Steve Yanko’s Favourite Songs for 2014

What were your favourite songs that were released in 2014? So many great songs were released this year but I really loved the following list of songs. I never got bored to listening to them on the radio, playing them at gigs or teaching my students how to play these songs. Interestingly but not surprisingly many of these songs have a 1960s or retro vibe to them. Listen to the songs with an open mind and don’t judge them by the artist. Purely focus on the merits of the songs.

Only Love Can Hurt Like This – Performed by Paloma Faith
Writer: Dianne Warren

This is another gem from song writing legend Dianne Warren. I love everything about this song. The 1960s style pop arrangement (listen to the strings and brass), the beautiful melody and the soaring voice of Paloma Faith are all combined to produce an amazing song. The song keeps building from start to finish but listen to Paloma Faith’s voice when she goes up an octave. Absolutely brilliant performance!

Uptown Funk – Performed by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars
Writers: Mark Ronson, Jeff Bhasker, Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Devon Gallaspy & Nicholaus Williams

For people who love funk music this song is another great addition to the genre. For those people new to funk music…welcome to the club of funk lovers! This is a brilliant song. The intricate interplay between the bass guitar, horns and guitar is typical of funk classics. This will be a party anthem for many years to come. Great lyrics, vocals, music and energy in this song. If you like this song, go and listen to the music of Prince, The Time, James Brown and George Clinton and then you’ll hear the artists who influenced this song.

Blank Space – Performed by Taylor Swift
Writers: Taylor Swift, Max Martin & Shellback

This song has a very simple but effective arrangement based around synth pads, percussive instruments and drums. However, what makes this song special for me are Taylor Swift’s lyrics and vocals. For instance, listen to the vocal arrangement and harmonies in the Bridge. The 1st line in the bridge has 1 voice, 2nd line has 2 voices and continues until it builds into the crescendo in the 4th line. Even the vocal ad-libs in the ending choruses are fantastic. Every time I listen to this song I hear something new and that’s one of the reasons I love this song.

Shake It Off – Performed by Taylor Swift
Writers: Taylor Swift, Max Martin & Shellback

What I love about this song is the musical arrangement. Listen to how the song starts with a drum beat (similar to Toni Basil’s 1980’s classic, Mickey) a saxophone playing a bass part and the vocals. At the pre-chorus, an organ playing chords is added and a brass section adds more dynamics by playing the harmonies. The song is always building. Even the backing vocals arrangement adds depth to the song. Taylor Swift’s lyrics are positive, confident and fun. No wonder this song was a massive hit!

All About The Bass – Performed by Meghan Trainor
Writers: Meghan Trainor & Kevin Kadish

I loved it from the 1st time I heard this song. I wanted to know who the artist was because I knew they would have a No.1 hit with this song. This song is a great example of how 1950s & 1960s typical chord progressions and instrumentation (listen to the upright bass) combined with modern language works really well. Meghan Trainor has a strong voice but I really love the melody and vocal harmonies in this song, especially in the pre-chorus where sings “Yeah my Mamma she told me don’t worry about your size” etc.

Thinking Out Loud – Performed by Ed Sheeran
Writer: Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge

Ed Sheeran is a brilliant song writer but with this song he has written a song that forever will be played at weddings. While the lyrics are quite personal, for instance, there are references to his guitar playing, there are still enough universal lyrics for people to connect with this song. The music sounds great but I really love hearing a guitar solo in a modern song. Pay attention to the great vocal performance in the last chorus.

She Came To Give It To You – Usher featuring Nicki Minaj
Writers: Usher Raymond, Nicki Minaj & Pharrell Williams

I really like Usher’s voice in this song but what I love in this song is the arrangement. Listen carefully to how the bass guitar is driving this song. Also pay attention to how the falsetto background vocals (can you hear Pharrell Williams?) replace conventional instruments. The arrangement in this song is very similar to George Benson’s 1980 classic ‘Give Me The Night’ (produced by legend Quincy Jones). While I understand the commercial need to have Nicki Minaj do the rap, I would have preferred an instrumental solo in this song because the music is so good. Nevertheless, this is my favourite song by Usher.

Steal My Girl – One Direction
Writers: Wayne Hector, John Ryan, Julian Bunetta, Ed Drewett, Louis Tomlinson & Liam Payne

This songs begins with a wonderful and strong piano introduction that grabs you on the 1st listen. The melody of the verses is mainly made up of 2 notes and then there is the awesome anthem sounding like chorus. I really like the simple and honest lyrics in this song but I really love the sound of the music. Even though a couple of the guys from One Direction wrote this song, I believe anybody who released this song would have had a hit.

We Are Done – The Madden Brothers
Writers: Benji Madden & Joel Madden

The 1st time I heard this song I was driving and I couldn’t wait to get home to play it on guitar. While the vibe of the song is influenced by late 1960s American music, I loved how fresh the song sounded. The song’s simple guitar riff and melody in the verse work so well that you can’t wait to hear the chorus. When you get to the chorus you are not disappointed. The vocals go up an octave and the melody is strong and easy to remember. There are so many great parts to this song that you never get tired of listening to it.

Marilyn Monroe – Performed by Pharrell Williams
Writers: Pharrell Williams & Ann Marie Calhoun

This song did not get more radio airplay compared to Pharrell Williams’ monster hit ‘Happy’ but every time I heard this song I just loved it more and more. Listen to the drum groove and the pizzicato strings and you hear a great dance song. More refreshing is to hear a dance song with positive lyrics that aren’t just about partying. Hearing this song made me BUY Pharrell Williams’ album GIRL.

I’m looking forward to hearing more great music in 2015.

Happy New Year!


Steve Yanko

Steve Yanko is a Music Teacher, Musician, Song Writer & Consultant who loves working in the world of music.