The Best Songs of 2006

2006 is a year I once thought was like 2000 in how incredibly mediocre the films were and how mediocre everything seemed. That makes sense. Both years I was incredibly happy and I didn’t badly need art to survive. The thing is 2006 isn’t 2000. The films were actually pretty great. The Office peaked this year. Comics were fantastic. I mean there’s plenty of gold.

And the music? It’s very good. This year and next have a lot of tight calls. There were a lot of songs that could be 2006 songs I put in 2005. There are 2006 songs I’m nudging to 2007. It’s difficult to say and comes down to when I thought a song fit. If I have any observation this year, it’s that being soft was fine. Some softer acts shone. Time to celebrate them.

Honorable Mentions:
Snow Patrol- Chasing Cars. What a lovely song for a cold night. Haunting and pretty. Got played out hard though.
Disturbed- Land of Confusion. Is this the only cover of a song that made my list? I think so! It’s weirdly less intense than the classic. Good though.
Say Anything- Alive With The Glory Of Love. This is crazy good. It only misses the list because I heard it years later and I associate it with that. But find this song.
The All-American Rejects- Move Along. Pretty good song. I quite dig it. Worth celebrating.
The Killers- When You Were Young. I love having a song I associate with my wife here. This is one we love.

We begin with a meditation on a fascinating failed career. Teddy Geiger was pushed incredibly hard. Won the role of “the new Keith Partridge” on The New Partridge Family reality show. Was in the movie The Rocker. Was hyped on the short lived tv show Love Monkey. And the public only went as far as granting Geiger a track ranking 100 on the year end 100. Geiger then had a much more interesting after career as a songwriter and coming out as a trans woman. And I have to wonder if that was behind this song.

10 Teddy Geiger- Walls. It’s impossible not to see this song as a veiled declaration of a hidden self. Walls is a song about chafing against restraint. It’s very direct too. It’s about being yourself. And Geiger kills on it. She took a lot of crap for being boring but I honestly liked her. For You I Will is great too. This is the jewel though. It’s inspiring and also a bit laconic. Geiger had a strong restrained quality I liked. Not a hit. Should’ve been.

There aren’t many subjects as thorny as the white people think rap and black speech patterns are funny genre. I’m talking the attitude that gave us the Dynamite Hack cover of Boyz in the Hood. I’m talking any example of a white guy talking “black” on screen. If a white guy is going to parody one of the biggest rap songs of the year, he’d better make the humor how pathetic white people are. And be the greatest comedy musician ever.

9 “Weird Al” Yankovic- White And Nerdy. This is such a great comedy song, his biggest hit actually. Yankovic utterly nails the parody of Chamillionaire’s genius and important Dirty with rather astonishing flow. But he wisely avoids making the joke black culture which is seen as modern and hip unlike him. (Chamillionaire was for the record a huge fan.) The song calls out nerd culture and laughs at it as silly even as Yankovic is a god of it. I love that the video serves as an unofficial handoff from a legend to another with Keegan-Michael Key and future Oscar winner Jordan Peele in the video. The only comedy song to make this project and an inarguable classic.

If 2005 was the year of the breakup then 2006 was the year we all got happy. It’s hard to miss just how upbeat the songs on this list are. Not many ballads. And I think that’s inevitable. It feels like we had time to be angry in 2004, continued it in 2005, then switched gears in 2006. And I like that. It was time for some inspiration. Here’s a good example.

8 Shinedown- I Dare You. It’s funny because I really love the song I’ll get to by these guys in 2008 but when I think about it I love this one just as much. This is an anthem about daring yourself to do more. It’s an interesting song because these often feel cloying and sappy. But Shinedown has a bit of an edge. This sounds like a late night pep talk from a friend. It’s genuine. There’s just enough intensity in it to feel like a real rock song. It’s definitely an adrenaline track.

So time to admit I was wrong about things to come. I said country was left in the 90s and I said Michelle Branch’s career ended with 2002. Yes, I was wrong both times. I constantly forget Branch had a later hit with the Santana track The Game of Love and I forget she had a solid partnership with virtual soundalike Jessica Harp on the next song. My bad.

7 The Wreckers- Leave The Pieces. This should have been a huge crossover hit. I get why it wasn’t. It’s extremely country in a way modern country absolutely isn’t. Like this is 1970s country. But it’s so good for it. Nothing really sounded like it this year. This is an achingly raw song about being hurt and being resigned to it. It’s raw but it’s also sarcastic. The speakers, basically two women playing one role, address the man with real bitterness. This was the only studio album by the act and we deserved more.

One of the biggest songs this year was James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful and I agree it is one of the all time worst songs of the decade. It’s a corpse wailing. Normally I can forgive a good sincere song like this. Hell I dig Ed Sheeran in this mode. But I hate Blunt’s atrocious voice on the song and I hate the message. It’s whiny and creepy, the anthem for nice guys. So why did he get it right on his followup?

6 James Blunt- High. I should point out this was actually the first song pushed for Blunt and it got a successful rerelease after You’re Beautiful was a hit. Which blows my mind because on every conceivable level this is a better song. If his big hit is a creepy stalker love song, High is about genuinely feeling love and basking in how great it feels to have it. It’s nicely restrained save for the chorus which is a perfect explosion of joy. The song uses a lot of minor keys and it’s very slow, but it’s so happy and peaceful. Blunt’s vocal limitations fit here too. This is a man trying to express how he feels despite those issues. I think this was only not a bigger song because people came to hate You’re Beautiful. This was the right lead single.

I’ve noted I try not to make this project all nostalgia. I relisten to everything. I try not to let my memories steer things. And I can firmly defend this next pick without nostalgia. But yeah, I definitely picture happy memories as I listen to this song. Images of walking around downtown Chicago have to filter up. I feel empowered listening to this song. Which is the point. Though I don’t think it was meant to empower a burly comic nerd.

5 KT Tunstall- Suddenly I See. This song came during a genuinely great time for singer-songwriters like Tunstall and though she only had a brief glimmer with only one more song I remember (which I’ll get to next entry), she was the real deal. It’s a fantastically written song about being inspired by a powerful woman. It’s got a great bluesy feel with her guitar work really driving this song. Her vocals are superb. But I noted that I, not the target audience, still big time got the effect of wanting to do and be more. That’s where music breaks down barriers and conveys feeling. It’s a great thing that I felt this. This became an anthem and it deserved it.

Context is everything. 2006 was junior/senior year of college. Looking forward was a big thing for me. I was ready to start my career. The idea of having fun, going to bars, and partying was never going to be a thing. Except it was. But the point is I was ready to be an adult. I was ready to start my life. We will cover how that crashed and burned next year but for now, a meditation.

4 The Raconteurs- Steady, As She Goes. A song about settling down and how that won’t go smoothly kinda had to be here. And what a cool song this is. Because in a moment of crushing heteronomativity, I love that there was a song about how hard the pressure is to live the life everyone tells you to live. It’s my life, sure, but I actually wanted it. I’ve seen people utterly lose their minds trying to live this. This is exactly how I imagine their minds sound. And it’s a killer sounding song with Jack White’s vocals driving the song. It’s weird, funky, and vibrant.

It’s weird how much I was at an angle with the year end 100. A couple of songs from 2005 cracked the list this year. Several artists make this list but with different songs. A couple cracked honorable mention status. But largely everything was fine to really pretty awful. The Pussycat Dolls sampling ELO for an atrocity using censored profanity won’t do. But I do have one song from the year end list. It ranked high there. It does so here too.

3 Gnarls Barkley- Crazy. Some songs are just cool. This is cool. It uses a sample from a Spaghetti Western after all! It’s definitely a modern song in the production but this feels like it could have been a lost 60s soul track with the sample and those perfect vocals from Cee-Lo Green. It also doesn’t hurt to have a clear concept every person on Earth can relate to, feeling lost and confused. It’s sort of exactly the song we needed for that feeling. It’s timeless.

I don’t plan the segues to be this easy and in fact they never are. But Ian Fleming nailed timeless cool when he created James Bond. 2006 proved that with the decidedly faithful Casino Royale. It took Bond back to his roots and kicked off Daniel Craig’s tenure as the truest to Fleming’s Bond yet. Casino Royale is a great, thrilling action movie and neck and neck with Skyfall for my favorite Bond movie. And yes, that includes the theme.

2 Chris Cornell- You Know My Name. The 1-2 punch of the brutal cold opening leading into this vintage Bond theme was the best way to start the Craig era. This is my favorite Bond theme by far, a brilliant collaboration by the severely underrated David Arnold and the legendary Cornell. I love that it’s not trying to be anything new or modern but embraces the big sound of the Bond theme. Cornell goes higher than he usually does and runs from his traditionally dark, low sound. This is a loud, thunderous song. There’s a lot of bass and guitar but a full orchestra too. Lyrically, it’s a genius look at the entire franchise and how the core never changes. Bond is classic and the song honors that.

In 2007, Maroon 5 released the hit song Makes Me Wonder. It’s a song with a supposed double meaning. On one level it’s another “we’re so bad for each other but we have great sex” song from a group that would drain this well dry over the next 15 years. On the other, it’s using that metaphor for how people felt about the Bush administration, how they abused the public’s trust. And I’m calling bullshit on that. Even if that was the intent, the way it’s played as subtext speaks to how Maroon 5 is one of the least important bands ever to be that big. Levine said he didn’t want to be preachy. Well, you have to be. And what really annoys me is one year earlier, we had a song that showed exactly how to do this.

1 Keane- Is It Any Wonder? In my opinion, this is the defining statement on what it felt like to live through the War on Terror and how it radicalized a number of us. Too often, the discourse is on the idea that people should have known better to buy into propaganda. This is a song about realizing you’ve been lied to and how frustrating that is. It’s a very direct song about those emotions. There’s not a trace of metaphor in it. The band themselves said they were trying to get to a personal level and I think that’s why I still play this song when much of the other anti-war art feels dated. But even putting the meaning aside, this is a great sounding song. It’s very U2 in their best years in feel. There’s both a techno energy in the production and good rock principles. It’s a potent, driving track.

Next: A wild blend in 2007

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