It's what most pop artists strive to create; what every record company is dying to hear; and what can come to define a band, a sound and -- once in a while -- a generation: that one great song. Overall, 2010 was a banner year for terrific singles, which makes sense given that the death of music in a physical format would seem to render the entire notion of a complete album obsolete. And yet unlike 2009, the singles that stood out as being the most impressive this year also served as perfect representations of the full-length records from which they came; in other words, it wasn't just a good year for individual songs, it was a good year for music in general (provided you knew where to look). 2010 saw more than a few interesting trends: the return of dream-pop, the rise of neo-70s psychedelia, the refusal of auto-tune to just fucking die already, the slavish critical obsession with LCD Soundsystem, alternative/hip-hop pairings and "supergroups" -- it was tough to keep up.
But let's try to sort through it all, shall we? Bring on the 25 Best Singles of 2010.
25. Fences -- Girls with Accents
It's tough not to fall in love with a guy who sings in the chorus of the very first single from his very first album, "I'm fucking up, I'm fucking up, I'm fucking up everything," and that might be what makes Christopher Mansfield so undeniably charming. Fences is the alias of this Seattle-based singer-songwriter, and he makes it clear both in interviews and in the music itself that he threw every life experience he's ever had -- most of them apparently tragic -- at the studio wall during the recording of his debut. The result is as honest and strangely touching as it is revelatory. Maybe because we've all been there -- right where Mansfield was when he wrote this song -- at one time or another.
24. Anberlin -- Impossible
A perfectly crafted pop-rock anthem never goes out of style and the band that gets the award for cranking out the best one of the year, hands down, is the pride of Winter Haven, Florida: Anberlin. Sure they generally traffic in quasi-inspirational, Christian-influenced schlock, and they look like they're trying to single-handedly revive hair mousse as a fashion statement. But word has it the reason rock god Brendan O'Brien specifically sought out the band and asked if he could produce what would eventually become their 2010 mega-hit album, Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place, is that his daughter is a huge Anberlin fan. Just thank Christ she wasn't into Justin Bieber.
23. Best Coast -- Boyfriend
Between Beach House, the Wavves and Best Coast, you would've thought California wasn't going broke and in danger of sliding into the ocean this past year. All three bands cultivated a new kind of Cali surf sound, which was at turns layered and dreamy or frenzied and hyperkinetic. Of those three bands, though, only one released the kind of single that sluiced its way through your ear canal, wrapped snugly around your brain stem and stayed there. With its Spector-esque Wall of Sound production -- complete with fuzzy guitars and appropriately angelic harmonies -- and lyrics that read like a love letter to teenage longing, Bethany Cosentino and Best Coast managed to capture both innocence and the endless summer flawlessly.
Tomorrow: 22, 21 & 20