Every year something that was old becomes new again, and 2014 was no exception. Everything from the bucket hat to Michael Keaton was resurrected, as well as the Republican party. And while Instagram’s #tbt and the podcast Serial were both excellent conduits for comebacks, ultimately it was the music industry and its various channels that were responsible for 2014’s strongest cases of nostalgia. These are the 10 songs that experienced the greatest musical comebacks of 2014.
Sir Mix-a-Lot – “Baby Got Back”
On her aggravating earworm “Anaconda”, Nicki Minaj didn’t just sample Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”; she hijacked it. The opening whips and stuttered rendering of the 1992 classic blast listeners back into a world of cassette tapes and Gameboys until the bass drops, and the sounds of 2014 are briefly restored. Still, bass drops aside, “Anaconda” is 80% “Baby Got Back”, and its 380 million views on YouTube and FM ubiquity have caused people to obsess over Becky’s butt at heights not seen since the Dream Team dominated the Barcelona Olympics. For better or worse, “Baby Got Back” is 2014’s runaway winner. In the hands of a mega-pop star, the song was thrust back to life and easily wormed its way back inside the heads of tired millennials, as if it had never even left.
Michael Jackson – “Love Never Felt So Good”
Michael Jackson’s “Love Never Felt So Good” is the most legitimate member of this list in that it reached its comeback status through relatively traditional means. It also experienced tremendous popularity despite wearing the sounds of ’70s balladry proudly on its sleeves. With a cameo from Justin Timberlake providing momentum, “Love Never Felt So Good” clawed its way out of the blogosphere and onto the Billboard charts. A phenomenal feat for a posthumous track, especially one that followed a round of disappointing releases. The airy simplicity of the song lifts hearts in the same way that Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” does. It elicits smiles and ultimately serves as a redeeming reminder of the inarguable talent of an artist whose legacy was marred by his troubling final years.
T-Pain – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
T-Pain is not NPR’s usual suspect, but he is the star of their most watched “Tiny Desk” episode ever. Without the curtain of Auto-Tune to hide behind, T-Pain was forced to bare his authentic abilities on this stripped-down version of “Buy U a Drank”, and that he did. As a result, “Buy U a Drank” came back with a vengeance this year and introduced T-Pain to a whole new audience who likely had about as much familiarity with him as their children have with Yusuf/Cat Stevens.
D’Angelo – “Untitled”
Rumors of a new D’Angelo album began to spread like Ebola in the latter half of 2014. D’Angelo enthusiasts like Questlove dropped hints that the album’s arrival was nigh, while the man himself kept quiet, only furthering the public’s anticipation. In the meantime, there was an uptick in mentions of the almost 15-year-old “Untitled” on Twitter, in articles, and even in conversations among friends. In the ambiguous months leading up to Black Messiah, “Untitled” functioned as a placeholder. The song was resurrected by listeners as a way to whet their appetites for an album that they could only hope would actually materialize. And now that it has, the conversation surrounding “Untitled” has yet to taper off.
Donnie and Joe Emerson – “Baby”
One of 2014’s most pleasant surprises was the rediscovery of the jumpsuit-donning Emerson brothers. Though perennial tastemakers like Ariel Pink had helped build momentum for the band back in 2012, it wasn’t until this year with Light in the Attic Record’s release of Still Dreamin’ Wild: The Lost Recordings 1979-81 that the Emerson brothers fully rocketed out of obscurity. With a history as charming as the melody of standout track “Baby”, the Emerson brothers were easily the sweetest item to be reclaimed from music’s lost and found in 2014.
10CC – “I’m Not in Love”
Any song from Guardian of the Galaxy’s phenomenal soundtrack could’ve filled this slot. But ultimately the film’s first track, 10CC’s “I’m Not in Love”, stands out slightly above the rest. The opening orchestration of “I’m Not in Love” swells just as the text “Earth” fades onto the screen, and this well-timed effect creates a surreal tone that primes the audience perfectly for the space adventure to come. Of course, Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” is a worthy runner-up, as is the entire soundtrack, which upon release became the first soundtrack album in history that consisted entirely of previously released songs to top the Billboard 200. A statistic that makes Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1 the greatest demonstration of the power of nostalgia we’ll see in 2014 unless NBC decides to surprise viewers with a Friends reunion the day after Christmas.
Ginuwine – “Pony”
This list wouldn’t be reflective of the times if at least one song hadn’t sprung from the chaos of social media. The viral Vine series “ Tony on a Pony” was one of many social media uploads to experience the Buzzfeed bump this year. It’s a simple enough premise. A young man named Tony dances exclusively to the Ginuwine song “Pony” all over the world. Naturally, as the exposure to “Tony on a Pony” grew, so to did exposure to the full-length track. And this exposure will likely live on – at least until Parks and Recreation’s Donna has the opportunity to slip a final humble brag about her family’s lineage into the show’s finale.
Paul Simon – “Obvious Child”
Obvious Child was cinema’s sleeper hit of 2014. It made a star out of Jenny Slate and brought about lots of Google searches for “awesome song from Obvious Child dance, drums” or some variation on that. Alone, Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child” is a great song, but it’s not timeless nor is it seminal. Only when placed alongside that pivotal will they/won’t they moment does the song reach its full potential. The propulsive, off-kilter drumming of “Obvious Child” perfectly reflects the frenetic way that Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy stumble into love, and it’s safe to say that without the song’s bounciness playing in the background, the two lovers wouldn’t have looked nearly as charming as they drunkenly collapsed into bed.
Blues Traveler – “Hook”
Emma Stone’s best performance to date is her rendition of Blues Traveler’s “Hook” on the Tonight Show. And with nearly 40 million YouTube views, it’s likely her most-watched as well. Emma slayed the fast-moving lyrics but even more impressive was the reaction she got from Jimmy Fallon who upon completion uttered, “I forgot all about that song!” So had the rest of the public, but thanks to Emma Stone, for a single day, Blues Traveler was relevant again.