Published on December 28th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
The 14 Best Songs of 2014
This year started with Daft Punk winning five Grammys – including Album of the Year – and Katy Perry topping the charts with a trippy mood swing called “Dark Horse.”
And that pretty much set the tone for 2014’s musical landscape. One Direction and Sam Smith aside, the ladies ruled the Hot 100. Beyoncé, Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor, J-Lo and Nicki Minaj were the most talked, tweeted and posted about acts of 2014. While Rihanna didn’t release an album this year, she was still all over the radio since she handled the hook (and hit-making duties) on Eminem’s “Monster.”
Country music, of course, was a different story. Remove Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert from the discussion, and the fellas dominated the airwaves (streaming services?). Up front was Luke Bryan, followed by the likes of Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell, Sam Hunt, Kenny Chesney, Chase Rice, Lee Brice, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Frankie Ballard, Florida Georgia Line and Garth Brooks.
Thank Christ that Maddie & Tae emerged with the genre-busting “Girl in a Country Song,” which poked fun at some of the shallow nothingness perpetrated by Nashville this year.
But let’s forget about the proverbial stick up Nashville’s rear. That’s nothing new. Instead, we’ll focus on the fact that this was an interesting year for not only pop and country, but also rock. Bruce Springsteen and U2 are becoming B.B. Kings of rock & roll. They’re breaking new ground through longevity. Lump Tom Petty (who celebrated his first Number One album this year) in there as well.
As Tony Soprano said, let’s remember the good times. Below are my top 14 songs of 2014.
I encourage you to disagree.
14) “Problem” – Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea
Take notice. Here’s a pop starlet with both God-touched range AND an ear for melody. Don’t laugh – it’s rarer than you think.
13 “Harry’s Place” – Bruce Springsteen
The quintessential Jersey boy seemingly pens the quintessential mobster song. But is it really about the mob? Or the fear and paranoia that run that run the show not only on our gun-strapped streets but also on Capitol Hill and in corporate board rooms?
12) “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
After a goofy first single, Tay got real and stopped blaming everyone else for her romantic probz. For once, Swifty put some skin in the game. And she wore it well.
11) “Call Me” – St. Paul and the Broken Bones
There’s nothing cool about St. Paul and the Broken Bones – except their Stax-inspired, horn-driven sound. They weren’t pin-ups and they weren’t hipsters either. That may have made them the most unconventional breakout act of 2014.
10) “Gotta Get Away” – The Black Keys
The Akron boys proved that you can perfect 60s garage rock in the era of Google Glass.
9) “Only” – Nicki Minaj ft. Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown
Here’s a giant “fuck you” to anyone who thought they had this troupe figured out. You can do a lot of things with fame, though sometimes the ballsiest move is to have fun with it. Especially for Drake.
8) “Give Me Back My Hometown” – Eric Church
Church is the only mainstream country musician that you could describe as “cinematic.” Yet he knows not to take it too far. This portrait of loss – the chick puts an impossible stain on otherwise pleasant remembrances – couldn’t have been written better.
7) “Benz Friends (Whatchutola)” – Future ft. Andre 3000
Arrogant, inspired and well-informed, Future’s timing was never better than in “Benz Friends.” Oh, and this was Andre 3000’s best appearance in years.
6) “Girl In A Country Song” – Maddie & Tae
Did anyone expect an act like this to shake up the lame, sexist culture of mainstream country music? Country may sound a lot different in 2015 because of Maddie & Tae.
5) “i” – Kendrick Lamar
Deep and danceable. It was like Pharrell’s “Happy,” only broader and more meaningful.
4) “Longer Than You Been Alive” – Old 97s
These alt country mainstays bathed in their own legend and underscored an important lesson in the process. You’re going to suffer for your craft. Take it on the chin and keep moving, kids.
3) “Sins of My Youth” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Written around slinky lounge riffs and a longstanding broken heart, Petty tries once more to correct past slip-ups. Judging by the tone of his voice, the battle is far from over. But the story is in the effort.
2) “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” – U2
U2 suffered a rare public relations blow by giving away their album. Since when does free music suck? But what an emotionally vivid collection of tunes it turned out to be. This track kicks the whole thing off. It’s the rare tribute song that cuts to the emotional core of the original source of inspiration, rather than merely tipping the hat.
1) “If I Was a River” – Willie Nile
Nile, a prominent New York based musician for more than 30 years, can write a rock hook with the best of them. This time around he left his band behind and crafted a suite of songs centered on his first love: the piano. With only a nimble voice and a tender progression of straightforward piano chords, Nile reminds us the essence of love is selflessness.