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.
We think 2009 was the real year of blurred lines -- between indie and mainstream, and underground and overhyped. It was the year indie rock truly boiled over, from Animal Collective topping the Pazz & Jop critics poll with Merriweather Post Pavilion and its psychedelic bubblegum tunes like "Summertime Clothes," to commercials featuring songs by Grizzly Bear and Phoenix. The xx's debut blew up instantly with such spare hook-craft as "Crystalised," while Dirty Projectors' Mariah Carey-influenced "Stillness Is the Move" was so indelible that Solange Knowles eventually covered it. Even bedroom "chillwave" acts like Washed Out ("Feel It All Around") and Neon Indian ("Terminally Chill") went from nowhere to everywhere in a matter of months.
It was also a year when veterans reigned, from Raekwon's comeback/sequel Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II, and its spooky noir tracks like "10 Bricks," to longtime Malian blues ambassadors Amadou & Mariam's techno makeover (courtesy of Damon Albarn) on "Sabali," and DOOM (sans MF) and Mos Def putting out some of their best work with "Gazzillion Ear" and "Life in Marvelous Times," respectively. R. Kelly's most graceful hit ever, "Echo," is also one of his silliest, with a yodeled chorus both unbelievable and remarkably beautiful. Aping The-Dream's sparse layering musically, it should've been bigger.
But new sounds were all over the place, too, from Vijay Iyer's star-making jazz deconstruction of M.I.A.'s "Galang" to Joker's "wonky"-inventing "Purple City." Kid Cudi's "Day 'N' Nite" brought an as-yet-unheard introspective dreaminess to rap that Drake would come to typify. New Boyz' spare, sly "You're a Jerk" started a whole influential dance craze, while tUnE-yArDs kicked off a whole slew of R&B-influenced indie with Merrill Garbus' big, unforgettable voice.
Pop, meanwhile, was as shameless as ever, from Ke$ha infamously brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack on "Tik Tok," to Black Eyed Peas sampling the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on "Meet Me Halfway," to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs joining them on the dancefloor with "Zero." Glee put themselves and "Don't Stop Believing" (back) into the history books, and Muse funneled their most overblown Queen tendencies into the spooky, cheesy march of "Uprising." But let us not forget Miley Cyrus celebrating an unnamed Jay Z song on "Party in the USA," as Jay Z himself had the whole country in an "Empire State of Mind."