2. Civil Twilight -- Letters from the Sky
While it may be the only ballad that made the list of the 20 Best Singles of 2009, Letters from the Sky deservedly sits far above almost every other song on the countdown. Passionate, powerful and profoundly moving, the breakthrough single from South Africa's Civil Twilight was that rarest of songs: one whose urgency you could actually feel in your bones, that seemed to bleed raw emotion and which had the ability to stop you cold and nearly bring you to your knees at the notion that something could so perfectly express the simultaneous sense of hope and joy, and desperation and tragedy, that makes being in love a state of ironically terrifying grace. What's more, the rest of Civil Twilight's sophomore album, originally released as an independent, was equally excellent -- particularly the hauntingly beautiful Human. But it was Letters from the Sky that swelled and resonated with the kind of epic longing that kept it echoing in your heart for days after it had faded from your ears.
1. 30 Seconds to Mars -- Kings and Queens
In a year when there was little to be found worth being optimistic about, it's ironic -- or maybe it was simply necessary -- that the best single released by any band or artist was a soaring, dramatic full-on rock anthem. It's likely also not a coincidence that that anthem roared so loudly with revival-tent inspirationalism that it was easy to miss the fact that the song was basically, and fittingly, about the end of the world. 30 Seconds to Mars's Kings and Queens exploded out of your speakers in a wall of big, bold reverb and never let up, even when frontman Jared Leto brought the verses down to a near whisper. For the kind of song it was, it was the perfect song: an ambitious, walloping paean to U2 with just enough lofty symphonic pretentiousness to make you take it seriously but not so much that you laughed at the young band with the chutzpah to attempt it. Call it Where the Brats Have No Name. More than anything else, though, it was simply a really, really good pop-rock single -- heroic and hopeful, like a call to arms shouted from the top of a mountain, and chill-inducing in its youthful exuberance. Nothing else on 30 Seconds to Mars's 2009 album This is War even came close to matching its quality, but maybe that just added to the feeling that, in a very dark year, Kings and Queens was something special.
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 3. Phoenix -- 1901; 4. Silversun Pickups -- Panic Switch
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 5. Lady GaGa -- Bad Romance; 6. Alice in Chains -- Check My Brain
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 7. Spinnerette -- Baptized by Fire; 8. Deadmau5 & Kaskade -- I Remember
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother; 10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room
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