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This Was Pop: September 2007

Like The Ravyns once sang, I was raised on the radio. But I haven't been a regular listener for many years. By missing the radio for so long I feel like I've been missing an important piece of the present. So every month I download the top 20 songs from the latest Billboard's Hot 100, and grade them, A.V. Club style. This week I'm looking at (the already out-of-date) September 22, 2007 chart.

20. Justin Timberlake, "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows"

Yet another hit single from the blockbuster FutureSex/LoveSounds LP, and among the best. This song contains my single favorite moment on the album, and I'm glad it survived the radio edit—the dramatic, showstopping guitar break between "Love/Stoned" and the "I Think She Knows" coda. It's the best fake indie rock guitar riff since Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." Grade: A-

19. 50 Cent featuring Justin Timberlake, "Ayo Technology"

50 Cent is a hack, but he's a genius hack. As a song, "Ayo Technology" is pretty worthless. But as a commercial jingle intended to get a phrase stuck in your head, it's insidiously effective. Once you hear "A-yo, I'm tired of using technology," it will haunt you for the rest of the day. Mindless catchiness is Fiddy's bread and butter; he sounds so bored with it that Timberlake probably had to prop him up in the studio. Maybe the listless beat is really a death rattle. Grade: D

18. Elliott Yamin, "Wait For You"

"Wait For You" is a lite-R&B dentist office ballad you might mistake for a Brian McKnight joint. It's very soothing, but it also might make you nervous. Don't worry—"Wait For You" is not necessarily followed by a root canal. Grade: C+

17. Rhianna featuring Jay-Z, "Umbrella"

Sick of this song yet? Me, too. Grade: C (no change from previous grade)

16. Sean Kingston, "Me Love"

The first of two Sean Kingston singles this week, "Me Love" combines Led Zeppelin's "D'Yer Mak'er" and UB40's cover of "Red Red Wine" because those are two of the only reggae songs not performed by Bob Marley that most people know. Kingston is only 17, so UB40 might as well be Marley (and Zeppelin Robert Johnson). His brand of bubblegum reggae sounds like Shaggy with production by Ace Of Base, only not quite as good. Grade: C

15. Hurricane Chris, "A Bay Bay"

It takes a lot of guts for an 18-year-old kid from Louisiana to call himself Hurricane Chris. Maybe that was Chris Dooley's way of not letting the hurricanes win. Anyway, I learned from USA Today that "A bay bay" is a synonym for "fo' sho.'" Could I have pretended to already know that to appear cooler than I am? A bay bay. Grade: C+

14. Pink, "Who Knew"

Who knew Pink was still around? I didn't until I heard this song. "Who Knew" has some decent fake indie rock guitar during the verse, but otherwise it's a mess. The chorus is a snore, and there's an awful string part bleating through the last half of the song that desperately needs to be edited out. If this is Pink transitioning from a poor man's Gwen Stefani to a poor man's Kelly Clarkson, I'm not sure it's an upgrade.  Grade: C

13. Fabolous featuring Ne-Yo, "Make Me Better"

"Make Me Better" is one of those eccentric Timbaland productions where "unique" isn't exactly synonymous with "good." The strings are taken from "Al Sa'ban Aleh" by Egyptian singer Sherine; it's an interesting sample that's more fun to analyze than listen to. If only he could have worked some UB40 in there somewhere. Grade: C+

12. matchbox twenty, "How Far We've Come"

Like any band that sticks around for a long time, matchbox twenty has earned a measure of respect, and not just because the band no longer capitalizes its name. Rob Thomas is a solidly professional pop songwriter, and his band has churned out reliably populist rockers since the grunge era. This generation's Journey is back with one of its better singles, "How Far We've Come." While this piano-pumping Springsteen homage doesn't exactly rock, it's a pretty decent approximation for adult contemporary radio. Grade: B-

11. J. Holiday, "Bed"

"Bed" is a really repetitive, repetitive, repetitive love-makin' jam about putting your girl to bed, bed, bed. J. Holiday—real name Nahum Grymes—says "bed" in "Bed" 78 times, based on my unofficial count. The premise of "Bed" is that J. Holiday is rewarding his woman after a long day at work by totally fucking the shit out of her. Cooking a nice dinner arguably works better. Grade: C


10. Keyshia Cole featuring Missy Elliot and L'il Kim, "Let It Go"

"Let It Go" is the biggest hit so far for Keyshia Cole, a big-voiced Oakland native in a Mary J. Blige vein.  Take the rappers out of it and "Let It Go" could be a mid-'90s Toni Braxton song. Grade: B-

9. Plies & T-Pain, "Shawty"

At 27, Plies is practically an old man on this chart. So he enlists T-Pain for some assistance, playing Warren G to T's Nate Dogg on his first hit single, "Shawty." The beat is ideal for cruising, which means "Shawty" is more or less successful at what it attempts to achieve. Grade: B

8. Sean Kingston, "Beautiful Girls"

Sean Kingston is back with another hit single anchored by an obvious sample. Sadly, it is not Van Halen's "Beautiful Girls," but Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Kingston is rumored to have been cast as Notorious B.I.G. in an upcoming biopic. Playing Tupac will be the guy who used to hold Diddy's umbrellas. Grade: C+

7. Plain White T's, "Hey There Delilah"

I've always liked this song, because singer Tom Higgenson just sounds like an earnest 16-year-old kid (even though he's probably in his early 20s) pouring his heart out to his girl while on the road. It's the nice guy version of the dunderhead Nickelback song—is that redundant?—slotted ahead of it on this week's chart. Plus, my step-niece loves this song, because her boyfriend really is 1,000 miles away and she's relying on "planes and trains and cars" to see him again. One person's sentimental pop ballad is another person's life, man. Grade: B. (no grade change)

6. Nickelback, "Rockstar"

Obviously, you want to be a member of Nickelback. Who wouldn't want to join forces with a wild, shirtless frontman like Chad Kroeger, a bone-rattling bassist like Mike Kroeger, and a competent drummer like Ryan Vikedal? But being a Nickelbacker is not all it's cracked up to be, says the band's latest hit "Rockstar." Why do successful rock bands feel the need to make songs warning people about the dangers of the rock life? Are they trying to help us, or discourage competition? Perhaps this isn't really Nickelback at all—it's a cyborg Nickelback sent from a post-apocalyptic future to prevent the formation of future Nickelback-like bands. It's an unlikely possibility, but it makes me want to like this song. But when Kroeger sings "I'm gonna dress my ass with the latest fashion," I can't find the strength. Grade: C-

5. T-Pain featuring Akon, "Bartender"

I'm totally a T-Pain fan. I loved "Buy U A Drank" because it was essentially an old fashioned, sweet-natured R&B jam about wanting to buy a nice girl a drank. Now T-Pain is back with another ode to the service industry, and this time he's joined by a guy best known in the popular culture for dry-humping a 15-year-old preacher's daughter on stage. Have no fear, Akon does not prevent T-Pain from getting his sweet on during this likeable "Buy U A Drank" re-write. In a recent episode of VH1's The Pickup Artist, stupid goggle-donning "artist" Mystery revealed that the key to picking up a bartender is demonstrating higher value, which T-Pain does by "everybody jackin' me as soon as I stepped in the spot." Soon, the bartender is winking at him and pouring him shots. Where were you guys when I was single? Grade: B. 

4. Timbaland featuring Keri Hilson and D.O.E., "The Way I Are"

How bad is the filler on Shock Value? I only know the singles, which have been pretty solid, but the CD has a lowly Metacritic score of 54. Maybe Timbaland just runs out of tricks over the course of an album. The stuttering synth riff on "The Way I Are" is straight from the usual Timbaland playbook; it's his Packers power sweep move. It still works, but the competition is catching on. Grade: B-.

3. Fergie, "Big Girls Don't Cry"

"Big Girls Don't Cry" was at No. 3 on the June 28 chart—my last Top 40 column—and it's still at No. 3 three months later. [Pause while I shake my fist at the sky and curse God.] "Big Girls Don't Cry" has become my personal Groundhog Day, and I can sense Fergie taunting me every time I hear her sing, "I'm gonna miss you like a child misses her blanket." Speak for yourself. Please don't be here when I visit again next month. Grade: D.  (down from D+)

2. Kanye West, "Stronger"

It would be a tall order for anybody to top singles as great as "Through The Wire," "Jesus Walks," "Gold Digger", and "Touch The Sky." But with "Stronger" Kanye West doesn't even appear to try. The Daft Punk sample is pretty lazy, and the raps need some fact-checking—for the record, he has not been on ya "since Prince was on Apollonia" or "since OJ had Isotoners." At the earliest he's been on ya since his debut record The College Dropout in 2004, or when "Schilling's socks had blood on 'em." Grade: C+

1. Soulja Boy, "Crank That"

How do you solve a problem like Soulja Boy? The debut single from 17-year-old DeAndre Cortez Way—who wrote and produced the song himself—is a huge hit that has sparked the latest (line) dancing craze. Great story. "Crank That" also is the most claw-your-eyes-out annoying song to come along in many years,. I'm pretty sure I hate it, but I'm also pretty sure I'm not hearing it in the proper enviroment. To understand "Crank That," you have to be at a really loud party or club and drunk enough to think that synchronized dancing with strangers is a really fine idea. Until that happens I'm giving "Crank That" an INCOMPLETE, with the fault on me and not on Soulja Boy. Perhaps this will offer some assistance:

(Please don't throw objects at your screen.)