My Top 11 Songs of 2011 (In Which I Welcome Back Avril and Britney)

Another year, another metric ton of junk from Rihanna. Chicago lost its last remaining alternative-rock station, Amy Winehouse succumbed to the age-27 curse, and R.E.M. called it quits. And yet I, ever the grumpy old curmudgeon regarding today’s music, found eleven songs to which I could tap my foot. See how many of them you agree with, hmmm?

1. Tonight Tonight, Hot Chelle Rae

Poppy, infectious, and effervescent, this was the song of the summer. But it’s not quite as upbeat as it sounds if you dig into the lyrics – ‘I don’t know if I’ll make it, but watch how good I’ll fake it.’ He’s overcompensating, folks, after a ‘really, really messed up week.’ Shows how far a major key and a catchy hook can take you. And the tongue-in-cheek lyrics are part of the reason why this ditty tops my list and pure good-time garbage such as anything by LMFAO didn’t hit my radar in any positive sense. (Side note: could LMFAO have a stupider name? Way to demonstrate that you want to have staying power. Idiots.)

2. What the Hell, Avril Lavigne

Remember in 2007 when Avril Lavigne reappeared with the catchy-as-hell ‘Girlfriend’ and everyone was all, ‘What? She’s back?’ Well, it happened again. Hiatus. New single out of nowhere (this time with a Max Martin intervention). Catchy as hell. And replete with, as is her way, a smidgen of attitude. The scale progression in the pre-chorus (“…on your knees, begging please…”) is my favorite part. This is a karaoke white whale I will never be able to achieve. Who knew Avril had such range?

3. Til the World Ends, Britney Spears

It’s Britney, bitch. And she emerged arguably almost better than ever in the spring of 2011. Once again, helped along by pop-music wunderkind Max Martin (who incidentally was behind ‘Baby … One More Time,’ ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy,’ ‘Oops…’ ‘3,’ ‘If U Seek Amy,’ and more), Miss Brit had the catchiest chorus of the summer until Hot Chelle Rae came along. She loses a couple of points for succumbing to the stale ‘dancing despite the approaching apocalypse’ theme but we’ll just ignore the lyrics and, you know, dance despite the approaching apocalypse.

4. I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl, The Wavves

Whoa, this one is so underground, it doesn’t even have an ‘official’ video! Like many Saturday Night Live skits, this song is just about 90 seconds too long. But before the monotony sets in, it’s an uplifting power-pop ode to a certain Foo-Fighting, grunge-to-the-masses-bringing gentleman. Wonder if they ever got their wish.

5. Glad You Came, The Wanted

I imagine this danceable track is kind of like what would have happened if Oasis had ever teamed up with the repeatedly aforementioned Max Martin. Near-perfect British pop. You’ll be glad you listened.

6. Born This Way, Lady Gaga

That attention-hungry fame monster (!), I initially thought when this single ‘dropped.’ It’s an absolute rip-off of ‘Express Yourself,’ and Lady Gaga is NO Madonna (to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen). But then I grew to realize … ‘Born This Way’ — with its energy and its empowering lyrics — is BETTER than ‘Express Yourself,’ and while Gaga certainly won’t have the legacy that Madonna did and does, she does have better pipes. And I’d bet Ms. Ciccone would say the same.

7. Something to Believe In, Parachute

Okay, this ‘adult-alternative’ pop-rock hit from has faint twinges of Christian rock, but sometimes that’s okay, especially if it’s a jam that inspires. Plus, the guys met at UVa.

8. Changing, The Airborne Toxic Event

This song sounds like it was written for an Apple commercial, which is to say it is memorable, approachable indie rock. And it strangely wasn’t in an Apple commercial that I can recall (though Google tells me it was in a trailer for Crazy Stupid Love). The guys seem a lot more cheerful than their last big hit, which had even the world’s cutters begging them to cheer up already.

9. Down By the Water, The Decemberists

A new song with an old-timey feel, which is probably due to the harmonica and the tight harmonies. It’s CSNY for the 21st century. Any ‘new’ song I can share with my parents is typically a winner for me, and there hasn’t been a decent one (that they hadn’t already heard in an Apple commercial) since ‘Float On.’

10. Super Bass, Nicki Minaj

Yeah, the supremely self-referential Nicki is a tad annoying and I wish her rapping vocals came in a few notes lower down the scale. Slightly less chipmunky. But she can spit rhyme with the best of them (‘best of them’ = Eminem) and the chorus is unforgettable and groove-tastic.

11. Bad – The CAB

For some reason, it annoys me that this group capitalizes their name. Who do they think they are, DAUGHTRY? This song wasn’t the best of the year, but it has a taste of boy-band catchy pop flavor with a chewy power pop center. Would be interested in hearing more from these guys as their sound (hopefully) matures.

Honorable mention 1: Friday, Rebecca Black

I admit, this is a demonstration of everything that is wrong with American music today. Lyrics so simple they border on nonsensical. Criminal levels of autotuning. The repeated use of ‘party’ in different parts of speech. But damn, did it make me smile. And ultimately, it’s a good 15-minutes-of-fame story. At least Rebecca’s original was better than the horrendous Glee version. What the eff happened to Glee, by the way? What an appalling fall off a cliff.

Honorable mention 2: ‘Blue Tip,’ The Cars

The Cars released Move Like This this year – their first studio album in 24 years. This track-one cut was the best on the album and yet … it wasn’t very good. Still have to give Ric and the boys an A for effort. At least they are getting back out there.

And that … is it. Here’s to catchier pop, more interesting alt-rock, and the reemergence of late-90s favorites (who aren’t Enrique Iglesias) in 2012. Harvey Danger, I’m waiting for YOU.

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Top Summer Songs of the Decade (In Which I Try to Remember Hoobastank)

Last week’s lyric quiz, in advance of Labor Day, focused on so-called anthems of summer.  Those infectious ditties that roll onto the pop scene when the weather starts to brighten and fail to drop off the charts until the kids are back in school.  As promised, here’s my own opinion of what I ruled the songs of all summers going back to 2002, when American Idol was brand new (as was the Department of Homeland Security).

Without further ado…

2002: Hot in Herre, Nelly.  St Louis’ pride and joy busted forth with this first single from his second album, Nellyville.  The hook is just catchy enough that we’ll all-but forgive the slightly misogynistic undertones.

2003: Crazy in Love, Beyonce (f/ Jay-Z).  Let’s be honest.  This song would be nowhere without the horn-charged Chi-Lites’ sample. With it – and with Jay-Z’s assistance in the intro and the bridge – it was a summer power-anthem that extended way past August 2003.

2004: The Reason, Hoobastank.   Really?  Song of the summer?  This drippy, lackluster, near-whiney pseudo-ballad from the moderately promising alt-rockers who brought us “Crawling in the Dark?”  Come on guys, really?  A modified infinity symbol in your band name? It was either this or one of about seven Usher songs, and their respective votes cannibalized one another.  But an honorable mention would be “Yeah!,” which Mr. “Ursher” Raymond did alongside Ludacris and Lil Jon.  Take that and rewind it back.

2005: Hollaback Girl, Gwen Stefani.  Fundamentally annoying, sure, but it reignited the pop-culture landscape’s interest in Toni Basil’s “Mickey” and brought “bananas” back into the lexicon as a synonym for “nuts.”

2006: Crazy, Gnarls Barkley.  Gnarls Barkley is the coupling of hip hop producer Danger Mouse and performer Cee Lo Green. Gorillaz, meanwhile, is the coupling of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and British illustrator/writer Jamie Hewlett. You can of course see why I always confuse the two. Gorillaz had a winning song-of-the-summer in 2001, “Clint Eastwood,” which I like much, much, much better than “Crazy.”  That said, “Crazy” was inescapable five summers ago and had to make this list.

2007: Umbrella, Rihanna (f Jay-Z). Speaking of inescapable, nary a reality show on the air between March 2007 and December 2008 failed to use “Umbrella” – or some folksy/emo/punk version thereof – on its soundtrack. It’s a pleasant enough tune about a sweetly strong relationship, but it’s just about two choruses too long.    

2008: Just Dance, Lady Gaga. We saw both Gaga and Katy Perry bum-rush the charts in 2008 with this cut and “I Kissed a Girl,” respectively.  Little did we know that they would remain the biggest pop stars on the planet three years later. What’s more, “Just Dance” was one of the first songs in the new genre of “See how adorably screwed I am when I drink?” (non) cautionary tales. So thanks for that, Stefani. 

2009: I Gotta Feeling, Black-Eyed Peas.  This song has no substantive lyrics.  This song includes a random and somewhat jarring “Mazel Tov” shout.  This song’s title, when broken down grammatically, means “I got to feeling.” This song is unrepentantly repetitive. This song was arguably the best pop song of its year.

Wordle couresty of Flavorwire.com

2010: Your Love is My Drug, Ke$ha. God help us all, this white-trash ho puts out some catchy freaking nonsense pop. This is no exception. May we never tire of her “rapped”-verse-plus-punchy-chorus formula.  I like your beard.

2011: Tonight Tonight, Hot Chelle Rae. Possibly my favorite song on this list, but maybe that’s because it’s the newest. The carefree chorus lyric is betrayed by the pre-chorus … “Whatever … it doesn’t matter … oh well” and the lyric “I don’t know if I’ll make it, but watch how good I’ll fake it.”  It’s an existential crisis wrapped up in  a power-pop beat. Cheers to you, boys.  Hope to hear a lot more out of you.

Phew! And that’s that! What have been some of your favorite “summer anthems” of years past?