Critical faves Kings of Leon absolutely know their way around a dynamic rock anthem. Quiet vocals with building guitars give way to soaring, layered voices and multiple strings and aggressive rhythms. The music explodes a la U2, quiets down and bursts again. Every careful moment in this song (written by the bandmembers) is emotionally and technically dead-on. With multiple Grammy nominations (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal and Best Rock Song), the Kings are bound to go home with a statue or two.
Producers: Jacquire King and Angelo Petraglia. Engineer/Mixer: King.
“Halo,” Beyoncé; track from I Am...Sasha Fierce (Music World Music/Columbia)
Written by Ryan Tedder and Evan Bogart, the fourth single off of Beyonce’s smash album, I Am…Sasha Fierce, is an anthemic ballad, beautifully arranged with a strong groove and subtle instrumentation supporting Beyonce’s singular voice. With its themes equating the perfect love with a guardian angel whose embrace is his “Halo,” this song is a perfect match to Beyonce’s powerful, gospel-influenced vocals. Synthesized hand-claps give the track an edge and anchor it in the present day. Like any other self-respecting Beyonce single, this song is already multi-Platinum.
Producers: Beyoncé Knowles & Ryan Tedder. Engineer/Mixers: Jim Caruana, Mark "Spike" Stent and Ryan Tedder.
“I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas; track from The E.N.D. (Interscope)
Not to be mistaken for The Beatles’ classic, this uptempo dance tune (written by William Adams, Allen Pineda, Jaime Gomez, Stacy Ferguson and David Guetta Frédéric Riesterer) is a cheerful, infectious party song that plays out in a few different sound/parts, some more processed and beat-heavy; others more simply arranged around will.i.am’s vocal. There’s not a ton to this track lyrically, but there are couple of choice lines (“Fill up my cup/mazel-tov/Look at this/just take it off”) that up the entertainment value. “I Gotta Feeling” is all about an awesome party mood. This track will be everywhere for a long time.
Producers: David Guetta & Frédéric Riesterer. Engineer/Mixers: will.i.am, Dylan "3-D" Dresdow and Padraic "Padlock" Kerin.
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga; track from The Fame (Streamline/Interscope/Konlive/Cherrytree)
It’s worth noting that Lady Gaga has managed to shock and surprise pop music listeners in a time when you’d think we’ve seen it all. That’s because along with the costumes, glasses, wigs and robotic dance arrangements, Lady Gaga can actually sing, and she’s got the magnetism to put a song over whether she’s techno-partying (as in the video version of this dance song about gambling and sex) or playing the tortured torch singer as she did on the recent American Music Awards.
Producer: RedOne. Engineer/Mixers: Robert Orton, RedOne and Dave Russell.
“You Belong With Me,” Taylor Swift; track from Fearless (Big Machine Records)
Written by the young singer/songwriter with Liz Swift, “You Belong With Me” is, in a way, a perfect pop song. The theme of the song and the video supporting it depict a nerdy teenaged girl (suspend your disbelief) who wishes her popular-boy friend would notice she’s the one for him. With a bright, uptempo track and Swift’s pretty, multitracked voice, “You Belong With Me” is just what it should be. There’s nothing country about this supposedly country song, but there’s also no reason to split hairs; “You Belong With Me” does a great job of singing to its teen audience.
Producers: Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift. Engineer/Mixers: Chad Carlson and Justin Niebank.