[11] Martha Wainwright, ‘Bleeding All Over You’

Martha Wainwright

Arthur, as Junior once christened her, is hit-and-miss; capable of lovely stuff, but equally adept at overwrought meanders. Must be a family thing. I liked a couple of thirds of her debut – then this came along and bowled me over. It’s an enviable skill to turn out a gorgeous, heartbreaking song with the word “cowshit” sitting pretty in the middle.

But it’s not all about cowshit. It’s about the unlucky point in the triangle; it’s about the hooks, picked out with every perfect pluck of the guitar; it’s about her generosity. The first day I heard it I listened to it eight times over, and I’m still not tired 30 plays later.

Doing the Jukebox Junior thing on the bus isn’t the ideal way to watch reactions, but this is suited to a blissful, concentrated listen anyway. She’s heard it often enough, and was once seen swaying to it with wavy arms – like a rather-more-clothed Tales Of The Unexpected silhouette – but when I asked if she knew who it was, she replied, “Lykke Li?” No. “Girls Aloud?” No, her name begins with M. “Is it Mummy?”

[12] M.I.A., ‘Paper Planes’


It’s a little bit 2007, yeah – off last year’s splendid Kala album – but hit big in the States this year before getting an actual single release here. It’s a little bit 1982 as well, what with that whacking great Clash sample pinning the whole caper down while M.I.A. goes nuts with gunshot and cash till samples. Still, she at least managed to make a song out of ‘Straight To Hell’; something The Clash couldn’t do, for a start.

Quiet at the back.

The big noise on ‘Paper Planes’ is M.I.A.’s much-touted personality – and those jarring shots, obviously. It’s a cheeky way to punctuate a chorus, and God help it if it ever popped up on the Daily Mail office stereo. The ringing till is either saying something profound about the economics of war (or war of economics) or Maya is chucking everything she can find (words, sounds, beliefs) at the zeitgeist and seeing what sticks; which is, in essence, a template for her career. While she’s this colourful, we’ll let it slide.

Junior ponders it all over breakfast before pushing her chair back and pronouncing the record “funny”.

[13] Lykke Li, ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’

Lykke Li

Junior was poorly this morning, so her mother kept this one back ‘til later. I had no worries about it being a smash with her, though, because we’ve been wallowing in the peculiar cooing sound of Lykke Li all year long. She already had a foot in the door of our house before I’d heard a note – what with my compulsive love of Scandinavian pop – but when she turned out to be a Swedish Björk with enough glorious tunes to fill an ABBA Best Of… well, we practically had the guest room made up.

Whatever you might expect, there’s nothing flimsy about ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’, the most plainly obvious single from the gossamer-light but hard-nosed Youth Novels album. It sashays about while piano is gamely thumped, and even though Lykke sounds cutesy she’s still letting us know who’s boss. Cementing the Scandi-pop credentials, this and Youth Novels enjoy the production magic of Björn of Peter, Björn and John fame; that’s Peter, Björn and John of ‘Young Folks’ fame; that’s ‘Young Folks’ of Jukebox Junior No.1 Single of 2006 fame; that’s the 2006 Top 20 of I-haven’t-yet-transferred-it-to-this-version-of-the-blog fame. Got all that?

Eventually, Junior listened on the way home from Sainsbury’s and was observed to clap in time (you’ll hear Lykke Li herself declaring, “I know your hands will clap”). It enjoyed a second play at home, where Junior danced like a dervish. So much for being ill. She then asked for “lemico, lemico”, which Lykke fans may recognise as a bastardised refrain from ‘Tonight’. Yes, we’ve played this album a lot.

[14] Little Jackie, ‘The World Should Revolve Around Me’

Little Jackie

Little Jackie is undersung rapper Imani Coppola and her producer cohort Adam Pallin. Imani sing-raps her way through this, one of the catchiest pop tunes of this and any other year, blowing away myriad chart cobwebs to reach the shaky heights of No.14. It’s a little bit Jackson 5, a little bit Jurassic 5, and a whole load of sarky bravado.

In its honour, Junior stretches her cardigan beyond her mother’s tolerance and does star-jumps. She also makes me do star-jumps. I went to a Christmas party last night. Star-jumps. Ooh dear.

[15] Ne-Yo, ‘Closer’


Hats in pop. It’s not fashion; these stars are bald as a cue ball. Pete Doherty, Captain Sensible, Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes, Noddy Holder – all 100% cooters. In the comforting warmth of the studio, while penning and producing songs for the likes of Britney Spears, Paula Abdul, Rihanna and Beyoncé (the peerless ‘Irreplaceable’), Ne-Yo can let his chrome dome run free. But get him up on stage, and those spotlights aren’t going to stand for it.

Sorry, the song: the first real heavyweight of the countdown, a shining example of black American music’s bold ambition, ‘Closer’ is an r’n’b tune in pumping dancefloor clothing. It oozes confidence even as Ne-Yo bemoans his powerlessness.

This was one for the iPod on the bus, as Junior sat and listened carefully. I tapped her on the shoulder a minute or so in and asked if she knew what the song was: “Closer,” was the matter-of-fact reply – and I don’t think I’ve ever played it to her before. She announced it was “dancey”, which I suppose would please the lad.

[16] Sebastien Tellier, ‘Divine’

Sebastien Tellier and Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

Pop fluff of a different hue now, and French dance lord Sebastien Tellier’s audacious, doomed attempt to bring a bit of credibility to the Eurovision Song Contest. More doomed than audacious, because a) there isn’t a great deal of cred to an electro doo-wop number performed by a bloke with a beard (with further fake-bearded backing singers) even if he’s ably abetted by the Daft Punk chap pictured above, and b) it’s never going to work, is it? Eurovision is unsenduppable. In the event, even Sebastien’s zany arrival in a golf cart couldn’t stop the backing vocalists utterly messing up the bop-bop-doo-wop harmonies which make up the essential beauty of the song. A lovely bit of chuckaway pop was lost and a rapt continent was left with a French fellow taking the piss.

Junior pigeonholed ‘Divine’ as a “sitting-down song” and thought it had finished when the beat broke down in the middle. Maybe that would’ve been the moment for M Tellier to sneak off and leave the floor for the mighty Andy Abraham.

[17] H two O featuring Platnum, ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’

H two O featuring Platnum

At the ripe old age of thirtysomething, I’m not supposed to keep up with these new-fangled genres that populate the latest ringtones at the back of the bus – but, somehow, I almost do. This song, along with any number of staggeringly poor and derivative Basshunter hits that have clogged up The Box’s screen-time this year, is an example of that latest pop’n’roll craze, Bassline. Now, it seems to me that Bassline is UK Garage with added Europap, but what do I know? What matters is H two O (crazy name) and their mates Platnum (possibly crazier) made one of the sweetest little pop nuggets of the year. That it appears to be fuelled by a full jar of Kenco (or maybe something a touch edgier – again, who am I to ask?) only adds to the charm.

What we’re dealing with here is uninhibited joy, mixed with those teen fears that the object of those funny feelings in your tummy is not burning with the same ardour. These worries are soon swept aside when the boy and girl start exchanging cuddly words in cute street (Sesame) accents before bursting into yet another ecstatic chorus. It makes me want to dance, but there’s not a ghost of a chance that I’d be able to keep up – thankfully Junior is on hand to go bananas for the entire ferociously fast three minutes; turning circles around her sister and leaving me panting by the stereo, trying to look as if I get it.

[18] Vampire Weekend, ‘A-Punk’

Vampire Weekend

So the critics’ choice of 2008 was a bunchy of preppy American lads doing a Strokesian (look it up) take on Paul Simon’s Graceland. You could’ve seen that coming a mile off. What should’ve been arch, alienating, irritating, pompous, Sting-esque and – frankly – an utter mess, turned out to be the most delightful set of pop tunes since The Sound Of Girls Aloud. That good. ‘A-Punk’ happens to be one of the more conventional arrangements on the album, but it’s so infectious I’m taking the rest of the week off.

You have to catch Junior in the mood and – whereas she usually spins out to all things VW – this time she sat on the rug and asked for, yes, Girls Aloud. She’ll have to wait, probably. If it’s any consolation, Juniorer rocked from side to side, bang on the beat.

[19] Estelle featuring Kanye West, ‘American Boy’


Junior recognised this from the mere ambience before the beat slips in – “It’s American Boy!” – and spent at least the first couple of verses shaking booty around the kitchen while dressed in her new hat, scarf and gloves combo. She must have been cooking. Or cookin’, to the schmoove r’n’b rhythms.

The record brims with chutzpah, a bare-faced attempt to grab a slice of the American market. And fair enough; if Britain isn’t going to appreciate its urban stars then why shouldn’t the US? Becoming best buds with John Legend and Kanye West (who muscles in with a hilarious, offbeat cameo here) can’t have done much harm either. Estelle has come along way since I met her working in a video-editing suite, persistently turning up late for work and eventually getting sacked. Video-editing’s loss is truly jazzy hip-pop’s gain.

[20] Hot Chip, ‘Ready For The Floor’

Hot Chip

FITTING START, as this was my favourite single of the whole of, er, January. It seemed like a hard act to follow, but then the rest of the year turned up.

Still, it has all the hallmarks of a great early-year single, with a chorus that’s as catchy as a looping miss-hit to short leg (or something – does anyone know anything about cricket?) and lighter-than-air synths that lift the load of post-Christmas sluggishness. True to its name, it’s also a sop to your dancing feet – and Junior takes that to heart with a high-speed groove around the kitchen. There are songs in this chart that she’ll be more familiar with, so full sing-alongs will have to wait.

As for Hot Chip, this is a bright spot in a curiously patchy career. They possess semi-gems like ‘Over & Over’ – and really their style should be right up my street – but I don’t think they have it.