Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Decade's Best?

I didn't expect the list until the end of the year, and it actually sneaked past me, but Pitchfork published its list of the 500 best songs of the decade about a month ago. I'm restricting my commentary to the top 20 tracks on the list. Obviously, my list would have been better, would have taken a narrower view, and wouldn't have given a rat's rear about a song's importance, only its quality.

That said, of the top 10 selections, 7 are good choices, 2 more are justifiable and 1 is unacceptable. I would have been shocked if the editors had selected anything other than "B.O.B." as the top track for all the reasons stated in the article. Look at this song as political anthem, genre-mashing exercise, MC concerto or just jock jam and it always appears a masterpiece. In my view, "Paper Planes" was the only other serious contender for the slot. "All My Friends," "One More Time," "Idioteque," "My Girls," "Neighborhood #1", great songs all, and none could have been released at any other time. I've got a serious beef with "Get Ur Freak On," whose incessant 4 beat jingle ensures it permanent rotation in hell, and not the good hell where AC/DC is the house band. My complaint about "Maps" is that its a great song delivered by pedestrian musicians. Karen O draws out her inner Joni Mitchell where she should channel Janis Joplin. Ballads like this should grab the gut, and mine's always been a bit beyond its reach. I'm most ambivalent about "Crazy in Love," which has an undeniable mothership of a beat, but also demonstrates the virtual irrelevance of the vocalist in contemporary chart pop. Any mediocre singer could vocalize over that beat and the song would remain the same.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the list is its accessibility. Pitchfork has long had the reputation for indier than thou snootiness, and perhaps in response to those charges, they've developed a soft spot for some mainstream pop in the past few years. Sometimes this has gone horribly wrong (see: Hollaback Girl) and sometimes it's led me to reevaluate artists I'd dismissed (see: Justin Timberlake, another irrelevant singer making some great tunes). Of the Top 20 tunes, I'd count 15 that should be familiar to anyone who pays a decent amount of attention to popular music, and 7 that my mom has probably heard. The daily record reviews still tend toward the esoteric, but come any sort of retrospective list, and the site always goes softer.

One last note: At #21 sits "Since U Been Gone". I suppose they felt like they needed to acknowledge the existence of American Idol, because I can think of no other reason why such lame pastiche would make the list at all. It is, however, the exception that proves my rule, because Kelly Clarkson is a far better singer than Beyonce, Rhianna or Justin Timberlake and her song is easily the weakest of the group.

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