Year-End Lists \

The 40 Best 2014 Songs by 1994 Artists

Don't call it nostalgia—these mid-'90s mainstays are still getting it done 20 years on

30. Soundgarden, “Storm”

These boys ain’t dumb: 2010’s comeback King Animal was further exposition after a sixteen-year ellipsis. The next major release? November’s Echo of Miles, a similarly overdue assemblage of miscellany. “Storm” was the pre-release single, a revamp of a song they demoed way back in ’85. Even with Matt Cameron now on the stool and a clutch of radio hits behind them, Soundgarden effortlessly harness the Led Zep Peel Session sound they debuted with. It helps to have access to Jack Endino and disposable grunge income. B.S.

29. Sunny Day Real Estate, “Lipton Witch”

SDRE were always too arena-rock for emo, more U2 or Radiohead than Jawbreaker or Mineral, never a hint of punk in them. So is it a surprise that on this impromptu reunion single, 20 years after seminal debut LP Diary, they sound like a Foo Fighters with a lot more to prove? Hell, there’s even an echo of Pearl Jam’s “Rearviewmirror.” Seattle lives! DAN WEISS

28. E-40 feat. T-Pain, Kid Ink & B.o.B., “Red Cup”

E-40’s real revival in 2014 came with his guest appearance on Big Sean’s surprise smash “I Don’t Fuck With You,” but he already proved he could keep up with the kids on the booty-by-numbers banger “Red Cup.” 40 shows why he should be as inescapable a veteran ass-saluting radio presence as Juicy J, excitedly spitting “Tight jeans you can see her camel toe / Slap that ass like I’m fin to domino.” It’s about time for Captain Save-a-Ho to come through with his gigantic thesaurus, after this year, we could certainly use a new butt synonym or two. A.U.

27. The Roots, “Black Rock”

The Roots have rocketed to jazz and back, even had a synth phase, but they’ve earned the right to call a twisty, guitar-jammed title “Black Rock.” Shards of piano stick out of the musique concrète avalanche, trying to figure out which way is up. “One thing I know all I did was wrong,” goes the despondent chorus. Questlove actively campaigned for more rappers to write protest songs this year, possibly because he didn’t have the heart to do it himself, but even the firebrands in his band can only release anger from crying sometimes. D.W.

26. Guided By Voices, “The Littlest League Possible”

Did anyone really think GBV was done? Dayton’s finest released six LPs after the first breakup – two this year. Bob Pollard says this is it, but it’s hard to take indie rock’s Brett Favre seriously, especially given “Littlest League,” the leadoff cut on their penultimate record. It’s the best statement of diminished ambitions since Spoon’s “Small Stakes,” as Pollard runs his mates through their Who-circa-1965 paces: winding up from a shrug to a sour surge in less than 80 seconds. “From running too fast / You’d run out of gas,” he notes, “But that’s not possible / In the littlest league possible.” B.S.

25. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Fault Lines”

His musical influence in 2014 was so pervasive that a list of the top five Tom Petty albums of the year didn’t even have to include the singer/songwriter’s own Billboard 200-topping Hypnotic Eye. Still, there were some prime Petty cuts to be had on Hypnotic Eye, chief among them the jazzy “Fault Lines,” with fuzzy guitar, far fuzzier bass and pulse-racing cymbal hits, Petty’s vocals tip-toing to avoid setting off any trip wires. It’d be great chase music, if it was possible to imagine the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer ever running to or from anything. A.U.

24. Mazzy Star, “Things”

The B-side to Mazzy’s Record Store Day 7″ release, “Things” is just Hope Sandoval’s inimitable coo over endlessly reverberating guitar and just enough bass drum to prevent the thing from disappearing into the ether, instead hovering like a gorgeously lit puff of smoke. Mazzy Star sounded like they were timeless back in the mid-’90s, and 20 years later, it’s pretty clear how right we were about that. A.U.

23. RuPaul, “Sissy That Walk”

RuPaul might be even more iconic in 2014 than he was 20 years ago, and this year’s “Sissy That Walk” feels nearly as anthemic a self-confidence singalong as “Supermodel” did 20+ years ago, even marking his return to the dance charts after a half-decade absence. The song is full of trademark RuPlatitudes like “Unless they paying your bills / Pay them bitches no mind,” but somehow “My pussy is on fire / Now kiss the flame” is the couplet that feels the most righteous. He’ll still be working and sissying this shit 20 years from now, trust. A.U.

22. Meshell Ndegeocello, “Conviction”

Meshell Ndegeocello’s Comet, Come to Me was one of the year’s most striking soul records, cool and considered and impressively all over the place, held together with Ndegeocello’s earthy, dulcet croon. “Conviction” was the album’s most engaging track, a caramel-coated ballad given buoyancy by disco strings and handclaps, and depth by a piercing lyric in which the singer/songwriter quits trying to talk a friend out of leaving her bad relationship (“Truth is, you were right, I was wrong / For me your life is just a sad song”). It’s more emotionally confusing than most R&B artists dare to be, which is part of what still makes Ndegeocello so interesting in 2014. A.U.

21. Tim McGraw, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s”

At some point in the mid-2000s — around the time he started angling for film roles, actually — McGraw introduced a new element amongst the blowout ballads and chipper pop-country tunes: interiority. The new Tim McGraw traces the boundaries of a small town, investigating the ways it acts on its residents. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” yearns for that town, but with a realist’s gaze. He’s got his eye on whiskey on a farmhouse porch, but his mind’s fixed on the financial requisites. Over a muted, delicate backing, Faith offers gentle support: two people considering their realized American Dream. B.S.