Well shit, I’m late. Last week I looked back and saw that I released my Favorite Songs of the 2000s on November 23, 2009. I was aiming to post this decade’s list on December 1 but when I saw that date, I figured I better get my shit together and drop this on your heads. Besides, I haven’t even started on my Favorite songs of 2019 and the Christmas music starts rolling on Friday, so time is a wastin’!
I’ve spent a lot of time on this list, becoming borderline obsessive about it for the past month or so. As I often point out this is weird because a few weeks, months, years from now I will likely rank these songs in a completely different order. So why waste so much time on it? Because that’s what music freaks do, that’s why. If you are one, too, you understand.
So here they are, my 25 favorite songs of the 2010s offered for your enjoyment in text, Spotify, and YouTube formats.
25 – “Night Shift” – Lucy Dacus
No. 1 song of 2018
I would likely knock this down a notch or two if I were to re-do the 2018 list today. One song that was behind it a year ago appears much higher on this list. Sometimes songs that are great in the moment don’t stick with you.
But this is a legitimately great song, a classic slow burner that grows and grows until it explodes and kicks every last bit of your ass. The last 2:20 are one of the very best stretches of music from any artist this decade.
24 – “To Know You” – Wild Nothing
No. 1 song of 2016
In one of the great upsets of the decade I ranked this above not one but two Frightened Rabbit songs as my favorite of 2016. That was, primarily, because this song stuck with me for so long. It seemed like it got played for months on SiriusXM and I never wanted to flip to something else when I heard it.
Chillwave got a bad rap at its peak, and it has now largely faded away. This was the genre’s final and greatest moment.
23 – “Your Eyes” – Bombay Bicycle Club
No. 11 song of 2011
The 2010s will go down as the streaming decade, the period when most folks finally turned their backs on the iTunes Music/Amazon Music stores and signed up for Apple Music or Spotify. Rdio was an early contender in the streaming space, and I still think it had the best interface, the best music recommendations, and the best way of showing new music each week. RIP.
BBC was a band that I discovered on Rdio because so many other people with similar interests were listening to them. I kept seeing the cover for their album A Different Kind of Fix in my recommended feed and finally gave it a listen. I loved it immediately. This song’s driving beat and dizzy ending made it the song that stuck with me the most.
22 – “Myth” – Beach House
No. 3 song of 2012
Relationships are built upon myths. When those myths get shattered, it can be devastating. Victoria Legrand perfectly captures the feeling of that moment of recognition. “What comes after this/momentary bliss. The consequence/of what you do to me” is one of my favorite lyrics of the decade.
21 – “Pray for Rain” – Pure Bathing Culture
No. 5 song of 2015
That beat, those layers of synthesizers, that steady and subtle guitar riff, and Sarah Versprille’s vocals. They combine to form an undeniable song.
20 – “Recovery” – Frank Turner
No. 3 song of 2013
While at its core a song about being in the absolute depths of a bender to get over someone, Turner’s music and delivery make this seem like a song more about hope than despair.
19 – “Cold War” – Janelle Monáe
No. 2 song of 2010
What a decade for Ms. Monáe. The Kansas City native began the decade as one of the brightest and most original new stars in music, regardless of genre. She was super talented, independent, and a little weird, defying categorization.
By the end of the 2010s, after being mentored by Prince, she had released arguably the best soul album of the decade, filled with songs that were the closest thing to classic Prince since his heyday. Songs like “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Pynk” had his fingerprints all over them.
But it is this song, from her 2010 album The ArchAnroid, that stuck with me. Likely because there is an emotional element to it that is different from the rest of her music. While so many of her songs are based on fictional versions of herself, this song always felt like it was a rare moment of honesty that was about the real Janelle.
Monáe also had the quote of the decade. After years of rumors about her sexuality, she came out in 2017 as “Pan-sexual” as she called it. “I’m a free ass motherfucker” she said in an interview. Here’s to all the free ass motherfuckers in the world.
18 – “The Diamond Street Church Choir” – The Gaslight Anthem.
No. 7 Song of 2010
The Gaslight Anthem’s specialty were songs of places. This is perhaps TGA’s most specific song in terms of place. It refers back to New Brunswick, NJ’s Court Tavern club and the promoter who first hired The Gaslight Anthem to play there, kicking off their career: Andy Diamond.
That connection to where the band came from should resonate with anyone who has left home in an attempt to do bigger things. I don’t know that this is the best song in The Gaslight Anthem’s collection, but it is likely their most universal.
17 – “Head Underwater” – Jenny Lewis
No. 6 song of 2014
Lewis’ album The Voyager was an amazing, honest assessment of her life. She wrote about getting older, about not having a family when women around her did, and about the double-standards women everywhere face.
Here she sang of losing it a little, whether because of depression, addiction, weariness, or some combination. There’s a lightness to the music that tempers the weight of the lyrics. I remember when they first hit me and I thought, “Oh damn, that’s some deep shit!”
It seems to be a song about weathering the storm, finding inner strength, and escaping from whatever it is that is holding you back. But there is a sinister element to the title. Does putting her head underwater, closing her eyes, and becoming free at last refer to a rebirth, a baptism to a new life? Or is it about being in so much pain you choose to end your life? I’m pretty sure she was singing about the rebirth thing, but there’s just enough doubt in there to make it a chilling final line.
16 – “Depreston” – Courtney Barnett
No. 2 song of 2015
Barnett arrived on the scene a thoroughly original voice. Singing with her Australian accent proudly apparent, she told stream-of-conscious tales about the most mundane elements of life, in a languid delivery that made it near-impossible to not call her a modern practitioner of stoner or slacker rock. In time she proved she was much more than someone who could write funny songs about everyday things. This song was the first step in that process.
It’s all about transitioning into real adulthood. Not the moving out of your parents’ house, finding a job, etc. stage of adulthood. But rather when you’re ready to take on a partner and a mortgage, move out to the suburbs, and settle down. There’s that little sense of sadness that comes from leaving the “fun” world of your early 20s behind for a more placid existence. And there is her unmatchable eye for detail that she uses to explain her mixed feelings about replacing the woman who built a life in the house she is walking through.
15 – “Believe” – Amen Dunes
No. 2 song of 2018
I have an obvious soft spot for songs about lost mothers. I can’t remember a more stunning one in recent years than this brilliant track.
As Damon McMahon was writing the Believe album, his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Their relationship had been fraught and difficult over the years, but her illness forced him to reevaluate his feelings for her. This song serves as a conversation between them – I always think of it taking place in her hospital room – as they come to terms with each other and decide to spend her final days together in peace.
This is one of those songs I recall hearing for the first time and being utterly mesmerized by the music.
14 – “Down Down the Deep River” – Okkervil River
I obviously deal a lot in nostalgia. For better or for worse, there’s a big chunk of my brain that has always been devoted to recalling the past, putting it into context, and trying to recapture what it was that made those moments special. Okkervil River’s wonderful 2013 album The Silver Gymnasium is all about nostalgia, specifically about lead singer Will Sheff’s childhood in the 1980s.
Here he begins innocently enough, harkening back to the days of taping your favorite shows off the radio. But the tone shifts dramatically to the first moment in our lives when we are forced to confront the death of someone dear to us.
This song did not chart in a year-end list as it was released in 2013 but I didn’t discover it until 2014 and refused to put it on my Favorites of 2014 list. Because of that I nearly forgot to put it on this list. Just another reminder that my music rules are dumb.
13 – “He Gets Me High” – Dum Dum Girls
No. 1 song of 2011
I remember hearing this song very early in 2011 and thinking, “It’s going to take a lot to keep this out of the top spot this year.” It had a big, bold, swaggery sound that blew everything else that year away.
The Dum Dums had my No. 1 song of 2011, No. 2 song of 2012 (“Season in Hell”), No. 17 song of 2014 (“Too True to Be Good”), and leader Kristin Gundred in her Kristin Kontrol persona had my No. 6 song of 2017 (“Baby Are You In?”). That’s a pretty good decade.
12 – “The House That Heaven Built” – Japandroids
No. 1 song of 2012
What The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America was to the 2000s, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock was to the 2010s. It was an album that so wonderfully captured what it is like to be young, restless, and a little wild that I wished I was 20 years younger so it could be about me and my generation.
On an album that can’t be called anything other than fucking kick ass rock music, this was the big highlight. A song made for playing in the heart of the summer, with a car full of friends, when you have no real place to be, so you just drive fast and far, with the windows down, screaming along to the “OH OH OH”s.
11 – “California Nights” – Best Coast
No. 1 song of 2015
The song that Bethany Cosentino was born to sing. It was about California, getting high, and being in love, the three things she sings about most. Put them all together, add her finest vocal performance, and you have the defining song of her career.
10 – “80 West” – Caveman
No. 5 song of 2016
Caveman was a band with so much promise. They landed four songs on my Favorites lists this decade, got plenty of critical acclaim, and may have even sold a few albums. But they seem to have disappeared since their 2016 album Otero War. If that was their final artistic statement, it was not a bad one. Especially here, a relatively mellow track that slowly builds but rather than breaking like a wave, picks you up and carries you along with it.
9 – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” – Against Me!
No. 2 song of 2014
Who knew that an album by a fairly obscure power-punk band from Florida would serve as an opening salvo in one of the great debates of the decade?
Laura Jane Grace wrote the album, of which this is the title track, to document her experience transitioning from a man to a woman. The album is stark and deeply affecting; Grace dumps all of her emotions and experiences onto the record. It is a remarkable album not just because of the subject matter but also because it is just a freaking great rock ’n’ roll record.
On this track she sings of what it is like to be viewed, judged, and ridiculed by people who are uncomfortable with her appearance during and after her transition. “You want them to see you like they see every other girl. They just see a faggot…” is one of the most brutal lines of any decade.
I don’t know that we have figured the transgender thing out yet as a society. Laura Jane Grace added a powerful, undeniable voice to the cause in 2014.
8 – “Edge of Town” – Middle Kids
No. 23 song of 2016
Another song that stuck around for awhile. Originally released in the spring of 2016, it hung around throughout the year. As the calendar turned to 2017 it suddenly began getting a lot more airplay, and received another boost when Middle Kids’ debut EP came out that April. And, to be honest, it never went away for me. It’s a song that I go back and listen to often still. It is also a song that I ranked woefully low its first time around. It should have been much higher in the 2016 list. Had I allowed myself to rank it again in 2017 it likely would have been top five for that year.
All that should demonstrate both that I love this song, and that it is arguably the best debut single of the decade. It eases open with that gentle riff that recalls Frightened Rabbit’s “The Modern Leper.” Then Hannah Joy comes in with that little warble in her voice that shows the influence of American country music on Australian pop music. When the entire band joins her, it becomes something special. It just keeps building and building until the beguiling final stretch, where Joy keeps singing about something being on her mind. I’ll admit, I feel like a dirty old man every time I hear it.
7 – “Call Your Girlfriend” – Robyn.
No. 7 song of 2011.
Robyn had my fifth favorite song of the last decade, the wonderful “With Every Heartbeat,” a song about finding strength in a moment of heartbreak.
Here she spins that concept another direction. She’s talking her new man through the process of letting his old girlfriend down easy. It is sweet, thoughtful, and tender, yet there is no doubt that Robyn is going to win.
Robyn redefined dance music this decade. Her Body Talk album, which was originally released as a series of EPs and, thus, landed two songs on two different Favorite Songs of the Year lists, combined classic dance music with introspective lyrics, a dash of hip hop, and a whole lot of Swedish swagger to turn Robyn into the fiercest artist in music. Oh, and this is the best video of the decade, too.
6 – “Desire” – Lydia Loveless.
No. 4 song of 2017
I have no idea why, but Loveless did not include this on her most excellent 2016 album Real. That decision was made more baffling by the song’s central use in the documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless?.
Thankfully a year later she released it as a single and it became my favorite song of hers.
This is a big, badass song about being the other woman and not being pleased about it at all. It is perfect for Loveless’ voice, allowing her to stretch out and really go for it. It is a completely epic performance.
Sadly, it’s the last thing we’ve had from Loveless. She’s active on Twitter, but has mentioned many times her disgust with the music industry. I hope she comes back.
5 – “Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers.
No. 15 song of 2017
Bridgers is the current “It” girl of indie rock. Her 2017 debut Stranger in the Alps was highly regarded upon its release, and as each year passes its stature grows a little more. Although Bridgers has yet to release a proper follow-up, she has stayed in the public eye as part of the supergroup boygenius, with Conor Oberst in Better Oblivion Community Center, joining Matt Berninger on his solo debut, and through the release of several covers on her own.
This song is the standout from that debut LP, and it is perhaps the best Diss Song of the decade. Despite her gorgeous, soft vocal tone, her lyrics are absolutely savage. Regarding a former lover, she says that she “faked it every time,” she hates him for the way he treated her, suggests her ex-lover talks so much there aren’t enough words to shut him up, labels him a hypocrite, accuses him of using a fake accent to advance his career, and calls him an old man. When she revealed the song was about her brief relationship with Ryan Adams, those “Oh snap!” lyrics turned into “OH SHIT!” words. That reveal gave the song’s title a new meaning, too. Adams suffers from Ménière’s disease, which causes motion sickness-like symptoms. Bridgers seemed to be saying, “Oh yeah, bitch, well that’s how you made me feel, too!”
Of course, knowing what we know now about Adams and his relationships with women, the song has even more power.
Beyond some fantastic lines and a titillating celebrity diss, Bridgers’ music and delivery are what truly makes this a great song. You’re left not certain whether this is an anthem of survival or a song of deep despair, but are moved despite that ambiguity. And you are certain of Bridgers’ talent.
Side Note: On Ryan Adams.
Man, I loved some Ryan Adams music this decade. In the past I thought he was a real prick, but when I heard his self-titled 2014 album, I fell in love with it and gave his music another chance. And I got sucked in big time. There was a stretch when I don’t know that I listened to any other artist more than Adams. However, given the accusations against him, I’ve barely listened to his music over the past year. I believe I will be able to listen to it again someday. There are plenty of artists that I listen to often who were terrible people. But, for now, I can not include any of his songs in this list.
4 – “Valleys of the Young” – Andrew Bird
No. 4 song of 2016
I will always associate Bird with parenthood. I knew his name from hearing a few of his songs on good, old WOXY.com. But I really discovered him when he appeared on the Noggin kids channel program Jack’s Big Music Show in 2007 as Dr. Strings. That’s about the same time I first heard his song “Plasticities,” which was my 5th favorite song of 2008 and my 26th favorite song of the 2000s. He became a point where my preschool girls and I could connect over good music that I loved and hoped they would appreciate as well.
Fast forward a few years to when Bird got married and was ready to begin a family of his own, and we get this song. It is an absolutely harrowing yet gorgeous examination of the perils of parenting. First, there is the leaving of the comfortable world of the single and the childless, the Valleys of the Young. And then comes the real bitch: having children means you will spend the rest of your life fearing all the terrible things that can happen to them. That final verse is an absolute ass-kicker, backed up perfectly by the biggest, loudest, rockiest section Bird has ever put into one of his songs.
3 – “FootShooter” – Frightened Rabbit
No. 1 song of 2010
It’s still hard for me to listen to some of FR’s songs, now over 18 months since lead singer Scott Hutchison’s death. There are still too many lyrics that were tough to listen to before his death that are now near-impossible to hear knowing how they can be directly tied to how he ended his life.
This song escapes that trouble, though. What Scott often wrote best about were the embarrassing moments that went along with being in a relationship. Every single line of this song is brilliant and unforgettable. Especially his chorus, where he warns his ex-lover to “lock up you ears my dear, I am verbal, when I am loaded.” Any chance he has to repair the relationship is going to be destroyed when he gets drunk, says whatever he thinks, and shoots himself in the foot again.
Where this song really shines is in the tone, which is unlike most FR songs. I’ve always said this is the sound the Coldplay could have had if they had stayed indie and not tried to be the next U2. The arrangement is rich and gorgeous. The lyrics relatable, if a little too honest for the pop charts. The bridge seemed made for a big, dramatic scene in a romance movie. And those “OOOOOOOH, OHHHHHHHs” at the end should have sold a million copies.
FR also had the No. 10 song of 2012 (“State Hospital), No. 1 song of 2013 (“Holy”), No 2 and 3 songs of 2016 (“Break,” and “An Otherwise Disappointing Life”), and No. 13 song of 2017 (“Rained On”). Scott and Grant Hutchison also had the No. 20 song of 2018 in the side project Mastersystem (“Notes On a Life Not Quite Lived”).
2 – “The Gold” – Manchester Orchestra
No. 2 song of 2017
The song that wouldn’t die. SiriusXM played the hell out of it in 2017. And deep into 2018. And I still hear it a couple times a month.
That’s because it is simply a great song, full of deep, terrific lyrics and built on the best musical performance this fine band has ever put together. Every section has the perfect transition to the next. From the big moments to the little flourishes, they nail every element of it. Andy Hull has a career of great vocals. This is his finest work. Combined, it is a magical, unforgettable effort by a band that sometimes gets in their own way.
(Phoebe Bridgers did a wonderful cover of this song that I ranked as my No. 4 song of 2018.)
1 – “Red Eyes” – The War on Drugs
No.1 song of 2014
This spot was pretty locked in for TWOD, who were my favorite act of the decade. It was just a matter of what song to put in this spot. Would it be one of the several epic tracks off of their 2017 album A Deeper Understanding? Would it be one of about five songs off my favorite album of the decade, 2014’s Lost in the Dream? Or could it be one of two or three songs off their 2012 album Slave Ambient? I could have easily put any song from that list of eight or nine here and been just fine with the result.
In the end it came down to two songs that were my favorites of their respective years, either 2016’s “Pain,” or 2014’s “Red Eyes.” In the end I chose “Red Eyes” for a couple reasons.
First I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking, “Holy shit, that is amazing!” Granted, I thought the same thing the first time I heard several TWOD songs. But when I heard “Red Eyes”in December 2013, I immediately couldn’t wait for the release of Lost in the Dream, which was still four months down the road. That moment changed how I thought about music for the rest of the decade.
And then there was my favorite musical moment of the decade, which comes at about 1:48 into “Red Eyes,” just before the first chorus, when Adam Granduciel lets out that little “WHOOO!” and the song takes off. That’s the moment when TWOD took control of the decade.
Despite all that, in many ways this is a weird song to select as my favorite. It is hard to sing along to, many of the lyrics being nearly impossible to positively identify. There’s no proper chorus. Hell, there’s no proper structure, going from verse to “chorus” to long bridge back to “chorus.” And then, amazingly for TWOD, there isn’t a guitar solo. Adam Granduciel’s epic guitar solos melted a million faces this decade. Yet I pick probably his only song without one to represent the entire decade.
That should tell you how good this song it. The perfect song to represent the 2010s.
TWOD’s decade: No. 17 song of 2010 (“Comin’ Through”), No. 2 song of 2011 (“Baby Missiles”), and co-No. 1 songs of 2017 (“Pain” and “Strangest Thing”).