Top Ten Singles Of 2007

Kids pride themselves on what adults in the music business call “discovery.”

Discovery, of course, is just corporate speak for being the first kid in your high school to listen to Siouxsie & The Banshees, or The Cure, or REM. Or at least thinking you’re the first.

When I was in high school, this was pretty easy. There were three primary routes: 1) elder siblings, 2) college radio, or 3) a local record shop.

Nowadays, though, everyone from MTV to Pitchfork to music blogs like Stereogum and music discovery and networking sites like The Sixty One is vying to break new music. The ubiquity of the MP3 has made discovery and distribution instantaneous, and levelled the playing field; a great song by Ingrid Michaelson is just as likely to spread virally as a great song by Radiohead.

Plus, nowadays, I’m old.

So, despite my day job, I find it pretty tough to discover new music. It’s not that I don’t try. I listen to as many of the hot new bands I hear my colleagues discussing as I can, but am rarely moved enough to buy the records. The notable exception, of course, is my friend’s new music, which is often better than the pap major labels, MTV and Clear Channel are foisting upon the masses.

Compiling the classic top ten list, then, has been a wee more challenging than in years prior. Still, here’s my best effort to that end.

1) Bruce Springsteen “I’ll Work For Your Love” – Springsteen’s new album, “Magic,” borrows heavily from his past. With a lifetime of experience, Springsteen’s storytelling is wise, rich and nostalgic. And with The E Street Band at his back, he sounds like he’s at The Stone Pony; all the elements are there: the chunky guitar, thumping backbeat, and pounding keys. Which is just fine with me. Timing is everything, though, and “Magic” came at the right time — just as I was about to get married. And while I relished the transition from single to married life, from bachelor to husband, it came with its own set of feelings: nostalgia, regret, loss and hope. Though “I’ll Work For Your Love” ostensibly tells the tale of a grizzled old bartender, to me it became a mission. It still is, and will be ’til death does us part.

2) The Hold Steady “Stuck Between Stations” – As I wrote previously, I was late to The Hold Steady. Their “Boys & Girls In America” came out in 2006, at which time I just didn’t get it. I saw them a few weeks ago and immediately got it. Even as a late entry, then, this single is amongst my most played. I love the sound of the guitars, I love how propulsive it feels, and I love the lyrics. The first verse alone (“There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right / Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together / Sucking off each other at the demonstrations / Making sure their makeup’s straight / Crushing one another with collossal expectations / Dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late”) is closer to poetry than song.

3) Andrew Wagner “Perfect Harmony” – My cousin Andrew is a terrific musician. His two albums, “Horse Year” and “Departures,” sound like Scotch and cigarettes, drafty houses and ghosts. Which is why “Perfect Harmony” caught me so off guard. It’s still late at night, but our protagonist isn’t lamenting, he’s learning. “I found a heart I never knew I had,” he sings. “And I had to part with the song that made me sad.” So beautiful, hopeful and powerful was my first listen to Andrew’s song, I immediately sent it to Abbi and suggested he play it during our wedding ceremony — which, I’m grateful to say, he did.

4) The Nadas “Home” – When my Iowa pals shared the demos from their forthcoming CD, “Ghosts Inside These Halls,” with me a few months ago, I told them straight up, “Your biggest challenge is to top the two songs you inadvertently released this year.” Both “Home” and “Goodnight Girl” were released as online-only singles. And both are amazing. “Home,” though, hits a sweet spot. The songs addresses one of my favorite subjects (see also: “Bloom” through “Heartland”), and it does so from the perspective of the place that I call home. Moreover, it sounds bright and big and open like an outdoor show beneath the star-strewn Des Moines skyine. (Yes, there’s a Des Moines skyline.) “You feel like home to me,” indeed.

5) Glenn Hansard “When Your Mind’s Made Up” – There’s a scene during the film, “Once,” in which our protagonists are making their first record. The scene unfolds as if the band simply sets up and begins playing together. Through glanses, nods, and serendipity they slowly build the song until its dramatic whirlygig climax. And while, as a guy who’s crafted a few dozen recordings of his own, I knew it never works that way, I was so wrapt and moved by the slow, steady build of the song that I didn’t care. I had goose bumps. I still do.

6) Buffalo Tom “You’ll Never Catch Him” – I found the Boston trio’s first album since the ’90s to be a little lacking overall. This tune, though, was vintage Buff Tom: one part simple, strummed acoustic; one part shimmering, arpegiated electric; three parts harmony, blend and serve. Mmmmmm, delicious.

7) Sundown “In The Morning” – The guys in Sundown haven’t even released a record yet. Still, hearing them perform this uptempo, optimistic, three-part harmony fueled acoustic number just a few times has it lodged firmly in my heart and mind. I can’t wait to hear what they do with it on vinyl.

8) Jeff Jacobson “Back To You” – For the bulk of the summer, Jeff’s amazing self-titled album was my accompanyment as I strode to and from work. His songwriting is top notch, his melodies infectious, and his recording lush. With its loping groove, “Back To You” reminds me of a hipper Doobie Brothers’ track. It feels like a sunny day. “Remember when it felt so nice?”

9) Wilco “Either Way” – I distinctly remember playing this song for the first time as I strode down Tenth Avenue. It sounded like that spring day felt: crisp, bright, and slowly unfolding into summer.

10) Flying Machines “Right Around Christmas” – Little did we know when we floated the idea for “A Family Holiday” benefit CD that a band we hardly know (Jenny Piston sent ’em our way) would knock our socks off with this original holiday composition. Honestly, the idea for the record was for everyone to cover existing songs. When I heard they’d written something, I was dubious. By the third listen, though, I was hooked. It’s an epic Christmas song, like Freddie Mercury might have written. Flying Machines (aka The Attorney’s) have crafted a new, instant Christmas classic. I love it.

In the end, then, I think my top ten songs reflect my best year ever: bright, open, optimistic, nostalgic and hopeful.

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