As we enter the last few months of the 00s (or the Aughts or whatever the hell we're going to call this decade), Crux of the Biscuit will explore the best and worst in the past decade of music.
To kick things off I offer 50 Songs of the Decade (okay, so there are really 51 songs).
I hesitate to call these songs “the best songs of the decade” because this is a woefully short list; I’m leaving off so many great tunes (yes I know what I titled it--you're here right?). The idea is to cover the breadth of popular music over the course of the decade, as well as to provide an overview of what was interesting, cool, and noteworthy in music.
After spending a many hours listening to a ton of music, what strikes me is how good and fertile the decade was musically. What’s even more interesting is the environment all this music emerged from.
War, terrorism, the environment, economic upheaval, general fear—these very real and frightning issues have in one way or another left fingerprints on many of the songs here. There almost seemed to be a conscious move away from the ironic detachment and aloofness of the 90s toward an earnest seriousness that conversely doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The rise to prominence of indie rock was another interesting and important musical development of the decade. The artists who emerged this decade (roughly people of my generational cohort) were the first to grow up their entire lives with hip-hop, world music, and MTV. The sphere of influence for this generation is more fluid and open than in the past.
Music increasingly has become harder to classify as artists draw from broad and diverse styles. Add this to the weakened position of record companies and the ease of the internet in providing instant exposure to off-beat and cutting edge artists and you have a ripe environment for a variety of music to percolate and seep through to the culture at large. Sure, numbskull acts like 3 Doors Down, and Nickelback were very successful, but those type of acts were completely dependent on a music business apparatus that is fast crumbling.
It was only Nashville that retained a grip on the traditional model as contemporary Country fans are only interested in hearing derivative versions of the same songs over and over again. The only interesting country music produced during the decade came from the alt-country artists and aging Outlaw era artists who have had more in common with rock and roll anyway. Hell, Waylon Jennings boy Mason plays rock festivals; there’s nothing for him in Nashville.
In any case we leave the oh ohs with a beautifully fractured and wide open musical soundscape. I for one am excited about where popular music is headed as we move into the teens.
Note: I’ve found it impossible to coherently rank the songs. I can’t do it. So I present the 50 Songs of the Decade in no particular order. Think of it as a random playlist of the 00s (or the Oh Ohs or the aughts if you want to get all old school).
2000—2009: Songs of the Decade (in no particular order):
The Decembrists reinvent Romeo and Juliet for the indie set. Everything these guys do is wonderful, and “O Valencia” is even more so. A classic.
This is so raw and honest. Music doesn’t get much more honest than this.
Here: “So may the sun rise, bring hope where it once was forgotten. Songs are like birds flying upwards over the mountain…” Nothing I write can do justice to that lyric.
The Strokes “Last Nite” (2001)
Remember when The Strokes were going to save Rock n Roll? Well in the long run they fell a little short of that goal, but “Last Nite” was great to hear blaring from the radio in the summer of 2002—even if it does sound conspicuously like Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
Jay Z “99 Problems” (2003)
Jay Z and Rick Rubin create the baddest-ass track of the 00s. It rocks. It pissed people off. It’s brilliant. “Hit me!”
A beautiful dream-world jam on one of the best albums of the decade. The wordless chorus is perfect. Read more about MMJ here.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” (2003)
You all don’t love me like Karen O loves me. This song stays with you.
Fleet Foxes “Mykonos” (2008)
Beautiful harmonies and lush instrumentation; Fleet Foxes are clearly influenced by CSN, but manage to take the song in new and surprising directions. A staggeringly beautiful song.
What’s crazy is that this hyper neck breaker came out 3 years before the United States invaded Iraq. Are Big Boi and Andre 3000 prophets? Maybe, maybe not, but they are the artists of the decade, and this song is one of the reasons why.
Outkast “Hey Ya” (2005)
Yes, the fellows of Outkast make another appearance on the list. Why? well, when you release a song that is so cool, it’s ice cold you get the double entry. “Hey Ya” held America hostage all summer long, and America totally did not mind.
Look man, these guys are serious. They’re not joking around. They’re serious. Really. And that’s why it’s great. I can’t tell you all how incredibly happy this song makes me.
Sufjan Stevens “Chicago” (2005)
This is one of those songs I become obsessed with for periods of time. Every so often I find that I have to listen to this song every day—makes me feel happy and sad at the same time. Stevens talks about all the mistakes he’s made, but he didn’t make one with this song.
This is here simply because the video is the greatest music video ever filmed. Really. That’s why I added it to the list. The video is that great. Frankly, I think it could have used a bit more cowbell, but anyway…
What a cool riff. Destined for future rotations on classic rock radio. Not bad for a band responsible for World War One.
“Lua” got more play, but this duet with Emmylou Harris is a song to fall in love with.
Daft Punk “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (from Alive 2007)
Here’s the thing. I really didn’t like 2001’s Discovery as much as I liked their previous album Homework. And if I hear “One More Time” one more time, there’s a good chance I will slip into a diabetic coma. But their updated take on “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” on Alive 2007 is absolutely sick. It really is harder, better, faster and stronger than the Discovery studio version.
Quite simply one of the greatest riffs ever. ‘nuff said.
This earnest anthem from Canada’s best band proves that indie does indeed have heart and soul.
Wilco “Jesus, Etc” (2002)
One of the best songs on one of the best albums of the decade. I remember this was one of the songs I retreated into during the strange and scary spring of 2002.
MGMT “Time to Pretend” (2008)
Imagine a world where Prince, David Byrne, Syd Barrett, and Jean Baudrillard had just spent a few months in the Amazon ingesting massive quantities of Ayahuasca. They might have returned to record something like “Time to Pretend.” And you all have to see the video. Just take my word for it.
Alicia Keys “Fallin’” (2001)
Occasionally a song goes to number one that actually deserves it. I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with this song—or with Alicia Keys.
Green Day “American Idiot” (2004)
You know how every time a film does a montage of “the 60s” they always use Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth” to accompany the montage? Yeah. “American Idiot” is destined to be the 2000’s “montage song.”
I realized that I was listening to greatness when I first heard this song.
Who wasn’t getting their freak on in the summer of 2001? Holla! This song is Bhangin’!
Animal Collective “My Girls” (2009)
This song is should be classified as an aural hallucinogen. It is highly addictive. Be carful listening with headphones! In a perfect world this trippy, hypnotic, and beautiful song would rule the pop charts.
Kanye West “Jesus Walks” (2004)
A spectacular hip-hop meditation on faith that even a pagan like me can love. That’s the sign of a true classic.
This was the first song I heard by TVotR, and I was left speechless. Urgent and engrossing song. Perhaps the most interesting and vital band to emerge over the past 10 years.
Eminem “Lose Yourself” (2002)
When Eminem is not being a smirking douche bag he’s one of our most talented and interesting artists as proved on at least half of “The Marshall Mathers” LP and here on the “8 Mile” soundtrack. “Lose Yourself” reveals an intelligence and vulnerability Eminem usually works hard to cover up. Hopefully it will be the song Eminem will be remembered for, and not the boring cartoon shit he always retreats to.
Escovado is criminally unknown. His 90s releases are classics. After falling ill in the early part of the decade, Escovado has made a stunning comeback with great albums including 2008’s Real Animal which has the infectious “Always a Friend.” A great song from a great artist.
Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood” (2001)
How freaking cool is this song? How freaking cool are the Gorillaz? This is still a ton of fun to jam out to.
Modest Mouse “Float On” (2004)
“Float On” takes a Zen approach to the old saw that shit happens. “We’ll all float on, alright!” I remember finding comfort in this song during November of 2004.
Gnarls Barkley “Run” (2008)
I suppose 2006’s “Crazy” is more popular, but “Run” is where it’s at daddy-o. The groove smokes and shakes. Like fellow Atlantians Outkast, Gnarls Barkly explore psychedelic soul and the trippy side of R&B. Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse catch fire here; this is a classic no matter what decade. “Run away, run children, run for your life!” (side note, what the hell are they putting in the water down there in Atlanta?)
Revisiting the sepia-toned landscape he explored in Nebraska and Tom Joad, Springsteen speaks to many of us who were serving in the armed forces circa 2005. This is a classic Springsteen tune, and that’s saying something. This track digs deep.
This Hasidic Jewish reggae artist emerged as one of the most exciting artists of the mid decade. Matisyahu strikes gold with this incredible and powerful track off his Youth album. (Yes, you read all that correctly).
Amy Winehouse “Rehab” (2006)
Perhaps she should have gone to rehab…Regardless, this single was one hell of an introduction to the troubled and talented singer.
Todd Snider writes one of the funniest Country & Western songs about NASCAR dads. Wait. Didn’t I just say irony was dead? Well, I will say this song was something of a comfort right around November…
Al Green “I Can’t Stop”(2003)
Where did this come from? Seemingly out of nowhere Al Green drops love, joy, and soul on us in 2003. Everything about this song is wonderful and beautiful. The best thing is that it was a well deserved hit for Mr. Green and Blue Note. Don’t worry all, Al’s not gonna stop.
Weezer “Dope Nose” (2002)
I can’t begin to explain the irrational connection I feel toward this band. Frankly all of Maladroit should be on this list, but I’m trying to be unbiased here. I’ll settle with the crunching “Dope Nose” –classic guitar riff—classic song. I bow before the powers of Rivers Cuomo.
Kid A divided fans of the band. Given the sonic brilliance of 1998’s OK Computer, Kid A, to me, seemed like a natural progression; I never got the alienation from Kid A. What I found amazing was that they were able to swing and rock without relying on much guitar, amid all the bleeps and blorts and esotera. In fact, the whole thing worked spectacularly, “The National Anthem” a perfect example of why Kid A works. If Ornette Colman and Lou Reed cut an album “The National Anthem” would be what it would sound like.
Norah Jones “Don’t Know Why” (2002)
I think we all fell in love with this Jones’ cover of Jesse Harris’ song back in 2002. Given the times, this easy little morsel of comfort was just what we needed.
All the uber-cool hipsters probably hate this song because of its popularity. Watching delicate and overly sensitive hipsters freak out when visagoths like me start listening to their music is a lot of fun. It’s even more fun to watch them actively hate a great song for no other reason than they aren’t the only ones listening to it. And this song is great.
The chorus comes from a Dylan bootleg recorded while filming “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (Pecos Blues). OCMS expand it into a wonderful road trip song. It has become one of the great sing-a-long songs.
Rodrigo y Gabriela “Tamacun” (2006)
I still get blown away listening to this song. It’s so accomplished and intricate. Read more about them here.
Sigur Ros “Hoppipolla” (2005)
I resisted these guys for like three years. I read all the fawning reviews, but I wasn’t going to drink the kool-aide. I finally broke down and gave these guys a listen around the time they released Takk. “Hoppipolla” completely blew me away. The lush, classically minded arrangements are stunning. I don’t even want to know what they are saying; the vocals only a part of the emotional experience—meaning would ruin it. It appears everything the critics were writing was true. This is one of the most beautiful songs of the decade.
Derek Trucks Band “Kam Ma Lay” (2002)
Here’s a band that doesn’t get the props it deserves. Derek Trucks is one of the great guitarists of all time. The fusion of Cuban, African, and rock music on “Kam Ma Lay” is amazing. Co-written with actor/singer Rubin Blades this beautiful track is moving and inspired.
Beck “Lost Cause” (2002)
Sea Change was quite a departure from previous albums, but it worked. Beck’s “Blood on the Tracks” album contained this achingly honest and raw song that basically says all there is to say about a relationship that doesn’t work.
Queens of the Stone Age were about it for heavy stoner rock during the 00s. This sweet sticky nugget swings and rocks in interesting and unexpected directions. It lays a deep groove then freaks out all over the place. Features Dave Grohl shredding the drums.
File under the better late than never section. Sure, this song was released in 1967, but it had never been recorded or mixed properly. Skip forward 37 years when Brian Wilson finally records the mythic SMiLE LP. All he had to do was come down from that acid trip he went on in 1966, wait for the times to catch up with him, and for Mike Love to take a hike. The 04 version of “Heroes and Villains” is incredible. The soaring complex harmonies and the sophisticated musical changes are so much more Technicolor here than the paltry and truncated 60s mono recording. Rock n Roll Beethoven is all that comes to mind. Wow. Just wow.
This song is so funky cool I honestly don’t know if I should actually be listening to it. I keep waiting for the cool police to cite me for insufficient dopeness.
“Hell, I still love you New York…”
Bob Dylan “Mississippi” (2001)
Everyone was so happy in 1997 when Dylan didn’t make a shitty album that they threw all the awards at him for nothing more than a solid B+ effort. They all should have waited until he released “Love and Theft,” which is one of the best albums of his career. And “Mississippi” is one of the jewels of the album, and of the decade.
Coming up over the next three months: Top albums of the decade, artists of the decade, and because everyone likes train wrecks, the worst songs of the decade.