1. Mariah Carey, “We Belong Together”
Upon first listen, “Together” sounds like a traditional Mariah Carey hit, complete with a saccharine intro, piano-based balladeering and booming vocals that build into a soaring finish. Yet, at the eight-second mark, all preconceptions get thrown out the window when that hip-hop beat kicks in. Better still, more surprises are found later in the mix, when sly musical references to Bobby Womack and Babyface are thrown in, and spiced with dashes of rapid, reggae-style vocal arrangements. “Together” mashes all the best parts of Carey’s often incompatible music styles — hip-hop and adult contemporary pop — and combines them to make an instantly familiar, yet wholly unique summer anthem.
2. Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”
By all accounts, “Hollaback” really shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s repetitive as hell, lyrically shallow and built upon an irritating marching beat. Yet all of these elements add up to much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a mad pop experiment that works brilliantly against all expectations.
3. The White Stripes, “My Doorbell”
Built upon a thumping blues beat and honky tonk piano, the Stripes let loose on this deceptively simple, but robust rock track.
4. Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
The first and best American Idol unleashes a credible emo-rocker that not only appealed to Clarkson’s teenage girl fan base, but lured in the boys, too.
5. Jully Black, “Sweat of Your Brow”
A simmering reggae jam that instantly recalls those halcyon days of being stuck in an apartment without air conditioning — but in a good way.
6. Madonna, “Hung Up”
Say what you want about Madonna, but she makes killer dance hits like nobody else’s business. “Hung Up” is no exception.
7. Natasha Bedingfield, “These Words”
A love song about writing a love song. Very meta.
8. The Killers, “Mr. Brightside”
Power rock with a new-wave twist made even more anthemic via a Thin White Duke remix that somehow manages to improve on the original.
9. Jason Collett, “Fire”
A deep kick beat, blippy sound effects and Collett’s gentle vocals lift this simple, but enticing track above the Can-con crowd.
10. Annie, “Heartbeat”
Norwegian dance-pop talent Annie delivers the goods in this stunning piece of bubblegum with a bass line that won’t quit.