1. Alicia Keys, “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”
There are several reasons why Alicia Keys’ “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart,” a song released around Halloween of 2009, is my favorite song of 2010, when normally I’m a total stickler about release dates and crap:
1. According to last.fm, it’s the song I’ve played the most in the past twelve months. Well, except for the Auteurs’ “Underground Movies,” but that anomaly was just due to a funny mood I was in one day and that song is from 1994, anyway.
2. “TSWABH” didn’t peak on radio until February of this year, stalling at #22 at during that wretched, long-ago time when crapfests like “Tik Tok,” “Sexy Chick” and Orianthi’s “According To You” were dominating the charts. Keys’ The Element of Freedom didn’t come out in the UK until this January, either and, incidentally, it topped the UK album chart for a full quarter of 2010. (Not that I’m British.)
3. The Element of Freedom contains two later singles—the bouncy Beyonce duet “Put It In A Love Song” and the Drake-penned “Unthinkable (I’m Ready)” —that could easily be near the top of my Best Of 2010 list. But the former was marred by a weird, half-thought out radio-only release and the latter bugs me for personal reasons. (This spring, I had a job that required me to constantly call this one really annoying girl, who dotted her i’s with hearts and who signed her last name with a completely superfluous accent egu. Anyway, she had some kind of awful phone thing, where instead of ringing I had to listen to a really, really tinny version of “Unthinkable” that was so blown out that I didn’t even realize who was singing it. So, the song still makes me think of her, and she kind of stinks, as a person.)
4. The most important factor, though, is that this song is basically perfect. The first, oh, fifty times I heard it I thought Alicia was maybe being a little melodramatic with her particularly sad-sack booty call. But actually that’s not what the song’s about at all. I’m not sure if it’s the intended meaning, but now I hear it as a goodbye to a lover who maybe committed suicide, or at least died in a sudden way. How else to explain that ambiguous line about being at the bottom of the sea? Or how she can see him when she looks up at the sky? Keys and co-writer/co-producer Jeff Bhasker sure don’t make it sound like a “Somewhere Out There” moment.
The most interesting thing about the song, though, is its structure. The vocal melody is really meandering and not particularly memorable, religiously ecstatic one minute and introspective the next. This is the sound of someone in mourning, alone in a bedroom crying and maybe flipping through a photo album and trying to process ten thousand different emotions at once.
Alicia Keys is no stranger to my year-end best-of lists; “Karma” was #6 on my best-of list in 2005 and “No One” was #9 two years later. Both of those songs are wonderful, the former for its drama and the latter for its farty synths as much as anything else; It’s possible, though, that “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” is her greatest single yet.