2010 was a formative year in music for me. I was enduring the after-effects of a breakup, entering my senior year, and traveling to Italy that summer, all while discovering what kinds of music I really liked. You can tell from this list that my musical taste wasn’t as diversified as it is now (45 different artists from last year’s top 50 songs, versus 36 from 2010). I held tightly to the bands I loved and the albums that defined my life that year.
Links to audio streaming or videos are in the song titles.
[Disclaimer: There’s probably profanity in a lot of these songs.]
50. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor
49. “To Old Friends and New” by Titus Andronicus
48. “Confirmation” by Wild Nothing
47. “Desire Lines” by Deerhunter
46. “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz
45. “The Hangover (feat. Mikey Rocks)” by Curren$y
44. “White Dress” by Ben Rector
43. “Sun Hands” by Local Natives
42. “A More Perfect Union” by Titus Andronicus
41. “In the Night My Hope Lives On” by Andrew Peterson
40. “All Day Day Light” by The Morning Benders
39. “Light of Day” by Jimmy Needham
38. “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn
37. “Twin Peaks” by Surfer Blood
36. “Dry Bones” by Gungor
35. “Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend
34. “What’s My Name? (feat. Drake)” by Rihanna
33. “Small Rebellions (feat. Brandon Heath)” by Jars of Clay
32. “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out
31. “Hang with Me” by Robyn
30. “National Anthem (F**k the World)” by Freddie Gibbs
29. “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj
28. “All Creatures of Our God and King” by Patty Griffin
27. “When I’m with You” by Best Coast
26. “Shine Blockas (feat. Gucci Mane)” by Big Boi
Top 25 Songs
25. “The Reckoning (How Long)” by Andrew Peterson: The veteran singer-songwriter’s most triumphant ode to the tension between this life and the next.
24. “Howlin’ for You” by The Black Keys: Nothing about this song was complicated, or even lyrically coherent, and thank goodness for that- we need mindless anthems in this crazy world.
23. “City with No Children” by Arcade Fire: Win Butler lamented the abundance of hypocrites in his world, as well as the possibility that he may have been among them.
22. “Hurricane J” by The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever was dismissed, and this song along with it, even though it was a prime example of the dizzying heights this band was capable of even when embracing more mainstream rock templates.
21. “Macon” by Jamey Johnson: Combining Johnson’s Alabama drawl with Muscle-Shoals-channeling backup singers turned out to be a pretty great move for the alt-country bigshot.
20. “I Can Change” by LCD Soundsystem: For all the attention LCD Soundsystem got for their production, it was the calisthenics from James Murphy’s voice that usually elevated their songs into emotional nirvana, especially on this dynamic single off their last album.
19. “Heaven’s on Fire” by The Radio Dept.: I used to think the pretentious Thurston Moore quote that opened this song served as its thesis statement, but, listening now, the rest of the song seems to laugh it off by dropping some acid out back of the restaurant on its break. Turns out the youths don’t care one way or the other about the “bogus capitalist process”.
18. “Moving to Zion” by Jimmy Needham: I’ll follow Needham’s golden voice anywhere, but he made it easy with this funky declaration of intent to make his home in Christ.
17. “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire: As clear a mission statement as you would have found on an album, “The Suburbs”, which opened the album of the same name, set up Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning record as an epic, band-defining lament.
16. “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” by Alicia Keys: The spiritual cousin to Usher’s “Climax”. Keys’s voice sounds like butter spread over just the right amount of bread.
15. “King of Spain” by The Tallest Man on Earth: After listening to this Swedish folk song, who didn’t think they could be anything they wanted?
14. “Who Knows Who Cares” by Local Natives: When I discovered this song in 2010, I was in a big period of transition, and Local Natives’ cinematic embrace of aimlessness hit me right where I lived.
13. “Tightrope (feat. Big Boi)” by Janelle Monáe: Even four years later, this song feels like the future of R&B.
12. “F**k You” by Cee-Lo Green: There’s no denying its vulgarity, but the explicit version is the better, funnier song than the comparably toothless “Forget You” (Ain’t that some shit?).
11. “Four Score and Seven” by Titus Andronicus: An appropriate microcosm for the brilliance of Titus Andronicus’s entire record, The Monitor, with a slow, elegiac first act followed by a rip-roaring second, repeating, “It’s still us against them!” which might as well be the band’s motto.
10. “Swim” by Surfer Blood: Guitar-driven power-pop has fallen out of style since Surfer Blood’s bruising debut. Maybe that’s because no one’s written anything with quite the killer hook as “Swim” and its unbeatable chorus. Effortless optimism is a tough vibe to pull off in indie rock, but Surfer Blood nailed it with “Swim”.
9. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National: I couldn’t tell you what some of the specific things in this song mean- like, what’s a “bloodbuzz”? Or why were bees carrying Matt Berninger to the Midwest? But I could certainly tell you that the malaise that permeates every inch of this song deeply affected me in 2010 even at the ripe old age of 21.
8. “Power” by Kanye West: Remember when people said ‘Ye was just a great producer and not a great rapper? Well, he’d already proven his flow before “Power”, but “Power” was the moment his acumen became undeniable, his lyrical prowess proved to be unbeatable, and his one-liners were unstoppable. West’s assertion that “no one man should have all that power” was obviously self-referential, but in hindsight maybe that chorus was a cry for help from a man who couldn’t handle his own genius.
7. “The Earth Is Yours” by Gungor: In light of Gungor’s recent bend toward the emergent church, it’s refreshing to look back on their explicitly worshipful music from Beautiful Things. “The Earth Is Yours” particularly stood out, because it’s an experimental rock song in a conventional worship song’s skin. Where David Crowder Band had already sharpened the edges of worship music’s box, Gungor had just begun to tip the box over and pour its contents out.
6. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire: Most of my other favorite Arcade Fire songs are the big, brash rock songs: “Wake Up”, “No Cars Go”, “Keep the Car Running”. But “Sprawl II” is more subtle, taking its time through its chorus, allowing The Suburbs to reach its emotional climax through Régine’s voice rather than Win’s. It doesn’t leave much room for hope in the tightness of its production, but Régine’s pleading for darkness wins me over every time.
5. “World Sick” by Broken Social Scene: Apparently everyone forgot about Broken Social Scene once Leslie Feist left, but they quietly released one of the best records of 2010, leading off with one of the best songs of 2010. “World Sick” was epic, both in length and depth. It was almost seven minutes long, but it earned that running time with several well-constructed musical movements and a chorus that sounded like a legitimate cry for help. Kevin Drew claiming that he gets “world sick” whenever he takes a stand was a poignant way of pointing out that something wasn’t quite right with a world where hearts are broken every day. The angry guitar flurries that back him up on that line seemed to agree, and the song ended in skittering drums and whispering guitars, allowing its sentiment to sink in.
4. “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)” by Kanye West: The song that ends up standing for West’s legacy better than any other doesn’t seem like it should include more of Kanye’s singing than his rapping, but this was the world we lived in back in 2010. Look, there were a lot of reasons to hate this song: ‘Ye’s singing voice, its blatant vulgarity, West’s apparent lack of repentance. But it would be hard to argue that “Runaway” wasn’t the perfect summation of the entire Kanye West ethos. For a man who elevated his career to the next level by being unflinchingly honest, “Runaway” was the pinnacle. That doesn’t give him a free pass for all his faults, but it’s worth at least something that he was able to confess them so effectively.
3. “Dance with Me Baby” by Ben Rector: It’s telling that Ben Rector’s best song was also his least produced. Of course, I’m biased- I sang this song to my wife when I proposed to her. But I legitimately think this was a perfect song apart from my connection to it. From the opening, off-the-cuff piano chord to the sparse arrangement to the warm lyrics, Rector had never been better. He’ll never get attention from the mainstream media, but with “Dance with Me Baby” he showed he didn’t need it; he was going to make great music regardless.
2. “Take It In” by Hot Chip: You know those movie images of heaven with billowing clouds and angelic sunlight streaming through? That’s what I feel like when I listen to this song. Hot Chip are just a bunch of nerdy guys, but they found a way to make the simplest of sentiments hold so much more weight. The verses were dark, bouncy affairs, conveying insecurity and uncertainty. Then the choruses kicked in, and we were sailing in the sky, eternally secure in the arms of love.
1. “Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson: Again, I’m biased: I sang this to my wife at our wedding. 2010 was a good year for songs that had to do with my marriage (No. 39 up there was the song playing when Vicky walked down the aisle). The DJ at our wedding helped me plan out when I was going to sing during the reception as a surprise for Vicky. I ran into him at an event at OU a month or so after our wedding. He still had the song in his computer, so he played it for me randomly. It all came rushing back to me- not necessarily the romance of the event or the great dance party our DJ threw for us at the reception or even the moment when I got to kiss my bride for the first time. What I was reminded of was the heaviness of the promise I had made to my bride, to love her well for the rest of our life together. I knew I’d inevitably fail at carrying this out, that I would eventually turn out to be a bad husband. But that’s why I chose this song to sing: it’s a reminder that the promise is the thing that matters. God created marriage not as a testament to the power of romantic love to carry you through all things, but as an image of covenant, an image of His commitment to us. Is there any song that communicates that more fully than “Dancing in the Minefields”?
Future Top Tens
“Go Wherever You Wanna Go” by Patty Griffin
“Latch (feat. Sam Smith)” by Disclosure
“Elephant” by Jason Isbell
“I Blame Myself” by Sky Ferreira
“Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” by Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford
“The Bad Days” by David Ramirez
“Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)” by Drake
“Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake
“Rocket” by Beyoncé
“The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)” by Amy Speace
“Clear the Stage” by Jimmy Needham
“One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)” by Trip Lee
“Fire of Time” by David Ramirez
“Church Clothes” by Lecrae
“Climax” by Usher
“Day by Day” by Andrew Peterson
“When We Were Young” by Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra
“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean
“Mourning Train to Memphis” by Christopher Paul Stelling
“Hold On” by Alabama Shakes
“Someone Like You” by Adele
“Need You Now” by Cut Copy
“You Are the Beauty” by Gungor
“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes
“Oklahoma Sky” by Miranda Lambert
“Otis” by Jay-Z & Kanye West
“This Changes Everything” by Matt Papa
“Days Like This” by Over the Rhine
“Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr.
“Beth/Rest” by Bon Iver