10 Essential New Year Songs

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OK, the year’s not as new as it was a week ago. We get that. But it’s only the second week of January, and if our suspicions are correct, you probably still haven’t gotten that resolution off the ground just yet. Have you? Have you? But that’s alright, because we’ve assembled ten new year songs to give you the proper push to conquer 2014 head on. This is the time for new beginnings and fresh starts — if that’s what you’re looking for. If not, then here are just some great new year songs to listen to anyway.

Zombies - Odessey and OracleThe Zombies – “This Will Be Our Year
from Odessey and Oracle (1968; CBS)
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There’s no doubt that The Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year” is a timeless love song. The charming ’60s psych-pop and uplifting lyrics work amazing for first-date mixtapes, wedding proposals, and first-dances alike. Yet this classic is also empowering in a way most love songs are not. With imagery of light breaking dark — and a hopeful sense that the awesome year you deserve has finally arrived — this track will inspire any listener regardless of their relationship status. And with recorded covers by everyone from OK GO to Mynabirds, you’re sure to find a version to fit your New Year’s mood, whatever it may be. – AK

U2 - WarU2 – “New Year’s Day
from War (1983; Island)
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A characteristically complex and sophisticated highlight of early-era U2, “New Year’s Day” blends a simple love song with Biblical allusion, the Polish solidarity movement and wartime imagery. The band has scarcely ever done anything that didn’t seem epic, but even among their greatest achievements, this is a particularly massive one. Bono’s narrative describes a “world in white” where “all is quiet,” which is captured nicely in the snow-covered setting of its video, and if you’ve ever set foot outside on the morning of New Year’s Day, the world seems much quieter and still than it typically does, rife with promise and possibility — in this case, for being reunited with a loved one torn away from you. Of course this is U2, and they couldn’t just put a simple “I miss you” in a song. It had to involve Lech Walesa and the book of Revelations. – JT

Breeders - Last SplashThe Breeders – “New Year
from Last Splash (1993; 4AD)
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“New Year,” the opening track from The Breeders’ landmark second album Last Splash, looks on paper like a spiritual mantra of sorts. Kim Deal begins the track by declaring “We have come for light,” and later personifies the elements and the intangible: “I am the rain/ I am the new year/ I am the way home.” Hear those lines in a yoga class and nobody would blink, but paired with a two-minute noise rock chug as intense and menacing as the one presented here, and inspirational lines like these grow all the more unsettling. It can be complicated enough figuring out your direction. With a recharge and a reset, though, just as this song does with an abrupt change, maybe you can will yourself to be a force of nature. – JT

Jeff Buckley - Sketches for my Sweetheart the DrunkJeff Buckley – “New Year’s Prayer
from Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (1998; Epic)
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Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk naturally doesn’t even come close to reaching the perfection of Grace, Jeff Buckley’s only proper studio album, but what it lacks in cohesiveness it makes up for in some really fantastic individual cuts. Take, for example, the atmospheric “New Year’s Prayer,” which uses clicking drums and a minimal, churning guitar riff to create an atmosphere of palpable but muted unease (of the two versions of the song on the album, the shorter, rawer demo version is better). In contrast, though, the song’s lyrics seem to encourage a radical re-evaluation of yourself and your place in society for the new year. Buckley’s echoing voice calls to be who you want to be, not who others want you to be (“Feel no shame for what you are,” he repeats seven times over the course of the song). It’s a common enough theme, but Buckley’s lyrics make it seem a convincing possibility that this might be the year you finally stick to that big resolution or make that big change. – SP

Andrew WK - I Get WetAndrew W.K. – “I Get Wet
from I Get Wet (2001; Island)
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OK, New Year’s resolutions and ambitions aside, what really matters is that you have a good time in 2014, right? Well, have no fear: Hard rock enthusiast and all-around party god Andrew W.K. has just what you need. Between its epic horn intro and pulsing, anthemic conclusion, “I Get Wet” packs a solid year of punchy, hard-assed rock’n’roll into a three minute stretch. So, if you’re approach to the new year is less about reflective goal setting, and more about running head-on into the unknown, this is your go-to theme song for the new year. – AK

Death Cab For Cutie - TransatlanticismDeath Cab for Cutie – “The New Year
from Transatlanticism (2003; Barsuk)
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So this is the new year/ And I don’t feel any different.” We’ve all been there — young, but old enough to mostly know better, stagnant, frustrated and feeling restless. And for the most part, the turning over of a calendar doesn’t necessarily mean anything, other than whatever symbolic meaning you put into it. But what makes “The New Year” affecting is how much Ben Gibbard’s lyric seems to want it to mean something, even if it doesn’t. He sings of “clanking and crystal” and “explosions off in the distance,” but the night’s pretty much a bust, because he’s still alone, stuck somewhere he doesn’t want to be. It’s a credit to the band, then, that this act of hopelessness feels so epic and majestic. – JT

Mountain Goats - Sunset TreeThe Mountain Goats – “This Year
from The Sunset Tree (2005; 4AD)
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In April 1975,  KISS released — more like unleashed, right — “Rock and Roll All Nite,” and millions of fists found even higher altitudes in the sky in which to pump. I missed that one. It was a different time, I’ve been told. In April 2005, The Mountain Goats released “This Year,” and with an exuberant “and party e-ver-y day” chorus, the nasally voiced John Darnielle proclaimed “I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.” I was around for that one.  “This Year,” with it broken home setting, is about a male teenager using the tools at his disposal — a girl that likes him, booze and an old car — to escape and cry out for a better time, real soon. It closes with with the hope “there will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year” — a nod to the traditional Passover seder benediction. It’s a hope for salvation, closer to home. Anyone else think Springsteen should cover this one? – SC

The Walkmen - You & MeThe Walkmen – “In the New Year
from You & Me (2008; Gigantic)
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Very few songs on this list come from a place of pure optimism. What’s the point of a new year’s resolution if not to smother a salve over the past year’s fuck-ups? And so it goes for “In the New Year,” a song that’s overflowing with hope for the future, but from a narrator that acknowledges his flaws. Hamilton Leithauser sings “Oh, I’m just like you/ I never hear the bad news.” But it doesn’t sound like positivity so much as a blind spot. And when he wails, “My friends and my family, they all ask me one thing/ ‘How long will you ramble?‘,” it sounds like the lament of someone who has become a burden to the ones he loves. And still, for a song built on uncertainty, there’s something charming about its us-against-the-world message. After all, this is a love song. And when you’re with the right person, no matter your past mistakes, it’s hard not to feel like the next 365 days are yours to conquer. – JT

Future Islands - In Evening AirFuture Islands – “Walking Through That Door
from In Evening Air (2010; Thrill Jockey)
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I want to be the one to help you find those years that you’ve been talking about.”

While most Future Islands songs are about heartbreak and loss in some way, “Walking Through That Door” focuses on new beginnings. As the narrator encourages the listener take the leap necessary to move forward in life, soaring synths and Samuel Herring’s enthusiastic croons provide more than enough inspiration to get anyone slashing lines through their bucket list.  After all, the track does promise to “hold your hand as I walk you through that door,” and what isn’t possible with a little bit of encouragement and motivation?  When it comes to lighting a fire under the ass of your New Year’s resolutions, this song gets the job done. – AK

Gil Scott Heron - I'm New HereGil Scott-Heron – “I’m New Here
from I’m New Here (2010; XL)
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A new year is often seen as an opportunity to make yourself into a new person. That can be a drastic or exaggerated way of looking at making constructive changes to your life, or how you live, but it’s often apt. Bill Callahan’s take on human nature and personal evolution explores this idea of renewal, which becomes all the more poignant when voiced by Gil Scott-Heron, an artist whose life had its own share of restarts and renewals. “I did not become someone different/ That I did not want to be,” he chants, reflecting on both a pervasive penchant for self-destruction that afflicts many of us, as well as the way to avoid it. But as much hard-nosed truth lies in “I’m New Here,” it’s ultimately a statement of hope, ending with the mantra, “Turn around, turn around, turn around/ You may come full circle/ And be new here again.” – JT

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