It’s a bit tougher to separate and distinguish those songs that truly towered above the rest in 2008, as it’s a hell of a lot easier to find a great song by an otherwise sub par band than it is to find an all-around great album. The below thirty are songs that I felt towered over others on their respective records, even when those records were great, and also some songs that blew up the charts without coming off like everything else on radio nowadays. In order to keep things simple, I limited it to one song per artist. Feel free to comment/post your own lists!
30. Islands – “The Arm” (Arm’s Way) – The definition of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a song.
29. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Think I Wanna Die” (Pershing) – Perfect power-pop that was criminally overlooked.
28. Taylor Swift – “Love Story” (Fearless) - Guilty as charged with the shallow country-pop.
27. Tilly and the Wall – “Alligator Skin” (O) - Tap-dancing is awesome. So are boy/girl harmonies. And handclaps. And nonsensical lyrics. And…
26. Kevin Rudolf – “Let It Rock feat. Lil Wayne” (In The City) - The pump-up anthem of the year with one of Lil Wayne’s best cameos.
25. Mates of State – “Get Better” (Re-Arrange Us) - Married indie-popsters find bliss in gently swelling strings, rollicking drums, multi-layered harmonies, etc.
24. The Helio Sequence – “Lately” (Keep Your Eyes Ahead) - Few songs this year have conveyed emotion as perfectly as this one; never has wanting to move on but being unable to sounded so good.
23. Girl Talk – “Still Here” (Feed The Animals) - The “Flashing Lights/No Diggity” mix combined with The Band over Yung Joc make for one of Girl Talk’s best tracks ever.
22. Goldfrapp – “A&E” (Seventh Tree) - Forget the dance floor; electronica diva should really spend more time writing incredibly addicting ballads about drug overdoses.
21. Kanye West – “RoboCop” (808s & Heartbreak) - A song so good it makes you fully appreciate the lost opportunities of the rest of the record.
20. Death Cab for Cutie – “Bixby Canyon Bridge” (Narrow Stairs) - I don’t know why I like this song so much. Maybe it’s Gibbard’s simple, affecting lyrics or the epic, cathartic sonic sludge of the ending. If I had to choose any one point where this song goes from merely cool to ridiculously awesome, it’s 1:39 in when the atmospherics cut off and Death Cab ramps up the thudding guitars and pounding drums.
19. The Dodos – “Jodi” (The Visiter) - Six minutes of schizophrenic psych-folk. Yes, their drummer is amazing.
18. Ben Folds – “You Don’t Know Me feat. Regina Spektor” (Way To Normal) - Spektor makes any song shine, even when she’s barely used.
17. Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines” (The Stand Ins) - Will Sheff proves that intelligent, insightful lyrics mix well with mindless “la la las” and a full-blown brass part.
16. Britney Spears – “If You Seek Amy” (Circus) - Oh, Max Martin, you are so clever! Hopefully the censors will overlook the scandalous play on words to get this slice of delectable electro-pop onto the airwaves and get on with subverting our nation’s youth.
15. M83 – “Graveyard Girl” (Saturdays=Youth) - The 80s live again!
14. The Hold Steady – “Sequestered in Memphis” (Stay Positive) - A drunken sing-a-long for those one-night stands that go terribly awry.
13. The Duke Spirit – “The Step and the Walk” (Neptune) - I first heard this song in an American Eagle store, and it ended up being the best thing I’ve ever gotten from there. The album is uneven at times, but singer Leila Moss is distinctive and the band’s bluesy swagger is very attractive.
12. The Raconteurs – “Salute Your Solution” (Consolers of the Lonely) - The frantic verses and the burning twin guitar solos (particularly the air-guitar-worthy second one at 2:08) make this one of the best straight-ahead rock singles of the year.
11. T.I. – “Live Your Life feat. Rihanna” (Paper Trail) - Everyone knows the Numa Numa sample and Auto-Tuned Rihanna make this song, but it’s T.I.’s liquid verses that truly elevate it.
10. Delta Spirit – “Trashcan” (Ode To Sunshine) - The obvious highlight of a fairly excellent debut record and a song that owes its heart to singer Matthew Vasquez’s inimitable howl.
9. The Walkmen – “The Blue Route” (You & Me) - A tough choice from a record filled with great ones, it’s the vintage sound of the instruments and the exceptional drum work, not to mention Hamilton Leithauser’s unique yowl, that make this one for me.
8. The Roots – “Criminal feat. Truck North and Saigon” (Rising Down) - The year’s best rap track is a hypnotic jam about the less-than-legal lives many urban youth are forced to accept, all spit out with venom and virtuosity by Black Thought and the excellent guest stars.
7. She & Him – “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” (Volume One) - Quirky ‘60s pop made extraordinary by Zooey Deschanel’s charming country-tinged vocals and M. Ward’s classy arrangement: check out the slick guitar solo at 1:05. 3-minute-and-under pop at its best.
6. Everest – “Rebels In The Roses” (Ghost Notes) - Everest open up their debut record with this country-rock gem, the perfect blend of singer Russell Pollard’s emotive pipes and a blazing guitar part that stays with you long after the song is over.
5. Vampire Weekend – “Oxford Comma” (Vampire Weekend) - On an album filled with great, short pop songs, “Oxford Comma” stands out with its uncomplicated production, sing-a-long melody, and climactic chorus. A song that, strangely, always makes me want to air-drum.
4. Fleet Foxes – “Ragged Wood” (Fleet Foxes) - Most critics prefer the lilting ‘60s folk melody of “White Winter Hymnal” or the galloping beat of “Quiet Houses,” but for me the prize has to go to “Ragged Wood,” a multi-movement masterpiece that begins with a driving drum beat and an anthemic chorus by singer Robin Pecknold before shifting into developing into a delicately fingerpicked acoustic groove and then ending dreamily with a soothing guitar line somewhere atop a forested hill in West Virginia.
3. Conor Oberst – “Souled Out!!!” (Conor Oberst) - A song about having too much fun from Conor Oberst? I’m shocked, but the upbeat music and Oberst’s irrepressible joy coupled with the entertaining lyrics make for one of his most enjoyable songs. It sounds as if Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band recorded this in a single take in some tropical beach resort…which isn’t too far from what actually happened. Enjoy yourself more, Conor; it sounds great.
2.MGMT – “Time To Pretend” (Oracular Spectacular) - The quintessential rock star song about models and drug habits with a fresh twist of techno-pop and a memorable synth hook. It overshadowed most of the rest of Oracular Spectacular with its lyrical wit and easily digestible melody, and that’s in no way a bad thing: the more people introduced to this band, the better.
1. Estelle – “American Boy feat. Kanye West” (Shine) - This is not the deepest song on the list, nor is it the best song from the best album of the year, and it’s hard to say whether it will stand the test of time. Nope, this is pure, well-crafted pop at its catchiest best, a song that bounces from a deceptively simple disco beat to Kanye’s effortlessly spot-on cameo and Estelle’s very British, very sleek vocals. This is one song that deserved its success, the kind of song that restores your faith (however temporarily) in the public’s taste, even if the album paled in comparison. Here’s to cross-continental pop!