2011 is arguably the year that defines plenty of artists career up to now – Rihanna, Adele, KatyPerry and Cee Lo Green just to name a few. We Found Love, from Rihanna and Calvin Harris in September, was one of the biggest hits of the year – combining big pumping beats with lyrics that went down an absolute storm on every dance floor around the globe. Adele’s Someone Like You in late January became one of the fastest-selling downloads of all-time – stripped down vocals and melodic piano meant this ballad became one that helped depict plenty of memories.
Katy Perry has had plenty of hits too – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) and Firework made up elements of the Top 20 bestselling hits of the year, mixing classic pop tones with a cracking beat, and two genius videos to match too. And Cee Lo… Well well well. Fuck You!, despite being released in August 2010, continued to sell, and is still found in the Top 50 singles on the iTunes Chart as we speak. He also gave us I Want You and Bright Lights Bigger City – by far and away some of the best music around this year.
But what about the other big hits? The likes of Moves Like Jagger from Maroon 5 and Christina, or Super Bass from Nicki Minaj? Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People was massive on both sides of the Atlantic, likewise Grenade and Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars. Jessie J has launched big-time Stateside with the brilliant Domino, and we also can’t overlook Gaga, and the might of Born This Way, Judas, and Marry The Night.
But what about those songs that haven’t had such big commerical success? The likes of Drake’s Headlines – arguably one of the best hip-hop records of the last decade, has to be in there – with its catchy beats and repetitive rhythms, it was a sure-fire winner. Kanye and Jay-Z released one of the biggest and best albums of the year, and the lead single Otis was massive – a masterclass in how to feature a track without upstaging it.
Jumping on the dance floor hasn’t been easier than this year, either. Avicii’s piece of genius that is Levels has been a late bloomer this year, gaining more and more airtime on radio stations and becoming a proper floorfiller. Katy B has been a massive, massive hit here in the UK this year, and her album On A Mission has been a big success. But her track Katy On A Mission was heard everywhere this summer. And who can forget the might of the song that is Party Rock Anthem, from LMFAO? Need I say more….
There have been some great tracks that have remained very under the radar too – Glen Campbell’s final recording gave us A Better Place – two minutes of pure joy in a song. There was also Let England Shake, from PJ Harvey, and her Mercury Prize-winning album – bringing folk and rock together into a wonderful hybrid of happiness. Or what about Elbow’s The Birds, featuring one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard? We also can’t overlook Mary J. Blige’s autobiographical song Need Someone – a soft, unbelievably beautiful ballad that makes you feel every single syllable of every word.
Jamie Woon’s Lady Luck was a song that got stuck in your head for weeks, let alone days, and was everything that was expected from him this time last year. Likewise James Blake, with The Wilhelm Scream being by far and away one of my favourite records of the year. Aloe Blacc also fired his way up there with I Need A Dollar – a song felt by every student up and down the country as student fees went up and up and up.
And you can’t overlook a good country record, either – Zac Brown Band’s amazingly-paced Whiskey’s Gone has you dancing for every second of the 2:47 it’s on. Or, for further comedic value and a video to match, Toby Keith’s moment of genius with Red Solo Cup is an absolute must – despite its rather ghastly cover on Glee. And if you drop the tempo even further, insert some synthesised beats and put it in a film, and you’ll end up with Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose’s collaboration with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song featured in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Now that’s how to re-record a classic.
The sad passing of Amy Winehouse in July led to a posthumous album released in early December, which spawned the rather beautiful Our Day Will Come, alongside a rather spine-chilling version of A Song For You. And, I know I shall be ridiculed beyond belief for this, but One Direction’s Gotta Be You is one of the best pieced-together pop records of the year by a living mile. Genius use of an orchestra, too. And sticking on the teen pop vibe, a wonderful record from the US was Love You Like A Love Song, from Selena Gomez & The Scene. That’s Mrs Bieber, to you and me…
One of the biggest records of the year came from relatively unknown American Lana Del Rey, and the incredible Video Games – a really quite beautiful track. Now the shock value that came with her ‘story’ at the start has been diluted a wee bit, but that doesn’t take away from the fact this is a massive, massive record. A really ‘underground’ record was ‘Rome’, from Danger Mouse and Daniele Lucci – an album recorded in homage to Italian film soundtracks. This gave us Season’s Trees, featuring Norah Jones, and you just lose yourself in the song. Metronomy released ‘An English Riviera’ – an album that combines the wonderful folk sounds we have grown accustom to, with some electronic vibes that give them such a unique sound. The Look was the best song off the album – and is a piece of genius. There was also the UK’s first major talent show winner, Will Young, and his remarkable new album, which gave us Come On – a high-tempo, happy, fun record. Very different to our Lana…
And we most certainly can’t go through a review of big songs without considering some of the biggest albums released this year – Coldplay brought us Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, Hurts Like Heaven, and M.M.I.X., all from their number-one album ‘Mylo Xyloto’. Now this was met by Beyonce’s acclaimed ‘4’ album, which arrived with Countdown, I Care, Party and Run The World (Girls). And that was eventually trumped at the end of this year with ‘Christmas’, from Michael Buble – Jingle Bells, Blue Christmas and Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) are sure-fire favourites to become Christmas classics in years to come.
But like us all, I have my favourites… This year, it’s a Top 5. And there’s no order, cos they’re all bloody brilliant in their own special, and very unique way.
Florence + the Machine returned this year with a great album – ‘Ceremonials’ – and the second single released was Shake It Out. Fast, story-based, wonderful lyrics and that voice that made us all fall in love with her first time around just got bigger. Great record.
Big dance hit of the year, as many music critics have agreed, was that from Joe Goddard and Valentina, with Gabriel. A big house vibe, with secluded vocals and a wonderful rising repetition, and this record gained a lot of love. Coldplay did something very similar with repetition, and Charlie Brown was invented. A great intro, topped with a wonderful ending that took it right back to the roots of the song. Great idea.
A name you’re not likely to know – Michael Kiwanuka. But you wait till this time next year, and everyone will be all over him. This guy is talented, and the EP he released earlier in the year gave us a piece of music that gives me goosebumps every time – I Need You By My Side. A very, very special young talent, and a wonderful record.
But my song of the year? It’s another revisit… Katy Perry’s The One That Got Away. Melodic, beautiful, unreserved and there’s some great elements that makes a perfect pop song – key change, strings, cracking video, and the ability to speed it up for remixes, and strip it down for concerts. It was, and is, a masterpiece.
So that’s it for another year. Some massive music this year, and there’ll be plenty more next year. Will try and give you a sneak peak into the music world of 2012 at some stage over the next week – keep your eyes peeled…
I’ve pieced together a playlist of all the above tracks on Spotify, if that takes your fancy…