Note: Because 3600 words is way too much to ask anyone to sit still for, I'm breaking this up into two posts. We'll do half tonight and the other half tomorrow. Also, I'm only linking to songs that you likely haven't heard yet.
What a difference a year makes. If I had done a top 20(ish) list of the songs I listened to throughout 2008, not only would virtually all the songs be by American Idol contestants, the list would have been dominated by the songs David Cook performed during season seven. This year a full 50% of the list is made up of songs by non-AI contestants; and only two of the songs were actually performed on the show. Well, that's not exactly true. Katy Perry performed Waking Up in Vegas on a results show. Plus, I only downloaded the Jason Mraz, Fray and Lady GaGa albums after I heard them or their songs on the show. Still, it's progress. Baby steps.
Before moving into the list, I have to mention a few songs that didn't make this year's list. I hate the whole "honorable mention" cop out -- just put them on the list if they deserve it. But these songs don't fall into that category. These are songs that I've only heard for the first time very recently, so they really need to count for 2010 rather than 2009. But I have a feeling they will be on that list.
Let's steal Billboard's term and call them the songs that are "bubbling under":
- Bad Romance/Speechless (Lady GaGa) -- When Lady GaGa came out to perform these two songs at the American Music Awards last week, I almost fast forwarded past it because I had already listened to the whole album (I thought) and I didn't remember liking either of these songs. Turns out I downloaded the first iteration of the album, The Fame, not realizing that she had subsequently released The Fame Monster. Both of these songs are on the second release. I can't stop listening to either of them. This is easily one of my five favorite albums of the decade.
- Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z with Alicia Keys) -- I guess if I had really watched the World Series this year (instead of just tuning in to see that the Phillies were losing and then changing the channel) I'd have known this song sooner, but I only heard it for the first time on the AMAs . It's unheard of (i.e. it happens about every five years) that I hear a song once from someone I've never listened to before and love it. And I LOVE this song. Listening to this song, I realized that my biggest problem with NYC is that it always looks phenomenal to me through other people's eyes. When you put the weight of Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and now Jay-Z on its shoulders, it's a lot to live up to -- even for the "greatest city in the world." Let's not investigate the tragic fact that until now I could not have named a single song by either Jay-Z or Alicia Keys. If you just can't get into rapping at all, try Empire State of Mind (Part II), which is on Alicia Keys's new album The Element of Freedom.
- Crack a Bottle (Eminem with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent) -- Apparently this song went to number one way back in February or March of this year, but it's yet another song I heard for the first time on the AMAs. (Note to self: watch the AMAs again next year.) I guess it had been long enough since he had a song get to the top of the chart (it's only the second time since 2002) that Eminem figured he'd team up with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent to ensure he'd still be relevant -- sort of like 4 Minutes, when Madonna used Justin Timberlake to do the same thing. While it may seem on the surface that my love of Eminem is completely at odds with the rest of the music I like, I don't see it that way. He has always been every bit as much a pop star as Kelly Clarkson; and his actions are just as deliberate and calculated (to create controversy) as Madonna's were in the 80s and 90s. And I'm just as sucked in by him as I've been by the two of them. More than that though, I love how his raps -- calling them rhymes would be generous -- still sound like he came up with them in his basement smoking pot with his friends. It's not easy to retain that kind of goofiness once you become essentially a corporation. It tickles me that he's managed to do it.
24. Party in the USA (Miley Cyrus) -- It's only my shame that has this song ranked number 24. Really, take this one down to about number five and then bump everything else down one. I've beaten this song to death on my iPod. It all started with that Fire Island video. Curse those gays! I can manage to keep from putting my hands up and moving my hips, but I gotta tell you that I am always nodding my head like yeah. I defy you to try and stop yourself. I just watched the "official" video today. She is like the anti-Britney for me. Let me explain. Back in 2000-01, there wasn't a Britney Spears song I liked even a little bit, but whenever I saw her on television I was compelled to watch her. There was something magnetic about her for me. With Miley, it's about the opposite. I love this song, but the video was simply unwatchable for me just because she was in it. Her face looks distorted somehow -- like she's always being filmed in one of those funhouse mirrors.
23. Kiss a Girl (Live) (Kris Allen & Keith Urban) -- After I heard this song on the American Idol finale, I downloaded the Keith Urban single, but it just wasn't the same. I think it's because they de-countrified it a little for AI. Or maybe it's just Kris's voice that does it for me. Whatever it is, this one was in my ***** (five stars) playlist from May until last week.
22. Apologize (Kris Allen) -- Does it strip me of all credibility to say I've never heard of OneRepublic? (Actually, that ship probably sailed when I admitted to not being able to name an Alicia Keys song.) I had never heard this song before when Randy and Kara chose it for Kris during Top Three night. Just the fact that they chose it made me want to dislike it. So, I really didn't give it a fair listen that night. Also, it was completely overshadowed by his brilliant acoustic version of Heartless. But then my friend Eva was so upset that he didn't do this song at the concert that I went back and listened to it again. Now, it's rare that I'm not in the mood for when it cycles through.
21. I'm Yours (Jason Mraz) -- I must have heard this song periodically before it registered, because people were talking about Jason Mraz for months before I realized that I had any idea who he was. I wish I could say that I had an impossible time picking my favorite song from this album (because it seems to be universally loved), but really this is it for me. Oh, I've wanted to get this off my chest for months. I hate the lyric "... it's our God-forsaken right to be loved, loved, loved." Don't you mean God-given? That irritates me every time I hear this song, but since I love it despite that, it deserves to be on this list.
20. Friday I'll Be Over You (Allison Iraheta) -- This one might be higher on the list if I had found it sooner than I did. I say that because I've had it on the playlist for about two weeks but it's only in the last five days that I've really latched on to it as one of my favorites. One of my quirks with music is that I tend to like things that sound like things I've heard before, even if it's just that they evoke some quality rather than really sounding alike. This song conjures images of The Go-Go's doing a Cure song. (I just watched the video for the first time. They totally had her mimic Kelly Clarkson in almost every way.)
19. Save You (Kelly Clarkson) -- There are several songs from All I Ever Wanted on this list, which only makes sense because I've been wearing it out since it was released in the spring. I put this one on the list instead of Already Gone because I've found that I need to be in the right mood to listen to that song, but I never, ever skip this song when the iPod chooses it.
18. You Found Me (The Fray) -- Much like the Jason Mraz album, I had high hopes for The Fray's eponymous album, mostly because Randy Jackson invoked their name when critiquing (favorably) a couple of Kris Allen's performances. It never quite happened for me, but thanks to Matt Giraud I gave this song another chance and totally fell in love with it. Sort of reminds me of Third Eye Blind from the era when I liked them.
17. Had It All (Katharine McPhee) -- It's always surprising to me how difficult it is to predict super-stardom based on American Idol success or failure. I'm not even going to do the research to confirm this (because it's wholly unnecessary) but even if you combine Taylor Hicks's and Katharine McPhee's record sales (they finished one-two in season five), the number wouldn't even approach Daughtry's sales figures (he finished fourth); or for that matter, probably not Kelly Pickler's (sixth). But this list isn't about sales; it's about what I listen to. In that regard, Kat enjoys almost Clarksonesque popularity. A song from her first album (Better Off Alone) is the all-time most played song on my iPod -- mostly because all the data from 2005-2006 was wiped out, taking the ridiculously high number that Since U Been Gone posted with it. I wish she were more popular, but it doesn't keep me from seeking out her music and playing the hell out of it. Had It All is fairly new, so it will most likely be going strong well into 2010.
16. Ready (Kelly Clarkson) -- I didn't love this song the first time I listened to it, but since it is Kelly it got several chances to grab me. Once it did, I couldn't figure out what took so long. This was one of the four demo songs that were leaked on the internet last year (and the only one that made it onto the album) and it was the one I most quickly dismissed as not having any prayer of making the cut. It has that grows-on-you quality referred to by George on Seinfeld (Co-STAN-za -- to the tune of By MEN-nin).
Tommorrow, the top 15.