Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Best Of 2013 - part 1

JUMP TO: 100-81 II 80-61 II 60-41 II 40-21 II 20-1

It might be stating the obvious, but I love end-of-year countdowns. Growing up, I used to be fascinated by seeing how all the different hits from the previous 12 months stacked up against each other - and I still eagerly await the Australian and UK yearly tallies. I'm less enamoured with the US end-of-year countdown, mainly because the Billboard year annoyingly runs from December to November.

JT returned to music in 2013 - twice

On this blog, you can check out my personal end-of-year lists from 1979 to 1999, as well as from 2012 (I'll complete the missing years from 2000 to 2011 next year). But, for now, let's count down my 100 favourite songs from 2013. Like last year, I'll do it 20 songs at a time across five posts between now and (if all goes to plan) New Year's Eve - when the year actually ends.

Number 100 "Gorilla" by Bruno Mars

And the award for the oddest lyrics of 2013 goes to... The fourth single from Bruno Mars' second album, Unorthodox Jukebox, certainly lived up to the first word in that title. Bruno's ode to animalistic love-making missed the ARIA top 40 after three straight top 10 hits, but I liked it.

Number 99 "Hurt Lovers" by Blue

Naughties boy band Blue were a last-minute inclusion in British reality series The Big Reunion this year - especially surprising since they actually had their big reunion a few years back. Having reassembled to represent the UK at Eurovision in 2011, they'd had a couple of years' practice compared to their contemporaries - and a new album in the shape of Roulette. Lead single "Hurt Lovers" was an epic ballad that would not have sounded out of place on one of their earlier albums.

Number 98 "Wild" by Jessie J featuring Dizzee Rascal and Big Sean

She's one of the most polarising pop stars around - and I have to say I find Jessie J's amped up persona and over-singing a bit much to take at times, too. Together with the radical hair change (which may or may not have been an improvement on her previous look) and the Gaga-esque bikini as outerwear styling, she was certainly hard to miss this year. "Wild" was my favourite track from her second album, Alive, which I find best enjoyed in small doses.

Number 97 "Treasure" by Bruno Mars

On my 2012 countdown, I predicted Bruno would feature prominently in my chart for this year - and here he is again with the second of three songs that make this list. "Treasure" was the third official single from Unorthodox Jukebox (there were a couple of promo singles in there as well) and found the singer in full-on '80s disco-soul mode.

Number 96 "Elevate" by St Lucia

Also in 2012, I finally got on board the St Lucia train - and in 2013, the artist otherwise known as Jean-Philip Grobler finally got around to releasing his debut album. It was worth the wait, since When The Night, which features "Elevate", is one of my favourite albums from the past 12 months.

Number 95 "Firestarter" by Samantha Jade

Back in my Smash Hits days, I received numerous press releases about a young Samantha Jade, who was going to be imminently launched onto the world stage (for what seemed like ages). When that didn't pan out, an older and wiser wannabe pop star auditioned for The X Factor, and just went and won the whole thing. I can't say I was expecting that result, but for once the Australian viewing public put aside their antipathy for pretty girls who can sing and saved us from a situation in which Jason Owen was victorious.
Samantha's winner's single, "What You've Done To Me", was surprisingly pretty good. But, we all know the true test of what sort of career an X Factor champ is going to have is how good a song Sony Music comes up with after they've had a few months to figure out what to do with an artist. For Samantha, that was to position her as the new Kylie - a pint-sized dance/pop dynamo. So far so good.

Number 94 "Into The Night" by MDNGHT

There are four of them, they hail from Manchester, England and apparently they don't like vowels. That's about all I can tell you about MDNGHT, whose synthpop track "Into The Night" is one of those songs that sneak up on you until, after a few listens, you're hooked.
EDIT: Seems like the original video has been taken off YouTube, so here's the 2015 re-release clip instead.

Number 93 "Lies" by CHVRCHES

Another British dance act with a love for all caps and unusual spelling, Glasgow's CHVRCHES had been gaining momentum all year until, towards the end of 2013, they released "Lies". I think it's their best single to date, but it ended up as their lowest charting song in the UK. Nevertheless, parent album The Bones Of What You Believe went top 10 there and they received acclaim from all the right music critics, so, all in all, not a bad year's work.

Number 92 "Break My Heart" by Blue

Here they are again. Depending on which country you live in, "Break My Heart" was the second or third single from Blue's comeback album, Roulette - third or fourth if you include their 2011 release "I Can", which also found its way onto the tracklisting. Either way, it was another slice of classic Blue, which would have done much better in their heyday.

Number 91 "Only You" by Hurts

Oh, Hurts. What high hopes I had for your second album, Exile. Maybe it was because the singles from Happiness were so good that anything was going to pale in comparison. Or, maybe Exile just wasn't up to scratch. Either way, it was actually this album track that I preferred to official singles "Miracle", "Blind" and "Somebody To Die For". We will, however, see another appearance from Hurts (or half of them, at least) before we reach number 1.

Number 90 "Right Place Right Time" by Olly Murs

What a difference a couple of years can make. When I interviewed Olly a few years ago, his debut single, "Please Don't Let Me Go", was being used in promos for Packed To The Rafters but no one in Australia had any idea who he was. It took until "Troublemaker" for him to land a hit here, and it's been no stopping him ever since. This was the fourth single and title track to his third album. 

Number 89 "Oblivion" by M83 featuring Susanne Sundfør

The movie was OK, but the title track from one of my favourite new groups of the previous couple of years was an exquisite slice of moody synthpop. Featured vocalist Susanne is a big star back home in Norway, where she's already scored a couple of chart-topping albums. She's being doing the rounds of the electronic bands in recent years - and also appeared on "A.M.A." by Maps, which just missed out on a slot in my top 200 for 2013.

Number 88 "Real" by Gorgon City featuring Yasmin

On-the-rise British dance act Gorgon City are a duo with the unusual names of Foamo and RackNRuin. I've been enjoying another of their singles, "Ready For Your Love" (featuring MNEK), these past few weeks and would have put it on this list - except it's not officially released until 2014 and so I haven't been able to buy it yet. Meanwhile, guest vocalist Yasmin released two of my favourite singles for 2011 in "On My Own" and "Finish Line (Freemasons mix)", so it was nice to hear from her again.

Number 87 "Take Back The Night" by Justin Timberlake

The problem with leaving your fans waiting for so long between albums is that the build-up can only serve to raise expectations to unreasonable heights. And so, after a seven-year gap, big things were anticipated for Justin Timberlake's return to music - and I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed. "Take Back The Night" was the only single across both volumes of The 20/20 Experience that I thought compared favourably with his previous records.

Number 86 "The Bait" by Electric Guest

Formation dancing in music videos gets me every time - and the cute clip for this indie pop song by the LA band was always going to grab my attention. The song's pretty good, too - and sounded like nothing else I was listening to this year.

Number 85 "Fantasy" by MS MR

Like CHVRCHES, fellow all caps fans MS MR are a well-received female-fronted synthpop act that released their debut album this year. But, despite also sounding like Florence & The Machine with more of an electronic edge, the duo of Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow are actually from the States. "Fantasy" was the second single from the Secondhand Rapture album, and is the first of two appearances from the group on this list.

Number 84 "Broken Record" by Little Boots

It may have been because it didn't have the major label support that her debut album, Hands, had or it might have been down to the fact that its singles were more subtle than tracks like "Remedy" and "New In Town". Whatever the reason for Little Boots' second album, Nocturnes, and its associated singles not performing as well on the UK chart, it certainly wasn't because they weren't as good. We'll see another track from the album in Part 2.

Number 83 "Heaven (Freemasons mix)" by Depeche Mode

One of my favourite bands of all time were back in 2013 with their 13th studio album, Delta Machine, but it wasn't until dance outfit Freemasons got their hands on lead single "Heaven" that I was really impressed with the song. There's also more on DM to come in Part 2.

Number 82 "Army Of Two" by Olly Murs

Here's Olly again, with the follow-up to 2012's "Troublemaker", which gave him his second top 20 hit in Australia. Army is also the name given to Olly's fan base, like Rihanna's Navy, Lady Gaga's Little Monsters and 1D's Directioners.

Number 81 "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake featuring Majid Jordan

I'm an occasional fan of Drake's - and, as usual, it's a slow jam that makes my list this year. In 2010, it was "Find Your Love"; in 2011, it was "Take Care" with Rihanna; and in 2013, it was this second single from the Nothing Was The Same album. Featured act Majid Jordan is actually a duo: Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, a fact I wasn't aware of until just now.

In Part 2: an unexpected Eurodance cover, a surprising appearance by a solo Spice Girl, a former Australian Idol contestant who's gone all credible (no, not Matt Corby) and the return of a singer who sold millions of records about a decade ago.

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