Are you giddy with excitement? Maybe crying and shaking as you wait to discover who’s next on this countdown? I know! Me too! And I wrote the thing! That’s just how enthusiastic I get. So let’s keep the hits coming…
30. “That Wasn’t Me” by Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile is one of the best rock musicians working today, and the fact that she’s a lesbian is just icing. “That Wasn’t Me” is a heart-tearing ballad about a woman trying to prove that her mistakes don’t define her. Does she believe that, though? Or does she secretly fear that she’s brought shame on her family and ruined her chance for love? The final verse suggests she’s had a breakthrough, but I’m not certain she buys it. And that kind of ambiguity—along with the Bonnie Raitt-ish vocals—make this song spectacular.
29. “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia featuring John Martin
It’s a shame that the DJ collective Swedish House Mafia is breaking up, because they’ve just hit their peak with “Don’t You Worry Child,” a musically thrilling, lyrically sophisticated track about not succumbing to dark thoughts. It’s no surprise this song was a huge hit in Europe, where DJ-driven dance music has been dominating the scene for years, but I’ve been happy to see it catch on in America. As I write this, it’s #14 on the Hot 100, and I hope it hits the top ten. With any luck, it will help even more quality dance music—music that offers more than a mindlessly catchy hook repeated over and over—dominate the airwaves.
28. “30 Minute Love Affair” by Paloma Faith
Paloma Faith’s record label is really trying to make her happen in the States—it’s no accident that she was on the latest edition of VH1 Divas—and I’ve been pushing for her myself. And seriously… give her a listen. Her music is a brilliant mix of cabaret and 90s dance-pop, and Faith has the vocal skill to make it all work. I keep vacillating about my favorite song from her album Fall to Grace, but at the moment, it’s “30 Minute Love Affair,” a mid-tempo ode to Mr. Right Now.
27. “True Love” by Pink
I like “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” and “Try,” but even though they’re hit singles, they are not my favorite songs from Pink’s new album The Truth About Love. Day after day, I keep returning to “True Love,” with its effortless bounciness and sassy lyrics about loving someone even when you want to punch them in his whole face. It doesn’t even seem like it’s trying to be funny and spunky, it just is, and that’s why it makes me happy.
26. “Montauk” by Rufus Wainwright
This is one of the best songs that Rufus Wainwright has ever recorded. It’s a highlight of his fantastic new album Out of the Game, using a beautiful piano arrangement to support a message to Rufus’ daughter. With emotional, elegant lyrics (and singing to match), he imagines her life as an adult, when she comes back to visit her aging dads. He predicts happiness and arguments and most of all, love. And for me, the messy life depicted in the lyrics makes the emotions feel real. He sounds like a father who’s scared and excited about every aspect of his daughter’s future, which feels about right.
25. “A New Word to Say” by Bright Light Bright Light
Adorable gay man singing to me? Check. Stylish video? Check. Bubbly track that makes me instantly happy? Check. Chorus that lodges itself in my brain for hours at a time? Double check. If this is your first experience with Bright Light Bright Light, then I encourage you to dig deeper. He’s the best thing to happen to thoughtful dance music since Robyn.
24. “Wildest Moments” by Jessie Ware
There are a lot of British women on this countdown, but hey… there are a lot of British women making great music right now. Take Jessie Ware, for instance, whose Sade-influenced pop music grabs my attention with it straightforward urgency and keeps it with its emotional depth. There’s a reason she’s been on a lot of top ten lists this year.
Though I like most of her songs, “Wildest Moments” is my favorite, if only for the thundering drum track and the seductive magic of the chorus. I just heard this song a few weeks ago, so I don’t quite have it in my bones. I feel like if I’d heard it in the summer, it would be higher on this countdown.
23. “Slow It Down” by Amy Macdonald
Amy Macdonald represents the best of the Lilith Fair’s legacy, in which exceptionally talented women unleash interesting, exciting music on us like a tidal wave of awesome. Just listen to “Slow It Down,” a track from Macdonald’s latest album Life in a Beautiful Light. It’s just such an anthem! I want to drive too fast on winding, hilly roads, slapping my steering wheel with my hand while I’m singing along. I want to crank the volume and blast that weird effect when she sings “down, down, down” in the chorus.
22. “Alone With You” by Jake Owen
Technically, Jake Owen is a country artist and “Alone With You” is a country song, but let’s be honest. This is a rock star delivering a rock song about sex and lust and how they mess you up and keep you going. But no matter the genre, there’s no sense in fighting a chorus like this. This song was released in 2011, but it didn’t peak on the charts until 2012, and it’s made me groove all year long.
21. “All of Me” by Tanlines
A few months ago, Amazon.com made “All of Me” available as a free download, and I am SO GLAD I checked the site that day. Ever since, I have been loving this ludicrously delightful jam. It’s got the low-fi vibe of a Matt & Kim hit and an explosion of backing vocals in the chorus that makes me go crazy. And those spacey keyboard sounds bouncing throughout the track? Forget about it.
Bonus points to the creepy video, in which Tanlines convinces a room of dead-eyed conventioneers to dance… after a shady operative shows them all a VHS of the band performing live.
Hey cool! Here’s the rest of the countdown!
Mark Blankenship lives for end-of-the-year countdowns. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship