Posted Under: Music
Later this week I’ll come back to the survey I posted the other day (so you still have time to weigh in if you want), but today I am going to reprise something I did last year: my quasi-data-driven list of the 10 best songs of the year just ended.
First the list; then, after the jump, for those curious, an absurdly long breakdown of related personal-listening data that (partly) shaped the list, and some mild observations about the problem with “best of the year” lists.
- “Poison Dart,” The Bug featuring Warrior Queen
- “Count It Off,” Saturday Knights
- “Albert Goes West,” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
- “Da Feelin’,” Nightmares On Wax
- “Get It Up (Radioclit mix),” Esau Mwamwaya, Santogold, M.I.A
- “Bag of Hammers,” Thao
- “Ooh Yeah,” Moby
- “Thinking About You,” Irma Thomas
- “You Want the Candy,” The Raveonettes
- “Play Your Part (Pt. 1),” Girl Talk
Okay. So I’ll quickly acknowledge that Cousin Lymon is going to give me shit about the Raveonettes and Moby, but the explanation that follows should not be taken as defensive! As last year, I partly let my own iTunes data tell me what my favorite songs were. I looked at two things: Songs I gave five-star ratings to, and playcount stats.
Playcount stats first. Here’s the Top Ten (actually Eleven, due to ties) per plays:
19 plays: “You Want the Candy,” The Raveonettes; “L.E.S. Artistes,” Santogold
18 plays (three-way tie for second, or third, depending on how you look at it): “Mercy,” Duffy; “The Stars,” Moby; “Albert Goes West,” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
17 plays (six-way tie for third (or sixth)): “Like It or Not (El Guincho Remix),” Architecture In Helsinki; “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” Gnarls Barkley; “Dragonslayer,” James Pants; “Ooh Yeah,” Moby; “Everyday It’s 1989,” Moby; “Chain,” School of Seven Bells
The thing that’s surprising to me — and this gets at the entire point of this exercise — is to see which songs I played a lot even though I didn’t give them five-star (top) ratings: “L.E.S. Artistes,” Santogold; “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” Gnarls Barkley; “Dragonslayer,” James Pants; Moby; “Everyday It’s 1989,” Moby; “Chain,” School of Seven Bells. All good tunes, but clearly I wouldn’t put them in my subjective Top Ten, even if they’re near the top of the listening-data list.
As for five-star songs: The total number of songs that I own and that were released in 2008 is 377. Out of those, I gave five-star ratings to 26. I won’t list them all. I will say that the top nine entries in my Top Ten above got five stars.
I’ll also mention a couple of other five-stars: “Boom” by Anjulie, “Beg Waves” by Ponytail, “Nowhere’s Nigh,” by Parts and Labor, and “Time To Pretend” by MGMT are all examples of five-star songs that I may ultimately end up liking better than some of what I put in my Top Ten — but I acquired them relatively recently and the playcounts are low. This is a problem with the data-driven Top Songs list: It overweights things I have owned longer.
Then again, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” by She and Him, is a five-star song that got 16 plays — but I kind of got sick of it. Especially when the band became a darling of the sort of NPR crowd, and I read or heard one too many glowing interviews with them.
Now, you may notice that several of the songs in my Top Ten are not in the tops of the playcount list at all — most notably the top two songs. That’s because, ultimately, I apply subjectivity. When I looked over the list of five-star songs, I thought about which ones I really loved the most, wanted to hear again right that second, and guessed I would continue to love. That’s how “Poison Dart” and “Count It Off” took the top spots, despite just 14 and 10 plays, respectively: Those are my faves, so I’m overruling my own data.
Much the same applies with that Girl Talk song: I actually only gave it four stars. But, I feel pretty strongly that Feed The Animals is easily the best full-length album I acquired this year, and it needs to be represented. Plus I think the first minute of “Play Your Part (pt. 1)” is, in particular, one of the most exciting album-openers I’ve heard in about a decade.
I could go into more detail about some of the other picks, but you’ve suffered enough. Hey, at least I spared you any actual music-critic lingo — no “sounds like X crossed with Y,” no quoting of supposedly profound or witty lyrics, etc.
Finally, as last year, I’d like to just reiterate that the entire “best songs of the year” enterprise is fundamentally out of sync with the way that those of us who are not music critics actually listen to and acquire music. The vast majority of the music that I acquired and listened to in 2008 was not released in 2008. One of my very favorite “new to me” songs of the year was “Finesse (Night Wind),” by Johnny Hodges — from 1939. Another song I love (and have listened to more than anything released in 2008) was “Selective Periphera,” by Ben Benjamin. It’s from 2007, but I didn’t get hold of until 2008 — so it ends up not being on either year’s list.
(On a related note — I had “Paper Planes” on my list for 2007, but for a lot of listeners it’s a song they first encountered this year, when it became it a belated hit.)
Perhaps next year I’ll do a Top Ten of songs I got and loved in 2009 — but all released in earlier years. I’m sure I’m not the only music consumer whose listening habits diverge sharply from the release-date calendar that the music press (traditional and blog versions) follow so slavishly.
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far: I believe my pick for the fifth-best song of the year, [“Get It Up (Radioclit mix),” Esau Mwamwaya, Santogold, M.I.A], is still available freely and legally, here. Maybe you’ll like it.