The 50 Best Songs of 2014

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The 50 Best Songs of 2014

Just as with our Best Albums of 2014 list, arriving at a general consensus for the Best Songs of 2014 proved an entertaining challenge. A whopping 301 songs got votes this year from our writers. To whittle that down to 50, we tallied the ballots and limited this list to one song per artist. And as with our Albums list, we hope this will be a jumping-off point, a way to highlight some of our favorites while sparking a conversation, so be sure to let us know which of your top tunes we missed in the comments section below.

Without further ado, we give you the Best Songs of 2014.

50. Total Control, “The Ferryman”
This instrumental off Total Control’s fantastic sophomore record is built on and propelled by a rigid bass line, which allows room for dripping synth noises and sneaky hi-hats to come at you out of the darkness. The song’s title can be interpreted a number of ways, and the music will take you someplace else altogether. Just another strange trip on an album full of them.—Mark Lore

49. Perfect Pussy, “Driver”
“Watch me, I’m kicking the wall,” Meredith Graves shouts at the opening of “Driver,” the closest thing to a standalone track on Perfect Pussy’s uppercut of a debut LP, Say Yes to Love. “Driver” isn’t so much a request for the listener to be a bystander, though, as it strikes a chord and resonates in its invitation to be a part of something, to facilitate changes in the norms. “Driver” allows the listeners to be both passengers on the journey and to take the wheel themselves. Graves leaves no doubt to where her journey will end. Referring to the aforementioned kicked wall, she concludes “I’ll break through it before I go.” Ideally, we’ll talk through the hole she creates, or we’ll kick through walls of our own. But yeah, Perfect Pussy is totally music to kick down walls to.—Philip Cosores

48. The Antlers, “Parade”
On “Parade,” The Antlers’ Peter Silberman lets the f-bombs rain in a most beautiful way. Yeah, you normally wouldn’t associate the word fuck with something gorgeous, but there is a looseness to the song, aided by the woozy horn section and the tipsy vocals that adds up to something cozy and warm. The album is called Familiars and “Parade,” like many songs on the stunning LP, revels in that sentiment.—Philip Cosores

47. The Hold Steady, “Spinners”
After an over-hasty victory lap on Heaven Is Whenever, “Spinners” was proof a-plenty that the Hold Steady had regained its focus for Teeth Dreams. It’s essentially a checklist of everything the band does well: enveloping guitar riff, fist-pump solo and vivid lyrics that set a scene while dispensing essential life lessons. “Heartbreak hurts but you can dance it off,” Craig Finn sings, and you just know he’s right.—Eric R. Danton

46. Tweedy, “Fake Fur Coat”
Though Sukierae was an album-length collaboration with son Spencer, Jeff Tweedy plays alone on this track, and he delivers a straight-up stunner. He picks out a timeless solo-acoustic guitar part that frames his drowsy voice on evocative lyrics at once oblique and poetic and as starkly confessional as anything he’s ever written.—Eric R. Danton

45. Allah-Las, “Every Girl”
The first time I heard this Allah-Las single, my ears instantly perked up at the opening bass riff. By the time the tambourine kicked in a few seconds later, I was sold, and when I reached the chorus, I knew I had found my personal favorite song of the year. “Every Girl” isn’t rocket science, but the best rock songs never are. It’s about being girl-crazy (“every girl’s the one for me”), and it spits out the names of potential beaus like it’s garage rock’s answer to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.” And oh my god, it’s catchy. Since that fateful first listen, I’ve cruised around with the windows down blasting this song more times than I can remember. I’ve brushed my teeth to it. I’ve danced solo to it in my apartment like I was starring in a Risky Business reboot or something. I’ve become completely evangelical about it, recommending it to anyone who’ll listen and some who won’t. In short, I’m obsessed and probably need help. But I don’t want your help, because I heard this song and I knew. I knew the way you know about a good melon;Bonnie Stiernberg

44. Prince, “BREAKDOWN”
“Listen to me closely as the story unfolds / This could be the saddest story ever been told.” So Prince begins the best ballad he’s released in more than a decade, and yet: this isn’t much of a story, nor is it really all that sad. Because “BREAKDOWN” is about, like much of ART OFFICIAL AGE, a pop and R&B icon who, at 56 years old, has never been more prolific, and now that means he’s accepted that his partying, philandering, chapless-buttcheek-ing days are behind him. In other words: here’s a Prince ballad that is no different from any other Prince ballad—all twinkling piano, insanely catchy falsetto, and pure lover’s devotion—only it may be his funniest. Because it’s Prince learning a healthy dose of humility, and he thinks that “could be the saddest story ever been told.” Also because there are laser beam noises.—Dom Sinacola

43. Mac Demarco, “Goodbye Weekend”
The streets of a city, at night, in the rain. Everything is obscure and muddled. People walk by, hunched under flimsy umbrellas, unable to get to their bar or restaurant or apartment or train station fast enough. They are dressed in dark, drab colors, indistinguishable from the dark and drab buildings they move between. Puddles project distorted reflections of streetlights. Vague outlines of shapes and figures bleed into storefronts and sidewalks and the blur of passing cars. But our hero is strolling, blissful and content, one heel in front of the other. He is leisurely twirling the rainbow umbrella keeping him dry. He is wearing white. His chin is up and he is smiling serenely. A wire hangs from each ear. He is listening to “Goodbye Weekend” by Mac Demarco.—Ryan Bort

42. Hospitality, “Rockets And Jets”
There’s more than a little of the UK’s ‘80s alternative sound in this track. A high-wire synth riff to open the song, sharp stabs of guitar, a heavier bassline and Amber Papini’s mellowed vocals all make “Rockets And Jets” a darker counterpart to the band’s energetic power-pop.—Eric Swedlund

41. Dum Dum Girls, “Rimbaud Eyes”
Dee Dee and company pay tribute to the late 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud on this driving goth-pop number. Like the rest of Too True, there’s a darkness to “Rimbaud Eyes” that marks a shift away from the Dum Dum Girls’ ‘60s girl group influences and a step closer to the likes of Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain. This is the song you play as you put on a bunch of shimmery makeup, maybe stomp on a rotting pumpkin and howl at the moon on Halloween—although as Dee Dee reminds us, “every moon is atrocious, every sun bitter.”—Bonnie Stiernberg

40. Ryan Adams, “Gimme Something Good”
“Gimme Something Good” was a fantastic way for Ryan Adams to announce that he was finally releasing his 14th studio album, and that song did not disappoint. Reflecting his earlier work, “Gimme Something Good” holds an energy that’s reminiscent of classic rock. And let’s not forget about that organ. Damn, we really did get something good.—Sarra Sedghi

39. BANKS, “Brain”
Jillian Banks’ debut LP features a number of production partners, but none mesh as symbiotically as fellow L.A. resident Shlohmo does on “Brain.” The song paints a confessional picture of a relationship not fulfilling expectations. The boy in the song is something BANKS should have “foreseen,” “blending into the scene,” afraid of being himself so as not to “threaten anything they say.” As BANKS completes the first verse, Shlohmo’s contribution takes over, adding tension for BANKS to virtually scream her sentiments again. The song comes across as the musical expression of frustration and anguish, opening a window into BANKS’ reality, whetting an appetite that would be satiated as the year progressed.—Philip Cosores

38. Cymbals Eat Guitars, “Jackson”
LOSE is a thick, twisty record about thick, twisty emotions—or at least that’s how it seems it would feel if you were experiencing it rather than just observing from a distance, puzzled. From its first track, the esoterically named “Jackson,” the album is a composite of tales of romance and tragedy and the melodramatic lines that lead from one to another, altogether reading like flowcharts of causality so dizzyingly inward-facing they form their own centrifugal force. With guitars rough and fuzzy like mold; with horns that scour the tension of painful memories like bleach; with woo-ooo choruses that lance light from festering sores: with “Jackson” begins an ode to stories told in languages understandable to no one but those who already know the ending. And somehow it’s a magnificently absorbing first chapter.—Dom Sinacola

37. Lykke Li, “No Rest for the Wicked”
This heavenly bit of reverb-heavy dream pop from the 28-year-old Swedish singer is the year’s most emotionally gripping breakup song. The instrumental is balanced beautifully between the chiming piano and the thundering drums, cradling Li’s vocals, full of heart-tearing loneliness and regret.—Eric Swedlund

36. Father John Misty, “Bored in the USA”
Like most Father John Misty songs, “Bored in the USA” is sad, beautiful and hilarious at the same time. There’s debt and fear of inadequacy in this portrait of American society, but in classic FJM form, there are also sarcastic pleas of “Save me, white Jesus.” When he sings “They gave me a useless education and a subprime loan on a craftsman home,” a laugh track kicks in, and the juxtaposition is brilliant. We can hardly wait for the rest of this album to drop next year.—Bonnie Stiernberg

35. alt-J, “Left Hand Free”
This is the song on This Is All Yours where alt-J becomes totally free, abandons the synths, and heads for the twang. It’s a complete and total outlier, which the band willfully admits is the “least alt-J song ever.” Apparently, they wrote it in 20 minutes to appease their U.S. label and give them what they wanted—a “big single.” And sure, maybe the song riffing on guns and spewing phrases like “Gee whizz” and “O-M-G” is meant to be a big joke on the U.S., but that doesn’t change that it’s the best one on the album. “Left Hand Free” represents alt-J gone catchy in a strange twist for the better. Turns out, a bit of songwriting convention combined with some of the band’s signature, spiraling weird, would lead to this—a carefree listen that embodies all possible associations surrounding the phrase “let loose.” Just watch the music video they released for it. It’s a pool party. I guess sometimes the best things arise out of accidents.—Alexa Carrasco

34. Yelle, “Ba$$in”
You don’t have to be a Francophile or even versed in the Romance languages to suss out the meaning behind Julie Budet’s lyrics on this riotous and delirious disco pop tune: she’s hot and bothered and ready to hit the sheets with a certain garçon. Recorded in glorious Technicolor by producer Dr. Luke, “Ba$$in” doesn’t go for sultry or coquettish. The four-to-the-floor beat and blinking bass line is the soundtrack for sweaty dancing, unfettered lust, and the hope that one will lead to the other.—Robert Ham

33. Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”
If Sharon Van Etten writes from the heart—and there’s not really any question about that—it’s a battered, bruised organ on this harrowing and powerful track from Are We There. Van Etten pushes her dusky voice to full-throated heights over crashing drums and waves of guitar and keyboards as she lists all the ways she will prevent herself from succumbing to a lover who gets off on the anguish he causes her. It’s part catharsis, part cautionary tale and completely riveting.—Eric R. Danton

32. Old Crow Medicine Show, “Sweet Amarillo”
After Old Crow Medicine Show’s collaboration with Bob Dylan on 2004’s “Wagon Wheel” turned a 1973 song fragment into their biggest hit, the band unsurprisingly jumped to attention when Dylan’s manager offered them the chance to complete a second unfinished gem. This time the result is “Sweet Amarillo,” a soaring pop-country classic-in-the-making grounded by the rootsy gravitas of Dylan’s influence and Old Crow’s string-band bonafides. Lead singer Ketch Secor reportedly reached for his harmonica when first working out the song’s sweeping hook, but Dylan countered with a request for the fiddle. Dylan was right and “Sweet Amarillo” reveals a band still boldly scouting the edges of its versatility.—Dan Holmes

31. Ty Segall, “Green Belly”
“I see the green in the belly of your eyes,” Ty Segall sings on “Green Belly,” and it’s easy to understand why one might be green with envy when staring him in the face. To be so notoriously prolific and still maintain the level of quality Segall has—this year’s Manipulator is arguably his best work—is pretty much unheard of. So yes, excuse us if we get a bit jealous as we listen to this gut-punch of an acoustic (!) track—Bonnie Stiernberg

30. Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”
The dry production of the opening guitar strums takes you back to those perfect country records from the early ’70s. But the lyrics are far too abstract for a classic country record. “There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane/Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain,” Simpson sings, alluding to the power of psychedelics. If this is the future of country, we’re on board.—Mark Lore

29. FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”
Though its followup “Pendulum” comes close, nothing on FKA twigs’ album kicks quite like “Two Weeks,” LP1’s first single and the closest she gets to a traditionally structured pop song. Its fluttering beats clench and scatter at each hook, while twigs’ voice rains down in sheets at the climax. With her gasping staccato, it’s a transparently sexual song, but the steamy details in the lyrics might not reveal themselves until the third or fourth listen.—Sasha Geffen

28. Tove Lo, “Habits (Stay High)”
Tove Lo is not one to shroud her lyrics in layers of allusion and obscurity. In “Habits (Stay High),” her anthemic debut single, the Swedish songstress spells out her own raw and destructive heartbreak in such a frank and unabashedly direct manner (“I’ve gotta stay high, all the time/ To keep you off my mind”) that it’s impossible not to become enamored with her honesty; she absolutely refuses to mince words, and the result is infinitely relatable. It’s not often, after all, that you get the chance to belt out lyrics to a breakup jam about the hedonistic indulgence of getting drunk, eating twinkies and puking in the bathtub, but we’re grateful to Tove Lo for the opportunity.—Christine Campbell

27. Jenny Lewis, “Completely Not Me”
Before Jenny Lewis jumped back onto all of our radar with her triumphant solo album, The Voyager, she foreshadowed her creative resurgence with “Completely Not Me” an exclusive track to the Girls Season Three soundtrack. Running under three minutes, it doesn’t take Lewis long to trot her falsetto onto the thinnest of ice, backed by subtle production by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij that recalls why we loved Modern Vampires of the City so much last year. The song might not have fit nicely on The Voyager, but as a standalone, it’s her best single in years.—Philip Cosores

26. Schoolboy Q/Kendrick Lamar, “Collard Greens”
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the verses on this collaboration between Black Hippy members Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar; it’s all still weed, girls, and riches. But it’s the way the two play off the jazzy, popping beat (courtesy of Gwen Bunn) that gives this track such a delirious energy. Kendrick especially gets downright weird on his spotlight—dancing over the syllables of “I’m more than a man, I’m God / bitch touche en garde” or going into a stage whisper a few bars as he comes on to some unnamed lady. It serves to push Schoolboy to lay even deeper into the pocket, and come out swinging. The rest of album tries gamely to keep up with this raw shot of adrenalin but nothing on Oxymoron can compete.—Robert Ham

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