SPIN’s 40 Best Songs of 2012
Do you remember when you first heard "Gangnam Style" and the small child next to you looked up and went, "Really, man? Are you kidding me?" Or the first time you heard "Call Me Maybe" and the creepy single guy who lives next door said, "Hey, buddy, how old you think that singer is?" Or when you first heard "Mercy" and muttered to yourself, "That fuckin' guy," and then the next 25 times you heard it, you were like, "Good gawwwd." Well, we’re here to relive those magical moments and so many, many more. 2012, the year the single danced on the album's grave with renewed vigor. Mercy! CHARLES AARON AND ROB HARVILLA
1. SPIN's 40 Best Songs of 2012
2. KATY B, FEAT. JESSIE WARE - "AALIYAH"
After all the tributes and memoriams, Aaliyah has become an almost mystical presence to invoke, more untouchable cherub than "baby girl" rockin' a Hilfiger tube top. So here, Katy B and Jessie Ware, two post-dubstep U.K. divas with the talent to at least approach near-Aaliyah-like heights, nod to her otherworldly aura and her damn-she's-fine allure, envisioning the singer as a free-floating siren spirit of the dance floor. "Aaliyah, please, this is green envy / Why must you taunt me, girl?" they implore, while Geeneus supplies a robust, minor-key tweak of Inner City's "Good Life." Later, they ask, "Why can't he play a song for me?" of a boy transfixed by the Aaliyah spirit. Give it up, ladies. C.A.
3. SAVAGES - "HUSBANDS"
They wear black because black is how they feel on the inside but also because black is how they want to make us feel on the inside. Like a band of Joy Division fans who just discovered Patti Smith's "Horses," then fantasize about breaking onto the set of John Cassavettes' Husbands and bitch-slapping Gus, Harry, and Archie when they show up in London hunting for tail. The guitar is a swarm of riotous bees. Jehnny Beth sings with such sensual ferocity live that she usually ends up barefoot. C.A.
4. HOLOGRAMS - "CHASING MY MIND"
Extremely bummed and concerned Swedish youth flick out a historically squirmy organ riff to kick off this pounding, open-hearted yelp that immediately ascends to garage-punk nugget or pebble or gravel status. They're broke, they live somewhere illegal that stinks of cat pee, and they deserve to fall in love just like anybody else. C.A.
5. MYSTIKAL - "HIT ME"
By all accounts, New Orleans spittle-griddle Mystikal Mike Tyler is a mentally unstable, criminally violent, and desperately fucked-up individual, but he's also perhaps the most viscerally corporeal rapper alive, and here he sounds like he's ferociously pummeling the heavy bag as he trumps in the spirit of James Brown ("Qué pasa, people, qué pasa, hit me!"), dropping into the funniest whitey impression since Richard Pryor ("Even the white people sitting up in this motherfucker ain't but do nothing but say, 'Wow / Hear that, Helen? ' / He's tearing it up, that fella / I'd love to get my hands on that a cappella"), and delivering a delirious barrage of percussive verbiage like a Pentecostal preacher exorcising demons in some Hip-Hop Assembly of Radiant Life. To wit: "Diamonds, Madonna, designers, iguanas, Rihanna, vaginas, piranha, hit it!" C.A.
6. FATHER JOHN MISTY - "HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY SINGS"
In which former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman fully transforms into foxy, doomed, but ready-for-salvation indie performance artist Father John Misty, wailing, "Jesus Christ, girl / I laid up for hours in a daze / Retracing the expanse of your American back / With Adderall and weed in my veins," like he's about to theatrically collapse on your bed. Aubrey Plaza acts all gloomy and batshit and irresistible in the video. Of course, she does. C.A.
7. FRANKIE ROSE - "INTERSTELLAR"
As a lost lo-fi girl-group survivor roaming the gentrifying streets of Williamsburg with her guitar case and a thrift-store goth Halloween get-up, Frankie Rose drew condo leers and the occasional understanding nod. Was she cool or not? Well, all that's moot now, since her music has become (with the help of Fischerspooner refugee Le Chev) such a swooshing, heavenly surge of new-wavey empowerment that it should be pumping out of everyone's morning shower on loop. Crank it up, grab a loofah, and scrub away the darkness. C.A.
8. TAYLOR SWIFT - "I KNEW YOU WERE TROUBLE"
Wait for the drop… wait for the drop… steady… steady… wait for it… wait for it… closer… closer… steady… almost… and… BRAZZZZZAP WHHRHRRT ZZZRPPT BZZZT BZZT BZZZT o/\o. R.H.
9. SANTIGOLD - "DISPARATE YOUTH"
Processional synth blasts, tautly rousing bass, a flurry of post-punk guitar, and generationally sympathetic lyrics. Santi once reported that Jay-Z said "Disparate Youth" sounded "like a revolution." Well, it also sounds devastatingly rad cruising to the beach or sailing on the ocean or lounging by the pool. Wherever, you'll want your shades. Just trust me. C.A.
10. R. KELLY - "WHEN A MAN LIES"
For those who'd like to forget that Trapped in the Closet ever escaped from Kells' dark places, a melodically splendiferous feast of Philly Soul real-talk/sweet-talk, echoing 1998's "When a Woman's Fed Up." Breaking down exactly how a man's scandalous behavior and deceptive nonsense can snuff out a woman's very soul, it cuts to the quick with old-school, drop-to-your-knees testimony. But then, Kelly's got the gall to say he's representing the women and "don't shoot the messenger," yeah yeah blah blah. Back to the point, nobody's more heart-rendingly convincing when he's singing about how men fuck up. Speak what you know, you magnificent wack job. C.A.
11. SKY FERREIRA - "EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING"
Almost a major-label, pop-girlie also-ran at 20, Sky Ferriera hooked up with Dev Hynes, almost an indie-scenester also-ran at 26, and the unlikely pair sketched out this rapturous dance-pop downer. With a beat that sounds like a gunshot echoing in Laurel Canyon, and doleful piano/synths, Ferreira sulks from OMD to girl-group pastiche and back. In the video, she runs her hand through her hair — a lot. C.A.
12. JUICY J - "BANDZ A MAKE HER DANCE"
Rush-inducted into the Strip-Club Anthems for People Who've Never Actually Set Foot in a Strip Club Hall of Fame by "Pour Some Sugar on Me" itself. The hi-hats belong in the Smithsonian. R.H.
13. NICKI MINAJ - "BEEZ IN THE TRAP"
Best use of finger-snaps since "Under Pressure": each one like the birth of a new solar system, reverberating into infinity. The polar opposite of the epilepsy-inducing "Stupid Hoe," "Beez" is all open space, dead calm, epochal swagger so laid-back she's horizontal, she's standing on her head. Meanwhile, 2 Chainz brags about his "private home." Bonus points also for the ultra-rare Delaware shout-out. R.H.
14. CHAIRLIFT - "I BELONG IN YOUR ARMS"
The five most beautifully sung words of 2012 by an embarrassing margin, anchoring an exquisitely mushy, new-wave insta-classic sweetly erotic enough to melt steel. Some wayward soul (Seth McFarlane?) is gonna try to reboot The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller's Day Off or all three simultaneously in the next five years, and this is the only thing that could save us. Also available in Japanese. R.H.
15. FUTURE - "SAME DAMN TIME"
It's infectious! It's repellant! At the same! Damn! Time! People love it! People hate it! At the same! Damn! Time! He's a mumbler! He's a shouter! At the same! Damn! Time! What a genius! What a doofus! At the same! Damn! Time! At the same! Damn! Time! At the same! Damn! Time! At the same! Damn! Time! At the same! Damn! Time! At the [MAYAN APOCALYPSE]. R.H.
16. KATY PERRY - "WIDE AWAKE"
Enraged, freshly divorced pop megastars might be our most precious national resource. And here, America's Cotton-Candy Sweetheart cools it with the peacock/lollipop/breast-cannon action for five minutes to power-ballad out (with symphonic-pop assistance from Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut), elucidating a shattering, all-too-human, universal truth: Russell Brand is a fuckin' dipshit. R.H.
17. A$AP ROCKY, FEAT. 2 CHAINZ, DRAKE, AND KENDRICK LAMAR - "FUCKIN' PROBLEM"
No pretense to street authenticity or art or clique supremacy or anyfuckingthing, really. Just some young-ass stars kickin' some ol' bullshit about bad bitches over some atmospheric boom co-produced by Noah "40" Shebib and Drizzy @Drake. A$AP turns out a "dyke" (oh, sure), Drake sneers about his "long dick" (you doth protest too much, sir), Kendrick nails a dizzying Weezy impression ("Beast!"), while 2 Chainz acts a fool. Rap music, 2012, hate it or love it, the underdogs ain't on top. C.A.
18. CAT POWER - "CHEROKEE (NICOLAS JAAR REMIX)"
Chan Marshall's spectral folk-pop possesses an unnameable quality that is pure sepia magic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it baffles even her. But Jaar, an electronic producer with a ruminative bent, gets it cold. And he gives her raw pain and shame a subtle, spiritual dignity. C.A.
19. SWANS - "THE SEER"
The apocalypse — the actual apocalypse, the Aerosmith-free (or, like, Aerosmith-suffused) Armageddon, the big flaming enchilada, the Horrifying Eternal Instant of God's Vengeful Unfriending, whatever lingo you prefer — in 32:14, which is longer than the whole first Ramones album and 800 times as terrifying as whatever all those people saw in that one Radiohead video. The perfect soundtrack to either cleaning your apartment or destroying it. R.H.
20. METRIC - "BREATHING UNDERWATER"
Hitting the same vein as Garbage's "Big Bright World," this is slay-lady-slay alt-rock with Loudness Wars production ka-boom, given emotional nuance (in this case) by Emily Haines' chillingly tingly, seen-enough-of-this-shtick, only half-rhetorical entreaty: "Is this my life? / Whoa-oh-ohhh / Am I breathing underwater?" The answer lies in the way her finely worn lilt breathtakingly cascades with more and more defiance. C.A.
21. JACK WHITE - "SIXTEEN SALTINES"
Easy to forget anymore that this dude first rose to power by writing amazing songs, by thundering ludicrous, beyond-perfect Confucian shit like "Spike heels make a hole in a lifeboat" over enormo-distorted, eight-car-garage riffs so tawdry they belong in a juvenile detention center. If you can hear a piano fall, you can hear him coming down the hall. R.H.
22. KATHLEEN EDWARDS - "CHANGE THE SHEETS"
Canadian alt-country pro with experience in Americana heartache meets solitary indie aesthete with experience in bloggers and throne-obsessed rappers (Bon Iver's Justin Vernon). Love blooms, and this flickering vista of love's fade results — margaritas, life on the road, sleeping pills. Anxious synths crest and recede, Edwards' voice soars like a gull over a lonely interstate. Countless George Clooney characters weep in hotel bars, as ice cubes slowly melt. C.A.
23. FIONA APPLE - "EVERY SINGLE NIGHT"
No idea how we survived without this woman for seven years; no idea how she survived, period. "Every single night's a fight with my brain," goes the guttural chorus to this music-box-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown stunner, with the word "brain" allotted 10 syllables. Conclusion: "I just wanna feel everything." Video treatment: Put an octopus on her head. R.H.
24. Y.N.RICHKIDS - "HOT CHEETOS & TAKIS"
The best argument for educational arts funding that the Obama administration will never make and the best food rap since the Fat Boys' "All You Can Eat," this summer anthem induced more unjaded smiles than any other song in 2012. Product of a Minneapolis YMCA after-school program that allowed kids access to recording equipment as a reward for doing their schoolwork, "Hot Cheetos" has a mongo, ATL-indebted synth-and-snare thunderclap and actual deft wordplay from leader Dame Jones and the lil' baldhead man with the MENSA-glasses who breaks it down thusly: "I'm on point like an elbow, hands red like Elmo / My mama said, 'Have you had enough?' / I looked at her, I said, 'No, ma'am!'" Of course, hands aren't the only thing that Hot Cheetos turn red (yikes!), so enjoy at your own risk. Meantime, check out the rest of the YMCA program's hip-hop catalog on their Bandcamp page. C.A.
25. ANGEL HAZE - "CLEANING OUT MY CLOSET"
A seething, beyond-harrowing street-rap tale of real-life childhood sexual abuse overloaded with abject terror, apocalyptic rage, and unspeakable bodily fluids that renders Eminem's various psychodramas petty, inconsequential. "It happened like it happened like millions of times" will break your heart; "I'm not deranged anymore / I'm not the same anymore / I mean I'm sane, but I'm insane, but not the same as before" will (partially) heal it. You'll only want to hear it once. You only need to hear it once. R.H.
26. PLAN B - "ILL MANORS"
During his hectic career, Ben "Plan B" Drew has moved from grime-y rapper to blue-eyed soulster (2010's The Defamation of Strickland Banks) to brash actor (several thuggish Brit flicks) to grimesploitation writer-director (the film Ill Manors), and now, to an angry-young-chav with the populist gobbin' skills of Sham 69's Jimmy Pursey (this title song from his film's soundtrack). Released during the London unrest last year, when thousands took to the streets burning and looting, "Ill Manors" stars Plan B as a protest MC howling in the midst of a sonic riot, repping hoodie-hard for the council-estate yoof. Sampling the German pop hit "Alles Neu," which samples Shostakovich's "Seventh Symphony," Drew howls, "Oi! What you looking at, you little rich boy! / We're poor 'round here, run home and lock your door," over sawing strings, embodying and flipping the stereotype in the N.W.A tradition. Angels with dirty faces, yo. C.A.
27. GRIMES - "OBLIVION"
Inspired by a sexual assault she suffered, meme-generation polymathlete Claire Boucher finally nails her haunting, synth-pop, playground skip and prance, chanting, "See you on a dark night," in a spectral, go-hither baby-yodel. Best heard in the alternately random and mesmerizing video, shot at McGill University's Molson stadium with a bunch of football players, dirt-bikers, cheerleaders, and about 28 other cultural-studies footnotes to boot. C.A.
28. JESSIE WARE - "RUNNING (DISCLOSURE REMIX)"
The original is slow, sultry, and sumptuous — the best Sade homage in a decade. The remix is buoyant, electrified, strident — the come-on transformed from a sweet gauzy-R&B surrender to an eroticized dance-floor beachhead assault. Bummer they couldn't drop the guitar riff in there somewhere, but with that cashmere voice moaning kaleidoscopically in your ear, the absence won't exactly bother you. Vzzzzzz R.H.
29. TORCHE - "KISS ME DUDELY"
Unloading a pun gun of tidal feedback and growling-bear riffs, Miami's brawny LGBT chapter keep their list of demands short and sharp. Over the song's one minute and 49 seconds of heartfelt thud, it becomes apparent that "dudely" mostly means "right now"! C.A.
30. AZEALIA BANKS - "JUMANJI"
Regrettably, your all-inclusive, private-resort tropical vacation has been hijacked by a foul-mouthed, pleasingly wayward YouTube lady rhyming "bougie" with "coochie" and tossing word salads like — oh, never mind. Interests: "Chinchillas, feathers, and leathers." General disposition: "Long weave out the limo / Na-nana-nana-na-nana."Cover art is way better than Fantasea's, BTW. R.H.
31. USHER - "CLIMAX"
Wherein a Top 40 kingpin practically vaporizes his much-ballyhooed alt-R&B competition in exactly 15 seconds, 1:55 to 2:10, four increasingly desperate howls of "AT ALL!!!" amid Diplo's jittery "Radiohead quiet storm" heartbeat, Nico Muhly's celestial orchestration providing weight and weightlessness. A bold, weird, and deadly as an army of Weeknd warriors. An all-timer. R.H.
32. SOLANGE - "LOSING YOU"
The exquisitely triumphant melancholy of a permanent weirdo-R&B underdog finally finding her lane (Manhattan opulence crossed with Brooklyn ennui), finally feeling that reassuring pavement beneath her, gunning it to 120 MPH, turning chilling emotional isolation into a raging Bushwick house party. That loop! If someone on Girls doesn't have sex to this next season HBO should be DFA'd. R.H.
33. SLEIGH BELLS - COMEBACK KID"
Man, the 17 seconds this ear-bleeding pep-rally flamethrower takes to roar to murderous life are just the best, right? A riff that could decapitate a mouthy Sam Ash employee, a coquettishly snarled inspirational verse to rouse the dourest of Sylvia Plaths, and black-bubblegum beats with bubbles that burst like megaton bombs. Your ponytailed niece singing into the barrel of a smoking AK-47 like it's a hairbrush. R.H.
34. PSY - "GANGNAM STYLE"
K-pop gets its first "U Can't Touch This"-caliber wedding song; a billion unimaginative bros get an easy Halloween costume; YouTube gets its blessedly Bieber-free new pinnacle, our nation's various comedians (be they sketching, improvising, monologuing) get a cheap laugh; horses get, y'know, publicity. Has justifiably beguiled everyone from Springsteen to Hammer himself to (?$%^&!) Noam Chomsky. Beats the hell outta "Macarena." Oh, and death to America. R.H.
35. CARLY RAE JEPSEN - "CALL ME MAYBE (SEKUOIA LOL MIX)"
The most helium-giddy, universally silly pop come-on of the year (recorded by a 26-year-old post-pubescent), gets taken to a darker part of the fairytale-forest by 19-year-old Copenhagen ambient post-dubstep producer Sekuoia. By pitching Jepsen's chirp down into an eerie moan and wail, adding a ghostly choir, a stipply synth line, and a ricocheting pitter-pat snare pattern, Sekuoia gives it all the feel of a Cajmere or Green Velvet piss-take (especially the argument sampled on the intro, which concludes: "Bitch, don't call my fuckin' house no more!"). So catchy it's pathogenic. C.A.
36. MIGUEL - "ADORN"
While his rivals for R&B supremacy continue to complain about how many women they've seduced, young Miguel reminds us what actual seduction feels like: a pure-oxygen burst of lithe, brash, absurdly winsome #sexualhealing. Sounds miraculous on the radio. R.H.
37. BAT FOR LASHES - "LAURA"
Love Adele's "Someone Like You," but worry it's not quite intimate and shattering enough? How do you feel about French horns? Nudity of both the emotional and cover-art variety? How is the saddest pep talk of all time also the most rousingly effective? Is this about Laura Palmer? No? Do you mind if we continue to think it is, anyway? R.H.
38. KENDRICK LAMAR - "SWIMMING POOLS (DRANK)"
Breaking Bad's idea of a pool party cracks so many bottles it cracks, tips back so many it tips over, drowns so many sorrows it just drowns, the symphonic stabs standing in for the defibrillators. A precisely enunciated ode to slurring your words. The rapper's conscience should always get the whole second verse. R.H.
39. FRANK OCEAN - "BAD RELIGION"
Prince at his most forlorn + Taxicab Confessions + funereal organ + the sound of one devastated man clapping + a heart-stopping falsetto entreating, "Love me / Love me / Love me / Love me," until you just want to lie down. The best song wasn't the single. R.H.
40. JAPANDROIDS - "THE HOUSE THAT HEAVEN BUILT"
Big song, small song. Small sound, big words. Big sound, small words. Too small, too big. JUST RIGHT. JUST RIGHT. One big. One small. Small life, big song. Big life, small song. Too tight, too loose. JUST RIGHT. JUST RIGHT. One big. One small. Big song, small scene. Small song, big scene. Too heavy. Too light. JUST RIGHT. JUST RIGHT. One big. One small. Small dream, big song. Big dream, small song. Too little. Too much. Big world, big song. Small world, small song. JUST RIGHT. JUST RIGHT. C.A.
41. G.O.O.D. MUSIC, FEAT. KANYE WEST, BIG SEAN, PUSHA T, AND 2 CHAINZ - "MERCY"
Douchebag Summit 2012: Big Sean brings the ass puns, Pusha T derides your Duncan Hines, Kanye viciously insults an Oscar nominee, and 2 Chainz imbues the line "Money tall like Jordan" with Shakespearean gravitas. Or: the Guy You Love to Hate, the Guy You Love to Love, the Guy You Hate to Love, the Guy You Hate to Hate. (C'mon, "Chain the color of Akon" is hilarious.) You don't want to spend a day with any of these people. 'Tis a delight to spend 5:26 (especially over the stalker-ish beat by the pentagonal production squad of Kanye, Mike Will Made It, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, and Lifted). Do you mind if they dance with yo' dates? R.H.