When we began compiling our Best Songs of 2012 list, there were many differing opinions, and after briefly toying with the idea of pitting all our staff against one another in a Hunger Games fight-to-the-death scenario against the backdrop of Times Square, we conceded that the most diplomatic and least murderous thing to do would be to each submit our own list. You know, in the name of preserving a civil work environment and whatnot (not to mention our longstanding policy of avoiding contact with the human resources department). So while we didn’t battle it out in a conference room or some such nonsense, each one of us faced an internal battle — choosing our favorite songs of the year.
As far as consensus is concerned, there were 21 songs that appeared on multiple ballots, but only eight that appeared on three or more lists: Carly Rae Jepsen‘s “Call Me Maybe” (4 ballots), Frank Ocean‘s “Pyramids” (4 ballots), fun.‘s “We Are Young” (4 ballots), Gotye‘s “Somebody I Used To Know” (3 ballots), P!nk‘s “Just Give Me A Reason” (3 ballots), Usher‘s “Climax” (3 ballots), Azealia Banks‘ “212” (3 ballots), and Miguel‘s “Adorn” (3 ballots).
(Btw, before we get into this, we’d like to note that we put together the following Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure: VH1 Staffers Pick Their Favorite Songs Of 2012. It’s sequenced in alpha order by artist first name, so we wholeheartedly recommend you hit Shuffle while listening to this 92 track playlist. Now, on with the show…)
TEAM VH1 TUNER
- Rick Ross featuring Drake and French Montana, “Stay Schemin,'” Kanye and company’s “Mercy”, and Meek Mill’s “Amen” – Most of all because I am not sure I heard anything – voluntarily, or booming from every car, open window and crevasse in this city — so frequently in the past 365 days as I did these three, and all three still sound so huge and so good. But also because I am pretty sure “fanute da coop,” “CHURCH!” and that impending Fuzzy Jones hook will be treadmill-ing through my mind for the rest of my days.
- Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” – Something we could all agree on, even if with a shrug. And then Carly Rae Jepsen went and did what she really didn’t even have to: she made an album full of songs that are all nearly as good.
- Usher, “Climax” – With the help of world-wise super producer Diplo, Usher dials down the frequencies and up the patience to a totally tantalizing effect. And of course all the dark R&B from the Weeknd and Miguel and Jeremih, too, but it’s hard to compete with hearing a Top 40 kingpin gone weird – “Why do I care at all, AT, ATT ALLL, ATTTT ALLLLLL?” — like this.
- Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” – Everybody was trying dubstep this year, but few managed to wrangle the subwoofer wobble so effectively as Taylor did here. And as she tells it, this song’s now infamous bass drop was the result of a simple and heartfelt request: “At the end of the chorus I just want this to go crazy. I want it to be really chaotic; I want the bass line to do this, like [makes loud GUH GUH GUH sound].” Oh, ooh , she’s trouble.
- Cloud Nothings, “No Future/No Past” – This song indulged and then — several minutes of queasy wailing from Dylan Baldi and a crush of drum and guitar engineered by the great Steve Albini later — eased many a one of those days. It’s important to keep a song in rotation that can do this.
- Kendrick Lamar and Gunplay, “Cartoon & Cereal”
- Future, “Turn On The Lights” – There was little in music this year that had me so excited as Future’s voice, which decayed and distorted by autotune and flush with humanity – at the same damn time. Future’s got a knack for hooks, and a way with words: here, for example, we hear him searching in vain for the sort of girl “I wanna tell the world about you just so they can get jealous.” Aww? See these other surprisingly heartfelt jams I listened to and loved: “Truth Gonna Hurt You,” “Loveeeeeee Song” off of Rihanna’s Unapologetic, and Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa”
- M.I.A., “Bad Girls”/Nicki Minaj and Cassie, “The Boys” – Because the boys? Wouldn’t want to be one!
- Sky Ferreira, “Everything Is Embarassing” – “One” and “Redlips” were good fun, but Sky singing “You know I’m trying” with utter indifference while her rats nest of blonde hair falls into her face is so deeply satisfying because: 1. This is exactly what she needs to be doing; 2. It’s a sentiment we can all relate to, I’m sure; and, 3. Isn’t it beautiful?
- Ca$h Out, “Cashin’ Out” – Nothing so gleeful as the possibility of wearing an entire condo on your wrist, am I right?
Mark Graham, Managing Editor, VH1 Tuner (@unclegrambo)
1. Frank Ocean, “Pyramids” – Big sun coming strong through the motel blinds.
2. Gotye feat. Kimbra, “Somebody I Used To Know” – Now and then I think of when we were together.
3. Muse, “Madness” – I have finally seen the light, and I have finally realized what you need.
4. Miguel, “Adorn” – These lips can’t wait to taste your skin, and these eyes can’t wait to see your grin.
5. Jessie Ware, “Wildest Moments” – We could be the greatest, we could be the greatest.
6. Rihanna, “Diamonds” – Palms rise to the universe.
7. Ellie Goulding, “Anything Could Happen” – Cover your eyes so you don’t know the secret I’ve been trying to hide.
8. fun. featuring Janelle Monae, “We Are Young” – So, by the time the bar closes and you feel like falling down, I’ll carry you home.
9. Tegan and Sara, “Closer” – I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.
10. Taylor Swift, “All Too Well” – So casually cruel in the name of being honest.
Lacey Seidman, Associate Producer, VH1 Music (@lacezilla)
Calvin Harris ft. Florence Welch, “Sweet Nothing”
Frank Ocean, “Pyramids”
Pusha T, “Blocka”
Azealia Banks, “212”
French Montana ft. Rick Ross and Charlie Hustle, “Ballin’”
Santigold, “Freak Like Me”
Fun, “Some Nights”
Solange, “Losing You”
Lupe Fiasco, “Hands Up”
Jim Shearer, Host, VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown (@jimshearer)
1. fun. featuring Janelle Monae, “We Are Young” – Twenty years from now you’re going to hear this song and think it’s special. It’s also a great tune for video/photo montages.
2. Grouplove, “Tongue Tied” – Has a similar vibe to many of the singles released by the band’s 2012 peers, except less banjo and more unabashed energy in the gang-vocals.
3. Delta Rae, “Bottom Of The River” – Feels like a spiritual awakening every time I hear it. Most unique single of 2012, because of its brilliant use of a garbage can and chains.
4. Maroon 5, “One More Night” – Irresistible groove. The better the sound-system, the better it sounds.
5. Alex Clare, “Too Close” – Kinda played itself out by year’s end, but what a big, innovative single. Stretched the bounds of dubstep.
6. The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines” – The Keys’ “Stairway To Heaven.”
7. Green Day, “Let Yourself Go” – A slice of old-school Green Day, long before they started making musicals and concept albums.
8. Jack White, “Sixteen Saltines” – When he wants to, Jack White can rock his ass off.
9. Estelle, “The Life” – If not released as a single, it should’ve been. Think of this song as Lauryn Hill and Tinie Tempah hosting a hip-hop-meets-soul orgy.
10. The Diamond Light, “Three Days” – A gritty and smooth blues rocker from a rag-tag LA band.
Bené Viera, Writer, VH1 Tuner
- Nas ft. Amy Winehouse, “Cherry Wine” – Nas and Amy make fantastic music together that is both soothing to the soul and meaningful. Amy’s powerful bluesy vocals accompanying Nas’ top-notch lyricism is what musical greatness sounds like.
- French Montana ft. Rick Ross, Drake, Wayne, “Pop That” – The club anthem of the year. Period
- Meek Mill ft. Big Sean, “Burn”
- Brandy, “So Sick”
- Nas & Scarface, “Hip-Hop” – This is hip-hop at it’s highest level. There were very few verses this year that top both Scarface’s and Nas’. Here they show why they’ve remained relevant, even as elder statesmen.
- Big Sean, “Woke Up”
- Miguel, “Adorn”
- G.O.O.D. Music ft. Kanye West & R. Kelly, “To the World”
- Jessie Ware, “Night Light”
- Azealia Banks, “Jumanji”- You can’t deny the girl’s raw talent after listening to this track. Whether she’s imitating vintage Cam’ron or if it’s just the around the way girl from Harlem pouring her experiences onto wax, “Jumanji” was the track that made you salute her lyrical beastliness.
- Jessie Ware, “Wildest Moments” – I’d hate to call Jessie Ware the “Next Adele”, but that’s probably the case.
- Usher, “Climax” – Usher + Diplo = magic.
- Elle Varner, “Refill” – A song so unique, that only Elle Varner herself can affectively pull it off. Keep this one off the karaoke books.
- Icona Pop, “I Love It” – Party anthem of the year, “I Love It” is barely English and it doesn’t matter.
Miguel, “Adorn” – A song plucked from a free EP, lengthened and pushed forth into the world to become the year’s best R&B track.
- Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” – An addictive Song of the Summer that has strange staying power and viral potency beyond what any of us could have imagined.
- Ellie Goulding, “Anything Can Happen” – Ellie Goulding’s unique voice and powerful follow up to “Lights” is a summer song unlike “Call Me Maybe”, but equally addicting.
- Kitty Pryde, “OK Cupid” – No one knows quite yet what to do about Kitty Pryde, but no one can deny that the 19 year old rapper’s Tumblr-core debut EP is something special.
- Diplo, Nicki Da B, “Express Yourself” – Diplo hits again, this time lending his talents to New Orleans bounce artist Nicky Da B.
- Ke$ha, “Die Young” – It’s not like any of us didn’t know Ke$ha’s new album Warrior would lead with a song dedicated to continuing our country’s YOLO obsession.
VH1 STAFF PICKS
- Walk The Moon, “Iscariot” – We shot an Unplugged with these boys this year, and they f***in’ killed it. Really nice guys, and uber talented. They embraced the spirit of the series by playing on suitcases, cardboard boxes, a few floor toms, and sounded great doing it. “Iscariot” is like no other song on the their album. And it’s about Mr. Iscariot, or as his friends know him, Judas. (I can only assume, he was the original single-name-celeb of his time. Yes, just like Cher, but with different fishnets) Also, lets not forget that Harvey Keitel turned this tattletale into a red headed bad ass in The Last Temptation of Christ. (WATCH: Walk The Moon perform “Iscariot (MTV Unplugged)”)
- Rival Sons, “Get What’s Coming” & “Soul” – Ok, this was technically 2011, but since I work for VH1 Classic, I feel no shame adding this to the list. Unfortunately, this self titled album only contains six songs. Fortunately, all of them kick ass.
- Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife” – We popped her new album on in the van as we were headed over to Pennsyltucky to go shoot in an old sled factory on the hottest day of the summer. I blew all my per diem outfitting my staff & crew with horrible sunglasses, redneck hats, a trough of flavored ice coffee, a suicide knob for the van and some much needed jerky. After cooling off in a sprinkler, we made our way back into the rental, and continued West. This album was the stand out of the trip. That, and throwing my disgusting french vanilla coffee out of the window of the van at 80 miles an hour, only to have it come back into the back window and absolutely soak our camera man Kevin.
In other news, “Hot Knife” is a great song. I tried calling it a “headphone masterpiece”, but was quickly mocked by everyone in the van. (If I only had more coffee… F***ers)
- Dr. John, “Locked Down” – Amazing album produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Packed with amazing musicians, and seeping with voodoo. This album feels like a return to the Dr.’s Gris Gris roots.
- The Civil Wars, “Barton Hollow” – And finally, here’s another one that never got old in the edit. Huge sound for only two people and six strings. (And John Paul is a huge metalhead!) (WATCH: The Civil Wars perform “Barton Hollow (VH1 Unplugged)”)
David Donerlson, Production Assistant, VH1 Digital (@KoolKidDave)
1. Rihanna, “Diamonds”
2. FloRida, “I Cry”
3. fun. featuring Janelle Monae, “We Are Young”
4. Mumford & Sons, “I Will Wait”
5. Brandy, “Wildest Dreams”
6. Kanye West featuring Jay-Z and Big Sean, “Clique”
7. Miguel, “Adorn”
8. Neon Trees, “Everybody Talks”
9. Goyte, “Somebody That I Used To Know”
10. French Montana, “Pop That”
Sam Blake Hofstetter, Director Social Media, VH1 (@sbh)
1. Psy, “Gangnam Style” – I’ve been a fan since the YouTube clip had a minuscule 23 million views and no one knew how to pronounce Psy’s name or anything about him. Not only is the song awesomely catchy -despite being in another language- it’s the most creative, hypnotic music video in years. If Psy does not win ALL of the MTV VMAs this year I am filing a formal complaint with HR.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” – I don’t even hate myself for publicly writing this. There is no denying this song: you will sing it out loud and embarrass yourself. And as a man if the Interwebs I must respect the sheer virality it unleashed.
3. Anything off Nas’ Life is Good album – Nas made a new album, that’s all that needs to be said.
4. “Big Ang” rap – When much of your job centers around outlandish reality stars it’s a real treat when a character as BIG as Big Ang emerges. When she gets her own spinoff with custom rap and street art? -Bonus. Call me a company man, but I’ll be quoting these verses forever.
5. Watch The Throne – I know it came out in 2011. I’m not done with it yet.
Bernie Kaminski, Executive Producer, VH1 (@berniekaminski)
Mikal Cronin, “I Enjoy Being a Boy”
Thee Oh Sees, “Flood’s New Light”
Frank Ocean, “Pyramids”
Foxygen, “Make It Known”
Miguel, “Don’t Look Back”
Sharron Van Etten, “Serpents”
Perfume Genius, “Hood”
Solange, “Losing You”
Ty Segall, “There is No Tomorrow”
Jon Mallow, VP Shows & Events, VH1 (@jonmallow)
- fun., “Some Nights” – Best new artist contender fun. is really fun. And Nate is just fantastic. Wikipedia calls this track “power pop, afrobeat and folk”. That works for me.
- Nicki Minaj feat. 2 Chains, “Beez in the Trap” – The harder side of Nicki is the one I like. She can play pop princess all she wants but I’ll take a minimal beat and aggressive vocal over the fluff any day. 2 Chains brings it here too.
- Gotye feat. Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used to Know” – Peter Gabriel is back in the form of Gotye. I listened to this on repeat for two weeks when I first heard it.
- Ellie Goulding, “Lights” – It’s not even my favorite track on her record and it really came out a long time ago, but I’ll include it here as it had a life as a single in the US this year. Here’s hoping Guns and Horses has a second chance too.
- Azealia Banks, “212” – She’s dirty and loud and gorgeous and she’s bringing back a 90’s sound that I have loved all along. I can’t wait for Ms. Banks to release really original music – to date it’s mostly her rhyming over completely pre-existing tracks, but still there’s no question that the was the anthem of my year.
- Ke$ha, “Die Young” – She’s in on the joke and I just love her. This song delivers everything I love about her an more. Not too mention that any pop starlet who collaborates with Iggy Pop is cool with me.
- Frank Ocean, “Pyramids” – Amid the many, many pumping dance songs called “R&B” this year, Frank Ocean released a smooth, slower, haunting album. Pyramids is my favorite, but the whole album is great.
- Psy, “Gangnam Style” – It’s just a great song, and the fact that, thanks to YouTube, a guy singing in Korean made it to American radio is just awesome.
- Lana Del Rey, “Ride” – I gotta be honest and say that I don’t love the entire Lana Del Ray oeuvre. That said, she’s playing a character — that’s the point — and when she’s successful, she’s brilliant. For me, Video Games, Born to Die, and Ride really knock it out of the park.
- Pink feat Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me a Reason” – Ok so this totally was not a single in 2012 but whatever it’s my favorite song of the year. The perfect blend of a Pink song and a Fun song. If they perform at the Grammys, I really hope Nate does trapeze in a unitard.
Diana Mastrodomenico, Sr. Producer, VH1 Digital
Gyptian, “Hold You”
FloRida, “I Cry”
Ed Sheeran, “The A Team”
Joe Maziarski, Producer/Editor, VH1
1. Frank Ocean, “Pink Matter” – Frank Ocean chose this collaboration wisely.
2. JEFF the Brotherhood, “Mystic Portal II” – \m/
3. Titus Andronicus, “My Eating Disorder” – I could listen to the breakdown of this song on repeat for hours.
4. Kendrick Lamar, “Money Trees” – Ya Bishhh.
5. Japandroids, “The House that Heaven Built” – Gang (of 2) vocals!
6. Danny Brown, “Witit” – NSFW.
7. A$AP Rocky, “Wassup” – The video was released in 2012 so I’ll count it.
Jackie Milwich, Director, VH1 Music & Talent (@Jacks_18)
1. P!nk, “Just Give Me a Reason” – SO SO happy she had a new album this year. This song is “the song” from the new album.
2. Usher, “Scream” – One of my all time favorites and this song is still a recurrent on my Ipod.
3. Ed Sheeran, “The A-Team” – Another amazing YOK of the year. Love him.
4. The Lumineers, “Ho Hey” – My FAV YOK of the year, and still can’t stop listening to this song.
5. fun. “Some Nights” – LOVE them…one of my fav new bands of the year.
6. Calvin Harris featuring Florence Welch, “Sweet Nothing” – Fav song on my gym mix of the year.
7. Jason Mraz, “I Won’t Give Up” – This song and video just makes me tear a lil. Every time. Still. Don’t judge!
8. Walk The Moon, “Anna Sun” – One of my fav 2012 new bands (and an YOK). This song just reminds me of summer!
9. Delta Rae, “If I Loved You” – This song is just amazing. That is all.
10. Pitbull f/Chris Brown, “International Love” – Love me Mister 305!
Ambika Muttoo, Writer, VH1 Celebrity (@MissMuttoo)
1. Guy J, “Fixation” – Epic melody, epic breakdown … this track may fall under the genre ‘tech house’ but it’s so much more than that. I constantly have it in my headphones.
2. Ambivalent, “Iwato” – A long-time favourite artist, Ambivalent never disappoints. Iwato is one of the best, intelligent techno tracks I’ve heard in a while.
3. Nicolas Jaar, “Variations” – A perfect example of that Nicholas Jaar bluesy, deep, haunting signature.
4. Ash Roy, “Crack-a-lackin” – Incredible character, synthlines, percussion and a melody hook that really does hook you!
5. Hobo, “Not even looking” – Spooky, minimal, filled with depth and shadow, ‘Not even looking’ makes you stop in your tracks to listen.
6. Julian Jeweil, “The Gang” – This is one of the best dancefloor slammers I’ve heard in a long time. Fantastic big-room techno track.
7. Above & Beyond, “Small Moments Like These” – They made this track for a short film for their fans. It’s hopeful, soaring and inspiring. Fantastic piano work, too.
8. Maceo Plex, “Filthy Mama” – Appropriately filthy, appropriately deep, appropriately sexy … so very Maceo Plex.
9. Disclosure feat. Sam Smith, “Latch” – Disclosure are the next big things in dance music. And this track proves why. It’s heady with full-bodied vocals and a hundred percent groovy house.
10. The Lumineers, “Ho Hey” – Who doesn’t love a track that makes them feel loved and nostalgic and want to sing out aloud? This track by The Lumineers made me do just that.
Dan Sacher, SVP Digital, VH1 (@dansacher)
Icona Pop feat Charli XCX, “I Love It”
Cat Power, “Cherokee”
Nelly Furtado, “Big Hoops (Wideboys Remix)”
Alex Clare, “Too Close”
Azealia Banks, “212 (feat. Lazy Jay)”
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
Gossip, “Move In The Right Direction”
Of Monsters & Men, “Little Talks”
Ghost Beach, “Miracle”
Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t Rush (feat. Vince Gill)”
Jeremiah Silva, Manager, Music & Talent Relations + Music Producer, VH1 Big Morning Buzz Live (@JeremiahSilva13)
1. Scissor Sisters, “Let’s Have A Kiki”
2. fun. featuring Janelle Monae, “We Are Young”
3. Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
4. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
5. P!NK, “Just Give Me A Reason”
6. Emeli Sande, “Next To Me”
7. Mariah Carey, “Triumphant (Get ‘Em) (Vintage Throwback-Edit)”
8. Christina Aguilera, “Your Body”
9. Maroon 5, “Payphone”
10. Usher, “Scream”