Welcome to Day 3 of Listmas here at Ranting About Music! Now that the worst hits of the year are behind us, let’s take a look at the best of the best. And, while 2012 had a lot of garbage in it, there were also plenty of great songs, to boot; whittling down the Hot 100 for the best songs was a little harder than doing the same for the worst. Well, let’s get started!
10. Eric Church – Springsteen
My top ten hits list is opening with a country song. I’m surprised, too. But I really like “Springsteen”. Unlike a lot of crossover country, the production isn’t polished, and is instead rustic, and unassuming. The chorus is big, but it’s all pretty, shimmering guitars that don’t overwhelm, but entice. There’s an effortlessness in the verses, too, “Springsteen” doesn’t sound like it’s trying to be anything but a decent tune, and the “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-whoa” outro goes for the big stadium sound of the song’s namesake. The lyrics, reliving a high school romance through a then favorite artist, are bittersweet, and paint a picture without becoming too silly or mawkish (even the idiocy in getting your lover’s name tattooed on you sound adorably adolescent). “Springsteen”‘s just an unassumingly good song.
9. Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa ft. Bruno Mars – Young, Wild, and Free
I’m surprised that Wiz Khalifa, who just barely avoided missing this year’s Worst list twice, made it here. But none of the three artists on “Young, Wild, and Free” can take full credit for the song’s success; it truly is a group effort that works for everyone involved. Wiz and Snoop are known far and wide for smoking, but putting Bruno Mars on the chorus was a smart move–the guy’s a little grittier and more substance friendly than his early material suggests.
“Young, Wild, and Free” wasn’t the only stoner jam out there this year, but it accomplished what few songs had before it: it makes it sound fun. For once, getting high doesn’t sound like a boast or a competition, but just something to do with your friends while drinking or watching TV. Snoop’s smooth and slow flow balances out Khalifa’s zippy lines to the benefit of both, and the catchy little piano riff is infectious. Roll on, guys.
8. Usher – Scream
Club/dance songs didn’t dominate the charts this year, but the good ones were great, and “Scream” is the best of the bunch. The top-notch production sounds like a party on its own, and never lets up over the song’s four minute runtime, and has a bit of texture, too (the intro could almost pass for hi-fi chiptune). And yeah, the song is “in your face” sexual, but the lyrics aren’t that skeevy. Instead of focusing solely on how much he wants you, “Scream” pitches the idea that hey, good sex is good sex. Does “Scream” do anything particularly different from other club pop? No, but it does it better than most, and that’s more than enough.
7. Miguel – Adorn
AND Usher (again) – Climax
If you’re attracted to men, and have a thing for sensual R&B, then goddamn was 2012 your year. Between these two songs and Frank Ocean’s “Thinking Bout You”, this year was loaded with audio erotica. Miguel’s “Adorn” mixes some throwback Prince and Marvin Gaye style R&B with a modern production heavy on fuzzy bass and smooth backing vocals. But Miguel’s vocal gymnastics are what make the song stand out; over “Adorn”‘s runtime, he sounds less concerned with keeping it firmly structured in verses and choruses, and more focused on performing the fuck out it.
“Climax”, meanwhile, trades past-meets-present production for a futuristic, chilly, glitchy sound that matches a mostly falsetto performance from Usher. If “Adorn” is about sexual build-up, “Climax” is about the blissful post-climax where the whole world slows down. For a song called “Climax”, it spends most of its time in build-up, but once the bridge comes in and Usher kicks into full gear and the electronics swirl around him, it’s a hell of a high point. If you’d have told me that either one of these songs would be on the year-end chart (ok, ok, “Adorn” barely made it, but still), I wouldn’t have believed it; neither one sounds like it was made for the radio. Then again, with jams this good, I’m not gonna complain.
6. Ellie Goulding – Lights
In a year of “anything can happen” hits, “Lights” was still the most unexpected. The song was released for American radio in May of 2011, but wasn’t a hit until nearly a year later. I know I mentioned that I generally discount songs that were released before November of the year before, but “Lights” took a long, slow climb up the chart over this year, and placed at number 5 for the year end.
I’m happy it got the recognition, though. “Lights” blends electronic and acoustic instruments with a deftness not seen elsewhere. It’s sleek and polished without being over produced, and Goulding’s throaty vocals always sound like she’s on the edge of breaking, but never does. More than just being well-crafted, “Lights” is the kind of song that makes you want to move; it’s catchy, and while it isn’t a full on romp like “Scream”, it’s got a hell of a groove, to boot. The song’s been around pretty much all year, and a lesser song would have worn out its welcome by now. But “Lights” still shines with every listen.
So, that’s the first half of the “Best hits” list, come back tomorrow for part 2!
Ranting About Music Listmas Schedule
Dec. 16th: Worst Hits (10-6)
Dec. 17th: Worst Hits (5-1)
Dec. 18th: Best Hits (10-6)
Dec. 19th: Best Hits (5-1)
Dec. 20th: Best New Music
Dec. 21st: Best Albums
Dec. 22nd: Odds ‘n Ends