Before I head into my Top 10 songs of the year, here’s a recap of the previous 90. Click the links to see the blocks of videos and commentary for each group of ten:
100: “LOVER, LOVER” by JERROD NIEMANN
99: “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU” by THE THERMALS
98: “MIAMI 2 IBIZA” by SWEDISH HOUSE MAFIA vs. TINIE TEMPAH
97: “STOP FOR A MINUTE” by KEANE & K’NAAN
96: “FIRE WITH FIRE” by SCISSOR SISTERS
95: “KING OF ANYTHING” by SARA BAREILLES
94: “THE RABBIT” by MIIKE SNOW
93: “I WANT THE WORLD TO STOP” by BELLE & SEBASTIAN
92: “MELANCHOLY HILL” by GORILLAZ
91: “ANIMAL ARITHMETIC” by JONSI
90: “THE GHOST INSIDE” by BROKEN BELLS
89: “HARD TIMES” by JOHN LEGEND & THE ROOTS
88: “HIGHWAY 20 RIDE” by ZAC BROWN BAND
87: “MORNING SUN” by ROBBIE WILLIAMS
86: “NEIN, MANN!” by LASERKRAFT 3D
85: “MADDER RED” by YEASAYER
84: “SOMEONE ELSE CALLING YOU BABY” by LUKE BRYAN
83: “WHAT PART OF FOREVER” by CEE-LO GREEN
82: “EGO” by THE SATURDAYS
81: “HOLLYWOOD” by MARINA & THE DIAMONDS
80: “WATER” by BRAD PAISLEY
79: “FOR THE SUMMER” by RAY LaMONTAGNE & THE PARIAH DOGS
78: “LITTLE WHITE CHURCH” by LITTLE BIG TOWN
77: “SHINE A LIGHT” by McFLY feat. TAIO CRUZ
76: “DO WAH DOO” by KATE NASH
75: “ONE LIFE STAND” by HOT CHIP
74: “PRAYIN'” by PLAN B
73: “THE HOUSE THAT BUILT ME” by MIRANDA LAMBERT
72: “NIGHT AND DAY” by CHIEF
71: “BETTER THAN TODAY” by KYLIE MINOGUE
70: “I NEED A DOLLAR” by ALOE BLACC
69: “GOD & SATAN” by BIFFY CLYRO
68: “MY OWN SINKING SHIP” by GOOD OLD WAR
67: “BANG BANG BANG” by MARK RONSON & THE BUSINESS INTL
66: “HANG WITH ME” by ROBYN
65: “AMERICAN SATURDAY NIGHT” by BRAD PAISLEY
64: “DO YOU LOVE ME” by GUSTER
63: “RIDE” by NAPPY ROOTS
62: “CRASH YEARS” by THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
61: “HEARTBEAT SONG” by THE FUTUREHEADS
60: “DYNAMITE” by TAIO CRUZ
59: “HERE LIES LOVE” by DAVID BYRNE & FATBOY SLIM with FLORENCE WELCH
58: “JUST THE WAY YOU ARE” by BRUNO MARS
57: “HANDS TIED” by TONI BRAXTON
56: “SMOKE A LITTLE SMOKE” by ERIC CHURCH
55: “CLUB CAN’T HANDLE ME” by FLO RIDA feat. DAVID GUETTA
54: “CARRY OUT” by TIMBALAND feat. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE
53: “SECRETS” by ONEREPUBLIC
52: “RAISE YOUR GLASS” by P!NK
51: “HEAVEN AND EARTH” by BLITZEN TRAPPER
50: “YOU MUST BE OUT OF YOUR MIND” by THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
49: “THE SKY’S THE LIMIT” by JASON DERULO
48: “TRIPPING DOWN THE FREEWAY” by WEEZER
47: “ALL NIGHT LONG” by ALEXANDRA BURKE
46: “TELEPHONE” by LADY GAGA feat. BEYONCE
45: “MARCHIN’ ON” by ONEREPUBLIC
44: “GRENADE” by BRUNO MARS
43: “BREAK YOUR HEART” by TAIO CRUZ
42: “THE FIRE” by THE ROOTS feat. JOHN LEGEND
41: “CREDIBLE THREATS” by THE ONE A.M. RADIO
40: “THE HIGH ROAD” by BROKEN BELLS
39: “WRITTEN IN REVERSE” by SPOON
38: “PARACHUTE” by CHERYL COLE / “PARACHUTE” by INGRID MICHAELSON
37: “WHITE NIGHT” by THE POSTELLES
36: “I’M A PILOT” by FANFARLO
35: “O.N.E.” by YEASAYER
34: “A MORE PERFECT UNION” by TITUS ANDRONICUS
33: “DANCE FLOOR” by THE APPLES IN STEREO
32: “WE, MYSELF AND I” by SHAD
31: “MY BEST THEORY” by JIMMY EAT WORLD
30: “THE BEST OF TIMES” by SAGE FRANCIS
29: “ACAPELLA” by KELIS
28: “SHE SAID” by PLAN B
27: “IF WE EVER MEET AGAIN” by TIMBALAND feat. KATY PERRY
26: “DANCE IN THE DARK” by LADY GAGA
25: “YOU KNOW ME” by ROBBIE WILLIAMS
24: “UNTHINKABLE (I’M READY” by ALICIA KEYS
23: “NA NA NA (NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA)” by MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
22: “ALL THE LOVERS” by KYLIE MINOGUE
21: “BUTTERFLY, BUTTERFLY (THE LAST HURRAH)” by A-HA
20: “I AM NOT A ROBOT” by MARINA & THE DIAMONDS
19: “WE USED TO WAIT” by ARCADE FIRE
18: “I FEEL BETTER” by HOT CHIP
17: “ONLY PRETTIER” by MIRANDA LAMBERT
16: “FEMBOT” by ROBYN
15: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS” by OK GO
14: “ALORS ON DANSE” by STROMAE
13: “NO OTHER ONE” by TAIO CRUZ
12: “RUNAWAY” by KANYE WEST feat. PUSHA T.
11: “SHARK IN THE WATER” by VV BROWN
And now: On to the Top 10:#10: “WAIT TILL YOU SEE MY SMILE” by ALICIA KEYS.
It’s not often that a record as heavy on ballads as Alcia Keys’s fourth album is turns out to also be a fabulously exciting listen. But The Element of Freedom is, and this song, though regrettably not promoted as a single, is, to me, the album’s beating heart. It’s soft and understated in a way that Keys has never really been before, and that understatement is perfectly matched to the song’s theme of finding inner strength to face external opposition. It’s got a gorgeous build; and it feels like the deep breath you might take before jumping out of an airplane.
#9: “HAPPINESS” by ALEXIS JORDAN (with DEADMAU5).
18-year-old Alexis Jordan seemed poised to become a footnote to a pop-cultural footnote when she was eliminated from America’s Got Talent four years ago. And in another time, she probably would have. But now there’s YouTube. And Alexis Jordan has been nothing if not a prolific poster of videos of herself singing the day’s hit parade on the YouTube. Eventually, someone had to notice. But her debut single is way better than anyone might have expected based on the story of her career so far. Here, she takes an existing techno-rave song – “Brazil (2nd Edit)” by Canadian dj deadmau5 – and sings a sweet teenybopper song all over the top of it. A musical marriage made in the aisles of Old Navy.
#8: “ONE IN A MILLION” by NE-YO.
Libra Scale, the fourth album by R&B singer-songwriter-producer Ne-Yo sounds like everything a new Michael Jackson album should and would sound like in the best of all parallel universes. And it also sounds like the album Ne-Yo has dreamed of making since he first decided to be a performer. It’s sweet, stylish, sexy; and it has a great sense of humor too. It’s also got a narrative storyline about three guys who are given superpowers with the caveat that by accepting them, they can never fall in love. Michael would have been proud. The narrative structure isn’t new for Ne-Yo though. The first time I ever heard of him, he was opening for John Legend (when John Legend was touring Get Lifted), and his set was an adorable one-man play about trying-and-failing-and-trying-again to get the girl. Libra Scale is that little stage act’s apotheosis.
#7: “ON TO THE NEXT ONE” by JAY-Z + SWIZZ BEATZ.
In which Jay-Z not-so-politely refuses to participate in any kind of – what do you call it? – oh yeah: recession. Jay-Z is and promises to remain a hip hop stimulus package unto himself. Yes, it’s true that he also released, simultaneously with this song, a single called “Young Forever” which was essentially a remake of a beloved 80s synthpop song by the German group Alphaville, and yes, you’d think that I would have fallen hard for that, and yes, I admit the sheet amount of nasty language in this song makes me cringe some, but I find every other thing about it highly addictive. And the video: who knew Jay-Z was a closet Goth (with an enthusiasm for basketball and Damien Hirst?)
#6: “SOLDIER OF LOVE” by SADE.
A new album by Sade? Enough said, really.
#5: “WAITING FOR THE END” by LINKIN PARK.
“I know what it takes to move on. I know how it feels to lie. All I want to do is trade this life for something new, holding on to what I haven’t got.” I never expected to fall as deeply in love with a Linkin Park album as much as I have with their latest, A Thousand Suns, a sort of concept record inspired by, of all things, the creation of teh atomic bomb. They had me at the Oppenheimer quotes that open the record. It must be my thing for post-apocalyptic fiction. At any rate, I love this song. “The hardest part of ending is starting again.”
#4: “FUCK YOU” by CEE-LO GREEN.
It’s every great bubblegum song from the 60s and 70s wrapped up in one great big four letter word. Is it gimmicky? Abso-effing-lutely. But it’s also deeply catchy and tremendously good-natured in the way that Top 40 pop rarely is these days. No surprise, really, with Bruno Mars on board as a co-writer. And the whole “Life Stages of the Lady Killer” video is, y’know, kinda heartwarming.
#3: “SHAME” by ROBBIE WILLIAMS & GARY BARLOW.
Imagine Justin Timberlake and JC Chassez getting together 20 years after “Bye Bye Bye” to hash things in sweet, folky harmonies. “Shame” is the story of the greatest boy band bromance ever speculated about. The song was the single released in conjunction with Robbie’s recent solo greatest hits retrospective, and it was released right as Robbie set his solo career aside to re-join his old pal Gary, and the rest of the 90s-era British boy band Take That. The video, which finds the two singing the song at a country bar karaoke night, plays on all the stereotypes about boy bands, and gets enticingly Brokebackish toward the end. Will it go there? It… just… might… (FTR… they’re both openly straight, even though most of the men in their audiences aren’t.)
Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow – Shame
Uploaded by EMI_Music. – See the latest featured music videos. #2: “DANCING ON MY OWN” by ROBYN.
High, double-edged drama in the wake of a bitter break-up. On one hand, here’s Robyn surreptitiously spying (err… stalking?) her ex with his new girl at the club. On the other, here’s Robyn dancing in the face of his rejection. Is it a moment of devastating weakness, or a moment of defiant strength? “I just came to say good-bye. I’m in the corner watching you kiss her.” That part where the beat drops out as she starts into the final chorus is just gut-wrenching. It’s the centerpiece of my favorite album of the year.
#1: “POWER” by KANYE WEST.
This year, Kanye West has become to hip-hop and maybe even popular music in general what Sarah Palin has become to politics. His is a presence to which attention must be paid. Always. Like Palin, he’s mastered the art of the provocatively self-serving tweet. Like Palin, he has a knack for saying really dumb things in really public ways. And like Palin, he is impervious to the valid criticisms and well-deserved attacks from the many many many many people for whom the mere mention of his name causes cringing, growling and gnashing of teeth. He revels in the outrage directed his way – “screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it” – and rather than defend himself against media missiles, he grabs a hold of them and turns them into weapons of offense. He’s almost certainly a narcissist, but he’s done what most narcissists fail to do – he’s made himself an object of our own sympathetic admiration. This year (and last), Kanye West has said and done things to make a fool of himself. But this year, he also made one of the year’s best and most fascinating records in the form of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Deal with that, you can almost hear Sarah – I mean Kanye – say, with an obnoxiously self-satisfied wink.
“Power” was the first song to be released from the album, arriving almost half a year before the album itself, and it’s a toweringly tacky piece of self-aggrandizement – a sonic pyramid of tribal chants and handclaps, mushroom cloud basslines, and arena-rock guitar heroism (and yes, that King Crimson sample) – but tucked into it, right at the end is this challenge: “Do you have the power to let power go?” Early in the song, he likens himself to a superhero, but like Superman, by the end of the song, he seems to come to understand that in order to experience life and love on any kind of real level – to be a real person, and not just a really wealthy, powerful man who can get himself all the “light-skinned girls” he wants – he has to give up his superpowers and concede some level of weakness, vulnerability, mortality. “This’ll be a beautiful death,” he sings, and instead of flying like Superman, he’s “dropping out the window, letting everything go.”
In a year when we saw firsthand, repeatedly, how the petulant whims of a single Senator could hold up progress on even the most popular and uncontroversial of legislative initiatives, West’s “Power” feels, strangely (since it’s coming from West), like a refreshingly sincere confessional on the moral limits of self-indulgence, from someone who seems to live life at the extremes of self-indulgence. Well played, Mr. West.
And that is all! This has been a great year for music, and it was painful tying to even make a list of “only” 100 great songs. Let’s hope 2011 can be even half as awesome. Happy New Year, folks! This is Paul’s Inner Casey Kasem signing off. Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for your beers.