100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #79: “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes feat. Adam Levine

The song at #79 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Stereo Hearts” by American rap/rock band Gym Class Heroes, featuring additional vocals by Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine. I love this song! It’s so damned catchy and upbeat, with a joyful melody and irresistible hip hop beat, and just makes me feel happy. The endearing lyrics are filled with music-based metaphors that make the song very relatable to a music freak like me. Though the song was played nearly to death on the radio, I never tired of hearing it.

The track opens with Levine singing the chorus hook: “My heart’s a stereo. It beats for you, so listen close. Hear my thoughts in every note. Make me your radio. Turn me up when you feel low. This melody was meant for you. So sing along to my stereo.” Gym Class Heroes front man Travie McCoy then raps the lyrics directed at a former loved one, using musical metaphors to proclaim his love and devotion in the hope of winning her back: “If I was an old-school, fifty pound boom box. Would you hold me on your shoulder, wherever you walk. Would you turn my volume up in front of the cops, and crank it higher every time they told you to stop. And all I ask is that you don’t get mad at me when you have to purchase mad D batteries. Appreciate every mix tape your friends make. You never know we come and go like we’re on the interstate.” Songwriting doesn’t get any better than this.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #80: “Can I Sit Next to You” by Spoon

The song at #80 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Can I Sit Next to You” by Austin, Texas based alternative/art rock band Spoon. I’m embarrassed – no, make that mortified – to admit that I was not familiar with Spoon until 2017, despite the fact they’ve been around since the mid 1990s! When I heard their brilliant ninth album Hot Thoughts, I became an instant fan and started bingeing on their impressive music catalog while kicking myself for all their great music I missed out on hearing all those years. I love their unique, innovative sound, as well as band front man Britt Daniel’s distinctive gritty vocal style that gives their songs an edgy authenticity.

My favorite track from Hot Thoughts is the deliciously sexy “Can I Sit Next to You”. The song has an almost sinister vibe, with a deep, bass-driven beat, accentuated by strong hand claps and grimy heavily-strummed guitars contrasting with twinkling and swirling psychedelic synths that impart an otherworldly feel. I love the dramatic spiraling synths in the chorus, as well as Daniel’s raspy vocals as he seductively snarls his way through each verse. It’s fucking awesome, and the surreal and trippy video directed by Marcel Dzama is both creepy and funny.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #81: “Some Nights” by fun.

The song at #81 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Some Nights” by New York City-based alternative pop-rock band fun. Formed in 2008, fun. consists of singer-songwriter Nate Ruess, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost and singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer Jack Antonoff (who’s also front man for the terrific band Bleachers). Their debut album Aim and Ignite was fairly well-received, though a commercial disappointment. But it was their second album Some Nights that propelled fun. to international fame. The title track “Some Nights” was the second single and follow-up to their massive hit “We Are Young” (which appears later on this list). The song was a worldwide hit, reaching #1 in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Israel, and also the Billboard Alternative, Rock and Adult Top 40 Charts. It reached #3 on the Hot 100.

With both folk rock and power pop elements, “Some Nights” has an incredibly exuberant melody, with a powerful military-style drumbeat and Ruess’ commanding vocals that give it a jubilant vibe. The song has been favorably compared to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”, and in fact, in an interview with Billboard, Ruess stated that Paul Simon’s Graceland was a major influence for the song. He added that the song is about “just being someone different on any given night.” In another interview with Mesfin Fekadu of the Associated Press, Ruess explained: “I’m always thinking about, ‘Who am I and why did I do something like that?’ And I think then it harkens back to my family, and I have such a strong tie to them and it’s always therapeutic to sing about them.”

The rather dark and intense video, produced by Poonam Sehrawat and directed by Anthony Mandler, depicts a fictional battle taking place during the American Civil War. The band is shown performing the song from afar as a battle breaks out, with lead singer Ruess appearing as the commander of the Union force.

In early 2015, fun. announced they were going on hiatus so that each band member could pursue their own individual projects. Ruess sang on P!nk’s 2013 hit single “Just Give Me a Reason” (which will also appear later on this list), and on Eminem’s 2014 single “Headlights”, and released a solo album Grand Romantic in June 2015 to mostly positive reviews. Andrew Dost wrote the soundtrack for the 2015 black comedy The D Train, and is currently working on new music. In addition to his work as front man for Bleachers, Jack Antonoff has worked as a songwriter and producer with several renowned artists, including Taylor Swift (on her albums 1989, Reputation, Lover and Folklore), Lorde (on her album Melodrama), St. Vincent (on her album Masseduction), Lana Del Rey (on Norman Fucking Rockwell) and The Chicks (on their album Gaslighter).

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #82: “Cough Syrup” by Young the Giant

The song at #82 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Cough Syrup” by Southern California alternative rock band Young the Giant. This is the second song by them on this best of the decade list, their other being “Superposition” which ranks at #91. “Cough Syrup” is one of their most well-known songs, and my personal favorite. It was released in 2011 as the second single from their eponymous debut album Young the Giant, but the song actually predated the band, as it was composed when they were called The Jakes, and first appeared on their 2008 EP Shake My Hand.

It’s a beautiful song, with gorgeous swirling guitars, somber cello and spirited drumbeats creating a stunning backdrop for band front man Sameer Gadhia’s passionate vocals. About the song’s meaning, Gadhia has stated it was written at a time when the band was unsigned, had no money and “felt somewhat oppressed by the universal expectation of what to do in Orange County…in suburbia in general. I think we really yearned to break out of that and do something a little bit different. [The song] is kind of a cry for help to break free, not necessarily from oppression, but from the common symptoms of suburbia like boredom, normality and homogeneity.”

I saw Young the Giant in concert in August 2019 (in a double bill with Fitz & the Tantrums), and here’s their wonderful performance of “Cough Syrup”.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #83: “Madness” by Muse

The song at #83 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Madness” by British alternative/art rock band Muse. Like “Thrift Shop”, this was another song I loathed the first couple of times I heard it. At the time of its release in 2012, I wasn’t very familiar with Muse or their music; the opening lines “Ma ma ma ma ma ma madness” nearly drove me to the point of madness until one day the song suddenly clicked for me, and I fell madly in love with it – as well as Muse, who is now one of my favorite bands.

Formed in 1994 while they were in high school, Muse is comprised of the immensely talented Matt Bellamy on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, Chris Wolstenholme on bass and backing vocals (who I think is one of the finest bassists around today), and Dominic Howard on drums. “Madness” is from their sixth studio album 2nd Law, and was inspired by a fight Matt Bellamy had with his then girlfriend Kate Hudson. He later said in an interview that the song was also an attempt to strip down the sound of the album.

To me, the song seems to be somewhat in the Bolero style, starting off slowly with Wolstenholme’s pulsating, almost wobbly double bass-driven melody that creates a sensual vibe, perfectly complementing Bellamy’s breathy vocals and chants of “Ma ma ma ma ma ma madness“. The music gradually builds to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by Bellamy’s phenomenal guitar work and enthralling vocals that soar to the heavens, covering me in goosebumps. “Madness” was a modest hit, peaking at #25 in the UK and #45 on the Billboard Hot 100, however it spent an astonishing 19 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart.

Fun fact: Bellamy’s father George was the rhythm guitarist of the 1960s British pop group The Tornados, who had a #1 hit in 1962 with “Telstar”.

Rather than the official video, I’m sharing one of their electrifying live performance of the song at their triumphant 2013 concert at Rome Olympic Stadium.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #84: “Royals” by Lorde

The song at #84 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Royals“, the debut single by the amazing singer-songwriter Lorde. The New Zealand artist – born Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor – stunned the world in 2013 with the release of her mesmerizing track, which had a totally new and unique sound unlike anything that had been done before. Only 16 years old at the time, she was the youngest artist to have a #1 song on the Billboard chart since Tiffany in 1987. Lorde wanted to write a song expressing her disapproval of the luxurious lifestyle of many contemporary artists, and reportedly penned the lyrics in half an hour.

The song has a minimalist sound, with instrumentation consisting of a deep synth bass groove set to a languid hip hop beat, and accompanied by finger snaps and percussion. The song title came to her after seeing a photo in the July 1976 edition of National Geographic of Kansas City Royals baseball player George Brett signing baseballs, with his team’s name ‘Royals’ emblazoned across his shirt.

I’ll admit that it took a couple of listens before I was able to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. “Royals” spent nine weeks at #1, and also topped the charts in Canada, New Zealand and the UK. It sold over 10 million units worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all-time, and was awarded Grammys for 2013 Song of the Year and Best Solo Pop Performance.

The cool video conveys the sense of ennui inferred in the lyrics, and shows Lorde singing the song, interspersed with scenes of two young guys looking bored and doing unremarkable stuff.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #85: “Cleopatra” by The Lumineers

The song at #85 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the beautiful “Cleopatra” by American folk rock band The Lumineers. The Denver, Colorado based trio, consisting of Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek, first made a splash in 2012 with their massive breakthrough single “Ho Hey”. (Pekarek has since left the band in 2018, so The Lumineers are currently a duo).

“Cleopatra” is the title track and second single from their sophomore album Cleopatra, and my personal favorite of all their songs. I love songs that tell a compelling story, and “Cleopatra” certainly fills the bill. Schultz explained his inspiration for the song in a 2017 Facebook post: “It’s inspired by a true story about a female taxi driver who, when she was younger, was proposed to. But her father had just passed away, so she didn’t give her boyfriend an answer. So he left the village broken-hearted and rejected and never returned again. He was her great love and she wouldn’t wash the footprints off the floor after he had left.

The toe-tapping rhythms, jangly strummed guitars and rousing piano are really wonderful and upbeat, providing a contrast to the rather bittersweet lyrics:

I was Cleopatra, I was young and an actress
When you knelt by my mattress, and asked for my hand
But I was sad you asked it, as I laid in a black dress
With my father in a casket, I had no plans, yeah

And I left the footprints, the mud stained on the carpet
And it hardened like my heart did when you left town
But I must admit it, that I would marry you in an instant
Damn your wife, I’d be your mistress just to have you around

But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

While the church discouraged, any lust that burned within me
Yes my flesh, it was my currency, but I held true
So I drive a taxi, and the traffic distracts me
From the strangers in my backseat, they remind me of you

But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

And the only gifts from my Lord were a birth and a divorce
But I’ve read this script and the costume fits, so I’ll play my part

I was Cleopatra, I was taller than the rafters
But that’s all in the past love, gone with the wind
Now a nurse in white shoes leads me back to my guestroom
It’s a bed and a bathroom
And a place for the end

I won’t be late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #86: “Loading Zones” by Kurt Vile

The song at #86 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Loading Zones” by singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Kurt Vile. With that wild mane of curly hair and his distinctive drawl, he just might be one of the coolest musicians in the business. I became a fan of his when I fell in love with his wonderful song “Pretty Pimpin’,” which ended up at #19 on my Top 100 of 2016. He followed up in 2018 with the outstanding “Loading Zones”, which I love even more. The song is from his eighth album Bottle It In. His intricate layered guitar work is phenomenal, and those talkboxy wah-wah riffs are so damn good. He’s also quite the clever wordsmith.

Vile sings of driving around his “dirty little town” of Philadelphia, running errands and parking for free in loading zones as he tries to stay one step ahead of the parking meter police, humorously played by actor Kevin Corrigan and Matt Korvette of the band Pissed Jeans in the entertaining video. He defiantly declares “I park for free! One-stop shop life for the quick fix / before you get a ticket / That’s the way I live my life” – leaving little doubt he’s the coolest musician around today.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #87: “Chlorine” by twenty one pilots

The song at #87 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Chlorine” by twenty one pilots. For those who’ve been living under a rock, twenty one pilots is a duo consisting of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, and as far as I’m concerned, they can do no wrong when it comes to making music. I love every one of their songs, and they’re one of my favorite bands of all time. This is the first (or last, actually) of their six songs on this list, the most of any artist.

“Chlorine” is the third single from their monumental fifth album Trench, and was released in January 2019. Trench is a concept album that tells the saga of the fictional evil city of Dema ruled by nine bishops, referred to as “Nico and the Niners”. The song was co-written by Joseph and MUTEMATH front man Paul Meany, who produced Trench, and whose voice we hear in the opening lines. Like many of the tracks on Trench, the song has a complex melodic structure, and shows a growing maturity in twenty one pilots’ sound and music style. I love the sweeping, spacey synths, Dun’s sharp percussion and Joseph’s haunting layered vocals. The wonderful little twinkling piano riff adds a somewhat menacing vibe to the track.

The lyrics address how creativity can cleanse dark impulses, but also cause pain. The small, white alien-like creature in the video is “Ned”, who the band stated represents “this idea of creativity and trying to take care of it and trying to please it… or appease it.” It’s a dark and stunning song, and Joseph’s plaintive vocals in the final chorus are exquisite as he laments “I’m so sorry I forgot you. Let me catch you up to speed. I’ve been tested like the ends of a weathered flag that’s by the sea. Can you build my house with pieces? I’m just a chemical.”

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #88: “Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” by Panic! At the Disco

The song at #88 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the wonderful “Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” by American baroque pop-rock band Panic! At the Disco. It may be one of their lesser-known hits, but I absolutely love this song. It’s my second-favorite Panic! At the Disco song after “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.”

Released in 2011, it’s from their third album Vices & Virtues, and shockingly, it charted only in Australia! It’s such a euphoric, celebratory song about casting aside self-doubts and negativity that’s holding you back and living life to the fullest. The sweeping and lush, almost whimsical orchestration and Spencer Smith’s explosive power drums, accompanied by Panic! front man Brendon Urie’s delightfully exuberant vocals, make for an electrifying song. It’s a fine example of the band’s theatricality and musical creativity, and just makes me happy to be alive when I hear it! The charming video shows the band re-enacting old musical films such as Grease, Mary Poppins and Singin’ In The Rain. Ever the showman, Urie is too damned charming for his own good!