Friday, December 13, 2019

The 100 Best Songs of the 2010s (Top 10)

We've come to the end of my list of the best songs of the decade.

I think these were the 10 best songs of the 2010s. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. For the Spotify playlist of all 100 songs, click here.

10. Ellie Goulding — "Lights"

The dance-club song of the decade.


9. The Shins — "Simple Song"

"Well, this is just a simple song" — why put it in the top 10? How can you explain why you do or don't have an emotional response to certain music? Somehow, this song gives me chills when the piano comes in and the singing gets higher on: "I know that things can really get rough, when you go it alone…"

Click here if you want to listen to the song without the speaking that's added in this dark-comedy video:

8. St. Vincent — "Rattlesnake"

I don't have a strict rule of only one song per artist, but if I did then St. Vincent would be one of the most flagrant violators: my top 100 list has two of her solo songs, plus her collaboration with David Byrne. She isn't the only artist in my current top 10 who was also on my list last decade, but she's the only one who was in the top 10 for both decades.

St. Vincent is not just one of the great indie singer/songwriters, but also one of the most interesting guitarists around. 10 years ago I wrote about the decreasing importance of rock guitar, which has only continued decreasing, but St. Vincent shows us that you can still be relevant while using heavy guitar in unexpected ways.

7. Hozier — "Take Me to Church"

Lots of discussion of the lyrics at SongMeanings. Wikipedia notes that the video "follows a same-sex relationship in Russia and the violently homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men's sexuality."

Take me to church

I'll worship like a dog

At the shrine of your lies

I'll tell you my sins

And you can sharpen your knife
Hozier's soulful singing of the "Amen, amen…" part — relatively calm at first but passionate when the section is repeated later — clinches "Take Me to Church" as one of the high points of this decade of music.

(Cover with female vocals.)

6. Bent Knee — "Being Human"

This band from Boston is hard to categorize. Wikipedia says they play "multiple genres" including "art rock," "progressive rock," "industrial rock," "avant-garde," and "baroque pop."

Bent Knee has the confidence to take real risks.

5. Lana Del Rey — "Summertime Sadness"

This song is compellingly emotional by being simple and direct.


4. Jónsi — "Animal Arithmetic"

After sadness, this comes bursting through — a song of pure, exuberant optimism.
Every time, everyone, everything's full of life

Every day, everywhere, people are so alive

We should all be, ohhh, alive! ...

Exist all in love and life!
In the second verse, Jónsi sings in his native language, Icelandic (as he often does in the band he's best known for, Sigur Rós).

3. Adele — "Rolling in the Deep"

Adele has one of the most powerful voices of the decade.

2. Janelle Monáe — "Cold War"

The video for this song from her 2010 debut album starts with no sound, until the screen tells us we're seeing "Take 1." The singer/songwriter described the process: “I remember crying during ‘Cold War’ [on the] first take. I didn’t know how that happened but it just did.... Then everybody else started to cry.”

I like the idea (however unlikely) that someone who hasn't paid attention to any music of the last 10 years is going through this whole list in order, so their whole view of Janelle Monáe was based on her contribution to "We Are Young," and then they get to this song…

(Mellow remix.)

1. Lorde — "Royals"

So many young musical prodigies try to impress us with their talents by emulating adults. One of the great things about how Lorde from New Zealand broke into the public consciousness at age 16 is that she seemed to feel no need to do that. She didn't sound like she was aspiring to mature respectability. She presented herself as a young person hanging out with other young people — but a unique young person who happens to be uncommonly reflective and expressive. This is just one of the standout songs from Lorde's debut album. That album is a pop masterpiece precisely because it doesn't feel like it's trying to be a masterpiece.

Bruce Springsteen radically transformed "Royals":

And honorable mention goes to this brilliant parody by Weird Al Yankovic — "Foil." You might think it's just one more Weird Al song about food, but wait till halfway through… Notice how he cleverly keeps two phrases from the original lyrics.

String quartet:

That's all — thanks for listening! To go back to songs #11 to 20, click here — and check the bottom of each post to keep going back or forward in the list.

Again, here's the full list of 100 songs plus runners-up. There's a Spotify playlist of the top 100 (with some bonus tracks at the end), and a separate playlist for the runners-up.


Art in LA said...

Nice list ... I don't think I could list 100 songs from this decade, but I still listen to the radio so I know the popular hits.

"Royals" is a fantastic #1 choice. For me, my favorite cover of "Royals" is by Postmodern Jukebox/Puddles Pity Party. I'm sure you've heard it, right?

Royals cover --

I need to check your 100-11 now ... Happy Holidays! Tell your mom I said "hi" ... ;-)

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Came over from your mom's post - need to dig into this - lots of names I recognize but don't know the songs. No accounting for taste, but was expecting at least one by Justin Vernon/Bon Iver and/or Jacob Collier. I'm a couple of years older than your mom, and for me, Justin is going places I'd hoped the 60's and 70's would lead to but didn't.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I put a Bon Iver song in the runners-up.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Aha! and again, friends of his as well. And I'm assuming you turned your mom onto Cosmo Sheldrake - I've been a fan of his father's work for decades - then yesterday Cosmo turns up on Althouse as well as in a FB video with Jacob Collier - and like Bon Iver, he's picking up on threads from the 60's and 70's - like Steeleye Span. Also - don't know the angle of your interest in music, but I'm reading Ted Gioia's Music a subversive history and it's pretty thought provoking.

Art in LA said...

Is this all in a spreadsheet? I’d love to know who had the most picks (top 100 and runner ups), year released, “genre”/style ... it’d be fun to slice and dice this, find patterns. I think Lorde had the most selections. I’m sure the Billboard version(s) of their lists will be incredibly different.

Thanks for all of the hard work!

john burger said...

Nice list. Anything by St. Vincent is frickin awesome. I would add Rush, "Headlong Flight" from "Clockwork Angels, 2013. Very heavy, driving rhythms, and great lyrics.

Ken B said...

Rolling in the Deep is great, but so was Crazy, which it resembles quite indecently.

Next to me, Emile Sande.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Ken B, thanks for the great suggestion! I just added "Next to Me" by Emeli Sandé to the runners-up, and updated the Spotify playlist.