I will be the first to admit that I didn’t listen to a lot of new music in 2013. I listened to plenty, but the majority of my listening this past year was of the podcast/storytelling variety. I plan to write up a best podcast episodes piece soon, so stay tuned for that.
I did listen to enough new music to compile a best 20 songs of 2013 though, and I will list my favorite songs below, in order of how I think they sound best when played one after the other. If you are on Spotify, send me your info and I’ll forward you a playlist with all these tunes. But since this is a blog post, I will add links to video versions of most of these favorites; and if I can’t find a video version, I will find an alternative that will give the original song justice and props. As it will take me several days to assemble this 20-song post, I am going to divide it up into four parts for your perusal and entertainment. Also, this way it creates anticipation and the more manageable quantity won’t overwhelm you. I will have a lot of deep, well-considered thoughts to impart for each song, so I advise you to stick around, pull up a comfy chair, grab a frosty, frothy, piping, steaming beverage and settle in for a while.
1. Har Mar Superstar – Lady You Shot Me (Bye Bye 17)
Har Mar Superstar has been around for a long time now. And for the most part, has been relegated to the “gimmick” bin by most critics and record stores. He also might be best known for his fantastic cameo in the movie “Starsky and Hutch.” This is one of my favorite dance off scenes in the history of cinema. And I’m not kidding.
Har Mar is best known for his 70’s/80’s funk/disco stylings on his previous records. He has given Prince a fat, sweaty white-boy run for his money (sorta), and now he takes on the kings of 60’s Soul on his latest album, Bye Bye 17. Lady You Shot Me is clearly mining the Stax/Motown catalog, but he pulls it off with such finesse and joy, that you might think it’s a long, lost B-Side from Sam Cooke. And there’s no getting around the fact that the guy has some killer pipes. Too bad the whole album doesn’t match up with this great song.
2. Janelle Monàe – Givin’ Em What They Love (with Prince) – (Electric Lady)
If you have known me for a few years, you probably know that I am a huge, huge Janelle Monàe fan. Her debut album, The ArchAndroid was my favorite album of 2010 and I awaited her second album, The Electric Lady, with great anticipation.
I could have chosen any of a number of the new album’s funky tunes for this list, and at first I thought I’d go with the title track, which is a duet with Solange Knowles, but I keep finding myself coming back to the swampy, dirty grooves of this one, which gets taken to even sludgier heights once Prince comes in to sing the second verse. This is the sort of song that you feel first in your belly and then it spreads to your groin and your ass. Givin’ us what we love, for sure.
3. !!! – One Girl/One Boy (Thr!!!er)
!!! is supposedly pronounced Chik, Chik, Chik. They have been making funky-dance rock for over a decade now and if you haven’t heard them before and like this song, get their new album, Thr!!!er. It’s the perfect dance party album if you want to keep your guests moving on the dance floor (carpet/linoleum). I chose this song not just because it makes me move and it’s got both a retro and a modern dance vibe going, but because I love almost every song that has the words “girl” and “boy” in the title or the lyrics. Other favorites of mine are Blur’s “Girls and Boys” and The Violent Femmes “Black Girls.” Also, INXS’ “Original Sin” is an all-time favorite of mine. “Dream on white boy, dream on black girl, and wake up to a brand new day…to find your dreams have washed away.”
What other boys/girls songs are favorites of yours?
4. Mavis Staples – Can You Get To That (One True Vine)
It’s probably not possible to outdo the groovalicious joy of the original Funkadelic version of Can You Get To That?, but if anyone can get close, it would be Mavis Staples. Her second collaboration with musician/producer Jeff Tweedy, One True Vine is, IMO, just as musically fruitful as the first, and their choices for covers are always spot on. She also covers Nick Lowe on this album. It’s an album that showcases Mavis’ powerhouse from-the-heart vocals on every song. And if you ever get a chance to see her live, do it. I had the opportunity to see her perform in 2010 after her last album and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Mavis Staples is a musical treasure and I would bet her next album appears on my year-end favorites as well.
5. Justin Timberlake – That Girl (The 20/20 Experience: 1 of 2)
OK. I know, as an album, JT’s first part of his 20/20 Experience was a bloated whale of a record. Songs that start of promising, devolve into over-produced, rambling messes. But like some shit, a kernel of greatness can poke through, and the corn on this album is this 60’s Soul by way of Prince-inspired slow-jam, That Girl. It’s under five minutes, the instrumentation is minimal, JT’s voice is smooth, the sax line funky, and, I’ll admit it, I have a man crush on JT. I hate him, really. He’s good looking, can sing and dance like a pro and is a good actor to boot. I just saw him in Inside Llewyn Davis and he was great. And he’s married to Jessica Biel. Fuck him. And his appearances on Jimmy Fallon and SNL are always hilarious. Jesus. He must suck at something.