On The Record: The 33 Best Songs Of The Year
OK, so here it is: my "Totally Killer Mixtape of 2007." Had I the technical wherewithal, I would probably make this available to download or stream or something, but I don't, so it basically stands as an eclectic, somewhat WTF-worthy list of the best musical moments of the year.
Yes, I realize that the idea of ranking songs is about as impractical as the idea of ranking albums — which I'll be doing in next week's column, by the way — but it strikes me as a pretty nice summation of the year that was. Sentimental electro, (un)intentionally minimalist hip-hop designed to sell ringtones, overly instrumentalized indie rock designed to sell MP3 players ... it's all here. And if none of it seems to make sense, well, I think that's an accurate assessment of '07 too. (No, the number 33 has no real significance. Chalk it up to me channeling my inner Larry Legend.)
This is a long one, so take a deep breath before you begin. And if you've got major beefs with my list — or if you'd like to submit one of your own — make sure to hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.
33. The Go! Team, "Grip Like a Vice"
Car-chase guitars, blaring horns, jump-rope party rhymes and cheerleader chants, all filtered through a lo-fi gauze. It sounds like something from the group's Thunder, Lightning, Strike album (which, strangely, people liked a lot more than this year's Proof of Youth — oh, fickle bloggers!), only waterlogged and stomped on a bit.
32. Nine Inch Nails, "The Great Destroyer"
I got a little carried away with predictions about how Year Zero was going to rejuvenate Reznor's career just like American Idiot did Green Day's, and, as it turns out, I was totally wrong. But that doesn't mean that the album isn't still filled with positively knee-buckling moments, and "Destroyer" is the knee-buckling-est of all. And if you don't believe me, just fast-forward to the 1:36 mark on this live performance.
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31. Kate Nash, "Foundations"
This is like the Urban Outfitters of breakup songs. You're sure you've heard it somewhere before, and you feel sort of dumb for liking it, but you still can't deny its quality. The metaphor works even more because there is a 95 percent chance that this song is being played in an actual Urban Outfitters store right now.
30. The Shins, "Phantom Limb"
Just another slice of hazy, lazy dream-pop pie from indie rock's reigning Marie Callender's. Sounds like afternoons spent cutting class and drinking your best friend's dad's booze, which, I think, is what the song is about. Bonus fact: The "EHS" mentioned in the song stands for "El Dorado High School," which frontman James Mercer attended when he was growing up in New Mexico.
29. Eve, "Tambourine"
The kind of spazzy, double-time hip-hop that I claim they don't make anymore, except they totally do. This is the best of the 2007 crop, a head-spinning mix of tablas, whistles, whoops, sirens and synth stabs — plus a sample of the Soul Searchers' "Blow Your Whistle" — all courtesy of producer Swizz Beatz. The track is supposed to be included on Eve's oft-delayed Here I Am, which might actually hit stores in time to be considered for album of the year in 2009.
28. Battles, "Atlas"
This is probably what the inside of Britney Spears' head sounds like.
27. Tegan and Sara, "Call It Off"
A beautiful little number that showcases the Quinn sisters' amazing powers of harmonizing and closes out their really great album The Con. Oh, also, this was on that one episode of "Grey's Anatomy" where the bus with all the high school kids on it crashes, and that one outcast kid gets a pencil stuck in his eye, and McDreamy tries really hard to save him but can't, and Izzie relates to him because she was an outcast in high school too. At least, that's what I heard.
26. Snoop Dogg, "Sensual Seduction"
Not only is it probably the best thing Snoop's done in a decade (this or "Drop It Like It's Hot,"), apparently it's also the first single off his upcoming Ego Trippin' album, which either means that, a) Snoop is a visionary; b) Snoop is crazy; or c) Snoop doesn't want to sell records anymore. The accompanying VHS-worthy video only seems to validate all three of those points.
25. Junior Senior, "Itch U Can't Scratch"
Starbursts of synthesizers. Porno bass lines. Crotch-jiggling guitars. Hand claps. Doofy, back-and-forth, pansexual rapping. Mutual back-scratching. A hook that doubles as a call to civic duty. Cowbell. An improbable shout-out to Bigfoot. All in a day's work for Junior Senior, Denmark's premier purveyors of DayGlo dance music. (And yeah, I know it came out in most of Europe in 2005.)
24. Radiohead, "Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
When all the dust settles, perhaps the thing we'll remember most about In Rainbows isn't the way it was released, but that it's the album in which Thom and company actually seemed human again. There are at least two songs about infidelity on it, and this is the best of them: a sexually charged mix of angsty guitars and a twisting, propulsive low end. It sounds like an internal monologue. Should I do this? Shouldn't I? Will I get caught? Do I care?
23. Modest Mouse, "Spitting Venom"
Rambling and long-winded like the Modest Mouse of old, countrified and creepy like the Modest Mouse of recent years — also probably the jump-off point for wherever they decide to go next. Squealing, sloppy and shambling in all the best possible ways. Plus, horns!
22. Notorious B.I.G., "Party and Bullsh--" (Ratatat remix)
Two bearded white guys remix B.I.G.'s solo debut (from the "Who's the Man?" soundtrack, no less), adding all sorts of phased-out guitars, clicky beats and — gasp! — making a better song in the process. Also, there is roughly a 100 percent chance they did not obtain permission to do this. Download it here before it's too late.
21. Dan Deacon, "The Crystal Cat"
I despise Dan's whole "nerdy/spazzy white guy in huge glasses and sweatpants" shtick, but there's no denying the power of his super-blissed electro-pop. Pitch-shifted vocals and caffeinated drums aplenty, plus a video that's guaranteed to give you a seizure.
20. Fall Out Boy, "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race"
A scathing — well, at least as scathing as FOB gets — indictment of the message boards that birthed them, plus Patrick Stump continues to lay claim to the title of "Most Underappreciated Frontman in the Business." When all is said and done, he'll still be standing, probably producing R&B hits for Usher's kids. Also, a 2007 karaoke fave.
19. Jay-Z, "Blue Magic"
A prime example of what happens when two of the biggest names in the game cut all the bull and get hungry again. Pharrell takes a break from reminding us he can skateboard long enough to deliver a brilliantly minimal track (little more than some icy synths and a bass drum). Jigga stops worrying about Vince Carter's ankle long enough to spit lines that sound more like a demo than anything else. The whole thing is as raw as steak tartare.
18. Panda Bear, "Comfy in Nautica"
17. Klaxons, "Golden Skans"
The sound of the future! OK, probably not. But still slinky and spacey and pretty much exactly what I wanted their Myths of the Near Future album to sound like after spending 2006 obsessing over the Xan Valleys EP. Sadly, it didn't. Is New Rave over yet? Did it ever even begin?
16. Lil Mama, "Lip Gloss"
Lil Mama might actually be 29 years old, but even if she is, she still made one of the best teeny-bop songs of the year: a deceptively simple mix of hand claps, kick-drums and sing-song that somehow manages to sound bigger than 85 percent of the stuff you hear on the radio. Also, probably the best song about cosmetics you'll hear this decade.
15. Justice, "D.A.N.C.E."
Intrinsically now. Incredibly indebted to the past. More inescapable than any song that comes before it on the list. Infinitely more annoying than any song after it. Completely and totally disposable, in all the best possible ways. You'll probably hear it on some Le Sound Du Now comp in five years, and you'll stop in your tracks and either think, "Oh. Now I get it," or, "Wow, I can't believe I used to get this."
14. Soulja Boy, "Crank That"
The song that launched a thousand YouTube videos (and one really excellent Travis Barker remix). So minimal that it makes "Lip Gloss" sound positively orchestral. Possibly about something incredibly dirty. Sort of like modern art, because you listen to it and think, "Wow, I could've done this," only you didn't, which is why this song rules.
13. Black Kids, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You"
I hate this band for reasons that are completely beyond their control (i.e., they didn't ask for the fame their MySpace page brought them), and I realize that isn't fair. Still, there's no way a band this young should be able to make a song this good — a rousing, heart-opening shouter that sounds like the Cure jamming out with the Arcade Fire. Like I said earlier, these guys win.
12. The National, "Fake Empire"
A really sad, really beautiful song that kicks off an album full of them, "Fake Empire" is all somber piano and gently rolling drums and weary horns, with frontman Matt Beringer's smoky baritone mixing into the morose murk. A song about the charm of walking around New York very late at night when you are very, very drunk that, incidentally, sounds very good when you are walking around New York very late at night when you are very, very drunk.
11. Menomena, "Wet and Rusting"
A bunch of pseudo-hippies from the Pacific Northwest make a forward-thinking, sorta-funky song about love and loss, one that also manages to sound positively, well, wet and rusted. Full of creaky noises, xylophone, strummy guitars and the best drum fill you'll hear this year.
10. Deerhunter, "After Class"
I've already anointed these guys as my 2007 Band of the Year, and this is the best song they've ever released (it will be out on a comp from Brooklyn's Rare Book Room Records in February). If you believe the hype, Deerhunter recorded it in one day, which seems somewhat possible, given their prodigious output this year. To me, it sounds like your bedroom when you're waking up from a really bad dream — the kind where you kill someone and have to keep the cops from finding out — and you realize that it was just a dream, and you feel sort of safe and relieved but also still really creeped out because, y'know, you dreamed about murdering someone. Or something like that.
9. M.I.A., "Paper Planes"
Maybe it's the Clash sample, or the play on Wreckx-N-Effect, or the gunshots or the ka-ching of the cash register, but I don't think Ms. Arulpragasam has ever sounded sunnier (even on "Sunshowers") or more personable on a track, even when she's talking about robbing you, forging documents, moving drugs or third-world democracy. A positively vital song, indicative of the shrinking world we inhabit, the culture-mashing power of the Internet and also probably the reason M.I.A. had such a difficult time getting a U.S. visa.
8. Rihanna, "Umbrella"
Arguably the single that defined 2007, and a lush and sleek example of just how great a pop song can be. Despite being released this summer, it's positively icy in its execution: full of synthesizer wooshes and crunching guitars that make you want to reach for a parka. Undoubtedly the best single Rihanna has ever released (and that's saying something), it gave people reason to stretch the word "Umbrella" out to eight or nine syllables and announced Rih Rih's arrival as not just a formidable sex symbol, but also as the great pop threat of the late 2000s.
7. The White Stripes, "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)"
I've heard people say that it sounds almost exactly like the Band's "The Weight," which is awesome, even if I don't totally hear it. For most of their career, the Stripes have been accused of being serious-faced scholars of garage and blues, but here, it sounds like they're finally having fun. On an album full of fret-bending guitar heroics, Jack White's solo in this song (at the 3:10 mark) is the most, uh, heroic and probably my favorite moment in any song this year.
6. Kanye West, "Stronger"
We've spent nearly all of 2007 hearing about Kanye the egoist (buy his book!) and Kanye the insufferable (stand clear backstage!). But perhaps we should also give it up for Kanye the total genius, the guy who foresaw the emergence of French electro before it happened; the guy who got the rights to sample the best track from the forefathers of French electro, Daft Punk; the guy who got them to appear in his video; and the guy who also cast Cassie in the video just so he could kiss her. A driving, powerful, unadulteratedly over-the-top piece of hip-hop history, as only West could do.
5. Feist, "1234"
A perfectly perfect example of an indie-rock pocket symphony (banjo! strings! horns!), "1234" started picking up steam thanks to the Patrick Daughters-helmed video (and Ms. Feist's sparkly one-piece) and then, ultimately, the ubiquitous iPod Nano ad. When all the dust had cleared, the song remained great, but its import had increased exponentially: Now it stands as perhaps the indie anthem of 2007, and definitely the only song on your iPod that your mom recognizes. Sometimes, all it takes is a little help.
4. The Cribs, "Men's Needs"
A jittery, dance-y, bold rocker by three British brothers, produced by Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and backed by a video that features a nude hipster chick smashing the band's equipment, vomiting and maiming/decapitating everyone in her path. What's not to love? Oh yeah, there's also the chorus — a guttural, charging shot of adrenaline that sounds like the boys are bigging up Apollo Creed — and the fact that the song is about making fun of trust-fund babies in NYC and London. There is actually nothing not to love.
3. Against Me!, "Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart"
An updated take on the "Grease" song "Summer Nights," only with a lesbian indie rocker playing the part of Sandy and a recently divorced punk rocker playing Danny Zuko. An unapologetic fist-pumper, with a title lifted from a Nelson Algren book and a chorus lifted from what it says on your cell phone when you're roaming. On the major-label debut from a much-derided punk act. Produced by Butch Vig. A New Wave indeed.
2. Ween, "Your Party"
Oh, that saxophone. It's from soft-jazz master David Sanborn, just in case you were wondering. And, oh, those lyrics: mentions of tri-color pastas and cream-puffs and bourbon and games of chance. It's probably the smartest piss-take on all things WASP-y ("We had the best time at your party/ The wife and I thank you very much"), and an ode to partying that's so much better than 1,000 similar odes to partying, because it's probably serious (hence the Sanborn cameo), only it's probably not, because it's a song by Ween. And I've debated that point endlessly, which probably means that "Your Party" is my favorite song of 2007, only I chickened out at the last second and moved it to #2 on my list. I will probably regret this for the rest of my life.
1. LCD Soundsystem, "All My Friends"
The song about me in New York five years ago, drunk and crazy and probably about to die. The song about me in New York now, reserved, happy, safe. And the song about me in five years, when I have left New York and am staring out at a cul-de-sac, wondering what might have been. The past, the present and the future, all in one, and proof that I am exactly like every other white rock critic who has lived — or currently does live — in New York. Which is beautiful and sad and everything I could ask for in a song.