Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Top 10 Songs of 2007: If Only I Hadn't Listened

[Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of our “Wrapping Up 2007” series, which also serves as the continued evisceration of SPIN’s pandering, nauseating year-in-review issue. As predicted, I wasted ample time watching the “Classic Albums” series, but also had a salient epiphany while thinking about Christmas: if you count December 25 as the first day of Jesus’ life, then isn’t January 1 (New Year’s Day) the eighth? Or, in other words, the day of his circumcision and naming? Sure enough, I was just too cocooned in my own theological world to have not known this earlier, as it seems that the New Year’s circumcision is a pretty well-known fact. According to, January 1 has since carried a virulently anti-Semitic banner. “Throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods,” the site says, “January 1 - supposedly the day on which Jesus' circumcision initiated the reign of Christianity and the death of Judaism - was reserved for anti-Jewish activities: synagogue and book burnings, public tortures, and simple murder.” Not only that, but, “Caesar celebrated the first January 1 New Year by ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in the Galilee. Eyewitnesses say blood flowed in the streets.” Cheery.]

The year in music was a year in trends: digital downloading continued to unseat and undermine the corporate record companies (yay!) and impoverish musicians (nay!). Meanwhile, independent/non-major-label releases by Radiohead, Madonna, and Nine Inch Nails typified the growing sense of autonomy amongst prominent groups, a sentiment previously reserved for Pearl Jam and the Genre formerly known as Punk Rock. Team-ups were all the rage in hip-hop, with Timbaland cutting beats for everyone but his dog, but including all his dawgs—and dawgettes—on his own album, “Shock Value,” which yielded the collabotastic “The Way I Are.” Lastly, music writers begged off any and all controversial assignments, opting instead to laud, redundantly, a few marketable faces.

Yes, the trend was the trend. Just like the Sex Pistols before them and the fads who will surely follow, musicians today work extremely hard to locate, create, and exploit patterns in consumerism. Hence, 2007 was not just the Year of the Trend, but also the Year of the Single. Hoping to catch on with satellite radio, clubs, and magazine covers, artists unleashed a barrage of three-and-a-half-minute clips. Some succeeded, others failed. However, commercial success or failure is utterly immaterial when the issue is quality. Or, more aptly, when the issue is how loud you crank the radio when the song comes on.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many great songs this year. Typing this while listening to Soundgarden’s “Burden In My Hand” is the musical equivalent of looking at a picture of a hot ex while copulating with a barnyard animal: the two don’t even compare, and you’re dreaming of what used to be. Nonetheless, we were graced with a few solid tunes, and—not coincidentally—a number of my “Eardrums be damned, I’m turning this up” selections are included on my favorite albums (scroll down to the previous blog for those). After all, you can’t have great albums without great songs.

So, without further adieu, here are the Top 10 most crankable songs of 2007.

10 Radiohead: 15 Step

While I generally abhor “In Rainbows” (you can check out my review here), "15 Step" is an ode to the Ghost of Radiohead Past. With its haunting, odd-meter polyrhythm and vintage Thom Yorke excruciation, the album’s first track is a refulgent masterpiece set against its dim-lighted peers. However, if it weren’t for the comparatively weak year in music, "15 Step" would be about 15 spots lower on this list.

9 Amy Winehouse: Rehab

Am I tired of it? Probably. But when I first heard this devil-may-care addicts' anthem, replete with blaring horns and multiple hooks, I was carried to a better place; namely, 1960’s Motown, where the coke was cheap and rehab was a non-consideration anyhow. Winehouse’s subsequent demise has been spectacular and saddening, but this song came first. And it will be remembered.

8 Prince: Guitar

Speaking of things formerly known as other things, let us not overlook the Prince of Pop. His suddenly-decades-old tenure begs a promotion to Pop Viceroy, which would allow him and King Michael Jackson to prepare the regal echelons for Prince Timberlake’s eventual ascension to the throne. “Guitar” calls to mind The Viceroy's largely overlooked six-string iconicity—he might not be the best guitarist of all-time, but if I could wail like anybody, I’d wanna wail like Prince.

7 Blake Lewis: Break Anotha

This year’s American Idol runner-up unleashes the musical and vocal attack that vaulted him (almost) to the top of America’s most competitive sham of a show. Nobody—not me, not any magazine, and certainly not Simon Cowell—said Blake was a great singer, but his ear, flair, and beatbox are consistently outstanding. “Break Anotha” is a pretty traditional pop-hip-hop track, but includes all the elements that made Blake such a bugaboo for his American Idol opponents. Wacky instrumentation, a hall-of-fame bridge (“Playin’ a role, he don’t care what he’s told”), and a Jay-Z-esque guitar track lead comfortably into rolling breakbeats and some vintage Blake Lewis noodling. A score for American Idol lovers and haters alike.

6 Marcus Miller: Higher Ground

Let me be clear: this would be number one by a lot (A LOT) if it weren’t a cover. Miller has always taken a backseat to bass greats like Victor Wooten and Jaco Pastorious, and for good reason—he has far less technical ability, he’s not an innovator, and he kinda sorta writes the same “funk in your face” riff over and over again. However, what’s endeared him to me (and scored him some Grammys) is his soul. He’s the funkiest of brothas, and the grooviest bassist on the planet. His rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” might well be the definitive version of the song, as it out-funks the Chili Peppers’ effort and charges harder than Mr. Wonder’s. Forgive me, Stevie.

(For another of Miller’s Wonder-ful covers, “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” click here.)

5 Rihanna: Umbrella

There is a single compelling reason for putting this song on the list: I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to like it, I didn’t want to secretly hope for it to come on the radio, and I didn’t want to ashamedly stream the video after my roommates went to sleep. I didn’t want to know the chorus by heart, I didn’t want to sing it to myself for days at a time, and I didn’t want to find myself drunkenly arguing its merits at a bar last week. But all those things happened. Plus, a little Jay-Z never hurt anybody.

4 Justice: Let There Be Light

Am I the only one who wants to swing an ice-pick through my face whenever I hear “D.A.N.C.E.,” Justice’s off-key, obnoxious, child-driven hit? The way I feel about “Let There Be Light,” which hardly made a commercial splash, is quite the opposite. This trigger-happy dance bona-fide is what we downloaded the album to hear: big drums, swirling synths, and a deadly build-up and crescendo. Everybody D.A.N.C.E.!

3 The White Stripes: Icky Thump

Jack and Meg White have a knack for rescuing themselves with humongous singles, and “Icky Thump” is their best yet. “Fell in Love With a Girl” was passable, “Seven Nation Army” was progress, but “Icky Thump” is the capstone low-fi blockbuster that puts the lid on 10 years (what?) of the White Stripes. I’m still not convinced that they’re decent—nor that Jack and Meg are married—but “Icky Thump” is an unequivocal turn-it-up-and-shut-up lifer.

2 The National: Fake Empire

Not the best song of the year, but certainly my favorite. My routine for writing up a band includes an abbreviated trip to its MySpace page for a 30-second primer on its tunes and the size of its cyber-fanbase. Rarely do I dally for more than a minute, much less listen to an entire song—I prefer listening by CD. However, when I was researching The National, something very unusual happened: I heard Matt Berninger’s ominous baritone careen over a flood of wavy piano and criss-crossing horns, and I listened to the whole song. So I played it again. And again. And again. Before long, I made a habit of loading The National’s MySpace page before I went to bed so that I could listen to “Fake Empire” immediately after I awoke. I blasted it when I was in the bathroom, looped it while I was studying, and recommended it to all my friends. And yes: it is as good live as it is on the record.

1 LCD Soundsystem: Get Innocuous!

Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bu-CKA. Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bu-CKA. My friends, welcome to the best bass line of 2007, the anchor for the year’s matchless musical landmark. I said it in the last blog, and I’ll say it again: you will not find a more honest, adrenalized, or memorable artist than James Murphy, and “Get Innocuous!” is his grand tour de force. Jonathan Ringen of Rolling Stone calls it a “massive, clattering dance-floor killer” with an “awesomely pathetic title.” I call it Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bu-CKA.

Stay Shoddy, 2007’s Musical Output
MC Murphy

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