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The 40 best songs of 2014

Cream of the crop ... Paolo Nutini has two songs on Cameron’s list, including the top tra

Cream of the crop … Paolo Nutini has two songs on Cameron’s list, including the top track.
Source: Supplied

1. Iron Sky — Paolo Nutini

In just six minutes Paolo Nutini made 2014 infinitely more soulful. This mini-epic is kind of what you’d imagine Curtis Mayfield, Percy Sledge and Massive Attack jamming together would sound like, with some posthumous spoken word assistance from Charlie Chaplin. And Nutini’s voice is precisely what music is sorely lacking these days.

Best bit: Just after the Chaplin sample ends and everything kicks back in and goes up a notch. Goosebumps.

Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky (live at Abbey Road)

2. New Romantics — Taylor Swift

More evidence of the smarts of Taylor Swift? Most artists fill the deluxe versions of their albums with duff remixes or rejects. And people wonder why no one values albums these days. Tay instead put the ‘luxe’ back into ‘deluxe’ by ending the fancy version of 1989 with New Romantics. It’s a euphoric pop masterpiece that sounds like Lorde and Lana Del Rey dancing at the Pretty in Pink prom scene. It’s also the perfect snapshot of single Swift — she’s too busy having fun to worry about chart haters or heart breakers. Also contains one of her best lyrics on the album: “I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me.” PS if you want to hear New Romantics you have to buy it — it’s not streamable (because the best art in life isn’t free) and someone at Tay HQ continually removes it from YouTube. Respect.

Best bit: the chorus line ‘the best things in life are free’. If that isn’t on a tour T-shirt next year someone’s missed a major marketing opportunity.

Tay Tay parties like it’s 1989 (Photo by Getty)

Tay Tay parties like it’s 1989 (Photo by Getty)
Source: Getty Images

3. Blank Space — Taylor Swift

In which Tay discovers if you beat them to the joke then you disarm the jokers. She takes a tongue in cheek approach to the theory her tongue was too often in other people’s cheeks. Her country background means it’s a self-contained story — the meeting, the joy, the turmoil and the unhappy ending. Listen to the early self-penned demo on her album to hear how little pop king Max Martin does compared to most of the acts he writes with.

Best bit: when it all goes horribly right as Swift looks for her next song bait, warning “darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”

4. Uptown Funk- Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

Fact: if this was the new single from this year’s Prince album it wouldn’t even get played on commercial radio because Prince is over the age of 35. Fact is Prince could have released Uptown Funk in the early `80s — Ronson channels that Minneapolis vibe that Prince and his mates The Time specialised in. Have a listen to this. That takes nothing away from the fact this is reminding or teaching the world about funk. So thank you. And thanks Prince.

Best bit: when the chorus fires up for the first time: much keyboard, very brass.

The Veronicas – You Ruin Me (live on X Factor)

5. You Ruin Me — The Veronicas

Sometimes the best songs are the most unexpected. Neither The Veronicas nor Sydney songwriting team DNA are known for piano ballads. But with a freshly ruptured heart, this song didn’t need any adornment to give you what The Kids are calling The ‘Feels’.

Best bit: that busted bridge “We’re that song you wouldn’t sing just a broken melody … You’re killing me.” You just want to give them a hug.

6. Chandelier — Sia

Sia sings Sia songs best. She kept this one for herself, singing about her battles with the bottle. She punishes her voice box while singing about brutalising her liver — that chorus caused TV karaoke roadkill this year. Nice work. And the worst thing you could say about Chandelier is that it was so amazing you overplayed it and burnt it out.

Best bit: when it vocally goes from, yeah, maybe Rihanna could have sung this to, nope, only Sia could do this.

Hit maker Kiesza also managed to defy gravity on red carpets this year. (Photo AP)

Hit maker Kiesza also managed to defy gravity on red carpets this year. (Photo AP)
Source: AP

7. Hideaway — Kiesza

This is one of those songs that just arrives perfectly formed — the video’s simple but brilliant, the vocals are amazing and the tune is that magical mix of then and now. It pilfers from enough genres (deep house, `90s dance) to not be a pastiche and remembers what too many dance pop acts forget — less is more.

Best bit: when Kiesza raises her voice to join in the dancing synths and bleeps.

8. No Ordinary Love — You + Me

There is a live video of this Sade cover where Dallas Green (of City and Colour fame) starts singing and his partner for this project Alecia Moore (or Pink to Australian concert ticket purchasers) looks at him as if she’s still in awe of his voice. Like all the best covers, it’s re-purposed — from Sade’s babymaking nocturnal groove to a solemn, intimate conversation between those involved in the not-at-all-dull love.

Best bit: when they join forces on the chorus, then wind down on the outro. Whoa.

You Me – No Ordinary Love

9. Thinking Out Loud — Ed Sheeran

As soon as you heard X you knew this was going to be massive. Thinking Out Loud has replaced John Legend’s All of Me as ‘our song’ (or even our wedding song) for couples all over the globe. Edward explained to this writer he’d been listening to some of Van Morrison’s more soulful moments when Thinking Out Loud came out. PS how good does Ed’s voice sound?

Best bit: the ‘Baby now’ just before the three minute mark. He can’t stay in the sun too long but he sure knows how to shine in the spotlight.

10. Talk is Cheap — Chet Faker

All in all, it was a pretty soulful year for music. You could argue that that’s a direct result of a few years of generic club bangers, autotuned vocals and karaoke TV. Melbourne’s Chet Faker is the antidote to all that — an old school artist using new school techniques. Talk is Cheap is full of beautiful noise, a dose of modern blues.

Best bit: the layers — subdued beats with light sax and heavy Chet.

DMA’s – Delete live

11. Delete — DMAs

Positives of the internet — when a song like this, from the Sydney newcomers who’d barely played a live show before this went online — starts spreading it’s instant attention. Refreshingly the hype around Delete was purely from the fact it’s so damn good.

Best bit: when it swings from a tender beginning, then brings it home with a shimmering dual vocal assault that recalled Kiwi bands like The Chills. It also delivered the chills.

12. Shake It Off — Taylor Swift

It’d be higher, if not for the fact we wore this out like a tarry-old fanbelt. Swift pulled off an amazing feat here — instantly asserting her 100-per-cent pop direction, self-deprecation and providing a simple mantra to anyone bothered by criticism — shake it off. Instilling that into a generation of cyber bullies and cyber bullied — our hats off to you again, young lady. PS — it’s the first Swift song guaranteed to fill dancefloors in 10 seconds flat.

Best bit: That. Sick. Beat. One disease no one need cure.

Paolo Nutini – Better Man

13. Better Man — Paolo Nutini

Brit Nutini is highly efficient at putting his own spin on preloved music. Better Man is your classic `You make me a better person’ love song lyric, but the combination of That Voice and his heartwarming harmonies and campfire melodies just find something new in something old here.

Best bit: the cloud full of ‘na na na’s’ that float out with you.

14. Begin Again — Megan Washington

Megan Washington’s go-to instrument in times of distress is the piano. Long may that continue. Begin Again is the raw sound of a heart leaking into the keys; a tale of the tail-end of a relationship.

Best bit: When Washo emotes “There’s nothing I’ve done that I’m not sorry for, except to tell you that if I was you I wouldn’t let go,” as she’s never gonna give you up. Or not just yet.

Megan Washington – Begin Again

15. XO — Beyonce

Her surprise album wasn’t bursting with singles, which was the point. Bey is above the thirsty hunt for hits. Reuniting with Halo-buddy Ryan Tedder, XO is buoyant, fun and effortless — just the way we like our Beyonce.

Best bit: the first taste of the super chorus ‘In the darkest night hour…’

Fancy is the first word that comes to mind with Iggy and Charli (Photo by Getty Images)

Fancy is the first word that comes to mind with Iggy and Charli (Photo by Getty Images)
Source: Getty Images

16. Fancy — Iggy Azalea & Charli XCX

Who dat? Who dat? If everything goes horribly wrong from here, at least this will be Iggy’s Ice Ice Baby. Fancy dominated America this year, but peaked at No. 2 here. Maybe that’s why she didn’t even film a thank you for the ARIAs, or even bust out a thank you Tweet? When you’ve heard the first 20 seconds of Fancy you’ve heard it all, but that beat must have been a eureka moment in the studio.

Best bit: You could argue Charli’s fun chorus and party hooks make this as much her song as Iggy’s too. Come on now — trash the hotel, let’s get drunk on the minibar.

16. Seasons (Waiting on You) — Future Islands

A vocalist can completely change a song. Future Islands’ break through (Bono called it a ‘miracle’ in one of the few things he got right this year) is all about singer Samuel Herring’s performance. He’s got that husky tone that made Boy George more than a pop act, and also recalls Fine Young Cannibal Roland Gift. Plus this put the heart back into electronic-based music. And that divisive, uber-passionate Letterman performance (below) — you don’t hear enough chests being beaten on live TV.

Best bit: those pulsating synths that tell you something good this way comes.

Future Islands – Seasons (live on Letterman)

17. High — Peking Duk featuring Nicole Millar

The `Duk know how to get a crowd moving and High does all the right things in all the right places. It’s got that graceful verse, the build and then the chorus drop. Importantly, it’d work as an instrumental, but gosh does Nicole Millar push High into something wonderful territory.

Best bit: Drop!

18. Two Bodies — Flight Facilities featuring Emma Louise

You have to love the craft work of this Sydney dance duo. Their album reclaims the ‘album as a journey’ concept and it’s bursting with moments like this. Unconcerned with the charts or some easy hands-in-the-air moments, it’s luxuriously deep house with the vocal prowess of Emma Louise. Heart Attack with Owl Eyes is also worth investigating from this album.

Best bit: Emma Louise’s elevating vocals.

Flight Facilities – Two Bodies

19. Rather Be — Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne

`That’ chorus. Piano has served dance music well before (hello Black Box) and continues to here. Rather Be has kind of cheesy lyrics, but it’s just so basic (not an insult) that it just works, simply. Again, people spend months trying to formulate pop songs as instant as this, Rather Be sounds like a happy accident.

Best bit: as soon as you hear those intro strings.

Sam Smith delivered soul and suits to 2014. (Photo by Getty Images)

Sam Smith delivered soul and suits to 2014. (Photo by Getty Images)
Source: Getty Images

20. Stay With Me — Sam Smith

If you were going to try and make a song to get on commercial radio in 2014 it wouldn’t be a soul singer serving up a stripped back lament. Oh and he’s singing about another dude. That’s what made Sam Smith’s success so heartening. Adele opened the door for him, now prepare for the Sam-a-likes next year now record companies have got a sniff. Better that than the new Will I Am.

Best bit: the chorus where Smith becomes his own gospel choir thanks to some clever technology.

21. Mess Is Mine — Vance Joy

How do you follow Riptide? You don’t. Wisely laying the ukulele down after a job well done, Mess is Mine instead showcased the softer side of Mr Joy. Less left hand man, more dude you can take home to mother.

Best bit: Just after Vance has arrived at the messy house towards the song’s end. A sea of sad strings, the occasional vocal howl and insistent drums combine to build a bittersweet symphony and a pat on the back for hot hoarders everywhere.

Vance Joy – Mess is Mine (Live)

22. Two Weeks — FKA Twigs

One of the year’s buzz acts, this is a perfect introduction to everything that’s great about the British artist. There’s the dark electro Robyn mastered, flashes of the even darker moods of Tricky and a stunning voice delivering lyrics that earn that language warning over and over. Bring on Laneway Festival.

Best bit: those ‘did she say that’ lyrics about her prowess over a love rival.

23. Style — Taylor Swift

Tay was inspired by the `80s for 1989 but Style zeros in on 1985. It’s Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer given a feminine makeover. Swift sings of her “good girl faith” and “tight little skirt” that woos the long-haired James Dean lookalike. If it is about Harry Styles of One Direction it’s easily the best pop song he’s ever been involved with, including his own catalogue.

Best bit: Swift’s admission she may have messed up a few times too. See, she only seems perfect.

Kylie Minogue still knows how to drop great pop. (Photo by Getty Images)

Kylie Minogue still knows how to drop great pop. (Photo by Getty Images)
Source: Getty Images

24. Into the Blue — Kylie Minogue

Again, Kylie’s been pensioned out by commercial radio. You can be over 40 and present on commercial radio, but women over 35 just aren’t heard in heavy rotation. Into the Blue is classic Kylie — but also age appropriate grown-up pop. Bit of melancholy in the verses, bit of hands-in-the-air euphoria in the chorus. File under Get Out of My Way as a lost Kylie mega hit.

Best bit: when the final chorus arrives like it’s been shot out of a cannon. Bam!

25. Carissa — Sun Kil Moon

Gloom with a view. That view — the story of a second cousin who lost their life in a fire and was found by her daughter, and then thinking out loud about the funeral, mortality and a bleak family history. Yet still exquisite listening.

Best bit: the return to Ohio for the funeral and to “Visit some graves and say “Hey I’ve missed you”.”

26. Heart Beats Slow — Angus & Julia Stone

In which our favourite singing siblings morph into Fleetwood Mac temporarily. They always sound best singing together, which they realised this year thanks to producer Rick Rubin.

Best bit: that DNA warble as they mesh together vocally.

Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

27. U-Huh — Tkay Maidza

Straight outta, er, Adelaide, this teenager is an exciting mix of MIA and Lorde, but with a distinct style that sets her up in her own lane. U-Huh is even full of pop hooks while still delightfully weird at the same time. The world’s already listening, 2015 could be hers for the taking.

Best bit: that chorus. Is she singing ‘Chitty bang bang’ or something else entirely?

28. Magic — Coldplay

It’s very easy to slag Coldplay and the stadium-dodging reboot of Ghost Stories gave plenty of ammunition to the haters. It didn’t work all the time, but at least they’re taking risks (hello Foo Fighters). Magic proved you can still experiment with minimal electronics as long as you keep maximum emotion. Midnight from this album is also an unexpected treat.

Best bit: a freshly-single Chris Martin reassuring us he still believes in love. Phew.

Chris Martin from Coldplay catches another song from the ether. Picture: Richard Dobson

Chris Martin from Coldplay catches another song from the ether. Picture: Richard Dobson
Source: News Corp Australia

29. Habits (Stay High) — Tove Lo

One of those rare occasions when the remix is as good as the original. The album version is a little less shiny but a touch more real, but that remix really pounds the hooks into your ears and for a dance remix it’s kind of gothic. Those Swedish can make some pretty bleak pop at times.

Best bit: Ow ow. Ow ow.

30. She Looks So Perfect — 5 Seconds of Summer

5SOS may cringe at the boy band tag, but they’re still getting plenty of help behind the scenes to write their songs. Jake Sinclair (Pink, Fall Out Boy) and Eric Valentine (Good Charlotte) worked their magic here on the ideal power pop song to launch them, cultural references, `hey hey’ chants and all.

Best bit: the line that should keep them in free undergarments for the rest of their lives.

31. Dark Horse — Katy Perry featuring Juicy J

To demonstrate how off the boil Katy Perry’s people were this was the ‘throwaway’ buzz single from her patchy Prism album. It’s refreshing to hear Perry’s people give her a song where she isn’t slamming hooks and cliches into every square inch of a song. Awful video though.

Best bit: that speaker-testing bassline in the verses.

32. Pray to God — Calvin Harris featuring Haim

Calvin Harris has now mastered the ‘Name Drop’. That is he finds a big name and then sticks them on a familiar-sounding tune with an even bigger drop. This is a hidden gem on his new album, where US sisters Haim channel Stevie Nicks and Harris turns autopilot off for a second to give them some modern retro for the journey.

Best bit: Haim sounding like Stevie Nicks with Edge of Seventeen-style guitar riffage on the verses. The chorus is pretty bangin’ too.

Calvin Harris ft Haim – Pray to God

33. I Will Never Let You Down — Rita Ora

Irony — the best Calvin Harris pop song of the year is the one he wants to erase from his history as it’s sung by his ex Rita Ora. It’s by far the best thing she’s ever done and is up with his finest work, but obviously tainted by the split. Harris, who wrote and produced the track, legally stopped Ora performing it on US TV this year — the ultimate ex revenge. He can afford to disown it, whereas she can’t.

Best bit: Calvin gives good chorus.

35. Tough Love — Jessie Ware

You can never go wrong with those ghostly synth drum beats from Prince’s When Doves Cry. Here Brit Jessie Ware just keeps doing what she does so well — powerful vocals over dramatic electronic dreamy pop.

Best bit: Did we mention those When Doves Cry beats?

Tough Love – Jessie Ware

36. New Dorp. New York — SBTRKT ft Ezra Koenig

The voice of Vampire Weekend, Ezra Koening was right at home on this bonkers track from the British producer that’s a love song for NYC. Minimal suits them both.

Best bit: the random percussion throughout.

37. Johnny and Mary — Todd Terje featuring Bryan Ferry

This is possibly better on paper than it was on record. Todd Terje has done some masterful work on remixes and his own album is a gem. Maybe it’s just that Bryan Ferry’s voice now sounds a little like he’s just run a marathon and come into the studio. But this song (by the late Robert Palmer) was always graceful and the pair just make it more chilled out.

Best bit: the Vangelis-style slo-mo synth passive attack at the end.

38. Do It Again — Robyn & Royksopp

The dream team reunite. The only reason this isn’t higher is we’re still smarting from not being able to see them on stage together in Australia this summer. Still hurts to listen to this.

Best bit: Robyn knows her way around a hectic chorus.

Ricki-Lee – Mirage

39. Mirage — Ricki Lee

Hilariously it was the US Dancing with the Stars who used Ricki-Lee’s In the Mood last week. And indeed maybe if an international act released this powerful, emotive ballad it’d get attention on radio. Instead it’s just the most honest, raw and broken she’s ever sounded, but still packing a happy ending. Do we still need to point out how impressive her voice is? Good.

Best bit: the instant mood-lift of the mammoth chorus.

40. Crying For No Reason — Katy B

British singer Katy B’s second album Little Red was one of those critically acclaimed releases that slips through the sales cracks. Shame — it’s a cracker that proves modern dance music can be classy, the way Massive Attack used to be. This was the album’s still-beating heart, co-written with Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams).

Best bit: The bridge about burning bridges down. See what she did there?

5 Seconds of Summer reminded kids it’s cool to play instruments. (Photo Getty Images)

5 Seconds of Summer reminded kids it’s cool to play instruments. (Photo Getty Images)
Source: Getty Images

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