Narrowing down the year’s best songs into a fashionable list is a difficult task to take on. It’s bad enough trying to figure out this year’s best albums, and it’s even more difficult to pick out individual songs, especially picking a single song that makes the whole year shine.
As we wrap up 2007, however, there’s one song that sticks out to me more than any other. It’s a song that’s meant more to me than any other this year, and it’s a song that I feel summarizes the reasons why I fell in love with music. For some reason, all of the pieces to this song just fit so well.
Appropriately enough, Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is my choice for 2007′s song of the year. It is, in my opinion, Radiohead’s climactic peak artistically and musically, a song that ties in everything Radiohead has done and everything Radiohead has yet to do. It borrows from the past while reveling in the present, and suggests what is to come: a band that has recognized a new musical phase and is ready to reach new heights.
My first experience with Radiohead goes back to the summer of 2001. I was seventeen and, thanks to my Dad’s job that took our family overseas, I was living in England. The escape from my mundane life in Central Illinois was a welcome change, but I was experiencing constant culture shock and felt particularly isolated and alone that summer. Luckily, I had my guitar and a four-track recording system I borrowed from a neighbor friend, and tons of time after school to write and record various songs I had written over the years. It was a time in my life where I finally started to take music seriously, enjoying bands like Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam (my favorite at the time) with more depth and understanding than ever before. I finally saw rock music as more than just a release from the mundane or a call to social rebellion, but as a true art form, and one that can entirely move the soul.
It was around that time that I borrowed a taped recording of Radiohead’s sophomore release The Bends, and it completely changed my view of the band that, at the time, was making computer noises on Kid A and Amnesiac (I have since fallen in love with these two albums, but at the time I couldn’t stand them). The Bends was different: its combination of loud guitars and atmospheric noise stuck with me, and I couldn’t have enough of the album. I spent the rest of that summer writing bad ripoff songs that sounded too much like “My Iron Lung” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” but it wasn’t the music itself that got me through that melancholy summer, it was the act of discovery–finding something completely new, something I’d never heard before, that I could call my own.
Since then, Radiohead has become one of my favorite bands. With their incredible mix of visual art with atmospheric noises and orchestral compositions, Radiohead has become a band that goes beyond genre restrictions and fan expectations. They are a band willing to try new things, to forge new paths, and stay completely accessible to discerning music listeners.
Radiohead’s In Rainbows has been all over the place recently. It took the number one spot for several prominent music year end lists, and for others, it stayed within the top ten. The best part about the album is that, despite the unconventional pay-what-you-want marketing, In Rainbows is better known for its incredible music, which of course is what all the hype is about. At the beginning of the album’s opening track, singer Thom Yorke declares “how come I end up where I started,” suggesting that the band has finally come full circle and is ready to step out to newer ground.
Buried towards the end of the album, In Rainbows reaches a climax with “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” and it’s at this moment, when the acoustic guitars come in and drummer Phil Selway holds the strong rhythmic beat together, that Yorke’s earlier declaration finally makes sense: the pieces all fit, the jigsaw has truly fallen into place.
The best part about “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is its amazing syncopation. The acoustic guitars give way to a tight drum beat, which bring in Yorke’s airy vocals and guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s stratospheric electric guitar riffs. It’s a style that brings us back to Radiohead’s early days, when they were seen as just another ’90′s “grunge” band with their debut album Pablo Honey. Yet, at the same time, the band is tighter, more mature; age and the musical diversity of their collective works have brought the band to this moment when they can look back at it all and throw it at the wall to see what happens. Of course, it all just fits so well.
Lyrically, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” seems to tell two stories at once: a narrative about lost love at a bar and the subjective feelings that the music brings. Like a poem by Frank O’Hara, the lyrics show desperation, happiness, and confusion surrounding an otherwise mundane moment in time, and it is this poetic “swirl” that makes the lyrics come alive fully. Yorke sings: “Before you run away from me / Before you’re lost between the notes / The beat goes round and round” as if everything is “blurring into one.” And, of course, the music seems to blur everything that Radiohead has done together into one place, one exceptional moment in time. At one point, everything becomes “lost between the notes,” something that Radiohead has done for years with their minimalist musical compositions (think “How to Disappear Completely” from Kid A and you’ll see what I mean).
The guitar work on “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is also significant because it is the first song I’ve heard since OK Computer that makes full use of Radiohead’s three guitarists. Back in the Pablo Honey days, having three guitarists was seen as an unnecessary excess, but on “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” three guitars are exactly what is needed. While the first acoustic guitar comes in with a complex, finger-picked riff, the second acoustic guitar comes in to carry the rhythm while the bass guitar fills in the gaps. It builds from there, and by the time Yorke is letting the beat go “round and round,” the atmospheric electric guitars have taken over, flinging the song out into its own orbit. By the end of the song, Radiohead have created a song that has the same musical effect that Led Zeppelin’s “Song Remains the Same” did to restore their musical bravado at the beginning of Houses of the Holy.
When the song finally comes to an end, you don’t feel that it’s been overdone, or that the band has struggled through it. Instead, the song feels like an organic work, and there’s not a single moment that drags with boring interludes. It builds up to a climax, and leaves you wanting more. In Rainbows then fades into its own denouement with “Videotape,” bringing you back down and resolving all that had built into a frenzy before it.
Even if this was all I had to say about “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” it would still be one of my favorite songs. But what makes it stand out as the best song of 2007 is the same feeling The Bends gave me during that lonely summer in 2001: it renews my sense of wonder for music. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” truly moves my soul in ways that most music never can, and every time I listen to it, I never find a dull moment or a single way to criticize it. It will, for years to come, remind me of 2007 and all of the joy this year’s new music gave me. For that reason alone, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is my pick for the best song of 2007.