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Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2013

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13. Pusha T featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Nose-talgia"
A perfectly titled retro drug trip. Like Slim Charles said on the The Wire, "Yeah, now, well, the thing about the old days – they the old days."

14. Disclosure featuring Aluna George, "White Noise"
Disco heartbreak, as Aluna weeps over digital love gone bad. I've tried karaokeing this a few times but it just gives everybody too many feelings.

15. Sky Ferreira, "Omanko"
As Eddie Vedder could have sung (but didn't), the kids of today should defend themselves against the selfies. Sky goes for a typical overshare here, even though there's barely any lyrics – it's all in the paranoid ghost-rider shiver of her voice, as she talks dirty in Japanese. There's some graffiti in my neighborhood that says "When you dial madness, madness will pick up" and when I walk past it now, it reminds me of Sky.

16. Kacey Musgrave, "Follow Your Arrow"
Ralph Waldo Emerson in country-girl drag. Preach, sister: "Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're into."

17 & 18. Chance the Rapper, "Acid Rain" and Kurt Vile, "Wakin' On A Pretty Day"
The kind of morning when you crash on the couch and zone out to the saddest music you can find, which for both these guys seems to mean Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." Chance raps about his past ("I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses/And back when Mike Jackson was still Jesus") while Kurt just gets fried, but they both brood over their loved ones. And they both sound like they've been playing the hell out of Rumours.

19. Nick Cave, "Higgs Boson Blues"
An eight-minute guitar ramble, pondering death and the devil and Miley Cyrus. Back in March, when I first got obsessed with this song, the Miley namecheck sounded embarrasingly out of date. But then Bangerz happened and it turned out Nick was just a step ahead of the world, as he always is.

20. Lady Gaga, "Applause"
Things move fast in pop, unless you're behind Miley in the bathroom line, but Gaga keeps hanging in there. "Applause" remains the most crass and convincing thing she did all year. What is the sound of one Gaga clapping?

21. White Lung, "Blow It South"
Grunge, for lack of a better word. This could be a lost Hole demo from between Live Through This and Celebrity Skin, except scuzzier.

22. Selena Gomez, "Slow Down"
Breathe me in, breathe me out.

23. The Babies, "Baby"
A sad girl with an even sadder guitar sighs, "Baby baby, won't you come around," even though she knows he won't. The summer-1993 indie-pop vibe is uncannily precise – this does for Dillon Fence what Speedy Ortiz do for Velocity Girl, such a pointless achievement it's actually kind of cool. And as a John Waite fan I must admit his Babies never had a tune this good (though "Back On My Feet Again" was close).

24. Radiator Hospital, "Our Song"
Now that's how you write a break-up song. Sam Cook-Parrott says goodbye in his awesomely abrasive indie-boy squawk. (More than one friend I've played this for has winced in pain at the first three seconds – that's high praise in my book.) "When you call your mom back, tell her that I'm the one leaving" might be the funniest line in any break-up song of the post-Taylor Swift era.

25. David Bowie, "Where Are We Now?"
October 1: I'm on the road in New Haven, Connecticut, on my book tour, taking a late-night walk by myself, when I pass a dive bar with a flier for a tribute group called Wham Bam Bowie Band. They're playing Ziggy Stardust all the way through. So of course I pop in for a song or two. Do all 16 of us paying customers sing along, right to the end of Side Two? Does the band speak in English accents even though they're from Asheville, North Carolina? Does the lady at the next table keep yelling for "Width of a Circle"? Yesses all around. Then for the encore, the singer says, "Some of you may know David Bowie released an album this year. We'd like to do a song from the new one," and my gut reaction is, Oh noooo. Cover bands never do songs from the new album, even good ones – that's the first rule. Buzzkill. But they begin "Where Are We Now?" and I'm shocked when nobody leaves. We can all fake the chorus, at least the second time around. I belt "Where Are We Now?" with 16 strangers I'll never see again. It's one of the most ridiculously happy moments in my life as a Bowie fan. Then the band plays "Rebel Rebel" and that's cool too. Months later I'm still trying to figure out that moment. So where are we now? When you know, you know. As long as there's me. As long as there's you. Uh huh, honey.

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Song Stories

“Vans”

The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

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