What does it tell us about the state of pop music when the best single of the year so far was co-written by an 11-year-old?
Should we look at the dizzy popularity and charm of Hanson’s “MMMBop” as an encouraging sign that a new generation of tunesmiths is on the way?
Or is the ease with which Hanson swept away the competition a sign that our veteran acts have run out of steam?
There’s probably not one “MMMBop” fan in 100 who can even tell you what the song is about, but the vocals by brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson (ages 16, 14 and 11, respectively) have a pop lilt reminiscent of the Jackson 5.
So the record is a gem.
But “MMMBop” also was helped to the top of my midyear list by coming out during a relatively weak six months - a time when no other record stepped up with the ambition and originality to define the year the way, say, Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and Beck’s “Loser” did in 1995.
1. Hanson’s “MMMBop,” Mercury. At first it seemed the secret of this tune’s appeal was the zesty, ever-so-cute video. But that doesn’t explain why you want to turn up the volume every time the song comes on the radio. Superb production touches by the Dust Brothers - the production duo of John King and Michael Simpson whose other credits include Beck’s “Odelay” - add to the charm. Sometimes, ear candy wins.
2. U2’s “Staring at the Sun,” Island. In the standout number from the “Pop” album, the Irish band looks again at idealism in the face of despair, complete with a marvelously seductive chorus.
3. Erykah Badu’s “On and On,” Universal. Watch her studied stylishness on stage and you know that this Texan has taken acting lessons. That theatrical presence also fills her spiritually tinged tales of self-affirmation.
4. Prodigy’s “Serial Thrilla,” Maverick. Sure, this dance-rock dynamo is largely a replay of last year’s brilliant “Firestarter,” but some sequels work.
5. Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug,” Nothing/Interscope. Trent Reznor may be the most single exciting figure in American rock, as he shows again here. Still, you wish he’d be a bit more prolific.
6. The Wallflowers’ “I Wish I Felt Nothing,” Interscope. Granted, “One Headlight” was the central Wallflowers song on radio this year, but this wistful, melancholy track from the “Bringing Down the Horse” album is the more eloquent and heartfelt one.
7. Coolio’s “C U When U Get There,” Tommy Boy. Returning to the sensitive rap territory of “Gangsta’s Paradise” in this song from the “Nothing to Lose” soundtrack, Coolio - joined by 40 Thevz - delivers another hit.
8. Nuyorican Soul’s “Runaway,” Giant Step/ Blue Thumb. This sounds like something that you would have found alongside Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on a ‘70s-era disco jukebox, but that’s classy territory. In fact, it’s a remake of a song by ‘70s soul singer Loleatta Holloway. With a vocal by India, the high-stepping, uplifting single comes complete with more than a half-hour of remixes.
9. Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” Elektra. Stephen Jenkins is an interesting writer who likes to keep listeners off-guard with his songs, wondering whether you’ll notice the nasty little strains underneath this happy pop-rock exterior.
10. Echo & the Bunnymen’s “I Want to Be There (When You Come),” London. Since we’re just trying to fill out the list, why not this song, which sounds like the best version of a Jesus and Mary Chain song since the Pixies did the Chain’s “Head On” in 1991? Only this is supposed to be an original tune. Whatever, it’s a delightful summer pop-rock breeze.
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