Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005's Top 20 Singles

20) The Killers - “All These Things That I’ve Done” (Island/Def Jam)
Let’s see, what did I write about The Killers last year? Oh yeah, this: “It’s amazing with some songs, you can just tell that a group is never going to be known for anything else. I may live to eat those words, but I kind of doubt it.” That sound you hear is me chomping on a paper hero with lots of mustard. Who knew they’d go four singles deep on Hot Fuss and it would go triple platinum? And who would have thought that this would end up being my favorite song on the album because it sounds like nothing else on it? Mmm, ink and paper.

19) Franz Ferdinand - “Do You Want To” (Domino/Epic)
And speaking of bands I didn’t think would have more than one crack at the big time, I’m pleasantly surprised that these Scottish rockers crafted a worth successor to the catchy tunes on their debut album. And they do it by showing more of their sly sense of humor. The opening lines “When I woke up tonight/I said I’m going to make somebody love me” slay me every time.

18) Hal - “Play the Hits” (Rough Trade)
I don’t know much about this Irish band, though I do know that they created a song about playing pop songs on the radio—which has no shot in hell of ever getting played on pop radio here in the U.S. And that’s definitely a shame. The great multi-part harmonies, the catchy wordplay in the verses and a bouncy bassline are all a critic’s dream, yet a record promoter’s nightmare.

17) The Redwalls - “Thank You” (Capitol)
I was trying to describe this band to a friend of mine one night, and the best thing I could come up with was “David Bowie fronting a roots rock band.” Now that I look at it in print, that seems rather lame. Every song on their major label debut de Nova sounds like a ripoff of two other acts at the same time. Somehow that doesn’t matter to me when it’s paired up with these lyrics, which, when I read them in print, are pretty damn cliché: “These days it seems as though/I’ve lived a lonely life time because I never had a girl like you to hold me tight/And since you came around and you showed your world to me/I’m beginning to think that I’ll never be blue again.” I just guess that sometimes the right song comes around at the same time you meet the right girl, and you can’t help but like the song for a long time. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “Damn you stupid happy feeling!”

16) Mike Doughty - “Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well” (ATO)
Hearing Mike Doughty’s voice back on the airwaves was one of the best parts of the year in music, and somehow this tale about Doughty’s ex and their drug use garnered a fair amount of airplay. What really propels this song is the powerful groove of the drums supplied by Eric Fawcett. There are times when it sounds like the drum part will just explode into this wild Buddy Rich inspired solo (without Buddy’s cursing) when Fawcett just comes back from the edge of oblivion to lock back into a simple groove. Many times I have found myself stopping whatever I was doing (typing, reading, eating) to violently air drum when the chorus kicks in. And I think I only hurt myself doing that once.

15) Louis XIV - “Finding Out True Love Is Blind” (Atlantic)
This track brings a little poem to mind: “Ah, one hit wonder from afar, what a shooting star you are.” San Diego’s Louis XIV seemed to explode out of nowhere here in New York. Within one month it was as if I heard this song every time I turned on the only current rock station here in town. And then the song disappeared just as quickly as, well, rock stations in New York. This glam rock crossed with white boy rap confection still sounds great blasting out of a good set of speakers. Alas, it seems as though it will be the only tune most folks hear from them. It’s a shame because their album, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, delivers many songs that are even better than “True Love.” (And the cover’s not so bad either.)

14) Natasha Bedingfield - “These Words” (Epic/Sony BMG)
Every year at least one catchy MTV or Top 40 staple will catch my eye or ear, rattle around its way around my brain for a few months and then secure a place on the Top 20. Last year it was Usher’s “Yeah;” in 2003 there were three such tracks—Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful,” Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love;” and in 2002 there was Busta Rhymes “Pass the Courvoisier Part II” and Missy Elliott’s “Work It.” So welcome to the Top 40 slot, Natasha Bedingfield. I happened to catch this video one late night on MTV Hits and thought to myself, “Why are all these boomboxes walking around following this cute woman?” The next time I heard the song I caught on to the rather clever words, which were about how difficult it is to write a song. And how often does a Top 40 hit reference reading Byron, Shelly and Keats? Do 14 year olds even know who these folks are? Wait, do I even know?

13) System of a Down - “B.Y.O.B.” (American/Columbia)
Only System of a Down would have the balls (I tried to find the Armenian phrase for chutzpah, but didn’t have much luck) to combine the elements for six totally different songs into the first minute and 20 seconds of this blistering anti-war and anti-Bush track. For those of you scoring at home (or at someone else’s home, ha ha!), here’s the breakdown:
0:00 - 0:09 - A little fast repetitive metal riff
0:10 - 0:20 - The standard fast SOAD sound
0:21 - 0:41 - Triple time bass and drums
0:42 - 0:50 - The standard mid-tempo SOAD sound
0:51 - 1:09 - Um, a disco song?
1:10 - a double time bass and drums thing
Wow, that’s a lot to digest. And even though they wanted to sue me, I still like it. Oh, and let’s not forget the three important questions raised by this song: Why don’t presidents fight the war? And why do they always send the poor? And where the fuck are you?

12) Rob Dickinson - “My Name Is Love” (Sanctuary)
The Catherine Wheel were yet another one of those English bands whose talent never quite matched up to their commercial success in America. The band's been split up for five years, and finally singer-guitarist Dickinson has returned to the music scene with a solo album, Fresh Wine for the Horses. "My Name Is Love" was the lead single, and with each listen this gorgeous chorus kept getting stuck in my head. Dickinson and his old bandmates always had the knack for making songs with huge hooks, and "My Name Is Love" follows in that tradition. And not many people could pull off writing a great song about a conversation with an emotion.

11) The Coral - “In the Morning” (Deltasonic/Columbia)
This UK group has a knack for making music that sounds as if it could have been recorded in any time period—well, except perhaps for this century. All of their albums have echoes of classic ’60s British rock, with hints of Traffic, The Yardbirds and Fairport Convention scattered throughout. “In the Morning” hearkens back to the 60s, but definitely more on the pop side of things. I could almost imagine Donovan covering this song—and I don’t mean that as an insult to the band. “In the Morning” just has a lighthearted feel that some of the fake-folkie’s tunes tapped into. Even so, if you didn’t show this paragraph to the members of The Coral, I’d be happy. Thank you.

10) Death Cab for Cutie - “Soul Meets Body” (Atlantic)
I imagine any long-time Death Cab for Cutie fans loudly screamed “sell out!!!!!!” when they heard this pop gem. The combination of a crisply recorded acoustic guitar, highly processed drums and a slick little keyboard riff (along with a little subtle trumpet) could lead one to think this was the grab for the top of the charts. And even though this combo (and the major label push) helped give Death Cab their breakthrough hit, this song is still an anomaly on the airwaves. Frontman Ben Gibbard’s wimpy and nasally voice and lyrics like “Cause in my head there’s a Greyhound station/Where I send my thought to far-off destinations” aren’t exactly the perfect hit-making formula. I also imagine that the Greyhound station in my mind is a lot tougher and drunker crowd than the one in Ben Gibbard’s mind.

9) Coldplay - “Fix You” (Capitol)
I know, I know—Coldplay is so summer 2002. And I really think that the band’s latest album, X&Y, is completely inferior to A Rush of Blood to the Head. And I also know that right around the 761st time everyone heard “Clocks” they wanted to choke the living crap out of singer/whiner Chris Martin. That being said, “Fix You” is the only song on the album that captures what made me like Coldplay in the first place. In this track the lyrics aren’t so over-the-top earnest like the rest of X&Y. It's just a gorgeous ballad about wanting to help a person you like (girlfriend, family member, whomever) in any way you can, even though you know there’s absolutely nothing you can do at all. It’s that feeling of helplessness in the face of someone else's problems that just might overwhelm them. It's a feeling that (at least in my emotionally stunted way) only a song can accurately convey.

8) Spoon - “I Turn My Camera On” (Merge)
The falsetto doesn’t get used enough in rock music today. Just listen to Spoon frontman Britt Daniel channeling Mick Jagger circa Emotional Rescue on “Camera” and you’ll hear exactly what I mean. Add in the slinky groove laid down by drummer Jim Eno, and you have one of the most danceable rock songs of the year.

7) Gorillaz - “Feel Good Inc.” (Virgin)
Has anyone else noticed that since Damon Alburn started this whole Gorillaz project, the Blur records have pretty much sucked? It’s obvious that he cares more about making music for these cartoon characters than he does for his own flesh and blood band. I love how Alburn sings “feel good” in this high pitched voice, when it’s obvious that he feels anything but. And props to Alburn’s collaborator Danger Mouse for bringing De Le Soul for the guest rap that disguises the fact that no one seems to be happy on this song.

6) Hot Hot Heat - “You Owe Me an IOU” (Reprise)
I’d like to nominate the piano run throughout this song to the Keyboard Riff Hall of Fame—that is, if one ever exists. And I bet if it does they’d put the fucking opening from “Piano Man” in there, which means I’d have to torch the place. Sorry, I got sidetracked, where was I? Oh yeaaah, “You Owe Me an IOU.” The first time I heard this third single from the Canadian quartet’s second album on I stopped working (okay, reading’s baseball coverage) to check out who this was, and wondered how a song that I thought was catchy was getting played on a radio station. (Okay, an Internet radio station, but still, we all know that I am a killer of people’s musical careers.) I’m still not sure what the heck “You Owe Me an IOU” means. Does the song’s narrator owe money to someone, or does that someone owe money to them and want some sort of legal documentation proving that? Crap, let me look up my accountant’s number…

5) Ben Lee - “Catch My Disease” (New West)
Normally I would hate a song which has lyrics like “They play Good Charlotte on the radio, and that’s the way I like it.” Or that uses the gimmick of repeating “and that’s the way I like it” at the end of every line. But like its’ title, the song is as catchy as the bird flu. The joy coming from Lee and his gaggle of background singers is so infectious that at times I found myself singing it throughout an entire day. But just a word of warning—don’t sing the chorus out loud when you’re in a hospital. They don’t see the humor in that for some reason.

4) Brendan Benson - “Cold Hands (Warm Heart)” (V2)
Here’s yet another great song about a relationship falling apart from the Detroit native, and yet another song that I’ve found myself humming for an entire day. I especially like the line “All talk no action/So what’s the big attraction.” Been there, done that Brendan.

3) The Mars Volta - “The Widow” (Universal)
I have no idea what this song is about. I don’t think singer Cedric Bixler ever mentions the song’s title. In fact, the only lyrics I can truly make out in the entire three minutes of the single version are “I’ll never sleep alone.” That lack of lyrical understanding doesn’t mean a thing, since the music and Bixler’s voice are the most passionate combination of the year. After waiting what seemed to be months for a co-worker to bring in the album so I could listen to the entire thing, I finally broke down and made the single version of this song my first iTunes purchase for the iPod. I’m still waiting to borrow that album though.

2) Oasis - “Lyla” (Epic)
I haven't liked an Oasis single since 1997's “D’Ya Know What I Mean,” so I must admit to being surprised that this grew on me so much. Like most of Noel Gallagher's best songs, “Lyla” is a complete ripoff of someone else’s work. The melody of the opening verse is a complete nick of the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” and the rest of the song sounds like it was borrowed from The Who and Soundtrack of Our Lives. The thievery is besides the point—it’s just good to have Oasis back is somewhat fighting form. Now we just need more outlandish Noel Gallagher interviews.

1) Josh Rouse - “It’s the Nighttime” (Rykodisc)
This track is the most played on my iTunes and iPod this year (over 52 as of press time), so I guess it’s only fair that it tops the single list. Once again, Rouse isn’t inventing the singer-songwriter wheel here, but something about this song draws me in over and over again. I think the highlight has to be when the last chorus rolls around. Rouse harmonizes with himself (bless that multi-tracking) on the final line, "It's the nighttime baby/Don’t let go of my love.” But when he sings “love” this time, he stretches the syllable out, and squeezes all the heartbreak out of it by singing “looooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvvveeeee.” (Gosh, that looks stupid in print.) It’s a beautiful way to open up a album about heartbreak all around.

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