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Best Of 2006: Songs

Top 100 Songs

1. PERNICE BROTHERS – B.S. Johnson (Ashmont)
A two-minute and 22-second masterpiece. The story of experimental British author B.S. Johnson, who committed suicide in 1973, resonates in this appropriately too-short song about someone who never fit into neat societal or artistic categories. Perhaps Pernice feels some kinship with the misunderstood and underappreciated author. Maybe he just admires his talent.

It’s the song’s narrative twist near the end that puts it over the top, making it one of the best pop song lyrics ever written by someone other than Lennon, McCartney, Dylan, Wonder, King, Wilson, Robinson, Simon, Mitchell, Hynde, Townshend, Morrissey, Stipe, Phair, Cash, Gaye, Springsteen, Taupin, or [insert last name of the amazing songwriter of your choice here]. After quickly laying out what it meant to be Johnson in a series of hypothetical present-tense commands (“Write a book of debt everyone must pay,” “Build a Taj Mahal on vacation time”), the songwriter imagines the futility felt by the author who was “jammed into a plot where you never would fit” and “dead by 42.”

Then he takes it a step further, drawing a connection between himself and the author in the continuum of history, it dawning on him that while B.S. Johnson was suffering the inner torment that ended in his own untimely demise, a young Joe Pernice was being put to bed by his mother after taking a bath, blissfully unaware of the existence of the author and his angst—indeed, perhaps young enough to be oblivious to all angst beyond the injustice of an early bedtime. At that exact moment, the song becomes not just the tragic story of one man’s struggle to cope with the pressures of life, it is universalized into every human being’s experience of innocence lost. With a formal but urgent mid-tempo arrangement of mostly understated electric guitars, bass, occasionally swelling piano and organ, perfectly played drums, and swelling strings, the song broadcasts its importance not through ferocity but by its tone. It is stately, but far from stodgy.

“B.S. Johnson” is a landmark recording of such depth and beauty, the likes of which has not been created in quite some time. It is by far the best song to date of this decade—and so, by extension, of this young century.

2. THE RAPTURE – Get Myself Into It (Mercury/Universal)
A dance-floor no-brainer, this is the band’s previous club classic “House Of Jealous Lovers” on the perfect dosage of antidepressants.

3. NEW YORK DOLLS – Dance Like A Monkey (Roadrunner)
When in doubt, start with the classic garage rock beat a la “Lust For Life.” Add lyrics that smartly mock creationism and fine musical performances all around, and you have one of the more memorable comeback singles in rock history.

4. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – We Are The Sleepyheads (Matador)
Haircut 100 with a darn good Hendrix understudy on guitar.

5. NELLY FURTADO & TIMBALAND – Promiscuous (Geffen)
The best Top 40 radio song of 2006 sounded an awful lot like it could have been a chart-topper in 1986. While the mid-‘80s were hardly a great time for R&B production-wise, somehow Timbaland made that era sound cooler now than it actually was then.

6. THE SOUNDS – Hurt You (New Line)
More or less “Don’t You Want Me” turned on its head—and in a similar synth-pop vein—it’s a duet where the male lead is the dumper instead of the dumped.

7. GNARLS BARKLEY – Crazy (Downtown)
Shine on you crazy diamond.

The tempo of this deeply funky hip hop track seems faster than it actually is, which says a lot about the power it wields.

9. BUTCH WALKER – When Canyons Ruled The City (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
It's funny how mistaken notions can influence your experience or understanding of a song. As someone who walks among the corporate canyons of the midtown Manhattan skyscrapers on a daily basis, this album-closing ballad resonated as a postcard from the future, from someone who'd either seen those mighty buildings tumble literally—something we've seen around here—or seen their import diminished somehow. A close reading of the lyrics reveals something entirely different: a byzantine soap opera of characters desperate for fame in the Hollywood hills. It doesn't make the song less powerful, just more personal.

10. HAMELL ON TRIAL – Father’s Advice (Righteous Babe)
The saddest song written since Lou Reed’s 1992 wrist-slasher (literally) “Harry’s Circumcision,” but this one is more subtle because it has a relatively rockin’ tempo. Only Ed Hamell could spin the true story of his father’s murder-suicide into a song both this good and this listenable without being sensationalistic. A brutal punch to the gut.

11. PERNICE BROTHERS – Somerville (Ashmont)
12. PERNICE BROTHERS – Cruelty To Animals (Ashmont)
13. PERNICE BROTHERS – Zero Refills (Ashmont)
14. NELLY FURTADO – Say It Right (Geffen)
15. PERNICE BROTHERS – Grudge Fuck (2006) (Ashmont)
16. BUTCH WALKER – We’re All Going Down (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
17. HOT CHIP – And I Was A Boy From School (Astralwerks)
19. THE STROKES – You Only Live Once (RCA)
20. MORRISSEY – Life Is A Pigsty (Sanctuary)

Two (count ‘em) Nelly Furtado songs in the top 14; if Teena Marie had sung these songs, they’d already be considered classics. Another beautiful Butch ballad, a couple danceable electro-jams, a Strokes highlight, and one of The Mozzer’s better (and longer) solo compositions. And have I mentioned these Pernice Brothers?

21. SMART BROWN HANDBAG – Harry Larry (Stonegarden)
22. NEW YORK DOLLS – We’re All In Love (Roadrunner)
23. ED HARCOURT – Revolution In The Heart (Heavenly/EMI import)
24. KEANE – Is It Any Wonder? (Interscope)
25. PETE YORN – Splendid Isolation (Red Ink/Columbia)
26. SHE WANTS REVENGE – Tear You Apart (Geffen)
27. JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS – Rise Up With Fists!!! (Team Love)
28. JOHN LEGEND – P.D.A. (We Just Don’t Care) (Columbia)
29. HAMELL ON TRIAL – Coulter’s Snatch (Righteous Babe)
30. BOB DYLAN – Workingman’s Blues #2 (Columbia)

The Handbag album’s title track is already like a comfy friend the first time you hear it. The track that kicks off the Dolls’ record is a corker. Harcourt makes you dream. Keane makes you marvel at the best-produced rock song to hit the radio all year. Yorn improves on a Warren Zevon chestnut. She Wants Revenge brings the early ‘80s all back home, Jenny brings the story of the hurricane, Legend lays lady lay, Hamell’s simple desultory dissection of odious Ann and the outright lies she perpetrates exposes that blonde really isn’t blonde, and Dylan sounds like tonight he’ll be staying here with you. In that order.

31. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Honeybear (Interscope)
32. THE FRATELLIS – Chelsea Dagger (Universal import)
33. THE RACONTEURS – Store Bought Bones (V2/Third Man)
34. ALBERT HAMMOND, JR. – In Transit (Rough Trade)
35. PRIMAL SCREAM – Country Girl (Columbia)
36. RIHANNA – S.O.S. (Def Jam)
37. NEKO CASE – The Needle Has Landed (Anti)
38. ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3 – N.Y. Doll (Yep Roc)
39. JARVIS COCKER – Black Magic (Rough Trade import)
40. BEN KWELLER – Magic (ATO)

The Y3’s album’s only memorable rocker, a Sweet/Slade-esque glam stomper, some taut rock, a jangle-synth high, Soft Cell walks into the wrong nightclub, a decent pun, a lighters-out moment, and never believe it’s not so. (N.B. I did not get the full Jarvis album yet, so I’m reserving the right to vote for it on my 2007 albums list, provided it receives a proper U.S. release sometime this year.)

41. KEVIN FEDERLINE – Lose Control (Reincarnate)
42. EDITORS – Fingers In The Factories (Kitchenware)
43. TRIS MCCALL – Not Another Song About You (Jersey Beat)
44. SMART BROWN HANDBAG – Clearing The Slate (Stonegarden)
45. PERNICE BROTHERS – Automaton (Ashmont)
46. ASHFORD BREAKS - Exposure (no label)
47. EDITORS – Munich (Kitchenware)
48. THE KILLERS – When We Were Young (Island)
49. BUTCH WALKER – Dominoes (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
50. THE ROBOCOP KRAUS – You Don’t Have To Shout (Epitaph/Ada)

Get up, get into it, and get involved.

51. EDWYN COLLINS – Leviathan (no label)
52. PRIESTESS – Everything That You Are (RCA)
53. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea (Matador)
54. HUMA – Start To Realize (Cult Hero)
55. GOLDEN SMOG – Corvette (Lost Highway)
56. “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC – White And Nerdy (Zomba)
57. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – Song For Sunshine (Matador)
58. BUTCH WALKER – Hot Girls In Good Moods (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
59. THE DIVINE COMEDY – A Lady Of A Certain Age (Parlophone)
60. GOLDFRAPP – Fly Me Away (Mute)

A voice suspended in time, Montreal Rock City, something cheap, a neuron burst, if you can get a fast car, a room full of white people, blissed out summer, the club on a good night, dignity, and escapism.

61. THE HOLD STEADY – Stuck Between Stations (Vagrant)
62. NEW YORK DOLLS – Punishing World (Roadrunner)
63. RHETT MILLER – I’m With Her (Verve Forecast)
64. GNARLS BARKLEY – Smiley Faces (Downtown)
65. ED HARCOURT – You Only Call Me When You’re Drunk (Heavenly/EMI import)
66. THE SOUNDS – Tony The Beat (New Line)
67. TRIS MCCALL – An Ass Of U And Me (Jersey Beat)
68. THE COUP – Baby Let’s Have A Baby Before Bush Do Something Crazy (Epitaph)
70. PRIESTESS – Run Home (RCA)

Stalling, suffering, sweating, smirking, shrieking, sashaying, supposing, sssex, striding, and sweating sweating sweating more.

71. ELECTRIC SIX – Slices Of You (Metropolis)
72. THE RAPTURE – Don Gon Do It (Mercury/Universal)
73. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – O Mary Don’t You Weep (Columbia)
74. THE RACONTEURS – Steady, As She Goes (V2/Third Man)
75. BEN LEE – Catch My Disease (New West)
76. BADLY DRAWN BOY – Welcome To The Overground (Astralwerks)
77. PERNICE BROTHERS – High As A Kite (Ashmont)
78. ARCTIC MONKEYS – Riot Van (Domino)
79. CHRISTINA AGUILERA – Ain’t No Other Man (RCA)
80. PHOENIX – Napoleon Says (Astralwerks)

The first cut is the deepest, don’t do me like that, baby stop crying, solid as a rock, sick again, get along Kid Charlemagne, one toke over the line, police on my back, my only love, and everybody wants to rule the world.

81. PARIS HILTON – Stars Are Blind (Universal)
82. KEVIN FEDERLINE FEATURING YA BOY – Dance With A Pimp (Reincarnate)
83. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE – Dead (Reprise)
85. WILLIE NILE – Asking Annie Out (Reincarnate)
86. WE ARE SCIENTISTS – This Scene Is Dead (Virgin)
87. PERNICE BROTHERS – Conscience Clean (I Went To Spain) (Ashmont)
88. ARCTIC MONKEYS – I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor (Domino)
89. THE RAKES – Strasbourg (V2)
90. CAM’RON – Weekend Girl (no label)

Paris and Kevin aren’t nearly as bad as you wish they were—musically, anyway; as human beings, of course, they are reprehensible. My Chem defines screamo, The Hold Steady and company detail a festival mishap, denial is a river in Egypt, We Are Prescients, tabula rasa, if I looked all over the world and there’s every type of girl, Europe is our playground, everybody wants a new romance.

91. THE THERMALS – A Pillar Of Salt (Sub Pop)
92. THE 303’S – Waves And Generation (Cult Hero)
93. RHETT MILLER – Help Me, Suzanne (Verve Forecast)
94. THE STREETS – Hotel Expressionism (Vice/579/Atlantic)
95. GOSSIP – Standing In The Way Of Control (Kill Rock Stars)
96. THE COUP – I Love Boosters! (Epitaph)
97. SCISSOR SISTERS – Oooh (Universal)
98. THE DIVINE COMEDY – Diva Lady (Parlophone)
99. OK GO – Here It Goes Again (Atlantic)
100. THE BEATLES – Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing (Capitol)

You get the idea.

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