16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde
When it comes to churning out artists that know how to write great songs, there's gotta be something in the water in Chicago. Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, Fall Out Boy, Cheap Trick -- all came from the Windy City or nearby and all have a singular knack for creating glorious, hook-laden rock gems. Now you can add Company of Thieves to that list. The band's debut album, Ordinary Riches, was originally released as an indie a couple of years back but went major label in 2009; it's filled to the brim with the kind of breezy, engaging songs that seemed guaranteed to draw a cult-like fan base -- one that would be both desperate to tell the world about the great new band they discovered and eager to keep the secret to themselves. The anchor of Ordinary Riches was the album's first single, Oscar Wilde, an infectious piece of ear-candy with just enough breathy sensuality -- provided by cute-as-a-button frontwoman Genevieve Schatz -- and quirky art-school aspirations to lift it from lightweight to literary. It was one of those songs that got stuck in your head the minute you heard it, and that's the best that any band -- or listener -- could ask for.
15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind
Not that it ever would've been a problem, but at least no one can claim that Jay-Z isn't audacious. In 2009 he "sampled" the name of a classic song by a fellow New York City icon, got another New Yorker to lend her powerhouse vocals, and basically name checked anything and everything in the five boroughs -- all to create the best damn musical paean to the Big Apple to come along in years: Empire State of Mind. Sure, his flow felt a little clumsy at times and, of course, the track was really more about the God J Hova than anyone or anything else. (Look no further than, "Shit, I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.") But, man, when Alicia Keys' soaring voice blooms out of nowhere to carry the chorus, it feels like you're actually being lifted up over the city she's singing about -- and you believe every single word she's saying about the magic of Gotham. All in all it's cheesy stuff, but hell if it isn't appropriately big, bombastic entertainment.
Tomorrow: 14 & 13
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist