I blame Sirius and iTunes.
We gave up terrestrial radio in favor of satellite four years ago, so instead of suffering through insipid Top 40 and less-funny-then-they-think-they-are Morning Zoo teams, I listen to progressive political radio, NPR or my beloved Coffeehouse station that plays indie acoustic stuff. I flip through some other rock, pop and alternative stations...maybe a little classic soul and R&B...oh, and I suffer through my husband's favorite all-jazz no commercials station.
Then there is iTunes--along with my sweet, precious iPod, it has introduced me to a world of new music, though apparently not the kind that makes it onto year-end "best of" lists. My last purchases included a few tracks of Kanye West's new release, "Devil Town" by Bright Eyes, and an indie singer/songwriter compilation that has tracks by Cat Power, Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens and others.
I guess what I love the most about both satellite radio and iTunes--that they are vast resources of the types of music I love best--has a downside, too. It's easy for me to focus so completely on what I'm interested in that my interests may become too narrow. The Silver Jews' "Party Barge" or Lil Wayne's "A Milli" could be the best songs ever and I missed their moment in time. (UPDATE: I checked these two songs out on You Tube..."Party Barge" meh..."A Milli" ugh.)
I've always been a music freak. I've got trunks full of albums, cassettes and CDs in the attic to prove it. I used to be up on all the current stuff and always good for a few choice imports in my collection. Now, for the first time ever, I'm looking at a round-up of the year's top songs and I barely recognize a one. Shit!
Here's MTV's top 10 with writer James Montgomery's commentary (Visit the Web site for the rest).
10. Kid Rock, "All Summer Long"
When you take two songs that are already awesome (Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama"), mash 'em together, and throw in lyrics about even more awesome things like babes and booze and a lake in Northern Michigan, what do you get? The unquestionable champion of this year's Summer Jam sweepstakes, and perhaps the most undeniable song released in 2008. "All Summer Long" wasn't so much of a tune as it was a gigantic middle finger from Rock himself, extended directly at the music-industry suits and radio programmers who gave him a million reasons why the song wouldn't be a hit. There is nothing that's not beyond dumb about the song — from its content to its (anti) marketing campaign — all which probably explains its massive success and its unfettered charm. Actually, that definitely explains it. And Kid Rock too.
9. Portishead, "Machine Gun"
Deceptively — and destructively — simple, "Machine Gun" is little more than Beth Gibbons' aching voice, some hammering drums and a spooky synthesizer. And sometimes, that's all you need. There wasn't a more haunting song released this year, and it makes me anxious to hear just what Portishead do next ... even if it takes a decade for them to make that decision.
8. The Teenagers, "Homecoming"
A cheeky bit of French synth-pop about every European male's favorite summer activity: seducing gullible American girls backpacking their way across the continent. Sure, this song is a lot of bad things — cruel, dirty, probably misogynistic — but it's also razor-sharp, downright hilarious and incredibly catchy. Plus, if you've ever wondered what Pulp would sound like if Jarvis Cocker were an effeminate, foul-mouthed slip of a Frenchman, well ... here you go.
7. Kanye West, "Love Lockdown"
The bravest move made by a mega-star in years (seriously, would Britney, Madonna or even 50 ever try anything like this?), "Love Lockdown" is a testament to both Kanye's artistry and his ego. That he ditched the rapping is either a blessing or a curse, depending on which side of the fence you're on, as is his obsession with '80s synthesizer sheen, but there's no denying the fact that West is taking a risk here, and regardless of the end result, he should be commended for that. He may lose tons of "street" cred, but he's gained new legions of fans, and — to me and plenty of others — he suddenly got a whole lot more intriguing. And, oh, those drums.
6. Katy Perry, "I Kissed a Girl"
If you are a music nerd, you no doubt pick up on the Gary Glitter stomp, the new-wave-y beat, the not-so-subtle vocal flourishes employed by producer Dr. Luke and the fact that there's already a Jill Sobule song with the same name. If you are a drunken frat dude, you no doubt pick up on the fact that — holy sh--, dude, she kissed a girl! And she liked it! WOOOOOO! If you are a girl in a bar in Long Island, perhaps you even kiss a girl standing next to you while hundreds of those drunken frat dudes cheered you on. The greatest of songs bring us all together.
5. No Age, "Eraser"
By the time most of the mainstream media (ahem, me) pick up on a trend/scene, chances are that trend/scene is already dead and buried. I am not sure if that's the case with the lo-fi movement surrounding Los Angeles' anti-club the Smell and its most prominent progeny, No Age ... nor am I sure whether that particularly even matters in this instance. "Eraser" is great on so many levels — the strummy psych guitars, the wall of white noise, the hiss, the explosions — that whether you consider it a clarion call or a funeral dirge, it's somehow fitting either way.
4. Estelle (featuring Kanye West), "American Boy"
The most effortlessly effervescent song of 2008, a bit of sunny R&B so good it makes me reconsider my ill will toward Will.I.Am, who produced it (and that's saying something). Estelle's vocals pop and bubble, and Kanye contributes a clever verse of his own, and the end result is pop perfection. Though, a word to English girls: Most American boys are jerks.
3. Deerhunter, "Nothing Ever Happened"
Bradford Cox and company released a pair of gauzy, atmospheric long-players in 2008, both of which seemed to positively hum with potential ... but at no point did they come close to matching the knee-buckling beauty and driving urgency of "Nothing Ever Happened," which might just be the best thing they've ever done (you know, until they do something better in 2009). The final two minutes — a locomotive drive of bass, drums and guitars that steams headlong into the ether — raise goose bumps on my arm, and the winging guitar solo that finally unspools the song is undoubtedly my favorite musical moment of the year.
2. Beyoncé, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"
My favorite thing about Beyoncé has always been that despite the fact that she is well-manicured and coached to within an inch of her life, there is roughly a 50 percent chance that she is also a complete and total lunatic. I cannot explain why this is ... though, as Exhibit A, please allow me to present this song, which sounds like what would happen if the Supremes cut a track while someone was playing "Frogger" in the background (and I mean this in the best possible way). "Single Ladies" is hyperactive and supercharged in ways I never thought possible. It's epic and sexy and even a bit sad (because, you know, he didn't put a ring on it), and it manages to out-crazy even "Ring the Alarm" (thanks mostly to B's shout-out to Buzz Lightyear three-quarters of the way through). I love this song unapologetically, in reasons I am probably not doing a very good job of conveying. All I know is that there is absolutely zero chance Beyoncé ever releases a single like this ever again, so, you know, enjoy it while you can.
1. Lil Wayne, "A Milli"