2007 was a year spent fighting depression hard. 2008 was a year spent fighting depression and anxiety hard except I had a job at the end of the year. It was a year I remember warmly but with the caveat it hurt a lot of the time. That’s how life is, I guess.
But the music wasn’t mixed. This was a great year. A-grade pop music including the justly number 1 Low by Flo Rida, which isn’t on the list but might have another year. Coldplay released their greatest album Viva La Vida, which is represented on this list. Madonna managed a hit. I’m not a fan of Katy Perry but I get why she was big. And Chris Brown had a few big hits this year, forcing me to admit With You would have been on the list were he not an unrepentant monster.
Without further ado, let it rock. (Not on this list because of the Lil Wayne verses for the record.)
Duffy- Mercy. We missed out not making this a hit in 2008. What a great classic style song. Very Dusty Springfield.
Jimmy Eat World- Big Casino. A late in the game success by a group that knew a good hook. This is joy.
Radiohead- 15-Step. The Twilight soundtrack notches the least likely artists ever to have a song on it. But this is a great song.
Sevendust- Prodigal Son. What a badass song this is about settling down and growing up. It makes it sound rebellious and wild. This is also the only hard rock song explicitly about the religious beliefs of a Baptist in this project. I have room for everything.
Seether- Rise Above This. A song about suicide that actually understands and tries to reach out to them. This is the great version of Jumper by Third Eye Blind.
We begin the list proper from a strange perspective. How do you approach a debut song knowing who the singer became? The woman behind this, the winner of Best New Artist for the year, went on to become a titan like few in the business. All you have to do is say her name and you hear a canon in your head. How do you look at their debut? Well you luck out when they begin fully formed.
10 Adele- Chasing Pavements. This is on a level with Carrie by Stephen King and Duel by Steven Spielberg in terms of beginning with everything they’d do later. Adele hit the ground at full speed. This is her sound completely. It’s a wistful throwback anthem. It’s emotional. And damn but her voice is completely on point from the word go. It’s a song about pondering a failing relationship, autobiographical of course. And it’s just so prime. Maybe the song is about a situation that’s going nowhere. Not so for her.
Let me be weirdly defensive for a moment. Because I want to stress that I love this song. It only making #9 is a statement on how good the next 8 songs are. But yes, it’s just at #9. It’s probably the emblem of year. Music in 2008 was nicely weird. There was room for this.
9 M.I.A.- Paper Planes. A song that combines The Clash’s Straight to Hell with lyrics about the Tamil militant movement in Sri Lanka might be the most fitting use of sample ever. The song is inherently a reflection of growing up between two cultures and it’s an honest fusion of both. It sounds unique. I love that the lyrics are coy and cute even as they argue for destroying the system. It’s just such a unique, wild song in a moment that was open to it.
We’re almost at the end. What end? I don’t know. I’m going as far as 2012. But near the end. So that means some artists I’ve loved are walking off the stage. Let’s begin with some final thoughts on Creed/Alter Bridge. Yes there was a reunion in 2010 but there is no way I’m touching that disaster. (The outtakes and b-sides album is a far better disc.) Alter Bridge has kept going but not really my sound. That’s fine. They remain great at what they do. Even earned respect from people who hate Creed! And they had one last killer track.
8 Alter Bridge- Before Tomorrow Comes. This to me is the band finally finding a voice. It’s a middle ground between the anthems Creed killed at and the harder edge sound they tried for. Scott Stapp could not sell it. Myles Kennedy crushes it. This is a change the world call to arms song. It’s nothing revolutionary. But the lyrics are so fantastically direct. “We could be so much more than we are.” Nothing wrong with being blunt, And Mark Tremonti is pure fire on guitar. This is a hype you up song done to perfection. And there are somehow several better ones to come.
I write these entries months in advance. So for this one I had to completely redo the intro. It should have been a shock this guy was a rock god. But between writing the entry and now, Coachella happened. And we all get it. Danny Elfman is a rock god.
7 Danny Elfman- The Little Things. Yes, yes, this isn’t his only pop song as with Oingo Boingo he actually had a hit with Weird Science. But this is the one I love. A good, tight, guitar driven song. This is Elfman in pure rock god mode. His vocals are even produced by Trevor Horn! He has tremendous swagger through this song that gives it a great flair. His lyrics are solid as ever. The whole thing sounds like a lost 80s song, like it belongs more on the Midnight Run soundtrack (which was also by Elfman) than a generic 2008 movie nobody remembers. It rocks to have a great here.
Even less likely than Danny Elfman making the list is the numa numa song. Which is not the name. It’s Dragostea Din Tei by the Moldovan pop act O-Zone. Vlogger Gary Brolsma danced to it in 2004 and a meme was born. And in 2008, it was sampled with a straight face. And it’s great because when you give that sample to a singer with the exact right range for it, it’s going to be great.
6 T.I. Featuring Rihanna- Live Your Life. Look I know this is a T.I. song and his work is great here, but I’ll be blunt. This is here because of Rihanna. Her work on this is immaculate. The sample required someone who could go high and low in a very precise way and her accent is just perfect. She has rarely sounded this good in a moment when she really wasn’t missing. The rest of the song though? It’s not much worse. As I said, I’ll give T.I. credit. He did this knowing he was jail bound and the song is as much a motivational speech not to be him as it is inwardly aimed. I actually felt I got a lesson here. Truly a vital anthem.
Well we’re at the top 5. And this is seriously as good as it’ll get. This is top 5 in 1981 good except with everything else that good. We begin with a question. What does a band do when they can’t play the loser anymore? The previous album was a monster. The climate is even better for your next disc. You can’t be the pathetic troll on a Saturday night anymore. Some bands keep it up though and it rings hollow. Fall Out Boy decided to accept they were alpha males. And it worked. But it didn’t mean they were going to play it straight.
5 Fall Out Boy- I Don’t Care. The closing song to the deeply underrated Sex Drive is one of the most effective songs of the year. A swaggering jock jam that is, suffice it to say, lacerating satire. It’s a mockery of superficial narcissism. And it kills. The whole point is to sound like a big arena song on the surface with gutting lyrics from the perspective of a monster. Unlike some songs like this where the point is missed, you can’t see a song like this as serious when the chorus literally goes “I don’t care what you think as long as it’s about me.” I like that this song closed one of the best comedies of a great year for comedy. Both are hysterical.
The hate that Coldplay took as a knockoff Radiohead ends hard in 2008. With Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, Coldplay established they were as top notch as it gets. Their staunchest critics laid off of them and their fans like myself worshiped the disc. This points the way to the stellar Mylo Xyloto. Let’s get the work on the list with the obvious representative.
4 Coldplay- Viva La Vida. I’m kind of amazed this did well in 2008. It’s a song from the perspective of a fallen king. Except once more politics must enter this. This was the end of the Bush years and the dawn of the Obama years and I can’t help but feel like the song captured the zeitgeist. Was the idea of one era ending actually accurate? No, of course not. But this was a triumphant, bold song that felt like a release. God this song is so pretty. Coldplay has never been light on orchestral work and this is the grandest song they’ll ever do. It’s a sunny, bright morning in audio. Fantastic, classic stuff.
My next three entries are going to be deeply personal entries. They have to be. These are songs that are deeply embedded in the three year period where I broke free, got my taste of independence, lived my life, and decided I wanted more. When you gain all that victory though, there’s loss. You have to be willing to lose everything to do more. Now I admit that wasn’t exactly my life. I moved a mere 30 minutes from home. I kept my ties. But I was ready to lose everything. I interviewed at a lot of places far away. So I relate to this.
3 Shinedown- Second Chance. It floors me there are two songs better than this. This is almost as if someone wrote exactly how I was feeling in 2008. Because it nails how incredibly complicated it is to succeed. There’s grief. There’s risk. There’s darkness. And this song just crushes all of those emotions. It’s all dark, minor keys for a rock song. It’s actually at its core basically a Higher style anthem. But it has a stressed, bleak sound. It’s a perfect song about a real emotion that seemingly never gets talked about aside from The World I Know. And let me put as much positive praise as I can on singer Brent Smith who sounds just fantastic here. He’s so raw and throaty. As much as I love the album version, the acoustic version is the one to go to for his voice.
I don’t actually associate this next song with 2008. It was one my friends played a lot in 2009/2010. In fact I associate it with buying my new car in 2010. Oh that year was awesome. I got my new car. I got my first iPhone. I took a big trip. I took a very big trip later in the summer. This was THE age of gold for me. (That list is coming) And I dare you to name a better song about that feeling.
2 MGMT- Time to Pretend. “I’m feelin’ rough, I’m feelin’ raw. I’m in the prime of my life.” Just leave it at that. From those opening lines the song spins a story of the arc of fame as a hollow joke. The bridge even deliberately goes into how much you’ll miss childhood and innocence. I can’t stress enough how this song is meant as a satire of pop songs about this life? But it’s one of the most failed satires ever because even as direct as the lyrics are, it sounds like the real thing too much not to be an anthem. This is the definitive song about partying and living it up if you were more of a hipster. It sounds so incredibly good. It succeeds despite itself.
I spent much of 2008 going to job interview after job interview in a futile attempt to find work. The only major paper I never landed an interview with was the Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, AR. (Joke’s on them, I still love their fantastic paper.) I went on interviews I thought I nailed and ones I bombed and I knew it and the outcome was always the same. And even when I found success, it was a job I have very complex feelings about today. Failure haunted me. And it’s fitting the best song in 2008 is about that topic off the best album of the year.
1 Coldplay- Lost+. There is so much perfect about this song. The production is up there with the band’s best, even better than the song I have at #4. It has a great wailing guitar riff that gives it life. It’s a big, nothing held back, booming inspirational song. Chris Martin sounds great, calm and assured. But it’s ultimately on the lyrics. This is about being in a bad place and being realistic about it, even admitting that once things are good, there will be strife as I was soon to learn. It’s a very zen song, seeking balance. And then Jay-Z comes in and unlikely a collaborator as he is, he really hammers home the point of the song. In his brief verse built from a previous freestyle, he crafts a powerful dissertation on how success rarely equals contentment and you will always be targeted. He elevates an already incredible song. In a great year and even decade, the best song.
Next: The 2000s end.