Frank Ocean; streaming at frankocean.tumblr.com
According to the tweeted opinion of Frank Ocean, Django Unchained was "ill without it." The star R&B crooner contributed a track to the new Quentin Tarantino film, but the musically savvy director couldn't find a scene for the chilled, poetic and minimalist ballad. "I could have thrown it in quickly just to have it," Tarantino told Spin magazine, "but that's not why he wrote it and not his intention. So I didn't want to cheapen his effort." Lyrically, Wiseman is decidedly secular – "no undying man exists … just flesh and blood exists" – and suggests that pithy judgments of a man are small in comparison to a mother's pride (or lack thereof). If Ocean is disappointed his song failed to place within Django Unchained , remember that his own album, Channel Orange , is generally regarded as the year's best. So while the soundtrack inclusion would have been the cherry, Ocean's 2012 was ill without it.
Cee Lo Green, from Cee Lo's Magic Moment (Elektra); streaming at youtube.com
Christmas isn't all songs of joy and peace. The charismatic soulman turns the lights down low for a cover mostly loyal – an organ replaces the piano – to Joni Mitchell's melancholic, ironically Jingle Bell-ed original. While we're at it, a live version from 1970 at London's Royal Albert Hall is spare and stunning, rendered by Mitchell, who eventually did "make a lot of money" and "quit this crazy scene."
Something On Your Mind
WALL; streaming at soundcloud.com
The London producer-songstress who calls herself WALL updates the Karen Dalton-famous psyche-folk classic, using a simple arrangement and a muffled beat. It is intimate and willowy, but rather emotionless compared with the striking original or an affecting 2011 cover by Montreal's Katie Moore.
Cut Me Some Slack
Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear; streaming at youtube.com
Call the band whatever you wish – Maccavana, Sirvana, or, if you must, Paul McKurtney – but the tune heard around the world at the Hurricane Sandy relief concert and on Saturday Night Live is Helter Skelter by any other name.
Christmas Gangnam Style
Psy; streaming at youtube.com
One billion YouTube viewers can't be wrong? The all-in-red K-pop superstar opens up his one-off performance in Washington with a pitchy, truncated version of The Christmas Song, sounding as if his Jack Frost was nipping at his nose at that very moment. Thankfully aware of his shortcomings in the crooning department, he then proceeds to a yuletide variation of his unreasonably successful hit, pleasing the First Family and others at a charity concert with his snappy one-horse ride.