The Top 50 Songs of 2007

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Top 50 Songs of 2007

The National – “Fake Empire”

The National ended their 2005 album with “Mr. November,” with singer Matt Berninger hysterically shouting “I won’t fuck us over, I won’t fuck us over!” in a manner befitting a man far more raucous and less refined by the New York quintet’s delicate graces. That was merely the winter storm before the coming of spring, the first bloom being “Fake Empire,” the mesmerizing leadoff track on the group’s fourth album Boxer. Berninger’s voice takes on a calmer tone, offering romantic notions like picking apples late at night, as well as whimsical ones, such as doing a “gay ballet on ice/ bluebirds on our shoulders.” As the song ascends to a majestic climax with strings and horns playing a melodic tug of war, what was once serene and beautiful becomes tense and anxious. But with that final crash of a piano, it goes calm, and everything seems right with the world once again. – Jeff Terich

M.I.A. – “Paper Planes”

I’m always hesitant to call M.I.A. a `rapper,’ even if hip-hop is the closest thing to what one might call her unique beat-banging approach. Even so, the best song on her second album Kala, and her best song overall, really, finds Maya Arulpragasam sounding more gangsta than ever. Supposedly inspired by Visa problems while doing some cross-continental traveling, she turns immigration into a thug’s paradise by informing the surly customs agent that she’s just here to kill us and take our money. For Atari Teenage Riot, that’s sufficient enough on its own, but M.I.A. takes it one step further, substituting the sound of gunshots and cash registers in a chorus of maximum sensory overload, sweetly juxtaposed by a sample of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell.” When she begins to coo “some, some, some I murder/ some, some, some I let go,” things get as surreal as they possibly could, but no matter how absurd, you can’t front on this jam. – Jeff Terich

Arcade Fire – “No Cars Go”

It may seem odd to include this track in our end of the year list for 2007 since it originally appeared on an EP released in 2003, which is sometimes named by fans after one of its lyrics, “Us Kids Know.” But the version that appeared on Neon Bible is so far and beyond a better version of the track that it had to be given a shot. The truth is, only the Arcade Fire could probably take a track that was four years old, revisit it and, in doing so, make it the most memorable song on the new album. Remember how the Police tried it with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and New Order the same with “Blue Monday?” Yeah, the latter came closer than the former, but none come close to the majestic presence of “No Cars Go,” an anthem to end all anthems. First, you have the intentionally simple lyrics about a secret and better place. Second, you have the audience and band member shouts of “Hey!” to energize the spirit. But then you have the huge build-up to something transcendent, spurred on by Win Butler’s shout to the `women and children,’ `old folks’ and `little babies,’ though he doesn’t quite know where they’re going. If the song’s musical path is any guide, it’s someplace beautiful. – Terrance Terich

Kanye West – “Stronger”

It’s a sign of greatness when something both obviously derivative of others and self referential sounds universal and unique. “Stronger” wouldn’t exist without Daft Punk, and it’s in no small part paranoid self-homage. This is ’68 Elvis to “GhettoMusick” via Orson Welles level overblown though. Any apparent lack of nuance is reflective of something immediate enough to display brilliance anywhere. Crucially, it is brilliant. The slight tempo change adds enough aggression to complement good confrontation. “You should be honoured by my lateness” has to be one of the best lyrics ever. Like John Lennon beforehand, Kanye’s self-belief has the potential to verge on the ridiculous, but my gut feeling is that he’s got a lot of things right in a way that few people choose to articulate. This gets played in public more than so many terrible songs too. – Thomas Lee
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Spoon – “The Underdog”

You’d be hard pressed to find a good reason why Spoon should not be the biggest band in the world. Over the past 13 years, the Austin quartet have quietly become one of the most consistent and persistent acts in American music, spanning the land from coast to coast and releasing six albums of tightly compacted, infectiously smart pop rock that begs the comparison to the glory days of the craft; an era that included but was not limited to the genius of Wilson, Davies and Wood. This creative homeostasis of allure and innovation bombard their latest release, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and come full frontal with their inconceivably perfect lead single “The Underdog.” Enriched with a triumphant horn section, a suspenseful crescendo and a simple acoustic guitar riff, the song warns those who let the lesser slip from their periphery and could easily be a statement to the prevailing from the band itself that is neatly wrapped up in hummable hand clap of artistic bliss. – Kevin Falahee
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Justin Timberlake – “What Goes Around / Comes Around”

Less than a handful have done it, leaving a boy band and becoming successful enough to have people almost forget you were in that boy band to begin with. Ricky Martin, Robbie Williams and Justin Timberlake have all done it, while the other members of Menudo, Take That and N*Sync have struggled with diverse results. But Justin Timberlake has seemingly gone one step farther. His alternating falsetto ballads and R&B / Dance Pop numbers have had even the toughest guys singing along or nodding their heads. “What Goes Around / Comes Around” combines those two disparate elements into one hell of a jam. Whether we want to believe JT’s claim that the song isn’t about Britney (or for that matter Cameron Diaz, Alyssa Milano, Jessica Biel or Scarlett Johanssen) is moot. He’s already done the Britney bash with “Cry Me A River,” and though this song has similarities, it’s worlds apart. The oud intro puts us off guard for an R&B record, adding a touch of Middle Eastern mysticism. But it’s really during each bridge before the chorus that the song finds its real magic. Rather than singing each line himself, he has his backup singers chanting, “Don’t want to talk about it, etc.” while JT just grunts, “No” and “Unh’s” to every prior statement. The version performed at the Grammys, and on the successive tour, was even superior to the original, with Timberlake at the piano and a dramatic flourish in the second verse, proving he never really needed four other guys to put on a show. – Terrance Terich
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Grammy performance

Justice – “D.A.N.C.E.”

Listening to “D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice, I can’t help but dance. Yes, this gag is obvious, but it is also sadly true. This urge is hard to resist when the song comes up, which makes things pretty awkward in the subway, at the store, at the pizza place and even while jogging in the park. It’s beat is impossible to ignore, and while the boy’s choir vocals and strings are quirky over such an infectious groove, it’s as if the song would not be effective if done otherwise. Strangely, I don’t feel the same uncontrollable urge to D-A-N-C-E to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” (which is referenced in the song), but do have the same uncontrollable urge to D-A-N-C-E when I hear Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” or The Jackson 5’s “ABC” (both also referenced in the song). Silliness aside, the French duo’s homage to the gloved one makes for fine listening, the type that you don’t mind getting stuck in your head and sharing with strangers on a late night subway train who’ve no doubt been staring at you shaking against the door for four minutes. – Hubert Vigilla
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LCD Soundsystem – “Someone Great”

In a discussion I had with him earlier this year, James Murphy admitted his shock at Nike’s motivation to commission him to make 45 minutes of “instrumental sad robot disco,” as he put it. Yet one of the coolest passages in 45:33 became the jumping off point for the greatest song of his career, “Someone Great.” His description is pretty accurate—sad robot disco (though not instrumental)—gets to the point of what he crafts in this epic song. Still, I’d probably dress up the language a bit and call it “melancholy disco balladry,” but who’s keeping track? Truthfully, it’s not robotic at all. It’s heavy on the synths, emulating a more fluid Kraftwerk of sorts, and it is dance music, after all. The remarkable thing is how human and vulnerable Murphy seems in its lyrics, which describe a tragedy through its external details: “I wish that we could talk about it, but there, that’s the problem…the worst is all the lovely weather/I’m sad, it’s not raining/ the coffee isn’t even bitter/because, what’s the difference?” It’s a beautiful song, and a sad one, but still, at the end, it’s a song that makes one feel much better after having heard it than he had before. – Jeff Terich
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LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”

I’ll start as the song does, on piano. You can deconstruct that piano part, turn it askew or stand it on its head and it still goes for the cubistic kill. Deeper than the dancefloor, what `All My Friends’ does in all its towering pugnacity is debunk the myth of the citystruck dilettante, aiming a sideways mirror at all the shiny obsidian surfaces on Sound Of Silver. It’s about the headlong hurl toward negation, about being halfway home and out of gas, about being the only person in a roomful of people. It’s a full-stop reality check. It’s also a wry, affectionate wetkiss, James Murphy’s lips to your ears. Never much of a wordsmith (because he doesn’t need to be) Murphy nevertheless wrote “All My Friends” like a prophet wasted on time : “five years trying to get with your friends“, “five years of lies“, “85 days in the middle of France.” At the end all you get is “a face like a dad” and empty spaces where your loves were. Ultimately, though, all that wrenching of gut, all those beats rhymes and life, don’t surmount the fact that the coolest thing about “All My Friends” is still that piano. Long may it bang. – Anthony Strain
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Feist – “1 2 3 4”

Every year, the unoriginally irritable, north nosed critics of everywhere will berate their blogs and bylines with paragraphs upon paragraphs lamenting the death of the underground and the commercialization of their once coveted indie rock. And this year, said critics have copious amounts of fuel for their predictable fire. With Band of Horses endorsing Ford motors and Wilco letting Volkswagen exploit their entire new album to push the marketing pedal to the metal on their always hip line of cars, these naysayers have a palpable gripe that can be viewed on average of 8-10 times a day. So the fact that Leslie Feist’s latest gorgeous composition “1 2 3 4” also reached a bounty of listeners via the very definition of commercialization might cause more than a few scoffs and scowls from the same elitists who lauded her just a year ago. And naturally, this is a shame. It is a shame because from the muted strums, banjo plucks and whispered school girl secrets of its opening to the glorious and profuse apex of this 3 minute wonder there lies the kind of song that can’t be found between the dials all too often. It’s a magical tribute to the teenage princesses of ’60s malt shoppes without the kitsch and an innocent tale of hand-held love with out the melodrama. It’s the type of tune that can overcome the partisan music fronts and be agreed upon by everyone with ears as simply “great.” And for it’s over commercialization? I might be inclined to agree if I could only remember what item the song was selling. See, I was too busy listening to the song and missing the forest for love of its trees. – Kevin Falahee
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