It started, appropriately enough, on LiveJournal. Back in 2010, we here at SportsAlcohol.com were still active enough on the preferred platform of Russian bots to use it as a vehicle for something we assembled purely for fun: a list of the best songs of the just-completed 2000s. A bunch of friends got together and voted, we counted up the votes, and put the list online with some notes. No big write-ups, really just a matter of trivia.
Now it’s 2018, and maybe we have some more perspective on the time from 2000 and 2009. Or maybe not. Or maybe it seems so much better now because of what happened since, or it seems so far away because time continues to pass, or we just talk about how that was the beginning of music-culture fragmentation because we can’t figure out what other identity will stick. But for whatever the reason (mainly, that we really like lists, and apparently free labor), we decided to revisit this list idea as a companion piece to our list of the Best Songs of the 90s from a few years ago.
In true niche-driven fashion, there was no consensus on whether this proved easier or harder than putting together a ‘90s list. All I know is that we finished it, and that the final product does at least some justice to the eclecticism of that decade, from the rock revival of its early years, to the domination of hip-hop near the top of the charts, to the anthemic-but-sensitive indie revival that took hold around mid-decade, and any number of retro mini-movements that flashed in the pan. Plus also the Postal Service. Because, you know: 2000s.
Before we begin the countdown in earnest, a word about methodology: Contributors, around 20 in total, were asked to send a list of 50 songs. Point value was assigned by ranking; that is, a #1 ranking received 50 points, a #2 ranking received 49 points, and so on. A few contributors took our alternate option, wherein all 50 songs were given an equal number of points (approximately the total number of points on a regular ballot divided by 50). Ties were broken by number of mentions and, if necessary, by which song had the highest individual ranking. Though some individual voters made rules for themselves involving, say, the number of times they could mention a particular artist, there were no formal rules except that the song in question had to come out between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. Accordingly, we didn’t futz with the results. If an artist charted three songs when good sense said probably one or two would be fine, well, all three are on the list. If a beloved and/or important figure split votes or just plain didn’t make it with our crowd, we didn’t try to correct for it to make ourselves look hipper or smarter or savvier. The list is the list, and good luck to us.
“Us” would be the all-star team of nerds working on this, including some SportsAlcohol.com founders and regulars: your old pals Rob, Marisa, Jesse, Sara Batkie, Ben Morrison, Tim DeLizza, Jeremy Bent, Chris Adams, and Craig Iturbe.
We were joined by some more writers listed below. Several of them have written for us in the past, but this was a massive project that required even more stepping up. So super-special thanks to these contributors old and new:
Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.
George Briggs is a high school teacher who lives in Rhode Island.
Catherine Burgess is a first-time contributor to SportsAlcohol.com. She went to her first concert (Fall Out Boy) in 2005 at the tender age of fourteen, where she got involved in “moshing” and consequently lost a shoe but received a black eye! Her mother was not pleased.
Evan Dent is a writer living in Brooklyn, a candidate in the New School’s MFA program, and is a better looking person with better ideas, more talent, and he’s really, really nice.
Randy Locklair is a dad, software developer, cellist, and manages to exist in Brooklyn while being a fan of just three Arcade Fire and zero Hold Steady songs.
Michelle Paul runs a technology company and lives in Delaware. She enjoys both sports and alcohol, as shown in her blog about pumpkin beer and postseason baseball.
Bayard Templeton is a teacher, Mets fan, theater enthusiast, and dad.
We also received vital ballot contributions from A.A. Dowd, Jillian Quitko, Josh Sheff, Cristin Stickles, Erin Styne, and our buddy DH.
The first part of our opus appears below; songs from 60 through 21 will run on Wednesday, while the top 20 will finish things up on Thursday. We’ll also have two different podcast episodes making a deeper dive into the list-making process with several of our beloved writers, and some other ancillary materials in addition to yesterday’s kickoff pieces.
For now, though, let’s kick things off and think about the earliest years of the millennium, and feel our conflicted feelings!.
The Top 101 Best Songs of the 2000s: Part 1
(101 through 61)
101. “Bye Bye Bye” – NSYNC (2000)
I have never once been at a karaoke party where this song was seen as a disappointing choice. Plus, everyone can dance to it! And if you can’t dance to it, you can watch this video 1500 times (like I maybe did?) and learn to dance to it. (Please note, the video does not actually play the entire song but… you know the song.) – Michelle
100. “Somewhere Only We Know” – Keane (2004)
Barely knowing any Keane songs, I agreed to go to one of their concerts at the behest of friends. I remember two things from that show. First, Keane’s lead singer, Tom Chaplin, oversold the ending to every single song by jumping, fist pumping, or pointing to the crowd during each final chord, a practice that went from strange to tiresome to mildly hilarious over the course of the night. My second memory is hearing the crowd sing along to the chorus of this sweet love song while Chaplin pointed the mic in our direction. Hearing Alan Cumming’s rendition on his recent concert album of “sappy songs” reminded me how great this song is. – Bayard
99. “Mushaboom” – Feist (2004)
I know that there are those who prefer Feist’s “1, 2, 3, 4” of iPod-commercial fame, but my heart lies with Feist’s first US hit. “Mushaboom,” named for an actual town in Nova Scotia, is fun to listen to and it’s about having fun, while “1, 2, 3, 4” miseducates kids by skipping 7 and 8 during the bridge. – Bayard
98. “Pull Shapes” – The Pipettes (2006)
Remember rockism? The idea that music writers are predisposed to like songs that lean on well-worn values of old-time rock and roll, mistaking loud guitars for authenticity? Maybe an oversimplification, but then again I almost just wrote “rock critics” instead of “music writers,” so maybe also fair enough. Remember poptimism? The pushback against rockism that involves bravely insisting that critics should like things that are intensely beloved by a lot of people? Maybe an oversimplification, but then again a lot of ink has been spilled over Taylor Swift. In the mid-2000s, right around the time this debate reached a particularly fevered pitch, right around the time this fine Jody Rosen piece was published in Slate, the Pipettes released their debut and also penultimate album, We Are the Pipettes. “Pull Shapes,” the most undeniable and danceable song on a record full of undeniable and danceable songs, does not solve the rockism-versus-poptimism schism. But it does maybe, kinda, sorta bring both sides to the dancefloor. On one hand, “Pull Shapes” is as maximally, self-consciously retro as any throwback garage band of the era, as the Pipettes blithely imitate the simple pleasures of early rock and roll and Phil Specter-style production. On the other, it’s manufactured pop to the extreme, an old-fashioned girl group where the singers were recruited and don’t play the instruments you hear on the track. And now, somehow, 12 years later, it feels as lost to the sands of time as any genuine (“genuine”) third-tier girl group from the early days of rock and roll; the Pipettes had no real staying power either in lineup (their original trio being 100% different from the three ladies on their second and final album) or in commerce, as indie rock danced on without them, sometimes embracing a more openly disco-like sound as the decade wore on. This leaves “Pull Shapes” as a glorious and unintentional monument to a point in time when popular music seemed to be rediscovering itself, with all of the excitement and pitfalls you might expect. Clap your hands if you want some more. – Jesse
97. “Electric Feel” – MGMT (2007)
Here’s a fact: Will Berman, who wrote the lyrics to “Electric Feel” and co-wrote the music, was two years behind Lin-Manuel Miranda at Wesleyan University. While the latter wrote/directed/starred in a wildly popular, hip-hop infused musical inspired by one of the most brilliant, mercurial, and enigmatic figures in American history, the former wrote “Electric Feel,” and rhymed “feel” with “eel” (and then, at the end of the song, “feel” with “feel”). I guess you could say that it’s a toss up who is a greater musical genius. – George
96. “1901” – Phoenix (2009)
I feel that in the late 2000s there was a huge shift in the indie rock world towards music you could actually move to. I can’t think of any song more representative of this than “1901” by Phoenix; I can’t hear it without wanting to dance like I was seeing it live for the first time. It was a distinct change in sound for Phoenix and it really worked for them. Not to mention it finally got guys paid—”1901” had to have been in at least 5 movies, 10 video games, and 30 commercials, making it a major part of the soundtrack of the decade. – Randy
95. “Two Weeks” – Grizzly Bear (2009)
For me this song sounds a bit like if Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys never emerged from their LSD haze and missed the boat to Kokomo completely. It has a sunny, bouncy vibe that stands out from the rest of Grizzly Bear’s catalogue; while many of their songs have a spooky, sung-underwater vibe, the plucky piano line and transcendent vocals of “Two Weeks” could credibly soundtrack the classic French kid’s film The Red Balloon. That’s not to say there isn’t a slightly sinister undercurrent to it, which the music video exploits by keeping the band static, their Snapchat-filtered faces expanding with light until they start, well, popping with sparks. Then the song ends, floating off on its own strange whims to join the clouds, until we press play again and it comes back to earth. – Sara
94. “Kill” – Jimmy Eat World (2004)
It’s not as though they were a one-hit wonder (hell, each of their past five albums has charted in the top 20), but in the broader cultural conversation, Jimmy Eat World are invariably still linked to their most famous song—you know, that one about it just taking some time when you’re in the middle of the ride. That’s a great song—it made my ballot, and it’ll be appearing higher up on this list—but it’s also buoyant and triumphant, and I’ll always associate this band with agony rather than ecstasy. Some might pejoratively dub Jimmy Eat World’s music “emo,” but I don’t consider that an insult; this is a band that uses expertly manufactured pop hooks to magnify the sense of universal longing that underlies their best work. And “Kill” is the apotheosis of their weepy grandeur. It’s a simple yet sharply structured song, Jim Adkins’ vocals soaring over an insistent guitar line and triplet-punching drums. But it’s the lyrics that really, ahem, kill me, a trio of verses about unrequited love. “I can’t help it baby, this is who I am / Sorry but I can’t just go turn off how I feel,” Adkins wails, and what forlorn teenager or scarred twentysomething hasn’t scrawled similar words in a drunken email or tapped them out in a rashly composed text message? (I’m speaking hypothetically, of course.) Music history may forever remember Jimmy Eat World for that one time they took over pop radio in 2002. But the plaintive, naked yearning of “Kill”? This is who they are. – Jeremy Beck
93. “Hurt” – Johnny Cash (2002)
For some of us who were teenagers raised on grunge and alternative music in the ‘90s, the Nine Inch Nails original version of “Hurt” was as resonant and formative as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Jeremy”. I was one of those kids. From about release of “The Downward Spiral” in 1994 (age 14) to early 1995 there was a period where it was the only CD in my CD player. I cut the liner notes of rope and such, and taped them to my wall like mini-posters. My high school notebook had this drawn in White-Out on the cover.
I’m not teasing my younger self. High school is a hard age and Trent Reznor did connect with something I was going through, in a way other adults or things didn’t. The biggest hit was “Closer” but the song that connected for most of us the most on that album was “Hurt.” After a time, I couldn’t listen to the album anymore because it took me right back to that time. When I finally saw NIN play in Columbus, Ohio in 2000, someone I barely knew noted casually that Trent Reznor had saved his life and a lot of others by putting Downward Spiral, and even though the album Reznor was touring at the time was a bit of a disappointment for me, and the show enjoyable mostly through premature nostalgia, I nodded along like this assessment was gospel.
Two years after that Columbus show, when I heard Johnny Cash had covered the song, and that the cover was good, I was skeptical and even defensive of that still-potent nostalgia. I mostly knew Cash as a musician that my grandfather liked and “A Boy Named Sue,” which was the only Cash song I’d downloaded from Napster. But on first listen, I immediately understood Cash had taken NIN’s best song and made it something better. As it turned out, Cash was making something a sport of doing this, with his takes of “Rusty Cage” and “Personal Jesus” also arguably surpassing their sources.
The versions are vastly different, of course. NIN had bottled a very pure teenage emotion: someone who’d not yet experienced adult pain was starting to, and was finding the adjustment unbearable. Cash, on the other hand, was around 70 when he recorded his version, had lived a full life, by all indication a good one, and was preparing to leave a wife he loved and so much more. You sensed he wanted to live but wished he’d squeezed more out of his moments, out of his life. The music video, complete with shots of June Carter and his youth, his legacy, all drove home how painful having everyone you knew and loved really going away, for real. June would die first, about a year after the song was released, and Cash would follow a few months later. – Tim
92. “The Food” – Common feat. Kanye West (2004)
One of the best hip hop songs, from one of the best hip hop albums, don’t @ me sis. This recording was particularly remarkable because they landed it so hard on the Chapelle show that they just used that version for the album! Now that’s a statement: we did this live SO well we aren’t even bothering with a studio version. Also, you have to chuckle when you think about how someone decided “this song is called ‘the food’ so let’s film this in the kitchen.”
This song is a masterfully written take on the struggles of living in Chicago’s south side and trying to raise a family—the daily struggle of making sure there is food on your kids’ plates. This beat and this flow would hold up no matter what the topic, but a story doesn’t get any more real than this. – Randy
91. “Hey Ma” – Cam’ron (2002)
And in this installment of Songs White People Play To Feel Cool, we have a laidback jam about the two favorite pastimes of bros everywhere: getting high and banging. Okay, maybe that’s a #hottake, but every time I hear “Hey Ma” I can’t help but be transported back to all those unremarkable parties at my homogenous New England college where this song was on repeat every weekend party, the ones in some ramshackle living room that smelled like a mix of Old Spice, Keystone Light, and socks. And yet: I’m guilty as charged for enjoying “Hey Ma” as much as all the Guys From College did–I ranked it even higher on my own list. Can you blame me? “Hey Ma” is easygoing, and moves at a speed that even your grandma could bop around with. And even though this song strongly appealed to all those Guys From College, I always thought Cam’ron was too real for them. Too cool. Cam’ron was really spitting game at the rest of us, those of us who never liked all those Guys From College and their unremarkable parties. – Catherine
90. “Gimme Sympathy” – Metric (2009)
“Gimme Sympathy” is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. I think of this song as pure pop candy, a sugar-rush. While checking classic songs like Oasis (though nothing so lazy as “The blood on the tracks, and they must be mine/The fool on the hill and I feel fine.”), Emily Haines sings with the joy of someone who’d knew she’d already proven her place in the canon, doing her more commercial Born in the USA (with her solo effort “Knives Don’t Have Your Back” serving as her Nebraska).
Here’s how else this song fits into the classic-rock pantheon, besides its similarly to the name of a certain Scorsese-beloved classic. In the summer of 2009, while working for a federal judge no less, I would ask fellow clerks the question that this song repeats: if they’d rather be in the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. For me, being a Beatle has appeal because they burned brightly as one of the uncontested best bands ever. On the other hand, I felt being the Rolling Stones were the right answer; they simply had (and have) more fun. They lasted, through past the ’60s, danced disco into the ‘70’s, kept touring and assured their legacy. In some sense, despite Stones’ edgier vibe and decadent lifestyle, they better embody longevity and the “here comes the sun” joy of being that the Beatles sang about. Like the Stones, Haines and Metric have been grinding it out rather than burning out quickly and brilliantly, and we’re all the luckier for it. Years after “Gimme Sympathy,” they’re still creating, including excellent new solo and Metric albums just in the past two years. – Tim
89. “Fidelity” – Regina Spektor (2006)
I’ve always been intrigued by songs that have titles that aren’t used in any part of the lyrics. And when you look at the lyrics to this song, it’s a little unclear as to what Spektor is referring to. Her focus is having “never loved nobody fully,” so I sort of assume that I song called “Fidelity” would pivot and have the singer declare in the second verse how they know have fallen madly in love. Instead, Spektor tells us that her lack of true love breaks her heart. So how does “fidelity” fit in? Well, according to online rumors, some have said that she wrote the song after watching the commitment-skittish Nick Hornby adaptation High Fidelity. Not sure if it’s been confirmed, but it would seem like an obscure connection to make up. – Bayard
88. “Museum of Idiots” – They Might Be Giants (2004)
In our ’90s podcast, we talked about unconscious couples collusion (not to be confused with consciously uncoupling, a term that definitely didn’t exist in the ’00s). If both halves of a couple cast a ballot in our poll, songs important to that relationship — early mix tape tracks, first concerts, etc. — were more likely to make it onto the list. Well, “Museum of Idiots” is the wedding song of two SportsAlcohol.com founders. It will rank on every list it is eligible for. If that rankles — and it shouldn’t, because just listen to it — you can mentally replace it with the next-highest-ranking song from the ’00s on our TMBG best-of list, which is “Man, It’s So Loud in Here” — a valid choice, but with fewer waltzing horns. —Marisa
87. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” – Daft Punk (2001)
At first, this song feels like a rehash of Homework’s “Around the World” – catchy groove with the feeling of a musical round. But the second half of the song has Daft Punk pushing their use of sampling forward in its own strange, innovative way. The vocoded lyrics are tweaked well beyond recognition while still maintaining the rhythm, keeping your foot tapping as you become less sure of what you’re actually hearing. This, and the rest of the (still) highly listenable Discovery, is what you get when a smart techno act keeps working themselves… well, you know the rest. – Jeremy Bent
86. “Slow Hands” – Interpol (2004)
I was introduced to Interpol in 2003 while working at my worst job of all time. It was at a large New York law firm. Back then (and maybe still), the firm had a really nice office right in Times Square and a less nice office about a block or two south, perhaps to make sure the support staff didn’t really interact with associates or clients.
I hadn’t gone to law school yet and my position was in a pool of something called “Litigation Support” which basically involved coding and scanning documents, a really menial job. We were in an open bullpen full of computers. Many of the documents we were coding made references to “The Death Star” project, and I remember telling friends that I was literally working for the Dark Side and, still with the stink of liberal arts on me, I felt I was. I learned later that this terminology actually was self-chosen by Enron executives (before being caught! How did they think that project would end?) to describe their various questionable financial shenanigans leading up to the 2000-2001 energy crisis. So, I was sorta righter than I realized. But I was happy to have a job.
After about a friendly week of coding and scanning, we were called into a room by this one supervisor who would tell us how terrible we all were at what we did. The next day, two of the people who started with us didn’t come back. After that, these weekly berating continued and they would let about one person or two go a week. We were technically long-term temp jobs, and we were all hired through temp agencies, so they just had to call you up and say that your assignment was done for now. Nobody used the word “fired” or “let go,” and no one got unemployment benefits. Once we all caught on what was happening, the tone of the workplace changed. It was increasingly unpleasant. I once got yelled at for using a method of coding that was faster than what we were taught because it deviated from instructions.
The one saving grace was that we were permitted to listen to music if we brought in our own stuff. This was still the days of CD players, and we couldn’t plug into the computers so we spent an unfortunate amount on batteries. One of the other support staff–first to get let go, as it turns out–had one of those booklets with sleeves full of indie rock CDs, mostly burned copies with the album and band written in black sharpie. The two bands I recall discovering through his booklet were Dismemberment Plan, whose “Spider in the Snow” lyrics spoke to me directly, and Interpol.
When Interpol’s second album “Antics” came out a few years later, it was one of my favorites from my first year of law school. Like Turn on the Bright Lights, its brooding sound with echoes of Joy Division or Cure made it ideal background sounds for a year essentially spent in library stacks, or returning home to Brooklyn on the F-Train late, heavy textbooks in your backpack, after having done nothing all day but read about the law. “Slow Hands” was my highlight. Something about the lyrics “Can’t you see what you’ve done to my heart/ And soul?/ This is a wasteland now.” Damn. I wasn’t even heartbroken about anyone at the time, and that resonated like I had been. – Tim
I put this song on my wedding playlist, convinced it would ignite the dance floor like “Take Me Out” did at Rob’s wedding. It completely flopped. Only Kate and Derrick danced with me, because they had promised me they would. But look, if you all just start putting this on your wedding playlists and requesting it from wedding DJs, we can still make it happen. – Jesse
85. “The Middle” – Jimmy Eat World (2001)
This song needs no introduction. So let’s talk about the introduction to this song. “The Middle” opens with a machine-gun volley of sixteenth notes, a fusillade of repetition which, to listeners of a certain age, is as instantly identifiable as the opening riffs of “Layla” or “Smoke on the Water”. By the time Jim Adkins launches into his salutational “Hey!”, you’re automatically transported to the halcyon days of the new millennium, a time of illicit house parties and overcrowded dorm-room bashes filled with cheap beer and Solo cups. Looking back, it isn’t at all strange that “The Middle” became a radio smash—at a taut 2:46, it’s pop perfection, a flurry of hooks propping up a singularly singable chorus—but it is strange that it became the signature song from Jimmy Eat World. The Arizona four-piece has plenty of raucous bangers on their résumé, but the majority of their best work is gloriously emo, focusing on alienation and pain. “The Middle” takes those feelings as its backdrop, seeing as it’s an anthem for the awkward and the downtrodden, but rather than wallowing in misery (and to be clear, such wallowing from Jimmy Eat World has routinely yielded excellent music), it’s joyous and encouraging. “Don’t you worry what their bitter hearts are gonna say,” Adkins sings, and while in a different context that could be perceived as pouty and glowering, here his tone is genuinely sweet and empathetic. Which brings us back to that chorus, an exultant, beer-thrust-in-the-air barrage that’s impossible not to sing along to. More than anything, it explains “The Middle”’s staying power. Sometimes, life just seems so damn hard, even if you’re no longer a misunderstood teenager. Every so often, it’s nice to be reminded that everything, everything will be all right. – Jeremy Beck
84. “Nothing Better” – The Postal Service (2003)
Like Gotye’s and Kimbre’s duet “Someone I Used to Know” a decade later, much of the tension in this song comes from the back and forth dynamic in the song between Ben Gibbard and Jen Wood, with the singers providing different perspectives on a breakup. Unlike the Gotye song, which is self-serious, for me what pops about “Nothing Better” is that it has a self-aware humorous undercurrent. It almost works as an emo-song version of screwball comedy, even as earnestly looks at common reactions to a breakup-in-progress. The humor comes from the male voice being so over the top in its melodrama (“who can crack my ribs and repair this broken heart that your deserting for better company”). He’s even using a broken sports analogy! What goalie sports have quarters? And if they didn’t, why would a third quarter be crucial or the one you cite?
Contrasted this with the woman’s clear-eyed reasonableness. She’s prepared a lecture complete with charts and graphs as to why they won’t work! Imagining what’s on these charts is bleak fun. Demetri Martin used to have a bit where he had a chart with one axis being “attractiveness” and the other being how often a partner talked about the intuitiveness of their cat. The more attractive a match you were, the more you got to talk about your cat, but at some point, no relationship was worth hearing that much about a cat’s intuition. I’d like to think the problem here was just that Ben Gibbard talking about his cat’s intuition way too much (he totally seems like a cat guy!), and Jen Wood just shaking her head slowly pointing at the point on the access with a red dot laser pointer (because, cats), noting Gibbard has an undeniable allure but those good qualities just weren’t enough to, you know, convince her that they should grow old together. – Tim
83. “The Seed (2.0)” – The Roots feat. Cody Chesnutt (2002)
This sexy psychedelic soul beauty was NOT was I was expecting to find midway through my first listen of Phrenology. The whole album already felt like something different. I grew up on hip hop, but added a strong indie rock following in my teenage years, and Phrenology sounded like the best production values of both genres. Switching back and forth between Black Thought’s always-quality rhymes and Cody Chesnutt’s crooning made for such a strong track. The song is supposed to be a metaphor about the birth of rock and roll—I’m not sure if that’s actually true or if its semi-autobiographical—but either way it’s an unexpected pleasure on the latter half of a great album. – Randy
82. “In Da Club” – 50 Cent (2003)
“In Da Club” was pretty much inescapable for a little while there, and with good reason: it bangs. It is a perfect melding of Dre’s sparse and powerful beats with 50’s laconic, almost monotone lyrics. The deceptively aggressive tempo and Jaws-esque two note riffs basically take center stage throughout, with 50 not so much rapping on top of the beat as riding alongside it. In re-listening to it again after a decade and a half, it’s difficult not be impressed with the brilliance of that restraint, and I realize now how much 50’s presence is key. Though it is clearly meant for da club and got its fair share of play in da aforementioned club, Dre and 50 craft the perfect vehicle for 50’s mantra, a mantra that doubles as a title for the album (Get Rich or Die Tryin’ for all you young folk out there), and ties together that whole ethos. Was it simple? Absolutely. Was it original? Not really. But nobody made it look or sound easier than 50 on “In Da Club.” He lets Dre have his day, but 50 was the one who cashed in. – George
81. “Rebellion (Lies)” – Arcade Fire (2004)
Sleep is surrender on Arcade Fire’s debut album. Two tracks after “Wake Up” implored the children of the world to, you know, wake up and accept their own mortality and imperfection, “Rebellion (Lies)” takes a more literal approach, framing the need for shut-eye as a myth that parents use to scare their children into obedience. But while Win Butler delivers some clever turns of phrase (“People try and hide their lies underneath the covers”; “In our dreams we can live our misbehavior”), my favorite lyric is the parenthetical chant of “Lies! Lies!” that accompanies the song’s refrain. It’s a basic rhyme—the refrain itself is “every time you close your eyes”—but it’s shouted with such urgency that it sweeps you up in the band’s defiant euphoria. Despite their intellectual bent, Arcade Fire make widescreen, stadium-sized rock music, and “Rebellion (Lies)” showcases their talent for swoony, slow-burn anthems. It’s a decidedly collective production featuring an array of instruments—violin, cello, horns, even a harp—and by the time Butler turns his attention to the sky (“Now here’s the sun, it’s alright / Now here’s the moon, it’s alright”), those shouts of “Lies!” have become less about rebellion than solidarity. In the end, the band’s fears prove unfounded; there’s no chance of falling asleep when your eyes get snapped wide open. – Jeremy Beck
80. “Party in the USA” – Miley Cyrus (2009)
79. “Catch My Disease” – Ben Lee (2005)
This song makes me incredibly happy, so much so that I convinced my fiancee (now wife) to allow an instrumental arrangement of it to be the recessional at our wedding. I hadn’t considered the possible awkwardness, however, of having its title in my wedding program without any context or people hearing the lyrics. Several guests approached me to inquire about the significance of the song since it didn’t seem like one that matched the occasion. I have no regrets, though, about using the song. My four-year old and I now sing the chorus at the top of our lungs on the way to school. “The Clapping Song,” as she refers to it, continues to have a special place in my heart (as well as #1 on my personal decade list). – Bayard
78. “Since I Left You” – The Avalanches (2000)
“Frontier Psychiatrist” might be the single, but this is the mission statement. The title and opening track from The Avalanches first album is an amalgam of some disparate and quite frankly mediocre songs. Three were featured predominantly enough that they actually credit them: “Everyday” by The Main Attraction, Glen Campbell’s saccharine ballad “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” and The fucking Hustle, the literal sound of disco’s nadir which no amount of critical revisionism will ever turn me around on. Other artists may have put together whole songs from only vinyl samples before (and most would probably argue that at least DJ Shadow did it better), but The Avalanches are visionary in their own way. The Main Attraction’s humdrum lead vocals from “Everyday” are re-edited and pitch shifted up to sound like a wistful Frankie Lymon years before Kayne popularized “Chipmunk Soul” or EDM’s more primitive chopped & pitched vocals dominated the pop charts. More vibe about vibe, but with such skill you can’t see the seams, this song and this album wrap you in a warm breeze of hazy memories. – Rob
77. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Pt. 1)” – Flaming Lips (2002)
A few years ago, someone was telling me about a song, and said, “you’ll like it, it’s a real Craig song.” “Wait,” I said, “what’s a Craig song?” “You know, prominent narrative, some out-of-left-field stuff, a lot of slant-rhyme. A Craig song.” I don’t think anyone has ever had me so completely pegged. Those are, indeed, the essential ingredients of a song that I’m pretty much guaranteed to like. It’s also a pretty good description of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Pt. 1)”. We’ve got a really clear story with significant narrative stakes (the fate of the world, probably!). We’ve got a weird sci-fi setting, and then a further twist of weirdness when it turns out that the robots in question are eating people (at least unless Yoshimi has anything to say about it). And for slant rhymes, we’ve got “karate” rhymed with “body, and “fight them” rhymed with “vitamins.” Do You Realize?” is probably a better song off this album by most objective measures. But this song has managed to assemble a rogues gallery of everything in music that I’m an absolute sucker for. The only thing it’s missing is a reference to another song. – Craig
76. “Archangel” – Burial (2007)
I spent half the year of 2001 studying abroad in Scotland at the University of Glasgow. It was my first time really living on my own, away from family and friends and in a place with a familiar but distinct culture, values, and language (anyone that knows anything about the Glaswegian accent will attest to its difference from any other dialect of English). I was exhilarated, overconfident, and profoundly profoundly lonely. Six years later, back in the U.S. and doing whatever one does in their mid-20’s, I heard “Archangel” from Burial’s album Untrue. I was immediately transported back to those late nights/early mornings, careening through the downtown in one of the ubiquitous black cabs, and watching the somewhat sinister modern and ancient British world hurtle by outside the windows. The song captures that world unlike any other – inky, skittering beats coupled with airy, cathedral choir tones and a repeated lyric that surfaces and submerges over and again. It is all subtext and shroud, fascination and estrangement. – George
75. “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” – The Postal Service (2003)
Even as someone who adores Death Cab for Cutie, I can concede that their music can sometimes be a bit sugary, with Ben Gibbard’s gentle voice occasionally backed by unthreatening, borderline cloying compositions. The brilliance of the short-lived outfit The Postal Service was the way it twinned Gibbard’s delivery—direct, intelligible, pure—with Jimmy Tamborello’s quirky electronic warblings. That dissonance keeps you off-balance, which only intensifies the searing pain of “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” a song that hammers one last nail into a long-crumbling relationship’s coffin. Thematically, it’s an age-old staple (it’s not even the only break-up song on this record), relayed with new-age, glitchy weirdness. That sounds jarring, but Tamborello’s production—syncopated beats, random bleeps, staccato jabs of percussion—actually serves to complement Gibbard’s heartfelt vocals, capturing his sense of loss and isolation. By the time the song reaches its emotional crest with a characteristically poignant Gibbard image—about D.C. bars closing for the night and sending “the autos swerving into the loneliest evening”—the collaboration’s two disparate halves have synergized, and the wreckage has been horribly, beautifully laid bare. The irony is plain, and perfect: In creating a mournful ballad about the death of love, The Postal Service gave birth to something new. – Jeremy Beck
74. “7/4 Shoreline” – Broken Social Scene (2005)
Wait, “7/4 Shoreline” is #74? Almost makes you believe in numerology.
I can’t listen to this song without thinking that is the greatest song of its era; I ended up ranking it third and it was a real struggle for me to settle on that spot. Broken Social Scene are an amazing example of a bunch of individually talented musicians from different bands, getting together and somehow putting egos aside enough to create something that is exceeds the sum of their parts (which could only happen across our northern border—SO THANKS, CANADA!). They truly seem to love each other, and love playing together, and it shows.
This song is a slow build up, but if you’ve heard it before, you can’t help but get excited as every layer gets added on. As soon as the drums start, you want to dance like you’re the only one not doing the “Standing Still” at the indie rock show. Then you’re treated to those lush Broken Social Scene vocals (featuring Feist) and you just want the whole world to be dancing there with you.
I’m also always impressed with BSS’s ability to sound so coherent with their large roster of musicians. [SELF EDIT: HOT TAKE ABOUT BAND THAT WAS RANKED HIGHER REMOVED.] – Randy
73. “Silent Shout” – The Knife (2006)
Although Jesse assigned me quite a few of the electronic songs that grace this top 100 list, I consider myself more of a tourist in the genre than an aficionado. By which I mean that there are others who have a greater claim to authority when describing “Silent Shout” by The Knife and could speak to where this particular song fits into that vastness of electronic music. I can only say a few things. 1) “Silent Shout” is too dense to be understood at the first listen; 2) despite item no. 1, it is catchy as hell; 3) it is a relentless, non-stop aural masterpiece, an uneasy song that fits uneasily into the same genre as, say, “Sandstorm.” There are plenty of people that hate EDM for plenty of good reasons, none of which apply to “Silent Shout.” This is what electronic music could be and what it, at its best, is. The song has the depth and texture that are simply unavailable in most other genres, and there seems to be a willingness to go beyond and do the new, different things that make the sounds new and interesting. “Silent Shout” is exhilarating to listen to, as exhilarating now as it was when it first arrived, like a cold wind that makes you shiver in spite of yourself, like the chill of a glimpse into the future. – George
“Silent Shout” is a forest, a dense woods of pine and fir. It is winter. It is cold, but the moon is looking down on us. We speed through the cold dark and light world, transported by the relentlessness of the song, rushing faster and faster through night and snow and ice as if driven on by the power of need. Or is it that we are being chased by something that will always be there, nearby and dangerous, lurking in shadows only to spring and pounce? Are we exhilarated by the pace and tempo or terrified by the possibility of it ending? There are no answers that “Silent Shout” allows us to find. Even when it the last chimes fade, when dawn breaks and we stand in awe, looking at the light glinting off the morning frost, we know only that we survived again. There is no path to bring us back from whence we came, so we muddle on, waiting for the night, waiting for the moon to rise and our pulse to quicken in our ears. Waiting for the song to return and drive us on again. – Also George, But This Time Sleep-Deprived
72. “Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga (2009)
This track is a monster, and man, that should be enough said. That’s what it’s here for. Went big. There are more subtle and artful songs, Lady Gaga or otherwise. But this song and video package is all bits and pieces that became Lada Gaga, stirred to a frenzy and unrestrained. A moment to relish in the broad monstrous force of her powers, capturing all the boldness her theater, copping and worshipping. Lady Gaga has shown time and again that there’s quite a lot she can do, but perhaps we can think of “Bad Romance” as something only she could pull off. – Chris
71.”In The New Year” – The Walkmen (2008)
Obama-era optimism was a hell of a drug. It’s been ten years since this song came out and every year since has not been a good one, give or take a couple nice months here and there. But since it’s creeping towards winter now, and The Walkmen are a perfect winter band, and I’m playing this song again, and this time I know – no, for real this time – that it’s gonna be a good year. My heart’s in the strangest place. – Evan
70. “Fake Empire” – The National (2007)
It may have been written in 2007, but the refrain of The National’s most memorable song—“We’re half-awake in a fake empire”—feels unsettlingly relevant today, an era where the state of America is so incomprehensibly, mind-bogglingly fucked, the interwebs are keen to spout theories that we’ve actually living in some sort of demented computer simulation. Yet while it’s impossible to listen to “Fake Empire” without despairing over the bigotry and venality that characterize our present political moment, it’s also important to appreciate the song’s tenderness and beauty. “Put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us,” Matt Berninger croons, and there’s something wonderfully seductive about his invitation, which he issues over a gentle piano riff. In terms of quantity, “Fake Empire” is surprisingly spare—seriously, I’ve been listening to this song for 11 freaking years, and it’s so sinewy and absorbing, it never dawned on me that it only contains three short verses, with just 11 distinct lines—but that only accentuates the gracefulness of the production, the way the drums and guitars interlock perfectly beneath Berninger’s velvet voice. Then there’s the outro, a minute-long blast of brass that demolishes any suggestion that this band could ever be deemed milquetoast or mumbly. Of course, I can’t help but relate that explosion of horns back to our ugly reality; I used to hear it as joyous, and maybe it still is, but now I view it as a blaring sonic beacon, a siren designed to jolt us out of our collective slumber. We aren’t living in a simulation; we’re living in a horror movie. And as great music like this forcefully reminds us, the last thing we can afford to do is fall asleep. – Jeremy Beck
69. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” – Bruce Springsteen (2007)
Cristin once told me — and I bet she forgot she told me this, so I’m sorry, Cristin, for blowing up your spot — that, if you’re a basic Bruce Springsteen fan, you’ll choose Born in the USA as his best album. If you’re kind of a hipster, you’ll chose Nebraska. And if you’re really a hipster, you’ll choose Darkness on the Edge of Town. I must be going for off-the-charts hipsterdom, because my favorite Springsteen album is Magic.
I know that, when the definitive history of music in the ’00s is written, Springsteen won’t factor in very much. His music is timeless; he doesn’t really feel like he’s of that moment. But he really deserves to play a part. He was there for the important stuff. He started off the decade like a big brother with his hand on all our shoulders, pulling us through one of our most harrowing moments in a way he was singularly positioned to do, with The Rising. He ended the decade with Working on a Dream, a song he performed for the first time at an event for future president Barack Obama during his first campaign. Between those two he gave us Magic.
I love Magic because it gives you every kind of Bruce there is. If you want hard-rocking Bruce, there’s “Radio Nowhere.” If you want that classic E Street Band sound, there’s “Living in the Future.” If you want something more political, there’s “Last to Die” and “Gypsy Biker.” But if you want something hauntingly beautiful, there’s “Girls In Their Summer Clothes.” It’s a summertime song, but not a sunny one — it’s the feeling of summer as it turns into fall, and that moment when you realize it went by faster than you thought it would. At the time, people said that “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” was Bruce Springsteen by way of the Magnetic Fields, which is a huge fucking compliment to Stephin Merritt, and one I’m not 100% sure he deserves. But it’s true that “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” has more of a lush, orchestral sound and a kind of lingering beauty. The lyrics are what you would expect from Springsteen — about small towns, diners, kids bouncing a rubber ball, and other scenes stuck in time — but, in the middle of a decade where history changed in the blink of an eye, isn’t that exactly what we needed? —Marisa
68. “Feel Good Inc.” – Gorillaz (2005)
Damon Albarn singing over keys and guitars transitioning into De La Soul rhyming over a beat while 2D animated characters tell a Miyazaki-inspired story about the media’s dumbing down of culture. When you read that now, you think “of course this happened, it was the mid-2000s,” but I can clearly remember the awe of watching this video for the first time. “Clint Eastwood” had already come out, so I sort of knew what to expect, but this song (and video) definitely blew my mind. Plus, any chance to have De La on a track is also a blessing. This was a decade of mixed media experimentation and these guys got it right—while also being catchy AF. – Randy
67. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” – The White Stripes (2001)
Here is a 2000s list spoiler: This is not the only White Stripes song on here. It is, in fact, the first of three. You can probably guess the other two. We’re not faking you out. We like a lot of the music that you like. We are relatively normal in that regard. That’s why it’s important to me that “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” the opening track on White Blood Cells and less of a smash radio hit than certain other songs in their catalog, made this list, even if it might feel a little unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong with the Stripes’ radio songs, but in some ways, their most recognizable tunes have some kind of exception going for them: a faster tempo, say, or a fudged bass line from a band that doesn’t actually have a bassist. But “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” sounds exactly like what the White Stripes are (er, were — I’m still not over it!). Stark and vaguely gothic-sounding, but packing an enormous riff. Evocative, but not so stuck on its poetry that it can’t thrash around a bit. And, unlike their biggest hit ever, Michel Gondry made the music video. – Jesse
66. “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” – The Darkness (2003)
First story: I studied abroad in London right as the Darkness broke in the UK, so I watched in real time as this weird hair metal throwback goof-that-no-one-was-sure-if-it-really-was-a-goof? song become a top ten hit. I bought the album, which only furthered their “are they kidding or not?” mystique with nearly a dozen catchy but also funny jams. When I got back to the US, I was the guy putting it on at every party, and had people running up to me asking, “Who is this? They’re awesome!” I have to agree. Is it sincere, or a put-on? Either way, it’s fun, and a great song for banging your 21-year-old head to, even fifteen years later.
Second story: I found myself without a plus one to an NYC Darkness concert in 2015. I asked a girl if she wanted to go see them, despite having said after our second date that I just wanted to be friends. Against her better judgment, she said yes. We had a great time, and as I watched her air guitar mid-concert to this song, I thought, “Have I made a mistake?” I had. We saw them again earlier this year, two months before I proposed. I refuse to believe watching her air guitar did not factor into my decision.– Jeremy Bent
65. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” – Wilco (2001)
Listen, we know the story about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot being too weird for Wilco’s label is a little overblown – no album with the pure dopamine pop of “Heavy Metal Drummer” could be too subversive – but you could forgive the record execs for being a little wary as they settled into “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Wait, where was the Summerteeth band? Where’s the “I’m Always in Love”! The pop would come a couple tracks later, it turned out, but the opener announces that what’s coming will be at least a little strange.
The unreliable narrator is a literary staple, but it’s a little more difficult in song. Tweedy has got it here, with a drunken narrator who careens from wonderfully tender – “I wanna hold you in the bible black pre-dawn” – to the cruel: “Still I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easy / I am trying to break your heart.” (But even there – the double negative!) All this over a sort of discordant guitar and piano number, everything tumbling down by the time we get to the end. The song is sad, it’s sweet, it lurches between possibilities, it contains multitudes. It’s certainly wasn’t a major label opening track, until it made the world in which it was. – Evan
64. “Rehab” – Amy Winehouse (2006)
“Rehab” is a delightful song, a retro-cool, blues/jazz anthem of epic proportions. Musically, it is almost perfect: Muscular beats and horns provide a platform for Amy Winehouse’s snarky lyrics and decadent voice. It’s an intoxicating and addictive mix, as addictive now as it was over a decade ago when it burst forth into the public consciousness. We all know what happened next, and I needn’t repeat it all here. What I will say is that the experience of listening to “Rehab” in 2018 is eerily similar to the experience that anyone (everyone?) who has had a loved one that has struggled with addiction has in thinking back to a good time with them. Sure, we might smile at the memory, but the warning signs and the bad times are all there too. So for me the song has inadvertently taken on a sort of resonance that wasn’t there before, a resonance tinged with the personal struggles that I, in my innocence or self-absorption, was oblivious to. Winehouse was no less burdened and no less oblivious, but this beautiful song is a reminder of just how powerful of a presence and voice disappeared when she died. Truthfully, though “Rehab” was my personal choice as the best song of this decade, I can’t listen to it anymore. – George
63. “Through the Wire” – Kanye West (2004)
As a black man, it’s admittedly difficult to look back on this song and album after the ‘ye we’ve experienced over the last few years. The man is an amazing producer; he knew how to elevate hip-hop voices. He knew how to make the most out of the ingredients he had—he would have won an episode of hip-hop Chopped any day. That Chaka hook is catchy as hell and it’s about a scary personal moment in Kanye’s life. On paper, his first single has everything that should make it a great song. And it is good. If it doesn’t linger as much now, maybe that’s just because it’s Kayne talking about Kanye. Which we all now know is the worst Kanye. – Randy
62. “Mr. November” – The National (2005)
Multiple undercurrents of nostalgia run through “Mr. November”, yet another song from The National that wrestles with American politics. (No, it is not about Derek fucking Jeter.) The most obvious such reflection is found in Matt Berninger’s usual preoccupation with his own past, and his concordant trepidation about his future. “I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders,” he sings thrice over, and while that may sound self-pitying, he isn’t just bemoaning his own fate. And therein lies the second layer of nostalgia: “Mr. November” was written about John Kerry’s ill-fated presidential run, and it’s almost quaint now to look back at that 2004 race, when the Republican candidate was an unqualified buffoon rather than a truly evil scumbag. Simpler times! But as a piece of songcraft, “Mr. November” is as taut and sturdy as the best tunes from The National, the drums and guitars playfully snapping at one another as Berninger frets soulfully about his obligations. What elevates the song is its desperate repetition, mirroring a politician’s agonized pleas for your favor. “I won’t fuck us over,” Berninger promises over and over, “I’m Mr. November.” He’s got my vote. – Jeremy Beck
61. “Tik Tok” – Ke$ha (2009)
Back when Kesha still had the “$” in her name, and when this song had jolted her into the popular conscious, a friend of mine (Marisa) posited that she would much rather her little cousins have Kesha as a role model than Taylor Swift. This was a premise that seemed absurd when I first heard it. However, when she pointed out that Swift’s songs tended to focus on waiting for boys to come to her while Kesha was all about doing things on her own terms (even if those things weren’t always age-appropriate for her cousins at the time), I was sold. “Tik Tok,” with its creatively spelled title, odd pronunciation of “teeth” in the first verse, and overly produced auto-tune, is a great introduction into Kesha’s persona for any forward-thinking nine-year old. – Bayard