2006: The Best Music

It’s that time of year, when people who write about music attempt to sum the year up in list form. And who am I to buck that trend?

The advent of iTunes makes it much easier than it used to be for me to compile a “best of 2006” list, as it keeps records of when I added various songs to the collection, and also what I rated them. This isn’t a foolproof method– I bought some old albums and greatest hits packages, so the really basic algorithm would claim that “I Can’t Hardly Wait” was among the best songs of 2006– but it’s better than relying solely on my memory.

I tend to rate songs on iTunes such that a decent but unremarkable tune gets three stars, a song I’d like to hear more often gets four, and a song I’m tempted to hit the “back” button and listen to again immediately after it finishes gets five. On those standards, 317 songs got four stars in 2006, and 27 got five. Editing out the songs that were obviously old, the five-star songs of 2006 were (with occasional commentary):

  • “Beautiful Wreck,” Shawn Mullins
  • “Supersede,” Jackie Greene. Jackie Greene does “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”– it’s a long and very cryptic song.
  • “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” Arctic Monkeys
  • “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” The Flaming Lips
  • “The W.A.N.D.,” The Flaming Lips. This really doesn’t sound like the Flaming Lips at all. I like the skronk.
  • “Hands Open,” Snow Patrol
  • “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley. Undeniably the signature song of the year.
  • “One Man Wrecking Machine,” Guster
  • “Long Distance Call,” Phoenix
  • “Roscoe,” Midlake
  • “Modern Swinger,” The Pink Spiders. I’m not sure this was a 2006 album, but it was a fun record.
  • “Little Razorblade,” The Pink Spiders
  • “Too Slight For Thin,” The Campbells. This is a 75 or Less pick-up.
  • “Slide Away,” Joseph Arthur
  • “Sundress,” Ben Kweller
  • “Chips Ahoy,” The Hold Steady. Probably the album of the year, for me.
  • “You Can Make Him Like You,” The Hold Steady
  • “When You Were Young,” The Killers
  • “St. Rosa and the Swallows,” The Thermals
  • “She Doesn’t Get It,” The Format. Another 75 or Less pick-up.
  • “Somerville,” The Pernice Brothers
  • “What Else Would You Have Me Be?,” Lucero. The Onion said these guys “could be the hick Hold Steady,” so you know I had to buy it.
  • “Las Cruces Jail,” Two Gallants. This is a really odd record– sort of punk Americana. But not at all like X, which is what that description evokes– much more like the Ramones doing X covers, if there were only two of them.

(These are listed in the order in which they were added to the music library. I’m not entirely sure that all of these were really 2006 albums, but I’m too lazy to check.)

There’s a good amount of overlap between this list and other best-of lists I’ve seen, at the artist level. My tastes in music are a little more pop-oriented than some, though, so I frequently picked different tracks, and I generally went for more middlebrow stuff than professional critics. The most obvious deviation probably being “Hands Open” by Snow Patrol, which was the big, anthemic, we-want-to-be-U2-circa-1983 single that most critics deride as a sell-out. But, hey, I like 1983-era U2. “Here’s Your Future” is also the more common pick off the Thermals record, but I find it a little too strident to really be a five-star song, and “St. Rosa and the Swallows” is the song (heard on KEXP) that got me to check out the album.

So there’s my attempt at a best-music-of-2006 list. What’s yours?


  1. #1 Trent
    December 28, 2006

    Jeebus. I read these music posts of yours mostly to confirm how utterly out of it I am when it comes to contemporary music. Case in point, the only song I recognize from your list is Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” (which is, yes, a kick-ass song).

  2. #2 Aggie
    December 28, 2006

    Me too — I only recognise “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” by the Arctic Monkeys — and I’m only 23 (actually, now that I write it down, that doesn’t seem so young after all). I could blame it on the remoteness of Australia, but most likely, I’m just — how was it put? — “out of it”.

  3. #3 BRC
    December 28, 2006

    Yeah, Chad, thanks for making me feel as lame as I suspected parenthood would make me, musically speaking. Though I guess now I have a vouched-for list of music to work through. Ben

  4. #4 Aaron Bergman
    December 28, 2006

    I am, apparently, the only person alive who just doesn’t like ‘Crazy’ very much, aren’t I?

  5. #5 Chad Orzel
    December 28, 2006

    I am, apparently, the only person alive who just doesn’t like ‘Crazy’ very much, aren’t I?

    Resistance is futile.
    You will be assimilated.

    I don’t think it was the best song of the year, but it’s undeniably the one song that everybody will think of when they think of the music of 2006.

  6. #6 Cryptic Ned
    December 28, 2006

    I agree with all of the bands I’ve heard here (Arthur, Mullens, Monkeys, Lips, Guster, Killers, Hold Steady, Thermals, Two Gallants) except Jackie Greene. I haven’t heard the song you cite here, but the local NPR station plays several of his songs, and the lyrics just make me cringe with their incredibly concentration of cliches, and there’s nothing interesting about his voice or any of the music.

    This is basically how I feel about Ryan Adams too, so what do I know. It seems odd that every now and then some totally generic-sounding Americana-type guy with nothing to say becomes popular among us NPR types.

  7. #7 Aaron Bergman
    December 29, 2006

    It looks like I only bought 12 or so albums in 2006, and none of them blew me away. Nothing got rated 5 stars off those albums. The only songs that got 4 stars were “When You Were Young” by the Killers, “Sex Changes” by the Dresden Dolls, and the “In the Sun” cover by Michael Stipe.

    Not a great year for music, I guess.

  8. #8 AO
    December 29, 2006

    Here is my list using the five-star formula (and limiting each artist to one song). Overall, I think it was a weak year for releases.

    Belle and Sebastian: “Dress Up In You”
    Essex Green: “Don’t Know Why”
    Neko Case: “Hold On, Hold On”
    Voxtrot: “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives”
    Band of Horses: “Our Swords”
    The Elected: Fireflies in a Steel Mill”
    Camera Obscura: “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken”
    Editors: “All Sparks”
    Josh Ritter: “Girl in the War”
    Micah P. Hinson: “Jackeyed”
    The Hold Steady: “Stuck Between Stations”
    Drive By Truckers: “Gravity’s Gone”
    Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos “Quiet as a Mouse”
    Bonnie Prince Billy: “Cursed Sleep”
    Tim Easton: “I Wish You Well”
    Golden Smog: “Another Fine Day”

  9. #9 Chad Orzel
    December 29, 2006

    I wouldn’t strongly disagree with the claim that it was kind of a weak year, musically. The Hold Steady record was probably my favorite album of the year, but it’s not nearly as good as Separation Sunday (though it did grow on me).

    The Neko Case, Editors, and Golden Smog albums are all pretty good, though none of the songs made the five-star level for me. That Camera Obscura song makes a bunch of lists, but the snippet on iTunes didn’t blow me away. Maybe listening to the whole thing will be more impressive– I’ll throw it on the list.

    I’m a little surprised to see that “Woke Up New” by the Mountain Goats didn’t make the five-star list– KEXP played it just a little while ago, and it’s a great song. The album as a whole is too mopey, but that one song is great.

  10. #10 Markk
    December 29, 2006

    Tom Waits “Bawlers” third of his Orphans compilation is doing it for me. Can’t pick a specific song off of there. On the other hand his “Ants” recitation on the “Bastards” side isn’t music but is nightmarishly memorable…

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