Every year, folks like DJ Earworm and Daniel Kim create mashups of the year’s most popular pop songs. The top 40 songs of 2014 include ones by Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift and Iggy Azalea, so it’d be easy to be dismissive and say there wasn’t much good music to listen to.
And yet, DJ Earworm and Daniel Kim’s 2014 mashups are still pretty awesome. Which proves, in one way or another, that when you listen to the right song in the right context, it can sound better than you remember.
Also, that we all have our own soundtrack, and like to listen to music in different ways. What sounds good to one person doesn’t to another. We all march to our own beat. Etc.
Plenty of music writers have already ranked what they think is the best/worst music of the year, and I have no intention of creating that kind of list. That said, as I look back on the past year, I’m finding that there was plenty of music I want to remember. Admittedly, not all of it was good (by my standards, anyway). But months or years from now, when I’m trying to put my head back in the place it was this year, playing these tracks will do the trick.
You won’t find any U2 here (free or not, I just didn’t dig their new album), but you will find multiple songs by folks like Bruce Springsteen, Jamie Cullum, and Pharrell Williams. You may even find a song from a Broadway show and a jazz instrumental track. (And two Megan Trainor songs, too; no judging.) That’s what I listened to this year. That was my soundtrack.
For your listening pleasure, here’s my musical time capsule for 2014, with some commentary on some of the tracks. Songs are listed (on the playlist and in this blog post) in no order other than a roughly chronological one. Enjoy!
“On Top of the World” – Imagine Dragons
“Happy” – Pharrell Williams
“Everything Is Awesome” – Tegan and Sarah with the Lonely Island
In January, my contract gig became a full-time job. So I was in a particularly happy place and a very good mood.
“Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You” – Stevie Nicks
Stevie made a couple cameos on the “Coven” season of American Horror Story, and performed this beautiful song.
“FALLINLOVE2NITE” – Prince with Zooey Deschanel
One of the odder sights this year was when the Purple One guest-starred on the post–Super Bowl episode of New Girl.
“Pompeii” – Bastille
“If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before.” Yup.
“(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” – Cee Lo Green
“Simple Song” – The Shins
“Hero” – Family of the Year
Three songs from movie trailers: Cee Lo Green’s excellent version of a Buddy Holly song was used for The Boxtrolls, the Shins were used to promote Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here (natch), and “Hero” was used in the trailer for Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (and the excellent movie itself). Incidentally, while Braff’s movie was underwhelming, the soundtrack didn’t disappoint; Jump (Little Children)’s “Mexico” became one of my favorite songs of the year the second it was used in a scene where the cast drives up PCH.
“Rockstar” – A Great Big World
If Ben Folds and Robert Lopez (Frozen) made an album together, I suspect it might sound a bit like the one A Great Big World put out this year. “Rockstar” is a song I listened to more than any other, thanks to lyrics like this one: “We’re all getting older wishing we were young.”
“Tell the World” – Eric Hutchinson
As Hutch told the Wall Street Journal back in January, “This song is kind of a jab at how no moment is safe from being shared with the whole world anymore. But it’s also about wanting to share the best things in life with everybody you know.”
“XO” – John Mayer
I wasn’t much of a fan of Beyoncé’s most recent album, but this John Mayer cover of her song is pretty great.
“Ain’t It Fun” – Paramore
Singer Hayley Williams explained in a blog post that this song “has everything to do with accepting at some point in your life that the world is not your very own Truman Show.” It’s a message many folks needed to hear, conveyed in an earwormy kind of way.
“When I Get Famous” – Jamie Cullum
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Jamie Cullum with Gregory Porter
Seeing Jamie live in June was a highlight of the year, but then he surprised us with another album and the promise of a Boston tour stop in February 2015. Sweet! But also, his cover of the latter song, which includes the line, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood” really resonated with me this year.
“Love Never Felt So Good” – Michael Jackson with Justin Timberlake
Songs and albums by dead singers are always a dicey proposition, especially when unfinished solo songs are turned into duets after the fact. But this track off MJ’s Xscape was a more than pleasant surprise that had me thinking I’d love to hear an entire album of MJ/JT duets.
“You Don’t Need to Love Me” – Anthony Rapp
Yes, If/Then is Idina Menzel’s show (co-written by my high school classmate, Tom Kitt). And in songs like “Always Starting Over,” she reminds us why she’s such a powerhouse talent. But this heartbreaking song is one that hit me right in the gut.
“City of Angels” – Thirty Seconds to Mars
“I Love L.A.” – Randy Newman
My trip to Los Angeles in June, during which I celebrated my 40th birthday, was the perfect getaway at the perfect time. Such a great trip.
“Where the Boat Leaves From” – Zac Brown Band
While I was in L.A., my friend John took me on a boat ride, inspiring me to listen to this song a few times. But more importantly, one of the takeaways of 2014 is that I really need to listen to more of ZBB. They’re a very cool band.
“Lost Stars” – Adam Levine
Begin Again was a bit of a disappointment, but this song managed to transcend the film and be one of the best original songs from a movie this year.
“3 Things” – Jason Mraz
Mr. Positive Attitude himself says if you’re going through a tough time, know that “above the clouds, the sun is shining.” Just follow his simple advice and you’ll agree that “things are looking up.”
“I Know I’m Not the Only One” – Sam Smith
I may be the only one to think so, but Sam Smith was the most overrated singer of the past year. “Stay with Me” grew more tired with every spin. And yet, this heartbreaker of a song broke through with me. Maybe it was the video, in which Chris Messina played Dianna Agron’s cheating husband.
“7:30 AM” – Slothrust
“Go” – Valley Lodge
These songs served as the themes for two of my favorite TV shows of 2014, You’re the Worst and Last Week with John Oliver.
“The Auld Triangle” (Live) – The Swell Season
I heard Glen Hansard sing this song live a couple times this year online or on TV and really enjoyed it every time. It’s a goal of mine to be in the audience the next time he does it in Boston.
“Please Leave a Light on When You Go” – fun.
“Rollercoaster” – Bleachers
Why has it been so long since fun. released an album? This track from Beck Song Reader was a nice tease, but I want more. And no, Jack Antonoff’s side project, Bleachers, doesn’t count.
“Word Crimes” – “Weird Al” Yankovic
The grammar nerd in me loved Weird Al’s parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Genius.
“Birthday” – Katy Perry
“Act My Age” – Hoodie Allen
Did I really turn 40 this year? Hoodie’s song kinda nails my attitude about that.
“We Are Here” – Alicia Keys
Not one of Alicia’s best songs, but a worthwhile one given all that’s gone on this year.
“My Eyes” – Blake Shelton with Gwen Sebastian
“Jealous” (remix) – Nick Jonas with Tinashe
Two of the sexiest songs to come out in 2014.
“The Man” – Aloe Blacc
“i” – Kendrick Lamar
Two ego-boosting songs about self-confidence. Kendrick’s song includes this memorable lyric about dealing with and ignoring criticism: “Peace to fashion police, I wear my heart on my sleeve, let the runway start.”
“Never Been Better” – Olly Murs
Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I was able to hear and grow attached to this song, even though it’s not scheduled to be released in the U.S. till early 2015. Suffice it to say, it summed up my end-of-the-year mindset really well.
“Caravan” – John Wasson
“El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” – Simon and Garfunkel
Two songs from two of my favorite movies: “Caravan” closes out Whiplash in thrilling fashion. Listening to it is great, but watching it be performed in the movie were 10 of the best minutes of the year. And “El Condor Pasa” serves as a de facto theme for the Reese Witherspoon flick Wild.
“Bang Your Drum” – Dead Man Fall
One of my regrets these past 10 years was not watching Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show more often. This song, featured in Craig’s final episode, was a great, off-beat discovery. Just like he was.
“How I Got to Memphis” – Bobby Bare
I was introduced to this country classic during the series finale of The Newsroom. (Full disclosure: It’s the Tom T. Hall version in the episode, before Jeff Daniels et al play it later on.) As the character Charlie Skinner explains, “Memphis is a stand-in for wherever you are right now. It really means that’s how I got here.” Kind of a perfect song to end the year on.
“A Life That’s Good” – Lennon & Maisy Stella
Even though I listened to this song all year long, I put it at the end of this playlist because it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard about perspective, and appreciating that “I already have more than I should.” In 2014, I was happy and busy and getting myself back to what I considered “normal” after a more challenging time, but this song reminded me quite often that I really did have it pretty good all along.
And that’s not all. My 2014 playlist also includes tracks by Ryan Adams, Mary J. Blige, Coldplay, Haim, Lily Allen, Ray LaMontagne, and others. Listen for yourself.
What songs are on YOUR 2014 soundtrack?
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