25 to Download Before the Grammys
1. Miranda Lambert, ''Mama's Broken Heart''
Lambert — who's up for Best Country Solo Performance as well as Best Country Song (with writers Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves) for this one — essentially squeezes four great country songs into 2 minutes and 58 seconds: a breakup lament, revenge fantasy, generational manifesto, and feminist anthem. All the more reason to put it on repeat.
2. Neko Case, ''Man''
Whatever the beloved indie singer Neko Case means, exactly, by declaring ''I'm a man'' on this track (from The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You up for Best Alternative Music Album) — she tried to clarify by calling herself a ''critter'' in an interview — the music itself communicates a primal humanness all too rare in rock recognized by the Grammys this year.
3. Bruno Mars, ''Locked Out of Heaven''
Fresh, soaring, funky, touching: This nominee for Record of the Year and Song of the Year (which appears on Unorthodox Jukebox, a candidate for Best Pop Vocal Album) reminds us, crucially, that pop rock can be as vital as any other genre, even in the post-''Rick Roll'' era.
4. Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko, ''Stay''
Who's Mikky Ekko? Who cares! Crooning gothic nothings with RiRi, he's one half of far and away the sultriest pop duet in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category. (Rihanna's Unapologetic is also up for Best Urban Contemporary Album.)
5. The xx, ''Together''
This coed English duo, known for their austere, shadowy songs, haul out the strings for a finish massive enough to stand out on The Great Gatsby album, up for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
6. David Bowie, ''The Stars (Are Out Tonight)''
Dark, even creepy, this nevertheless oh-so supple surprise comeback track instantly reestablished the long-absent Bowie as one of rock's coolest cats. It's up for Best Rock Performance (and his The Next Day, Best Rock Album). All oldster nominees should be this deserving of Grammys.
7. J. Cole feat. Miguel, ''Power Trip''
The sound of two very chill dudes commiserating over meeting their matches — women, but maybe each other, too. Up for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
8. Miguel feat. Kendrick Lamar, ''How Many Drinks?''
Miguel again, this time staging his own power trip, with Kendrick Lamar — the one other slickster likely to get away with asking a woman how drunk she needs to be to go home with him. Shouldn't the Best R&B Performance be so bold?
9. Kendrick Lamar, ''Backseat Freestyle''
And speaking of Kendrick Lamar: If you still don't know why he's the most exciting lyricist in rap, this breathtaking run (off Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, contender for Best Rap Album) should be all the drinks you need to welcome him into your life.
10. Katy Perry, ''Roar''
You know this one — and it's up for Song of the Year as well as Best Pop Solo Performance — but do you take it for granted? Pop empowerment swells no larger on any Grammy track this year.
11. Kacey Musgraves, ''Back on the Map''
''Merry Go 'Round'' may be the one vying for Best Country Song, but ''Back on the Map'' — off Same Trailer Different Park, in the Best Country Album category — demonstrates the quieter strengths of this tradition-tweaking Best New Artist candidate (who damn well better win something): It's from the perspective of an outsider, but one longing to get back in.
12. Stevie Nicks, ''You Can't Fix This''
This startlingly great new song, tucked away on the Sound City: Real to Reel album (shortlisted for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media), ranks with classics from the Nicks and Fleetwood Mac catalogs, and not just because it's all about heartbreak, betrayal, and the devil pouring drinks — it's a classic-rock-style earworm, with an assist from Dave Grohl.
13. Kaskade, ''Atmosphere''
The title track from this American DJ's candidate for Best Dance/Electronica Album might be the prettiest EDM hit from last year, and it doesn't even rely on an anonymous hook girl for a singer — Kaskade himself coos the lyrics, taking the mic for the first time in his career.
14. Arthur Alexander, ''You Better Move On''
Looking back a wee bit further — to 1961 — we have the lovely first hit from a little-known soulman who wrote songs for Elvis and the Beatles and the Stones. It's a gem from the Muscle Shoals documentary album, up for the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
15. Darius Rucker, ''Wagon Wheel''
Neither a country classicist nor a rebel, Rucker hits a bittersweet spot unique among the Best Country Solo Performance nominees (a solid group that includes the aforementioned ''Mama's Broken Heart'' and ''I Want Crazy'' by Hunter Hayes) with this cover.
16. Taylor Swift, ''Begin Again''
And competing for Best Country Song we have this heartbreaker, which Taylor Swift, the only performer to do so in the category, wrote entirely on her own. (It appears on Red, which is up for Best Country Album.)
17. Queens of the Stone Age, ''My God Is the Sun''
If it's heaviosity you seek, this candidate for Best Rock Performance (and highlight from ?Like Clockwork, up for Best Rock Album) serves up the only true and proper pummeling in all of rock Grammydom.
18. Kanye West, ''New Slaves''
For a pummeling in the Best Rap Song category, look no further than this brilliant grotesque, a reaction against racism that's as good a thesis as any for Yeezus, which is competing for Best Rap Album.
19. Wayne Shorter, ''Orbits''
Jazz! It gets Grammys, too. This beautifully nightmarish yet hopeful submission for Best Improvised Jazz Solo from the great saxophonist Wayne Shorter reminds us just how dizzyingly wide a musical world resides right outside of pop.
20. A$AP Rocky, ''F**kin' Problems''
Is this the Best Rap Song of last year? Well, it's definitely the sleaziest, and quite possibly the hardest to resist. It certainly helps that Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and 2 Chainz fall so happily into its gaping maw.
21. Dream Theater, ''The Enemy Inside''
For a thorough stripping of your scuzzed-up ear passages, turn up this Best Metal Performance contender, a brushed-aluminum-slick exercise in technical ferocity.
22. Vampire Weekend, ''Step''
Another technical exercise, this time seeking — and discovering — a new plane in the realm of smart and sensitive males. The top track from Modern Vampires of the City, by far the worthiest choice for Best Alternative Music Album.
23. Drake, ''From Time''
A smart and sensitive male, whose Nothing Was the Same could be Best Rap Album, here encounters a female smart (and smart-ass) enough to furnish a hook that includes the line, ''I love you enough for the both of us.''
24. Lana Del Rey, ''Young and Beautiful''
She's got Paradise in the Best Pop Vocal Album category, but this original cut from The Great Gatsby soundtrack should not go unremembered: When Del Rey drizzles her slyly diffident voice over the swelling strings, she's praying for a man whose ''face makes me wanna party'' to get into heaven — and it's actually touching.
25. Fantasia Barrino, ''Without Me''
Hardly a hit (it peaked at 74 on the Hot 100), this potential Best R&B Song deserves your attention not just for its ultra-toned beat, but because it features Kelly Rowland, who deserved more love last year, and none other than Missy Elliot, whose lively (if not mind-frying) verse is a rare morsel it would be a sin not to enjoy.