Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
Remember 2007, the year of Kanye West and Daft Punk, when we took "D.A.N.C.E." to heart and embraced electronic music for the first time in, like, forever? Remember when mainstream critics finally realized that hey, country music is pretty darn good, the tide was high for pop punk heroes like Fall Out Boy, and R&B went Auto-Tune with T-Pain? Of course you do. It only happened a few years ago.
If this reminiscence of the best songs of 2007 confirms anything, it may be that six years isn't nearly long enough for historical perspective. We can mine for seminal moments, but are these really classics, or just time-capsule snapshots? West's sampling of Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" for his "Stronger" is frequently held up by latter-day listeners as the moment pop music began its march toward EDM and, uh, molly. (Timbaland and Keri Hilson's "The Way I Are" deserves credit as well.) But at the time, "Stronger" wasn't considered the best single from Graduation -- that honor belonged to "Can't Tell Me Nothing." Meanwhile, Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.," with its unabashed celebration of life, felt like a major pop breakthrough, even as underground electronic fans mostly shrugged and indulged in tech-house minimalism, post-dubstep, Brazilian baile funk and B-more house. Today, it evokes less reverence and more, "Hey, remember when … ?"
The point is that when the dust of history settles, it exposes unexpected fragments while leaving other pieces hidden, some mercifully so. (We don't need to recall Tay Zonday's "Chocolate Rain" and the Shop Boyz' "Party Like a Rock Star," do we?) The closer the point of inflection, the less likely that process has completed, or at least resolved itself.
This may be why we're still reconciling our impressions with what actually happened. On the charts, hip-hop and R&B hopped in bed together via Fabolous and Ne-Yo ("Make Me Better"); Keyshia Cole, Lil Kim and Missy Elliott ("Let It Go"); and Plies and T-Pain ("Shawty"); meanwhile, mush-mouthed thugs like Rocko ("Umma Do Me") and Shawty Lo ("Dey Know") brought "the trap" to the clubs. Mall punk continued to dominate MTV airwaves with teen idols like the ascendant Paramore ("Misery Business") and Plain White T's (the unexpectedly romantic "Hey There Delilah"). Nominally "indie" rock acts like Band of Horses ("Is There a Ghost"), The Shins ("Phantom Limb") and Arcade Fire ("Intervention") grew so successful that we debated whether the term "indie rock" held meaning anymore. Honeyed voices reigned in the coffee shops, whether it was the sun-kissed Malibu folk pop of Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly" or the darker-hued Canadian whimsy of Feist's "1 2 3 4." And Juanes continued to be the one Latin rocker even gringos had heard of, thanks to La Vida … Es Un Ratico and "Me Enamora."
Yet amid those too-familiar movements hid artists who soon established themselves as singular voices. On "Back in Your Head," Tegan and Sara demonstrated songwriting chops that would soon transcend their pop punk origins. In spite of its pornographic subject matter, Gucci Mane's "Freaky Gurl" exhibited a surprising amount of wordplay that helped him grow beyond his Dirty South faithful into a critic's darling.
The increasingly influential website Pitchfork symbolized our misunderstanding of what was and what would soon be. Its relentless trend-spotting uncovered Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" and Lily Allen's "Smile," all of which made the site's Top 100 tracks … of 2006. It took us less-cool folks a few months to catch up, but our response time to nascent Internet fancies would quicken in the years to come -- just as the rise of Twitter, which famously launched at SXSW in 2007, would spawn memes at a velocity that soon outpaced Pitchfork itself.
Take heart: We weren't completely a nation of sleepyheads. Everyone knew that relative newcomers Robyn ("Konichiwa Bitches"), B.o.B ("Haterz"), Flying Lotus ("Tea Leaf Dancers"), Miranda Lambert ("Gunpowder & Lead"), Taylor Swift ("Our Song"), Baroness ("Wanderlust"), Deerhunter ("Cryptograms") and Crystal Castles ("Crimewave") would blossom into major artists. If Terius "The-Dream" Nash's work on Rihanna's "Umbrella" didn't help us realize that he would remake R&B with his eccentric melodies, then his "Shawty Is Da Sh*!" surely did. When complaints about Meg White's drumming reached critical mass, we knew that The White Stripes' days were numbered despite "Icky Thump."
This is all quite a bit to absorb, and way too much for a short list of 50 songs. I didn't have space for fresh-faced, not yet fully-formed iconoclasts like Dirty Projectors ("Rise Above"), Blu & Exile ("The Narrow Path"), and Joakim ("I Wish You Were Gone"). Hell, I didn't even include Radiohead; their self-released In Rainbows was one of the year's biggest stories, but it didn't yield any singles until 2008. And I didn't forget my fellow editors' suggestions like Shackleton's "Blood on My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos Remix)," Aly & AJ's "Potential Breakup Song," and Calle 13's "Tango del Pecado." Man, Brad Paisley's "Online" is a great song! Thanks fr th mmrs.