[More and more, popular music is turning back into a singles format. So, even while great albums were few and far between in 2008, there was no shortage of strong, diverse one-shots. Over the past five days, I've been counting down my picks for the 50 Best Songs Of 2008, and today we reach #1. Merry Christmas!]
1. M.I.A. – Paper Planes
One of 2007’s best singles (it ranked #13 on this chart last year) finally got its well-deserved moment in the sun in 2008, and “Paper Planes” responded by casting its cultural shadow over everything it touched: “Swagga Like Us” sampled it, 50 Cent rapped over it, Rihanna covered it. And if the Pineapple Express trailer was ground zero, then Slumdog Millionaire—which might as well be ripped from M.I.A.’s own backstory—brings the song full circle, one gunshot chorus at a time.
2. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Amazingly enough, Coldplay managed to become one of the biggest bands in the world despite never topping the American charts. That they finally did it by ditched the pianos—and the guitars, and the drum kit—proves sometimes the riskiest move can pay off in spades. And sometimes left-field moments come from the most unexpected places.
3. Kanye West – Love Lockdown
The biggest shock of 808s And Heartbreak’s lead single wasn’t the AutoTune. Rather, it was hearing Kanye’s ego dismantled against production so dark it seemed almost frozen, until all that remained was a lonely, near-human voice crying in the digital wilderness.
4. Robyn – Be Mine!
That the United States remains one of the few countries unmoved by Robyn is our character flaw, not hers. This is the second year the Swedish songbird placed a single inside my yearly top ten, and with good reason: “Be Mine!” is a lament disguised as a kiss-off, heartbreak with an electro beat, and a better pop single than anything released by Britney, Mariah, or Fergie in the last five years.
5. Guns N' Roses – Better
Sure, the initial singles were underwhelming, but at least one song on Chinese Democracy felt worth the 17-year wait. And Axl must’ve known it too, as he stuffed all five minutes with rage, redemption, demented loops, cyborg guitars, and possibly the sickest groove in GN’R history.
6. M83 – Kim & Jessie
The yin to “Graveyard Girl”’s yang, this second M83 single possessed a more haunted beauty, unwinding like a marriage of Cocteau Twins and vintage Psychedelic Furs at the end of summer.
7. Lykke Li – Little Bit
Like the cracked-mirror version of Robyn, Li writes disarmingly catchy pop songs, but this is literal kitchen sink production: Cobbled together with wires and found sounds, and all the more charming for it.
8. The Verve – Love Is Noise
Richard Ashcroft doesn’t “do” small, so the thrill of the first Forth single was hearing the epic scope of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” banging up against insinuating, driving club beats. In an era of diminished comebacks, this was one that actually expanded a band's legacy.
The Verve - Love Is Noise
9. Santogold – Lights Out
Radio ignored this new-wavish pop nugget—much like they dismissed the equally great Res in 2001—so Santi White found her audience via Anheuser-Busch. An industry vet bringing underground music to the people in the guise of a beer commercial? Oddly subversive.
10. Portishead – Machine Gun
A monster of a comeback single, with the world’s angriest snare sample turning Beth Gibbons’ always spooky vocals into something downright terrifying. Music was rarely more confrontational—or hypnotic—in 2008.
Machine Gun - Portishead