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): https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2nWjeCicNiPPLPfcFEONcN
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. The Horrible Crows – I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together
Teens Poetica: “Did you say your lovers were liars? / All my lovers were liars too”
5. Sufjan Stevens – Fourth of July
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