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The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

20. Jens Lekman – “The Opposite of Hallelujah”

Pairing happy music with sad lyrics will never grow old, when someone as inventive as Jens Lekman arrives to make it new. With swooning strings and a Motown/Burt Bacharach lilt, “The Opposite of Hallelujah” musically reaches towards luxurious bliss. Meanwhile, Lekman humorously and brutally describes the crushing feeling of absolute loneliness. In place of sulking, though, the song ponders a bigger question: the essential unknowability of humans. What lies beneath the surface of those you love? – Dave Heaton

19. Kanye West – “Stronger”

Maybe Kanye really is as good as he claims. Few musicians exhibit the level of adventurism on display in his best material, and the second single off Graduation doesn’t disappoint. West combines a driving Daft Punk sample, a stirring Nietzschean refrain and, yes, considerable boasting about his sexual prowess to create one of the defining songs of the year. Is it really any wonder that 50 lost the Battle of 9/11? – Nav Purewal

18. R. Kelly – “I’m a Flirt (Remix)”

Bow Wow was probably pissed. For this, Kells took a bonus track on Bow Wow’s album, kicked him off, added two of the biggest “T” name’s in hip-hop, and then added a special, added “remix” verse himself. Further proof that R. Kelly can, and will, do anything he wants to make the perfect pop song. – Gentry Boeckel

17. Grinderman – “No Pussy Blues

A lot of people have suggested it, but it took Nick Cave, the seediest guy behind an imaginary pulpit, nearly 30 years after the Birthday Party, to come right out and say it. Guy can’t get laid, so he nervously pounds at his typewriter, clams his hands, spouts bullshit. Then the release: a guitar that careens and shrieks so loudly that it doesn’t tear down the highway so much as it rips it right out the earth. – Tal Rosenberg

16. M.I.A. – “Boyz”

One part infectious boy-crazy pop and another part Soca-influenced lyrical bomb lobbed directly at poverty and war, “Boyz” is a track that could empower an entire culture given the right circumstances. Fusing Third World tribalism, a dash of raw carnality, and, of course, some “riddim”, M.I.A. once again shows us what dance music is capable of in the right hands. – Karl Birmelin

15. The Go! Team – “Grip Like a Vice”

Eclecticism and unpredictability have always been trademarks of the Go! Team. With their ambitious musical approach being located somewhere between colorful hip-hop and left-field pop, it seems appropriate that the debuting single for Proof of Youth, “Grip Like a Vice”, capitalizes on vocalist Ninja’s faultless hip-hop delivery. Aided by a ceaseless array of guitars and horns, the ode to obscurely influential female MCs is bolstered by Ninja’s incessant enthusiasm; it makes “Grip Like a Vice” one of the most uniquely memorable singles of the year. – Mike Mineo

14 . Ha Ha Tonka – “St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor”

From its opening gospel refrains backed by a pounding drum to its Lynyrd Skynyrd-style boogie stomp, “St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor” is a perfect four-minute slice of heart-on-the-sleeve roots rock. This Ozark Mountains band came out of nowhere and released one of the finest pure rock albums this year. Every track on Buckle in the Bible Belt brims with passion and confidence, qualities too often given short shrift in today’s indie rock. “St. Nick” is Buckle‘s pinnacle. It’s one of those rare songs that has you enthralled within seconds. – Sarah Zupko

13. Spoon – “The Underdog”

Spoon’s brass-tinged hit, “The Underdog”, has already become a fan favorite for good reason. Frontman Britt Daniel sounds at his snarky best, transitioning flawlessly from the backing of a bare acoustic guitar to a chorus where a flurry of trombones, saxophones, and tambourines favorably bolsters the initial melody. After the song’s final moments are epitomized in a shortly expansive jam session of sorts, it goes to prove that “The Underdog” is yet another success in Spoon’s wildly consistent career. – Mike Mineo

12. Lyle Lovett – “South Texas Girl”

What would a Lyle Lovett album be without a paean to Texas, or a girl, or both? “South Texas Girl” is a mournful waltz about childhood and the power of an old song. Lovett’s narrator remembers his parents, letting him sip a little beer while sitting on a Ford Fairlane’s front bench seat, teaching him what “Corpus Christie” means and singing him an old folk song about “the undying love of a south Texas girl”. “And I didn’t know what the words meant or anything / I was just singing,” Lovett warbles as he sadly notes the passing of a world where this kind of childhood was possible. Here, again, the power of the Large Band is lovely: Kunkel gives the whole thing a syncopated kick, the guitars start as atmosphere and build to strength, and the vocal harmony lifts the chorus without seeming oversweet. As an extra treat, Guy Clark sings the chorus as both intro and outro alone on acoustic guitar, sealing the nostalgia. – Will Layman

11. Justice – “D.A.N.C.E.”

Thought they couldn’t top “We Are Your Friends”? Well, Justice went and dropped “D.A.N.C.E.” and -– basically, if you’ve been out at all this year you’re probably more than familiar with the song. Cheesy and irreverent, it smashes together bits of disco and Justice’s already familiar electro growl and emerges as the heir apparent to “Hey Ya” and “Crazy”. A nodding tribute to Michael Jackson informs the vocals, though they don’t really need to make any sense: just need to do what the song commands, and “do the dance”.

The song was buoyed on YouTube by a memorable video featuring metamorphosing T-shirts and, later, by a video of the duo performing the song on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, twiddling knobs while a series of impersonators “performed” the song as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Rod Stewart and Rick James. The video became a brief Internet phenomenon, for good reason: it’s baffling and kind of brilliant. The song itself allows no doubt, though: “D.A.N.C.E.” is the party song of 2007, hands down. – Dan Raper