As 2007 dwindles down, we’re taking a look back at our favorite tracks. Each Tuesday through the end of the month, we’ll sing the praises of the 20 songs that made our year. See what made the cut, and let us know what you think of our choices.
Here’s the track that will probably be remembered as the year’s most portentous song. Belting out her rejection of medical care (for what, as it turns out, was a slew of emotional and mental problems, including drug addiction, bulimia and cutting), the petite British soul star established herself as a crossover hipster with urban appeal. She wooed both the Hot 97 crew and the American Apparel kids vying for face time on the Cobra Snake. Her unfortunate biography aside, the song’s meld of R&B, punk attitude and references to another ill-fated star, Donny Hathaway, marked the arrival of an exciting pop voice. Winehouse’s sound was so radically different than the soft-soul competition, she united disparate elements of the culture — everyone from Jay-Z to Nas, say. Ostensibly, the song’s about a girl abusing liquor to cope with a bad break-up. In the lyrics at least, she knows better: “Didn’t get a lot in class/ but I know it don’t come in a shot glass.” It’s an honest ode to the virtues of being headstrong. It’s too bad, of course, that it turned out Amy herself needed rehab after all.
Mims, “This Is I’m Hot,” Music Is My Savior (Capitol)
Can a simple lyric come off like a profound declaration? In hip-hop it can, and out of the blue this mediocre MC dropped a chest-thumping boast that was utterly confident about its one-note message: “I could sell a mil saying nothing on the track,” drawled the New Yorker. That’s not necessarily the artistic crime it sounds like; give it up to Mims – this baby was one of the summer’s early smashes. A key reason: the rich atmosphere created by that ghostly synth setting and that sidewalk-shaking boom. It’s the kind of space dub stuff that sticks in your mind. And it enhances his arrogance. Out to cut the competition (“I’m hot cuz I’m fly/you ain’t cuz you’re not”) a guy who’ll probably never equal this success again came up with a masterpiece of contention.
Jay-Z, “I Know,” from American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)
Certain producers bring out the best in the artists they work with: Phil Spector created the Ronettes, George Martin was integral to the Beatles success, and Timbaland transitioned Timberlake from boy-band bum to pop music god. While it may seem hasty, it would be safe to add Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams to that list. Since the duo first partnered in 2003 on N.E.R.D.’s “Frontin’” and then Jay’s “Change Clothes,” the producer’s spartan beats and the reigning King of Hip-Hop’s intricate rhymes have had a symbiotic blend – the spaces Pharrell leaves are easily filled by Jay’s complex wordplay. This track from Jay’s rap opus is the pair at the height of their powers: a great Pharrell sample – twinkling synths, snap n’ pop percussion and hollowed-out drums — with HOVA cleverly equating love to addiction, and telling the tale of a fickle lover (or is it a tolerance-increasing drug?) that he can’t seem to live without.
The French electro outfit revolutionized dance floors all over the globe with this maniacally mashed nod to Michael Jackson and the heyday of ’70s soul. To be fair, they had some help: Daft Punk, the elder statesmen of the Paris scene, returned to the stage after nearly a decade at home, and their manager threw a series of after-parties for them where he promoted many of the artists on his Ed Banger label – Justice included. Couple that grassroots marketing with MTV airplay for the duo’s stunning video — “D.A.N.C.E.” features T-shirts whose graphics flip and morph — and you’ve got Justice emerging as the finest purveyors of party tracks since Scissor Sisters. The song recalls the King of Pop in several ways, like the lyrical references to “P.Y.T.” and “Black or White,” and the vocal, a sweet, high-pitched recording of a London choir. But “D.A.N.C.E.” is most successful in mimicking Jackson’s energy; the duo’s no-frills approach to nightlife makes for guilt-free grooving.
Sean Kingston, “Beautiful Girls,” from Sean Kingston (Epic)
The 17-year-old sensation hit the jackpot with his infectious reworking of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” a classic which apparently has been gone from the culture just long enough to entitle a new generation to claim it. Whether the kids will be exposed to the Drifters via Kingston has yet to be determined, but the song’s video has introduced the younger set to an ancient Americana, filled with drugstore soda fountains and poodle skirts. Where the song departs from its saddle-shoe-sporting predecessors is in its bizarrely earnest lyrics about a physically mismatched couple. He, it seems, doesn’t think he’s attractive enough for her: “You’re way too beautiful, girl/ That’s why it’ll never work/ You’ll have me suicidal, suicidal/ when you say it’s over.” The point-blank reference to self-harm promptly had mainstream suits scratching their heads, editing out the word “suicidal” for airplay (in one version, Kingston sings “You’ll have me in denial,”), but between the video’s retro styling and the track’s vivid textures, Kingston’s audience got the point: this is the aural version of an Archie comic.
CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S LIST – IT COVERS EVERYTHING FROM EVE TO EDITORS.