Best of 2012: The Songs

the staff spins their favorite tracks of the year …

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Who doesn’t love lists?

We here at Pop-Break were raised on lists. We love them like we love bears, cookies and all things pop culture.

So as we do every year, we present to you our personal favorites in film, music (albums and songs) and television.

This year we’re also debuting a new category: Pop-Break Live, our live performance we were a part of.

And this year we’re excited by the fact we’ve added a whole new slew of writers plus we’ll have two special contributors: Maria Mar of 95.9 WRAT’s Jersey Rock and Popblerd! Editor-in-Chief Mike Heyliger.

Here’s Who is Contributing to this Year’s List:

Bill Bodkin – Editor-in-Chief, Trailer Tuesday Columnist, Singles Party Columnist
Sue-Ann Bodkin – Contributor
Brent Johnson – Managing Editor, Lost Songs Columnist, Singles Party Columnist
Jonathan Elliott – Marketing Coordinator, Staff Writer
Jason Kundrath – Senior Editor, Indie Music Editor, Singles Party Columnist
Joe Zorzi – Senior Editor, Music Content Coordinator, Singles Party Columnist
Maxwell Barna – Senior Editor, Photography Editor
Logan J. Fowler – Senior Editor, Trailer Tuesday Columnist, Link to the Past Columnist
Jason Stives – Senior Editor, Music & Film Content Coordinator, Dr. Who Columnist
Lauren Stern – Assignment Editor, Senior Writer, Singles Party Columnist
Daniel Cohen – Film Editor
Ann Hale – Staff Writer, Horror Editor, Film Content Coordinator
Michael Dworkis – Staff Writer, Wrestling Columnist
Lisa Pikaard – Staff Writer, Music Content Coordinator
Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs – Staff Writer, Featured Columnist
Luke Kalamar – Staff Writer, Walking Dead Columnist
Kelly Gonsalves – Staff Writer, Singles Party Columnist
Erica Batchelor – Staff Writer
Brendan Williams – Contributor
Nick Porcaro – Contributor, Web Designer
Joel Wosk – Contributor
Brendan Hourican – Contributor
John Lawrence – Contributor, UFC Columnist

Jason Stives

1. fun., “Some Nights”

fun. no doubt had a lot to celebrate during 2012, and with their recent six Grammy nods, there is no doubt that they have become a bit of a household name. Sure, for fans of singer Nate Reuss’ former band, The Format, the glossy pop sound of fun. sullies the group’s talents, but it is the best result of said talents in the I Generation. “We Are Young” was their biggest success this year, but the title track of their sophomore release was their most spellbinding and creative. Combining equal parts Queen with Reuss’ signature lyrics, “Some Nights” was easily identifiable and an event for pop music fans every time it reached radio play. Regardless of the sudden use of auto tune towards the end of the song, it was a feet-stomping, whooping-and-hollering kind of number that was absolutely entertaining in every part of its production, and for me the best song to come to mainstream radios all year.

2. Japandroids, “Fire’s Highway”

While for many critics, the Vancouver duo’s track “The House That Heaven Built” may capture the creative best from Japandroids’ acclaimed sophomore release, Celebration Rock. to me “Fire’s Highway” captures the energy of their sound. Sounding more like a punk quartet than it does two guys smashing instruments, “Fire’s Highway” rips through the atmosphere at a fast pace, with singer Brian King shouting the tale of a northern soul that will kiss away your gypsy fears. Instantly, I see a rush of fans jumping, shouting, and rolling over each other in anarchy, but in the best kind of way. A song like this makes me envious of people who go to their shows, and no doubt I hope to join the throngs of fans next time they come around to the tri-state area.

3. Arctic Monkeys, “R U Mine?”

I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry, it’s a general bias coming up again because it’s my favorite band. The boys from Sheffield had a stellar year for exposure thanks to a supporting slot on The Black Keys’ coast-to-coast arena tour, as well as being one of the last performers at the Olympics’ opening ceremony. With no album release this year, the band put out one single — and what a cracker it was. Further showing the band’s expansion from indie-rock hooligans to experimental hard rockers, “R U Mine?’ name drops Tracy Island, “Some Velvet Morning,” and the Lone Ranger like it’s no one’s business to a crunchy guitar riff and a thunderous drum solo from Mr. Matt Helders. Alex Turner once again shows off his ability as a lyricist and snarls his verses with a slick-backed persona, giving fans a taste of what is to come on their fifth album.

4. Kanye West (featuring Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Pusha T), “Cruel Summer”

The notorious Mr. West has no doubt had his share of detractors, and his outspokenness definitely masks his ability as a rapper at times. However, Kanye has been shining the past two years on collaborations alone, and this first track from his GOOD Music project was a knockout. From the opening dance hall sample alone, there is already something distinct about this compared to recent Top 40 hip-hop songs. and Kanye takes a back seat for the bulk of the song allowing his Cruel Summer comrades to take center stage. Maybe it’s the solid verse from 2 Chainz, or maybe (and most likely) it’s the ass-tastic rhymes of Big Sean’s verse that make this song so clever and catchy. Either way, it was definitely a stop-what-you’re-doing kind of song anytime it came on the radio.

5. The Gaslight Anthem, “45”

With the release of their fourth album, Handwritten, The Gaslight Anthem were able to step out of the shadows of the Springsteen-esque image that was planted on their earliest records. Filled with would be call-to-arm anthems and leader Brian Fallon’s signature growl, the gorup have become the everyday rock band, almost bordering on a household name, at least here in New Jersey. But if there is to be a single defining song that with good intentions shares arena rock tendencies, then let it be “45,” a howl of long nights, lost love, and nostalgia done Jersey Americana style. It may fit the band’s expected pedigree in songwriting, but it’s instantly a song to smash hands against the steering wheel and to roll down the windows to wail into the night skies.

6. The Vaccines, “Teenage Icon”

Scrappy and definitely polarizing, The Vaccines had a break-out debut with last year’s What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? But their tempered attempts at garage rock tends to divide indie-rock lovers and swooning Pitchfork critics. Still, you can’t deny they can write very infectious lead singles. “Teenage Icon,” with its martyr mentality of being no Frankie Avalon and a bit of a loaner, sounds so sardonic with Justin Young’s monotone vocals, but with a half-assed guitar hook and tumbling backbeat, it was a song to denounce the media’s expectations and was a true call to dance, sing, and roll eyes at caddy opinions.

7. Taylor Swift, “State Of Grace”

Okay, so I am an admitted new fan of T-Swift — although I have always found songs to like in her more formidable teen country days. My biggest complaint was always the gee-gollyness of her lyrics — which normally bordered on Prince Charming fantasies — but that all changed with the release of her fourth album, Red. Red might be one of the best pop records of the year, and you need look no further than the consistency of the album’s singles. While most of the country caught fever off of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (and understandably), the record’s opening number, “State Of Grace,” really caught my attention. This number breaks the knight-in-shining-armor atmosphere of many of her songs, with a thumping backbeat and a building crescendo that compliments her innocent vocals. Swift details a story of changing lives, loneliness, and the unexpected nature of falling in and out of love as a sudden shock to the system. It may seem expected, but much like the rest of the album, it displayed a sense of maturity her songwriting needed in order to progress as a talented singer/songwriter.

8. The Shins, “Simple Song”

Probably to the disdain of James Mercer, The Shins’ long-awaited fourth album, Port Of Morrow, was met with mixed feelings from loyal fans fearful of a mediocre product in the wake of the band’s original lineup breaking apart. While results varied on the actual album, there were still noticeable tracks, and the album’s lead single “Simple Song” felt like the closest to The Shins of old. This polished number with squeaky guitar licks and an echoing chorus felt the most at home with fans of Wincing The Night Away and was a true bright spot in a rather mediocre release.

9. Frank Ocean, “Pyramids”

Frank Ocean definitely had one hell of a year, and for the young R&B singer, it was well-deserved, thanks to some killer singles from his latest record, channel Orange. While it didn’t make my Top 10 list — like his 2011 mix tape Nostalgia Ultra did last year — his single “Pyramids” was an epic piece of modern R&B to be hold. Clocking in at more than nine minutes, its hypnotic mix of funk and electro pop beats is breathtaking at best, feeling right at home in a club, in the bedroom (sorry, that was cliché), or driving down the road creating a euphoric atmosphere that Top 40 radio probably can’t handle but did anyway.

10. Blur, “Under The Westway”

Blur’s moving live rendition of this on closing night was one of the many highlights of the 2012 London Summer Olympics that left an impression on this anglophile — even if some people weren’t that crazy about Danny Boyle’s impressive and sometimes bizarre opening ceremony. Coinciding with the Summmer Games, BritPop icons Blur released their first noticeable new track in quite some time: the somber “Under the Westway,” an ode to growing under the eyes of Queen and country. Much like Kinks lead singer Ray Davies did back in the day, Blur leader Damon Albarn paints a beautiful picture of watching the English slums of the city get overtaken by construction of a bleak concrete roadway. It’s a reflection of the changing times and a longing for the past — and definitely one of the most earnest songs about someone’s homeland heard in quite awhile.

Erica Batchelor
1. Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive;” 2. Of Monsters And Men, “Little Talks;” 3. Anthony Green, “Get Yours While You Can;” 4. Craig Owens, “No More San Francisco;” 5. Jack White, “Sixteen Saltines”

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Bill Bodkin
1. The Gaslight Anthem, “45;” 2. Slash and Myles Kennedy, “You’re a Lie;” 3. Brick+Mortar, “Bangs;” 4. The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines;” 5. Jack White, “Sixteen Saltines”

Sue Bodkin
1. Phillip Phillips, “Home;” 2. fun., “We Are Young;” 3. The Lumineers, “Ho Hey;” 4. Mumford & Sons, “I Will Wait;” 5. The Gaslight Anthem, “45”

Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs
1. fun., “Why Am I The One;” 
2. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife;” 
3. Best Coast, “Better Girl;” 
4. Kimbra, “Good Intent;” 
5. Gotye (featuring Kimbra), “Somebody That I Used To Know”

Kelly Gonsalves
1. fun., “Some Nights;” 2. Paradise Fears, “Sanctuary” (2012 re-release); 3. Ed Sheeran, “The A Team;” 4. Macklemore, “Same Love;” 5. Gotye (featuring Kimbra), “Somebody That I Used To Know”

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Ann Hale
1. Circa Survive, “Suitcase;” 2. Kimbra, “Settle Down;” 3. Gotye (featuring Kimbra), “Somebody That I Used to Know;” 4. Lana Del Rey, “Dark Paradise;” 5. Beach House, “Myth”

Mike Heyliger
1. Miguel, “Adorn;” 2. Gotye (featuring Kimbra), “Somebody That I Used To Know;” 3. Usher, “Climax;” 4. Ne-Yo, “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself);” 5. Ben Folds Five, “Do It Anyway”

Brendan Hourican
1. Gaslight Anthem, “45;” 2. The Black Keys, “Gold On The Ceiling;” 3. fun., “Some Nights;” Justin Beiber, “Thought Of You;” Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble”

Luke Kalamar
1. The Shins, “Simple Song;” 2. Metric, “Youth Without Youth;” 3. PSY, “Gangnam Style;” 4. Muse, “Panic Station;” 5. Of Monsters And Men, “Little Talks”

Jason Kundrath
1. The Lumineers, “Ho Hey;” 2. Holy City Zoo, “Medowlarke Lemon;” 3. Frank Ocean, “Thinkin Bout You;” 4. Cicada Radio, “Oceans;” 5. Kendrick Lamar, “Compton”

Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know chords

John Lawrence
1. Lumineers, “Ho Hey” 2. fun., “Some Nights;” 3. Mumford & Sons, “I Will Wait;” 4. La Coka Nostra, “Masters Of The Dark Arts;” 5. Nas, “Where’s The Love”

Maria Mar
1. Muse, “Madness;” 2. The Gaslight Anthem, “45;” 3. Youngblood Hawke, “We Come Running;” 4. The Wombats, “Jump Into The Fog;” 5. The Gaslight Anthem “Handwritten”

Lisa Pikaard
1. Adelitas Way, “Criticize;” 2. Chris Young, “You;” 3. Stone Sour, “Absolute Zero;” 4. Trapt, “Bring It;” 5. Halestorm, “I Miss The Misery”

Nick Porcaro
1. Coheed And Cambria, “The Afterman;” 2. The Devin Townsend Project, “Angel;” 3. Bruce Springsteen, “Death To My Hometown;” 4. Kendrick Lamar, “m.A.A.d city;” 5. Enter Shikari, “Search Party”

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Lauren Stern
1. Metric, “Breathing Underwater;” 2. The Shins, “No Way Down;” 3. Of Monsters And Men, “Little Talks;” 4. Passion Pit, “Take A Walk;” 5. Gotye (featuring Kimbra), “Somebody That I Used To Know”

Brendan Williams
1. Atlas Genius, “Symptoms;” 2. The Lumineers, “Charlie Boy;” 3. Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time;” 4. The Gaslight Anthem, “45,” 5. Joywave, “Golden State”

Joel Wosk
1. JEFF The Brotherhood, “Hypnotic Mind;” 2. O. Children, “Red Like Fire;” 3. Deftones, “Leathers;” 4. Wild Nothing, “Shadow;” 5. A Place To Bury Strangers, “Onwards To The Wall”

Joe Zorzi
1. Further Seems Forever, “Janie;” 2. Kendrick Lamar, “Backstreet Freestyle;” 3. Ne-Yo, “Let Me Love You;” 4. The Gaslight Anthem, “”45;” 5. Justin Bieber, “Thought Of You”

Brent Johnson

1. Dave Matthews Band, “Drunken Soldier”
Strip away the lengthy jams, and you’ll find that Dave Matthews is one of the strongest, most versatile songwriters of the last 25 years. Need proof? Listen to the closing track of DMB’s latest album: a mood-hopping song suit that starts as a stormy minor-key dirge and ends by drifting into space with one of Dave’s sweetest melodies in some time. Gripping and gorgeous.

2. Blur, “Under The Westway”

For those of you who know Blur only as that British band with that “Woo hoo!” hit (a.k.a, 1997 smash “Song 2”), listen to this. The British superstars — who never made it as big in America as their ’90s rivals Oasis — have long been undersung masters of colorful, melodic pop-rock. And this, one of the three tracks they’ve released since reuniting a few years back, is one of 2012’s most stately, beautiful, and touching tracks — a love letter to days gone by in jolly old England that still manages to sound universal.

3. Passion Pit, “Take A Walk”
On the surface, it’s a song with a pretty melody and a neat little synth riff. Underneath all the candy, it’s also a timely tune about the recession gripping the U.S.

4. Bruce Springsteen, “Jack Of All Trades”
Another song about people battered by the economy, but this one is more harrowing. Over a plaintive piano line, the Boss sings mournfully about a man with many skills that make him useful to the world — if only someone would hire him. All the while, he assures his family that all will be alright. Heartbreaking.

5. fun. (featuring Jaenelle Monae), “We Are Young”
This made list not only because it’s one of 2012’s most ubiquitous hits. Or because it’s the single that brought alt-rock back to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. But also because I dare you to find a catchier song from the past 12 months …

6. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
… oh wait. Yep, this may actually be the catchiest song in a decade. Not just that, but it’s a damn fine pop song, to boot.

7. The Wallflowers, “Misfits And Lovers”
Jakon Dylan perfected the brand of mood-yet-infectious guitar pop. And while he never strays too far from the formula, this singalong is a prime example of how to do it right.

8.  Fiona Apple, “Every Single Night”
The winner of this year’s weirdest song to open an album. It starts with a lilting bit of electric piano. Then, it bursts into a section that sounds like an Native American chant. When that’s done, it calms down with some light operatic vocal lines. Weird indeed, but captivating.

9. Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time”
Remember all the wonderful guitar pop that dominated radio in the late 1990s? Imagine Dragons clearly do. This is a solid slice of Clinton era nostalgia, with a burning chord progression and a memorable melody. It’s a shame more bands don’t sound like this anymore.

10. Jack White, “Freedom At 21”
The guitar riff of the year. It can cause you to dance. It can cause you to rock. It can cause you to be happy Mr. White still writes great songs.

HONORABLE MENTION

Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know”
Yes, it was one of the year’s most gargantuan singles. But the Australian singer’s breakout hit doesn’t get enough credit for its creativity: It’s anchored by a creeping guitar riff and killer minor-key melody that is much more alt-rock than most pop music gets these days. Plus, the arty video is wonderful.

Grouplove, “Toungetied”
Pop music both hipsters and hippies can love. Just you try and resist bouncing your head and singing along.

The Lumineers, “Ho Hey”

More pop music both hipsters and hippies can love. Five years ago, you would have heard organic, chant-along folk music like this only on NPR, but suddenly — with Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, and this Denver trio — it’s suddenly all the rage. Songs as loveable as this one make it easier to see why.

The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarine”
For years, their music clung too tightly to the restrictive, repetitive nature of the blues. But this has a little bit of everything: a bluesy verse, a stinging guitar solo, and a coda that wouldn’t be out of place on early-’70s FM radio.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.