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. Check out the last two posts to see what else is on our list.
Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend,” from The Best Damn Thing (RCA)
Take the infectious cheer-squad shout of Toni Basil‘s “Mickey,” add some glean from chart-topping uber-producer Dr. Luke, and write lyrics directed at the most tech-savvy market in the country (14-year-old girls) and you’ll understand why Avril Lavigne‘s “Girlfriend” was her highest ranking single to date. Avril’s fans forgave her her newly wedded status and bought her barbed entreaties to an already attached guy to ditch his girlfriend (never has “She’s like, so whatever,” sounded like such a compelling argument). During the verse she rarely deviates into tune, sticking with her bratty schoolyard chants and marrying mall punk guitars with positively jubilant pop. All handclaps and sass, the video has Avril pulling triple-duty, playing her blonde self, a boyfriend-stealing brunette and a red-headed prude. While the message of the song is far from female empowerment, it seems she’s finally embraced a less abrasive side, making the unabashed pop music she’s faulted others for in the past.
Soulja Boy, “Crank That,” from Souljaboytellem.com (INTERSCOPE)
Ya gots ta be multi-format these days, and there was no better example of video aiding and abetting audio than this ATL kiddo’s uber-ubiquitous, ultra-catchy dance anthem. His MySpace page was thick with how-to clips (please, don’t mess up the Superman section) and messages from trillions of fans. YouTube was loaded with tributes and satires, from yarmulke doo-rags to Santa’s elves gliding to the groove. So, yeah, DeAndre Ramone Way wasn’t fibbing when he said his reach stretched “from the Internet to Main Street.” There’s glory in one-hit-wonderville, and even though one Web commenter rightly declared that Soulja Boy blabbered “on the mic like he just woke up,” the song of the summer (sorry, Rihanna) proved to be a bubblecrunk gem.
LCD Soundsystem, “My Friends,” from The Sound of Silver (DFA RECORDS)
James Murphy is a master of momentum. On the underground hit “Losing My Edge,” Murphy’s complaints build into frothed-mouth fervor over the course of the 8-minute song, his shouted-word monologue railing against (and for) cultural relevance. On his sophomore album, Murphy has abandoned his hipster apathy, and he’s wearing his heart on his purposely tailored too-short sleeve. Beginning with a terse piano note played over and over, the repetition breaks just before it grates when a guitar line starts rattling around. Murphy then spools out an evening filled with drugs and music, a last hurrah spent in the company of the one friend who gets it. The song chronicles the disconnection that goes on while transitioning into adulthood, when one finds themselves cleaved, and when familial and fiscal responsibility and your friends become mutually exclusive. The song is bittersweet, and Murphy acknowledges as much in his sardonic way: “Oh, this could be the last time/ So here we go/ Like a sales force into the night.” Pulling up just short of enumerating mortgage rates, Murphy created four-and-a-half-minute masterpiece about aging.
M.I.A., “Jimmy,” from Kala (INTERSCOPE)
British-born Sri Lankan beauty M.I.A. (real name: Maya Arulpragasam) is one of the few political antagonists left today in alternative music, so it’s little wonder that she references the Sex Pistols and the Clash on her sophomore album. Its a collection of nasty, hard-edged beats and punk, hip-hop and world-music pastiche — making Kala a difficult listen. Her second single, “Jimmy,” a sweet Bollywood cover that she makes entirely her own, proves more accessible. “Jimmy” is M.I.A.’s mother’s favorite song on the record, and given its mash of traditional sub-continent vocal melodies, it provides one of Kala’s few friendly access points. But the lyrics are all M.I.A.: “When you go Rwanda Congo/ Take me on your genocide tour/ Take me on a truck to Darfur/ Take me where you would go.” In a sense, the song’s a sugar-coated poison pill, a Trojan horse of ideas that suckers with its pop sensibilities, then bludgeons with ideology. It’s to her credit and her uncompromising vision that she can turn such heavy themes into a radio-ready song.
Rihanna, “Shut Up and Drive,” from Good Girl Gone Bad (DEF JAM)
It’s evident that Rihanna, despite her status as Princess of the R&B world, has always been a fan of rock n’ roll. Way back in 2005, the buxom Barbadian burst on the scene riding a sped-up Michael Jackson sample to the top of the charts. On her sophomore album, Rihanna performed some vocal acrobatics on her smash “S.O.S.,” snagging a Soft Cell “Tainted Love” sample and making reference to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” And as your cries of “Umbrella-ella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh” trail off, we’d like to correct you about the best song Rihanna put out this year: it’s actually “Shut Up and Drive.” Featuring a synth line from the uncharacteristically barbed “Blue Monday” by sad sacks New Order, our girl gives the tired driving-boning metaphor a new lease. Rihanna’s a no-nonsense type — she goes from zero to sixty in 3.5, she’s got class like a ’57 Cadillac, and drives with a whole lot of boom in the back. Most importantly, as we’ve learned over the past two years: she’s got directions.