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As a rough guide to their taste, we asked each critic to identify the following:

First pop song you learned all the words to and still know by heart

Album that you have listened to the most over the last year

Well-known band or artist that you find intolerable and would not listen to for love or money

Photo: Michael Schreiber/2:30 Publicity

M.I.A., Kala
What’s great isn’t that she steals Bollywood soundtracks, Kingston beats, and outback didgeridoo—who doesn’t, these days? It’s that she doesn’t pretend to know what she’s doing with them. While she’s figuring it out, we get more Technicolor fourth-world pop, an indie anthem (“Paper Planes”), and a new strain of dark, echoing grooves. “Bamboo Banger,” indeed. —Ben Williams

“Relax,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood

B’Day, Beyoncé

Arcade Fire

Photo: Chris Strong/Shore Fire

The Maccabees, Colour It In
“Third-wave post-Libertine-ers” is how a critic might put it. All you need to know is that it’s deliriously replayable summer guitar pop. Over spring-coiled guitar riffs, front man Orlando Weeks hems and haws about girl troubles in his full-mouthed South London burr. The mantra-chorus of “Happy Faces”—“So run, boy, run!”—is the joyful apex. —Amos Barshad

“None of Your Business,” Salt’N’Pepa

Friend and Foe, Menomena

The Doors

Photo: Zomba

Mavis Staples, We’ll Never Turn Back
Nostalgia for the civil-rights era is wacky, but beautiful, iconic Mavis pulls it off, because protest is in her DNA and because, at 68, she still has a voice that can project the full-tilt pride and power that Aretha lost long ago. These marching anthems, swamp-blues numbers, and gospel standards tweaked to bash Bush suggest the civil-rights movement as a template for activism today. —Karen Schoemer

“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” B.J. Thomas

Olé! Tarantula, Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

Photo: Big Hassle

Frank Black, 93–03
“Forget your yin and go fuck your yang”—lyrics like these, howled with great sincerity on the song “Hermaphroditos,” are one of many things that nobody does quite like Frank Black. Greatest hits aren’t for purists, but they work well for Black because his solo work has been so uneven. The high points, collected here, hold their own with his Pixies material, and what more can you ask for? —Hugo Lindgren

“Lola,” the Kinks

Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Photo: Michael Halsband/Cooking Vinyl

R. Kelly, Double Up
It is possible to fall in lust with a concept album. This one ponders sex, love, and all the screwiness in between from the perspective of, yes, the threesome. The love triangle leads to ménage à trois leads to first child: With impeccable phrasing and plush underpinnings, R&B’s undisputed ringmaster susses out every imaginable nuance of the “three’s company” conceit. —Nick Catucci

“Shooting Star,” Bad Company

Infinity on High, Fall Out Boy

Don Omar

Photo: Fiction Records

Vampire Weekend, self-titled EP
Earnest Columbia grads spin out infectious little pop songs that contradict the band’s goth name. Bouncy and clever, they’re not afraid to geek out—one song revolves around the divisive “Oxford” or serial comma—or defy indie convention. These three songs evoke everything from Graceland-era Paul Simon to mainstream ska. —Sara Cardace

“Mad About You,” Belinda Carlisle

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, Dexys Midnight Runners

Joanna Newsom

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