The Five Best Songs Of The Past Year
...according to my 8-month-old daughter.
The Grammys are coming up, and in honor of music’s self-proclaimed biggest night, I figured I’d share the top five songs of the year—according to Riley, my eight-month-old daughter. The catch is that none of these songs were actually released in the past year.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: The Grammys celebrate the best new music, so a temporally-agnostic list doesn’t really fit the theme of an awards ceremony. Right?
Well, not necessarily, given the vagaries of the Grammy eligibility calendar. The two frontrunners for Song of the Year were actually released in late 2021: Adele’s “Easy On Me” and Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” The latter is a rerecorded extension of a song initially released in 2012! Riley and I are just keeping with the spirit of the Grammys. And besides, catalog is eating new music’s lunch—we’re merely reflecting that reality.
Our selection process for this list is pretty simple: my wife and I have been playing music for Riley basically nonstop since she was born. Conservatively, that’s thousands of different songs from among our personal favorites as well as the random tracks barfed up by Apple Music. Riley generally seems pleased by any sort of music, but some songs elicit particularly strong emotions.
I love the idea that this is happening, for maybe the only time in her life, without all the baggage of what sort of music one “should” like. There are no preconceived notions here, aside from what we (or our technological overlords) decide to play. So, without further ado, here are the songs that appear to have risen above the rest, at least in Riley’s so far unbiased opinion.
“Bangarang” by Skrillex
I first played this song for Riley one day while trying to perk her up for a pre-nap bite of solid food. And as soon as the drop hit, her eyes got as big as saucers. “Haaaaaa!” she exclaimed, before devouring the rest of her puree. Maybe there is a Grammy theme here after all: this bombastic track won the award for Best Dance Recording ten years ago.
“Big Spender” by Peggy Lee
This was the original blockbuster for Riley, one that clued us into the notion that music—and certain songs in particular—could be effective soothing devices. We realized this very early on, sometime last summer, when my wife cycled through a batch of tracks amid a squall of crying, and found that this venerable show tune had a deeply calming effect. It still does.
“Hotel California” by The Eagles
Kids are supposed to have short attention spans, but nothing mesmerizes Riley like this six-and-a-half-minute whopper. She likes losing herself in the lengthy intro and contemplating the spooky verses. But it might just be because she knows her favorite part is coming: the two-minute outro. As much as she seems to love the electric guitar solo, the drumbeats in between—which we punctuate with a “bum bum bum”—usually get the biggest smile.
“That’s Not My Name” by The Ting Tings
This British indie classic might be the most immediately effective song when it comes to rerouting a mood. And how could it not, with all the punchy drum hits, the peppy chorus and the quirky conversational asides (“Listen to me, ah no!”) If the Jackson 5 did bubblegum pop, this song is the musical equivalent of Pop Rocks—effervescent and delicious.
“X Gon’ Give It To Ya” by DMX
The late great rapper isn’t known for lullabies. But despite Riley’s initial skepticism at all the barking and growling and yelling at the beginning of this song, she lights up as soon as DMX launches into his vivacious verse. By the time he gets to the chorus, she’s grinning her big as-of-yet toothless grin. We may have to explore the radio edit options on this one (and others) soon, but for now it’s near the top of the list.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that Riley already seems to be a musical child—her mother and I met in a singing group, and all our lives revolve around music in one way or another. Whether it’s peppering Riley with tracks during the day or singing Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” every night before bed, we try to expose her to all sorts of different genres all the time. At daycare, there have been reports that she recently sang along to “I Want To Hold Your Hand”!
In the end, though, there’s a lot of projection and guesswork involved in an exercise like today’s. I’m most excited to see what Riley gravitates toward when she’s got millions of musical options at her own fingertips. And I can’t wait for the day when the tables turn, and Riley is the one recommending new music to me.
Zack O’Malley Greenburg is the author of five books, including the Jay-Z biography Empire State of Mind. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Forbes, where he served as senior editor of media & entertainment for a decade.
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