Aaaaah! This is it! Big finish! Who has the number one song of the entire year? Well, it’s time to find out. Can you handle it?!?!?!
5. “Beneath Your Beautiful” by Labrinth featuring Emeli Sandé
You might remember that I called this the most romantic song of 2012, and I still feel that way. I also remain captivated by the video, with is breathtakingly simple visuals that tell you everything you need to know about how a loved one can loom in your imagination.
But mostly, I’m still smitten by the surges of feeling in the song. By Labrinth, normally a rapper, singing in his choked upper register. By Emeli Sandé dropping to a hush. By the upward climb of the music and the elegance of the harmonies. All things, sure, that have been in other songs. But the impact here is just perfect.
And best of all: After months of delay, this song is finally available for legal download in the United States. Hopefully, we Yanks will notice how good it is.
4. “Left Alone” by Fiona Apple
Oh, Fiona! Never change! Never stop being emotionally twisted and musically adventurous! As you know, I love your new album, and I love this bold, skittish, lyrically delicious song best of all. It sums up how your music resists easy categorization, but grabs for the throat all the same. Also: Thank you for the phrase “moribund slut.”
3. “Save Me” by Gotye
I named “Somebody That I Used to Know” my #4 song of 2011, so even though it became a hit this year, I can’t list it again. That would be insane! Literally insane!
However, I didn’t hear the rest of Gotye’s album Making Mirrors until this year, and almost every song has moved into my heart with the same insistence as the breakout single.
Though the album is chock full of delights—“Eyes Wide Open,” “Bronte,” “I Feel Better”—my current favorite is “Save Me,” a Sting-ish mid-tempo number with cool vocal effects and a lovely melody. But really, almost any song from the record could be here. Making Mirrors is my favorite album of the year, after all.
P.S. — How crazy is this song’s official video? It’s like an acid-trip cartoon from the late 60s.
2. “In the Morrow” by Brandi Carlile
Carlile’s album Bear Creek is right up there with Making Mirrors for me, and the joyousness of “In the Morrow” captures why. I almost don’t know how to put my reaction to this song into words: It’s just classic. It’s got the classic country-rock sound, but it’s kicked up a notch by Carlile’s voice. I will never get tired of singing along to it as I clean my apartment, and since I bought tickets to see B.C. in concert next spring, I’m already planning to sing along in real life. Like a singing-along fiend!
1. “Just Give Me a Reason” by Pink featuring Nate Ruess
I first heard this song when I was on a train in Australia. I was on my honeymoon, and when I got to the first chorus, where the drums drop in and Pink hits that first mournfully beautiful note, I grabbed my new husband and said, “There’s an amazing fucking song on this album.”
Most of The Truth About Love is excellent, but “Just Give Me a Reason” is both queen and empress of the class.
On the most basic level, there’s just the pleasure of the syncopation: The pounding rhythm of the drums playing against the hard syllables in the line “just give me a reason, just a little bit’s enough.”
Then there are the vocals: Both Pink and Nate Ruess (co-writer here and the lead singer of Fun.) deliver exquisite performances, and Pink’s especially thrilling on a high note in the bridge. (“WE’LL come CLEE-EE-AN!”) Their voices together also sound magical.
And let’s not forget the beautiful melody, which is a little sad, a little nervous, and all Ruess.
And finally, there’s the directness of the lyrics, which tell a classic Pink story: A woman’s own mind is the greatest obstacle to her love. She knows things are fine, buy she can’t allow herself to accept it. While other Pink songs have treated self-sabotage with nervous, defensive energy (“Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely)”) or self-pitying anger (“Don’t Let Me Get Me”), this one finds the sadness in the problem. You can hear how heartbroken the woman is that her relationship is failing, even if it’s only failing in her mind. And crucially, you can hear how her internalized fear is hurting her boyfriend. Pink rarely sings duets, so Ruess’ presence not only adds a nice vocal flavor, but also gives an added dimension to the emotion in the song.
The fact that these complex emotions are also beautifully makes “Just Give Me a Reason” the most memorable pop experience of the year.
And just for kicks, check out Pink and Ruess doing a live version of this song from VH1’s Storytellers series. It’s amazing.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He lives for song countdowns.