16 January 2007

2006: The Year in Songs

The votes are in, the campaigns are finished, and, finally, the lawsuits are settled. That means it's time to anoint my best and worst songs of 2006. (Albums will come in a later post.)

Some of you have been getting an e-mail version of this annual list for years, but now the future is upon us. Behold! Like magic, an e-mail becomes a blog!

Anyway, here we go. But before I get to the countdown, I have to give a special citation.

Artist That Evoked the Most Complicated Reaction in Me: Nelly Furtado

I just don't know what to do about Nelly Furtado version 2.0, in which the former folky becomes Timbaland's R&B muse. (I've fretted about this before.) On one hand, there's the outstanding single "Say It Right," which has the standard stuttered beat of all current hip-hop, but also contains this beautiful, spooky chorus built from layers and layers of Nelly's voice. On the other, there's "Promiscuous." Or as I like to call it, "Who Needs Pants?" In three minutes, Nelly Furtado goes from folk-pop iconoclast with to the latest brand of hoochie.

So what happened here? In her quest for radio success, did Nelly Furtado dismiss her individuality? Or did she take her distinctive sound and update it, thereby making a fairly homogeneous genre a little more interesting? I mean, you can still hear Latin rhythms in songs like "Maneater" and "No Hay Igual."

Either way, I feel like I now have to say, "Nelly Furtado has a few good songs, despite being generic," whereas before I could declare her awesomeness bar none.

Like Natalie Imbruglia, I am torn.

Worst Songs of 2006

3. "Do I Make You Proud" by Taylor Hicks

God help us all. Reportedly, the final song for this season of "American Idol" will be chosen through a nationwide contest, and that will be a blessing on all humanity. The computer program that wrote this year's insipid 'inspirational' tune should never be allowed to create music again. Instead, it should be returned to its obvious original function of churning out scripts for "The Ghost Whisperer."

2. "Laffy Taffy" by D4L

I wish I could tell you what this rap song about a woman's, um, sweet taffy, sounded like in its final two minutes. But I've never been able to get all the way through it.

1. "Wind It Up" by Gwen Stefani

I pretty much said everything I want to say in this article and in this post. But let me just reiterate: Ironic yodeling wasn't cool when Jewel did it. So that means that Gwen Stefani is less cool than Jewel.

Best Songs of 2006

(Note: If I've already written about these songs or artists, the titles will be links to my previous posts about them)

20. "Want To" by Sugarland -- A country duo that excels at making hummable, feel-good melodies. And that's not as easy as it seems. This one is particularly fun for singing along.

19. "S. E. X." by Lyfe Jenninngs featuring LaLa Brown

"Cheated Hearts" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

"Crystal Ball" by Keane -- Lush and beautiful pop.

"I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)" by Sandi Thom -- And then I wrote more about this song here.

"You're All I Have" by Snow Patrol

"Fidelity" by Regina Spektor -- Once again I say, "Watch the video! It's so endearing!"

"Fireflies" by Rhett Miller and Rachael Yamagata

"Irreplaceable" by Beyonce -- This one would've been higher, but the radio is just playing the hell out of it right now, which makes it impossible to ignore the rhyming of "minute" with "minute." Now, I still love the song, but I feel like you have to get marks down for that kind of lazy songwriting. Am I too strict? Please petition your school board if you want to complain about my grading methods.

"Not Ready to Make Nice" by Dixie Chicks

"In The Clouds" by Under the Influence of Giants

"Set the Fire to the Third Bar" by Snow Patrol -- Really, just a beautiful, beautiful song. It gets more haunting with time, and Martha Wainwright's airy voice is the perfect addition.

8. "Don't Cry Out" by Shiny Toy Guns

7. "Turn, Turn, Turn" by Dolly Parton -- This year, Dolly Parton released an album called "Those Were The Days," in which she covers songs from the 60s and 70s, often duetting with the songwriters or original artists. The album has a tacky, discount-store cover, but the music is just exceptional, particularly this version of "Turn, Turn, Turn" (featuring backing vocals from The Byrds' Roger McGuinn.) The banjo-led arrangement is rollicking like the best old-school country, and Dolly's voice is astonishing. Really, the entire song is worth it for the last 45 seconds, when she starts wailing with this raspy joy that makes me want to lift a hand to Jesus. Many kisses to Andrew for giving me this CD for Christmas!

"SOS" by Rihanna -- All these months later, my booty's still shaking.

"Smiley Faces" by Gnarls Barkley

5. "Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)" by Pink -- Come on, people! Pink is awesome! Why, why, why has her latest album not been more popular? Oh, okay. It may have something to do with the fact that the singles "Stupid Girls" and "U + Ur Hand" are its weakest songs. But this song! Just spend the 99 cents: You won't be sorry. As I've said before, you'll feel like a bad-ass.

"Returning to the Fold" by The Thermals

"Ain't No Other Man" by Christina Aguilera

"Here It Goes Again" by O.K. Go -- I can't believe I haven't already written about this band! The treadmill-hopping video rules, of course, but the song itself demands wild dancing around the room. The fact that it sounds just like The Cars is only a point in its favor.

1. "Bitter End" by Dixie Chicks -- Without a doubt, the most gratifying song I've heard all year. There are so many small moments to love here, like Natalie Maines' voice when she sings the line "It's alright, you can sleep tonight." Her soft crack on the high notes--on the syllables "right" and "night"--define the longing in a song about missing a friend who is gone forever. Then there's the harmony vocals on the chorus and in the ad-libbed final minute. They make "Bitter End" sound like it's launching up off the ground, offering to carry us.

And the insistent tempo, with its heavy drum implying a forward march, is a poignant counterpoint to the theme of loss. No matter how much we miss someone, life keeps moving. The song keeps playing. We can raise a glass and toast the past, but then we have to go.

And that's heartbreaking and honest and exactly the kind of sentiment that the Dixie Chicks, with their impeccable artistry, can make electrifying.

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At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Jen H. said...

"Irreplaceable" is one of the best break-up songs EVER.

I listen to it after the self-indulgent mourning songs, i.e. "Let Him Fly", "A Man/Me/Then Jim", "Both Hands", "First Cut is the Deepest", etc.

I pair Beyonce with Madeleine Peyroux's "I'm All Right" and it's all good.


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