The 60 Best Songs of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

23 December 2010


30 - 21


Titus Andronicus
“A More Perfect Union”

At seven minutes, there’s a lot to digest on “A More Perfect Union”. Where to start? A recited Abraham Lincoln quote, a frontman in Patrick Stickles who sounds like Paul Westerberg and paraphrases Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen in consecutive lines, references to everything from the Newark Bears to the Civil War, the best dose of lo-fi punk rock since Fucked Up came along, rousing sing-alongs, a Celtic jig, and a massive dose of teen angst for good measure. Ramshackle, literate, shamelessly romantic, impassioned, and positively exploding with energy, this was the rock ‘n’ roll call to arms of 2010. Adrien Begrand




Lady Gaga ft. Beyoncé

“Telephone”, much like the workaholic singer herself, never shirks in giving you it’s all. Opening with the deceptively gentle strains of a harp, it morphs into a club-stomping paean to 21-first century girls who just want to have fun. Exploding with frenetically layered beats, discordant ringtones and diva rap cameos, it feels like you have been invited to hear three minutes of chaos at the fiery heart of the fame monster. It is the distilled essence of the Lady Gaga and the apex of her career to date. Tom Fenwick




Justin Townes Earle
“Harlem River Blues”

Probably the most uplifting song about drowning yourself in the river that you’ll hear all year or any year. With its touches of laid-back rockabilly, country gospel choir backing, and vintage guitar fuzz, “Harlem River Blues” (and its album-ending reprise), set the tone for Earle’s most accomplished album yet. “Harlem River Blues” (and the album that shares its name) finds Earle developing his obvious natural gifts to create a distinctly American sound. Andrew Gilstrap




“Soldier of Love”

The anticipation greeting “Soldier of Love” was nearly palpable. What would Sade’s musical statement be after a ten-year hiatus? The answer arrived in the form of a woeful trumpet melody and ambient wind (or was it muffled gun fire?) For five minutes, “Solider of Love” momentarily erases the memory of all those familiar Sade hits. A compelling, militaristic rhythm track marches beneath lyrics that evoke a battle-scarred survivor nursing deep wounds. Sade Adu reconciles the excruciating pain of a broken heart, a heart whose beat is sustained only by the hope and the will to love again. A gripping performance. Christian John Wikane





No song from 2010 manages to sound as silly as it is infectious and heartbreaking. Caribou’s “Odessa” has one of the best basslines all year with its funkified groove, and the percussion owes as much to house music as it does shoegaze and krautrock. And despite the songs saucy bassline and uplifting melody, Dan Snaith croons woefully about a recent break-up; the song itself ultimately capturing a relationship’s full-spectrum of emotions. Stefan Nickum




Best Coast

Despite a critically heralded debut album, Best Coast is really a singles band, following in the tradition of its early ‘60s influences. This year, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno built up to the album’s release date with a string of songs that culminated with “Boyfriend,” the best single by far. Released at the beginning of summer, “Boyfriend” epitomizes the duo’s winning formula: simultaneously conjuring the lonely country of Patsy Cline and post riot grrl angry alternative rock. It’s the perfect summer song—for sitting in a dark room while the warm sunshine filters in through the window. Scott Branson




The New Pornographers
“Sweet Talk Sweet Talk”

Together may not have achieved the heights of previous New Pornographer albums, but it did produce one of the band’s finest pop moments, which is a herculean task given their previous heights. “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” is a three-minute hightlight session for the band: deft wordplay that immediately latches into your head (“a mistake on the part of nature”, “silhouette shout it from the top”), A.C. Newman’s ability to make a song sweet without adding a drop of saccharine and great interplay amongst the key players. And oh, sweet Jesus, what a chorus. Expect a New Pornographers-themed episode of Glee if the creators get the slightest whiff of this pop masterpiece. Sean McCarthy




Kanye West
“Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”

Taken at face value, Kanye West’s “Runaway” offers up something of a dare. “You’ve been putting up with my shit for way too long,” West sings, imploring the song’s subject—as well as the listener—to “Runaway as fast as you can.” But how could we when the music is this good? Production-wise, “Runaway” is one of West’s most accomplished constructions yet, recalling the icy minimalism of Hell Hath No Fury-era Neptunes even as it piles on tracks. Lyrically, the song serves as a catalog of West’s hang-ups, a grandiose statement of vulnerability and self-doubt. But therein lies the trick: West understands better than most that for all of his strengths, it’s the weaknesses that we’re really sticking around for. Mehan Jayasuriya




Surfer Blood

“Swim” is the sound of these five golden boys throwing early Modest Mouse, Weezer’s Blue Album and the Pixies into a blender and punching the button marked “slay hard”. Anthemic surf-punk like this is done often, but rarely with such sterling results. This is exactly what made Surfer Blood worth giving a shit about: they wore their influences on their sleeves, but they wove them into jams that showcased some seriously high caliber songwriting chops. Ben Schumer




Erykah Badu
“Window Seat”

So much press was given this year to Badu’s controversial and ultimately juvenile music video for “Window Seat” that few people gave the song itself an honest listen. This standout track from New Amerykah Part Two: Return of The Ankh opens with a mechanical snare drum cadence, suggesting the groove of a military march. However, the song’s spare piano-dominated texture is quickly established thereafter. The lyrics speak of the demands of juggling a career, a family, and a relationship and the desire to get away from it all. The result is one of the year’s great “chill out” tracks, whether you’re in a window seat on a commercial airline or in your office cubicle wearing headphones. Jacob Adams


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