The Best Songs of 2013

I love that this list wasn’t meant to happen. I quit writing lists, wrote my coda, and was on to the next project. But it’s fitting that this project began with my dear friend Stevie challenging me to do a list on a year that mattered to me (1989) and ends on Stevie wanting to write on this year. I should go out on a dare too. So this is it, the last of 43 lists. And I’m releasing it early to match theirs.

And how do I put this? 2013 was awesome for music. Like the good here was as good as these lists get. I have 10 incredible, tight songs. And my how varied the music is. We’ve got songs in every style. If there’s any theme, it’s that these are very unique songs. None of these feel like cash in songs. I feel like these are songs that could only be by these artists. And that’s cool.

2013 was the year my life changed. I started it living alone and unmarried. I ended it living with my wife. I became an uncle this year. I moved. And I love what my life became. This was the soundtrack.

I made this move at the last minute. And it really came down to putting this song and Fall Out Boy’s My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark side by side. And this won. That song I like because I’m bitter right now. But this made me feel better. So it won.

10 Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX- I Love It. I feel like the credits on this song are wrong. This is really Charlotte “Charli XCX” Atchison’s song. She wrote it. It sounds like her canon. Regardless, what a lovely song this is. Look, there are a lot of wonderful party songs on this list 2013 was the year it was perfected. This is an example. It pulses with punk joy and life. I Love It indeed.

Sampling got a bad rap in the 90s. And I blame Sean Combs. He was a hack with using sampling, choosing obvious, overplayed samples to weld to bad rap. When you look at quality samples, it’s finding less familiar stuff and putting it to great rap. But I’m not against an obvious sample. Just make sure you get the rap right.

9 Eminem- Berzerk. Using a tiny snippet from Fight For Your Right by the Beastie Boys and a fantastic sample from The Stroke by Billy Squier, Eminem came to play. This is just a powerhouse track filled with his intensity at peak form. Marshall Mathers fires line after line here that are just him at his funniest. And what he does with his flow is gold. He knows what sounds good. This is not Eminem’s last good song as Godzilla and Venom will follow. But this is a great example of why I like later Em over early.

We have a first on this list. I think. I have a father on my 1992 list and on my last list, 21 years after that one, I have his kid. What family could make this list twice? Well, it’s definitely not one I expected. But here we are.

8 Miley Cyrus- Wrecking Ball. This is a big line in the sand for Miley Cyrus. Before this song, I feel like she was desperately trying to find an identity. And I get it. Disney held a lot of sway and she couldn’t figure it out. But with this, she found that she belongs to the great tradition of women like Dolly Parton, Debbie Harry, and Stevie Nicks. She is a world class rock vocalist. For all the hype of her nudity in the video, what you leave this song thinking about is how powerfully she belts. This is a great heartbreak song.

All but one of these acts aren’t just more than one hit wonders, they’re bold artists with unmistakable personalities. Well I have one here. And it feels like the tail end of the great weird wave we had in 2010-2012.

7 The Neighbourhood- Sweater Weather. A nice sex song from a hipster perspective. This is slick yet dirty. And I let it play because much like Pumped Up Kicks, this isn’t about reality. This is all in the mind of the singer, how he would seduce a woman. The whole thing has this great feeling of a guy coming up with a great game. It sounds so nice and off beat.

I’m writing this list with the benefit of time and it’s funny how that changes your perspective. For example, Miley Cyrus making this list is really a comment on how well Wrecking Ball held up as at the time I paid it little notice. It also means that with time I can say it. The backlash to Lana Del Rey was bizarre. Sure she was a nepotism beneficiary. Look at literally the entire industry almost. What counts is does she have talent? That’s not debatable to me. And it was never clearer than here.

6 Lana Del Rey- Young and Beautiful. What a marvel this is. A poetic, haunting song used on the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby that actually captures the themes better than Fitzgerald got anywhere near. It’s at once incandescent and powerful. And so much of it is on her vocals. She’s an old fashioned torch singer who sounds like a ghost of the past. The really missing the point remix of Summertime Sadness was her hit this year–the original is way better–but this is the gold.

I have nothing negative to say about Macklemore. Yeah he only had one moment in the spotlight but I liked the dude. Same Love might have sounded naive but in the climate that we’re in, someone admitting they’re not skilled about talking about matters that don’t affect them but also cares rules. Thrift Shop is a nice ode to the world I love of trolling junk stores, a niche so specific I can’t believe it was the biggest song of the year. But his big song for me this year is a party song to end all party songs.

5 Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Ray Dalton- Can’t Hold Us. There isn’t one bad element in this song. I could seriously just say that and be done. But I have to go through it. That pounding piano riff is gold. It’s intense and fast throughout with a never flagging beat that only seems to grow in speed. And the lyrics are fantastic. When Eminem is on his game and you rank above him, you know you did great. One of the best party songs ever. And yet somehow not the best this year. Keep reading.

Does this song count? I have to ask. This is a section of a 16 minute song from 2008 that was released as a single this year. I could bump this and get something nobody argues in this spot. I didn’t get Lorde’s Royals on. I could slide in a Justin Timberlake song as he was good this year. I almostBut I’m giving in. This is my vote. They released it. I count it,

4 Snow Patrol- The Lightning Strike (What If The Storm Ends?). This is a masterpiece. Honestly if my top 3 wasn’t as great as it is this would own #1. But a good year means someone gets less than it deserves. I also think this is an example of someone having intelligence because at 16 minutes, this is way too much. This is a movement in a larger work and it dwarfs the whole thing by being a precise evocation of a storm. It’s such a perfect experience of nature. And that it’s from Snow Patrol…shouldn’t shock me since I mentioned them twice before. This is their best song.

It’s funny how these lists work. You know basically what’s on them but the order is up in the air until it lands with precision. And a song that might’ve seemed like a maybe scores a high ranking spot. Why? Maybe it’s nostalgia for driving through the woods to a home you can never see again because the owner died. Maybe it’s that it held up. Whatever the case, it lands.

3 Lorde- Royals. This is such a simple song. But that’s really the appeal. Lorde can sing, in fact she’s an excellent vocalist as later work will show. She made a big point of downplaying it but of course she’s conventionally attractive. She does well with intensive production though this lacks it. And I think in the end the song benefits from all that’s missing. It’s a rebuke of over the top culture and it works. The small feel of it makes it big.

In 2013, Bastille got their time in the weird indie fluke hit spot with Pompeii. And that’s a weird song for me to look back at knowing not only their other two hits that would follow but actually through my wife their entire catalog. Amanda is a massive Bastille fan and I can tell y’all they are absolutely a real band with a pretty remarkable set of songs. And their big hit is probably the best representation possible of them.

2 Bastille- Pompeii. Seriously, there are so many elements of their later work just dominating this song. Vivid imagery. Existential angst. The chanting. A weird sound that’s poetic. Dan Smith’s utterly on point vocals. This is such an opposite of a black sheep hit and I think it nails why the band has a sizable following. But even if this was the only song I knew by the band, it would sit here. Because there’s something so real about the idea of asking how you can feel ok after a crisis. I have anxiety. “How am I going to be an optimist about this” is all too perfect. I notice I play this a lot when Amanda is in the hospital. A great band’s best song.

I’m going to get personal. It’s a beautiful December morning. I’m going into the mountains with my podcast partner, Albert Wiltfong. Imagine the most perfect weather you can. And where am I going? My wedding. I’m going to marry my beloved Amanda. I beat the odds. In time, we will beat them further when Lola is born. But today, we’re on our way to a perfect moment. And on the way, we listen to Random Access Memories by Daft Punk. The big hit from it is the easiest #1 ever. The perfect song for celebration.

1 Daft Punk- Get Lucky. Todd in the Shadows called this song boringly perfect when he put it in this spot on his list. It is. It’s not just a disco song complete with the great Nile Rodgers on guitar. It’s one of the greatest. The vocals by Pharrell Williams are smooth silk giving the track a perfect spine. And it’s the best Daft Punk track by a wide margin. Williams topped the 2014 chart with a song called Happy and it’s not as joyful as this. It’s such a great dance song. It makes you happy to be alive. No matter what happens that day, be it a perfect day like my wedding was or a miserable one like the hospital stays, this is joy. What a great wonderful way to end this project.

And with that I say thank you for reading. Good day.

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