The Best Songs of 2011

We are at the edge of the end. After this, one more entry. And if I’m honest, I would have stopped the project at 2009 if these two years weren’t this great. Because this is a great list as next week’s finale is. Like I had to make some brutal cuts. If I didn’t feel connected in 2010, I was completely locked in with 2011. Like even the bad stuff was memorable. But a lot of this was just my vibe. A lot of this is the kind of weird stuff I associate with 105.9. It’s just that it was popular!

On a personal level, I met my future wife in 2011. I can’t remove her from these memories. This was a very happy time. This is very happy music. So I’m going to step back and let this stuff play.

I hate Glee and that’s a shadow that looms over his list. Several of these songs were covered on it. The producers knew good music. Not good drama and god knows not good comedy. But I’m not mad because the show probably caused the glorious weird moment that is these two years. So even if I associate some songs with it, I’ll still give love.

10 My Chemical Romance- Sing. So long, MCR. I love that this band always bubbled like this lower on the charts. That’s their sound. This is honestly appropriate to associate with Glee because this is an Up With People song. It’s so relentlessly cheery and upbeat and hyperpositive and it would probably nauseate me if you couldn’t still feel the band’s edge. Gerard Way still has that growl that made him a great rocker. It’s a song that aggressively works. It feels great even if it’s built like a factory to do that.

Nothing controversial to say Kanye West is a jackass. I’m quoting a US president to say that. But I think there’s a less popular opinion you don’t hear often and that’s that I never thought Kanye West was very talented. Sure, Jesus Walks was interesting and Gold Digger is fine. But I feel like even in his good era, he wasn’t that good. The seeds of his descent were always there. One time though, I feel like he clicked. And I’ll be honest, once more he’s really not why a song with Rihanna is on this list.

9 Kanye West featuring Rihanna- All of the Lights. This is so much on the hook. I feel like her chorus elevates this song so much more than it should have been. I like the verses. I’m not shocked West is at home dealing with mental illness. But they’re still just good. It’s the beat and again Rihanna couldn’t record a bad note in this era. I don’t have any of her solo stuff this year but this feature is so good it really counts for her. She sounds incredible here. Very good driving song.

I’m putting this next song on a curve. It’s really top 3 for me for the year. But you get to a point where you have to call even a classic band out and point out that they’ve made the same song multiple times. I love the Foo Fighters but they’ve done mellow Learn to Fly (Next Year), angry Learn to Fly (DOA), relaxed Learn to Fly (Wheels), and best possible Learn to Fly (Times Like These). Y’all get one more because I’m closing up shop.

8 Foo Fighters- Walk. For the record, this is the first entry written after the death of Taylor Hawkins to reference the band and he is missed. And yeah this is the formula. But no band has ever been this great at the formula. Just a ripping feel good song about being at your worst and moving on. It’s still pure adrenaline. Foo Fighters were the ultimate happiness band. Dave Grohl just exudes pure joy at being a rock star which make it make sense they tap this well. Been there. Done that. Don’t care.

Let’s keep the classic style rock train rolling with a song I almost cut because I had not much to say. It just works. But hey, that’s fine. I think that drove 2011. A retro sound was an asset and there were groups that just killed with it. See below.

7 The Black Keys- Lonely Boy. I love that this song sounds like it could play in an old school roadhouse joint. This is a vintage dirty, wild rock song about wanting to be with a woman keeping you on the hook. It’s even inspired by a 50s blues song. And that sound is just so effective. This is seriously the kind of song you blast as you order another pint. Like even the lyrics feel like an old blues song. And this was a big hit on rock radio. I love that something this old school broke out.

Eh let’s keep it retro with a group that really had that sound down. I have no end of love for Fitz and the Tantrums. Trying to do modern takes on classic 60s pop is their thing, And if I was going past 2012, I would find room for them constantly. Handclap might’ve been ruined by ad use but I love it, especially as it was used in Power Rangers 2017. The Walker is fantastic. MoneyGrabber was a the big hit this year and could’ve made the list. But I’m following my heart.

6 Fitz and the Tantrums- Don’t Gotta Work It Out. This is seriously a lost 60s pop song in every way. An old fashioned song telling someone off. This has great instrumental work. The percussion by co-lead singer Noelle Scruggs is very Ringo Starr. There’s great keyboard work by various members of the band. There’s everything but guitar here and that’s something the band avoids. But I never missed it. This is such a big song. And Michael Fitzpatrick, the titular Fitz, he’s an incredible vocalist. Again, very retro. And somehow there’s another retro song still to come that’s even better.

Ah one more time, I’m putting Avril Lavigne on. And I’m happy to do so. Her music is oddly connected to the light times in my life. When I needed to blow off steam in 2003 and 2007, she had anthems for it. When I needed music to throw on in 2004 and this year to be happy? Back again. It’s nice to get this on.

5 Avril Lavigne- What The Hell. This is probably the almost exact song I needed in 2011. There’s one more song that’s completely perfect to come but this is bliss. A song about giving yourself permission to be an asshole fits. And few artists captured manic depression like Lavigne, Her high songs are bubble gum glory and her dark songs cut. This is very much mania about to go awry. But she makes it sound so good. Obviously making a ton of bad decisions will ruin you. But it sounds so great! This song rules and my final verdict on Avril Lavigne is she’s awesome.

Look I have no idea how this next song became big. It’s dark. It’s weird. It’s about a horrifying situation. But it was huge. And it’s a great song. So god help me, I’m going to take a gamble and try to explain why that makes sense.

4 Foster the People- Pumped Up Kicks. The ultimate song about gun violence in America. And the thing is, we all knew immediately that’s what this song is about. But I think this is the great satirical song of the year. Because this song cuts to the core of gun violence: It’s almost all a pose that gets out of hand and wouldn’t if we had any gun control. The incredibly restrained vocals and instrumentals underline how casual and borderline ridiculous it is. I’m not exaggerating to say this song is to its subject what Doctor Strangelove was to nuclear war. It looks at it so bluntly and makes you see how absurd our fetishization of guns is. We needed this.

There is a spectre haunting the next list but she first reared her head in 2011. Her name is Amanda and I said after our first date to a friend that I’d just met someone important. She is now my beloved wife and the mother of our daughter Lola. I associate this next song hard with her. Not for insulting reasons. She loves the band.

3 Young the Giant- Cough Syrup. This is such a tight song. It’s simple. It’s about feeling repressed and stuck in place. The metaphor of being high on cough syrup is weirdly relatable. You take it when sick and bed bound. And it just sounds great. The instruments are very simple but the song builds to a crashing energy. There’s real anger and rage at not figuring the world out and not knowing what to do. That refrain of “life’s too short to even care at all” rang incredibly true at 27. I get this feeling. What a great song.

Ok, I’m going to set a scene for you. It’s May 2011. I’ve decided to move past a relationship I know is going nowhere because I think I can do better. I’m driven to have more in life. I’m ready to find what I want because I deserve it. I am willing to take risks because I know I should. And in a month it will all pay off. And this is the song all over the radio.

2 Lady Gaga- The Edge of Glory. I can’t express enough how perfect this song is. Let’s start with the unbelievable saxophone work by the sadly soon to pass Clarence Clemons. Recording the video for this was the last major thing he did before his stroke and the man left the stage at his peak. This is a song of pure joy. It’s about everything being great and knowing it. You just want to live in that moment and this is the perfect soundtrack for it. Gaga has never sounded better than she does here. It’s no secret she’s a better vocalist than the vast majority of pop singers and she goes to 11 here. The production is perfect. In any other year, this would be a runaway number one. But we have one more song.

OK, so my number one feels like a throwback to everything I loved in the early 2000s. It’s European. It’s very much not of a piece with anything on the radio. It’s by a female vocalist. It feels like a low placing song at best on the charts and honestly this should be one of those where I have to break my back doing legwork to explain the artist and song. But I’m just stalling. Because this was literally the biggest song in the US. And probably the world. Cue the bass intro we all knew was coming.

1 Adele- Rolling in the Deep. How do I even discuss a song that was instantly part of the cultural DNA? Because this deserved it so hard. It’s phenomenally written. It’s absolutely about a real person yet still so very universal. It sounds like it would have been a hit at any time in the last 70 years. Adele goes to the back wall with her vocals. This is a masterpiece. And I think it gets there by being so all in. There’s no subtlety here. The subject of this song crossed the wrong woman. This is her flaming vengeance. And it’s so seductive. I hate that we didn’t acknowledge that when the song came out but that’s a huge part of the appeal. It’s a gorgeous woman laying out in exacting detail how badly the subject screwed up. That’s a hard proposition to pass on. If this was an obscure song, I would still be blown away by it. It’s just art. That it was the biggest song of the year never came close to tainting my love for it. Sometimes the culture nailed it.

Next: One last ride.

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