Song 328: Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean), “Hips Don’t Lie” (2006)

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Let’s start with the title: “Hips Don’t Lie” is a really, really great name for a song. It’s only three words long, but it’s full of feelings and meanings. There’s something defensive about the phrase “hips don’t lie,” as if someone argued with Shakira’s dancing (ridiculous!) and she uttered the line in return. Then there’s the general idea of one’s physicality being some kind of ultimate truth, an understood constant that outlasts all else. (You can find these notions and more in my dissertation, Underneath Her Clothes: Here’s An Endless Story [About Shakira]).

I love this song. I’m not even sure listing my reasons is worthwhile, because it’s the overall feeling, the way everything fits together, that makes it such a great song. But I’ll single out those horns, that call to arms to shake your booty. They’re sampled from the song “Amores Como el Nuestro” by Jerry Rivera, and they lend the song a weird sense of seriousness. They have a sense of nobility to them, as if implying that shaking your booty is The Right Thing To Do. I love the contrast between that seriousness and the bonkers rhythm.

Here’s what I don’t love: Wyclef. Why is he here? Shakira doesn’t need a rapper to help her out, especially not on this great, great song. His “no fighting” and “Shakira Shakira” interjections do nothing for the track, nor do his constant reminders that he used to be in the Fugees. But that’s how awesome “Hips Don’t Lie” is: it survives Wyclef telling us about his employment history. Not bad.

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Song 288: Clipse, “Mr. Me Too” (2006)

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The spare Neptunes beat on Clipse’s “Mr. Me Too” says it all. We don’t need a lot to do a lot, it says. We just need our skills and an 808 or two.

Hip-hop has a long history of insulting the jealous and the imitative, and “Mr. Me Too” may just be the most direct example of this kind of track. “I know what you’re thinking,” raps Pharrell in the song’s bridge, “Why I call you Me Too? ‘Cause everything I say, I got you sayin’ me too.” Benzes, cash, and most importantly, power—Clipse has it, you don’t. Stop saying you do.

What I love about this track is what Pusha T described in an interview with MTV as “the total disruption of radio.” This sounded like nothing else in the mainstream when it came out in 2006, and it still sounds otherworldly. The track buzzes and hums, but it’s not dense; it’s as sparse and uncomplicated as the laid-back delivery of Pusha T, Pharrell and No Malice.

Pusha T has gained some exposure in the past few years as a Kanye acolyte, and I hope this attention—as well as his recent, well-reviewed solo record My Name Is My Name—inspire him to get back in the studio with his Clipse cohort No Malice.


Song 242: Lily Allen, “LDN” (2006)

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When Lily Allen’s Alright Still came out, I was totally smitten. Part of the reason was Allen’s undeniable charisma, an outsized sense of humor that somehow never wore out its welcome.

Another reason was the unforgiving Minnesota winter, which, even as late as March and April, keeps a vice-tight grip on your sense of self. As you wait for a bus while the wind chill delves further and further below zero, you question everything: Should I have worn another layer? Where the fuck is that bus? What is a bus, really, when you get down to it? Should I be able to feel my feet right now?

Alright Still was like a blast of sunshine in the middle of that misery. It’s full of samples from sunny climates, and its songs combine warm, sweet melodies with silly (but not overly silly) lyrics. The whole record is like a breath of fresh air, even seven years after the novelty of Allen’s tabloid-ready personality has run its course. Allen is a good songwriter and singer, but she’s even better at spotting and choosing samples.

In the case of “LDN,” a cyclist’s view of London, the main sample is from Tommy Cook and the Supersonics’ “Reggae Merengue.” The original song is warm and sunny, but it’s also serene. Allen’s song, in contrast, is frenetic and a little haphazard. As she rides her bike around town, she spots crack whores and purse thieves, but she’s not bothered; “That’s city life,” she shrugs. Over the chaos is a sunny sky, so “Why oh why would I want to be anywhere else?”

When you’re in the middle of a Minnesota winter, that logic makes complete sense.


Song 238: The Killers, “When You Were Young” (2006)

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The best karaoke performance I’ve ever seen happened at Do Re Mi in Brighton. I was at a friend’s birthday party, and most of us had already tackled our humorous choices. I had done a version of “Bust a Move” that I expected to be hilarious but ended up just being exhausting. By the time a guy came up to sing “When You Were Young,” most attendees were milling around, drinking the contraband booze, and eating pretzels.

I felt like I was the only person watching him. He had one leg positioned in front and the other behind, like he was about to start a race. Just like the Killers’ Brandon Flowers, he started “When You Were Young” a little shakily, and by the first chorus, he sounded like he was about to show the world what he could do. What made it all work was his complete commitment to the performance. His complete sincerity deterred any impressions of posturing or showing off. He was glorious.

Whenever I hear this song, I don’t think of the Killers. I think of that guy doing amazing things in a room full of people not paying attention. I think about how we could all learn something from that guy.


Song 213: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Cheated Hearts” (2006)

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How do the Yeah Yeah Yeahs do it? From album to album, their sound changes, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in more noticeable ones, yet they always sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I haven’t heard their new record yet, but their previous three have ranged in style from garage rock, straight-ahead rock balladry, techno-infused dance music, and hazy synth-pop. But underneath it all, the band’s humor and humanity, brought to musical life by Nick Zinner’s sharp guitar sound and Karen O’s mysterious but clear voice, comes through.

Like so many songs before it, I thought for sure that “Cheated Hearts,” from the band’s undersung second record Show Your Bones, would be a massive hit. I was very wrong. But why wouldn’t it be? Check out that melody, which is the stuff that radio hits are built on, or those guitars, which swirl around but never lose direction. And those lyrics, which include the line “Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound,” which is repeated like a mantra.

It may not be the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best song – you can’t deny the greatness of “Maps,” and there are plenty of contenders for the title on the excellent It’s Blitz! – but it’s “Cheated Hearts” that I come back to most. As those ominous guitar notes build to a stormy head, it thrills me every time. The fact that it settles into a jangly pattern, with the occasional freakout, is a bonus.


Song 193: I’m From Barcelona, “We’re From Barcelona” (2006)

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When I first heard this song, I loved it instantly. I say that about a lot of songs, but in the case of “We’re From Barcelona,” it was within the first few seconds that I said to myself, “This is ridiculous and I love it.” This doesn’t happen often.

This song is so sincere, so lacking in cynicism, that it never fails to bring a smile to my face. And I love that it seems fully formed from those first few horn notes. There’s a group of 29 people from Barcelona (Sweden, actually), and they want you to join them. They’re going to sway for you, and sing a sweet song about Spain, and that’s just the way it is. Sure, Emanuel Lundgren’s mustache is a little creepy, and this all sounds a little cult-like, but look at the expressions on their faces. They love you.

“We’re From Barcelona” may be the happiest song I know. There are hundreds of songs that sound happy, but the lyrics have some darkness to them. Not this song. It’s joy from the get-go, and there’s something beautiful about that.


Song 188: Gwen Stefani, “Wind It Up” (2006)

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Let’s get this out of the way: so much about this song is awful. It’s all about women as wind-up toys, being gawked at by guys who “look but no, they can’t touch.” “This is the key that makes us wind up,” says Gwen Stefani. “When the beat comes on, the girls all line up.” For the boys, who look. Gross. It’s no different than most pop songs, really; it just makes the women-as-objects thing more explicit. But still: gross.

And yet “Wind It Up” puts “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music against a drumline. I find that absurd but ingenious, and I would like to shake Gwen Stefani’s hand, as she’s apparently the one who heard Julie Andrews singing about goats and thought, “This would sound great as the follow-up to ‘Hollaback Girl.’” It took the Neptunes to actually pull it off.

Though it was a fairly big hit, “Wind It Up” was generally panned upon its release. Generally not, it should be noted, for its objectification, but for the fact that it contains yodeling. Really? Yodeling is what crosses the line? Even though “The Sweet Escape,” the monster hit from the same record, is basically one big yodel? I’m much more in agreement with The Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan, who referred to the track (positively) as “the pinnacle of madness.” Yes. It is madness, and I love it, in spite of its many problems. None of which, I repeat, are yodeling. The yodeling is glorious, haters. Glorious.