1. Santogold – Les Artistes
Inevitable comparisons were drawn between Brooklyn’s Santi White and the talented M.I.A, but talent is where the similarities end. Santogold catapulted herself into credible pop stardom with this instant classic about dealing with, well, instant stardom. “I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up.” It certainly has been for us Santi. The beat is intense, the chorus is the aural equivalent of cocaine and the only thing I hate about it is the effort of re-selecting it on my i-pod immediately after it finishes. Song of the year.
2. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
With it’s infectious orchestral opening, Viva La Vida established itself as one of my favourite singles of 2008 within about 13 seconds. Despite the opening sentence, ”I used to rule the world”, Coldplay show no signs of losing their dominance over the world of pop music. If anything, this is the defining song of their career. From start to finish, Viva La Vida is a genuine classic. The song builds upon itself steadily until the triumphant climax, by then you’re most likely screaming ‘whooooaaaa’ along with them.
3. Sam Sparro – Black & Gold
Another debut single, though Sparro’s CD lacked the goods to back-up this stylish pop gem. Black & Gold wasn’t instant. It is a slow builder and its difficult to ascertain when exactly the chorus starts, or even if it has one at all. What the single does deliver though is originality, clever use of synth-beats and Sparro’s effective switching between emotionless robot and pleading basket-case at the drop of a hat. It must be said, anyone who can summarise the theory of evolution into a poppy love song is a bona fide genius. “If the fish swam out of the ocean, and grew legs and they started walking, and the apes climbed down from the trees, and grew tall and they started talking.” Stellar! Rightly a humongous hit in the UK and his native land, Australia.
4. Dizzee Rascal – Dance Wiv Me (Feat. Calvin Harris)
Dance Wiv Me really does have it all. Slick rapping from Dizzee Rascal, a stomping electro beat a la Calvin Harris, while also being magnificently catchy pop. This song was inescapable in the British summer, topping the UK singles chart for a full month. Dizzee constantly begs the listener to dance with him – Unnecessary, as this song could ensue hysteria on the dance floor before the chorus has even started.
5. MGMT – Kids
2008 has been a stellar year for the boys of MGMT. First came the camp Electric Feel, which was always going to be difficult to top, but boy did they manage that. Kids is ridiculously catchy and was adored by preppies and indies alike. An electronic summer anthem with a bass line that could wake up a neighbourhood, it sounded suspiciously akin to New Order and will I’m sure stand the test of time just as they did.
6. M.I.A – Paper Planes
You’ve got to hand it to M.I.A. She’s had two highly acclaimed albums, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed that a song sampling a Clash non-hit, about refugees, featuring loud gun shots as the bulk of the chorus, would be a worldwide smash, reaching the top 5 in the US Billboard charts. Having Paper Planes as a feature song to last year’s stoner hit movie The Pineapple Express give it a healthy kick in the right direction, but at the end of the day, its success stems from it being a truly amazing and avant-garde song.
7. Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire
Chances are, if you didn’t hear this song on Australian radio in 2008, you weren’t in the country. Sex on Fire was everywhere. Cynics predictably labeled Kings Of Leon sell-outs for finding mainstream success. This is stadium rock at its absolute best. The chorus inspires hands in the air and remarkably the verses are just as brilliant. What separates Sex on Fire from other great rock songs is lead singer’s Caleb Followill’s ability to project utter heartbreak into every note of the song, laying out like a melodic emotional breakdown.
8. Pnau – Embrace (Feat. Ladyhawke)
You’d think Nick Littlemore would be busy enough producing amazing dance music with Empire of the Sun. Alas, he’s employed the equally brilliant Ladyhawke’s services on Embrace, a festival anthem in waiting. It has all the 80s silliness of Dusk Til Dawn, while carrying Pnau’s trademark orgy of synthesisers. As for the chorus, it’s so instant you’ll be singing along by the second one. The best thing either of them have done – Which says a lot.
9. Estelle – American Boy (Feat. Kanye West)
Already a huge fan of Estelle’s debt The 18th Day, I eagerly awaited another feisty British hip-hip extravaganza. Instead, Shine was over-produced and unmemorable. Estelle did a Sugababes effort and ditched the edginess that made her cool for an attempt to crack the US market. It’s not all disdain though. In amongst all the rough, there was a huge diamond. Appropriating the sleek beats of Will.I.Am’s Impatient, Estelle swoons over her American boy. The American boy in discussion is Kanye West, who while being the worst thing about the single (the opening rap sounds like he’s half-asleep), recovers and eventually hits the mark. This song deservedly cracked America, peaking at #9 on the US Billboard charts. The album, nor any other singles, will follow suit.
10. Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
Bleeding Love sounds like Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U sung over the beat from Nelly Furtado’s Say It Right. No doubt Lewis is a talented singer, having proven herself on The X Factor in Britain, but without this slice of brilliance, she probably would’ve been sifting through bargain bins for her singles, rather than topping the US Charts, (The first British female to do so in over 20 years). Bleeding Love haunts you. When the beat finally kicks in, you’re unsure as to whether you should dance or cry. Really, how many songs can do that?
11. Duffy – Mercy
‘The new Amy Winehouse’ is a term we’re all going to hear a lot over the next few years. They’ll either disappoint, sound nothing like her, or in Welsh bombshell Duffy’s case, live up to the hype. Mercy sounds like the no.1 Nancy Sinatra never released and single-handedly made Duffy a global superstar. Thanks to Mercy, Duffy has now sold three million copies of her debut album Rockferry. Criminally, in Australia this song garnered next to no airplay, and barely scraped into the top 40 ARIA charts. Despite this, Mercy eventually went gold.
12. Lisa Mitchell – Neapolitan Dreams
When 16 year old Lisa Mitchell covered Ben Harper’s Diamonds on the Inside on Australian Idol, even the coldest of hearts (Kyle Sandilands) was warmed. It became abundantly clear that a star was born. The question was which way was she going to go? Mercifully, Mitchell didn’t win Idol. In fact, she only came sixth. Instead, she released a superb EP Said One to the Other and most recently, Neapolitan Dreams. Sounding like an alternate version of Feist’s equally amazing 1234, Mitchell lushly sings over hand-clapping and twee chimes. By the time she’s chanting, “Ba da, ba da da da da”, you just want to give her a hug. See the accompanying video to be totally enchanted.
13. The Kaiser Chiefs – Never Miss A Beat
It’s official. Everything Mark Ronson touches turns to gold. Ronson’s Version, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and Lily Allen’s Allright…Still have all benefited from Ronson’s magic. However Kaiser Chief fans were presumably up in arms the Motown loving DJ would be collaborating with them. The result is a stomping rock anthem, that manages to sound like both something Kaiser Chiefs have never done as well as being strangely familiar. In true rock rebellion we’re informed, “It’s cool to know nothing.”
14. Kylie Minogue – The One
It starts off like some Ibiza summer anthem, then Kylie’s vocals kick in and the song is suddenly transformed into a torch song, albeit a dancey one. Co-written by the Freemasons, The One was the optimum representative off Kylie’s X album. A synthed-up-to-high-heaven scorcher, it is also devastatingly sad, Kylie begging the man in question, “I’m the one. Love me, love me, love me, love me.” The song was not given a proper single release and only charted at no.36 on the UK singles charts. This is a travesty, as The One is up there with minimalist Slow and worldwide hit Can’t Get You Out of My Head as the best of Kylie’s 2000s era.
15. Gnarls Barkley – Who’s Gonna Save My Soul
In the words of Katie Melua, this is the closest thing to Crazy. I of course mean in terms of quality, not style. Most naysayers (the entire public, really) wrote The Odd Couple off because it lacked a Crazy, one of the highest-selling songs this decade. Who’s Gonna Save My Soul is an entire community of heartbreak. Cee-Lo’s vocals are poignant, the Spanish guitar affecting, while the lyrics speak volumes to anyone who’s ever had love, then lost it, “I wonder if I’ll live to grow old now, getting high ‘coz I feel so low now.” Amazing.
16. Solange – Sandcastle Disco
Beyonce may sail the highs of pop super stardom, but it’s her little sister Solange who commands the credibility. Sol-Baby & The Hadley St Dreams caught many by surprise last year with it’s high calibre collection of soulful and funky tunes. The best of the bunch was a cracking disco romp about a tough girl who’s putting her heart on the line for love, “I’m a cool old Jane with a skip on my feet, I play tough as nails with my heart on my sleeve. I’m nothing but a sandcastle, baby don’t blow me away.” In every word of the song, Solange manages to capture the fear, powerlessness, tentativeness and hope of falling for someone. The result is the best thing a Knowles has done since Crazy in Love.
17. VV Brown – Crying Blood
VV Brown is definitely an artist to keep an eye on in 2009. Crying Blood is a potpourri of genres, injecting pop, indie-punk, electronica and Hawaii 5-0 guitar riffs into a classic girl group song. VV Brown has a knack for mixing the best elements of the old with the new and has a ball doing it. For added genius, the video clip contains the best drawing sequence since A-ha’s Take on Me.
18. Yael Naim – New Soul
Much like Neapolitan Dreams above, New Soul contains striking similarities to Feist’s 1234. Not just because they were both used in high profile commercials – They’re both deliriously silly, happy and catchy. New Soul is a gorgeous array of instruments integrated perfectly. The horns, piano and handclaps keep the tune gleeful and Naim’s vocals intertwine with the instruments divinely.
19. Architecture in Helsinki – That Beep
Architecture in Helsinki stray from their usual fare for a surprisingly 80s bubblegum pop dig, and make it look easy. That Beep manages to be both peculiar enough to have a chorus consisting only of beeps, as well as mainstream enough for kids to watch this on Video Hits every Saturday. Synth heavy and joyous, That Beep is hopefully a preview of the direction AiH want to head in.
20. Hercules & Love Affair – Blind
Blind kicks off like vintage disco, bongos banging over snappy beats, until the bass kicks it into overdrive. Amazingly, the song only tops itself from there. The amazing Antony Hegarty chimes in with with the vocal version of chocolate, and by the time the trumpets start humming, you’re shot into the stratosphere of pure disco.
21. Gabriella Cilmi – Sweet About Me
The second beholder of ‘The new Amy Winehouse’ tag, this time an underage Australian, makes her debut with Sweet About Me, a chilled-out number that topped the Australian ARIA Chart for over a month. Also a huge hit in the UK and Europe, the song made Cilmi and overnight success and garnered her six ARIA awards. Sweet About Me is sultry yet cute, innocuous yet devilish, mature yet youthful and the bulk of this can be put down to Cilmi’s liquorice vocals that soar throughout.
22. Amadou & Mariam – Sabali
What happens when you take a blind couple from Mali, give them unlimited access to percussion, synths & auto-tune and mix English, French and Afrikaans? A cross-cultural and cross-genre smorgasboard of talent and creativity. Sabali accomplishes sounding like an Edith Piaf ballad, a Kanye West auto-tuned dance number, a Gorillaz-style stomper (no accident, producer Damon Alburn is on board) and also like nothing else you’ve heard before. This is no fluke, the album is brilliant to boot.
23. Ladyhawke – Dusk Til Dawn
”Dusk til Dawn” must be a metaphor for 1980-1989, because this is probably 2008′s strongest contender for the musical revival of the 1980s. The drums, synthesisers, Pip Brown’s vocals and particularly the Thriller-esque video clip are an excellent ode to a time of (usually) cultural depletion. One of the most pop-tastic snippets of a very solid album.
24. Katy Perry – Hot n Cold
I Kissed a Girl may have had a catchy chorus, but it was really just a novelty song – A sad fact that homosexuality is still considered novelty enough to sell records. Hot n Cold, another moment of brilliance from Swedish god of pop Max Martin, took Katy Perry from one-hit wonder to mega star. Though the lyrics aren’t going to win a Pulitzer prize, “You change your mind, like a girl changes clothes,” Hot n Cold is dizzyingly fun pop/rock. The clincher – That chorus, another distressingly addictive one from Max Martin. If Kelly Clarkson had released this instead of rebelling for credibility, it would have been no.1 until 2012.
25. Goldfrapp – Cologne Cerrone Houdini
Ok, so technically this isn’t a single. It is however one of the highlights of my favourite album of the year. A&E was an obvious single choice, but Cologne Cerrone Houdini might just be Goldfrapp’s most gorgeous ballad to date, and that’s from a substantial catalogue. The beachy chilled beats, lush strings, silky vocals all play their part. It’s not the most exciting single of year, but it’s bloody listenable and as an escape from the hustle of life, it’s a lot cheaper than a trip to Queensland.
26. Cyndi Lauper – Lay Me Down
Sound familiar? It should. It was written by Kleerup, the man responsible for Robyn’s totally amazing electro-ballad With Every Heartbeat (no.3 in my top 100 of 2007.) It may be reminiscent, but it is still diverse enough to establish its own brilliance. The song’s repetitive hopscotch-like melody sucks you in, the rippling beat flirts in and out of the song and Cyndi Lauper sounds convincingly like Robyn, an already proven formula Sure, it’s slightly repetitive, but stands tall as an interesting and very ‘now’ song of 2008.
27. The Presets – Talk Like That
Opening like a Transylvanian organ-infused nightmare, immediately you can tell this is going to be another intriguing Presents offering. Despite this bizarre intro, it’s actually Talk Like That’s simplicity that works so well. The uncomplicated yet effective three-chord chorus, with even simpler lyrics, “Talk talk talk talk talk, like like like like like that that that that that,” is unforgivably addictive. The Presets must either be knighted or destroyed for their effortless control of the airwaves of 2008.
28. Lady Gaga – Poker Face
There really is only one word to best describe Poker Face – 2009. It is going to be the anthem for 2009, and I have no doubt one of the highest selling singles. Already no.1 in Australia for a massive eight non-consecutive weeks, plus five weeks at no.1 in Canada, the song is an unstoppable hit. Why? What’s not to love?! It’s fun, catchy, dance-worthy, captures the best bits of her contemporaries like Pink and Rihanna, whilst including every huge musical trend for this year. After her sudden smash Just Dance, the public (myself included) assumed she was just another one-hit wonder – Poker Face is even better. I can’t conceive an end to my addiction to this song and I eagerly await the announcement of it hitting no.1 on the US and UK charts.
29. She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here
Volume One, the debut album from She & Him, (She being seemingly nuts actress Zooey Deschanel) was a triumphant mix of country, folk, pop, rock, mo-town and bluegrass. With a ratio of good to bad songs that would make most pop artists blush with shame, Volume One had an abundance of hits. Why Do You Let Me Stay Here was the stand-out track of the lot. A superb acoustic guitar & piano melody, 60s girl group ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s, a ballsy guitar solo and perfectly suited percussion, it’s total joy to listen to.
30. MGMT – Electric Feel
Electric Feel is the winner of a few prestigious honours of 2008. Not enough just being a terrific song, it is also the proud victor (in a vast competitive pool) as the campest song of 2008. Many would ponder how Electric Feel’s campness could top songs by artists like Girls Aloud. Essentially, it lies in that 70s chorus, a pastiche of pornographic bass, ‘ooh girls’ and cheesy lyrics, “Shock me like an electric eel.” And what a brilliant mix it is. A song that once made me cringe with embarrassment won over the critics and the public, confirming MGMT as the band to watch of 2008/2009.
31. The Veronicas – Untouched
The frenzied string intro, frantic verses and contagious chorus all assist Untouched in surpassing every song of The Veronica’s already impressive catalogue. Likely to be their first single to crack the lucrative US market having burst into the top 40, Untouched is solid proof The Veronica’s new musical direction has paid off.
32. Pink – So What
When a marriage ends, you’re really only left with a few choices. You can eat and drink your way through the pain, ignite multiple flames or write a world-wide no.1 smash about getting on with it. Pink’s biggest hit to date (her first solo single to reach no.1 on the US Billboard charts), was a scathing attack at her ex, “You’re a tool…I don’t want you tonight.” Though in true Pink fashion, it’s all good fun, sounding like a schoolyard taunt, “na na na na na na na,” and ex-husband Hart himself appearing in the video clip. It’s a corker of a pop song and potentially the catchiest of 2008.
33. Hot Chip – Ready for the Floor
The success of Ready For The Floor stems out of its own awkwardness. From the overlapping intro, “Do it now…Say it now,” to the inconstancy of melody, it should sound messy. Instead, Hot Chip make it look effortlessly cool. Ready for the Floor is 3 minutes and 52 seconds of pure exuberance. With his charming Brit accent, Alexis Tarlor pleads, “I’m hoping with chance you might take this dance, you’re my number one guy” How refreshing it is to hear a singer who instead of bragging about sexual conquests, re-assures us that it’s not easy for anyone, but it’s worth a shot.
34. Goldfrapp – A & E
The lead single of this year’s best album (Seventh Tree), came as a bit of a shock. After the electronica-infused disco of Supernature, Alison Goldfrapp returns to the gorgeous folk that initiated her career. Infusing elements of pop and rock, A&E succeeds as multiple songs in one. Goldfrapp’s vocals are ethereal, the arrangements lush and whilst not her best single to date, still sounds better than 99% of 2008′s offering.
35. Solange – I Decided
Just like VV Brown above, Solange (younger sister of Beyonce) Knowles is not content with sticking to the formula of a single genre, “I was a little different,” she audaciously announces in the opening line. Sounding like a Christmas jingle with elements of mo-town, pop, R&B and hand clapping, I Decided must be congratulated for its ballsy originality. It is Solange’s self-assuredness that really steals the show though, “I decided that you are the him for me.” You wonder if this is the same girl that begged a man to not break her heart on Sandcastle Disco. Its this versatility that justifies the positive attention she garnered in 2008.
36. Lily Allen – The Fear
Lil ditches the ska/reggae for electro-pop and the result is stunning. With her trademark lyrical sass in tow, Allen has a dig at celebrity and modern life, “Fuck clothes with diamonds, I’ve heard people die while they’re trying to find them. And I’ll take me clothes off and it will be shameless, ‘coz everyone knows that’s how you get famous.” The Fear (retitled from I Don’t Know) is one of her best songs to date and suitably her biggest hit, topping the UK charts for a massive three weeks. Rather than stick to what she knows, Allen has reinvented her sound like the chameleon she is and it’s a change in the right direction.
37. Cat Power – I Believe In You
Atlanta‘s indie-folk darling has already proven her songwriting talents on You Are Free and particularly The Greatest, a gorgeous collection of piano-led folk anthems. With Jukebox, Cat Power enters new territory with an album of classic covers with a blues-y twist. The results is one of the best albums of 2008 (see review), but it’s I Believe in You, an arresting concoction of vintage rock and blues that stands tall. Then there’s that voice. Chan Marshall’s breathtaking whisper gives the song a softness seldom found in an era of artists who equate shouting to singing.
38. The Saturdays – Up
Having never heard of them previously, I accidentally attended one of The Saturdays first gigs in London. When the girls came on stage, my skepticism was rife. For every talented girl-group like Girls Aloud and Sugababes, there’s an endless fodder of scantily clad marionette dolls (nasty examples unnecessary.) Up is probably the poppiest pop I’ve ever popped, sounding like Kylie Minogue’s The One and Girls Aloud’s entire singles catalogue merged into one. It is bubblegum pop at it’s very best. and the chorus is the catchiest thing released since Avian flu. Oh, and the girls CAN sing!
39. Chris Brown – Forever
I must admit, I’ve always wanted to hate Chris Brown. Up until now, that had been easily accomplished. Kiss Kiss was almost revolutionary in its awfulness. With You was arguably the most generic R&B song of 2008 (and umpteenth re-working of Beyonce’s Irreplaceable.) So when I heard he was turning a chewing gum commercial jingle into a pop song, the talons were sharpened. My tail is firmly between my legs now. Forever is a dance/pop/R&B masterpiece. It borrows as many impossibly cool trends as it can, from Timbaland’s The Way I Are beats, to Michael Jackson’s choreography to the Euro dance/pop melody. Almost a year on, I listen to this song like I’ve just discovered it – An rare feat.
40. Lady Gaga – Just Dance
Being overseas at the time, I was surprised when this previously unknown singer came from nowhere to gradually climb her way to the top of the ARIA charts. 20-year-old Stefani Germanotta’s unique mix of electro/dance-pop and Dirrty like attitude detonated in Australia and New Zealand last year, but Lady Gaga was unheard of in her US homeland. Unconventionally, she decided to release Just Dance and Poker Face (both no.1 on the ARIA charts), before cracking the US and Europe. Though it probably wouldn’t have mattered which way she’d done it. Just Dance reeks of ‘hit’ and it all lies in that killer chorus. Smashing drums, killer guitar hooks and simple but effectual lyrics. Six months on, Just Dance is no.1 in both the UK and US charts.
41. Jessica Mauboy – Burn
‘Australian’ and ‘R&B’ are two innocuous words that when mixed together would ordinarily bring tears to a grown man’s eyes (and not in a good way.) If someone had told me that the best modern R&B music coming out of Australia was going to be made (and co-written no less) by an Australian idol contestant, I wouldn’t have validated the remark with a response. Such is the testimony to Mauboy’s talent. Burn is the closest homegrown thing we’ve had to Rihanna’s fun mix of Euro pop and American R&B, and it’s killer. While the lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespearean in ingenuity, “I need a doctor ‘coz this is starting to burn,” Mauboy’s voice is diabolically powerful, and if the chorus doesn’t get you dancing, there’s a good chance you’re dead.
42. Coldplay – Lost!
Willowy organ chords, pulsating hand-clapping and bongos. Welcome to the first ten seconds of Lost!, the second finest moment from Viva La Vida Or Death & All His Friends. Lost! From the beginning, Martin’s vocals and lyrics shine, “Just because we’re losing, doesn’t mean we’re lost.” Simple? Yes. Brilliant? Yes. The instrumentals are avid in selection, but combine magnificently. The testament to this lies in listening to Lost! (Acoustic Version). It may sound pretty but it lacks the spirit of the original.
43. The Black Kids – I’m Making Eyes At You
If ever there was a piece of evidence to support the effect The Cure have had on music today, I’m Making Eyes At You is it. Although I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance was the single that acquired The Black Kids attention, it’s this chicly retro pop/rock gem that steals the show. Despite their American heritage, lead singer Reggie Youngblood’s pseudo-Brit accent channels a softer Arctic Monkeys and presumptuously charms the pants off whoever he’s making eyes at.
44. Moby – Disco Lies
Moby ditches the beachy/soulful chill-out that earned him millions of fans and with Last Night returns to the 90s New York warehouse disco-raves of his first album. Disco Lies erupts with energy. It’s a stormer of a track that sits perfectly between 70s disco and dance pop of the naughties. Best of all, Moby isn’t singing. Instead, it’s left to newcomer Shayna Steele’s powerhouse diva vocals. When she pleads, “Oh how could you lie,” it blasts you like a hurricane. She’s not asking for an answer, she’s demanding it.
45. Gnarles Barkley – Run
The title of this song couldn’t be more literal. Run‘s frenzied percussion and vocals keep the tempo impossibly high – dinner party music this is not. Always on form, Cee-Lo’s voice shines in one of the most bizarre lyrics of the year, “Run away, run away, run children, run for your life.” In a moment of true professionalism, jokes about Neverland Ranch warning songs will be avoided. Oops.
46. Goldfrapp – Caravan Girl
Caravan Girl is an excellent example of why I find Goldfrapp one of the most exciting and innovative artists of the naughties. She has the inability to accept a single genre to stick to, her choices of instruments are diverse and her voice consummately accompanies whichever style she’s endeavouring. Caravan Girl is a rhapsodic song, particularly in the closing 90 seconds where, in amongst pulsating percussion, Goldfrapp chants, “We’ll run away, we’ll run away and bring it all back.” Much like the rest of Seventh Tree, the song is like an opus of childhood memories – In this case, riding my bike through the countryside as a kid.
47. Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance
Youth Novels, the debut album from Sweden’s Lykke Li, was produced by John (of Peter, Bjorn & John fame), and achieved almost universal acclaim in 2008 with it’s minimalism and gorgeous vocals. In researching reviews, lead singles Little Bit and I’m Good, I’m Gone experienced the bulk of praise. However it was Dance, Dance, Dance that won Lykke Li my kudos. The minimalism and gorgeous vocals are still here, but the song’s splendour stems from the slow build-up, roaring 20s saxophone and Ronettes-styled repitition of “Dance, dance, dance”. Dance, Dance, Dance is the best of your music, your parents music and your grandparents music in a blender.
48. Empire of the Sun – We Are The People
2008 was a capital year for Aussie dance music. The Presets and Cut Copy celebrated ARIA no.1 albums, while Empire of The Sun, the joint venture of The Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele and Pnau’s Nick Littlemore enjoyed moderate success with their first single Walking on a Dream. It’s a solid effort, but the real treat to their debut album – We Are the People – is a little bit dance-y, a little bit chill-out and a lot of genius. Acoustic guitars, groovy beats and Steele’s exaggerated vocals all play their part, but it’s the flowing falsetto chorus that makes it such a joy to listen to. Please let this be the beginning of a very long partnership.
49. Cat Power – Fortunate Son
The Dark End of The Street EP may have lacked the ballsy blues/rock sound of Jukebox, but Chan Marhsall’s cover of Fortunate Son is unforgettable. The torch song piano, dramatic string arrangement and Marshall’s lavish vocals diverge this from being some lousy pub cover into her own masterpiece.
50. Cyndi Lauper – Into The Nightlife
Whilst Lauper emerged around the same time as Madonna, there have been vital differences in their 25+ year careers. Foremost, Madonna still sells like hotcakes. Also, Madonna has always taken greater risks, producing greater music. Taking a similar path to Madonna’s Confessions, lead single Into The Nightlife is sheer Euro dance pop. The result is one of the best songs Lauper has done in years. It’s a throbbing head-banger, and the perfect companion for the gym. She may be a bit behind Madonna’s 8-ball, but Lauper’s effort holds its own.
51. Moby – Ooh Yeah
Much like Goldfrapp’s celebrated Supernature or Kylie’s I Believe in You, Ooh Yeah basks in a little explored genre – futuristic disco. The cheesy vocals, shimmering synths and repetitive nature all work a treat together. Oddly, Ooh Yeah opens Last Night and while a finer instance of the CD, sounds nothing like the rest of it.
52. MGMT – Time to Pretend
Much like Santogold’s L.E.S Artistes, Time to Pretend acts as a journal about the process of begetting fame. In true MGMT form, it’s ultimately a fun song, and certainly dance-able, but the lyrics reveal a darker side, “I’ll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my daughter, my home. Yeah I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone.” MGMT thrive on their ability to combine instruments perfectly, write simple yet compelling lyrics and have a bloody good time along the way.
53. The Ting Tings – Great DJ
It may kick off with a smashing riff that sounds like it’s introducing a Strokes song, but Great DJ is inherently silly and one of the finest Ting Tings moments on their debut We Started Nothing. The chorus sounds like a memento of a schoolyard chant, “Imagine all the girls…And the boys…And the strings…And the drums, the drums, the drums,” complete with Katie White’s throbbing “ah ah ah ah” in between. The song is rescued of it’s novelty by clever verses and an arresting guitar riff.
54. Adele – Hometown Glory
Adele’s debut CD 19 became a phenomenon in Britain last year, both critically and commercially. Again, touted as the ‘new Amy Winehouse’ (can the media please find another pseudonym for a young female talent?), Adele’s affecting piano-driven torch songs infused elements of pop, jazz and soul. Though what make Adele so very special is also her Archilles heel – Her voice. Hometown Glory‘s solo piano intro is hauntingly beautiful and when she opens her mouth, a classic is created. My sole problem with Hometown Glory is the same as the rest of the album, Adele consistently over-sings the chorus. Admittedly, not as much as say, Chasing Pavements, but enough for me to fiddle with the volume knob between every verse. N.B. Adele, loud does not necessarily equate to powerful.
55. The Killers – Human
Adventurous, inventive, trend-setting. These are all words that jump to mind when referring to The Killers. Three albums with three different directions, an impressive feat for any band. This time round, The Killers adopt Stuart Price (of Madonna fame) to produce their ambitious first single from new album Day & Age. The result is stunning. When Brendan Flowers ponders, “Are we human, or are we dancers,” the listener is transfixed. Then the inconceivable happens. The beat kicks in and The Killers have their first Euro-dance song. When Chris Martin, lead singer of one of the world’s most popular bands, calls your song “The best single of 2008,” you know something has gone right.
56. Santogold – Lights Out
A defining attribute to Santogold’s debut CD was her astounding artistry. It’s an album of conceptualising and no two songs sound the same. Lights Out, one of the highlights was also the most ‘pop’ moment. Brilliant guitar hooks that sound like they’re on lend from Max Martin accompanied by Santogold’s unique vocals make for some seriously credible pop.
57. Ladyhawke – My Delirium
Pip Brown brilliantly fuses 80s beats and a stadium rock on one of the finer songs of her Ladyhawke album, while the chorus is possibly her most engaging, “HEY! You’re playing with my delirium”! It’s as if Kim Wilde retired…You get the impression from three impressive singles off the one album that Ladyhawke’s sticking around. Now the questions remain, can she pull it off again on her sophomore album? Is she going to stick to the 80s theme? I eagerly await the answers.
58. Goldfrapp – Happiness
If anything, the synopsis of this song lies perfectly in its title. Happiness is absolute bliss. It is totally over the top (in a good way) and the lyrics sound as if they’re from a dodgy self-help course, “We’re all on the journey to finding the real inner you, make you better.” Much like other moments of her stunning career, Happiness reflects Goldfrapp’s aptitude to create a catchy, interesting, fun and orchestrally exquisite pop song. Definitely one of the highlights of a remarkable album.
59. Empire of The Sun – Walking on a Dream
If Nick Littlemore and Luke Steele ever needed reassurance that their collaboration was a grand idea, that moment came when Walking on a Dream was announced as no.4 on JJJ Hottest 100 Songs of 2009. In a year of Kings of Leon and MGMT dominance, Walking on a Dream was Australia’s highest polling song. It’s easy to see why in retrospect – It’s a gorgeous song. A summery cross between a ballad and a dance song, it would not be out of place at a party, a dinner, a beach, a car, JJJ or Fox FM. Versatility like this is a rarity and Empire of the Sun should be commended for it.
60. Girls Aloud – The Promise
It may have taken Girls Aloud six years, five albums and a stunning 20 consecutive UK Top 10 singles, but when The Promise beat songs from Duffy and Coldplay to be named as Single of The Year at the 2009 BRIT awards, singer Sarah Harding announced, “Well, it’s about time”! It sure is. Commanding respect from bands like Coldplay, Billy Corgan and Pet Shop Boys while remaining largely ignored worldwide, Girls Aloud have proved their worth with a stunning array of pop singles. The Promise isn’t their best single to date, but it’s sure better than most pop music on the airways at the moment. It’s a walloping horn-propelled 60s girl-group number with an inspired chorus and sultry vocals – You totally forget that this is a band of fit girls launched through reality television.
61. T.I – No Matter What
Once or twice a year, a rap album receives kudos that makes me scratch my head. Paper Trail is not that album. Although T.I. has been around for almost a decade, Paper Trail obtained commercial and critical attention previously unreserved (or is that undeserved) for T.I. Whatever You Like and Live Your Life were both inherently fun, but No Matter What is T.I.’s moment of wizardry, a survival rap anthem for those who doubt themselves, “I ain’t dead, I ain’t done, I ain’t scared, I ain’t run. Still I stand, no matter what here I am, no matter what.” It carries a stirring beat, topical lyrics, a howling rock guitar hook and is T.I.’s finest legacy to date.
62. Morcheeba – Gained the World
Dive Deep was yet another nail in Morcheeba’s coffin. Shame really, because with Sky as their lead singer, Morcheeba were trip-hop pioneers of the 1990s, releasing a compelling list of singles and albums. Whilst Dive Deep wasn’t too innovative or herculean, Gained The World was a potent trip-hop number. Singer Manda (a French fan who was recruited via Myspace) has a virtuous voice, reminiscent of Sky’s previous work. The trip-hop/dub beats work a treat, the guitars glide voluptuously, but it’s the chorus (complete with contradictorily innocent vocals – she couldn’t sound more soulful) that stimulate the ears, “I’ve gained the world and lost my soul, maybe it’s because I’m getting old. All the people that i know, have gained the world and lost their soul.”
63. Beyonce – Single Ladies
I must confess, because I jumped on the bandwagon of liking this hit waaaaaaaaaaay after the rest of the world. Infact, most people had probably learnt the dance to it before I was even remotely interested. Then something weird happened. The song started garnering critical acclaim from credible critics. Rolling Stone magazine named it as their song of the year for 2008. Why Single Ladies? A few very simple reasons. Beyonce shines her brightest when she keeps things simple. You only need to listen to Irreplaceable and particularly Crazy in Love for proof. Throw in a blistering R&B beat, Beyonce minimalist vocals and one of the simplest yet most memorable video clips in recent memory, and you have a stroke of genius, (even if it took me a little longer to figure that out!)
64. Newton Faulkner – Dream Catch Me
Ok, so the lyrics make Hi-5 look like Bob Dylan, “There’s a place I go, when I’m alone, do anything i want, be anyone I wanna be.” Despite this, Dream Catch Me is placid and uplifting summer pop propelled by acoustic guitars and Faulkner’s flowing vocals. Though his debut album, Hand Built By Robots was a patchy affair, Faulkner displays massive potential with this single. See also his astonishing cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop. A mix of bongos, stadium rock moments and moving vocals. An immense risk that pays off.
65. September – Cry For You
Take one hot Swedish chick, add a Daft Punk sample, throw in some cheesy pop/techno beats and a massive chorus and you have the formula for one of 2008′s biggest hits. The song never begged for credibility, it’s a terrificly fun pop song guaranteed to get a party stomping. The first time I ever heard this was live in London and by the end the entire room was frantic in dance.
66. Madonna – Miles Away
Poor Madonna. After releasing Confessions in 2004 to critical and commercial acclamation, selling over eight million copies, Madonna churns out Hard Candy; a generic R&B album that received mediocre reviews and sales. It’s not that it was a terrible album – It wasn’t. It’s that we’ve come to expect so much from a pioneer of modern pop music. This is the woman that has released gems like Ray of Light, Drowned World/Substitute for Love, Get Together, Frozen, Sorry and Don’t Tell Me. However, Hard Candy wasn’t totally bitter. Miles Away is a Timbaland style funky ballad that’s both catchy and picturesque (even if Madonna did get divorced to the man in question at the time of the song’s release, not the best publicity for a love song.)
67. Sneaky Sound System – Don’t Get You
Uh oh, Sneaky Sound System have been listening to New Order records! Sure, it wasn’t technically a single (and it probably never will be), but Sneaky Sound System deserve immense kudos for this stab at 80s synth pop, much darker and intense than anything they’ve previously done. Each chorus reveals another dimension to it, consistently sounding darker than the last. A triumph for Australian dance music.
68. Jazmine Sullivan – Dream Big
When Kanye West sampled Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger on his massive hit Stronger, critics and masses gave him the thumbs up. It was the musical equivalent of McDonalds. Temporarily tasty, but no sustenance. This time around, newcomer Jazmine Sullivan samples Daft Punk’s riskier Veridis Quo, adds a stomping beat, and with a little help from Missy Elliott lets us know she’s here to stay, “I gotta dream big, coz when it happens its gonna happen real quick.” With multiple Grammy nominations and stellar sales in US, it looks like Miss Sullivan may be right. Deplorably, this single has so far been ignored for the alright Bust Your Windows and tedious Need U Bad.
69. Ne-Yo – Closer
I’m usually the first person to jump on the bandwagon of distaste for generic R&B songwriters, but Ne-Yo is way ahead of the pack, the can really write a hit (NB, Irreplaceable). Here, Ne-Yo has dipped his feet in the Euro-dance pop pool, incorporating looped beats and acoustic guitars. His voice, while slightly whiny in the verses, triumphs in the chorus and enslaves you to sing along with him, “And i just can’t pull myself away, under her spell I can’t break.” Year of The Gentleman, his album which this was taken off, received critical acclaim, particularly by Rolling Stone as one of the best of the year. No wonder, whatever Ne-Yo writes, everyone else does a year later.
70. Kanye West – Love Lockdown
With auto-tuned vocals that would even make Lil Wayne blush and a military style rumbling beat, Kanye West walks us through his heartbreak. While it probably shouldn’t work, the simplicity is totally effective. West has always been praised for his innovation in modern hip-hop. In my opinion, his previous catalogue has been brilliant, but 808s & Heartbreaks is his first truly ground-making album. Although Love Lockdown isn’t the best song on the album, it’s a perfect introduction single to his new direction.
71. Kings of Leon – Use Somebody
How do you follow up Sex On Fire, one of the most crtically and commerically successful singles of 2008? With a stadium rock anthem, channelling U2 and Bruce Springsteen, that’s almost as good as Sex on Fire itself. It might have taken a while, but eventually Use Somebody caught on, reaching no.2 on the UK and ARIA singles charts. KOL may have been around for a while, but Sex on Fire was their first bona-fide hit and Use Somebody removes them from one-hit wonder status intergrating massive guitar riffs, vocal pain and ‘whoaaa’ chanting.
72. Miley Cyrus – See You Again
Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone to have a Miley Cyrus™ song in my best songs of 2008 list. She’s a product, not a credible star afterall. Sampling Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night, the song is a pop/rock/dance masterpiece. It’s surprisingly dark, excitingly 80s and remarkably catchy. Everytime that chorus starts, many shamefully admit to crooning along, “The last time I freaked out, I just kept looking down.”!
73. Jessica Mauboy – Running Back (Feat. Flo Rida)
There were two immediate shocks when this single first played on Australian radio. The first, was that Mauboy miraculously attached Flo Rida to this project. The second (and this is the big one), was that the song was, well, the best thing an idol has done to date…By a LONG shot. Using Eastern influences, thick beats and a dialled-in but notable rap from Flo Rida, Running Back is the post-Idol song we’ve been waiting for since the show started seven years ago. Impressively, Mauboy played a large part in co-writing it. Fans responded appropriately, bestowing double platinum status to it.
74. Sugababes – Girls
My deepest sympathies, Sugababes. There was a time (Their first three albums), where Sugababes dictated what was not only cool but credible. Their debut single Overloaded was a critical triumph, and 2002’s Freak Like Me was so far ahead of the times it would be fitting as a hit of 2009. Shame then, that both commercially and credibly, the girls have fallen. While their latest album, Catfights and Spotlights, didn’t set the charts alight with its inability to stick to a genre, Girls was sensationally fun. Sampling the awesome horns of Here Come The Girls, The Babes have put their own spin on it with military beats and scorching vocals. It’s a shame the band that once inspired other people to cover them are now doing covers themselves, but with any justice they’ll get back their cool. For now, we’ll just have to stick to listen to their 2000-2005 era.
75. Rihanna – Don’t Stop The Music
I’m starting to get the impression Rihanna wants to be (or thinks she is) the new Michael Jackson. If Disturbia wasn’t proof enough with it’s Thriller-esque 80′s style and video clip, Don’t Stop The Music’s sampling of Jacksons’ Wanna Be Starting Something is the icing on the cake. You have to give Rihanna credit though, hit-making machine Good Girl Gone Bad has now had a monstrous seven top 20 US singles, including three no.1s. Not since Thriller itself has an album so rigorously assaulted the singles charts. Don’t Stop The Music is no Umbrella, but there was a good reason it dominated airwaves in 2008 – It’s an unapologetically fun tune and a reliable party starter.
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