WBEZ staff share their favorite songs of 2011

December 16, 2011

Download Story

While other media outlets fuss over ranking the best music released in 2011, we prefer to take a more democratic approach to marking the end of the year.

Each year we ask everyone who works at Chicago Public Media to choose the one song that signifies the previous twelve months to them. There's no requirement that it was released in the past year or that it has anything to do with Chicago. We get selections from all corners of the station, from interns to executives, then choose 15 tracks to create a well-rounded representation of the year.

With around 150 people working here, the staff selections can also serve as a non-scientific survey music listening habits. One surprising result was that no artist was chosen more than once. There also were very few selections that actually showed up on any sort of charts this year. Both of these things could be evidence of the "nichification of music." as chart-topping albums now sell a fraction of what they once did. For more on this phenomenon check out Sound Opinions host Greg Kot's book Ripped.

Staffers chose songs for a wide variety of reasons, too. A few noted exceptional musicianship. Some chose their personal "pump-up" song. Others were more concerned with historical significance and remembering lost loved ones in song. One unfortunate colleague was even the victim of a year-long earworm, which he attempts to spread to you, the listener.

Without further ado, here's what was playing in WBEZ's headphones this year when we weren't producing radio.

(For the 2010 staff mix, click here. For Jim DeRogatis' Top 40 albums of the year, click here)

Justin Kaufmann, Web editor - Song: Beyoncé "Countdown" Reason: "My son loves it and it cracks me up when he sings along to it."

Micki Maynard, Changing Gears - Song: The Sam Roberts Band "The Last Crusade" Reason: "It has smart lyrics, a driving 4/4 beat, hooks galore and sounds fantastic live. Sam and the band recorded Collider in Chicago."

Greg Kot, Sound Opinions & Chicago Tribune - Song: Eleventh Dream Day "Satellite" Reason: "Reminds me of early Pere Ubu."

Tony Sarabia, Radio M & midday host - Song: Tafo feat. Nahid Akhtar with Mehdi Hassan & A. Nayyar "Zambo Zambo" Reason: "This is a way out freaked out Lollywood gem from the 1970s. Think Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention meets Ennio Morricone with vocals akin to Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson in the heyday of the B-52s with a Latin/jungle feel. Now Dance!"

Annie Minoff, Sound Opinions production assistant - Song: X-Ray Spex "Oh Bondage Up Yours" Reason: "This was such a standout year for kickass female frontwomen/bands (Tune-Yards! Wild Flag!) but we also lost a great rock frontwoman in 2011 - Poly Styrene of British punk band X-Ray Spex. Her "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" (1977) is a screed against consumerism and sexism that makes you wanna dance! The intro is hilarious and perfect, and the sax, in my opinion, has never sounded this cool. She'll be missed."

Geary Yonker, Underwriting - Song: The War on Drugs "Come To The City" Reason: "A hopeful driving anthem complete with sweeping guitars, folksy lyrics and U2 - Unforgettable Fire era 'woo hoos!' A song for improving times."

Kristen McQueary, Statehouse reporter - Song: Pink "Raise Your Glass" Reason: "One of my husband’s best friends got married this year, and he was kind-of the last one to walk down the aisle. Whenever I hear this song – which the DJ played at least twice and is a great jogging song to me now – I think of this wedding where friends we’ve known for 20 years spent the weekend holed up in a downtown hotel, grinning and savoring every minute."

Joe Linstroth, Worldview producer - Song: George Jones "Choices" Reason: "I don’t usually like Country or Western, but a great friend died two days ago and the country legend, with his unfortunate coiffure, simply and poignantly nails it. This is likely too depressing for your list, but you asked."

Dulce Mora, Pritzker Fellow - Song: Los Sacios "Demolición" Reason: "Can’t believe I just discovered this band from Peru! A nice riff and driving beat with the lead singer loudly threatening to tear down the train station." 

Jennifer Brandel, CityRoom reporter - Song: St. Vincent "Cruel" Reason: "I'm a fan of contrast, and I can't get enough of Annie Clark's elegant and wistful voice paired with a scratchy guitar and laid over a disco backbeat. It lives squarely in that magic zone between slight discomfort and satisfying payoff."

Jim DeRogatis, Sound Opinions & WBEZ music blogger - Song: Kool and the Gang "She's Fresh" Reason: "It's an earworm that's cursed me all year!"

Alison Scholly, Chicago Public Media COO - Song: Peter Bjorn and John "Second Chance" Reason: "It's got a good beat and it's easy to dance to. Sounds good in the car."

Steve Oliveri, Web intern - Song: Bill Withers "Lovely Day" Reason: "Heard it on the 127 Hours soundtrack and have been hooked ever since."

Liz Bustamante, Master control engineer - Song: Battles "My Machines (featuring Gary Numan)" Reason: "It brought Gary Numan out of retirement and combines everything I love about hard-hitting rock with everything I love about electronic and dance music."

Andrew Gill, Web producer - Song: David Bazan "Don't Change" Reason: "It rides the 90s nostalgia wave with a heaping dose of self-loathing and a catchy melody."

Molly Adams, Vocalo's The Morning AMp - Song: Killer Mike "Ric Flair" Reason: "You forgot about The Nature Boy, and now you are so glad that you've been reminded! Non-stop, ridiculous, over-the-top braggadocio makes for the ultimate pump up song that is the most played in my library."

Steve Oliveri provided production assistance for this piece.