By Leah Greenblatt
Updated December 22, 2006 at 12:00 PM EST

At EW’s head offices in Manhattan, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the radio. One, because so few of us commute aboveground — ain’t no FM in the subway — and two, because there are so few good stations (strange, for such a large market, but true). Now that the vast majority of culture-consuming Americans are able to maintain our own personalized playlist at our desk or on our mp3 players, maybe these lists are even a little obsolete. But it’s hard not to be interested in Nielsen’s list of the year’s most-played radio tunes, below. (In fact, Nielsen has several fascinating year-end lists here.)

Top 10 Most Played Songs on the Radio – 2006
(Data from Jan. 1 – Dec. 18, 2006)

  1. “Be Without You,” Mary J. Blige (395,995 radio plays)
  2. “Unwritten,” Natasha Bedingfield (336,276)
  3. “Temperature,” Sean Paul (324,555)
  4. “Me & U,” Cassie (312,073)
  5. “Hips Don’t Lie,” Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean (308,903)
  6. “Promiscuous,” Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland (292,264)
  7. “Bad Day,” Daniel Powter (291,256)
  8. “Check On It,” Beyoncé featuring Slim Thug (290,231)
  9. “So Sick,” Ne-Yo (277,958)
  10. “Over My Head (Cable Car),” the Fray (276,601)

(See Leah’s own rating for each song after the jump.)

Now, granted, it was Mary J.’s year. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul(pictured) snagged a leading eight Grammy nods, and the singlecertainly earned some airtime. But Number 1? I’m guessing it’sbecause the song’s midtempo groove and “let’s stay together” messagepleased a wide swath of listeners, and crossed mainstream radio’susually rigid boundaries between adult contemporary, urban, and popmusic.

Same with “Unwritten” — unthreateningly tuneful, positive message,good self-esteem vibes… still, as far as Bedingfield goes, I’m morepartial to her charming “These Words,” and the fierce “Single.”

As for Mr. Sean Paul, eh. His offer to replace our seasonallyappropriate outerwear with, um, himself in “Temperature” wasn’t so hot; I found his “Give It Up to Me” duet with Keyshia Cole both sweeter andsmarter. Either way, of course, I have no frakking idea what he’ssaying.

Cassie’s “Me & U,” meanwhile, came from the (admittedlyexcellent) school of Janet Jackson Jams, specifically, The PleasurePrinciple” — the voice is far less important than a sexy groove and ahot, dancing-with-myself video. It was certainly enough to get someserious play on my own iTunes lineup.

Frankly, I’m just shocked that “Hips Don’t Lie” is lodged all theway down at Number 5; judging by its cultural ubiquity, I wouldhave put it in the top three for sure. And that’s all I have to sayabout that.

Same with “Promiscuous,” a song I once very much enjoyed was turnedinto so much white noise after the 3,589,786th airing. Though it didreiterate (along with all of Justin’s LoveSexy) that Timbaland is basically the man running the entire R&B-tinged pop racket these days. Sorry, Pharrell.

Daniel Powter, of course, had his “Bad Day,” and because of it — andthe song’s American Idol saturation — a pretty fantastic year. But what’sup with that omnipresent skull cap? Bad hair day, Daniel?

Now, Beyoncé’s 2006 has been pretty spectacular, and her Dreamgirls’07 almost definitely won’t suck, but “Check On It” just may be myfavorite output of hers this year. (“Ring the Alarm” is also in hotcontention.) The percolating, cotton-candy-coated track easily bestedthe film it sprang from — that leaden Pink Panther redux — but dang if Mizz Knowles wasn’t the hottest thing in fuchsia (and bubblegum, and rose, and flamingo-pink… see the video here).

And Ne-Yo’s “So Sick”? I’ll put that in the Mary J. category — anexcellent slow jam, but not exactly earth-shattering. Still, betweenthe two of them, they pretty much covered anyone who has ever lovedand/or lost: If you were keeping it strong with your long-term lover,then good for you! Blige. Dumped and destroyed? Ne-Yo, please.

Finally, at number 10, we have The Fray, a.k.a. The Band For PeopleWho Find Coldplay Too Hardcore. Which is not to say that “Cable Car”wasn’t a fantastic pop song, because it really, truly was. But, youknow, you didn’t hear that (zip it!) from me…

I guess the only question left is, Where was the rock? Is pop andR&B the only language that speaks to the masses these days? Surelythere were a few in the top 20, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a littlemore guitar — in all its fuzzy, imprecise glory — and a little less ProTools ruling in 2007.