Happy New Year everyone!
I assume everyone is sufficiently recovered.
Without much going on in the music world this first week of January (buy the Radiohead album), I figured now would be a good time to relive some of the high points of the year that’s just ended.
Here are my picks for the Top 25 singles of 2007. Feel free to argue as you see fit!
25. “Ayo Technology” by 50 Cent featuring Justin Timberlake & Timbaland
I’m not enough of a snob to not notice the fact that 50 Cent has made a couple of great singles. One day, there will be a killer Greatest Hits album from Curtis Jackson, and this song will be on it. Much like 50’s earlier great singles (“Disco Inferno”, “Outta Control (remix)”, the greatness has more to do with the production and the hook than any fantastic lyricism. Timberlake’s sleazy chorus and Timbaland’s sleazy synthesizers contributed heavily to the, well…sleazy nature of this dance hit, which will no doubt be in heavy rotation in your local nudie bar for years to come.
24. “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” by UGK featuring OutKast
UGK didn’t get to enjoy their belated (and deserved) props for hip-hop’s most unheralded 20 year career due to Pimp C’s unfortunate death in early December, but man, what a way to go out! Talking trash over a dreamily soulful Willie Hutch sample, Texas’s favorite rapping duo joined up with OutKast (who should really do the whole rapping on one track together thing a lot more often) and created a classic. Andre 3000’s opening verse is probably the best verse on a rap single in all of 2007. How does this guy get overlooked as quite possibly the greatest Southern MC of all time? (fantastic video as well…see below)
23. “Wait For You” by Elliott Yamin
The guy that should have won “American Idol” in 2006 will probably have the last laugh. His debut solo album has already outsold Katharine McPhee’s and may close in on Taylor Hicks’ soon enough. Not bad for an indie artist, huh? Fortunately, Elliott wasn’t indie enough to resist a great song from the Stargate production team (in a rare break from recreating Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”). It’s a simple piano ballad with a simple claptrack and simple lyrics, but Yamin’s singing is anything but simple. He may lack lots of things (stage presence, his own teeth), but one thing he doesn’t lack is a killer voice and the ability to sell a song. Definitely the puppy-dog love song of the year!
22. “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse
This song would be much higher up on the list if it wasn’t for the fact that it might be a good idea right now for Amy to say “yes, yes, yes” to rehab. Talk about a case of life imitating art. As gimmicky as this song might seem in light of Amy turning into a hot ghetto mess, this is the closest anyone’s come to sounding like vintage Motown, since…probably vintage Motown. Besides, if I were Amy, I’d choose Donny Hathaway and Ray Charles over rehab too! (but seriously, girl…you might wanna reconsider, k?)
21. “Clothes Off!!!” by Gym Class Heroes featuring Patrick Stump
It must be hard to be taken seriously when your fans call you “Travie”, but Gym Class Heroes and it’s lead emcee put out some of the most fun music of recent years. “Clothes Off!!!” was the perfect spring/summer goofball track, and you’ve gotta love anyone who has the balls to base a song off of the chorus of the cheesy 80s hit “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off (To Have a Good Time). Besides, I feel bad for guest vocalist Patrick Stump, as the single least unattractive man in the music business. Word to Jermaine Stewart (R.I.P. Jermaine).
Check out the original “Clothes Off” here!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID_N7rv-iN8
20. “Icebox” by Omarion
Timbaland to the rescue again! After resurrecting his own career with the help of Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, the producer was immediately deluged with calls to resurrect the careers of other artists. The former lead singer of boy band also-rans B2K was among the many artists to receive the Timbo Touch, and the single that resulted was one of his best. Tim crafts an arrangement of piano plinks and clicking drum machines that sound as cold as the heart that O’s singing about. And it made me actually like Omarion, a pretty big feat within itself. Granted, that like disappears the minute this song goes off, but it’s a start.
19. “Out of Control” by Kenna
Kenna is one of the coolest artists that you’ve never heard of, which is stunning because not only is he a protege of stale hip-hop producers The Neptunes, but he was initially discovered by Fred Durst. “Out of Control” is what would happen if The Cure suddenly decided to recruit hip-hop producers. Kenna emotes like a true drama queen, quotes the Ramones (“I wanna be sedated!!”) and gives us so much new wave it might as well be 1983 all over again.
18. “Stop Me” by Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather
Speaking of the Eighties, one thing I don’t have in common with most fans of the decade’s music is this: I hate The Smiths. I’ve always found Morrissey’s lyrics to be pretentious and his singing akin to the bawling of a dog being shot between the eyes. But, damn, take one of his songs, give it a blue-eyed soul vocal treatment (sung by an Australian to boot!), have a superstar producer jazz it up with some peppy horns and a snatch of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes, and voila! A great song! Maybe there’s something to this Morrissey dude after all.
17. “Because Of You” by Ne-Yo
Nope, the King of Pop didn’t bless us with his return in 2007, but in an age where every male pop & R&B crooner sounds like Michael (if they’re not sounding like Prince), his influence was quite pervasive. The title track of Ne-Yo’s sophomore effort was the year’s best MJ rip. Over a beat that was his poppiest (and most danceable) to date, Ne-Yo delivered one of the year’s catchiest choruses. While it’s too bad that the resulting album didn’t live up to expectations, somewhere Michael Jackson is tipping a fedora in appreciation.
16. “Lost Without U” by Robin Thicke
What would you have thought five or ten years ago if someone told you that Billboard’s #1 R&B single of the year was written, produced and performed by the son of “Growing Pains”‘ Jason Seaver? I’d still be trying to pick you up the floor. Well, guess what, not only did Robin Thicke’s “Lost Without U” sit at the top of the R&B singles chart for an amazing ten weeks this winter, it became one of this year’s official baby-making anthems. Hearing Thicke’s fragile falsetto over a slightly Latin-ized acoustic beat caused some serious rising temperatures and sudden removal of clothing. Then again, Jason and Maggie Seaver were always getting it on…
15. “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters
You know, I occasionally hate on Dave Grohl. The guy gets unlimited props and he’s basically made the exact same album six times in a row. But damn if “The Pretender” isn’t one of the best singles he and The Foos have ever made (apologies to “Everlong” and “My Hero”). While his other popular band (what was their name again) mastered the soft/loud dynamic, this song goes from loud to LOUDER while still remaining tuneful. I will admit that I wish I could scream the way he does on the chorus, but I think my throat would quit in protest and stroll right out of my mouth.
14. “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” by Fall Out Boy
I could have easily substituted “This Ain’t A Scene” or “The Take Over” for this song. FOB’s “Infinity On High” was the one album I was most surprised to like this year, and the idiotic video (the one with the monkeys) was what might have put this song over the top. The difference, in my not entirely educated opinion, between FOB and other bands of their ilk is that Patrick Stump sings while the other folks whine and/or scream. Add in a killer chorus (I’m a sucker for those, as you can tell) and you have one of the year’s best rock songs, and the best song produced by Babyface in five, if not ten years.
13. “Tears Dry On Their Own” by Amy Winehouse
The third U.S. single (out of 5 so far) from Winehouse’s “Back To Black” was also the very first song I heard of hers back in early December ’06. Winehouse and producer Salaam Remi take one of the most lovey-dovey songs of all time (Marvin & Tammi’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”)and turn it into a lament about screwing around with idiots, while still retaining the hopeful nature of the original recording. Nice move.
12. “Bed” by J. Holiday
Let’s bring Michael back again. If The King of Pop had ever been produced by his archrival Prince (and were he to develop any kind of convincing sexual identity), the end result would sound something like “Bed”. Synthesizers buzz around like horny bees, while the song’s undulating rhythm sounds like get-down, knockout, sweaty, back-breaking SEX. As someone whose made more than his share of slow jam mix tapes (for others as well as myself) AND has put them to use, I can say that “Bed” is a certified boudoir heater.
11. “Don’t Stop The Music” by Rihanna
It’s hard to imagine that this Barbadian beauty irritated the crap out of me when she arrived on the scene less than three years ago with “Pon De Replay”. As her popularity has grown, she’s managed to score some knockout singles, and this is the dance single of the year (in a country that really doesn’t check for dance music anymore). If I were to hear this in a club, I’d be forced to ignore my better judgment and dance like a fool for the duration of this track. Ah…and in addition to Rihanna’s breathless vocal, you’ve gotta love the fact that it samples the “ma ma say ma ma sah ma ma coo sa” from MJ’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, a song that knows a thing or two about forcing people out onto the dance floor. OK, who gets more mentions on this list? Winehouse or Jackson? It’s gonna be a close one, folks.
10. “Strapped For Cash” by Fountains of Wayne
If FOW weren’t signed to an absolutely atrocious label, they would be superstars (then again, that four year break betwene albums probably wasn’t a good move either). This is fantastic power-pop in the grand tradition of acts like Joe Jackson and good Billy Joel (FOW even quote “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” towards the end of this track). Aside from premium singbility, the song tells a hilarious tale about a guy whose got a teeny little debt that needs to be paid off. If the stars were properly aligned, this song should have been friggin’ HUGE.
9. “The Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn & John
Swedes must be born with a gene that allows them to write catchy pop songs with ease. How else do you explain ABBA, Ace of Base, the songwriting factory that helped teen-pop make a resurgence a decade ago and this irresistible slice of pop? It hits every hot button. Male and female duet vocals. Busy, danceable percussion. Whistling? Whistling! “Young Folks” is easily the best song featuring whistling since G’N R’s “Patience” back in ’89! PB&J cooked up a winner…so good even Kanye West recorded a version of it.
8. “Sober” by Kelly Clarkson
Her career might be in crisis right now. However, “My December” was Clarkson’s most convincing artistic statement, and “Sober” was one hell of a ballad. The ballad builds gently until it becomes the best Alanis/Evanescence song that Alanis or Evanescence never recorded. Morissette and Amy Lee freakin’ wish they had pipes like Clarkson, who attacks this song’s ending with such ferocity that it sounds like she’s having an exorcism on wax. And judging from the song’s lyrics, maybe she is.
7. “Good Life” by Kanye West featuring T-Pain
Kanye’s “Graduation” didn’t get released until mid-September, which is unfortunate, because “Good Life” should have been the song of Summer 2007. Lyrically, the song finds Kanye in a celebratory mood, enjoying the spoils of his success. He’s joined by T-Pain (who has parlayed a stunning lack of talent into unprecedent success-at one point recently he was featured on 5 songs in Billboard’s Top 10), and the result was the Block Party anthem that was released a month too late for block party season. (“Good Life” also wins the award for most inventive MJ sample, rendering “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” almost unrecognizable)
6. “Back To Black” by Amy Winehouse
Like The Shirelles as sung by Billie Holiday, the title track of Amy Winehouse’s second album combined the hollow yet full-bodied production of the Spector era with the whiskey-soaked vocals of old jazz. Who in their right mind expected a sound like this to be a hit in 2007? I hate to say this, but I almost hope that Amy keeps having her heart broken if it results in music this amazing. This song also boasts one of the most uncomfortable video images in recent memory, as the end of the song’s promo clip features the caption “R.I.P: The Heart of Amy Winehouse”. Let’s hope that we go a long time without seeing “R.I.P.” and Amy’s name next to one another.
5. “Radio Nowhere” by Bruce Springsteen
I’ve never been a fan of The Boss’s more folky efforts. I remember buying “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and being so teed off that I almost returned the tape. Bruce had spent the past six years covering Pete Seeger and releasing quiter albums like “Devils & Dust”, so I was pleased to hear “Radio Nowhere”, Bruce & The E-Street Band’s return to rock. Hearing Bruce repeat the phrase “I just want to hear some rhythm” makes me secure in the fact that there are folks out there who live and die for music as I do. And how many hit songs nowadays have sax solos? Go Big Man!
4. “Makes Me Wonder” by Maroon 5
Filling in the half-decade gap between their first two albums with a series of crappy live albums, I was a little scared when it came to the band’s sophomore effort. “Makes Me Wonder” quelled that trepidation immediately. It’s certainly the funkiest song to hit the top of the charts in 2007, splitting the difference between the slightly sleazy sound of Rick James and the pop smarts of Hall & Oates. Despite the fact that I wonder what folks see in Adam Levine (not only does he seem dorky, he seems like a total douche), the man makes some good ear candy. And I can respect the fact that the lyrics of the song are a bit nastier (in attitude as well as actual content) than the average pop radio fare.
3. “Love is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse
Single Number Five from “Back To Black” (and the fourth to be included here) is it’s most melancholy and mournful. Actually, this ballad might be the saddest 2 1/2 minutes of music released at all in 2007. You can almost picture Amy sitting in the back of a bar, nursing a drink and singing this song as a band plays behind her. Anyone who has ever been unlucky in love has got to identify with this song. Besides, it’s been covered by Prince and chosen by George Michael as one of his “Desert Island Discs”. You can’t argue with those guys.
2. “Us Placers” by CRS
Now, here’s where I guess I have to stretch the idea of what a single was. This track was never officially released for sale or download, and there has yet to be an official video. It actually only appeared on a mixtape, doomed to never be commercially released either because a) CRS (ebonics for “can’t remember sh*t”) is comprised of rap bigwigs Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell Williams or b) because the musical background is a straight rip of Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser”. Nevertheless, beg, borrow or steal if you have to get this song, it’s a treat. Both Kanye and Pharrell step up with some of their best lyrics (and without profanity…there are two cuss words on the whole song). Skateboard P’s verse touches on the VA Tech shootings in an offhand but still effective manner, made even more effective by Yorke’s eerie vocals. Here’s hoping lawyers can pull an Audioslave and make it feasible for there to be a whole CRS album. …
and now, the moment you’ve scrolled down to without reading any of the other 24 entries…
1. “Umbrella” by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z
First of all, a song has gotta be good if it opens with 16 bars from Jay-Z that wind up completely forgotten by the time the song ends. Second, it takes a lot of work to get a song with such cheesy Hallmark sentiments to sound as sleazy as “Umbrella” does (I’ve used that word a lot here…ah well…you all know I’m a freak anyway). I give massive props to whoever plays guitar and keyboards on this track. Third, “Um-ber-el-la-el-la-el-la-eh-eh-eh”…Rihanna vocalizes this word in such a way that I will never look at umbrellas the same way again. Four, watching the NYC Gay Pride parade in June, some radio station float eased down Christopher Street blasting “Umbrella” and thousands of queens, bull dykes and everyone in between started singing along with the song’s chorus. You know you’ve made a good song when the flannel-wearing lesbian, the old man in the buttless leather chaps and the gay police & fire contingent are all singing the same damn song.
And that’s all she wrote! Your thoughts?