Timely as ever, here is my personal list of Top Songs for 2006. This does not reflect material that was produced or released in 2006, but rather the music I listened to and enjoyed most during the past calendar year. I spread it around, so that I didn't end up with multiple Wolf Parade or Ghostface songs, no matter how severely I overplayed those albums. Yes, I am aware that it's August.
If you'd told me in 2005 that my favorite songs in 2006 would be about the preparation, distribution, and use of cocaine, I'd have been surprised. However, it's 2006, and my top two is pure coke. At no point did I consciously decide I needed to know more slang terms for crack, but when I got The Clipse mix tape, those terms fell into my lap. As Pato Banton would tell you, I do not sniff the coke, but you know, here we are.
1. "Re-Up Intro", The Clipse
R-E-U-P-G-A-N-G. Some choice quotes:
"Sittin' on blades like Kristi Yamaguchi"
"Tickle us pink like white girl clitoris"
"I'm high like giraffe ass"
"We ain't holla back, nigga, we holla black"
"Suicide bomb ya like Mohammed Atta"
This song is not at all respectable. It has a dark, dirty beat, and in thoery, one could dance to it. It didn't come out in 2006, but it's #1 on my list for the past year. To my knowledge, it's the first song to ever analogize cocaine sales and high-level women's figure skating.
Here's some suggested follow-up lyrics for the Clipse:
"Slash your bitches like Zorro
I'm the godfather, it's routine like Philippe Candeloro"
They can use that one, no charge.
2. "Kilo", Ghostface Killah
Every kid in America had to learn the metric system in elementary school. Little did we know it would help us understand complex narcotics transactions. Here, Ghostface Killah uses what is presumably a "Go Metric!" sample to explicate the travails of crack production. All around the world today, the kilo is the measure. Take that, Jimmy Carter! My favorite part is the "Plane or a penthouse/Office or a warehouse" part.
3. "Let Me Watch", Viktor Vaughn
Of the first three songs on my list, two are performed by rappers who have historically performed on stage wearing masks. You can hear Ghostface and Viktor Vaughn/MF Doom commiserate on mask-wearing and its implications on, appropriately enough, the Doom-Danger Mouse-Adult Swim collaboration, The Mouse and the Mask. Both Doom and Ghostface Killah adopt the personas of Marvel Comics characters: Ghostface raps as Tony Stark AKA Iron Man whereas MF Doom alternately calls himself Dr. Doom or Doom's alter ago, Victor von Doom (Viktor Vaughn in the MF-verse)
"He talked, I listened/ He listened, I spoke/ We walked arm in arm and split a Cherry Coke/ Spit religion and politics, Sega and chess"
The story is simple. Vaughn tries to bed an underage girl, but, you know, he fucks it up. Hey fellas, don't call her a "ho". In the same way that "There's Something About Mary" stands apart from other modern comedies with its ingenious ending, "Let Me Watch" also stands apart due to its conclusion, as the oblivious Viktor Vaughn tells his spurner to, "Just holla, ring the buzzer".
4. "Ambulance", TV on the Radio
Look, I hate a capella music as much as, if not more than the next guy. Probably a lot more than the next guy. However, TV on the Radio has an advantage over most a capella groups:
1. No clever name like Vocal Point or Aural Fixation
2. No Beach Boys songs
3. General use of instrumentation on their songs, particularly drums and kickass electric guitars.
Luckily, TV on the Radio does do songs with instrumentation as well, so they are not at risk of being beaten by students from Sacred Heart.
5. "I'm Straight", Modern Lovers
Neal Pollack is responsible for my initial exposure to this song. I gotta say, Hippy Johnny has to be a little worried that someone is going to take his place. However, since this song was recorded in 1975(?), Hippy Johnny is probably dead from his constant drug abuse. Here, Jonathan Richman adopts a technique I used in many fake letters to the Pleasant Hill-Martinez Record. Nothing is more demeaning to one's adversary than to address him by name repeatedly and unnecessarily.
"Why always stoned? Like, Hippy Johhny?"
"I'm certainly not stoned...like Hippy Johnny is."
Someday, I would like to preface a request for a date with, "Here's your chance to make me feel awkward..."
6. "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", The Kinks
I heard this at the end of a Sopranos episode when Tony is driving . My dad definitely endorses this choice more than the previous five.
7. "Everybody's Changing", Lily Allen
The original is by the band Keane, Irish alternative band, and Google-rank threat to me, Sean Keane. I much prefer the stripped down, Casio-and-guitar version from internet superstar Lily Allen. Maybe I just hate the Travis/Keane-style ultra-high British male vocals, but for my money, Lily Allen's version is a lot more emotional. It's quicker, it's shorter, and there's no fake orchestra in the background. Less is more, bitches! Lily Allen especially nails the "You're gone from here/soon you will disappear" part. She seems more genuinely worried about everybody changing than the dude from Keane does.
8. "Won't Get Too Far", Wrens
This song is really goddamn sad, especially for someone who is questioning the choices that led to their unsatisfying, vaguely-embarrassing job that they've worked at for far too long. Hypothetically, I mean.
"It's not the biggest bridge, but it's still something he did"
[This is part of my personal New Jersey revival, including my support for the Rutgers football team and their improbable BCS run, re-watching Season 5 of The Sopranos, thinking funny mean thoughts about Garden State, and remembering the good times of my relationship with a five-fingered girl from South Jersey. Thanks to a recent birthday gift, I now own two different t-shirts with an outline of New Jersey on the front: one is a Wrens shirt, and the other reads, "Jersey Girls Ain't Trash (Trash gets picked up.)".]
9. "Decatur", Sufjan Stevens
While this is not the most timely inclusion, "Decatur" is probably still eligible for a Grammy award for another 18 months or so. It's a great song, with amazing and ambitious rhymes, though none better than "Stephen A. Douglas was a great debater/ But Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator". I don't know if it's the brazen use of middle initial, or the historical accuracy, but I wanted to high-five Winamp when I first heard this one. No you di'n't, Sufjan! This song is also notable for its lack of a snare drum played with two didgeridoos.
10. "This Heart's on Fire", Wolf Parade
I think Bruce Springsteen could have had quite a hit with this song. I thought it was about a crazy, passionate love affair at first, but I read somewhere that it's actually about a the lead singer's dying mother.
11. "No One Else" (live), Weezer
Unplugging makes this song completely different. Nowhere does this show through than at "Tell her it's over now". In the original version, Rivers shouts "Now!" as an emphatic kiss-off. In the acoustic version, it's sweet, vulnerable, and it sounds like a pre-emptive dumping. I am biased, because I too secretly want a girl who will only laugh at my jokes, or at worst, laugh at my jokes discernibly harder than she laughs at the jokes of others. However, I have no problem with my hypothetical girlfriend wearing makeup when I am away. The campfire nature of the chorus is also amazing. Honestly, I have trouble enjoying the electric version now. This song makes me wish that karaoke bars:
a) offered acoustic versions of indie rock hits
b) offered any versions of indie rock hits
c) let me sing "Can't Fight This Feeling" already, when I've been waiting and drinking Bud Lights for like 90 minutes now.
12. "Eve of Destruction", The Turtles
I'm not actually such a big fan of this song. But after I heard it the first time, I couldn't help making up fake lyrics based on the premise the we were "on the eve of construction". Any time I see a barricade, grader, or plastic cone, I mentally write another verse. Sometimes I put on this song and quietly sing my own faux-Turtles lyrics along with it. "And even 17th Street has got bulldozer lying in it/And you tell me over and over and over again my friend/ That you don't believe we're on the eve of construction".
13. "Get By", Talib Kweli
There's a certain kind of hip-hop music that white hipsters universally embrace. Some call it "conscious rap", some call it "not commercially viable". Liking Talib Kweli makes me feel like a cliche, especially since I can also appreciate A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Jurassic Five, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Mos Def, and any rap song where group members all shout the rhyming words in unison.
My favorite story about "conscious rap" came when my old roommate was trying to explain the classification to a Ward Street guest. He put on a Mos Def CD and explained that "conscious rap" was more serious, dealt with political issues, and discussed women in a more respectful manner. the guest listened attentively, then asked my roommate what song was currently playing. He blushed and said, "Um...'Ms. Fat Booty'".
14. "Paper Bag", Fiona Apple
This song could be on my Top Songs list every single year, because I never, ever get sick of listening to it. If any song could be said to be my all-time favorite, it's gotta be this one, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" or "In A Big Country".
By the end of "Paper Bag", it sounds like there's about fifteen different instruments going, and everything sounds perfect, which is a testament to both Ms. Apple and producer Jon Brion. As wonderful as it is, I don't think this song was terribly popular when it was released, with the lesson being: Pick an album title with fewer then 90 words.
Even the video is great. It was directed by P.T. Anderson, shot in a huge old train station, and has dancing children dressed like gangsters doing choreographed routines with Fiona.
Here's a clip of Fiona doing "Paper Bag" live, accompanied by Jon Brion on guitar: