14. Blue October -- Dirt Room
Justin Furstenfeld has issues. The frenzied frontman for Blue October ended the year by having a near-mental breakdown that forced the band to cancel a large part of its American tour -- and one listen to the incendiary first single from Blue October's 2009, Steve Lillywhite-produced album Approaching Normal might help explain why. What makes Dirt Room so good may not be the song itself so much as its relation to the political and cultural climate it happened to be released into: While Furstenfeld claims that the song's vicious storyline was written with an old manager in mind, it could easily be translated as a revenge fantasy for anyone who's recently been laid off or found him or herself forced to struggle while the obscenely wealthy remain that way -- especially with a furious chorus like "you think you own me/you should've known me/you took the future and the food off my family's plate/you think you'll use me/I'm stronger than you/you take my money but it's useless when you see what I do to you." It was a powerful statement, and one that might've made Dirt Room, intentionally or not, the anthem of 2009.
13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake
A lot of bands from Central and Northern Europe are amusing because they seem to either A) be stuck in a perpetual time-loop that keeps them 20 years behind the rest of the civilized music world, or B) be a bizarre amalgam of styles and elements from various musical genres all pureed into one slightly cartoonish final product. How else to explain Black Metal -- or The Sounds? Hailing from Sweden, The Sounds have spent the past several years doing a slightly updated take on 80s new wave. Occasionally their penchant for unabashed nostalgia has translated into good music, occasionally not -- but the lead-off single from their 2009 album Crossing the Rubicon was entirely new territory for them: a song that leaped out of the speakers and grabbed you by the throat. Highlighted by frontwoman Maja Ivarsson -- who sports a Debbie Harry-meets-Farrah haircut and sings kind of like Dale Bozzio in her heyday -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake was immediately captivating and an all-around blast of a song: fiery, fierce and danceable as all hell. Unfortunately, there wasn't much else on the album that rose to its level of greatness, but as a one-off single it was tough to beat this year.
Tomorrow: 12 & 11
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist