2014 has been an interesting and unique year for music. I’m not sure how well the songs will stand up against others in music history, but there has been an incredible variety. What seemed to strike me most were alternately creative EDM songs or ballads that aimed straight for the heart.
I am first and foremost a music fan. I look for songs and singers that are one-of-a-kind. A great hook or chorus will get under my skin fast. The latter explains the presence of the likes of the delightfully naughty Janoskians on my year end list, as well as fellow Aussies 5 Seconds of Summer, who had a million Twitter followers before breaking out in North America and proved their chops with great performances on some televised awards shows.
The performers I listened to most, and even saw in concert, were all Brits – Sam Smith, Jessie Ware, and Bright Light Bright Light. Other North American performers who were heard pretty much on record and have played some gigs but should break out in some way are Adam Tyler, Brandyn (Burnette), Mikky Ekko, Matthew Koma, Tristan Thompson, Nick Hagelin, and Travis Garland. Overseas, look to new voices such as the UK’s Harriet, Eurielle, Sam Dickinson, and James Poole (who hasn’t even released anything officially yet!) and Sweden’s Anton Ewald to make waves. And I was really impressed with the calibre of contestants on NBC’s “The Voice” in the past few seasons. Some of these singers have real futures ahead in the business.
A terrific production helps immensely. The Sam Smith and Jessie Ware albums are pretty much flawless in this department. FrankMusik dazzled us again with his By Nicole release. But there were other individual songs whose overall sound is impressive – the Aron Friedman house-y recreation of Adam Tyler’s “I Won’t Let You Go”, the tight mesh of pop and hip hop on “Get To Know You” by Corey Niles featuring Ish, the delicateness of Eurielle’s “Gold”, and the other worldly dubstep of “Love Space” and “The Day You Left” by San Diego’s Convulsic.
And we could not escape Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, the simple, old school R&B throwback which was the best selling song of the year everywhere.
So here’s a further recap of my Top 30 Songs of 2014. You can view the full list of my Top 75 Songs of 2014 right here. Onward to 2015!!
1 SAM SMITH “STAY WITH ME”
Stay With Me the release of Sam Smith’s album In The Lonely Hour by a few months. With its Gospel influences and genuine, passionate performance, the song immediately captured public attention and was soon all over social media, being covered by You Tubers and singers on TV shows like The Voice. Stay With Me is a belwether song for any male singer to try and match, and shows what a unique singer and presence Sam Smith has commanded during 2014, which will continue into 2015 much like Adele cast her spell over 2011 and 2012.
2 SAM SMITH “MONEY ON MY MIND”
Towards the end of 2013, I wrote that Sam Smith’s Money On My Mind was one of the first great records of 2014. Continuing on the dance tip from collaborations with Naughty Boy and Disclosure, Sam combines old school soul with a high-tek arrangement, as well as some great high register and falsetto work. Who would have thought back then… or what was to follow.
3 BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT “AN OPEN HEART”
Like in 2010, Bright Light Bright Light (Rod Thomas) has commanded my attention with his thoughtful electronic dance music, and for a second time ranks two songs in my Top 10 of the Year. I added An Open Heart to 2013’s list at #11 prematurely, the song endured for me well through January and only recently became the second single release from the album Life Is Easy. Bright Light Bright Light toured on two legs of Elton John’s tour, in both North America and Europe,and Elton even dueted with him on the single “I Wish We Were Leaving”. But An Open Heart with its larger than life lyrics has become one of my most favourite Bright Light Bright Light songs.
4 SAM SMITH “I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE”
Sam’s eloquent ways of singing about being lonely and unloved really struck a chord with people in 2014, including myself. His debut album In The Lonely Hour is hands down my favourite of 2014. I was able to watch Sam in performance at a small club date in Toronto for only $16!! And now the best seats for his shows are $100+
5 JESSIE WARE “SAY YOU LOVE ME”
UK singer Jessie Ware has one of the silkiest, gorgeous voices to arrive in pop music in years. In 2014 she released her second album Tough Love, and put on one of the finest, most intricate small club performances of the year here in Toronto. The big push for the album to start was on Say You Love Me, a song about words that anyone wants to hear from the one they love, but particularly women from men, who often don’t communicate our emotions. It’s a glorious vocal performance and Jessie is touring again in early 2015 so be sure to catch her show.
6 MARTIN GARRIX “ANIMALS”
So what made Animals by Martin Garrix stand out more than any other electronic instrumental of the last several years? It created a groundswell at raves and clubs, and then before you know it near the end of 2013 it reached #1 in the UK, and then #1 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart. Not bad for the then-17 year old who caught manager Scooter Braun’s attention. Since then it’s been a whirlwind for the young producer/DJ with the unique style as he collaborates with just about every other notable producer/DJ’s and performs on several huge concert bills. And it’s not going to stop just yet for Martin Garrix.
7 MIKKY EKKO “SMILE”
You already know Mikky from the Grammy-nominated Rihanna’s Stay, and “Smile” possesses one of the most unique vocal performances of 2014 along with a memorable storyline which you might think is downbeat but is actually quite a happy one that will leave you very content by the end of the song. Look for Mikky’s album Time in early 2015.
8 SHOWTEK & JUSTIN PRIME featuring MATTHEW KOMA “CANNONBALL (EARTHQUAKE)”
Cannonball (Earthquake) is what happens when two songs that truly belong together are mashed up. So we have European DJ’s Showtek & Justin Prime’s instrumental Cannonball mixed with US singer Matthew Koma’s Earthquake. The result is one of the most infectious electronic dance music singles of the year which ended up as a UK Top 30 hit.
9 HOUSE ROCKERZ, DAVIS REDFIELD & CARL MAN “ELECTRIFY THE NIGHT”
Electrify The Night by the collaboration of German DJ/producers House Rockerz and Davis Redfield, and UK vocalist Carl Man, is probably one of the most obscure songs I’ve ever placed in my Top 10 of any year. It was only released in Europe on a couple of electronica compilations. But the song itself is an inviting stunner, one that gets better with every listen, thanks to great songwriting pedigree from Charlie Mason and team, as well as a gem of a vocal by Carl Man.
10 BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT “I BELIEVE”
I Believe is Bright Light Bright Light’s happiest ;pop/dance single to date, from his sophomore album Life Is Easy, and it stands out as one of his finest songs so far. I adore the sad electronic dance songs always written from an interesting perspective but I Believe is simply joyous.
11 DISCLOSURE featuring SAM SMITH “LATCH”
Latch has an interesting history – it got to #11 in late 2012 in the UK. But it’s had long legs, especially after Sam Smith got to #1 in the UK in 2013 singing on Naughty Boy’s La La La. Both songs became belated hits in 2014 in North America hot on the heels of Sam’s solo success. Sam’s partnership with UK producers/songwriters/brothers Disclosure will endure though, as they were heavily involved in Mary J. Blige’s latest album The London Sessions.
12 TRISTAN THOMPSON “TIDAL WAVE”
He’s 16, Canadian, and has a silky developed voice that straddles styles of both Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Tristan Thompson’s debut single Tidal Wave captured a hybrid style of 80’s Hall & Oates blue-eyed soul meets 90’s heartthrobs like Backstreet Boys or 98 Degrees. With a fine debut album Here For You and a second single Burn Again receiving Canadian radio play, Tristan Thompson is off to a smashing start.
13 MARTIN GARRIX “PROXY”
Young Dutchman Martin Garrix gave away his song Proxy for free earlier in the year as a thank you for his success with his previous single Animals, and now appears on the EP Gold Skies. It’s another playful instrumental which helped establish is trap/EDM style on the DJ circuit.
14 ANTON EWALD featuring MEDINA “THIS COULD BE SOMETHING”
If there’s one record that would have you Oooh Ooohing and Ah Ahhing in 2014, it’s This Could Be Something, a slick duet between Swedish star Anton Ewald and Denmark’s Medina. It perhaps is the best song Katy Perry never got to record. The duo has a wonderful, sensual chemistry in the song, which nicely dances on the bridge between pop and electronica.
15 HARRIET “AFTERGLOW”
One of 2014’s best new arrivals is UK singer Harriet. Her warm, Karen Carpenter-meets-Rita Coolidge voice held my attention throughout the year, and particularly for several months until Afterglow saw official release in Harriet’s debut EP What’s Mine Is Yours in the summer. Afterglow is the best kind of lazy Sunday or classy dinner party music, produced by the reknown Steve Anderson of Kylie Minogue fame.
16 TRAVIS GARLAND “EASY”
Easy by Travis Garland is one of the stand out album tracks from Travis’ self-titled album. It’s essentially a Latin-flavoured disco song, quite different from the rest of his songs, and it’s easy to visualize shimmering lights glowing over beautiful people as they dance away the night. To me, anyway!
17 BRANDYN BURNETTE, “THANKS FOR NOTHING”
What can I say about L.A.-based singer Brandyn Burnette? His single for Warner Brothers, Thanks For Nothing, took a while to grow on me, but once that happened I was hooked on how he took a negative situation and turned it into a positive song with a great message. Brandyn is entering 2015 going by only his first name now as his upcoming solo album is on deck for early in the year. He’s posted a lot of new songs on Soundcloud, so be sure to check them out, and follow him on Twitter for wise posts from an old soul with a young mind.
18 ADAM TYLER “ELECTRIC VALENTINE”
Adam Tyler’s music has had frequent visits to the BILLCS Top 30 over the years. But my very favourite from him is now Electric Valentine. Adam started 2014 giving away this song for free, on Valentine’s Day of course, but the feel good vibe of the song took on a life of its own, and it ended up on his deluxe edition of Shattered Ice. There’s nary a song this year that will put you in a great mood like Electric Valentine.
19 AVICII featuring AUDRA MAE “ADDICTED TO YOU”
I can’t say I was a huge fan of Swedish DJ/producer Avicii’s mix of country music with dance music, which had already been done 20 years ago. So going deeper into his album True we find Addicted To You, immensely enhanced by a creative bluesy vocal by singer Audra Mae.
20 HANNIS “TIME HAS COME”
One of the most unusual but addictive songs of 2014 is Time Has Come by new Finnish singer Hannis. The singer’s lush europop vocals mesh well with an inventive, dub-steppy arrangement which makes it memorable for anyone who hears it.
21 NEVEREST, “TAKE COVER”
Take Cover by Toronto band Neverest started the year as a free download follow up to their BILLCS Top 30 2013 #1 Rewind. It’s an equally powerful and punchy rocking song that shows that this group can do when they are not writing stellar ballads.
22 SIRPAUL “EVERY SINGLE MOMENT”
New York dance club singer SIRPAUL has built a nation-wide reputation for creating original songs that are alternately romantic and touching, or mysterious and even a touch dirty when it comes to what goes down in the bedroom. From his album Seventh Star, Every Single Moment is dedicated to that special person you want to spend all of your time with.
23 ZEDD featuring MATTHEW KOMA & MIRIAM BRYANT “FIND YOU”
After previously collaborating on 2012’s #1 dance hit of the year “Spectrum”, Grammy-winning producer/DJ Zedd brings back go-to-guy Matthew Koma along with newcomer Miriam Bryant for more crossover emotional dance/pop with Find You. Zedd has remarkable magic with production, melody and vocalists.
24 JASON WALKER featuring BIMBO JONES “TELL IT TO MY HEART”
Jason Walker’s cover of Taylor Dayne’s Tell It To My Heart came right out of the blue with a powerhouse vocal performance that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. This NYC singer has already been to the top of the dance club play chart many times so it’s no surprise that Jason’s collaboration with UK DJ’s Bimbo Jones became yet another Top 10 dance hit for him.
25 EURIELLE, “GOLD”
Shrouded in mystery and an exotic, medieval sound, UK singer Eurielle revealed her EP The Incarnation, which included Gold, an update on renaissance-oriented song stylings brought into the pop world in the past by the likes of Enya and Loreena McKennitt.
26 ADAM TYLER “I WON’T LET YOU GO” (Aron Friedman remix)
I Won’t Let You Go was first released in 2011 and was in my Top 30 for that year too! But the house-inflected Aron Friedman remix gave the song new life again and it appears on Adam’s deluxe edition of the Shattered Ice album.
27 THE PRESETS “NO FUN”
Veteran Australian duo The Presets only released a few singles in 2014 to whet our taste for a full new album. No Fun was one of them, and fun it certainly is – a whole lot of inventive electronic wizardry that plays off of a more laid back vocal this time.
28 TRAVIS GARLAND “MOTEL POOL”
Carrying over from 2013 with his self-titled album, L.A.-based Travis Garland issued Motel Pool as its second single, a sexy and sizzling piece of R&B pop that continued to showcase the singer’s versatility and made his album one of the finest of 2013.
29 CONVULSIC “LOVE SPACE”
San Diego’s Erik Hale is also known as EDM/dubstep artist Convulsic, and he released a trio of cool songs in 2014, including Love Space. All of them actually bridge the dance and pop worlds much better than could be expected, which holds promise for new songs from Convulsic in 2015.
30 LITTLE MIX “LITTLE ME” (Steve Smart & Westfunk radio edit)
Little Mix is the all girl vocal quartet that won X-Factor in 2011, and of course went on to great success in the UK with several Top 10 placings. But it was a remix of their song Little Me that got my attention in 2014. The whirling frenzy of a remix by Steve Smart and Westfunk set the song to a new upbeat melody from its original downbeat mix which focused more on its thoughtful message for girls and young women. The combination of EDM remix and message gave “Little Me” an edge in 2014.