From Lady Gaga instructing us to put our paws up and Adele lamenting just how much she and her man could have had at the beginning of the year, to Bruno Mars predicting a murky forecast and Jay-Z and Kanye taking one more—just one more—stroll through Paris at year’s end, 2011 has been a fantastic year for pop music of all shapes and sizes. Over the next week, we’ll be counting down our 100 favorite songs of the year—songs that made us dance, made us think, made us cry, most of them all at the same time. Check out 100-81 below, including Pharell proteges, Beyoncé bonus tracks, and Mike Posner porno soundtracks, and check back tomorrow for 20 more.
(Also, take a guess in our comments section about what you think our top five songs will be. If you get four of them right, you could win $200 in concert tickets!)
100. MADONNA, “GIVE ME ALL YOUR LOVE”
Madge returns with the purest of bubblegum dance pop, alluding to past hits (“You can be my lucky star”) while affirming her continuous evolution (“I’m a different kind of girl”). She needs no introduction, yet the blaring “L-U-V MADONNA” —which will inevitably get stuck in your head—serves to welcome the Queen back to where she belongs and elicit the sincerest of compliments from those who haven’t been showering her with them for years.
99. WIZ KHALIFA, “TOP FLOOR”
Wiz’s debut Rolling Papers came off surprisingly bland in most spots, but an obvious highlight was sex (and weed—always weed) jam “Top Floor.” Riding a giddy, bubbling Pop Wansel beat up, up, up all the way through the penthouse and into the clouds, Wiz brags about the diversity of his sexual prowess: “Make you feel like a little girl again / But fuck you like a grown-up.”
98. GIRLS, “ALEX”
Girls’ Father, Son, Holy Ghost was one of the year’s most critically acclaimed rock albums, and we’d be right there with ‘em in the praise if there were less draggy ballads and more sublime, gauzy rockers like “Alex.” A steady drum shuffle and melange of alternately soothing and piercing guitars escalate the song’s vocals to new levels of sweetly tragic romance: “Could we fall in love? Well who cares about love, let’s run away.” You’ll never believe that singer Christopher Owens is already in his 30s.
97. BUDDY, “AWESOME AWESOME”
The title alone gives listeners the ability to answer any question that comes their way (“How are you?” “Awesome, awesome”) or serve up a friendly euphemism as needed. Pharrell’s “buddy” makes a noteworthy debut with his cocky assurance (“Girls on my jock cause they want some want some more”), while the thumping bass introduction and rattling snare happily remind us of the Neptunes’ past hit collection.
96. FIEND, “ABSOLUTELY”
“Me and my homies smoke that serious,” Fiend testifies on the chorus to “Absolutely.” He ain’t kidding—”Absolutely” is one of the most blazed-to-the-core hip-hop jams of the year, a certified head-nodder in which the ex-No Limit rapper even adding some new euphemisms to the pot lexicon (“I call it Na-Nu, Na-Nu…Mork and Mindy“), though the song’s secret weapon is that apt and oft-repeated backing commentary: “Nice.”
95. LADY ANTEBELLUM, “JUST A KISS”
Painful longing has become Lady A’s thing, and here they deliver the most polite interpretation of lust we’ve ever heard. The threesome’s aching attempts at restraint are born from heavy piano chords and hover over Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott’s pretty vocals, which focus on the possibility that this could be “the one.” Just a kiss may not be enough for everyone, but these two make a pretty good case for why it should be.
94. UNCLE MURDA, “WARNING”
“Warning” may have the best (and certainly the most prominent) use of a siren in a pop song since Beyonce’s “Ring the Alarm,” but it wouldn’t be worth much if NY underground vet Uncle Murda weren’t up to being five-alarm worthy. Lil’ Flip, Chico DeBarge, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New York Giants all get scorched as Murda blazes through the haters, and a high-pitched voice (maybe?) shouts out “REDRUM!” in the background, sounding like she’s keeping score.
93. KELLY CLARKSON, “YOU LOVE ME”
You Love Me,” one of Stronger‘s best-sounding tracks, soaks Clarkson’s pop-rock not in radio runoff like “Mr. Know It All” but the moody reverb and guitar throbs of many an ’80s classic. The treatment suits Clarkson, as does the story; her relationship stories are much deeper than the “men suck!” polemics people claim she writes, and this chorus — “you didn’t let me down, you didn’t tear me apart…” is a direct response to those accusations. Yes, guys say nice things to Kelly sometimes; they even say they love her and blame themselves. Sometimes, that’s not enough.
92. KANYE WEST & JAY-Z, “GOTTA HAVE IT”
The Neptunes return from far-flung orbit to build “Gotta Have It” around two fantastic samples: a sinuous flutter and a clip of James Brown’s “got what you need,” It’s hypnotic enough to make you accept, respectively, Kanye’s “LOLOLOLOL” (officially “hello-hello-hello-hello,” but come on) and Jay’s “planking on a million,” yet it’s never intrusive. And while “Gotta Have It” might not be the most socially conscious of Watch the Throne‘s offerings, Jay and Kanye’s interplay is its own reward.
91. BLAKE SHELTON, “HONEY BEE”
The half of country’s reigning couple least likely to touch gunpowder, Blake Shelton manages to do something new with that oldest of songwriting constructs: “if you’re _____ then I’ll be _____, a PERFECT COUNTERPART.” He’s both romantic and self-deprecating — sure, he might think he’s got to apologize for his song “[coming] out a little country,” but we doubt listeners mind much.
For songs 90-81, including Blake Shelton and Katy Perry, click NEXT.