My favorite songs: “When Wrong Is Right”

If you don’t know the story of June Millington, you should. Start with her Wikipedia entry, and then move on to Ann Powers’s piece on and interview with Millington from 2015. Short version: founder of groundbreaking all-female rock band Fanny in the early ’70s, then went on to be a pivotal figure (mostly behind the scenes, playing and producing) in women’s music in the late ’70s and early ’80s, producing a myriad of albums for the likes of giants such as Cris Williamson, Holly Near, and Tret Fure, making her own music all along the way to this day.

1981’s Heartsong, Millington’s first true solo album, was recorded in San Francisco and released on her own Fabulous Records imprint through the women’s music label, Olivia Records. The album, like most Olivia (and Olivia-adjacent) projects, was made entirely by women: playing, singing, writing, mixing, engineering, producing, all of it. Some major figures in the world of women’s music appear on the album, including Fure, Linda Tillery, and Mary Watkins; additionally, a then-unknown Oakland drummer by the name of Sheila Escovedo drums on a number of tracks. Stylistically, Heartsong covers a fair bit of pop-rock ground of its time, but the standout for me is its opening track, “When Wrong Is Right.” Millington sings of a relationship gone awry with a musical accompaniment that can only, really, be called Yacht Rock. “Wrong” is a smooth song with a pronounced bounce (bass courtesy of Carrie Barton, who went on to spend the ’80s playing on records by nearly all of the luminaries of women’s music) and just enough funk to keep things from getting too bland, with a great guitar solo to boot, played by either Millington or Fure (the credits are unclear, but both are formidable guitar slingers). And if you’d like to check out the entirety of Heartsong (not on streaming services), here’s a YouTube link for side one; side two will play subsequently. Highly recommended.

Posted in 1980s, my favorite songs, women's music

Pop top 40: 1/19/80


The future was already underway, we just didn’t know it: falling out of the top 40 this week, from a high of #36 the week prior, was “Rapper’s Delight.” But otherwise, yeah, it’s still the ’70s. Don’t believe me? Listen in.

1 2 ROCK WITH YOU –•– Michael Jackson (Epic)-12 (1 week at #1) (1) — Off the Wall is nearly as great as Thriller, and “Rock With You” is easily the equal of any of Thriller‘s singles, unless the slight disco flavor offends you. (And if it does, what is your problem?!) Rod Temperton is an ace songwriter, and Quincy Jones is, of course, the greatest producer of all fucking time. And MJ is, simply, forever.
2 3 DO THAT TO ME ONE MORE TIME –•– The Captain and Tennille (Casablanca)-14 (2) — Ew, please don’t.
3 1 ESCAPE (The Piña Colada Song) –•– Rupert Holmes (Infinity)-14 (1) — A story song so utterly absurd, it’s utterly sublime. And the production on this is stupidly great soft rock.
4 7 COWARD OF THE COUNTY –•– Kenny Rogers (United Artists)-10 (4) — Everything I dislike about story songs is on display here — and I hate these lyrics. The production’s fine, whatever, and Kenny can do songs like this in his sleep (and in this case, sounds fairly like he is). One of his weakest hits.
5 4 SEND ONE YOUR LOVE –•– Stevie Wonder (Tamla)-12 (4) — I suspect that part of the reason so many people so profoundly hate “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is because they/we know what Wonder is capable of in the ballad sphere — this being a perfect case in point. This is soft yet still sturdy, romantic but smart, and utterly swoon-worthy.
6 12 CRUISIN’ –•– Smokey Robinson (Tamla)-16 (6) — I’m not a big fan of 1979’s Robinson album Where There’s Smoke…; it’s too unattractively disco-y as a whole. But this! I’d say it’s the sound of Smokey getting his groove back, but he never lost it, he just made some questionable musical choices. This sumptuous ballad (#4 pop/R&B) not only set things up nicely for 1980’s smash “Being With You” (#2 pop/#1 R&B), but it brought Smokey back to the pop consciousness in a major way. I love how his voice simultaneously sounds tender and slightly ragged on this, along with the little production/arrangement touches, like the subtle use of tympani — yes, tympani!
7 9 WE DON’T TALK ANYMORE –•– Cliff Richard (EMI-America)-14 (7) — I don’t know for certain, but would wager that this was the biggest global hit in this chart, as it hit the top 10 in (deep breath) Australia, Austria (#1), Belgium (#1), Canada, Denmark (#1), Finland (#1), [West] Germany (#1), Ireland (#1), Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway (#1), South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (#1), the US, and the UK (#1): 18 countries in all. Musically, it’s a perfectly competent midtempo pop number, nothing more or less.
8 8 LADIES NIGHT –•– Kool and the Gang (De-Lite)-16 (8) — Where K&TG started their turn from ’70s funkateers into ’80s “party band,” to their extreme detriment.
9 5 PLEASE DON’T GO –•– K.C. and the Sunshine Band (T.K.)-22 (1) — Like drinking a gallon of skim milk.
10 11 COOL CHANGE –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-14 (10) — Does Australian schlock go down the drain counter-clockwise?

11 13 THE LONG RUN –•– Eagles (Asylum)-7 (11) — The last goddamn folks I’m gonna listen to sing about love is this gang of misogynists.
12 14 BETTER LOVE NEXT TIME –•– Dr. Hook (Capitol)-15 (12) — I mean, as light pop from its era goes, it’s not that bad. At least it’s got some tempo.
13 16 I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER –•– Prince (Warner Brothers)-9 (13) — His first R&B #1 and first pop top 40 hit (heading two notches higher; he’d not go top 10 until 1983’s “Little Red Corvette”) is a tidy early summation of Prince’s gifts. In reviewing the following year’s Dirty Mind, Robert Christgau said that the Prince of this song’s parent album (titled Prince) was an “utterly uncrossedover falsetto love man,” and that’s a tidy summation of Prince on this record. Tasty guitars, both lead and rhythm, a steady backbeat, smart synths, and Prince’s gorgeous falsetto, all stroking his “I wanna be the only one you come for” lyrics, which you already know. As perfect as pop/R&B gets.
14 15 JANE –•– Jefferson Starship (Grunt)-12 (14) — The Starship’s first single with Mickey Thomas on leads “rocks” but doesn’t really rock if you know what I mean.
15 20 SARA –•– Fleetwood Mac (Warner Brothers)-6 (15) — Nicks-led Mac at their most gorgeous and haunting, dark and moody, just like that “sea of love/where everyone/would love to drown.”
16 17 THIS IS IT –•– Kenny Loggins (Columbia)-14 (16) — It’s smoooooooooth, yet still kinda rocks: the glorious essence of Yacht Rock.
17 19 DON’T DO ME LIKE THAT –•– Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Backstreet)-10 (17) — Much like “I Wanna Be Your Lover” for Prince (#13), this is a prime early distillation of Petty and his Heartbreakers’ prodigious gifts. Tight songwriting, tighter playing, and a bridge like Roger McGuinn just learned how to rock.
18 30 CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE –•– Queen (Elektra)-5 (18) — Queen does rockabilly, and Freddie Mercury reminds you that he can sing any goddamn thing he wants.
19 21 WAIT FOR ME –•– Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA)-13 (19) — Since hitting #1 in the spring of ’77 with “Rich Girl,” Hall & Oates had somehow managed to not capitalize on it at all — this was the highest they’d been on the Hot 100 since (and this would only get one notch higher). It wouldn’t be until their following album, Voices, released later in 1980, where they’d finally harness what made them great and show it to the world. This is a lovely, sad midtempo rock almost-ballad that I’ve always loved, but even I’ll grant that it should’ve been more effective than its recorded version.
20 22 DON’T LET GO –•– Isaac Hayes (Polydor)-13 (20) — I’m not sure what prompted Hayes to cover Roy Hamilton’s fine #2 R&B/#13 pop hit from 1958, nor why Hayes made the unfortunate decision to drench it in run-of-the-mill disco strings and cooing female backing singers. This is the worst kind of generic disco, made by a man who clearly had no idea in which direction to take his music as the ’80s approached.

21 27 DEJA VU –•– Dionne Warwick (Arista)-11 (21) — Funnily enough, Hayes co-wrote this, which was expertly produced by Barry Manilow (at Clive Davis’s behest) for Warwick’s comeback album/Arista debut. Warwick sings it fine, and the song is great, but the star here is Manilow’s warm bath production — not surprisingly, this was a #1 AC record.
22 6 STILL –•– The Commodores (Motown)-17 (1) — Their second and final pop #1, and their sixth and final R&B #1 with Lionel Richie in the group, “Still” is somehow simultaneously grand and understated, a gorgeous, heartbreaking ballad. And Richie sings the fuck out of it without going overboard. My favorite ballad by either the Commodores or Richie solo.
23 10 BABE –•– Styx (A&M)-16 (1) — No one needs that much multi-tracked Dennis DeYoung. Styx should’ve been the laughingstocks of AOR, because their records were ridiculous, and not in a good way. Prog pop is not a move forward.
24 28 YES, I’M READY –•– Teri DeSario with K.C. (Casablanca)-10 (24) — DeSario’s voice is stunningly thin and colorless, so much so that not even K.C. can save it. It doesn’t help that they’re duetting on a cover of a limp pop-soul nugget from the ’60s; this sounds like karaoke night at the local pub.
25 31 ROMEO’S TUNE –•– Steve Forbert (Nemperor)-8 (25) — One of those one-offs that the era seemed to toss up pretty consistently, Mississippian Forbert somehow got lucky with this one, that got him tagged with the kiss-of-death “new Dylan” tag for a few months. To my ears he’s more of a word salad than a new Dylan, but YMMV.
26 26 THIRD TIME LUCKY (First Time I Was a Fool) –•– Foghat (Bearsville)-10 (26) — The sound of a bunch of lumbering ’70s oafs realizing that they have no fucking idea how to deal with the coming decade.
27 18 HEAD GAMES –•– Foreigner (Atlantic)-11 (14) — Hoary late-’70s AOR that doesn’t deserve the time you can give it. They made some good records, but this ain’t one of ’em.
28 46 DAYDREAM BELIEVER –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-5 (28) — I love Murray’s voice, but goddamn do I hate the Monkees — and songwriter John Stewart was no great shakes, either. Nobody needs this record.
29 33 AN AMERICAN DREAM –•– The Dirt Band (United Artists)-7 (29) — It pains me that Rodney Crowell wrote this, because “An American Dream” is a puddle of hot dog vomit, even with Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. This is about a half-inch away from the marvelous artistry of Jimmy Buffet.
30 32 ROTATION –•– Herb Alpert (A&M)-10 (30) — Written by the same pair who penned his freak #1 smash “Rise,” this is another instrumental highlighting Alpert’s perfectly pinched trumpet technique, this time paired with some trickier electronic grooves. It wouldn’t get any higher than this on the chart, but is deservedly a Balearic classic to this day.

31 40 FOOL IN THE RAIN –•– Led Zeppelin (Swan Song)-5 (31) — Because what you didn’t know you needed is Led Zep with a samba beat. But it works, doesn’t it? I love how loose Robert Plant sounds on this.
32 42 WHY ME –•– Styx (A&M)-6 (32) — Why indeed.
33 37 FOREVER MINE –•– The O’Jays (Philadelphia International)-9 (33) — The O’Jays first hit the top 10 of the R&B singles chart in 1967, and last did so in 1991, a run of 34 years — impressive by any standard. Their pop chart run (of top 40 hits) is fully contained in their legendary years on Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International label, from ’72’s “Back Stabbers” through this lovely ballad, which ultimately peaked at #4 R&B/#28 pop. Post-disco, this was the kind of R&B record that could still crack the pop charts without too much trouble: classy balladry. And heaven knows, as funky as they were, the O’Jays were superb at classy balladry, thanks especially to the heavenly leads of Eddie Levert. This is ultimately, perhaps, minor O’Jays, but minor O’Jays is still superior to plenty.
34 34 SAVANNAH NIGHTS –•– Tom Johnston (Warner Brothers)-10 (34) — This was the 31st video played on MTV on their launch day, over 18 months after it peaked at this (rather lowly) position on the Hot 100 — but it had the advantage of being from a recognizable voice, that of the original lead singer of the Doobie Brothers. He sang lead on seven top 40 hits for the Doobies, including the ’73 #8 single “Long Train Runnin'” (which was hilariously remixed in 1993 and hit #7 in the UK — seriously, if you’ve never heard this, you should, because it’s ridiculous beyond belief). This song is a bit of a forgotten gem, marrying the Doobies’ early ’70s groove with a slightly southern yacht sound (check out that keyboard!) and some thoroughly 1979 production. Also: horns! Congas! It’s smoother than most of Johnston’s Doobies work, and I suspect it will surprise no one who knows my aesthetic to learn that I love it.
35 55 LONGER –•– Dan Fogelberg (Epic / Full Moon)-6 (35) — I’ll stan for Fogelberg, a high mountain rock-folkie who knew his way around a song, but this is just a big bowl of Adult Contemporary oatmeal, made all the more mawkish by Jerry Hey’s flugelhorn solo. So of course it became Fogelberg’s biggest hit spending a pair of weeks at #2.
36 43 YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU –•– Santana (Columbia)-9 (36) — Good lord, this is a plod.
37 41 VOICES –•– Cheap Trick (Epic)-7 (37) — Cheap Trick should never drop the tempo. Ever.
38 24 NO MORE TEARS (Enough Is Enough) –•– Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer (Columbia / Casablanca)-14 (1) — This diva summit couldn’t miss on paper, and fortunately, doesn’t on record, either. Streisand spent most of the ’70s hot as could be, and Summer of course was riding an insane streak of her own through the back half of the decade (including three consecutive #1 double albums!), so it seemed fitting for them to close the decade on this team-up, an unlikely duet that works like crazy. Their voices actually mesh, and the team-up by their then-producers (Gary Klein and Giorgio Moroder) does, too.
39 51 SEPTEMBER MORN’ –•– Neil Diamond (Columbia)-5 (39) — I’m not much of a Diamond fan — I find his songwriting generally mawkish — but something about this schmaltzy ballad gets me in a way that most of his material doesn’t. But yeah, this is pure corn, made to Adult Contemporary order (where it hit #2, as opposed to its #17 pop peak).
40 44 DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU FEEL –•– Rufus and Chaka (MCA)-9 (40) — The final #1 Hot Soul Single of the 1970s was produced freshly and cleanly by Quincy Jones (nicely bracketing this chart), and nicely straddles the disco/funk divide. Having Chaka Khan on leads never hurts, of course.

Posted in 1980s, charts

My favorite songs: “King Holiday”

As the story goes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s son Dexter Scott King called Kurtis Blow, and asked him to make a record celebrating the legacy of his father, and the (then-)forthcoming national holiday for him, which was first celebrated in 1986. Blow then assembled the King Dream Chorus and Holiday Crew, consisting of a lot of the premier R&B singers and rappers of the moment: El DeBarge, a very-early-in-her-career Whitney Houston, Stacy Lattisaw, New Edition, Lisa Lisa, “J.T.” Taylor of Kool & the Gang, Stephanie Mills, Teena Marie, and, uh Menudo (yes, Ricky Martin’s on this), along with the Fat Boys, Run-D.M.C., Whodini, and Grandmaster Melle Mel. This wasn’t “We Are the World”; this was a black record, not a pop record, and is the better for its laser focus. Blow’s production positively sparkles — he knew what was on the line here, such as it was — and the lyrics pay tribute to Dr. King in a way that’s positive without being overly cheesy (a tricky needle to thread with tribute records such as this). Appallingly, this only made it to #30 on the R&B singles chart (and unsurprisingly didn’t make the Hot 100) — even with a video paid for by Prince, which got heavy rotation at the time on BET. 30+ years later, the song is still great, however, and still resonates. “Sing! Sing! Celebrate!” indeed.

Posted in 1980s, hip hop, my favorite songs, R&B

My favorite songs: “Flava In Ya Ear (The Bad Boy Remix)”

Oh, NYC hip-hop in 1994: perfection, absolute perfection. Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” is a now-and-forever jam, but never underestimate the power of mid-’90s Puffy to lace something up even sweeter. In this case, Puff took the original instrumental (a killer beat by Easy Mo Bee) and got a few other stars to rip verses on it, alongside a new set of bars from Mack himself: the Notorious B.I.G. (the East Coast king on the rise), Rampage (the young buck), L.L. Cool J (the legend proving he’s still got it), and Busta Rhymes (the up and coming court jester). This is peak-era Hot 97 right here, seemingly (and perhaps genuinely) custom-made for maximum Funkmaster Flex spins. Rampage had a voice made for Hot 97 ciphers. Biggie had just released “Juicy.” Busta was still in Leaders of the New School, two years away from solo glory. Craig Mack was the hot new thing. But really, the biggest winner here (well, besides Puff, who released the damn thing) was Uncle L, who was coming off the commercial disappointment of 1993’s 14 Shots to the Dome, and a year away from the massive “comeback” of Mr. Smith (which featured “Hey Lover,” “Doin’ It,” and “Loungin,” top 10 pop hits all three of them). This was his moment to go “remember me?” and he grabbed it and smashed it. It all comes together on this record, a testament not only to the power and glory of mid-’90s NYC hip-hop, but also, to be fair, to Puff’s acumen at bringing all of these guys together.

Posted in 1990s, hip hop, my favorite songs

Pop top 10: 1/10/76

Lots of classics in this top 10, and a very tidy microcosm of its time: soft pop ballads, glam-adjacent, and some honest to goodness funk/soul/disco classics, with a mother of a novelty classic at #1. All that’s missing, really, is the rock, which wasn’t even much in evidence in the top five of this week’s album chart, led by Chicago IX (hits) and followed by Earth, Wind & Fire (simultaneously topping both the Soul singles & albums charts), America (hits), stunningly, Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns, and not stunningly, John Denver. (The highest-charting rock album of the week was Kiss’s Alive!, down at #13; rock as such was in a brief, momentary lull.) But none of ’em are in the top 10 singles.

1 6 CONVOY –•– C.W. McCall (MGM)-6 (1 week at #1) (1) — C.W. McCall wasn’t, technically speaking, a novelty artist; he was a country guy whose biggest (and only pop) hit was a novelty song — one that helped spur the ’70s craze for CB radio amongst non-truckers, in a bit of a “chicken or the egg” moment. This was concurrently sitting atop the country singles chart, with parent album Black Bear Road doing the same on the country album chart (it peaked at #12 pop). I’ve checked out some of its other tracks, and they’re not very good. McCall’s schtick was story songs, but unfortunately, he wasn’t very good at writing them. And he co-wrote all of them. “Convoy” is a fun novelty record if you remember it from its time; if not, it’ll probably make you scratch your head, and there’s really no reason to do any further exploration.
2 2 I WRITE THE SONGS –•– Barry Manilow (Arista)-9 (2) — Ironically enough, Barry didn’t write this. He sings the hell out of it, especially as the bombast cranks up (Barry co-produced with Ron Dante) — but Mr. Manilow certainly knows from bombast, and I mean that as a compliment. In fact, I like the performance and production much better than the actual song.
3 3 THEME FROM “MAHOGANY” (Do You Know Where You’re Going To) –•– Diana Ross (Motown)-11 (3) — The film is gleefully, and I think unintentionally, insane. Its theme, a drippy ballad, not so much.
4 4 LOVE ROLLERCOASTER –•– The Ohio Players (Mercury)-9 (4) — They did better than this, and sadly, time — and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — has turned this into a bit of a cartoon. However, you definitely need a comp on them, because their funk was greasy and often nas-tay. Go for 1995’s Funk on Fire or 2008’s Gold doubles.
5 1 SATURDAY NIGHT –•– The Bay City Rollers (Arista)-14 (1) — By the time this charted in the US, Scotland’s Bay City Rollers has already enjoyed eight top 10 singles in their native UK, including a pair of #1s. Amazingly, an earlier version of “Saturday Night” has flopped in the UK (in 1973), while this became not only their first US hit but their only #1 here, the first chart-topper of 1976. They were massive teen idols, but they also nicely paired their pop instincts with something more substantial (aka flirting with glam). This is a positively un-unlikeable record.
6 7 FOX ON THE RUN –•– Sweet (Capitol)-9 (6) — Sweet were arguably the only major glam band to make it big in the US, with this the third of four top 10 singles they had here. In the UK it was their ninth top 10, and their last in either country until 1978’s “Love Is Like Oxygen” (at which point they really weren’t glam anymore — in ’78, who even was?). For my money, they’re also about the best glam group there was, with a catalog of killer singles — and glam was a singles medium at heart. This has the requisite rock crunch but is still, at root, a pop record with a chewy center. Unbeatable, really.
7 9 I LOVE MUSIC (Part 1) –•– The O’Jays (Philadelphia International)-11 (7) — Philly soul firing on every cylinder, including some you didn’t even know it had. This is Gamble/Huff at their peak, aided in no small part by the incredibly rich voice of lead singer  Eddie Levert, who took the O’Jays from the realm of “just great” to “essential.”
8 8 THAT’S THE WAY (I Like It) –•– K.C. and the Sunshine Band (T.K.)-12 (1) — Harry Wayne Casey and his band are unfairly seen as a singles machine. Yes, their singles were pretty damned impeccable — five pop and four R&B #1s speak for themselves — but their albums of the era are worth all of your time as well. That said, this song is so catchy and so well-constructed, -arranged, and -performed, its lyrical simplicity can easily be forgiven. Those horn charts! Those backing vocals! R&B/disco bliss, right here.
9 11 LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY –•– Donna Summer (Oasis)-6 (9) — Absolutely classic. For everything you may need to know about Summer’s career, especially chart-wise, listen to this recent episode of Chris Molanphy’s marvelous Hit Parade podcast, devoted to  Queen Donna.
10 12 TIMES OF YOUR LIFE –•– Paul Anka (United Artists)-9 (10) — On its way to #7, this former Adult Contemporary chart-topper — surprisingly, Anka’s one and only — began its life as a jingle recorded for a Kodak commercial. Upon seeing how popular the ad became, Anka recorded and released a full-length version. It’s a fairly basic easy listening record of the era, with swooning strings and cooing female backgrounds, and those aren’t bad things. And I most certainly prefer it to a similarly-titled song from two decades later.


Posted in 1970s, charts

My favorite albums: ‘DJ-Kicks: Erlend Øye’


Well, if I’m doing a series on my favorite single records, why not a similar one for my favorite albums of all-time, those I truly can’t (and wouldn’t want to ever) live without?

Connecting with my last post, Erlend Øye’s entry in !K7’s long-running DJ-Kicks series was my #1 album of 2004, and still more than holds up today, 13+ years later. I don’t particularly care about Øye as a solo artist or as half of Kings of Convenience, but his taste in early-mid-’00s techno-and-such and talent in mixing said records together is fucking superb. From DFA’s scene-setters the Rapture to European techno folks like Justus Köhncke and Jürgen Paape, and also encompassing the likes of French touch icons Alan Braxe & Fred Falke, not to mention electroclash jokesters Avenue D, this is a wider-reaching mix than you might expect, and yet 100% cohesive. That’s thanks not only to Øye’s mixing, but his thing for “intro”ing records by singing their hooks as he’s mixing them into his set, such as he does with the Rapture’s “I Need Your Love,” singing its opening verse immediately before lead singer Luke Jenner does the same.

Øye also understands how a great mix should unfold and evolve, such as when he allows a remix of his own “The Black Keys Work” to vanish into the ether, switching gears completely into the Underworld-esque techno workout of “Airraid” by Jackmate. And segues aren’t the only times he likes to sing, either (even referring to himself on one track as “the singing DJ”): Øye sings acapella bits of songs you know (from their lyrics) over instrumental tracks, like topping Skateboard’s “Metal Chix” with his own voice singing bars of “Always on My Mind” — and then stitching that into Ricardo Villalobos’s microhouse cut “Dexter.”

This DJ-Kicks volume is constantly undulating, yet always warm and inviting, its surfaces encouraging you to go deeper and spend more time curled up in its embrace. And even though some of the styles spotlighted here have dated a bit with time, the mix as a whole always sounds fresh; Øye’s work here makes this one of my favorite commercially released mixes of all time.

Posted in 2000s, my favorite albums

The unbearable somethingness of year-end polls: the ’10s

Every year, when I put together my ballots for year-end music critics polls (Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop, and Nashville Scene‘s Country Music Critics Poll), it gets me thinking: do my top 10s from previous years still hold up, years later? Or do I regret naming Billy Corgan’s TheFutureEmbrace my #1 album of 2005? (Guess what? Je ne regrette rien.) So why not go back as far as I’ve got data for and look, through time’s prism, at my year-end #1s and top 10s? This could be fun. Starting with this decade:

2016 Singles: Miranda Lambert‘s “Vice” still easily tops the year for me, but I have to admit that I haven’t listened to a lot of these since soon after making the list. Those I listened to most in 2017 besides Lambert’s are “Cranes in the Sky,” “24K Magic,” “Are You Ready for the Country,” and believe it or not, “You Could Be My Lover” and “Bacon,” both of which deserved to be much bigger than they were. Albums: Bonnie Raitt‘s Dig In Deep holds up superbly. I’d bump A Tribe Called Quest up to #2 today, but this is a solid top 10. I probably undervalued Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings because it’s an overlong double; the good stuff, however, is so fucking good.

2015 Alfred, you’re right: I slept on Jazmine Sullivan‘s Reality Show. I should’ve, at a minimum, listed lead single “Mascara” in my top 10. Demi Lovato‘s “Cool for the Summer” still towers over the competition, however, and beyond that, I most cherish my #7 single, Robin Thicke‘s post-“Blurred Lines” dud “Morning Sun,” a gorgeous slab of Adult R&B. Album-wise, yeah, Carly Rae Jepsen‘s E*MO*TION rules from here to pop eternity.

2014 was the year of Beyoncé for me, and I still prefer it to Lemonade overall. But it was close. And today I wouldn’t give Bey either my albums or singles crown: Toni Braxton & Babyface‘s Love, Marriage & Divorce may well be favorite record of the decade, currently, and Usher‘s “Good Kisser” is unquestionably my top single of that year. You know what’s an album from ’14 that still holds up really strongly? Jennifer Hudson‘s JHUD, a great R&B album. Singles-wise, beneath my top 10, there were more great, cheesy dance singles akin to “No Price,” like Duck Sauce‘s Melissa Manchester-jacking (really!) “NRG” (see above) (also, I am not mad at a shirtless Armand Van Helden) and Syn Cole‘s cardio-riffic “Miami 82.”

Can we finally admit that lots of us wildly overrated Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories in 2013? Yes, “Get Lucky” is a marvelous single, but to be honest — and I disagreed fiercely with those who said this at the time — beyond that, there’s not a lot of there there. My #2 album that year was Haim‘s debut, and I can’t think of the last time I played anything off that. My #1 however was Yeezus, which is my favorite Kanye West album, the world’s craziest industrial hip-hop album ever. Also surviving strongly from ’13 for me is Robert Glasper Experiment‘s Black Radio 2, a sublime mix of jazz and R&B. The singles I listed as my top two of 2013 still are: Jaheim‘s brilliant ode to older women, “Age Ain’t A Factor” (the fact that I’ve been partnered to a man 20 years my junior the past three years couldn’t have anything to do with that, could it?), and Ciara‘s sexy-as-fuck “Body Party.”

For no reason I can ascertain, it appears that I didn’t compile year-end lists nor vote in any year-end polls for 2012. However, I know without question what my top singles of that year are: Underworld‘s “And I Will Kiss” featuring Dame Evelyn Glennie, from the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and Orbital and Graeae Theatre Company‘s “Where Is It Going? (Paralympics Mix)/Spasticus Autisticus” featuring Dr. Stephen Hawking, from the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony. As for the year’s best albums, they’re all instrumental: Lone‘s gorgeous techno record Galaxy GardenJam City‘s harder-edged Classical Curves, and Vijay Iyer Trio‘s jazz stunner Accelerando.

2011 was about one song for me, the remix of Chris Brown‘s “She Ain’t You.” The song rides a loop from one of my favorite songs of the ’90s — and maybe ever — SWV‘s “Right Here/Human Nature Remix.” So for the remix of Brown’s, they actually brought in SWV to add vocals and essentially make the song a duet. It works perfectly. The other song from ’11 I loved and still do is a bizarre one, a Dam-Funk remix of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti‘s “Fright Night,” which shouldn’t work at all but does, aces. Open your mind and allow the narcotics to flow in. Destroyer‘s Kaputt topped my album list and still does today, as the perfect modern distillation of soft + yacht rock.

Posted in 2010s, best of