These days more than ever, it’s tough to sum up an entire year with a list of popular songs. (Seriously, does anyone even listen to the radio anymore? Anyone? Bueller?) But that never stopped us from trying. So here they are: Metromix’s 50 favorite songs of 2009. Some originally came out before 2009; some might not really blow up until next year. But they all, in some way, defined the last year of the first decade of the 21st century—a year of new hope, tough times, and fewer musical boundaries than ever before.
If we left out a few of your favorites (and how could we not?), tell us about it in the comments section.
50. Fool’s Gold, “Surprise Hotel”
Where most American bands tend to put their Afro-pop influences inside hipster quotation marks (yes, we speak of Vampire Weekend), this L.A. collective cheerfully embraces them, laying down dense polyrhythms, chattering guitar lines and exotic vocals (sung mostly in Hebrew) to create what should be a surefire party anthem for next summer’s festival circuit.
49. Brendan Benson, “A Whole Lot Better”
Solo again and still obsessed with the ‘70s, the sometime Raconteur was at his punchiest on this organ-led piece of power-pop goodness.
48. Japandroids, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”
With the most exciting guitar-drums assault since Jack and Meg, these Canadian post-punk noise merchants kick up some serious dust on this ferocious mission statement. The vocals sound almost emo, until you realize that the sentiment—“I don’t wanna worry about dying/I just wanna worry about sunshine girls”—is the exact opposite.
47. Them Crooked Vultures, “New Fang”
The year’s second-most intriguing supergroup (sorry, guys, the Dead Weather has the edge) was at their swaggering, stoner-rock best on this nasty little burst of wah-wah pedals and thunderous percussion. Seriously, can any rock drummer alive even touch Dave Grohl these days?
46. Jamey Johnson, “High Cost of Living”
The second single from Johnson’s breakthrough 2008 album is a cautionary tale worthy of Johnny Cash, charting an addict’s downward spiral with a born storyteller’s mix of empathy and razor-keen wit.
45. Flo Rida, “Right Round”
Yeah, it lifts its chorus from one of the dumbest songs of the ‘80s (Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” for you young’uns). But something about the buzzy synths and bubbly beats on this track made it almost (almost!) as much fun as Flo’s eternal claim to fame, “Low.”
44. Dan Auerbach, “Trouble Weighs a Ton”
We love the Black Keys, but we’re glad Auerbach put down the electric guitar and indulged his love of gospel-tinged folk music on this luminous, healing meditation on the hard times we all face.
43. Dirty Projectors, “Stillness Is the Move”
David Byrne is a fan of these Brooklyn art-rockers, and it’s easy to see why—where a ton of bands merely ape Talking Heads’ fusion of jittery funk and brainy guitar-pop, David Longstreth and his bandmates take the Heads template to another level. TV on the Radio better watch their backs.
42. The Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You”
These cello-wielding nu-grass troublemakers are best-known for their rollicking, stage-diving live shows, but the Dylanesque title track from their major-label debut proved they could be just as rousing with a heartfelt ballad.
41. The Thermals, “Now We Can See”
Ignoring every indie-rock trend of the past decade, this Portland trio released an album of gloriously noisy, shouty power-pop, highlighted by this riff-tastic title track. Somebody book these guys on the Pavement reunion tour!
40. The Decemberists, “The Rake’s Song”
Colin Meloy and co. clearly studied their rock-opera predecessors—much like the Who’s “Pinball Wizard” or Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” this surprisingly straightforward, almost Weezer-like rocker holds up just fine on its own merits. (Which is probably a good thing, because the rest of “The Hazards of Love” was kind of a mess.)
39. Kid Sister, “Right Hand Hi”
We knew you could do it, Kid Sis! After years of delays and title changes, Chicago’s sassiest female MC finally dropped her debut album, “Ultraviolent,” and proved on this bumping lead single that “Pro Nails” was no fluke. A genre-busting club anthem for the mashup generation.
38. The xx, “Basic Space”
Sounding like a late-night make-out session in a sparsely furnished dorm room, lit by candles and glowsticks, the music of these young Londoners was half-heartedly soulful, casually stylish and almost accidentally sexy—in other words, cool in a way we anglophilic Americans can only shake our heads at in wonder.
37. La Roux, “Bulletproof”
Synthesizers were trendy in 2009, but few acts deployed them more effectively—some might say shamelessly—than this retro-minded U.K. duo. Looking and sounding like they stepped out of the MTV Buzz Bin circa 1987, singer Elly Jackson and knob-twiddler Ben Langmaid dropped a synth-pop bomb so explosive, even ‘80s haters probably caught themselves doing the robot every time it came on.
36. P.O.S., “Goodbye”
He grabbed fewer sales and headlines than Drake and Kid Cudi, but in his own way, Minneapolis rapper Stefon “P.O.S.” Alexander did just as much to challenge the hip-hop status quo in 2009, making rock instrumentation cool again and landing more body blows in this track’s three breathless minutes than most MCs can muster in an entire mixtape. Don’t sleep on Pissed Off Stef.
35. Arctic Monkeys, “Crying Lightning”
Denser and harder to love than earlier hits like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” this lead single from the Monkeys’ dense, hard-to-love third LP still oozed the kind of sinewy, menacing intensity that’s always kept them one step ahead of their Brit-rock peers.
34. U2, “Magnificent”
“No Line on the Horizon” never matched the level of excitement generated by U2’s massive stadium tour, but for these five surging minutes, they at least evoked the greatest moments of their heyday—which is still way, way more than most of their imitators have ever been able to muster.
33. Hockey, “Too Fake”
Benjamin Grubin howls that he’s “just too fake for the world” on this zippy, synth-led rave-up, but there’s something about his gritty, seemingly tossed-off vocals that’s more real than a whole army of Cobra Starships.
32. Noisettes, “Don’t Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go)”
Take two parts Ting Tings, one part Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a smidgen of “I Love the Nightlife” and a big dollop of awesome, and you got the year’s funnest, funkiest U.K. dance-pop cocktail.
31. John Mayer, “Who Says”
Sometimes, it almost seems like John Mayer, the compulsive Twitterer, and John Mayer, the bluesy songwriter, are two different people. On this track, some of the wit, self-deprecation and, yes, douchiness that make Mayer’s tweets so entertaining finally shows up in his lyrics, turning this breezily defiant ode to pot-smoking and womanizing into the most intriguing thing he’s written in years.
30. Fleet Foxes, “Mykonos”
Originally released on the “Sun Giant” EP in early 2008, this haunting, almost madrigal-like track from the Pacific Northwest folk-rockers found new life when it was released as a single this year. Those spine-tingling harmonies on the track’s second half are enough to make Crosby, Stills and Nash check their game.
29. Animal Collective, “My Girls”
Sounding like a college a cappella group at an early ‘90s rave, these Brooklyn/Baltimore art-rockers turned their usual dense, fugue-like sound collages into a wild burst of layered melodic hooks and cascading synths, resulting in the year’s weirdest and most exhilarating cult hit.
28. Phoenix, “Lisztomania”
These perennially underrated pop-rockers finally broke through in 2009 and proved, beyond any doubt, that the French can do guitars as well as they do synthesizers. The coolest use of a classical composer in a pop song since “Roll Over Beethoven” (or at least “Rock Me Amadeus”).
27. Bat for Lashes, “Daniel”
Spooky and ethereal, but with an unexpectedly hooky beat, Natasha Khan’s abstract love song towers above nearly every other retro-minded synth-pop release of the past five years.
26. Muse, “Uprising”
Much like their heroes Queen did with “Another One Bites the Dust,” these British prog-rockers finally crashed the U.S. mainstream by taking a Big Dumb Rock Riff and delivering it with so much panache, it sounds almost operatic.
25. Justin Bieber, “One Time”
With way more soul than any white 15-year-old from Canada is supposed to have, this angel-voiced teen sensation upstaged Disney’s entire corral of tween pop stars. Corbin who?
24. Ida Maria, “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”
This Norwegian punk pixie’s ode to animal attraction is way smarter than its title suggests. OK, maybe not that much smarter, but that chorus—wow. When Ida entreats the object of her affection to “C’mon, take me home,” you know that dude’s in for a wild night.
23. Britney Spears, “If U Seek Amy”
Brit-Brit’s catchiest hit since “Toxic” ran a sly end-around past the radio censors with a double-entendre that’s already become part of the pop culture lexicon.
22. Jason DeRulo, “Whatcha Say”
By cleverly turning Imogen Heap into his hook diva, this up-and-coming Miami crooner turned out the year’s most infectious R&B slow jam.
21. Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
The jury’s still out on whether this former star of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” is the savior of hip-hop everyone’s making him out to be. One thing’s for sure, though: On this soulful throwback track, the Canadian MC manages to sound both sensitive and freaky, a combination harder to pull off than it looks (just ask Jeremih). And unlike so many rappers (sorry, Kanye), the dude can actually sing.
20. Matt and Kim, “Daylight”
Sounding like dance music made by ADHD children on toy instruments, this insanely catchy anthem was licensed by seemingly everyone (including Bacardi and NBC) and made unlikely stars out of the geeky couple behind it. It’s lo-fi indie pop for a generation that flits between Mates of State and N.E.R.D. on their iPod Shuffles.
19. Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You”
“I’m nothing without you,” our favorite pop belter sang on this long (long!) awaited return to form, and it was as if she was singing it right to Max Martin and Dr. Luke, the pop masterminds behind “Since U Been Gone” and this track and pretty much everything else that’s ever been worthy of Clarkson’s golden pipes. Welcome back, Kelly! No more “My December” moments, OK?
18. Passion Pit, “The Reeling”
Led by the helium-voiced Michael Angelakos, this Boston-based quintet attacks every song like it’s 2 a.m. in a crowded club and they’re trying to get one last hands-in-the-air moment out of a sweaty, exhausted crowd. This track, their biggest hit to date, sounds like a mashup of the Arcade Fire and the Polyphonic Spree as remixed by Daft Punk. Yeah, it’s crazy—crazy good!
17. Pearl Jam, “The Fixer”
Eddie Vedder and co. sound more energized than they have in years on this scrappy, garage-y little barn-burner, recalling looser tracks from the good old days like “Corduroy” and “Glorified G.” Too bad the rest of their Target album, “Backspacer,” wasn’t quite so sharp.
16. Regina Spektor, “Eet”
Spektor’s fifth album “Far” was a mixed bag, but her mix of heart-on-sleeve piano-pop and offbeat lyrical turns was in full effect on this cloudy but sun-dappled little ditty about forgetting the lyrics to your favorite song and…um, singing the word “eet” instead. Sure, why not?
15. The Dead Weather, “I Cut Like a Buffalo”
Even when he trades in his guitar for a drum kit, gives up half his lead vocal duties (to the Kills’ Alison Mosshart), and delves into—what the hell do you call this stuff? we’re gonna say dancehall meets Deep Purple—it turns out that Jack White still rocks harder than pretty much everyone else in the business.
14. Kid Cudi, “Day 'n' Nite”
Straight outta Cleveland with a fresh sound and a smart, introspective style that broke every rule in the rapper’s playbook, Cudi stormed the charts with this moody stoner-rap anthem and gave hip-hop a much-needed jolt of fresh, upstart energy. No young rhyme-slinger (no, not even Drake) is better positioned to revolutionize hip-hop in the years ahead.
13. Silversun Pickups, “Panic Switch”
If anyone was still listening to modern rock radio in 2009, they probably spent a good deal of time wondering what that killer new Smashing Pumpkins track was. Psych! But obvious Pumpkins comparisons aside, the breakthrough track from this L.A. quartet was a welcome blast of grinding guitars and reverb in a year that was short on both.
12. Grizzly Bear, “Two Weeks”
The most accessible track to date from these Brooklyn psychedelic neo-folkies found a sweet spot somewhere between the swooning harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the dense experimentalism of Animal Collective. The results were like catnip to bearded hipsters everywhere (and the Radiohead endorsement probably helped, too).
11. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”
Released in December of 2008, this second single from KOL’s breakout album “Only by the Night” quickly eclipsed lead single “Sex on Fire” (thank God!) as the Southern rockers’ signature anthem. Caleb Followill’s heartfelt vocal took one of rock’s oldest clichés, the wounded bad boy, and made it sound like an epiphany.
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero”
Most guitar-based bands do not transition smoothly to a more synth-heavy sound (better luck next time, Bloc Party!). But Karen O and the boys sounded like they’d been tossing off surging disco-rock anthems for years on this gloriously buzzy opening track from their surprisingly solid foray into keyboards and programming, “It’s Blitz!”
9. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”
On which Hova declares himself “the new Sinatra,” then drops a “New York, New York” for the hip-hop generation. Yeah, like the Big Apple needed another great theme song!
8. Owl City, “Fireflies”
Bedroom electro-pop doesn’t get much more adorable than this unlikely chart-topper, on which Minnesotan Adam Young declares, “I get a thousand hugs/From ten thousand lightning bugs.” His music feels like a thousand hugs, too.
7. Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
Swift’s best songs seems to defy the laws of musical physics—you shouldn’t be able to crank up the girl-next-door charm this high and not have it sound phony, or slather this much pop gloss on a track and still have it be recognizably, at heart, a country tune. But not only does she get away with it—somehow, several million sales later, it still leaves us with “aw, shucks” grins on our faces.
6. Passion Pit, “Sleepyhead”
Borrowing Hot Chip’s geeky synth-pop mojo, Kanye’s sped-up chipmunk vocal loops, and a healthy dose of club thump, Passion Pit added their own moon-eyed magic and came up with a song so giddily original, it was like hearing modulated synths and falsetto vocals for the first time. “The Reeling” was officially a bigger hit, but no other track more perfectly summed up these Boston kids’ quirky charms.
5. Beyonce, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
Yes, we know, this actually came out in 2008. (As did "Sleepyhead," "You Belong with Me" and several other songs on this list—fine, we're slackers!) But in 2009, Beyonce’s bouncy ode to engagement went from hit single to pop culture phenomenon, inspiring countless bad covers, YouTube videos, embarrassing karaoke moments, the single greatest scene on “Glee” and the only thing anyone will remember the Jonas Brothers for in 10 years. So it’s worth acknowledging that 2009 was pretty much the Year of B, and this was her theme song.
4. Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”
Nothing against Gaga’s earlier singles, but “Just Dance” and “Paparazzi” never intrigued half as much as her outfits. Then she came on with “Gaga, ooh-la-la” and asked us for our disease, and finally, we were hooked. The year’s most deliciously weird club anthem, from the year's most deliciously weird pop star.
3. Metric, “Help I’m Alive”
Emily Haines sets an anxiety attack to what sounds like a killer dance remix of a great lost Liz Phair track, and leaps to head of the Canadian indie-pop class. New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene—the bar has been set.
2. St. Vincent, “Actor Out of Work”
Even given a driving beat and compressed down into just two minutes, Annie Clark’s twinkling, twilight chamber-pop still draws you in with a seductive coo—right before it lays you out like “a boxer in the ring/With brass knuckles underneath.” Brass knuckles, or a few lashes from Clark’s broken-glass guitar lines.
1. Phoenix, “1901”
Thanks to two spot-on performances of this track on “SNL” and “Letterman,” these Parisian power-poppers finally got the audience they’ve always deserved, and this irresistibly bouncy mix of jangly guitars and buzzy keyboards became the summer anthem of 2009. Thanks, France! Now can we please get another Daft Punk album?