Had non-singles been in consideration, about half of this list would most likely have been different.
15. “Shooter” – Lil Wayne
Lost among the slinky lope of the groove is some strange (though what isn’t with Wayne?), fractured, funhouse take on hip-hop, scat, and soul, with an “intro” that lasts 1:24, no hook, no chorus, a kinda jarring back and forth between a singer and a rapper that sound like two different kinds of six-year-olds, a completely groove-stopping monologue, and just 49 seconds of (extremely hot) rhymes on a 4 minute and 45 second (ostensibly hip-hop) song.
14. “Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me” – The Pipettes
Doing a postmodern, feminist girl group thing is easy. Doing it with such a small amount of apparent irony (especially on a B section this jarringly, earnestly pretty) isn’t.
13. “Since I Left You” – The Avalanches
“Welcome to paradise”
12. “In Transit” – Albert Hammond Jr.
Like Rosie did innocently on “Angel Baby” and Lennon did not as innocently on “Anna,” the key to the poetry and dramatic sweep of 50s/early 60s teen pop was its fragility—straining and, often, not quite making it; arrangements that sound like the heavens juxtaposed with voices that sound like they can’t quite reach that high yet. Maybe Albert Hammond Jr. knows this, or maybe he’s just not a great singer.
11. “Irreplaceable” – Beyonce
Close enough to a million others, just better. More nuanced (the way she trips and chews on her “n’s” and spits her “b’s”) and shrewd (the “to the lefts” that have nothing to do with dancing). And the way “So don’t you ever for a second get to thinking” doesn’t quite resolve melodically the way you want it to until the end.
10. “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley
Don’t they say the endless fascination with the Mona Lisa is that you just can’t read her face?
Remember their shtick? Dressed up like Austin Powers characters or something, blank looks on their faces. Same with their name: a deadpan, ham-handed take on something neither culturally relevant nor obscure. What the hell was that? Neither lame, cool, nor so lame it’s cool. A voice whose natural strength suggests sincerity and sympathy, but was it? A beat whose bounce suggests ebullience and dance, but was it? Where exactly the hell were these guys coming from? Which is probably what’s scariest about those who are crazy.
9. “1 Thing” – Amerie
Take a drum break (and, crucially, just the break) from The Meters. Get a girl to sing her balls off for a few minutes. Seems so simple.
8. “All My Friends” – LCD Soundsystem
Almost makes you feel like elegy and exuberance belong together, which maybe they actually do, or maybe James Murphy just gave a seven and a half minute gift to all those who felt they were losing their edge, and everyone else.
7. “Gold Digger” – Kanye West
With easy (not a dig) humor – starting with the hook and ending, like the twelve bar blues it almost is, with a nice punchline – and groove, the perfect Kanye-lite to have made his mark on the Hot 100.
6. “Hey Ya!” – Outkast
In which the poetry of fourteen consecutive repetitions of the word “alright” is the apotheosis of pop art.
5. “Paper Planes” – M.I.A.
One thing that perhaps terrifies (white) people more than almost anything is (non-white) kids that just don’t give a fuck. With (other than a slight hop in the bass drum) an extremely straight beat like what a ten year old would play, a repeated verse structure tied to a see-saw nursery rhyme melody and a singer who knows exactly how cute she can be when the moment’s right, and, in case you didn’t get the point, actual kids brought in for the chorus, singing—worse than gleefully—indifferently about shooting you and taking your money, perhaps the decade’s foremost masterpiece of message and medium.
4. “Valerie” – Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse
3. “Ignition (Remix)” – R. Kelly
If the defense of pop trifle as art is that you can fully enjoy the ride without the slightest exegesis, this is the height of the form. I can get lost in the raindrop synth, the hesitation of the snare, the roll of the piano, the unstoppable flow of the melody…or the eccentricities of a brilliantly multifarious persona that, in two of about 7,634 examples (no joke; like I said, probably the most simultaneously silly and dense song on this list), gets away with “freakin’ weekend” and “you must be a football coach, the way you got me playin’ the field” while still remaining sexy, and on and on…
2. “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” – Jay-Z
I subscribe to the oft repeated theory that we go to Jay to bask in his confidence. Start with the positively life-affirming “uh” in the intro and go from there. And the beat’s pretty good too.
1. “Someday” – The Strokes
There’s magic, some sort of pensivel glow, in the relationship between the add9 and the root (it’s A, Aadd9, Bmadd9, Bm, Bmadd9, Bm, Aadd9, A in the intro, and throughout, chugging by in something like brisk slow motion or a reflective boogie or some other stupid oxymoron). That sort of thing is probably the best distillation of why I listen to music.