It’s hard to believe, but we’re already halfway through 2008 — so I’m continuing my quarterly Top 25 of this year’s most infectious singles. Eligible for this round are springtime singles, ranked according to personal preference but compiled based on chart success and digital sales. We end today with nos. 5 through 1.
5. Duffy, “Mercy” (Billboard Peak: #27)
Doing for summer ’08 what Amy Winehouse did for summer ’07, Duffy steals some of the most obvious sounds from ’60s soul for debut single “Mercy”: a major seventh organ line, a “Stand By Me”-style bass riff and even the kind of background singers who do choreography in between scattered “oohs” and “yeahs.” Put together, the elements prove undeniably infectious — whether the Welsh songstress deserves those Dusty Springfield comparisons or not.
4. Gavin DeGraw, “In Love With A Girl” (#24)
If “I Don’t Wanna Be” proved anything about Gavin DeGraw, it was that his vocal abilities walked circles around his songwriting chops; new single “In Love With A Girl” reverses that logic. Mixing his adult contemporary instincts with some ’90s alt-riffing flair, DeGraw achieves a sound tailor-made for this decade’s Buzz Ballads compilation — which he hopefully won’t end up hawking in infomercials come 2020. (You laugh, but Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray has been there, done that.) And by all measures, Gavin’s well-placed vocal overdubs make “Wants to make love when I wanna fight” the line of the summer.
3. Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy” (#35)
If I namedropped Dusty Springfield in a Duffy review, then it’s only fair to compare Estelle to Chaka Khan here — what with her rhythmic phrasing, off-kilter harmonies and comfort around thick funk. And while I could have done without another pointless guest rap, Kanye West’s production — one part lazer-heavy synths, one part Max Martin slap bass — more than makes up for it.
2. M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
How’s this for violence in the media: ultra-cool M.I.A. buffs out her catchiest single yet with four gunshots in its chorus. Otherwise, “Paper Planes” is an AM-radio affair; just check how closely the backing track approximates The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” But the real treasure is M.I.A.’s lyrics, including a claim that she’s got “more records than the K.G.B.”
1. Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” (#1)
Giving Coldplay top honors on this list is like sending charity to the Rockefeller estate, but I’ll be damned if they don’t deserve it. In seven months, “Viva” will catalyze a Grammy sweep for Coldplay — who are right in line to take home Record, Song and Album of the Year unless U2 hits the studio immediately. And why not: the song’s quivering string solos and monarchic lyrics are enough to catapault it into the era where they actually used catapaults. Put simply, this isn’t the kind of song that sounds different than everything else; it’s the kind of song that sounds better than everything else. And for that it’s a classic.