The 40 Best Singles of 2011: From ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ to Pumped-Up ‘Super Bass’
How deep was our singles love in 2011? Even deeper than the depth of Adele's one-woman singles catalog—though any reasonable list of the year's impact songs would have to include "Someone Like You," "Rumour Has It," and "Rolling in the Deep."
But we found room for a few dozen other favorites on our playlist, too—from Beyonce to the Black Keys to Leonard Cohen to Trace Adkins to Fleet Foxes and all the way back to unofficial singles queen Rihanna. Go reelin' through the year with us as we offer our list of 2011's real top 40:
Adele: "Rolling in the Deep"
The single that broke Adele through from star to superstar really did feel deep, sonically—from the quiet guitar strumming that starts the tune to the insistent kick drum that ratchets up the tension 25 seconds in, then that "We could have had it all" wail that's immediately buttressed by chanted backup vocals that give our heroine the extra girl-power boost she needs to get through. "Turn my sorrow into treasured gold," indeed. Soul is back, baby!
A lot of pop songs this year, like Rihanna's "We Found Love," used mid-song electronic crescendos as a highly effective dance-floor gimmick. But "Countdown" was the rare tune to make a chorus out of a de-crescendo, and it was irresistible. Or was it? Beyonce's singles from the 4 album have met with diminishing returns, and amazingly, this one peaked at No. 71 on the Hot 100. Well, it's still tops, or close to it, in our countdown.
Jay-Z and Kanye West: "Murder to Excellence"
The best track from Watch the Throne is really two different songs mashed into one, and it's a concept album unto itself in a mere five minutes. The first half is about the culture of murder in the ghetto—"Is it genocide?" West asks—while the second half places the pair's much-celebrated egotism in context, as a point of pride not just for themselves, but their brethren. Making that leap is a wild conceit only these two could pull off.
Demi Lovato: "Unbroken"
The first single off Lovato's post-psychological-rehab album was the hyper-dramatic ballad "Skyscraper," which will go down in history if, for nothing else, precipitating a classic Simon Cowell/L.A. Reid dust-up. But the best tune off Unbroken was the more rhythmically compelling title track, wherein the newly repaired Demi vows, "I'm gonna love you like I've never been broken," sounding like someone who's found her power but still has a few barely glued-together cracks.
Ronnie Dunn: "Cost of Livin'"