Top Songs of 2010: #3-1

I’m not one to mince words, so… this will be my last post here on theoverload.wordpress.com. It’s been an enjoyable 13 months on here, but it’s time to retire temporarily from this amateur blog format. For those of you who have grown accustomed – or even addicted – to my amazing writing: fear not! Along with a few other music-loving Austinites, I will be starting a semiprofessional Austin music blog over at ovrld.com. That’s right, we’re stepping up to the big leagues! We’re going to feature mp3s, interviews, band profiles, schedules/calendars and original video content. All of this will take time to build, of course, but hopefully it will illuminate the offerings of this music-rich city to those both in the city limits and outside of them. We’re currently lining up the first few acts to be featured, so hopefully it will only be a few more weeks before we launch. I’ve had a great time with this site and will remember our old times fondly, but hopefully this will not be the end of our musical communications. With that in mind, I dedicate these last three songs – my favorites of 2010 – to all of you: my supportive and wonderful friends, family and readers. See you again soon!

Rock stars never know their way around the kitchen.

#3 – “O.N.E.” by Yeasayer

It’s hard to put Yeasayer into words. Their 2007 album, All Hour Cymbals, was excellent while being all over the map. This year’s Odd Blood was a bit more focused, but that’s not really saying much, I suppose. Somehow they manage to be dark and bouncy at the same time. Their music moves – even the album’s ballads like “Madder Red,” “I Remember,” and “Strange Reunions” remarkably avoid dragging. On songs like “Rome” and “Love Me Girl” they cultivate complex soundscapes that are still rhythmic enough to demand movement on your part as the listener. The first single, “Ambling Alp,” seemed like it would be hard to top. It’s an anthem of hope in cynical times…as told through the story of a 1930’s boxer, but still. “Now the world will be an unfair place at times / But your lows will have their complement of highs / And if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of, or beat you / Raise your head and wear your wounds with pride,” they advise the listener. It’s advice that seems applicable to the subject of the much more morally ambiguous “O.N.E.”

“O.N.E.” is told from the perspective of a lover who tires of his relationship (“The well of the night has gone dry”), but seems to still get off on the painful parts of it (“I like it when you lose control”). He just can’t seem to make up his mind, vacillating between the refrain “Hold me like before / Hold me like you used to / Control me like you used to” and the conclusive “You don’t move me anymore and I’m glad that you don’t.”

For such an indecisive, potentially hateful song, it sure is popular, though. Full credit for this can go to the amazing music of this song. From the opening cowbell avalanche, the song just explodes with various rhythms all built around the “four on the floor” that we’re used to from our pop music but that expands wildly on that basic format. Melodically, Yeasayer continue to introduce new lines even two-thirds of the way through the song. Structurally, there’s a new section that comes in with less than a minute to go. It’s a song that keeps you on your toes constantly. And then there’s Anand Wilder’s laconic delivery, maintaining the calm amidst the aural storm, delivering the lyrics with disarming lack of passion. In my mind, this was the greatest rock song of the year in a year filled with great rock songs.

#2 – “Yamaha” by The-Dream

The-Dream is one of the busiest men in music. He has written modern classics like “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies,” which won him two Grammys. He has collaborated with nearly everyone under the sun (Mariah Carey, Diddy, J.Lo, Brandy, Ciara, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, Lionel Richie, etc….I want this dude’s Rolodex). He’s also been twice married – once to singer Nivea, and more recently to singer Christina Milian. Yet, in July Milian filed for separation, as The-Dream is…we’ll say “a busy man.” In and amongst all this writing and riding, he has released three albums in the last four years. The staggering thing is just how good everything is.

Sigh...Why do fairy tales always have to end?

Love King was literally my most-played album of the year, and “Yamaha” was my most-played song. It’s an R&B masterpiece filled with incredible beats, smooth melodies and more personality than anyone else can muster. He’s one of the few artists that can turn out something as hilariously sleazy as “Make-Up Bag” and then later on deliver a heart-achingly personal “Nikki, Pt. 2” about his ex-wife Nivea. The album’s literal centerpiece, however, is this glorious ode to women and motorcycles. Well, really it’s just women. But like many great songwriters before him (Marc Bolan, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, ZZ Top), automobiles are used as metaphors and proxies for women. This leads to some truly funny lines like, “Throw me the key / I’ll be the perfect passenger / Don’t throw him the key / Cuz all he’ll do is gas you up.” The mood changes a bit toward the end, though, when he declares, “This one is for you, wherever you at / Still got your name tattooed on my back.” Is this a wistful remembrance of a relationship in its infancy? Is it an attempt to recover a lost love? There’s a forlorn element that cracks The-Dream’s playa-ish facade, and reveals his posturing for exactly what it is.

As with Yeasayer, though, it’s the music that makes the song. From the start, you hear the “When Doves Cry”-era percussion part that eschews contemporary R&B standards with a stuttering, barely danceable beat devoid of traditional high-hat/snare hits. Then come the glistening strings that end up cover the whole track. In the wrong hands, they would soundtrack a hideous Christmas song or American Idol track. Here, they shine and sparkle and pierce in ways that sound utterly contemporary and hip. Then, there are the layers of vocals that The-Dream winds around each other, then reverberates and then uses to directly harmonize in some of the closest harmonies this side of bluegrass. The last minute and a half of the song sees him maximize each of these elements to create the most beautiful R&B track I’ve heard in years.

It’s easy to write The-Dream off as a Prince or R. Kelly knock-off, and to be certain, he owes each of those artists a tremendous debt. But to ignore what he’s doing because of that is short-sighted. This is gorgeous, emotional music that follows in a tradition it helps to enhance.

Nerd Alert!

#1 – “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green

I feel like I don’t need to say anything. I don’t need to tell you about Cee-Lo, because you know by now. I don’t need to talk about the minor controversy about this song, or the major enthusiasm with which the world embraced it immediately upon its understated release on a Friday in August. I don’t need to talk to you about the original video comprised entirely of written text, or the official video taking place in a diner. You know about Gwyneth Paltrow, William Shatner, and the countless YouTube videos reimagining the song in a variety of contexts. You know about the Grammy Awards.

What matters here is the song itself. Picture yourself, 50 years from now at the retirement home with that now-iconic opening piano riff coming on. The whole place would go crazy – to the extent that 75-year-olds do. This is universal. “Fuck You” touched everyone; I don’t know a single person who disliked the song. It hits you to the core – the place where only music can get you. The combination of the organ, the backing vocals and Cee-Lo’s one of a kind voice carrying the melody elevates the song into our shared cultural canon in a way that no song has in years. It’s a song that will resonate through the years, despite AND because of its over the top profanity.

I haven’t seen a single year-end list that was topped by this masterpiece. (Ain’t that some shit?) Maybe that’s because it’s too easy? Listmakers want to seem cutting edge, or smarter than everyone else. But this is one that America got right. This song’s power is undeniable. It’s the only song from this year that we can be certain all of our parents heard and all of our kids will hear. It’s the only song that immediately solicited academic analyses. It’s the only song that makes you want stand up and give the finger, while beaming and laughing like a giddy child. It’s the only song you could play on repeat for the rest of your life, and still feel that chill run down the back of your neck when it begins because you know the awesomeness that you are about to behold. I hope the critics come to their senses and recognize that even though Kanye pushed boundaries, the Arcade Fire delivered anthemic indie, and countless artists offered up new and interesting material, Cee-Lo Green took us back to our roots in singing the greatest song of the year and of many past ones and likely many to come. Time will tell if I’m right, but this time around, I don’t care. Anyone that disagrees has a message coming to them from Cee-Lo.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by anonymous on January 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    who the heck do you think you are ranking the top songs of a year. a YEAR. that’s a long time, and a lot of good songs were released. If you ask me, you’re probably just some kid with goofy glasses with a High Fidelity complex.

    Love,

    Mark

    Reply

  2. Posted by James on January 20, 2011 at 6:30 am

    I see you driving

    ’round town with the girl I love

    and I’m like, ‘haiku’

    Reply

  3. Nice! So glad to see Yeasayer up here, Odd Blood was great and O.N.E. is fantastic. The “and it feels like being tranquilized…” part totally kills me.

    And Cee-Lo at number one! I was not expecting that at all (I thought you were gonna go with something by Kanye since it seems like all the music reviewers are all over his jock), but I was pleasantly surprised. I think Fuck You is like the Hey Ya of the 2010s. No matter how many times I hear either of them I can’t help but think “Damn, this is such a good fucking song.”

    Reply

  4. Posted by Sara on January 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    I feel like I should comment on this, the last-ever post. 😦

    First: it saddens me to see this blog, whose birth I witnessed, go the way of the dinosaurs… that is, to not be around anymore but leave awesome fossils and provide endless fun for those of us who are nerdly enough to love them. I will miss it.

    Second: HELL YES to your #1. Carter, you never disappoint. I heard this song playing on the radio at a restaurant near the port in BCN the other night — the unedited version — and it instantly made me happy. It’s the song I play when I’m feeling kind of shit and just need to cheer up with a loud “fuck you!” to the world — and it always works. Just as a #1er should. Well done, sir, well done.

    Reply

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