We got the intro and bottom of the list out of the way yesterday, so let’s just hit it straight into the next 40 songs!
The Top 101 Best Songs of the 2000s: Part 2
(60 through 21)
60. “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)” – UGK (2007)
I admit it, I was way late to “International Players Anthem.” Though it came out on UGK’s 2007 album Underground Kingz, I didn’t really hear it until 2009 or 2010 when my wife Becca put it on a mix CD that she gave me when we were dating. So I’m a late convert to “International Players Anthem” and, as the saying goes, there’s no zealot like a convert, so…HOLY HELL THIS IS AN AMAZING TRACK! I mean, it has everything, EVERYTHING – the beat and sampling is peerless and brimming with confidence; there are virtuoso raps in a variety of lyrical styles, from Andre 3000 rapping (as usual) about spaceships and getting sunburned on his bum, to the casual references to Paul McCartney’s marital woes and crashing Bentleys. And (of course) a terrific performance by one Pimp C (RIP). And that doesn’t even take into account the music video. There may well be more “important” hip hop tracks higher up on this list, but you can’t tell me that there are any that are more fun to listen to. – George
59. “Me and Mia” – Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (2004)
58. “Poker Face” – Lady Gaga (2008)
The first time I heard this song was on Glee. Because if you just found your long-lost, estranged mother, this is the song you would sing with her. Because, see Gaga wasn’t what she is now. She was just becoming born. This is the birth of Gaga. And, you watch the video now, and you see the production quality, the low budget rental of a nice house in, where is that, Miami? Maybe Long Island? We are going to shoot this thing in one weekend because that’s all the cash we have. And, who is this anyway? It’s Gaga. Who? Madonna? No. This is Madonna for the next generation, and here she is, showing us what she’s got. – Ben
57. “Young Hearts Spark Fire” – Japandroids (2009)
I’m almost definitely misinterpreting it, but I really identify with the chorus of “Young Hearts Spark Fire” as a middle aged man. I used to have dreams, but now I worry about dying. I don’t want to worry about dying, though. The rest of the lyrics reveal a song more about the drunken insouciance of youth than a soundtrack for a midlife crisis. That aside, the lyric I feel the most are the “ohs” throughout the song as they remind me of the noise I make when dealing with extreme anxiety. There aren’t a lot of lyrics, though, and none of this would matter if it wasn’t packaged with some soaring, furious instrumentation. Tighter than other punk rockers, more complex the White Stripes, and rawer than a lot of their influences, Japandroids showed us there’s still a lot of unique sounds to be made with just drums and guitar in the new century. Two kids raging against the dying of the light never sounded so good. – Rob
56. “Step Aside” – Sleater Kinney (2002)
It’s almost hard to remember that most of the 2000s were a really bad time in the U.S. politically. Given the way that things are going these days, it can be tempting to look back on that time fondly. But, as Will Ferrell reminded us on SNL not too long ago, the Bush years really were pretty bad, to the extent that we’re still fighting two wars that started then.
At the time, One Beat felt like exactly what we needed – a female-fronted howl of rage and sadness at what was going on in the news that we suddenly seemed to be watching much more of. Sixteen years later, some of the political songs, while not aging poorly exactly, do feel very of their time. “Combat Rock” in particular is a reaction to a specific flavor of shitty right-wing politics, which used accusations of anti-americanism as a cudgel to shut down any opposition to new ventures abroad and fewer rights at home. It doesn’t feel as relevant at a time when it’s possible for a Republican to run a successful campaign on the platform that America sucks.
“Step Aside,” on the other hand, still manages to feel fresh. A rousing, high-energy call to action, it doesn’t get as bogged down in the specifics of its political moment, instead addressing itself to any time “when headlines make [you] want to cry.” It helps that the song has a fun back-and-forth energy; it’s unusual enough to be genuinely thrilling when Corin Tucker addresses her bandmates by name, singing “Janet, Carrie, can you feel it?” The song is a nice reminder that, while anger can be a powerful motivating force, joy is probably a better one in the long run. Sometimes you just need to “shake a tail for peace and love.” -Craig
55. “The Bleeding Heart Show” – The New Pornographers (2005)
If you want a tribute to the full scope of this song, you can check out what our own Sara Batkie wrote about it a few years ago. This gives me permission to just talk about the drum fill. I don’t know a goddamn thing about playing drums. But I could tell the the first time I saw the New Pornographers that their drummer at the time, Kurt Dahle, was really good–steady, powerful, unshowy, yet executing little flourishes that boosted the band’s power-pop attack at every turn. The best studio example of this is probably “Bleeding Heart Show,” where every little unshowy drum-fill helps the song feel more expansive and complete. Yes, it helps to have Neko Case singing a tastefully delayed chorus with gorgeous harmonies. Yes, it helps to have one of the catchier semi-obtuse New Pornos lyrics as its centerpiece. But it’s the drums that make this song go from great to perfect. – Jesse
54. “The Modern Leper” – Frightened Rabbit (2008)
One of my favorite bands of the ‘00s is Rilo Kiley, and one of their songs on 2004’s More Adventurous, “Ripchord,” is commonly understood to be about Elliott Smith. On it, Blake Sennett sings: “She said it was in the singing and strumming, oh man I even saw it coming.” For years I misheard that last line as “never even saw it coming.” I always thought it was about never thinking someone would go through with something as drastic as suicide, despite the downcast or depressive words in their art. In other words, I bent the lyrics to fit what a lot of us have to just assume in order to get through the day without worrying, whether it’s about loved ones or “only” beloved artists.
For that matter, Frightened Rabbit wasn’t one of those beloved artists for me. I have a few of their albums, saw them live at a festival once, never got into them hardcore. But I played the holy hell out of “The Modern Leper” in 2008, and for most of the ten years that followed; it’s still one of the most-played tracks on my iTunes. I played it again when I found out that Frightened Rabbit frontman and songwriter Scott Hutchison had killed himself, earlier this year, about ten years after this song first came out, and I cried a little bit, because it’s in the singing and the strumming of this anthemic song about living with depression. “I’ve got this disease I just can’t shake and I’m rattling through life,” Hutchison sings, and the song builds with such fist-pumping intensity (has anyone ever maintained their Scottish accent so gracefully in song?) that you might not stop to think about how lonely it must feel, because who could feel lonely listening to this song?
Or anyway, I didn’t stop to think about it much while listening to and loving this song, which I think is why I cried listening to it last May. “You’re not ill, and I’m not dead. Doesn’t that make us the perfect pair?” Hutchison asks wryly as the song nears its close, and you know what? For a few minutes at a time, back when this was true, it did. – Jesse
53. “Daniel” – Bat for Lashes (2009)
It doesn’t have to be about the Karate Kid. Yes, Natasha Khan has said that “Daniel” is based on Ralph Macchio’s character from that dopey ’80s classic, and yes, the video concludes with Khan flinging her arms around a teenage boy who looks a lot like Mr. Miyagi’s protégé. But you don’t need to be familiar with Daniel LaRusso karate-chopping his way through the Cobra Kai to be transported by “Daniel,” to be elevated by its soaring melody and poetic images. Lyrically, this song is the apogee of Bat for Lashes’ enduring focus on elemental splendor, replete with striking turns of phrase: a teenage couple meeting under “marble movie skies”; a conflagration perfuming the air with “the smell of cinders and rain”; a deathbed farewell where tears creep into lovers’ mouths. Khan has seen fire, and she’s seen rain, and it’s clear which one wins out; every verse in “Daniel” is about flames, whether literal (a house spinning ’round, presumably burning to the ground) or metaphorical (“I knew that you had a flame in your heart”). That kind of lyrical extravagance is an awful lot for a song to live up to, but Khan manages it and then some, with booming keyboards and snappy percussion (plus a bass line from Yeasayer’s Ira Wolf Tuton) that slowly build to a jubilant chorus—she’s running in the dark, under “a sheet of rain in my heart”—whose magnificence is only further heightened by her ethereal vocals. “Daniel” is a decidedly lovely song, but it’s also an explosive one, and as its chorus repeats, Khan’s delicate voice acquires a majestic power. With beauty and grace, she sets the world on fire. – Jeremy Beck
52. ”Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens (2005)
Stripped of the musical pyrotechnics of the rest of Come on Feel the Illinoise, “Casimir Pulaski Day” just wallops you with the simplicity of its plight: how to remain faithful despite human suffering? An age-old question, one that is never solve-able: you either continue to believe, or you don’t. The details in the song just accumulate into a fully formed portrait of despair. Cancer of the bone, a failed romance, a depressed father, Bible studies where nothing ever happens. It’s only at the end, with the breath of life (“I thought I saw you breathing”) and the sudden presence of God, that we get some sort of grace, even in death. Grace, the only salve to despair; it’s unmerited, unexplainable, so the lyrics end, the horns come in, and we ascend ever so slightly towards hope. – Evan
51. “Get Ur Freak On” – Missy Elliot (2001)
Some songs are timeless because they sound like they could fit comfortably into any era. Others are timeless because they seem removed from the concept of time entirely. Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” is this decade’s best example of the latter. Like a Frankenstein’s Monster lumbering onto a dance floor, it’s an electrifyingly unbalanced creation, all slinky futurist synths one second and bouncing Afro club beats the next. Missy’s performance is adept at every turn, jumping from the goading come-on of the chorus to verse punctuating operatic shrieks and back again with ease. Hip-hop was making room for a lot of different sounds during this era. Missy proved surrealism might be the most inspired. – Sara
50. “Single Ladies” – Beyoncé (2008)
You know you’ve made it in the world when Microsoft Word autocorrects your name from Beyonce to Beyoncé. It’s hard to tell if there was ever a decisive moment when Mrs. Carter became the idol that she is. When exactly did Bey become Queen Bey, the leader of all women everywhere whose name we shalt not take in vain? “Single Ladies” would be a strong contender for that moment, but at #50 on this list, it might not be because the track was every really that good. GASP! “Ever really that good”? But of course: “Single Ladies” is a solid Beyoncé classic, but nowhere near as energizing as “Crazy in Love” or as heart piercing as “Halo.” The appeal of the song is (aside from the legendary dance in the music video that no one has ever successfully replicated) the faux feminist fierceness that it inspires in every single lady listening. “Single Ladies” is a big middle finger to the man who never “put a ring on it,” which feels great and all, until the same thing happens with the new “man on my hips,” and the next one, and the next. How fierce are we when we’re just waiting for a man to put a ring on our finger, like we’re a prize to be claimed? We’re lucky now, ten years later, that Beyoncé’s fierceness has matured, toughened. We know she’s the real deal. And even with its flaws, “Single Ladies” might have been what have propelled that maturation into motion, as it gave Queen Bey the starpower to do whatever the fuck Queen Bey wants to do. – Catherine
49. “Optimistic” – Radiohead (2000)
What must have recording Kid A been like for Phil Selway? Coming off the widely praised OK Computer, Radiohead decided to push their sound even farther from traditional rock music. With the Greenwood brothers were playing with ancient synthesizers, Ed O’Brien doing a lot of the guitar experimentation that usually fell to Jonny Greenwood, and Thom Yorke’s role as frontman secure, Selway must have felt diminished. For the first time in Radiohead’s career, Many tracks did not feature live drums. Why would Phil even come into the studio? I’m guessing it was the promise of recording “Optimistic”.
I’m not saying Kid A is a difficult album, but by the time you get to the middle of it “Optimistic” feels like a balm: a song that wouldn’t feel out of place on OK Computer in both composition and message. In addition to being a reminder that Radiohead were all-in on this whole Late Capitalism thing before Twitter even existed, Selway is front a center. He starts with some diving toms, holding off on a more traditional cymbals and snare pattern until the Classic Radiohead Three Guitar attack kick in. It’s the best kind of delayed gratification. – Rob
48. “L.E.S. Artistes” – Santigold (2008)
There’s a throwaway moment in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World where Young Neil, the hanger-on and wannabe bassist played by Johnny Simmons, is trying to sing along to the rock number currently being blasted by the band that he so desperately wants to join; the problem is that he doesn’t know all the lyrics, so he has to quietly fudge it when he realizes he’s misspoken. Now, I probably shouldn’t get too philosophical about a cute little gag from one of my favorite movies—for that matter, I probably shouldn’t use a film made by a bunch of white dudes to launch a discussion of the merits of a song made by a black woman—but Young Neil’s slipup raises an intriguing question: Can you truly love art if you don’t understand it? More specifically, can you love a song if you don’t know its words? I’d argue yes, because music is about more than literal comprehension; it’s about sending you somewhere else, about invading your brain and infecting you with a certain rhythm, or spirit, or sensation.
All of which is to say: I don’t really know what Santi White is saying in “L.E.S. Artistes.” This isn’t because she’s mumbling like Michael Stipe or something; to the contrary, her delivery is fluid and intelligible. It’s because, as soon as the opening beat of this song kicks in—a ferocious electronic thump that slides across just a handful of notes—the part of my brain devoted to comprehension gets switched off, replaced by the part dedicated to absolute immersion. Quite simply, this song bangs. Or slaps. Or fucks. Or whatever monosyllabic verb the kids are using these days to describe something that’s blisteringly entertaining. There’s an electricity to White’s singing, a propulsive current that pulls you in and jolts you with pure energy. That may be why the only lyrics I really recognize are the “oh-ah-ohs” that White appends to the chorus, lissome grace notes that accentuate the song’s muscular punch. I could tell you that White (back when she was going by Santogold) wrote “L.E.S. Artistes” as a rejoinder to the falseness of the New York hipster scene, but I honestly only learned that through research, because for me, that backstory never mattered. What matters is the feeling, the sense of controlled fury that’s animating her music. And so, whenever this song comes on in my car, I become Young Neil, a dorky fanboy with minimal understanding of White’s words, a lack of comprehension that never once stops me from loudly and stupidly singing along. – Jeremy Beck
47. “SexyBack” – Justin Timberlake (2006)
There was a moment in time when this song was inescapable. On a roadtrip with friends the summer it was released, we scanned through dozens of radio stations and “SexyBack” was playing on all of them. All the time. Everywhere. So it’s a mark of its greatness that rather than even trying to escape it, we embraced it wholeheartedly — I have a couple of mix CDs created that year that feature “SexyBack”… more than once. This song has a silly-but-danceable chorus and a great bridge (“take it to the bridge!”), it had been four years since JT’s last release, and he brought sexy back. What more could we want? – Michelle
46. “New Slang” – The Shins (2001)
Where would The Shins be without Garden State? Where would we be without The Shins? Thanks, Natalie Portman, this song did change our lives. When I first heard this song sometime in ’05 or ’06, I was fifteen years old and at peak angst. Existential loneliness was my middle name. “New Slang” certainly didn’t cure any of that, but it did articulate something I was feeling. Even better, it sounded like what I was feeling — dulled into a monotone, monotonously beating a tambourine. But “New Slang” isn’t on this list because we find its ennui relatable. In spite of the heaviness that comes from being “doomed,” this song is still light: it is airy, simple, and possesses a loveliness that cleanses some of our lingering adolescence. – Catherine
45. “Yeah!” – Usher (2004)
Someone needed to write the blurb for “Yeah!” but everyone wanted to write the blurb for “Hey Ya!” instead. So, I am writing the blurb for “Yeah!”
Let’s start with a quote, like this 10 year-old blurb from Sasha Frere-Jones when he was at The New Yorker:
To stay at No. 1 for twelve weeks, as “Yeah!” did, you must sound salacious but not dirty, and keep it simple enough to lure out the non-dancers, who can latch on to a phrase or word that they already know: yeah!
I was among those non-dancers with fond memories of swaying in a school cafeteria to this song. But at this point, the school was a university, and I was getting a professional degree. Yeah, that’s the type of song “Yeah” is. That’s its target–everyone. A song manufactured so Confessions could have a monster hit.
Good work, Lil Jon. You tamed the too explicit “Get Low.” Now, let’s be sure we all have “Turn Down for What” in our next list. – Ben
44. “Portions for Foxes” – Rilo Kiley (2004)
43. “Spectacular Views” – Rilo Kiley (2002)
A RILO KILEY ROUNDTABLE
JESSE: Hardcore Rilo Kiley fans will know that “Portions for Foxes,” their closest thing to a crossover hit, actually grew out of “Spectacular Views,” a song that was never released as a proper single but closes out their terrific sophomore record The Execution of All Things. In some 2002-2003 bootlegs, you can hear lyrics from “Portions” wafting into the outro of “Spectacular Views” as a natural postscript the song’s urgent tribute to natural surroundings (look at these gorgeous trees, but also foxes will eat us). On the band’s last tour, they took to playing them in reverse order, “Foxes,” going straight into “Views” to close out the set. And in an act of pure coincidence, the two songs wound up back-to-back on this list, a showing for quintessential Great ‘00s Band Rilo Kiley that is both impressive and, if you’re a huge fan, maybe a little disappointing. Why aren’t they in the top 20?!
MARISA: Jesse, you probably have better stats on this than I do, but could this be another case of Rilo Kiley splitting its own votes? Did a lot of other RK songs get votes? The thing about band is that they pretty much lived and died in the ’00s. When I think about my experience with music during that decade, if you dropped in on me at any time I pretty much always had a ticket to go see Rilo Kiley. “Portions for Foxes” and “Spectacular Views” represent the band at their biggest, but they also only represent a small slice of Rilo Kiley, and all of the slices existed only in the ’00s.
SARA: Rilo Kiley looms large in my memories of college. I was just starting my freshman year when More Adventurous came out, and I distinctly remember “Portions for Foxes” in regular rotations at parties, or at least the one-person parties in my dorm room. I never had the good fortune to see the band play together before they broke up, but in some ways I wonder if they’d have lived up to the pure hype I felt jumping up and down on my bed and shouting their lyrics. But my one RK vote ultimately went to “Spectacular Views” which I came to a little later, because it feels the most cinematic and epic to me. Weirdly, though, I have a hard time imagining the movie it could play in. It always goes best with the one in my head.
JESSE: I don’t know if they could live up to the emotional connection you felt to their songs in a live setting, but I will say, Rilo was a terribly underrated live act. Besides J-Lew’s well-established rock-star charisma, Blake Sennett is a damn good guitarist. I think that’s why the band can get away with re-using some chord progressions on these two songs; the tempo and attitude and mood of the two songs are totally different, just as Jenny’s twin barks of “C’MERE!” and “IT’S SO FUCKING BEAUTIFUL!” serve pretty different purposes. And Sara, I always wanted to write a short story called “Mall Parking Lots on Holidays” and, as yet, I have not accomplished this. I also suspect this will be better, and more evocative of this song, in my head than on the actual page.
42. “You! Me! Dancing!” – Los Campesinos! (2008)
Most people reading this list are bad at dancing. (Except you, of course – bust a move out there!) That doesn’t stop most people from doing it, whether at weddings, at shows, at clubs we’ve been dragged to, and ill-advisedly at bars. I myself have really only one move, a sort of shoulder shimmy mixed with some steps here and there, and yet I find myself unselfconsciously slipping into it all the time. I can even do it sitting down, much to the delight and/or chagrin of dinner companions, and was even once complimented on my moves by a clearly confused waiter while I was working a restaurant host shift. Anyway, this is all to say I can’t dance but I like to do it, which is the thundering conclusion that this Los Campesinos! come to in this song. At a certain point, with a certain person, it all just becomes about the fact that you’re dancing with someone, no matter how silly you look. That simple fact can make you feel so good that you want to shout. So after this song starts on a buildup with enough verve to land a Budweiser commercial, you get to shout, and dance, and as long as we’re here, everything is all right. -Evan
41. “Stillness is the Move” – Dirty Projectors (2009)
With all respect to Dave Longstreth’s longstanding project, he shouldn’t be allowed to use the name “Dirty Projectors” anymore now that Amber and Angel are out of the band. Sorry, those are the rules. Don’t care if he arranged this song, played some of the instruments on it, wrote the lyrics for it, whatever. The voices and harmonies are what make it, are what make you believe, at least in the short span of the song, that there really is “no-thing we can’t do.” The latent sense of possibility – that the harmonies could be this good, that the voices could do all these gymnastics – isn’t in the project anymore, so it’s time to just retire the moniker, thanks. It had a truly ascendant run. -Evan
40. “Ms. Jackson” – Outkast (2000)
It is impressive when a song can literally change how your brain functions in reaction to a single mundane word.
Forever. Forever ever? FOREVER EVER?
After years of listening to the song that put Outkast on the map, you can’t hear the one word without hearing all five. I feel a little bad getting so much enjoyment from a song about breakups and custody battles, but if it is truly about Erykah and Andre, she apparently appreciated the track and his honesty. Well, at least for the first two verses. (So I’m glad Big Boi took the third!) – Randy
39. “One More Time” – Daft Punk (2001)
Daft Punk really captured the spirit of the moment with “One More Time.” I mean, it’s a fun song, right? Dance music: fun. Robots: fun. The sample & refrain: fun fun fun. Who wouldn’t want for the party to continue “one more time” forever? But underneath all that 2001-era fun, and not far underneath honestly, there lurks an anxious melancholia. Nowhere is this clearer than the break, when the beats fade and the uplifting “celebrate!” gets paired with the not-so-slightly ominous “don’t wait too late,” and “we don’t stop” turns into “we can’t stop.” It’s probably too much revisionist history for us to look back at that innocent moment before Trump and the Alt-Right and drone strikes and the Iraq War and even the 9-11 attacks and hear some omen of future calamities. However, “One More Time” always sounded to me like “one last time,” as if the robots knew that all the promise of that early millennium moment would be as short-lived and ephemeral as it turned out to be. – George
38. “Letter From an Occupant” – The New Pornographers (2002)
Though the 2000s brought us any number of American Idol belters, the decade did not produce a singular Mariah Carey figure to hold the torch for impressive five-octave vocalizing (like everything else, technically impressive singing became more niche-driven). And yet, as Sara said on our Los Campesinos podcast, if you don’t have Neko Case in your band to let her blow you away with her voice, why would you have her at all? Man, can she belt out the tune. But “Letter From an Occupant” is almost sneaky about it. It’s not built around her showing off her vocal, the way “Since U Been Gone” is just a vehicle for Kelly Clarkson screaming in a key no one can ever get quite right in karaoke. You still get the bouncy, power-pop verses with inscrutable A.C. Newman lyrics before she’s allowed to run away with the chorus. You almost can’t tell how difficult it is until you try to sing along. Also, I read a magazine interview with A.C. Newman — I think it must’ve been in Magnet, if you want to talk about the ’00s — where he said he had a nightmare than “Letter From an Occupant” was written by Barenaked Ladies, just in case you ever wondered what Canadians worried about. – Marisa
37. “Fell in Love with a Girl” – The White Stripes (2001)
If you want to know the moment that the ’00s figured out what it was going to sound like, it came with a bang halfway through 2001. White Blood Cells announced itself on July 3, 2001, and that’s as good a starting point as any. The White Stripes were unfettered energy, they were cool, they were enigmatic, they dressed in uniform, they were rock ‘n’ roll stripped down to their essentials. Clocking in at less than two minutes, “Fell In Love With a Girl” feels like it comes at you in one breath. It’s so explosive that it takes a while to realize it’s little more than one…thingie (verse? chorus?) sung three times. They said it themselves: It bears repeating. And for the rest of the decade, it seemed as if everyone was repeating The White Stripes. —Marisa
36. “Your Cover’s Blown” – Belle & Sebastian (2004)
Welcome to the six-minute guided tour of the Belle & Sebastian museum. A charming monument to the maturation of Phase 3 Belle & Sebastian, showing off that even in 2004, they could still consign their best stuff to a more-or-less B-side. This polite chamber-funk might be a bit too buttoned up to live up to Stuart Murdoch’s claim to the “indie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.” But it covers a lot of ground while making it seem effortless. It stands out marvelously in the B&S catalog, no small feat amidst their prolificacy. – Chris
35. “Someone Great” – LCD Soundsystem (2007)
What if the iterative power of dance music – that ever-repeating beat that goes on and on and on, promising a sort of endless high – was instead a reminder of our looming mortality? As James Murphy sings “And it keeps coming, and it keeps coming, and it keeps coming, till the day it stops,” the production’s doing the same sort of thing, looping and repeating, washing over us. The lyrics are full of little perfect observations about how death reshapes our world, and all the ways it anticlimactically doesn’t: despite all this pain, the weather’s lovely and “the coffee isn’t even bitter/ because, what’s the difference?” The outside world barely changes while the inner one is ravaged. And the very person who you want to tell all this, all these ways their absence has shifted things – gone. – Evan
34. “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley (2006)
Go ahead. Make a song called “Crazy.” Never mind Willie’s perfect song for Patsy. Or, that one Seal hit. Or, even that forgotten Aerosmith hit. And then, all the other crazy grooves out there. Prince beckoning us to go crazy, Madonna crazy for us, or Ozzy’s train. No. Lose your mind and sing like no one’s watching. – Ben
33. “Anthems for a 17yo Girl” – Broken Social Scene (2002)
Before I was having sex this was the kind of song I imagined having sex to. The breathy female vocals, the plaintive banjo strum, its steady, focused build: “Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me.” At least one of those sentiments is familiar to you if you’ve ever been a teenager. The repetitive nature of the lyrics belies their universality; is it a nostalgic older woman looking fondly back at her younger self, or a young person idolizing a just-out-of-reach peer? Emily Haines’ gently attentive singing strongly suggests the former, but I think it works either way. Broken Social Scene were founded as a male-centric Canadian supergroup of sorts, but it’s telling that all their most enduring songs prominently feature women like Haines and Leslie Feist and Amy Millan. Their lovelorn sensibilities are best expressed through them, and this song is their zenith. – Sara
32. “Losing My Edge” – LCD Soundsystem (1968, 1962-1978, 1974, 1988, 85, 86, 87, 2002)
Here’s the thing: I was there. I was there during the scene that you missed in NYC. Here we are, writing about songs of the 00s, but see, I was there. I was at Mercury Lounge with the New Yorker rock critic. I was at the music blog symposium by the other New Yorker rock critic. I was at the Knitting Factory when it was still in Manhattan. I was there when the Bowery Ballroom was still new, and there were harder places to play on Delancy. I was there when Williamsburg still had musicians and not luxury apartments. I saw my friends play Pete’s Candy Store before Marnie on Girls. And, Ted Leo was in the audience with me. I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play “Maps” on the second stage at Sirenfest. I was stage left of The Shins. I was there.
But now, I’m losing my edge. To the kids coming up from behind.
This song is about being there, in a scene, about having some talent, but that fear that you are losing it because experience dulls our edge. As we gain experience, the new things don’t seem as new. It all just seems like we’ve seen it before. Because that scene you missed, the one that inspired you, the one you wish you could have seen. Well, I was there. And, I’ve never been wrong. – Ben
31. “Clint Eastwood” – Gorillaz (2001)
One trend that happened in music in the ’00s is that we just sort of let bands lie about their personal histories. Were those people really brother and sister? Did that band really get good because they found the Pick of Destiny? Isn’t that obviously just Garth Brooks in a black wig? The mish-mash that is Gorillaz could only exist in this kind of environment. Sure, we said then, why can’t the guy from the “woo-hoo!” song do the hook on track made by the guys from Deltron 3030, and credit it all to cartoon characters by the guy who drew Tank Girl? Sounds like a party. Actually, it sounds like nothing else. – Marisa
30. “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” – Stars (2005)
Stars is a band that is all about dichotomy. There are the obvious ones: the contrast between Amy and Torq’s vocals or the line that they straddle between guitar pop and synth pop. But even stronger is the amazing battle between four emotions that takes place within so many of their songs. Happy songs that make you want to cry, sad songs that make you laugh, regretful songs that make you dream, and hopeful songs that somehow make you want to call an ex at two in the morning and do something you definitely shouldn’t do (but there definitely are other Stars songs that will encourage you to carry on anyway). “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” is somehow capable of all of these. It’s the most hopeful song about the lingering feelings for an old love. Give it a listen, pay close attention to the words, and it will change how you look at relationships past. You will have a new appreciation of some of the worst moments of your life. And like any Stars song, no matter how happy or sad, it will leave you filled with hope. – Randy
29. “Work It” – Missy Elliott (2002)
There’s a playlist that I listen to on the way to job interviews, and that I used to listen to on the way to dates. Work It is on that playlist, and I’ll usually skip forward to it if it looks like it’s not going to come up before I get where I’m going. It has an infectious combination of driving beat and confident bravado that pretty consistently rubs off on me. This is due in equal measure to Timbaland’s frenetic production (is it possible to think about this song without immediately thinking about the elephant noises?) and Missy’s effortless flow (she literally rhymes backwards at one point).
In terms of subject matter, this song fits into a classic rap genre: “I am very good at sex and I’m going to tell you about it.” It almost reads as a female answer to Biggie’s 1994 “One More Chance” but without the interminable skit intro. But it breathes new life into that genre with a playful sense of its own ridiculousness, with Missy comparing herself to Halle Berry and then saying, in the next breath, that it must be “the Belvedere playing tricks on you.” And , once again, those elephant noises. There are a lot of songs on this list that I love because they speak to me about something profoundly important, but very few of them are this much fun. -Craig
28. “Piazza, New York Catcher” – Belle and Sebastian (2003)
I almost feel bad that this is our highest-ranking Belle and Sebastian song, since in some ways it sounds so little like a Belle and Sebastian song. It doesn’t feel like there are a gaggle of musicians playing 1,000 tiny instruments. It could just be one guy and a guitar. It doesn’t sound like something you should be dancing to while wearing a beret and Breton stripes. In fact, you can’t really dance to it at all. But it is very Belle and Sebastian the way it mingles love, melancholy, and Mets baseball. It’s fragile and beautiful. Like, drop a needle in anywhere, and you’ll get something so gorgeous you might catch your breath. “I have a drowning grip on your adoring face?” “You’d settle for an epitaph like ‘Walk Away, Renée?'” Ugh, my heart can’t take it. —Marisa
27. “Wolf Like Me” – TV on the Radio (2006)
I read Meet Me in the Bathroom ostensibly to prepare for this list, and two of my major takeaways from that were: (1.) Most of the rock bands on the NYC scene in the early 2000s sound absolutely fucking insufferable. (2.) TV on the Radio sounds like a really nice and well-adjusted bunch of dudes. This is only surprising in the sense that descriptions of a band as “seeming nice,” your mind’s ear maybe hears like some polite, slight young men making music that sounds like maybe one of their major influences is Phoenix or something. “Wolf Like Me” isn’t the sound of a nice band; it’s the sound of a band possessed, maybe literally; it has officially usurped both Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “She Said” and Tracy Morgan’s “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” as the best werewolf song since “Werewolves of London” and frankly, I like it more than “Werewolves of London,” too. Do you know how hard it is to sound cool when working howling into a song? But the bridge to “Wolf Like Me” does it, with backing vocals that can sound either ethereal or feral, depending on what you’re listening for. Like so many effective movie monsters, it spreads, too: If you’ve ever been at a TV at the Radio show when this song comes on, people go crazy, generating dance pits out of nothing. Basically an instant full moon. – Jesse
26. “Float On” – Modest Mouse (2004)
This isn’t my favorite Modest Mouse song (“Dramamine”). It isn’t even really my favorite song on this album (“Bury Me With It”). But I have tremendous affection for “Float On” because of the way that it somehow managed to become the Song of the Summer. I went to a college where the dominant music taste was aggressively bland, where it was taken as an article of faith that The Dave Matthews Band represented the pinnacle of American music, and where I was one of about 15 people who went to see The Dismemberment Plan when they came to play on campus. Yet somehow, I found myself driving around campus past frat houses in everything but name and hearing groups of Nantucket Red wearing bros yelling, voices intentionally cracking, along with this song. Sure, it’s catchy as hell, and sure, it’s a little more accessible than your average Modest Mouse song. But Isaac Brock is still barking like a lunatic, and the lyrics still prominently feature what is apparently a fake Jamaican grifter. It’s just so inexplicable to me that America as a whole embraced this song, and the memory never fails to make me smile. -Craig
25. “Toxic” – Britney Spears (2003)
I would have to describe “Toxic” as a “crossover hit” in the winter of 2004, in that it absolutely KILLED at college dance parties full of people who would no doubt have told you they had zero interest in listening to anything by Britney Spears. We could play it twice in the same hour and have equal enthusiasm each time. More recently, I discovered this mashup with Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” which somehow greatly improved both songs (as mashups usually do). – Michelle
24. “Last Nite” – The Strokes (2001)
If you wanted to hear what rock music sounded like in the this decade, I’d play you this song. Hell, I could probably get away with just playing the intro to this song. There was a while when this was just what we were doing for music with guitars: stripped down production, driving but simple drums, and a howling lead singer. You can take a solo, this isn’t punk, but let’s keep it to like 20 seconds or so. Oh, and let’s name the band “the [something]s.” The formula would be repeated often enough to wear out its welcome, but The Strokes can hardly be blamed for their later imitators.
In doing research for this list, I kept coming across a silly just-so story for the music of the ’00s, in which the boy band fluff of the nineties fell out of favor as a result of 9/11, thus paving the way for the garage rock revival that The Strokes helped usher in this. This is obviously a deeply stupid way to look at musical history. But it is clear that something happened around this time to make people interested in music with this sort of low-production sound (which, let’s be clear, is just as much a deliberate presentation as the slickest pop sheen). For me personally, it came at just the right time to jolt me out of the classic rock fixation of my high school years. I went from Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd to a steady diet of this stuff almost overnight. These days, I like to think I’m less monolithic in my tastes. If I am though, I owe it at least partially to The Strokes, who came along to tell me that I actually liked different music than I thought I did. – Craig
23. “Umbrella” – Rihanna (2007)
It takes a real creative genius to turn an exceptionally ordinary noun like “umbrella” into a catchy chorus without it sounding like it belongs on Sesame Street. Can we all take a moment to imagine the earlier, failed versions of this song? Even though Rihanna already had popular hits like “Pon de Replay” and “SOS” to her name by the time “Umbrella” was released in 2007, it was this #1 hit that made us take her seriously. Not only did we all realize how fun it is to repeat the last two syllables of “umbrella” (ella, ella, eh, eh, eh), but we started to see Rihanna as a bit more solid than some of her pop peers, as she sings about a relationship that’s more about devotion and care than the traditional pop song themes of romance and desire. While Rihanna seems most familiar when she’s @badgalriri, we’ve seen that she is just as authentic when she reveals something a bit more raw. “Umbrella” is nowhere near “Stay” or even “FourFiveSeconds,” but we can see with “Umbrella” that she’s starting to get there. I loved this song when I first heard it in 2007, but admittedly didn’t fully appreciate it until my college’s a cappella group performed a mashup of “Umbrella” and Coldplay’s “Fix You.” My nineteen-year-old head was spinning. – Catherine
22. “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” – The Hold Steady (2005)
Ever since the digital revolution, probably even before, there’s been a steady stream of thinkpieces about the Death of the Album. Long gone are the days of prodding consumers into buying $18 CDs to get access to the one song they would have vastly preferred to have bought on a $1.50 cassingle; ever-present are the days of picking and choosing the good tracks, downloading or streaming them, and ignoring the rest. The single has had its bloody revenge! That’s still sort of true, but consider this: At least in the world of rock and roll, the 2000s helped obliterate the notion of the hit single, at least in the sense of the band and the record company talking over which song should be pushed to the front of the promo game, released to radio, turned into a music video, and so on. I mean, these things still happen. Bands and labels still select singles and release them somewhere. But consider, for example, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” by the Hold Steady. It’s not just a fan favorite, like “You Can Make Him Like You” or “Magazines”; I don’t think it’s an accident that Ben included it on his Best Music of the First Half of 2005 mix that got me into the Hold Steady in the first place, or that I latched onto it most immediately. And it was, technically speaking, released as a single, with an accompanying music video that you probably can’t recall much about even if you’re a hardcore Hold Steady fan who has watched it out of curiosity at least a few times.
But this song is not a hit single in the sense that it’s a consensus choice for your Hold Steady national anthem (that would be a certain track from Boys and Girls in America, naturally) or in the sense that it’s a Hold Steady song that maybe non-fans recognize from the radio (seems like “Sequestered in Memphis” might be the choice there), or in the sense that it really broke out and propelled its album, Separation Sunday, to massive success. It’s a hit single because a certain number of people heard it, loved it, and went, yeah, this fucking thing is canon. This thing is the truth. This is my fucking jam right here. Yet it does so many things that single-choosers would advise against: It’s specific as hell, dropping Greater Minneapolis references that still ring on actual geographical bells to me yet somehow resonate all the same; it drops listeners into a story that the song doesn’t necessarily resolve; it doesn’t really have a beat that you can dance to, or a hook so immediate that new listeners love it in 30 seconds flat. But we do love it, we do dance to it, and the band still tends to play it during the last ten percent of their set, like it’s fucking “Livin’ on a Prayer” or whatever the fuck Bon Jovi plays in the last ten percent of their presumably interminable, insufferable concerts. This may be the most Springsteen-y thing the Hold Steady has ever done: creating an anthemic single out of none of the right ingredients except an insane, rabid fanbase. I’m sure this technically speaks to the kind of fragmentation and segmentation that defined pop music in the 2000s, but down in the pit, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” sure feels a lot like a great uniter. – Jesse
21. “The Rat” – The Walkmen (2004)
The Walkmen are, by and large, a midtempo band, an unusual skill they honed to near-perfection on Heaven, their best and, to date, final album. But Heaven didn’t come out during the 2000s. “The Rat” came out in the 2000s, and “The Rat” is their most lasting single achievement for, among other reasons, being one of the very best rock songs in a decade that started with a self-conscious “return of rock.” As refreshing as the Strokes or Interpol or the Hives or even, god help us, the Vines sounded in the early ’00s, there’s something satisfying and maybe even a little bit terrifying about how “The Rat” barnstormed onto the scene—or maybe to the side of that scene?—and kicked more ass than any of them with a jittery squall of guitar and propulsive beat held together by the raspy desperation of the vocal track. “The Rat” moves aggressively, even accusingly as it starts with “you’ve got a nerve to be asking a favor,” and it never really lets up.
Even its quieter breakdown has coiled tension that builds as singer Hamilton Leithauser repeats his evocative bridge: “When I used to go out, I knew everyone I saw. Now I go out alone, if I go out at all.” (For all the garage-rock swagger of this song, the way he repeats those lines with slightly more emphasis on a few key words is very New Order.) It was only 2004, and the Walkmen already had what sounds something like a eulogy for that early-aughts rock scene locked and loaded—and maybe with good cause, as the Strokes had passed their peak, the White Stripes were only a few years from their final record, we all agreed not to talk about the Vines anymore, and the Killers had already showed up with a safer, poppier approximation of past rock triumphs. Yes, “The Rat” came out the same year as “Mr. Brightside.” Only one of them was a radio hit, and only one of them made it onto this list’s top ten, and only one of them still gets me worked up and wound up in 2018. – Jesse