NPR Music's 302 Favorite Songs Of 2014

Dec 12, 2014
Originally published on January 22, 2015 10:39 am

Traditionally, the folks at NPR Music make a list of their 100 favorite songs of the year. But this time, they expanded the list to 302 songs and made a really long mix tape.

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Every year the folks at NPR Music make a list of their 100 favorite songs of the year. But this time, they couldn't choose just 100. So they decided to expand it to 302 in the form of a digital mix tape.


CORNISH: That's right. We made you a mix tape, as many have before us.


JOHN CUSACK: (As Rob Gordon) Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art.


NOAH TAYLOR: (As Lloyd Tate) I made you a cassette recording


JESSE EISENBERG: (As James Brennan) Hey, I made you a tape. These are my favorite bummer songs. They are truly miserable, pit-of-despair type songs. I think you'll love.


DAN CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) My special mix tape will get you going.


JULIE KAVNER: (As Marge Simpson) (Snoring).

CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) Oh, no. That's Maggie's mix tape. Then Maggie must have gotten...


TOM JONES: (Singing) Sex bomb. Sex bomb. You're my sex bomb.

CORNISH: Those scenes from "The Simpsons" and the movies "Adventureland," "Submarine" and "High Fidelity." Unfortunately, our mix tape does not include Tom Jones. But NPR music editor Jacob Ganz joins us now to tell us what we can expect. Hey there, Jacob.


CORNISH: So how does this thing work?

GANZ: Well, basically what we wanted to do this year was take the songs list - that 100 songs that we love, that we fight over every year, that we, you know, have to cut dozens of songs from - and we basically decided, throw out the cutting things out. So we went to the wizards who help build amazing web things here at NPR. And they built us a player. And you can listen to all 302 songs on that player. If you hit shuffle, you can pick a genre and just listen to the songs that are in that genre. So if you like rock, you can just listen to rock. If you like classical or jazz or electronic music, you can pick one of those. Or you can pick a curator from within NPR Music or one of our member station partners and listen to a mix tape that they have made specifically that reflects their taste and their year.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned, this is actually a web app. It's called Songs We Love 2014. And when you get there, you can just hit play. And we're going to do that now. And you're going to walk me through some of the songs that you guys actually chose this year.

GANZ: Yeah.

CORNISH: And - let's see. Here we go.


JARINA DE MARCO: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: So this is by Jarina De Marco, and the song is called "El Venao?"

GANZ: Yeah. This is a good example of sort of how the genres overlap a little bit. This is a Latin song picked by the hosts of our show "Alt. Latino." But it also clearly has some rap elements. It has some electronic elements. Every once in a while something just really, really, like, completely takes you by surprise and hits. And it stays in your pocket, and you keep it, you know, for the rest of the year or the rest of your life.


DE MARCO: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: All right. I want to try one more.

GANZ: All right. On the edge of my seat.

CORNISH: I know this song.


IBEYI: (Singing) Come to your river. I will come to your river. I will come to your river.

CORNISH: So this is called "River." And it is by, I guess, Afro-Cuban women. And the group is called Ibeyi?

GANZ: Yeah. They're twins. I think they're 19 years old. This was their very first single ever. It's a really alluring, very kind of strange song.


IBEYI: (Singing) Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters.

GANZ: You can hear that sort of, like, weird, bouncy bass sound in the background and the two voices - which are very similar but have slight differences between them - singing in unison. They're going to put out a record next year.


IBEYI: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: Jacob, even though there are 302 songs on the list, I'm sure that you have some favorites. Is there any song you want to put a plug in for now that you loved in 2014?

GANZ: I loved a lot of songs from this list. There is one that I came to sort of late with a band called Hurray For The Riff Raff. And the song that we picked is called "The Body Electric." It's a response by the songwriter, Alynda Lee Segarra, to women being killed in songs and to the friends that she saw singing along with these songs and not really thinking about the fact that they were singing about the murder of women.


ALYNDA LEE SEGARRA: (Singing) And tell me what's a man with a rifle in his hand gonna to do for a world that's so sick and sad?

GANZ: This song is about sort of reclaiming the personhood of those women. And it's just an amazing, arresting political folk song.


SEGARRA: (Singing) Tell me what's a man with a rifle in his hand gonna do for his daughter when it's her turn to go?

CORNISH: Another thing about this list is you have all kinds of genres slammed up against each other in the experience. And one song that came up was Rick Ross "Sanctified."


RICK ROSS: (Singing) There's a few million angels moving around me. I just worship thee for all he's done for me.

GANZ: This song is by Rick Ross with Kanye West and Big Sean. Those are three of the biggest hip-hop stars in the world right now. The thing that I love about hip-hop sometimes is that it is just the clearest, fastest way to understand who a person is. And this song -each of the three rappers say, at some point, the exact same set of words. And you would not mistake them for each other for a second. Kanye sounds like Kanye. Big Sean sounds like Big Sean. Rick Ross sounds like this big, lumbering dude who is inexplicably romantic and kind of a weirdo. And the song is just, like, it's a pure blast.


KANYE WEST: (Singing) Past me? Thirty bottles champagne precession. That's that holy water, sanctified refreshments.

GANZ: That song was the very first song that this app played me when I hit play for the first time after it was finished. And it kind of made me feel like - yes. Perfect. That is a leadoff song right there.

CORNISH: You know, we're joking about this as a mix tape. But really, of course, this is a playlist, right? We're online. We're not in the mix tape days. But what are your personal rules for making a mix for someone you love, someone you like?

GANZ: The two rules for me are you have to care about the person that you're making it for and you have to want them to associate the music that you're putting on it with you. A mix tape mashes up things that you wouldn't expect with, you know, Rick Ross, with Hurray For The Riff Raff. And when you hear those two songs back to back, they change their meaning. They influence each other. When you hear them out in the world separated from that, you associate them with each other, and then you associate them with the person that made it for you. We really got that feeling while we were doing this that we were giving people the playlist the way that we actually wanted them to experience it. We wanted to people to be able to hear all of these songs. And we wanted them to be able hear them all next to each other in a big, sort of messy stew of music.

CORNISH: Well, Jacob Ganz, thank you so much for coming down and sharing this list with us. It was a lot of fun.

GANZ: It's my pleasure, Audie.


SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) Get up. Get down. Get up. Get down

CORNISH: That's Jacob Ganz of NPR Music. And if you want to hit shuffle or stream the entire list of Songs We Love For 2014, head over to


SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) I know my words will dry upon the skin just like a name I remember. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.