Attention spans are shrinking, so pop songs are getting shorter, right? Wrong. Without needing to get on the radio to have a hit - that can happen on a place called the Internet - acts are going over the five-minute mark with impunity.
At least that's what I found when considering songs by Sade, Das Racist, Neil Young, LCD Soundsystem, and Titus Andronicus. They didn't fit, because they're all too long! (Sharon Van Etten's sublime "Save Yourself," at 5:00, is the longest here.) The big hits and personal favorites listed below are programmed to fit on one of those nearly obsolete delivery devices: the CD.
To hear the songs, go to my blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inthemix
1. "Tightrope," Janelle Monáe, feat. Big Boi. Pompadoured cyber-princess steps lightly, a la James Brown.
2. "Shutterbug," Big Boi & Cutty. Bubbling bass and stutter-step rhyming from the one half of OutKast who, thankfully, still wants to party.
3. "(Expletive) You," Cee-Lo Green. As clever as profane pop gets, cowritten and produced by Grammy darling Bruno Mars. Careful not to sing this aloud while listening on earbuds. You might get a punch in the mouth.
4. "Fembot," Robyn. "Once you go tech, you never go back." One of many grabbers from the Swedish dance-pop singer's expert Body Talk.
5. "Opposite of Adults," Chiddy Bang. Drexel U. dropouts drop the year's bounciest hip-hop-meets-indie-rock beat.
6. "Bang Pop," Free Energy. Onomatopoeic nugget, with '70s guitar riffage, from the Fishtown quintet.
7. "Bright Lit Blue Skies," Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. L.A. bedroom-pop mastermind cleans up sound, reaps rewards.
8. "Solitude Is Bliss," Tame Impala. Bad band name, excellent late '60s psychedelic-style pop from Down Under quartet.
9. "Boyfriend," Best Coast. Beguiling latter-day surf-pop from these Bethany Cosentino-fronted Los Angelenos.
10. "Jackie Wants a Black Eye," Dr. Dog. Highly melodic tour of University City bohemia from West Philly's finest.
11. "Philadelphia," Standard Fare. A worthy addition to T.S.O.P. from the Sheffield, England, indie-pop trio, with singer Emma Kupa longing for the time when she gets to "see you again in Philadelphia."
12. "Window Seat," Erykah Badu. Low-key, nicely cushioned funk from Badu, who just wants to be able to see the world whilst she goes "back and forth like Lightnin' Hopkins."
13. "Me and the Devil," Gil Scott-Heron. Convincing cover of Robert Johnson's frightful lament, from the returning griot's all-too-brief album I'm New Here.
14. "Harlem River Blues," Justin Townes Earle. Title cut to Steve's son's fourth album, maybe the strongest roots songwriting effort of the year.
15. "Monkey," Robert Plant. Led Zep golden god keeps it spooky on this Low cover, from Band of Joy, his worthy follow-up to the Grammy-winning Raising Sand.
16. "Love the Way You Lie," Eminem feat. Rihanna. The song of the summer from Eminem's impressive Recovery comeback, with both the vituperative rapper and the outstanding R&B singer bringing real-life resonance to a hooky codependency drama.
17. "Save Yourself," Sharon Van Etten. Van Etten, the breakout star of Fishtown's Weathervane Music project, is gentle on the surface. But don't underestimate the steely determination in the Brooklynite's luxurious voice, on the best of her fine songs on Epic.
18. "Crying Blood," V.V. Brown. Vivacious Brit fashionista mixes old-school R&B and rock-and-roll on her overlooked Traveling Like the Light.
19. "Little Lion Man," Mumford & Sons. One of the most heartening success stories of 2010 is the breakthrough of these salty Brit-folk strummers, who seemingly went from the tiny chapel at the First Unitarian Church to packing the Electric Factory in the blink of an eye. Well done, lads.
20. "I Want the World To Stop," Belle & Sebastian. Similarly ampersanded Brits make a plea for a little peace and understanding, in delightfully snappy, string-decorated, pop-song terms.
21. "Lost in the World," Kanye West feat. Bon Iver. Kanye goes indie, and ingeniously employs the bucolic voice of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon - Auto-Tuned, naturally - to conjure a sense of sensory-overloaded urban dislocation.