It's that December time of year again. 'Tis the season to be jolly and to make our lists and check them twice of all the things we loved and hated about the past 12 months.
For now, let's focus on the love part. There are still a few musical presents waiting to be unwrapped in 2009. A new Mary J. Blige album, Stronger With Each Tear, is coming on December 21, and it will no doubt contain a few moments that are terrifically moving -- physically and emotionally. Of less pre-release interest (but you never know) is the new opus from Alicia Keys, The Element Of Freedom (boy, she really needs to work on spicing up her album titles), due December 15. And if there is a God, she'll send us the new Sade single before the year is out. But at this very moment, here is my list of 2009's musical high points. (For more of my thoughts on 2009 in music, check out my piece at Suite 101.)
1. Allison Iraheta: "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" I was so terrified for 17-year-old Allison (above, top, with Kris Allen and Adam Lambert) when she announced her song choice for Motown week last season on American Idol. It's a vocal triathlon at the microphone, full of twists, turns and bends. You've pretty much got to be a Temptation or George Michael to get it right. But little Allison shocked us all -- and immediately became a season 8 frontrunner -- by nailing the classic with the finesse and accomplishment of a diva three times her age. Honorable mention: Kris Allen's the Fray-inspired cover of Kanye West's "Heartless," which probably won him American Idol last season.
2. The Black Eyed Peas: "Boom Boom Pow" (Read about it and watch it here.)
3. Ciara Ft. Justin Timberlake: the "Love And Sex And Magic" video (Read about it and watch it here)
4. Comeback Fever After more than a decade away, both Basia and Toni Childs returned with excellent new albums (It's That Girl Again and Keep The Faith, respectively) that matched the best of their earlier work. Coming in 2010: Sade ends her decade-long sabbatical with Soldier Of Love. Salute!
5. Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden: "Bonkers" As much as I loved David Guetta & Akon's "Sexy Bitch," for me, the DJ-R&B/hip hop collaboration of the year was this Prodigy-inspired No. 1 U.K. single, which sounds like techno rap being attacked by chainsaws while overdosing on speed. Bonkers indeed!
6. John Mayer: "Who Says" Everyone was up in arms over the apparent reference to smoking pot (hey, Ray Charles was singing about toking up, or whatever, as far back as 1966 on his best single, the Ashford & Simpson-penned "Let's Go Get Stoned"), but I say forget about whether or not he inhales and just enjoy a great single. (Read more about it and watch it here.)
7. Lily Allen: "Everyone's At It" Speaking of drugging, Lily (above, center) insisted that we all indulge in some form or other, and from a musical standpoint, she made an excellent case. Pass the klonopin, please.
8. Mariah Carey: "Up Out My Face" The kiss off of the century so far, from the brilliant Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (yes, it took awhile for me to totally get it, but it grew on me enough to become the most-played album of the year). "If we were two Lego blocks/Even the Harvard University graduating class of 2010/Couldn’t put us back together again." Try singing that five times fast. (Listen to it here.)
9. Muse: "Uprising" (Read about it and listen to it here.)
10. The Opiates: "Anatomy Of A Plastic Girl"/"I'm Not Simone Choule" In collaboration with producer Robert Solheim, German dance diva Billie Ray Martin invented a brand new genre: Gothic electro soul.
11. Rihanna: "Cold Case Love" (Read about it here.)
12. La Roux My friend Atzin introduced me to this duo's self-titled debut album earlier in the year. At first, I dismissed it as primitive, '80s-retro new wave, very Depeche Mode's Speak & Spell, an album I hate. But several listens later, I'd uncovered the soul -- courtesy, mostly, of singer Eleanor Jackson (above, bottom) -- beneath the glossy bleeping, blurping surface. A must-listen.
13. Royksopp Featuring Robyn: "The Girl And The Robot" (Read about it and watch it here.)
14. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Heads Will Roll" (Read about it and watch it here.)