Hereâs my highly subjective list of the best songs issued in the past 12 months (which means its OK to include a Tom Waits track released last December.) Enjoy â Iâve put links wherever possible â and feel free to post comments telling me what I missed or how Iâm a sap for honoring country star Miranda Lambertâs âDesperation.â Look for me and Senior Editor Eric Snider to unleash our favorite album tallies in the Creative Loafing Top 10 issue that hits newsstands Dec. 26.
1. âPaper Planes,â M.I.A., from Kala
While the hip-hop world appears on life support, Sri Lankan emcee M.I.A. might be the freshest, most talented artist to reach the pop charts in decades. On this deliciously decadent banger, the plucky young woman brags about being an international smuggler over an exotic beat that makes good on a mash-up of gangsta gunshots (âbang, bang, bangâ) and a âMoneyâ-style cash register going âkkaa ching.â
2. âLove Is a Losing Game,â Amy Winehouse, from Back to Black
Sadness at its most sublime, this is an excellent update of the stirring music issued by women like Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield in the late 1960s.
3. âIcky Thump,â The White Stripes, from Icky Thump
So exactly whoâs using who these days? Thatâs the question posed by Jack White on this fiery slice of heavy psychedelia.
4. âIâll Kill Her,â Soko, from an out-of-print, self-released EP
Breakup/murder ballad by unsigned French pop duo worms its way under the skin with its stark, bleak beauty.
5. âLazy Eye,â Silversun Pickups, from Carnavas
Ambles along pleasantly in interesting, albeit typical, indie-dreamscape fashion right up to the 2:45 mark: then comes the banshee yell, the spine-tingling catharsis call that makes this song so addicting.
6. âDesperation,â Miranda Lambert, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Donât let the adorableness of this blond bombshell and former Nashville Star contestant mislead â sheâs that rare country girl infusing Music City with a bit of integrity. Not only does Lambert offer an aching vocal on this painfully real song of longing; she wrote both the lyric and melody, a rare accomplishment for the women of Nashville.
7. âNo One,â Alicia Keys, from As I Am
A near perfect pop ballad by one of the new millenniumâs most gifted stars. Keys takes a pedestrian lyric and imbues it with a level of emotion and purity of tone rarely heard on the commercial airwaves these days. Plus, thereâs ace production. Dig the heavy bass and male backup singers chanting âoh, oh.â Just wish someone wouldâve turned up the sweet horn solo during the coda.
8. âIn My Mind I Was Talkinâ To Loretta,â Pieta Brown, from Remember the Sun
âDivorce and pills are commonplace,â Pieta Brown sings with a bluesy twang. âComputers are running the human race â and walking, it's just a waste of time.â So goes one of the many great lines in this alt-country gem wherein Brown imagines a conversation with country queen Loretta Lynn.
9. âJimmy the Kid,â Jimbo Mathus, posted on MySpace, the title track from what appears to be an upcoming album
Former Squirrel Nut Zippers mastermind continues his foray into greasy Mississippi blues-rock with a Skynyrd-style boogie that tells the tale of an outlaw who shares a striking resemblance with the real life wild man Jimbo Mathus.
10. âHuckâs Tune,â Bob Dylan, from Lucky You soundtrack
Dylan re-teams with filmmaker Curtis Hanson â with whom the singer/songwriter won an Academy Award for contributing âThings Have Changedâ to the picture Wonder Boys â to pen a song for the poker drama Lucky You. âHuckâs Tuneâ implements a loping, country melody and uses numerous card-game metaphors to poignantly âat times playfully â examine fading love, imminent mortality, the fleeting joys of nostalgia, and the futility of seeking anything other than inner peace. âI count the years, and I shed no tears, I'm blinded to what might have been,â Dylan sings. âNature's voice, makes my heart rejoice, play me the wild song of the wind.â
11. âStronger,â Kanye West, from Graduation
Over a killer Daft Punk sample, Kanye backs up his claims of greatness with a message to critics (âtake this, hatersâ) while also reminding us of his unmatched arrogance (âyou should be honored by my latenessâ).
12. âBack in Your Head,â Tegan and Sara, from The Con
âIâm not unfaithful but Iâll stray [pause] when I get a little scaredâ goes the precious lyric over a bouncy synth beat. What makes the line so touching is that the song is about trying to win back the lover that got away.
13. âMother,â Christina Aguilera, from Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur
In case anyone still had any doubts about who has the best, most expressive pipes in pop music, Aguilera nails this heartbreaking Lennon track about his unloving mum.
14. â10am Automatic,â The Black Keys, a MySpace exclusive
Culled from the band's free, online-only live EP, this nasty blast of Delta blues filtered through an angry young white kidâs garage speaks to the power and glory of this scrappy duoâs vaunted concerts.
15. âI.R.S.â Guns Nâ Roses, leaked Chinese Democracy track/demo The best of the numerous Chinese Democracy tracks played live and/or leaked in recent years, this one has industrial/electronic nods, but at its core is a crunchy, classic Gunner anthem with a face-melting solo by some dude who has listened to a lot of Slash (or perhaps Queenâs Brian May, who has reportedly played on a couple new tracks).
16. âLong Way Home,â Tom Waits, from the box set Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
A local radio personality once confessed to me that Tom Waits writes ballads that make grown men weep. I agree. And this is one of them. âI know I said Iâd never do it again,â the singer shrugs. He loves her more than anything. And we believe him. But we also understand that those feelings can be valid â even though there are nights when the singer must be alone, must âtake the long way home.â This song first appeared on Norah Jonesâ album Feels Like Home. Her rendition is OK.
17. âWeird Fishes/Arpeggi,â Radiohead, from In Rainbows
By turns fluid and propulsive, the song plunges the listener to the oceanâs floor, to a nether world where âweird fishesâ meet their demise. Itâs a dark metaphor for hitting rock bottom, and Thom Yorke sells the songâs paranoia and downright terror with frightful conviction.
18. âFor the Good Times,â Raul Malo, from After Hours
Former Maverick turned honey-voiced singer of standards offers the definitive (yes, it bests both Ray Priceâs and Elvisâ) version of this Kris Kristofferson classic. The YouTube clip features him doing it in a medley with equally evocative readings of âMake the World Go Awayâ and âCrying.â
19. âHalloweenhead,â Ryan Adams, from Easy Tiger
The famously stoned and now sober Adams offers a savage rocker about having that bad idea again. âWhat the fuckâs wrong with me?â he sings, his voice thick with the anxiety of the ever present addiction and the frustration that comes with owning up to oneâs demons.
20. âOrdinary People,â Neil Young, from Chrome Dreams II
Despite its 18-minute running time, Young actually released this awesome epic as a single. A superb ode to the working class, âOrdinary Peopleâ expertly blends guitar heroics and punchy horns.