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Garland Jeffreys on NPR Music’s 100 Favorite Songs Of 2011

December 14, 2011

This year, we couldn’t sit still. Shoving a flailing ear bud into place while running for the train, flitting through Spotify playlists from passionate fans of every genre or trying to top each other on turntable.fm—this is how we approach listening to music now. At an alarming rate it floods our inboxes, blogs and record stores, pervasive yet more accessible than ever. Under the deluge there are songs that stand out, beg for repeat listens and eventually settle seamlessly into our lives.

To round out the year, NPR Music put together a mix with 100 of these favorite songs. Our staffers came armed with lists of the tunes that shook them up this year—the truly excellent, the roughly beautiful, the daring. Consensus emerged on several (What else do BeyoncéPaul Simon and Blawan have in common?), while dark horse candidates stayed on the list by sheer force of love from one producer or another. It might sound jarring when a raging soca jam falls next to a haunting folk song, but that’s how the year sounded to us—funny, joyful, heavy and always surprising.

This year was all about blurring the lines between genres, which seemed inevitable in a field over-saturated with sub, and sub-sub-sub classifications of type. Pop and electronic dance music reveled in its long-overdue civil union, where Rihanna‘s #1 pop hit was steeped in bubblegum techno. Elsewhere on the musical map, composer Judd Greenstein’s charging melodies in “Change” represent dynamic new turf in indie classical, Lil Wayne sampled a song famously used in the movie Beetlejuice (when’s that YouTube mash-up coming out?) and Jill Scott‘s “All Cried Out Redux” was probably the only beat-boxed ragtime joint you heard all year.

And perhaps above all, artists in 2011 wanted you to dance. If you found your groove to Colombian DJ Geko Jones, or hustled in step with the JD Allen Trio, or emulated Nicki Minaj‘s booty bounce, new adventures in beats and rhythms were incredibly present and as expansive as ever. So whether you’d rather mosh to Darkest Era or grind upon your loved one to Raphael Saadiq, we hope this mix makes you move, in whatever way makes you feel the best.

There’s no way this list could include everything we liked, and it’s probable we’ve left off a song that meant something to you. We hope you’ll share your favorites of 2011 in the comments or tweet us @nprmusic.

Garland Jeffreys,  “Coney Island Winter”

The best Springsteen song the Boss didn’t write this year, by a still-powerful veteran of New York’s bohemian streets.