My Favorite 100 Songs Of The Decade

About a year ago, I started putting a playlist together of what I thought were the best songs of the decade. It was about 4 songs for the first eight months, forgotten about. I can’t remember why I started and I don’t remember why I switched it to being ‘favorite’ songs (a distinction that matters for me probably more than it should). In September, realizing the decade would soon be ending, I decided to go for it and finish out the playlist. 100 songs, my favorites since January 1, 2010. And I started compiling.

As I looked back at the playlists and compilations I made for myself over the last years (or at least what’s been on Spotify), I realized that most of what I listened to in the 2010’s wasn’t made in the 2010’s. It’s likely the first decade of my life to have that distinction and likely a sign of things to come. Even the bands that have multiple songs on this list (War On Drugs, Big Thief, The National), don’t compare in 2010’s listening volume to the artists I really started listening to in the 2010’s (Springsteen (my #1 artist for 2019 according to Spotify, Tom Waits, The Replacements)—which themselves probably don’t hit the volume of my now-enshrined stalwarts (Dylan, Pearl Jam, Stones).

Alas, however, there were songs this decade that can go on my favorite of all times list with no hesitation. The 100 of them I could find and sort through are below. Only time will tell which live on into the new decade, and the blank spaces of long-term storage I hold for art to live on within me.

Or something like that.

Spotify Link (in no order and with some changes):

The List

100. ‘Breezeblocks’ alt-J

99. ‘Red Eyes’ The War On Drugs

98. ‘Budapest’ George Ezra

97. ‘Miley’ SWMRS

The only song on the list provided by a teenager to this aged punk fan. A small gift—may there be many more. Thanks Lindsey. 

96. ‘Ribs’ Lorde

95. ‘A Certain Kind of Memory’ Kacy & Clayton

94. ‘Morbid Stuff’ PUP

93. ‘Mine’ Axel Mansoor

The artist on the list that I have a phone number to text. One of two for Axel on this list. 

92. ‘Suicide Demo for Kara Walker’ Destroyer

91. ‘Dylan Thomas’ Better Oblivion Community

A sucker for literary references in indie songs.

90. ‘Songs That She Sings In The Shower’ Jason Isbell

89. ‘Unknown Legend’ Shovels & Rope

88. ‘Strange Mercy’ St. Vincent

87. ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’ The National

See song #91’s comment

86. ‘Can’t Get It Out’ Brand New

85. ‘Knocked Down’ The War On Drugs

84. ‘Tinseltown Swimming In Blood’ Destroyer

83. ‘Getting Ready to Get Down’ Josh Ritter

82. ‘Flesh without Blood’ Grimes

81. ‘Soundcheck’ Catfish and the Bottlemen

Teens Poetica: Because you grew up in a small town / You’ll appreciate it more / When you’re done figuring your life out”

80. ‘Missing Me’ Angie McMahon

79. ‘The Opposite of Us’ Big Scary

78. ‘00000 Million’ Bon Iver

77. ‘Anything We Want’ Fiona Apple

Teens Poetica: “Let’s pretend we’re eight years old playin’ hooky / I draw on the wall and you can play UFC rookie / Then we’ll grow up, take our clothes off and you remind me that / I wanted you to kiss me when we find some time alone

76. ‘Steve McQueen’ Brian Fallon

75. ‘Good Things’ Aloe Blacc

74. ‘Lost in the Light’ Bahamas

73. ’Where The Night Goes’ Josh Ritter

72. ‘Your Graduation’ Modern Baseball

Maybe I love this song. Maybe I just love the first minute. Still good enough to get on my list.

71. ‘No Role Modelz’ J. Cole

70. ‘Suitcase Full of Sparks’ Gregory Alan Isakov

69. ‘Best Night’ The War On Drugs

The spacy introduction to what likely became my favorite band of the decade. Hearing it for the first time, I think about a feeling of wanting or needing to move, but having no idea where to go. It still gives me that feeling.

68. ‘Too Blue’ Leyla McCalla

67. ‘Rambling Man’ Laura Marling

66. ‘Bloody Mary, Kate and Ashley’ PUP

65. ‘Same Drugs’ Chance the Rapper

64. ‘Treaty’ Leonard Cohen

63. ‘Speed Trap Town’ Jason Isbell

62. ‘A Change Of Heart’ The 1975

61. ‘Your Best American Girl’ Mitski

Floored by this song when it came out (and subsequent Mitski songs too). Such a soaring chorus and melodic guitar piece. I love it. May she make music for decades to come to be on most lists. 

60. ‘My Sweet Lord’ Hurray For The Riff Raff

59. ‘Gallup, NM’ The Shouting Matches

58. ‘Make Me Feel’ Janelle Monae

57. ‘In Bloom’ Sturgill Simpson

56. ‘Ultralight Beam’ Kanye West

55. ‘Good Things’ The Menzingers

The proper kick off to one of my favorite albums of the decade. Any album that starts with, “I’ve been having a horrible time / pulling myself together” probably has good things to come. And this one does. See song #1. 

54. ‘Lemonworld’ The National

53. ‘Pedestrian at Best’ Courtney Barnett

This one came like a love/punk bomb. That chorus like a wonderful little explosion in a reverb madness. I love this song (and this mid-list consecutive Australian woman string)

52. ‘Slow Mover’ Angie McMahon

51. ‘Kansas City’ The New Basement Tapes

50. ‘Posters’ Youth Lagoon

49, ‘Money Trees’ Kendrick Lamar

48. ‘The Waiting’ Angel Olsen

47. ‘Alabama Pines’ Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

46. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ Frank Ocean

45. ‘The Weekenders’ The Hold Steady

Teens Poetica: “She said the theme of this party is the industrial age / You came in dressed like a train wreck.”

44. ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ Laura Marling

43. ‘Every Single Night’ Fiona Apple

42.  ‘Holocene’ Bon Iver

I remember thinking no song could be bigger than this. It felt like it could hold the whole world in those notes, that it could sit inside any emotion. Which, of course, is why it’s a perfect title.

41. ‘New York’ St. Vincent

40. ‘Death With Dignity’ Sufjan Stevens

39. ‘Wait for the Moment’ Vufpeck

38. ‘Father Time’ Axel Mansoor

37. ‘Dancing On My Own’ Robyn

36. ‘Happy Birthday Johnny’ St. Vincent

35. ‘Newmyer’s Roof’ Craig Finn

34. ‘Let Me Down Easy’ Gangs Of Youth

Teens Poetica: ‘Cause you remember when, after Paris / We all decided the best way to fight it was / Drink wine, dance here and pray”

33. ‘Neighbors’ J. Cole

32. ‘Power Lines’ Telekinesis

31. ‘Frontier’ Michael Rank and Stag

30. ‘Amsterdam’ Gregory Alan Isakov

29. ‘No Future’ Craig Finn

28. ‘Hannah Hunt’ Vampire Weekend

Teens Poetica: “If I can’t trust you/then damnit Hannah/there’s no future/there’s no answer”

27. ‘Saint Valentine’ Gregory Alan Isakov

26. ‘Moonlight Motel’ Bruce Springsteen

The newest addition to the list (I think) and 2019’s most played song. The Boss goes acoustic, sad, and nostalgically poetic about a lost place of love. Maybe it’s the power of an aging voice simplified down to a near whisper. Or maybe it’s just a great song. 

25. ‘Masterpiece’ Big Thief 

If Big Thief is one of the big bands of my decade, this song kicked it all off. A one-two punch of defiant rock n’ roll and a new voice ripping down the walls holding it back, ‘Masterpiece’ audaciously titled itself so fittingly. 

24. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ The National

23. ‘Solo’ Frank Ocean

22. ‘Lost in the Dream’ The War On Drugs

21. ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ Car Seat Headrest

20. ‘Cover Me Up’ Jason Isbell

19. ‘In Reverse’ The War On Drugs

Teens Poetica: I’ll be here or I’ll fade away / Never cared about moving, never cared about now / Not the notes I’m playing

18. ‘Video Games’ Lana Del Rey

17. ‘Red Lights’ Molly & The Zombies

Teens Poetica: In all good faith and sentiment / I can’t believe somehow / that I haven’t died of grief or something / Since you left this town

16. ‘Road Regrets’ Dan Mangan

15. ‘Fill in the Blank’ Car Seat Headrest

14. ‘Promise’ Ben Howard

13. ‘Paul’ Big Thief

12. ‘Depreston’ Courtney Barnett

11. ‘17’ Youth Lagoon

10. ‘Super Rich Kids’ Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt

I can remember the very first instant I heard the first chords of the song with Earl Sweatshirt’s voice coming in, droning on around the rich life. I was in the backseat of my now roommate’s car driving to Eugene from Portland that day after a concert. The question couldn’t be stopped….. “What is this?” I’ve been a fan since and those first jolting notes of the song always bring me back.

9. ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ The Kills

A cover song for the ages, or maybe just this decade. The Kills put on a different take on Lou Reed’s classic adulterous love song. And this comes with a kick-down-the-door guitar riff and a female lead singer performance laced with the kind of exasperation that the lyrics tell of.

8. ‘Back to the Future (Part I)’ D’Angelo

D’Angelo came back this decade with a great album and this incredible song. His voice (masterful) with the rhythm (smooth) and the swirl of other elements has had me listen and re-listen to this song a thousand times walking down a thousand avenues this decade. I don’t know what it is this with song, but I remember dozens of those times. It always seems to be sunny, my step always a bit more excited. 

Teens Poetica: “And if you’re wondering / what about the shape I’m in / I hope it ain’t my abdomen / that you’re referring to”

7. The New Basement Tapes – When I Get My Hands On You

6. ‘I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together’ – The Horrible Crowes

Teens Poetica: “Did you say your lovers were liars? / All my lovers were liars too”

5. ‘Fourth of July’ – Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell, the album this song sits in the middle of, may well be my favorite album of the decade. It’s full of dark and moving stories, laid over melodic tunes. ‘Fourth of July’ uses birds as pet-names in this song about a mother and son that starts beautifully and ends moreso. Sufjan’s voice is almost hidden here, constantly threatening to fade into silence. It won’t do it though. A voice is strong. A story must be told. A song is meant to be sung and end when it ends.

4. ‘Queen’ – Perfume Genius

For what it’s worth, I think this is probably the ‘best’ song of the decade, by which I mean to separate the awe of this song’s creation with some relativistic term like “favorite”. Still, it’s in this list as a top 5 favorite, and after long pauses of mistakenly forgetting its existence, I’m drawn back to the drowning wail of this, the sirens calling out to be noticed, to be seen, and to celebrate queerness in a decade that finally allowed people to do so. It’s a masterpiece of rhythm, a song that one could dance to, cry to, sashay to (as instructed), and more. Someone with musical taste so far from mainstream will never truly choose an anthem for a decade, but this song wouldn’t be a bad choice.

3. ‘Mary’ – Big Thief

Listening to the ‘Mary’ for the first time felt like the revelation of an undeniable truth of musical beauty. I don’t know how a binaural being could listen to it without coming to that conclusion. It felt like a secret weapon, exposing beauty as it’s meant to be—in song, in voice, in overture. I remember listening to this song for the fortieth, fiftieth time and wondering if I’d ever hear another song that was better than it. There is nothing missing, and the song builds on itself so well that it feels like it packs a universe into a few small moments. Like the best poems, it expands the world in a few words. And like the best songs, it lifts that expansion on the crest of a singular voice. If Big Thief rocked me through the decade with songs like ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Paul’, ‘Mary’ is a reminder that Adrianne Lenker is a talent nearly limitless.

2. ‘Magnolia’ – Lucinda Williams

Long, meandering, and crookedly beautiful, Lucinda Williams’ cover of JJ Cale’s ‘Magnolia’ has, through the only brief years I’ve had access to, provided me with some of the wildest explorations of my standing existence from any piece of encountered art. At over 9 minutes long, it begets that opportunity over and over again, but really it’s the music that wraps you—a single-take (supposedly) blues jam on top of a lonely ballad Cale wrote decades ago. That she chose to cover it, that she chose to cover it like this, speaks to a surface-level intimacy with the song, but the music itself warms me like a blanket, while also opening ancient windows that carry some cool, loose breeze. It almost whimpers at times and then stands with muscles flexed not a minute later. If I could lay in an ocean of this song, I’d do it.  

1. ‘Casey’ – The Menzingers

It’s a song that bridges nostalgia and growing up with a punk-rock power chord riff, some melodic screaming, and a good few lines about the silly, stale boredom of growing up in some place that isn’t exciting on its own. ‘Casey’ feels like the perfect bridge song for a decade that took me from age 22 to 32—from a place where I was meeting people on shift breaks, waiting to break loose for beers, to a time when I’d reminisce about those very instances on some mundane train ride back home. In the seven years since this song came out, I’ve listened to ‘Casey’ across the world. I’ve sung it, screamed it, hummed it, lost it, and found it back again just when I needed it most. And when I’ve needed to replace all the names and details in here to still access heed the message I take from it—that any forlorn feeling of love or days passed by is just the forlorn feeling missing the innocent consequences before the effects took place. Or maybe it’s a simple story about a waitress. It seems like what it is matters less i

Teens Poetica: “And gin and Casey used to / dance inside of me / and I bet I sound like a broken record  / everytime I open my mouth”

Artists Featured (by total songs)

5- The War On Drugs

4 – Jason Isbell

3- Big Thief, Gregory Alan Isakov, Justin Vernon (as singer), The National, Craig Finn (as singer), St. Vincent, Frank Ocean, Brian Fallon (as singer)

2- Angie McMahon, Axel Mansoor, Car Seat Headrest, Courtney Barnett, Destroyer, Fiona Apple,. J. Cole, Josh Ritter, Laura Marling, The Menzingers, The New Basement Tapes, PUP, Sufjan Stevens, Youth Lagoon