Best Songs of 2011
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The 75 Best Songs of 2011

Nostalgia Alert! Jump back a decade and enjoy the best songs of 2011. They are headlined by a synthpop classic, a massive hit from a hot diva, pristine harmonies of a young band headed for greatness.

5. Preservation Hall Jazz Band & The Del McCoury Band – “I’ll Fly Away”

“I’ll Fly Away” is a tune with a long history in American music; it’s a standard for New Orleans brass bands playing at jazz funerals, it’s heavily favored by gospel musicians, and has been a standard part of the bluegrass repertoire for decades. In other words, it’s thoroughly soaked in Americana, that catch-all genre that pulls from traditional American roots music forms. So, it was a perfect song for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band to make as the centerpiece of their stellar 2011 album, American Legacies. Despite all the superb versions of this song over the years, Pres Hall and the McCoury Boys virtually stamp this classic as their very own, offering up the definitive version to stand for the ages. Soaring trumpet, swirling clarinet, soulful lead vocals, airtight bluegrass harmonies, rhythmic banjo… this is Americana at its very finest. — Sarah Zupko

4. Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”

Introduced by Thom Yorke during some solo shows a couple of years ago, “Lotus Flower” worked great as a haunting electric guitar lullaby, but for the studio version Radiohead opt to beef up the arrangement, creating one of their most accessible songs in years. Yorke’s lingering falsetto has survived the transformation, but the tracks beauty isn’t stifled by the a web of energetic synths, pulsating beats and shuffling drum loops that now surround the vocal. And, famously, you could dance to it. — Dean Van Nguyen

3. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”

Fleet Foxes’ excellent second album Helplessness Blues has a lot of highlights, to be sure. But the album’s best song is its eponymous centerpiece, an unflinchingly earnest meditation on finding one’s place in the universe. “Helplessness Blues” starts out lean, riding on Robin Peckhold’s vocal harmonies and the relentless strum of an acoustic guitar for its first half. But then the song erupts into a massive coda: the harmonies multiply upon themselves, a few more guitars materialize, and suddenly the band’s up in the clouds. By the time they return to earth, being small and insignificant in an oversized world doesn’t seem so daunting anymore. — Billy Hepfinger

2. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”

For those of us who didn’t know Adele’s breakthrough 19, this was the growing tremor that announced the coming of 21. For all its massive success, 21 isn’t a perfect album, as even the world’s biggest producers aren’t sure what to do with talent this large. They should just listen to “Rolling in the Deep” more, which basically advises “get out of Adele’s way and let her do her thing. Andrew Gilstrap

1. M83 – “Midnight City”

All it takes is four synthesizer notes. That’s it. Smothered in reverb, coated in ’80s nostalgia, teetering on the edge of full-on explosion, those four notes pack more heart and energy than most albums released in 2011. But “Midnight City” is more than just a powerful introduction. On this transcendent standout from the sixth M83 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Anthony Gonzalez and co-synth-scientist Justin Meldal-Johnsen build layer upon layer of keys, arena-sized drums, and vocal atmospherics (not mentioning one of the tastiest sax solos this side of a Springsteen record). The result? The synth Sistine Chapel. — Ryan Reed

This article was originally published on 27 December 2011. It has been reformatted for modern browsers and the videos have been updated.