6. Eminem's "Mosh" (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope). When an Eminem track starts off with school kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, chances are you're in for some tomfoolery. The surprise is that the song, as illustrated in the year's most imaginative pop video, casts Eminem in the role of responsible citizen who is decrying social injustice. Released during the presidential campaign, the song is a battle cry for young people to become more politically active.
5. U2's "Vertigo" (Interscope). The heart of U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" album rests in more thoughtful tracks such as "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" and "One Step Closer," but this is the song that first catches your ear. It's all about rock 'n' roll adrenaline -- the power of music to lift your spirits on even the gloomiest day.
4. Loretta Lynn's "Portland Oregon" (Interscope). As he showed on "Seven Nation Army" in 2003, the White Stripes' White knows how to make great rock radio hits. As the producer of Lynn's record, he proves equally capable of touching us with a dynamic country-rock fusion. Lynn's vocal on this playful ode to a drunken one-night stand is one marvel, and duet partner White's guitar work is another. A gem.
3. Ray Charles and Norah Jones' "Here We Go Again" (Hear/Concord). As soon as Jones became a radio favorite with "Don't Know Why" in 2002, detractors began asking what all the fuss was about, mistaking the understatement of her vocal style for a lack of ambition and character. Her singing on this duet should go a long way toward erasing any lingering doubts. Jones injects such feeling into the old country ballad that you are hooked even before Charles' equally enchanting vocal arrives. An inspired pairing.
2. Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" (Roc-A-Fella). An epic single that ranks with Grandmaster Flash's "The Message," Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" and Tupac Shakur's "Dear Mama" as landmark examples of hip-hop's thoughtful, sensitive side.
1. Bright Eyes' "Lua" (Saddle Creek). It takes a remarkable record to top "Jesus Walks," but Bright Eyes (which is basically Oberst and whatever musicians he's working with when making a record) did it.
Available now as a single, "Lua" will be included in Bright Eyes' acoustic album, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," which is due Jan. 23. Like many of the songs on the album, it is a statement of youthful awakening. Oberst, 24, is really talking about his own search for comfort and truth in a complex, contradictory world.
Robert Hilburn, pop music critic of The Times, can be reached at Robert.Hilburn@ latimes.com.