I have been assembling year-end best-of music lists since 2006 (or since 2007, for the music of 2006, as it were). Up until this year, these collections were a part of my radio show, Jeff Malone’s Magic Mix, on WLOY, Loyola University Maryland’s campus station. Now that I have graduated, the Magic Mix is no longer on the airwaves at WLOY, but that is no reason for me to stop espousing on the best music of the year. The format on my best-of-the-year Magic Mix shows consisted of a list of the top five songs of the year along with a sampling of some of the year’s other great songs, in no particular order. That is the format we will stick with. To be eligible, songs must have been released as singles in calendar year 2010 (or late 2009 in the case of some exceptions).

Top 5 Songs of the Year
After the top 5 took a decidedly indie turn last year, 2010 went in a more mainstream direction.

 1. Jay-Z ft. Swizz Beatz – “On to the Next One”
Jay-Z enjoyed a string of hit singles off The Blueprint 3; in a case of opposite day, the most deserving – “On to the Next One” – was the least successful of the bunch.  Jay’s team-up with Alicia Keys received much of the attention that ought to have gone to his collaboration with her husband.  A barely recognizable sample of Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” played over and over and the occasional drumbeat provide the creepy, spare atmosphere.  Meanwhile, Jay raps about how he is staying ahead of the game while he does the same, more than on any of his other recent tracks: “Niggas want my old shit, buy my old album.”  He tweaks the excesses of the genre while simultaneously making expert use of them himself: “And fuck that Auto-Tune cause we [cue Auto-Tune] ooo-on.”  Some of the best work in any medium is about the medium itself.

2. Rihanna – “Rude Boy”
Rihanna’s dark gambit Rated R was not entirely successful, but it did produce the most interesting work of her career, and nowhere was that more clear than on “Rude Boy.”  It is quite the bold effort to have a song represent an entire slang term (“rude boy” is common Jamaican slang for a lawless male), but when it works, it works.  “Rude Boy” is ostensibly a love letter to such questionable fellows, but there is surely a wealth of irony, considering the Chris Brown period of Rihanna’s life.  And the musical aspect is as strong and well-produced as it can be: RiRi’s icy monotone is as biting as ever, and that steel drum lead-in to the chorus is perhaps the instrumental accent of the year.

3. The Black Keys – “Tighten Up”
How many wrenching blues-rock numbers about the heartrending nature of love are being made today?  About 15 – the number of tracks on the Black Keys’ latest album.  “Tighten Up” is the best of the bunch.  An opening whistle, musical enjambment (“I’m bound to fall, bound to fall/for you”), and a tempo-changing background that ushers in the final bit are some of the most notable pieces that make up the ultimate tight (appropriately enough) musical package.

 4. Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”
As I was beginning to realize just how great “Teenage Dream” is, I described it as the best pop song in a while.  By “pop,” I meant to exclude pop-rock, pop-R&B, pop-rap, dance-pop, electropop, and any other non-pop genre with songs that happen to make it on to the pop charts.  Then I was looking through Rolling Stone’s picks for songs of the year.  They also placed Katy at number four, and they described “Teenage Dream” as the “Best Pure Pop” – this was the description I had been looking for.  With a sound reminiscent of Kylie Minogue (particularly “Love at First Sight”), “Teenage Dream” conveys a taste of ecstasy that only pure pop music can pull off. 

5. Metric – “Gold, Guns, Girls”
Are you ready?  “Gold, Guns, Girls” is going to pump you up and get you moving by opening with that guitar riff, then keep things steady with the drumbeat during the verses, and then that riff will jump back in your face for the chorus.  And then Emily Haines’ call-and-response and overlapping vocals are enough to drive you insane.  What is the perfect question to accompany this aggressive sound blast?  You got it: “Is it ever gonna be enough?”

Just Outside the Top 5
Arcade Fire – “Ready to Start”
Rihanna – “Only Girl (in the World)”
Drake – “Find Your Love”
Kanye West – “Power”

And Some Other Good Ones
Paramore – “The Only Exception”
Florence + the Machine – “Heavy in Your Arms”
“Dog Days Are Over” was Florence’s breakout hit, but it was originally released in 2008.  And “Heavy in Your Arms” was better anyway.
Kings of Leon – “Radioactive”
Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “I Should Have Known It”
This isn’t a classic act resting on its laurels or being experimental for the sake of doing something different – this is another solid entry in a great career.
Nicki Minaj ft. Sean Garrett – “Massive Attack”
Band of Horses – “Laredo”
Mayer Hawthorne – “I Wish It Would Rain”
Dance Song of the Year: Usher ft. will.i.am – “OMG”
will.i.am presents Usher with the best song of his career: a simple ode to the joys of the dancefloor and the ladies who populate it.
St. Vincent – “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood”
Eminem ft. Lil’ Wayne – “No Love”
La Roux – “Bulletproof”
3OH!3 ft. Ke$ha – “My First Kiss”
Bill Lamb of About.com said that 3OH!3 and Ke$ha “are probably the most gifted artists of the moment at riding a line between performing irresistibly catchy music and releasing tremendously annoying songs.”  “My First Kiss” is the pinnacle of the irresistibly catchy side.
Ke$ha – “We R Who We R”
Silversun Pickups – “The Royal We”
Linkin Park – “The Catalyst”
Muse – “Neutron Star Collision (Love is Forever)”
That’s 2 (two!) songs from the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack.
Selena Gomez and the Scene – “Round & Round”
“Round & Round” gives no indication as to Selena Gomez’s vocal abilities, but it is a well-produced piece of pop.
Nicki Minaj – “Right Thru Me”
The Temper Trap – “Fader”
“Fader” is standing in a bit for “Sweet Disposition,” which was originally released in 2008, but was a hit in the Temper Trap’s native Australia before it broke though stateside.
Sara Bareilles – “King of Anything”
Most Awesomely Bad Song of the Year: Christina Perri – “Jar of Hearts”
“You’re gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul” is 2010’s response to “I’m so two thousand and eight, you’re so two thousand and late.”