The best album of the 2000s was released in 1999, and it was 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields. This is not the first time this happened. The best album of the 1980s was London Calling, and it was released in 1979. Both albums perfectly pivot the previous decade and anticipate the best music in the one that would follow.
69 Love Songs capped a decade when the alternative went mainstream and became commodified. Alternative rock went from a subcultural scene in the movie Singles, but became the punchline in the early ’00s movie Rock Star. Indie labels got bought by big labels as part of a portfolio play. And, everything was being drowned out by the manufactured pop industry (c.f., Britney Spears, N’Sync). Pop would continue like that throughout the next decade — and even up to now.
So, what is the bellwether for a time like this? An album that points to fact that love songs are an industry with a formula and just a flavor of genre. At a time when the Music Genome Project was trying to prove that all songs come from a defined set of characteristics, Stephen Merritt and his bandmates of morose musicians set upon a concept album of all love songs of all different genres. And, sure, not every song is a gem, but every song is necessary — every song anticipates what a pop / rock love song could be, and reminds us that this is all artifice. The chords are going through the motions, the tunes are genre archetypes, and the lyrics are well-worn.
Those 69 Love Songs anticipate so many of the songs that wound up on the list that we chose, and so, to that end, I present 25-plus of the 69 Love Songs that could be swapped with those that wound up on the list of best songs of the ’00s.
The Best Songs of the 2000s, by the Magnetic Fields in 1999
“Maps,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs (#1) <=> “No One Will Ever Love You Honestly”
They don’t love you like I love you. No one will, and, where is the madness that you promised me?
“Stuck Between Stations,” The Hold Steady (#5) <=> “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure”
If you want to make references to confessional poets, sure, but try writing a post-structuralist love song.
“Such Great Heights,” The Postal Service (#6) <=> “Come Back from San Francisco”
A song about longing and distance that just asks you to come home. Puzzle pieces? Try the moon needing poetry.
“Take Me Out,” Franz Ferdinand (#7) <=> “I’m Sorry I Love You”
If you’re feeling rejected.
“Mr. Brightside,” The Killers (#8) <=> “Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side”
A fun song about jealousy and all the other boys? Check.
“No Children,” The Mountain Goats (#9) <=> “Yeah, Oh Yeah”
You want a bitter song about cold love, go with the duet.
“Wake Up,” Arcade Fire (#10) <=> “When My Boy Walks Down the Street”
Nothing wakes you up like grand pianos smashing together.
“This Year,” The Mountain Goats (#11) <=> “Papa was a Rodeo”
Thinking about where we are and where we’ve been. Twin high maintenance machines? Love was a trucker’s hand. Songs about finding yourself and surviving.
“Do You Realize??” The Flaming Lips (#12) <=> “The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing”
Some people think this is basically the same song.
“Since U Been Gone,” Kelly Clarkson (#15) <=> “Grand Canyon”
It’s not enough for you to be gone, but I have to tell you why, and it’s because you used to love what I had to say, but now, you just want me to echo everything you say.
“Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” The Hold Steady (#22) <=> “I Don’t Want to Get Over You”
What did seventeen stuck up in Osseo look like? Probably smoking smoke clove cigarettes, drinking vermouth, wearing black, and reading Camus.
“Toxic,” Britney Spears (#25) <=> “I Can’t Touch You Anymore”
Someone so toxic that you can’t touch them. Riding that line between love and loathing.
“Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” Stars (#30) <=> “Blue You”
Both of these songs might have been written by Merritt, but one is.
“Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley (#34) <=> “Crazy for You (But Not that Crazy)”
“Yeah!” Usher (#45) <=> “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits”
You want a freak in the bed? Try a furry!
“SexyBack,” Justin Timberlake (#47) <=> “The Book of Love”
You can try to bring sexy back all you want, but if you have the book of love in your library, well, it never left. And sure, Timberlake will make you dance, but the instructions for dancing, while, those are in the book of love.
“Single Ladies,” Beyonce (#50) <=> “Fido, Your Leash is Too Long”
It could work. Thematically. Maybe.
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga (#58) <=> “Kiss Me Like You Mean It”
Show me your poker face, sure, but we can tell what you got when you kiss us like you mean it. And while we’re at it:
“Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga (#72) <=> “I Think I Need a New Heart”
A bad romance is bad, and a disease is disease, but imagine needing a new heart?
“Rehab,” Amy Winehouse (#64) <=> “My Only Friend”
We don’t believe in happy endings. Lady Day can you save my life this time?
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Wilco (#65) <=> “Reno Dakota”
Did Wilco ever teach you a Pantone color while breaking your heart? No.
“Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” Bruce Springsteen (#69) <=> “A Pretty Girl is Like . . . ”
One of these songs feels appropriate. The other is written by Bruce Springsteen.
“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” The Postal Service (#75) <=> “Asleep and Dreaming”
Why think of sleeping alone when you can recall the sweetest sight you ever saw — your loved one, asleep and dreaming.
“Archangel,” Burial (#76) <=> “World Love”
Pretty much the same song.
“Since I Left You,” The Avalanches (#78) <=> “Sweet-Loving Man”
Dance it all away.
“Two Weeks,” Grizzly Bear (#95) <=> “The Night You Can’t Remember”
Sure, you might remember one was a Volkswagen commercial, but Paris remembers you.
“Bye Bye Bye,” N’Sync (#101) <=> “How to Say Goodbye”
Right? I mean, this one writes itself.
Any Belle and Sebastian song vs. any song on 69 Love Songs
The Music Genome told me.
Sure, not all of these are perfect replacements, and in many cases they fall short, but you can argue the merits(!) of each. And, hell, I didn’t even get to place “All My Little Words,” “Busby Berkeley Dreams,” or “Meaningless.” In a decade that saw a lot of re-treaded music that relied hard on antecedents, it was 69 Love Songs that did so with boldfaced honesty and without apology, demonstrating that the ’90s pursuit of authenticity was nothing more than artifice, and that all that mattered was what you could do with the genre you were playing in.