Having already written so much about albums, I’m counting down my favorite songs of the decade instead. Thanks to downloading and streaming, I’m more inclined to obsess over individual tracks—I still love and seek out albums, but often, a great single or track is simply more accessible and immediate. Here are fifty from the past ten years, ten at a time. Roughly one-third come from my favorite albums of the decade—I wasn’t going to include any crossovers, but then I’d be overlooking some really good songs.
50. Lake Street Dive, “Bad Self Portraits”
This bluesy but warm serving of self-deprecation comes from a quartet of former Berklee students whose vocalist could be a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Fiona Apple, with lyrics nearly as clever as the latter’s.
49. Natalie Prass, “The Fire”
An angelic-voiced chanteuse in the Dusty/Dionne mold, Prass nonetheless refuses to be pigeonholed: this track (among others) from her second album, The Future and The Past recalls highly buffed, late ’80s pop-funk but fully translates it for the here and now.
48. Guster, “Architects & Engineers”
When they lay off the goofiness, these Adult Alternative radio mainstays approach the soaring, melody-rich power pop and smarts of Fountains of Wayne (who’ve been inactive for most of the decade.) The wordless chorus here is aces.
47. Roisin Murphy, “Narcissus”
She’s put out so many divine stand-alone singles since returning from exile mid-decade; this most recent release might be the best of ‘em, a full-blown, Donna Summer-worthy disco epic with Murphy imploring, “Be in love, be in love, be in love with me.” Only the Gloomiest Gus would dare resist her.
46. Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
Speaking of disco, it feels like such a logical step for this difficult-to-classify artist, but admit it—did you ever think she’d actually put out a song like this? As with nearly everything else on her applauded, Grammy-winning album Golden Hour, it’s both a summation and an act of liberation.
45. Years & Years, “Shine”
Both nuanced and assured, Olly Alexander’s best song to date also manages to scratch that ridiculously catchy teen-pop sweet spot, and somehow does it with synths nearly straight out of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”.
44. Washed Out, “All I Know”
Portlandia theme aside, Ernest Green’s chillwave project peaked with this wonderful, neo-psychedelic pop song brimming with texture and layers of hooks but also a strong residue of 80s British guitar-rock—in particular, the moment you could almost dance to it.
43. The Decemberists, “Once In My Life”
Their recent ’80s-drenched phase can be hit-or-miss, but it’s pretty sublime on this good old fashioned anthem, which is melodic, airy and brimming with majestic flourishes. Who knew Colin Meloy could write such a perfect song for an imaginary John Hughes film?
42. Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
Like nearly everyone else, it was that infamous Letterman show appearance that made me fall for Samuel T. Herring and his synth-pop cohorts; dad-dance moves aside, it’s his mighty, primeval roar in conjunction with the key-change on the chorus that still makes me soon.
41. Janelle Monae feat. Deep Cotton, “57821”
As much as I love all of The ArchAndroid’s sideways twists and turns, this gently scintillating, uncommonly hushed, acoustic folk (like “Scarborough Fair” turned inside out) is what I return to most—naturally, there’s nothing else like it in Monae’s small but expansive catalog.