50 Best Songs of 2012 – Rolling Stone
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50 Best Songs of 2012

Taylor made weapons-grade teen pop; Kanye put his brain on cruise-control, dubstep kingpins and stadium rockers invited us all to their parties

50 best songs 2012

Taylor Swift made weapons-grade teen pop; Kanye West put his brain on cruise-control, dubstep kingpins and stadium rockers invited us all to their parties


Contributors: Jon Dolan, David Fricke, Andy Greene, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, Jody Rosen, Rob Sheffield, Rob Tannenbaum, Simon Vozick-Levinson

carly rae jepsen

Vanessa Heins


Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘Call Me Maybe’

The last thing we expected from 2012 – a universal pop song that everybody loved. It has it all: disco guitar, Chic bass, Philly soul-synth strings and brilliant testifying to the power of overheated hormones.

kacey musgraves

Courtesy of UMusic


Kacey Musgraves, ‘Merry Go Round’

The debut single from country Next Big Thing Musgraves is a bleak-but-clever take on small-town inertia and ennui. This merry-go-round is no carnival ride, but the tune is gorgeous.


Roger Kisby/Getty Images


Deadmau5, ‘The Veldt’

“Happy life with the machines scattered around the room,” croons Chris James, wryly praising the “digital family” while the robot-rodent EDM kingpin Deadmau5 twists knobs. Mau5 found James on Twitter, making this likely the first charting single built from crowd-sourced lyrics and vocals. It probably won’t be the last.


Jason Arthurs


Superchunk, ‘This Summer’

The beloved North Carolina indie-rock veterans make a break for the bridge after raiding the fridge and bust out a shot of school’s-out, storm-the-beach teenage fun – a perfect mess of sand-in-your-Converse good times, good-looking shoulders and well-honed guitar heat that can rip through your SPF-50.

maroon 5

Courtesy of Universal Music Group


Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa, ‘Payphone’

Payphone – really? Did Adam Levine’s iPhone battery drain? The title may have confused a few kids, but the song was a smash, and for good reason. A burst of pure spun-sugar pop goodness, with delicious hooks and a surprisingly sour message beneath the candied surface: “One more fucking love song, I’ll be sick.”

justin bieber

Darren Tieste/CPi


Justin Bieber, ‘Die in Your Arms’

Bieber’s best weapon has always been his vocal tone – a soulful rasp that hints at depths of longing beyond his years. That tone is deployed to wondrous effect in this throwback blue-eyed R&B single, whose vibe, and lilting melody, are pure prime-period Hall & Oates. Bieber’s manager called it “hater-proof.” He’s right.

the wanted

Lee Strickland


The Wanted, ‘Glad You Came’

Naughty boys! Irish-English teen-poppers push at the genre’s PG-13 rating with a club-bumper that dares to raise the specter of under age inebriation (“Hand you another drink/Drink it if you can”). The unshakably catchy chorus does its work, as do the blunt 4/4 beats – and the salacious double-entendre in the title.


Courtesy of True Panther


Tanlines, ‘All of Me’

The excellent Brooklyn indie duo titled its full-length debut Mixed Emotions, and that’s what the album’s signature song delivered, driven home by singer Eric Emm’s mournful yelp. The music takes Eighties dance pop through some witty turns, from the chant-like background vocals to a “steel drum” synth solo.

the 2 bears

Courtesy of Girlie Action


The 2 Bears, ‘Bear Hug’

This club-centric side project with Joe Goddard of U.K. electro-pop wizards Hot Chip and buddy Raf Rundell is a celebration of full-body contact and cheesy disco lyrics. "We've brought you all a gift/For maximum dance-floor uplift," they chant over an irresistibly rubbery house groove. Thanks, bros.

danny brown

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images


Danny Brown, ‘Grown Up’

Brown exults with delicious self-satisfaction in his transformation from least-likely-to-succeed to Detroit’s top rap hope since Eminem: “Scribbled in my notebook and never did homework/Low attention span/Guess these Adderall worked.” Spiced with old-school scratching, it’s the year’s sunniest hip-hop nostalgia trip.

craig finn

Mark Seliger


Craig Finn, ‘Rented Room’

The Hold Steady frontman spins a tale about a down-and-out metalhead stuck in a cheap motel after a nasty breakup: “Playing records in a rented room/Hotter Than Hell into Bark at the Moon.” But the darkest part of this very dark story is the way Finn makes his guitar toll like a funeral bell.

dwight yoakam

Randee St. Nicholas


Dwight Yoakam, ‘A Heart Like Mine’

For his first album of originals in seven years, trad-country torchbearer Yoakam had the inspired idea to call on Beck to produce a couple of tracks. The result, in “A Heart Like Mine,” hits you like a linebacker – a ringing, clattering blend of Buck Owens-style California country and Sixties garage psychedelia.


Courtesy of The Windish Agency


Teen, ‘Better’

Teen aren’t teens, actually – they’re four Brooklyn twentysomethings. But on “Better,” they’re adolescent in the best sense, with keyboards swirling over a muscular thump that gives the classicist girl group a low-fi makeover. And the chorus is pure youthful bravado: “I’ll do it better than anybody else.” Not much neo-girl pop does.


Gavin Bond


Muse, ‘Madness’

The U.K. prog-rockers went Kid A with this year’s The 2nd Law, but this was the LP’s pop-ready cherry – all sweet Bonoish crooning by Matt Bellamy, electronically distressed backing vocals and deep-space bass wobble. Then the guitar rips in and brings it back to Earth. Chris Martin called it their best song ever; we agree.


Roger Kisby/Getty Images


Himanshu, ‘Womyn’

Heems of Das Racist drops the year's most likable doofy love song, reeling o absurd science regarding the fairer sex over Bollywood boom-bap: "Women like to watch You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks/Women you're great; on behalf of men, 'Thanks!'" Foolishness, like most dude talk about women. But wise foolishness.

icona pop

Courtesy of The Windish Agency


Icona Pop, ‘I Love It’

The Euro-slut club jam of the summer never fails to get the drink-spillingest ladies out on the floor. Two Swedish synth-pop girls pout about their mean boyfriend: “You’re so damn hard to please/We gotta kill this switch/You’re from the Seventies/But I’m a Nineties bitch.” Advantage: Nineties bitches.

kendrick lamar

Dan Monick


Kendrick Lamar, ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’

The breakout rapper of the year delivers a woozy meditation on boozing that nails a drunk’s inner conflict: The slow-motion and hyperspeed verses mirror the arc of a bender, and there’s a liquid seductiveness in the groove, flow and chorus. In other words, ironically or not, it’s a fine drinking song.


Timothy Saccenti


Miguel, ‘Adorn’

Now this is some single-payer sexual healing. The R&B stud croons a baby-making slow jam that sounds up-to-the-minute fresh yet steeped in soul tradition. Miguel might be new on the block, but he already comes on like a master, right down to the way he lets his tongue linger over that “ll-l-let you” hook.

bruce springsteen

Courtesy of Sony Music


Bruce Springsteen, ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’

A huge, double-edged anthem that sounds like jingoism until you listen closer, when it reveals itself as both critique and challenge. “From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/There ain’t no help, the cavalry stayed home,” Springsteen declares, invoking Katrina, preaching to both the choir and the unconverted.

low cut connie

Courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity


Low Cut Connie, ‘Boozophilia’

Old-fashioned, piano-slapping rock & roll with a drunk-ass punk-rock spirit – like Jerry Lee Lewis if he'd had his first religious experience at a Replacements show. You can practically smell the Yuengling coming off this skunky, slippery ode to lowbrow kicks from Philly to the South Side of Chicago.

beach boys

Jakubaszek/Redferns via Getty Images


The Beach Boys, ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’

The Beach Boys come back for one more hit of sun-baked nostalgia, with a hymn to a deity who sounds something like Phil Spector: “He waved his hand, gave us rock & roll/The soundtrack of falling in love.” Those Sistine-ceiling harmonies just might make you a believer.

grizzly bear

Anne-Helene Lebrun / Redferns via Getty Images


Grizzly Bear, ‘Yet Again’

This rocker condenses everything that makes these Brooklyn guys great into five taut minutes. Lead singer Ed Droste’s tender tenor shines on what might be his most eloquently yearning melody yet, playing off the rest of the band’s restless electricity – then the whole thing explodes in a richly cathartic feedback freakout.


Courtesy of The Windish Agency


Grimes, ‘Oblivion’

On her breakthrough single, electro-pop savant Claire Boucher drops sugar-dust vocals over a thwunking synth loop, sounding perfectly dreamy until you listen to the words: “I never walk alone after dark. . . . /Someone could break your neck/Coming up behind you and you’d never have a clue.” The catchiness only makes it creepier.

A$AP Rocky

Brock Fetch


A$AP Rocky, ‘Goldie’

Rapped with a wink, the year’s best sex’n’drugs’n’luxury-goods bragfest makes magic in the details – the wicked metalsmith groove, the punch-line non sequiturs (“Got a condo out in space/Open up your legs, tell me how it taste”), the way his voice pops up a couple octaves on the word “dick.” A new master of style.