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 60-41 below, including dirt roads, teardrop waterfalls and the best of the many songs this year to sample Harry Belafonte, 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!)
60. LADY GAGA, “MARRY THE NIGHT”
The lead track and heart of Born This Way, “Marry the Night” retrofits a Pat Benatar or Cher power anthem for ’10s synths, lapsed-Catholic organs and the percussion from Madonna’s “Holiday.” You couldn’t find a better demonstration of Lady Gaga’s philosophy: defeat tears through steel, artifice and self-mythologizing. The lyrics probably only make complete sense to Gaga, but whatever they mean, they make her push her voice past a breakdown and shove the track into a major key then, once that strains, back out. Anyone can propose marriage to the night, but it takes musical chops not to cry anymore.
“Take Care” has two huge strengths going for it. The track, which grafts more beats onto English artist Jamie xx’s remix of genre veteran Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’ll Take Care of U” (itself a remix of an old blues track is as chilly and brooding as anything written for Take Care, made for late nights and near-empty rooms. Meanwhile, Rihanna’s never sounded warmier, huskier or more intimate. As for Drake, he is Drake; it speaks to “Take Care”‘s composition that it doesn’t matter whether you think that’s a compliment or not.
58. J. COLE, “WORK OUT”
The Roc Nation newcomer uses a sample of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” to perfection here, delivering a cool and memorable, head-bobbing debut. Throughout this conversation with his lady, it’s the Carolina swagger and Southern twang that make the uncertainty of the romance in question acceptable. Sure, the ambivalent nature of whether this is a good thing or a one night stand won’t help to quell a woman’s crazy, but both sound good when coming from Jermaine’s mouth.
57. BRITNEY SPEARS, “HOW I ROLL”
One of the best tracks on Femme Fatale and Britney’s most interesting work in years, this is what critics meant when they kept going on about how Femme Fatale sounded really cool. A dervish of breathy beatboxing, scatting, handclaps that do something more interesting than that annoying synth-clap sound all over pop lately, pitch-shifting and actual popping sounds, “How I Roll” has the sort of swagger only attainable through sang-froid. The people responsible for it never being a single should all be placed under conservatorship.
56. DAS RACIST, “MICHAEL JACKSON”
Irony-enhanced hip hop group Das Racist have had the exact career you’d expect from a group whose biggest hit was both named and mostly composed of the words “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Single “Michael Jackson,” from this year’s Relax, is probably as good an example; Heems and Kool A.D. barrel over a skittery beat with verses containing the likes of “I’m DJ Khaled / I’m a Daikon radish” and, as a final line, “I’m fucking great at rappiiiing!” Writing oddball shit doesn’t quitemake you stand out as a rapper in 2011, but you can’t accuse Das Racist of being lazy with their subject matter.
55. MEEK MILL FEAT. RICK ROSS, “IMA BOSS”
He’s only 23 but he shares the same confidence as his mentor Rick Ross, assuring us countless times over of his role in the music world and the greater Philly area. It’s the snare drum that propels the beat through to the end and thus ingratiating itself in our heads for good, peppered with Ross’ signature grunts and Mill’s near-screaming of his social status. If your self-confidence ever needs a makeover, thank the boys of MMG for this self-made pickmeup currently at your disposal.
54. BILLY CURRINGTON, “LOVE DONE GONE”
The year’s most purely joyous, most lyrical song, in country or otherwise, about heartbreak. Any hints of longing are buried beneath this arrangement of surging brass, slide guitars, piano chimes and laid-back vocals, and by the time Billy gets to the singalong — a singalong about the fact that “love done gone,” no less — it’s easy to forget that these emotions are supposed to feel bad.
53. BEYONCE, “END OF TIME”
4‘s strangely unofficial single stomps it’s way to assert its presence a lot louder and more directly than the majority of its album’s counterparts. From the onset of blaring horns and the exploding chorus B takes us through multiple movements as powerful chanting filled with undeniable Fela Kuti inspirations give way to from-the-gut belting for one massive declaration of love that proves hard to let go.
52. LYKKE LI, “I FOLLOW RIVERS”
“I Follow Rivers” is a sputtering death-drive of a track, like something Danger Mouse would produce; it’s instantly haunting even before Lykke Li begins singing. That’s probably the wrong word; what she does is more like snarling or grumbling, as if she long ago forgot the difference between love, desperation and grudging compliments. You’re never sure whether the chorus, with its “I’ll follow you” is heartfelt, anxious or creepy. At one point before a chorus, she just stops, out of breath, as if even hinting at her feelings takes too much out of her.
51. AVICII, “LEVELS”
The American public ultimately decided they preferred Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” but Avicii’s “Levels”—the song that provided every part that you actually remember about “Good Feeling”—was really more than enough itself. A synth-soaked beat guaranteed to get your fist (or if you believe the video, your entire body), to make motions you didn’t believe you were technically or emotionally capable of, perfectly paired with an inspired Etta James sample—”I get a feeling that I never, never, never, knew before.” Flo’s thievery was blatant and shameless, but ultimately understandable.
For songs 50-41, including Lil Wayne and Bruno Mars, click NEXT.