The 50 Best Songs of 2011

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Every day between now and New Year’s Eve, we’ll be looking back at the best music and pop culture of 2011. Today we look at the best songs.

20. The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy”
The Black Keys  are still hot from the breakout success of last year’s Brothers, and “Lonely Boy” from the upcoming El Camino proves that the band’s still got a handle on crafting amazing hooks. —Tyler Kane

19. TV on the Radio – “Second Song”
TV on the Radio’s fourth studio album Nine Types of Light begins with the beautiful confusion of a man who won’t give up on his love. Tunde Adebimpe sings of finding the light while struggling against the darkness.—Ross Bonaime

18. Real Estate – “It’s Real”
Real Estate doesn’t make urgent music. Nor do they worry about all the accompanying specifics that come with being a rock band. It’s the kind of music that’s approached in passing, to describe a feeling or to capture sense of place. In a day and age where all the minute details mattered yesterday, “It’s Real” slowly burns with the kind of authenticity that falls into the cracks and crevices comprising each one of our days.—Max Blau

17. Childish Gambino – “Heartbeat”
Donald Glover  has said the last verse on this track was one of his favorites he’s ever written. Gambino attacks the focused and concise clublike beat with equal precision. “Heartbeat” easily lands him the top spot of the freshman rap class.—Adam Vitcavage

16. Beirut – “East Harlem”
Three albums into his cosmopolitan career, Beirut mastermind Zach Condon has created The Rip Tide—his most cohesive record to date. The Santa Fe songwriter brings it all back home with “East Harlem,” a four-minute homecoming anthem for his worldly project.—Max Blau

15. The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow”
With all the acoustic-folk duos on this list, The Civil Wars’ rise to fame was the most memorable of 2011 and the song “Barton Hollow” is among their very best. The title track effortlessly mixes John Paul White’s southern rock/bluegrass with Joy Williams’ sweet pop inclinations to form something that manages to insatiably catchy without losing its edge.—Luke Larson

14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – “Nothing But Our Love”
Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. manages to layer electronics over a steady, processed beat to achieve a dream-like effect for It’s a Corporate World’s “Nothing But Our Love.” The music and lyrics meld together until the track ends, and like waking up from a great dream, you feel somewhat refreshed.—Nicole Anegon

13. St. Vincent – “Cruel”
Annie Clark’s subjects range from marriage to body image on Strange Mercy’s opening single, “Cruel.” But we have a feeling that its weird, buzzing solos and off-kilter video won’t land it in a Dove commercial anytime soon. The simple lyrics about how hurtful and painful the pressure of looks can have on a person are accompanied by a Talking Heads-like progression. It is difficult to be upset when this song gets stuck in your head.—Clint Alwahab

12. Blitzen Trapper – “Fletcher”
With American Goldwing, Blitzen Trapper continue to refine their knack for clear-eyed, earthy Americana, and “Fletcher” is a testament to the group’s surprising breadth of influences and knowledge of Americana’s roots: It’s a sun-kissed, earnest tune built for the highway that channels The Grateful Dead as much as The Band.—John Barrett

11. Girls – “Honey Bunny”
Girls achieved fame with their psychedelic take on pop, distilling influences as diverse as Elvis Costello, The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd and dominated by ’50s- and ’60s-style melodies. “Honey Bunny” is the most memorable track on this year’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost, featuring a hazily upbeat chorus.—John Barrett

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