enrique Iglesias’ name with all the comments I made about Usher in the beginning of my analysis above. When I saw that he had a new single out called “Bailando,” I thought that it would be another one of his Spanish-language songs which had little potential here in the States. But when I dutifully listened to it upon its debut on the Hot 100, I was knocked off my feet from the moment I heard the opening acoustic guitar riff. Crackling with one of the best grooves of the year, “Bailando” became one of the biggest surprise hits of the year, and one of the funnest songs to listen to on repeat. As a non-speaker of Spanish, I was never fully able to memorize all the lyrics, but that didn’t stop “Bailando” from becoming my most-listened to song of the year according to Spotify. For quite a long time, I had this song penciled in the #1 spot for my Best Songs of 2014, thanks to its uniqueness and refreshing departure from the rest of pop radio this summer. But then November rolled around…
#1: Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson f/Bruno Mars
I was perfectly content with 2014 being a year without any new Bruno Mars music. I saw him in concert over the summer, and was absolutely thrilled by his performance, with enough memories to last into 2015. But when I heard that he had teamed up with excellent British producer Mark Ronson for a new single on Ronson’s upcoming album, it sounded too good to be true. But when “Uptown Funk” finally dropped on November 10, it shot straight to the top of my favorite songs of the year, just barely edging my infatuation with “Bailando.” Halfway between the soulful double entendres of 80s Prince music with the quasi-rapping bravado of vintage James Brown, Bruno Mars absolutely owns “Uptown Funk,” lending his unmistakable presence to Ronson’s incredible arrangement. When the song revealed its ace up its sleeve, a full-throttle horn section to complement Bruno’s continuous cavalcade of “Don’t believe me , just watch,” I knew that nothing better had been released this year. And against all odds, its last minute is by far its best minute, as the horns take full charge over the pun of the year, “Uptown Funk you up.” Quite simply, to answer Jack Nicholson’s infamous question, this is as good as it gets.
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 2014. 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 2014!