"I'm Not the Same Without You"
DONALD FAGEN
(Reprise)

Fagen's groovecentric piano is matched perfectly with jazzed up funk, a sophisticated horns chorus and Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica. Even without his partner-in-crime Walter Becker beside him, this track echoes everything lovable about Steely Dan. It's also a cool anthem for an X-Man: “ I'm evolving at a really astounding rate of speed/Into something way cooler, than what I was before.” » JMC

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"Little Black Submarines"
THE BLACK KEYS
(Nonesuch)

“Stairway to Heaven” similarities aside, The Black Keys have assembled a two-part song with classic rock dynamics. The first minute of the single broods along with heartbreak lyrics and acoustic accompaniment. It's dark, melancholy, and all-around chilly. After Dan Auerbach's voice fades, a distorted electric guitar picks up, a bass counts down, and Patrick Carney's drums introduce the electric tail side. Background vocals add a haunting harmony, and Auerbach's guitar solo fits like a glove. It's rock at its finest. » TL

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"We Are Young"
FUN.
(Feuled by Ramen/Atlantic)

Ubiquitous is the best way to describe Fun.'s breakout chart-topping hit “We Are Young.” Channeling aspects of classic rock a la Queen and championing youthful frivolity (“Tonight, we are young/Let's set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun”), “We Are Young” served as one of the year's most jubilant crossover hits. “We Are Young” brought the relatively unknown trio to the forefront of pop music, additionally giving collaborator Janelle Monáe an elevated musical presence. » BF

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"We Are Never Ever Getting Back
Together"

TAYLOR SWIFT
(Big Machine)

No need to turn to the latest gossip blogs to learn who Taylor Swift's kicking to the curb when she's perfectly detailing the dirt in her songs (also see “Dear John” or “Back to December”). But her “Never Ever” song – takes home the gold. Even when the chorus starts to rattle your brain with its pesky sing-a-long formula, it never shakes. Thanks to its contagious hook, “We Are Never Ever” is never taken serious, which explains why Swift's toughest critics hated it and loved it at the same time. » JMC

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"Sixteen Saltines"
JACK WHITE
(Third Man/Columbia)

After Jack White performed “Sixteen Saltines” on Saturday Night Live back in March, he managed to pique the public's interest yet again and garner some serious attention for his new album, Blunderbuss. The song is based around the image of a survivor at sea rationing food and thinking of what he has lost. It kicks off with the sort of infectious riff that come to be expected of White, and the music invites the listener to tap their feet as he starts calling out in that rough, ragged voice that revitalized garage rock. » TL

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"We Take Care of Our Own"
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
(Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen is a master of songwriting for the downtrodden and times of recession. Arguably album Wrecking Ball 's most notable and sincere song, “We Take Care of Our Own” embodies a stance of people aiding one another, putting aside partisanship and biases. A simple refrain sums it up: “We take care of our own, wherever this flag is flown/We take care of our own.” Easily one of 2012's most thoughtful records. » BF

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"Thinkin Bout You"
FRANK OCEAN
(Def Jam)

Both haunting and chilling despite a relatively simplistic and minimalist approach, “Thinkin Bout You” transcends genres and truly affects one upon initial listen. Frank Ocean's valedictory single from the equally compelling parent album Channel Orange is the epitomization of a balance between classic and modern soul. Ocean flaunts his refined, prodigious voice whether it be his rich lower register or his piercing, accurate falsetto on the refrain (“Or do you not think so far ahead?/Well I been thinkin' ‘bout forever”). Perfect songs are far and few between, but “Thinkin Bout You” comes pretty close. » BF

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"Call Me Maybe"
CARLY RAE JEPSEN
(604/Schoolboy/Interscope)

“Call Me Maybe” is the 2012's radio gem that everyone liked from the beginning, thanks to its bubblegum disco and teenage lyricism. It's also the song everyone hated, thanks to radio's trigger-happy playlist abuse. All in all, whether you love it or hate it – it will go down in history for being remembered. » JMC

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"Hold On"
ALABAMA SHAKES
(ATO)

Alabama Shakes is riding high on a wave of momentum this year, with primetime television appearances, a handful of Grammy nominations, and hit singles. They've played at the Isle of Wight and contributed music to film. Their biggest hit this this year, though, is undoubtedly “Hold On,” a soulful song of perseverance. Brittany Howard's voice is full and versatile. Her lyrics are perfect for that rough patch in life, and the music is equally uplifting. Even the strutting guitar riff has that “everything will be alright” attitude. It's no surprise that Rolling Stone recently declared the single to be the best song of 2012. » TL

“Hold On” – the opening tune aboard Alabama Shakes' debut album – is built around an obvious Creedence Clearwater Revival loop. For now this Southern rock template is well suited for their musical persona, but lead singer Brittany Howard completely steals the show with her Janis Joplin soul as she belts “you got to wait” as if it's her dying day. » JMC

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"Adorn"
MIGUEL
(RCA)

The relapse back to Marvin Gaye's 1982 electro-soul “Sexual Healing” is a good look on Miguel. If he didn't want the comparisons, he shouldn't have tried so hard. Thanks to the throbbing super bass and his best The Rock impression (“Ahh, le-le-le-let it just adorn you”), Miguel's foreplay couldn't just be concealed on the back burners of Quiet Storm playlists. » JMC

The lead single from Miguel's sophomore effort Kaleidoscope Dream, “Adorn” amalgamates sensibilities of classic, alternative, and modern R&B. A crossover smash on the pop charts in addition to being an urban staple, “Adorn” endorses both a sound and record that successfully propels R&B forward without compromising its fundamental identity. Equal parts chivalrous, sincere, and captivating, “Adorn” is amongst 2012's best songs regardless of genre. » BF

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« MORE [BEST OF] FEATURES »
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