Three of my top five songs of 2012 (numbers 1-3, in fact) have something in common: they were actually released in 2011. 2012 was The Year of 2011, with several of the biggest hits of the past year having been originally released the year before.

Top 5 Songs of the Year
1. Grouplove – “Tongue Tied”
“Slumber party, pillow fight”
When I first heard “Tongue Tied” many times over on the iPod commercial, I thought, “I like it. That’s another fine addition to the songs from iPod commercials.” And then it started getting some radio airplay, and I went into my second stage with it in which I was getting tired of it. But then at some point, maybe around the thirtieth listen, it reached the third and final stage for me, in which I determined that it was the best song of the year. Why these wild shifts? It remains inexplicable. But it must have something to do with the lyrics, which demand a more-than-cursory examination. There’s a fantastical sense to it all, as demonstrated by lines like “Marmalade we’re making out” and “Peter Pan up in the sky.” It doesn’t appear to be about anything more than just one random crazy party, but the way the lyrics lay it all out demonstrates that if you present anything properly, it can achieve epicness. The spirited, practically angry, singing at the end further solidifies this notion, and the outro chords are quite the capper.

2. Calvin Harris – “Feel So Close”
“Your love pours down on me, surround me like a waterfall”
I usually denote the best dance song of the year in my best songs of the year coverage – this is the first year that the best dance song has cracked the overall top 5, appropriately enough, as we are fully emerged in the EDM-dominated era. And Scottish DJ Calvin Harris’s “Feel So Close” captures a feeling that dance music may be best equipped to deliver: pure bliss.

3. Alex Clare – “Too Close”
“So I’ll be on my way”
“Too Close” is a song that could have only been made in 2012 (or 2011), and only by someone who has paid attention to music of the past 50 or so years. Combining a jazzy rock beat, a dubstep breakdown, and soul vocals, Alex Clare is not holding back on his musical arsenal. The lyrics describe a relationship at a crossroads – when emotions are at a high, and there are plenty of emotions to draw from. Representing that full emotional range naturally requires a full range of musical techniques: the steady verses keep things going, while Alex’s singing makes it clear that all is not necessarily so copacetic, and the bass kicking in for the chorus show just how volatile everything is. There is an ebb and flow, and it ultimately crescendos to a steady ending, allowing everyone to breathe, though it is not exactly the happiest of conclusions.

4. Ellie Goulding – “Anything Could Happen”
“I guess we thought that’s just what humans do”
Working in an AutoTuned, EDM-saturated era, Ellie Goulding isn’t scared of digital manipulation. But the fact that Ellie works within the normal strictures of the current pop scene along with her relatively straightforward cute little blonde physical appearance belie just how weird she is and just how weird her style of digital manipulation is. It’s hard to tell if the ee-ee’s of “Anything Could Happen” are the result of button pushing, or if Ellie can beep like that without any electronic assistance. To assuage any potential doubts about her vocal abilities, though, she leads into her climax with a powerful series of repeating “I know it’s gonna be’s” that lasts just a little bit longer than you expect it to, and then lasts a little bit more. Topping it all off are lyrics that praise perseverance with an outsider’s sensibility.

5. David Byrne & St. Vincent – “Who”
“Who’s this?! Inside of me”
The reviews I read of Love This Giant made a point of noting the discordant, but ultimately complementary, combination of David Byrne’s full-throated tenor and Annie Clark’s light, decidedly feminine voice. “Who” makes that contrast as obvious and as pleasing as possible, with Byrne’s string of interrogatives rhythmically intercut with Annie’s recurring “Who is an honest man?” I imagine that hearing David Byrne and St. Vincent sing any list of questions would be enjoyable. The particular list that makes up the lyrics of this song work well enough, which is to say, it succeeds at making me want to listen to it over and over.

And a Sampling of The Rest of the Best, Roughly in Order:

Imagine Dragons – “Radioactive”

Non-single/Twilight Soundtrack Song of the Year: St. Vincent – “The Antidote”
Non-single Runner-up: Ellie Goulding – “Only You”
Twilight Soundtrack Song of the Year Runner-Up: Ellie Goulding – “Bittersweet”

Kimbra – “Settle Down”
Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”
Ke$ha – “Die Young”
Lana Del Rey – “Ride”
Muse – “Madness”
Tom Waits – “Hell Broke Luce”
Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”
Drake ft. Rihanna – “Take Care”
Katy Perry – “Wide Awake”
Silversun Pickups – “The Pit”
Bat for Lashes – “Laura”
Woodkid – “Run Boy Run”
The Gaslight Anthem – “45”
Bruno Mars – “Locked Out of Heaven”
Miike Snow – “Paddling Out”
Martin Solveig – “The Night Out”
M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”
Jack White – “Sixteen Saltines”
David Guetta ft. Sia – “Titanium”
Atlas Genius – “Trojans”
Rita Ora ft. Tinie Tempah – “R.I.P.”
Alicia Keys – “Girl on Fire”
Lana Del Rey – “National Anthem”

File Under “Rihanna Just Cannot Stop Making Music”: Rihanna – “Where Have You Been,” “Diamonds”

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”
Nicki Minaj – “Starships”
Martin Solveig – “The Night Out”
Neon Trees – “Lessons in Love (All Day, All Night)”
Foxy Shazam – “Holy Touch”
Bridgit Mendler – “Ready or Not”
The Heavy – “What Makes a Good Man”
Cher Lloyd – “Want U Back”
Garbage – “Blood for Poppies”
Demi Lovato – “Give Your Heart a Break”
Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
Sleigh Bells – “Comeback Kid”
Neon Hitch – “Fuck U Betta”

And in the spirit of 2011, I must mention one song that was released in 2011, but didn’t completely become a hit until 2012, but that I included on my Best Songs of 2011 coverage, thus making it ineligible for the Best of 2012, but I didn’t place it as high as it deserved to be for 2011, so I must amend that: “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Gotye featuring Kimbra. It didn’t quite crack my top 5 last year, but it should have (it should have been second, to be specific). If I hadn’t heard it until 2012 and/or if it had been released in 2012, then it would have been Number 1 for 2012.

Best Lyrics of 2012:
“I guess we thought that’s just what humans do” (Ellie Goulding – “Anything Could Happen”)
“Stripping down to dirty socks” (Ke$ha – “Die Young”)
“I like your face do you like my song” (Bridgit Mendler – “Ready or Not”)
“Money is the reason/We exist/Everybody knows it/It’s a fact. Kiss kiss.” (Lana Del Rey – “National Anthem”)

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