Thursday, January 15, 2009

50 Singles of the Year 2008 (Part 2)

In record time, we deliver our final round-up of the best of last year's singles whilst still in the first half of January. As before, Ciaran selected the songs and gives his thoughts, as do I on a lot of tunes. Artwork and links to be up shortly.

25. Chris Brown “Forever”

Written by: A. Merritt, R. Allen, C. Brown, J. Jones and B. Kennedy
Produced by: Pollow Da Don
Released: June
Highest UK Chart Position: 4

Ciarán: Rihanna’s boyfriend. And he’s no slouch in the perfectly-judged r’n’b pop department either. “Forever” is disarmingly simple, and just another impeccable Chris Brown single.

Gavin: Welcome to 5 years ago! Hmm, it’s allright I suppose but quite dull in comparison to a lot of the songs on this list, there’s possibly a great song trying to get out but it’s been drowned by over polished production.

24. Coldplay “Viva La Vida”

Written by: Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Chris Martin
Produced by: Brian Eno, Markus Dravs and Rik Simpson
Released: June
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: 2008 was the year in which Coldplay finally made some sense to me. I’m just 8 years behind everyone else, and a country mile behind the world. Maybe it was the Make Coldplay History campaign wot did it, contrary sod that I am, but I can’t shake the feeling that when everyone is saying something you can be sure that what they’re saying is wrong. Sure of it! Ok, maybe not, but it ought to be enough to make you go and re-examine the evidence. So what’s the “beef” with Coldplay? Is it that they’re a stadium rock band? Is that all? Does Chris Martin annoy people? Is it something like U2 syndrome: where the idea that Coldplay are just vaguely annoying has become an unstoppable bandwagon which destroys everything (including any possibility of engaged criticism) in its path? It’s true that the idea that there could be a Best Band In The World (something Q Magazine devotes an inordinate amount of space to discussing), is silly. “Viva La Vida” might not be their best single to date, but it’s got a good old fashioned tune with nice stabby strings. The lyrical allusion to a dethroned king is surely enough to explain the band’s recent attire (i.e. it’s French revolution clobber isn’t it). It’s been played to death and I still like it. A whopping great number one, and deservedly so.

Gavin: Like Chris Brown this song is also frustrating but for entirely different reasons. Coldplay are a group that polarizes opinion to the point that one but can't help feel that you're picking sides when casting opinion over their music. Trying to be objective, I come to the conclusion that these songs could be so much better, but every interesting chord change you expect to happen subsequently doesn't and every melody line feels disappointingly unadventurous. There are one or two nice bits in this song (the first line of the chorus for example) but it's something I could very much take or leave, and normally choose the latter. It's says something about my current musical bent when I can't wait to move onto the next song which is….

23. The Saturdays “Up”

Written by: Andreas Romdhane, Josef Larossi and Ina Wrolsden
Produced by: Quiz and Larossi
Released: October
Highest UK Chart Position: 5

Ciarán: The Saturdays single before this one (“If This Is Love”) was based around a sample of Yazoo’s “Situation”, but “Up” also sounds like it could have been collated from the remnants of ruined early 80s synthpop records. I hope The Saturdays go on to be great. I’ve liked all three of their singles so far (including their “newie”, “Issues”, which is out in January). The video for “Up” is good. Very literal. They stand on pedestals that go up. They do a dance routine. They wear bright, colour-coordinated clothes and smile a lot. They’re that sort of pop group. In 2008, this was about as close as we got to a “Hand On Your Heart”.

Gavin: With the possible exception of 'Work', I still think they've yet to make the song that's really going to break them into pop's big league, but this is a bloody good effort. A marked improvement over 'If This Is Love' which felt very over calculated and left me a bit cold. In contrast this has far more of its own identity and suits the 5-piece vocal style.

22. Kings Of Leon “Sex On Fire”

Written by: Caleb Followill, Nathan Followill, Jared Followill, Mathew Followill
Produced by: Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King
Released: September
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: Sometimes rock is at its best when you can’t tell whether the people behind it are taking the mickey or not. This record might be a joke, there again it might not be. Probably isn’t, on balance. Either way it’s got a stormin’ chorus and daft lyrics about having lots of rumpo in a car (possibly, but not necessarily, whilst rockin’ down the highway with the wind in your hair). Guns ‘N’ Roses used to make records which were as fun as this. Good for playing along to while standing in front of the mirror with a tennis racket as a substitute for a guitar. 11 year old boys love this sort of “boys music”, and they’re dead right to.

Gavin: The Kings' sudden explosion of popularity (and the obligatory critical backlash they've then faced in certain quarters) comes as a bit of a shock to me as they've always produced consistently good (if not exactly earth-shattering) pop-rock, and their latest offerings are no exception. This is a nice enough little tune, plenty of memorable hooks with nothing sounding out of place. Doesn't really get me too excited but that's what happens when you get to my age.

21. The Killers “Human”

Written by: The Killers
Produced by: Stuart Price
Released: November
Highest UK Chart Position: 3

Ciarán: The best single from The Killers in ages, and a deserved smash as 2008 wound down. There are people who will never like The Killers of course, and no doubt they hated “Human”. They have as much in common with Pet Shop Boys as they do U2 though, as this sparse, reverby, hooky single attests.

Gavin: The Killers probably incite the same vitriol that our previous artists do, but it's lot easier to see why with them. Everything they seem to produce comes across as being self-consciously epic - off-the-shelf anthems for a busy, background-music lifestyle. Whilst I hate having to resort to these lazy insults, every attempt I make getting into their music leaves me wondering what I'm hearing, certainly not an abundance of melody. Sorry.

20. Ladyhawke “Dusk Til Dawn”

Written by: Phillipa Brown, Pascal Gabriel, Alex Gray and Hannah Robinson
Produced by: Pascal Gabriel
Released: September
Highest UK Chart Position: 78

19. Ladyhawke “My Delirium”

Written by: Phillipa Brown, Pascal Gabriel, Alex Gray and Hannah Robinson
Produced by: Pascal Gabriel
Released: December
Highest UK Chart Position: 33

Ciarán: Two in a row from Ladyhawke, who is my favourite new pop star. Except she’s not really famous enough yet. Maybe she’ll never be properly famous. If not, that will be the world’s loss. “Dusk Til Dawn” is over all-too-soon. You can’t really dance to it, but you can stomp to it. It’s got Chic-y rhythm guitars on the chorus, crunchy drums, a smattering of honky-tonk piano on the instrumental break and a good one note bassline for the most part. And I love how she pronounces the word “dawn”. Whilst watching the revived-but-rubbish Chart Show on telly in September, I felt a twinge of nostalgia when they included “Dusk Til Dawn” in the NME TV Chart but didn’t stop to play it. This sort of indie pop at least used to get short shrift on mainstream TV on a Saturday morning, now it’s being overlooked out in the telly wilderness that is the Chart Show TV channel!

“My Delirium” is a recent release, and has climbed the charts for two weeks in a row! Could it be the first number one of the new year? Of course not. But it’s almost as crunching and rockin’ as “Sex On Fire” but more melodic and dreamy with it. You could break this song up into bits and put together about five other songs from all the bits. It’s just bursting with imagination and ideas. There’s a lovely quiet bit at 2’412 were it sounds like it could burst into something by Swedish sampling genius The Field. But it doesn’t. Instead it hammers the glorious chorus home for the remainder of the song. In any other year this might make my end of the year Top 10, but this has been a particularly strong year for singles. Rest assured her album will be in my Top 2 of the year.

Gavin: It's been very hard to ignore Ciaran's unbridled enthusiasm for Ladyhawke, but I'm glad he's been so persistent as I'm becoming a bit of a convert. These two songs highlight her strength in tuneful but intense pop. A pity the album doesn't have a bit more range & variation, but she's definitely get the opportunity to hone her craft, and very probably will.

18. Ne-Yo “Closer”

Written by: Shaffer Smith, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, M. Beite, Bernt Rune Stray
Produced by: StarGate
Released: May
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: 2008 was The Year of the Gentleman of course. “Miss Independent” was a strikingly good single too (sounding like something Usher might make when he’s on form). “Closer” might nop sound like such an obviously brilliant record on first listen, but it reveals its beauty with subsequent plays. It’s been a good twelve months for razor sharp r’n’b, of which this single is a great example.

Gavin: Some interesting changes of pace, kind of makes it more bearable. Yeah, it's not that bad really.

17. Alesha Dixon “The Boy Does Nothing”

Written by: Brian Higgins, Alesha Dixon, Miranda Cooper, Carla-Marie Williams and Xenomania
Produced by: Brian Higgins and Xenomania
Released: November
Highest UK Chart Position: 5

Gavin: It's warmed my heart to see the revitalisation of Alesha in the last 12 or so months, from being the annoying, shouty one in the already quite annoying & shouty Misteeq to an all-singing-all-dancing wholesome bastion of showbizness. And although isn't exactly Pet Sounds it works rather well, an infectious beat, top-notch production from Xenomania as usual with enough spark in the vocals to keep any man enthralled.

Ciarán: Xenomania stretched themselves a bit this year, largely ditching the rollicking electro-rock they’re most associated with in favour of jazzy, even bluesy, pop. Alesha Dixon might be best known as the winner of Strictly Come Dancing last year, but before that she was a member of Mis-Teeq, whose single “Scandalous” was something of a ruddy marvel (and a big hit in the US) back in 2002. Dancing on the telly on a Saturday night seems to be the thing to do these days if you want to become a household name (and one wonders if Rachel Stevens will get a shot at a comeback if she wins Strictly… this year) so, fame having been restored, here’s Alesha’s comeback single. It does sound rather a lot like “Mambo No. 5”. It’s immediately catchy and it brightened up the winter nights no end. But it’s not quite as good as…

16. Gabriella Cilmi “Sweet About Me”

Written by: Gabriella Cilmi, Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins, Tim Larcombe and Xenomania
Produced by: Brian Higgins and Xenomania
Released: March
Highest UK Chart Position: 6

Ciarán: It’s incredible to think that Gabriella Cilmi is only, what, sixteen? When she opens her mouth and that voice comes out. “Sweet About Me” debuted in the chart in early March, but didn’t actually reach its peak until the end of June, a full sixteen weeks later. Its long, slow climb is in no small part attributable to the legion of GMTV viewers who heard the single on an advert and downloaded the track over breakfast. It’s great that Xenomania can turn their hand to a track like this. Soundwise, it’s a world away from “The Show” or “”Red Dress” or “Biology”. I love the gentle sighing track which surrounds Cilmi’s older-than-her-years vocal. And it boasts as memorable a chorus as you’ll find on any pop record. The first half of her album “Lessons To Be Learned” is about as good as this. “Save The Lies” and “Sanctuary” made for good singles too, and “Einstein” is too good to languish in “album track” obscurity. Definitely one of 2008’s more pleasant discoveries.

Gavin: The most interesting thing about this single was the extremely prolonged upward trajectory it took to get to its peak position of No. 6 in the singles chart. OK, it's not a bad song and has been growing on me of late, but I can't see that's bringing anything new or exiting to the party and purely exists to fill demand for sensitive female singers. Prove me wrong, Gabi.

15. Rihanna “Don’t Stop The Music”

Written by: T.E. Hermansen, M.S. Eriksen, T. Dabney and M. Jackson
Produced by: StarGate
Released: January
Highest UK Chart Position: 4

Ciarán: This was actually available on “Good Girl, Gone Bad” as long ago as May 2007, and it actually made the charts a month before its physical release on downloads alone. It’s a ridiculously great single. It almost invents a new genre - a weird mixture of French filter house, r’n’b, soul, disco and pure melody in one big pop orgasm. Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” is chucked into the mix. It sounds like Daft Punk at other points. And all the while it stays on the brink, sounding like it’s just going to explode. Norwegians StarGate had a hand in writing and producing it. It’s hard to imagine how Kanye or Pharell or Xenomania could have done a better job. Completely amazing. But it can’t make our Top 10 because it is a bit old at this stage.

14. Elbow “Grounds For Divorce”

Written by: Guy Garvey and Elbow
Produced by: Craig Potter
Released: March
Highest UK Chart Position: 19

Ciarán: Everyone seems to be saying how pleased they were that Elbow won the Mercury Prize this year. They should have won it for “Asleep In The Back” in 2001. “The Seldom Seen Kid” is a fine album too, and its lead single was just so good that Elbow became impossible to ignore. In essence it’s a boozey blues song, but let’s not forget its great riff and the layers of pretty melody which crop up during the quieter bits. I didn’t think Elbow had a “classic” single in them, and how wrong I was. “One Day Like This” was bloody good too, but “Grounds For Divorce” gets the nod because it’s such raucous fun. Nice title as well, by the way

13. Goldfrapp “A&E”

Written by: Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory
Produced by: Alison Goldfrapp, Will Gregory and Flood
Released: February
Highest UK Chart Position: 10

Ciarán: “Seventh Tree” was my favourite album of ’08, and is probably Goldfrapp’s best yet. “A&E” wasn’t the strongest song on the album, but made for a great single nonetheless. The lyric relates an intriguing story – just like all great folk songs do, and the pretty tune, surprising mood changes and general hummablility of it all worked brilliantly.

Gavin: Not even the best thing on Seventh Tree but still very good, surprised how the they're always able to bounce back with fresh ideas when it appears their creative juices are about to dry up. In contrast to Ciaran's experience I'd heard a few negative things about Seventh Tree before I got to listen to it, when I did it wasn't the simple reversion to Felt Mountain that I had envisaged, instead owing more to Joni Mitchell and delicate folk stylings. Truly an exquisite set.

12. Dizzee Rascal featuring Calvin Harris & Chrome “Dance Wiv Me”

Written by: Harris/ Mills/ Detnon/ Paul
Produced by: Calvin Harris
Released: July
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: Bassline of the year. No question. It seemed an unlikely marriage: “grime” wonderkid Dizzee Rascal and producer Calvin Harris, who in the past has seemed like a Tesco Value version of LCD Soundsystem. That was clearly off the mark, because great though he is, James Murphy has never released anything even remotely as effective and unselfconscious as this single.

11. MGMT “Kids”

Written by: VanWyngarden and Goldwasser
Produced by: Dave Fridmann and MGMT
Released: September
Highest UK Chart Position: 25

Ciarán: It was between this and “Time To Pretend”. “Kids” wins out because it smuggled the daftest, most-twee synth riff into the charts, all the major festivals and our collective consciousness in the summer. It shouldn’t work, but boy it does.

10. Hot Chip “Ready For The Floor”

Written by: Owen Clarke, Al Doyle, Joe Goddard, Felix Martin and Alexis Taylor
Produced by: Hot Chip
Released: February
Highest UK Chart Position: 6

Ciarán: Hot Chip finally had the hit they deserved with this irresistible slice of quirky pop magic. During the year, Joe took some time to work with Little Boots and Alexis released a solo record which was also rather good. They’ve been around for quite a while now, but there’s good cause to hope that Hot Chip are still finding their rhythm. When they’re good they’re as good as it gets.

Gavin: The song's totally undersold. You could see this being a big smash in the hands of Kylie, Rachel Stevens etc (well, a few years ago maybe). But here it sounds more like an unfinished demo - why have they got the world's shyest vocalist to sing what is essentially a pop song? Could have been so much more.

9. Duffy “Mercy”

Written by: Duffy and Steve Booker
Produced by: Steve Booker
Released: February
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

= 7. Girls Aloud “The Promise”

Written by: Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins, Jason Resch, Kieran Jones and Carla-Marie Williams
Produced by: Brian Higgins and Xenomania
Released: October
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

= 7. Girls Aloud “Can’t Speak French”

Written by: Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins, Tim Powell, Nick Coler, Jody Lei and Carla-Marie Williams
Produced by: Brian Higgins and Xenomania
Released: February
Highest UK Chart Position: 9

Ciarán: Like some giddy schoolchild, I actually tuned into Radio 1 for the momentous first play of this record. It didn’t disappoint. “The Promise” chimes well with the vaguely 60s-ish pop which people like Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse and Duffy have been producing. Listen to this single alongside the Girl Aloud singles which preceded it (“Sexy! No No No”, “Call The Shots” and “Can’t Speak French”). You’ll find that they sound nothing like each other. Xenomania’s eclectic, diverse, genius at work again. The chorus to “The Promise” sounded a little like the theme tune to Blankety Blank (i.e. knowingly crap BBC quiz-show of “yore”) but that just added to the nostalgic, kitschy charm of the thing. It also coincided with Cheryl Cole’s emergence as an ace judge on X Factor and all-round popular “lass”. The video was good too - a little bit like the one for Diana Ross’ “Chain Reaction”. Without getting quite the same plaudits as “The Promise”, and without scaling the same dizzy heights in the charts (well it was the third single from their album “Tangled Up”), “Can’t Speak French” is every bit as good a single. The lyric is cheeky and dry, and the record is boosted by jazzy guitar parts and a killer chorus. It was as if Xenomania were saying “look, we can throw anything into the mix and it’ll still work”.

Gavin: First up we have GA's third and best Number 1. It's unqualified success makes our original thought that it was something of a brave and risky song to return proved to be quite naïve in hindsight. If we're seeing where this ranks in relation to their other singles it's cosily somewhere in the middle - not up there with 'Biology' or 'The Show' but certainly nowhere near the bottom either. A fitting lead-off for their most consistently good album, too.

As for ‘Can’t Speak French’, I think I'm the only GA fan that doesn't 'get' this song - 'Call The Shots' perfected the mid-tempo ballad (a genre that they've since made their own) that this seems superfluous. It certainly isn't a bad song though, and maybe I'm just getting frustrated that they haven't released a true 'stomper' for quite a while now.

6. Alphabeat “Fascination”

Written by: Alphabeat
Produced by: Rune Westberg
Released: February
Highest UK Chart Position: 6

Ciarán: At the start of 2008, Alphabeat were spearheading something called “The Wonky Pop Tour” – a package troupe of pop misfits who challenged the power of Simon Cowell. It was supposed to be about giving the little guys a break, and putting a little bit of quirk back in the charts. It woulod be easy to overexaggerate how successful this Danish group and their touring pals were in this regard, but from first listen “Fascination” had “massive hit” written all over it. Like the kiddy-pop of S Club 7 and Steps it was completely devoid of sex appeal and was very smiley and day-glo and cheesy. The sort of hit that delights pop fans of all ages.

Gavin: Proof that a great pop song doesn't have to come charging out of the blocks from the first line - indeed the whole song sounds a bit of a structural mess, making it all the more special how well it ultimately works. 2008 has been a very good year for hit pop songs, a lot of it is down to the range and variation of a lot of these good songs, songs like this that have made listening to the Nows etc. an unexpected treat.

5. The Ting Tings “That’s Not My Name”
Written by: Julian De Martino and Katie White
Produced by: The Ting Tings
Released: May
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: The single that saw The Ting Tings reach number one was partly so successful because anybody can sing/shout its chorus. It was riffy and impossible to get out of your head once you’d heard it. That it reminded people of Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey” strengthened its claim to be the 2008’s greatest novelty pop smash hit, but The Ting Tings have avoided becoming one-hit wonders because “Shut Up And Let Me Go” and “Great DJ” were almost as good.

Gavin: The Tings have come in for a bit of a backlash recently, unfortunately that's what happens when your album can't live up to the ridiculously high standards of your Number 1 smash - a pity because this track is an absolute belter, becoming more infectious with every listen (no surprise when the song is so meticulously layered with melodies and surprises). I fear that in a few years time any mention of The TTs may be followed with a comment of "what happened to them, then?" Destined to have price placing on any "I Love 2008"-type compilations.

4. Katy Perry “I Kissed A Girl”

Written by: Katy Perry, L “Doctor Luke” Gottwald, Max Martin and Cathy Dennis
Produced by: Dr Luke, Benny Blanco and Gary Silver
Released: August
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: Undeniable, memorable, controversial, US pop genius.

3. Little Boots “Stuck On Repeat”

Written by: Victoria Hesketh
Produced by: Victoria Hesketh and Joe Goddard
Released: February
Highest UK Chart Position: did not chart

Ciarán: The idea that Little Boots is going to be genuinely famous and a chart regular throughout 2009 gives me palpitations of excitation. It also makes me worry that she’ll go the way of Annie and remain a critical success with a small but obsessive fanbase convening on internet forums wondering aloud why she’s not the most famous pop star in the world. Brilliant as it is, “Stuck On Repeat” doesn’t sound like a chart-slaying megahit which will unite people of all ages, from every possible background in admiration. It’s too rough for that. Nonetheless it is tremendously exciting.

Gavin: The start sounds like a Christmas version of 'I Feel Love'! Lots of great ideas, refreshing mix of uptempo melodies and darker tunes in the background. Many people are tipping Little Boots to be the one to watch for 2009, if she can keep producing records of such intensity and excitement as this she'll definitely be back here this time next year.

2. Estelle featuring Kanye West “American Boy”

Written by: Estelle Swaray, Kanye West, Caleb Speir, Josh Lopez, William Adams and Keith Harris
Produced by: Kanye West
Released: March
Highest UK Chart Position: 1

Ciarán: The brilliance of “American Boy” lies in its simplicity, its producers having the talent and sophistication that it takes to do something that’s beautifully simple. Estelle has released great singles in the past, but never anything as immediate as this. When she’s not flirting with the male population of an entire nation, Kanye West is delivering one of the year’s wittiest raps (check out the pun “I feel like Mike at his Baddest, like The Pips at their Gladdest…”). It also contains some brilliantly noughties French house style breakdowns and a perfect chorus. Brilliant in every possible way.

Gavin: For me this represents the biggest and best hit of the year, and I mean a 'hit' in the true, old-fashioned sense; a song you first got to know by hearing other people talking about it, hearing people singing it even. When I did hear the song that had enchanted others I was no less ecstatic - a Billie Holliday-esque melody line adapted to fit a energetic 4/4 beat, the crispest guitar sound on a R'n'B record possibly ever and a guest spot from Kanye West that complements the song but also suits Estelle's returning vocal. Fully deserving of its 4 weeks at Number 1 and can sit proudly at the top of our chart. With the exception of………

1. Sam Sparro “Black and Gold”

Written by: Sam Falson and Jesse Rogg
Produced by: Jesse Rogg and Sam Sparro
Released: March
Highest UK Chart Position: 2

Anybody who tuned into a radio this year will be very familiar with this and it seems everyone loves this record. The lyric is great because it’s really about something; creation and evolution, theology and science, fullness and emptiness. It’s like having the “Cupid and Psyche 85” period Scritti Politti back. That and the dancey, glossy sound of this record make it single of the year here. “Black and Gold” sounds really great on headphones. But then it sounded great everywhere; on car stereos, on small transistor radios, on TV… It’s everything a smart pop single should be.

It's not over yet, the following records are deemed to be 'bubbling under': Blackout Crew “Put A Donk On It”, Friendly Fires “Paris”, N Dubz “Papa Can You Hear Me”, Gabriella Cilmi “Sanctuary”, Duffy “Stepping Stone”, Snow Patrol “Take Back The City”, Take That “Greatest Day”, Beyonce “If I Were A Boy”, Ladyhawke “Paris Is Burning”, Madonna featuring Pharell Williams “Give It 2 Me”, Ladytron “Ghosts”, Ne-Yo “Miss Independent”, Boyzone “Love You Anyway”, Little Jackie “The World Should Revolve Around Me”, Will.I.Am featuring Cheryl Cole “Heartbreaker”, Adele “Chasing Pavements”, Ida Maria “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”, Gabriella Cilmi “Save The Lies”, Duffy “Rain On Your Parade”, Lady Gaga “Just Dance”, The Saturdays “If This Is Love”, Rihanna “Take A Bow”, Alphabeat “Boyfriend”, Kaiser Chiefs “Never Miss A Beat”, Jennifer Hudson “Spotlight”, The Ting Tings “Shut Up And Let Me Go”, Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown “No Air”, Sparks “Good Morning”, Glasvegas “Geraldine”, MGMT “Time To Pretend”, Alexandra Burke “Hallelujah”, Cut Copy “Hearts On Fire”, Goldfrapp “Happiness”, VV Brown “Crying Blood”, Kelly Rowland “Work”