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Best of CH 2013: ListenUp

The top songs, albums and artists influencing an incredible year in music

by CH Editors in Listen Up on 31 December 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, we take a moment to reflect upon the hundreds of songs that hit our headphones, had us dancing and influenced daily life throughout the year, many of which we reported on in our weekly feature, ListenUp. Below are 12 of our favorite singles and albums, as well as sadly, several musical tributes to the legends we lost in 2013.

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1. Lou Reed: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

After 71 colorful years, the immensely influential musician Lou Reed (born on 2 March 1942) passed away on Sunday, 27 October 2013. Not since Elvis has rock'n'roll received such a loss, and the indelible mark this distinctly talented artist left on the world is seen in the innumerable bands he inspired, the expressive music he created both as a solo act and with The Velvet Underground and his inspirational nature as an ultimately edgy yet joyful person. Lou Reed was the definition of cool—progressive, pensive, caring, optimistic and unafraid—and he was a friend to many and an innovator within his craft. At 12 minutes long, his haunting cover of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" demonstrates his poetic intellect and in turn feels like a fitting goodbye to this iconic man.

2. George Jones: He Stopped Loving Her Today

Known as much for his love of cocaine and whiskey as his incredible ability to write and perform, country music legend George Jones passed away on 26 April 2013 at 81 years old. His discography includes a mountain of number one hits, many of them duets with one-time wife Tammy Wynette, and he will remain a paragon of the classic country sound. You can hear many of these songs, including "He Stopped Loving Her Today"—the CMA's song of the year in 1981—on the Grand Ole Opry's tribute to him on Spotify.

3. Commander Chris Hadfield: Space Oddity

For his final bow after months commanding the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a music video from space. In covering David Bowie's 1969 song, "Space Oddity," Hadfield was able to croon a viral phenomenon that inspired over 12 million views in the week following its release. Hearing the 53-year-old sing about the fictional astronaut Major Tom—whose failed mission was revised by Hadfield for a happy ending and successful landing—one would be hard-pressed not to tear up. It doesn't hurt that the video was expertly directed, recorded and edited—making it one for the history books.

4. Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969

A never before released concert film and audio recording of Thelonious Monk's late-career concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris will finally be made available to the public on 25 November from Blue Note Records. Monk, a self-taught musician, was 52 years old at the time but balanced the quartet with two new young members—17-year-old drummer Paris Wright and student bassist from Berklee College of Music, Nate Hygelund—for a fresh performance. While we initially enjoyed the album in full via NPR's first listen stream, Paris 1969 can also now be heard on Spotify. Listen out for Monk's attraction to dissonant harmonies and unusual rhythms that he subtly slips in, and the way he almost attacks the piano recklessly but with allure.

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5. Kris Kross: Totally Krossed Out

When Kris Kross "jumped" onto the scene in '92, they inspired young people everywhere to get Totally Krossed Out with their Jermaine Dupri-produced debut album. They also ignited a major fashion moment when it was suddenly acceptable to wear an entire ensemble backwards—jeans, baseball jersey, belt and all. Their ephemeral reign as the daddy macs of teen rap left an indelible mark on music, and sadly, this year 34-year-old Chris Kelly—one half of the entertaining twosome—passed away. Enjoy the digital version of a tape likely kept constantly on deck many years ago with a listen on Spotify.

6. Kendrick Lamar ft. Jay-Z: Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe (remix)

This souped-up remix of Kendrick Lamar's hit, "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," makes for the ultimate party anthem. Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City album was released toward the end of 2012 but he dropped the original version of this single in March 2013. A song on daily repeat at CH HQ, it seems Jay-Z loved it as much as seemingly everyone else when he surprised the Compton rapper with his take on it. Lamar then added to it again, and the result of their collaborative effort is nothing short of hip-hop perfection. This track is sure to get a crowd bumping for years to come.

7. The Doors: Light My Fire

Jim Morrison may have very well been the frontman of The Doors, but it was keyboardist Ray Manzarek who ignited their worldwide success with his inimitable ability to play a Vox Continental organ with his right hand for the melodies while simultaneously playing a Fender keyboard with his left for the bass chords. Arguably no song better displayed his remarkable talent than the 1967 hit "Light My Fire," but with his passing on 20 May 2013, Manzarek left behind an extensive catalog showcasing his prowess with The Doors, as a solo act and as part of the cult LA punk band, X.

8. Richie Havens: Freedom

Sweating and strumming the guitar with artistic force, folk singer Richie Havens opened up Woodstock in '69 with a three-hour-long, 11-song set that culminated with "Freedom." A star on the rise, the Brooklyn artist set the tone then at Woodstock and continued to do so throughout his extensive career, which not only included several chart-topping tunes, but also the founding of the Northwind Undersea Institute—an environmental education center for children in the Bronx. Havens passed away Monday, 22 April 2013 and will be sorely missed.

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9. George Duke: Reach Out

Famed jazz funk keyboardist George Duke passed away on 5 August 2013 at the age of 67 and his memorial service included performances from Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan. When Duke passed away, the ripple through Twitter showed just how many of today's musicians were inspired and influenced by him—with condolences from Justin Timberlake, ?uestlove, Bootsy Collins and many more. We're remembering Duke with the 1983 disco jam "Reach Out," which lives on strong today and was most likely the inspiration for Breakbot's "Baby I'm Yours"—which, in turn, spurred the Bruno Mars' hit "Treasure."

10. Factory Floor: Turn It Up

London's post-industrial dance rock trio Factory Floor kicked off their eponymous full-length album debut with "Turn It Up," the first single from their DFA Records release. Factory Floor comes out swinging on this upbeat, if at times slightly disorienting, high energy, dance-til-you-puke sonic journey. Known for their mix of analog and digital instruments, the drum-kit on this track provides a visceral heartbeat while a menagerie of electronic synths, drum-pads and vocal samples bring the song to life—imagine if New Order traded their guitars in for drum-pads. Stripped down, yet rich in texture, Factory Floor is charting high for top dance album of the 2013.

11. Darkside: Paper Trails

When Darkside remixed the entirety of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories this summer, it was clear they were warming up to something much bigger. Producer Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington have been concocting a musical experiment since their 2011 EP, and new singles "Golden Arrow" and "Paper Trails" are evidence their work will continue to blur genres and break new ground in electronic music. "Paper Trails" pairs Harrington's subdued guitar harmonies with low vocals and Jaar's characteristic minimal rhythms to create a hypnotic space-age spiritual sound. The duo played a rooftop Boiler Room set in Brooklyn this fall, and later played a sold-out show at Fabric in London. Their debut LP Psychic dropped 8 October 2013, through Jaar's new hybrid label and subscription service Other People, in collaboration with Matador Records.

12. Jason Molina: Captain Badass

At the start of the third week of May, news broke about the passing of 39-year-old musician Jason Molina. Originally from Ohio, Molina performed under several monikers over the years, each gaining him a cult fan base wholly devoted to his ability to deliver raw observations about life to the tune of equally compelling guitar riffs. New Yorker editor Ben Greenman perhaps sums it up best by stating in a heartfelt article, "He occupied the margins because the center was abhorrent." While his entire catalog is worth an extensive listen, "Captain Badass" feels like an appropriate way to salute this highly talented artist.

ListenUp is a Cool Hunting series published every Sunday that takes a deeper look at the music we tweeted about that week. Often we'll include a musician or notable fan's surprising personal interests—#PrivateJam exposes their musical guilty pleasure.

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