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Monday, January 03, 2005 

Everything Old Is New Again--Top Tunes of 2004

Every year since 1986, I've picked my favorite song of the past 12 months (way back then, it was Van Halen's "5150," a selection that will not come as a surprise after you read this year's picks.) Here's this year's winner, along with another 20 or so that make up my favorites of the year. Yeah, it's as mainstream as pepperoni pizza, even if it includes everybody from Ludacris to Martina McBride to James Hetfield. I'm long past the point of needing to claim I like obscure bands; I'm gonna be listening to guitar-bass-drums rock till I'm dead.

Song of the Year: "Slither," Guns n' Ro--er, Velvet Revolver. Yeah, it's got Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland doing vocal duties between rehab stints, but Velvet Revolver--and especially this tune--is mainlined GnR, minus the Axl. The sinister bass, the arena-rock drums, Slash's hillbilly-Stones guitar romp--man, this is as good as rock gets.

Album of the Year: "America's Sweetheart," Courtney Love. Man, I love Courtney--you can doll her up with fake boobs, collagen-jacked lips, and enough botox to smooth the Rockies, and the psychoslut within still forces its way to the surface. This album is Courtney writ digital--like her good-twin Gwen Stefani, Courtney's brought on board a bunch of producers to sauce up her sound, but it still sounds like she's going to freak out and toss a chair through a window mid-song. The lyrics revolve around the usual themes of faded glory, fractured love, and vanishing fame; Courtney's voice is triple-tracked but she still has trouble staying within shouting range of the right key. A glorious trainwreck.

Other sweet tunes of 2004, in no particular order:
"Yeah," Usher--This song's like aural syphilis; once you hear those four notes, you ain't never forgetting 'em. We're going to be hearing this and "Hey Ya" (last year's top song) for decades.

"Let's Get It Started," Black-Eyed Peas--I spent a lot of time covering NBA games this year, and this song was omnipresent at every one. Unfortunately, once the Atlanta Hawks got it started, they couldn't get it out of reverse.

"C'mon, C'mon," Von Bondies--The theme to "Rescue Me," one of the best shows of the season, and a kicking little rocker all its own. Points off because Von Bondies lead singer got his ass kicked by smug little wraithlike White Stripes guitarist Jack White.

"Vertigo," U2--It's Bono's anthemic chants and creepy asides. It's the Edge's stadium-filling whipsaw chords. It's just a damn good song, that's all.

"Ch-check It Out," "Triple Trouble," Beastie Boys--Like U2, these guys aren't breaking a whole lot of new ground anymore, but throwing out lines like "Like Miss Piggy/Who, moi?" and the Cockney-accented "Kickin' lyrics roit to y'brain/When y'hear this saund y'be roit as rain" from these two hit the bullseye.

"Just Lose It," Eminem--Em's the musical equivalent of Kobe Bryant--you might justifiably hate the guy, but you can't deny his talent. This is one of half a dozen songs off "Encore" that combine verbal dexterity, clever lyrics, and crafty music into an addictive little package--Starbucks on CD.

"Word Up!", Korn--A cover of the old Cameo tune, underlain with Korn's trademark gothic rolling thunder bass. Damn, I'm spending a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror here, ain't I?

"99 Problems vs. One Step," Jay-Z and Linkin Park--Most of the current mashups are goofy messes--the combination of Eminem's "Without Me" and Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs" comes to mind--but this is the rare combination that improves on both originals.

"Sunset Strip," Courtney Love--Courtney's epic, soaring tale of Southern California dreams turned to dust. Someday this is going to make for a hell of a soundtrack selection.

"American Idiot," Green Day--This is actually one of the weaker songs off the "American Idiot" album, in which Green Day--against all odds--grows beyond three chords and a sneer. 'Bout time, too--these guys are a little old to still be singing about getting caught jacking in the bathroom.

"Spare Me The Details," Offspring--These cats are quietly putting together a Hall of Fame career, and my favorite cuts off their albums are the quirky acoustic numbers. This one, in which a poor bastard keeps getting reminded of the night his girlfriend drank seven shots of Jaeger and ended up in the sack with another guy, just begs to be sung 'round the campfire.

"Button My Lip," Elvis Costello--Another glorious mess. Elvis went down South and hooked up with Northern Mississippi blues musicians for this album, and the result is funky and creepy and Brit-wry all at once.

"It's About Time," Van Halen--I firmly believe that Eddie Van Halen hasn't listened to any music except his own since the Reagan administration. Every major musical movement of the last twenty years, from Guns n' Roses to Nirvana to gangsta rap to hip-hop to electronica, has had exactly no effect on Van Halen's sound. This tune came out in 2004, but its whomp-rock intro, wee-diddly-diddly solos, and duct-taped verse-chorus-verse sounds like it's straight from 1987...and dammit, I love it.

"You Gotta Move," Aerosmith--Back in the springtime, Aerosmith and Eric Clapton both released blues cover albums on the exact same day. But while Clapton froze every bit of soul out of the classics and left them sounding like lounge tunes, Aerosmith yoked them to its signature sound and turned out a sinister, sex-drenched CD. It's like seeing your mom's friends dress up nasty--and realizing they're hot. Okay, maybe not like that, but still pretty cool.

"Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand," James Hetfield--Further proof that the South will one day rule the earth--Kid Rock started in Detroit hardcore rap. Metallica's Hetfield started in San Francisco speed thrash. And both have ended up in the same mulleted place--outlaw country, a la this cover of an old Waylon Jennings tune.

"1000 Miles," Vanessa Carlton--I have no idea whether this tune's ever been on The O.C. or another teen drama, but it sounds like it ought to have been. Pure cane sugar.

"Trip Around The Sun," Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride--I'm getting old. How else to explain the effect this maudlin tale of growing old gracefully has on me? There'll probably be more of these on future lists as I mellow. Axl, come back quick!

"Light & Day," Polyphonic Spree--If the Spree's dopey-grin big-sky sound, which pelts you with something like two dozen different instruments at once, doesn't make you smile and nod your head, then my friend, your heart is two sizes too small.

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Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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