The Decade: A Retrospective The Best Songs 25-11

"We Belong Together"
Mariah Carey
The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)

Mariah Carey spent the 90s as its invincible chart diva, scoring No. 1 singles at will. The first half of this decade wasn't as kind and following several flops, Carey was in desperate need of a hit. Enter "We Belong Together", her monster smash that spent 14 weeks atop the charts. The rapid-fire verses name drop Bobby Womack and Babyface with Carey displaying uncharacteristic restraint in her anxious appeal to reunite with her lost love.

"Mr. Brightside"
The Killers
Hot Fuss (2004)

It started out with a kiss and ended up with a trans-Atlantic hit. The Killers went from being an 80s glam revival flash in the pan to a certifiable rock phenomenon with "Mr. Brightside", their second single as well as the most vivid description of that sick feeling you get in your stomach imagining the love of your life with another man. "She's touching his chest now, he takes her dress off now," Brandon Flowers sings. "Let me go!"

"Black and Gold"
Sam Sparro
Sam Sparro

Church music used to be nothing but organs and choirs until someone decided you could use guitars and voila, the contemporary Christian genre was born. Few have mastered the art of religious dance music however, but Sam Sparro is the exception. Sparro isn't singing about his true love in "Black & Gold", he's actually wondering what life would be like without God as he sings, "If you're not really here, then the stars don't really matter." Deep.

"Such Great Heights"
Postal Service
Give Up (2003)
"Such Great Heights" lives up to its name. The Postal Service made music that was lighter than air, shining beautiful laptop music that could instantly transport the listener to another dimension, far removed from the stress of normal life. "Everything looks perfect from far away," sings Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard. I'd like to think that if you went inside an iPod, this is what it would sound like.

"The First Single"
The Format
Lullabies and Interventions (2003)
There are few things as life affirming as listening to the Format's apply titled first single. The 60s guitar pop and hopeful lyrics make sticking it to the man more optimistic that ever thought possible and proving your critics wrong more fun than you thought it could be. "Let's make a list of who we need, it's not much if anything, then we'll throw it away 'cause we don't need anyone." Couldn't have said it better.

"If I Ain't Got You"
Alicia Keys
The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003)
Alicia Keys has always been a classy lady. Plucked from obscurity by Clive Davis and plopped at a piano to make classy tunes for millions of consumers to buy, "If I Ain't Got You" is the classiest thing she's done. If Frank Sinatra were alive today, this is the type of song he would sing. Sure, some people do want it all, but what's the point if they don't have their true love? Keys croons this sentiment, disavowing diamond rings and the fountain of youth for simple and pure love, something more people should agree with during a recession. Thank you Alicia, for giving us the decade's classiest song.

Kid A (2000)
"I laugh until my head comes off, woman and children first," sings Thom Yorke in Radiohead's most disturbing track. The lyrics all seem garbled, adding to the apocalyptic sonic atmosphere of the song. Although never released as a single, "Idioteque" is standout from Kid A that strayed from what kind of music rock bands were supposed to make. Amid a paranoid and claustrophobic electronic beat, the band pushed experimentalism forward while warning against every single post-millennial fear the world throws at you. Samples from two 1970s "computer" songs are spliced into the track

"L.E.S. Artiste"
Santogold (2008)

Critics saw Santogold (now Santi Gold) as the new M.I.A., but in just over a year, she has become a model for other young black artists who follow her genre-mashing blueprint and scoff at the idea that their skin color requires them to make "urban" music. The former punk band frontwoman and A&R rep's breakout hit is irresistible and rich with irony. It rages against the pretentious hipsters of the Lower East Side through Cars-influenced indie pop yet became just the kind of song those people filled their iPods with. "If you see me, keep going...just leave me out you name dropper," she scoffs in a musical declaration of independence that anticipates the too-cool-for-school crowd latching onto her song after she made it big.

"My Love"
Justin Timberlake
Futuresex/Lovesounds (2006)

No song better describes its parent album than "My Love". It is both futuresex and lovesounds at the same time. Justin Timberlake's falsetto thrills as he sings about writing symphonies, walking on the beach with his toes in the sand, and presenting a ring to his love. Its unclear if this is truly Timberlake popping the question or simply flattering a chick to get in her pants, but Timbaland's vocal pop and clicks, the stuttering synth, and the manic looped laughing voice, it doesn't really matter. "SexyBack" is more instant, but "My Love" is Timberlake's masterpiece. Perhaps the fact that it isn't as sugary sweet is part of its charm.

"Crazy In Love"
Dangerously In Love (2003)

Beyonce always had her sights sets on solo super stardom, after all, her dad managed Destiny's Child. "Crazy In Love" was her declaration of independence, an exuberant, exciting, Chi-Lite sampling manifesto stating that she was the Diana Ross of the twenty first century. The blaring horns are like a blitzkreig on your ears, and Knowle's voice is like a siren, announcing that she is an independent woman who is crazy in love and will get exactly what she wants. Jay-Z's contribution was one of four times he rode the coattails of a female singer to reach the top of the charts and foreshadowed the future power couple's marriage.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever To Tell (2003)

"Maps" not only inspired the guitar riff in the decade's best break-up song ("Since U Been Gone" at 2:05), but it ended up being on of it's most enduring and heart-wrenching love songs. The lyrics are simple and direct. Karen O pleads, "Wait, they don't love you like I love you," over and over, her last attempt at convincing an old lover to reconsider. What do maps have to do with it? I'm not sure anyone really knows, but that's half the song's appeal. The timid, almost weak delivery of the track early on gives way to a standard Yeah Yeah Yeah's rocking out during the bridge right as the riff that Max Martin ripped off kicks in.

Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere (2006)

When OutKast failed to deliver past Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Gnarls Barkley seemed like the duo that would command both critical acclaim, commercial success, and take the radio by its ear and drag it to a psychedelic retro drenched future. "Crazy" sounded like a revelation, a long lost Motown track that was saved for a later date so it could save the world. DJ Danger Mouse, coming off the success of his mash-up masterpiece The Grey Album, provided the beats for Cee-Lo's soulful crooning about mental illness. The song is destined to be covered countless times in the coming years and it made history when it became the first single to ever reach No. 1 in the UK on downloads alone.

"Casamir Pulaski Day"
Sufjan Stevens
Illinois (2005)

Casimir Pulaski was a Polish-born officer in the American Revolution who was destined to remain unknown to anyone outside of Illinois until Sufjan Stevens decided to tell a story about a losing a loved one that just happened to take place on Casimir Pulaski Day. The simple beauty of the song is underscored by the quiet struggle of adversity and wondering if God even cares. "And he takes and he takes and he takes," Stevens repeats after thinking he sees his lost love breathe. Religious themes in music tend to be black or white, totally accepting or totally rejecting. Stevens honesty captures the paradox of living in a world of both hope and faith as well as hopelessness and pain.

"Get UR Freak On"
Missy Elliott
Miss E...So Addictive (2003)

Missy Elliott and Timbaland brought Punjab to the masses with the psychedelic freak out of "Get Ur Freak On". Kickstarted by some Hindi mumbling and propelled by the hypnotic plucking of a ektara, a one stringed Indian instrument, Miss E and Timbaland were able to craft a song that sounded like nothing before it, and although some have tried, no one has been able to make anything like it since. The perfect song for a world grappling with globalization, Indian elements grind up against jungle drum and bass beats, a Japanese countdown, and synth lines that came straight out of American horror movies of the 1950s. When Missy tells you to get your freak on, its impossible to say no.

Johnny Cash
American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

"Hurt" is one of the most desperate and painful songs ever recorded. When producer Rick Rubin asked Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails if Johnny Cash could cover the song, Reznor worried that it would be gimmicky. After seeing the video however, he was blown away. "Tears welling, silence, goosebumps...that song isn't mine anymore," he said. The song is stripped down to a simple yet building guitar and Cash's straight forward delivery. The lyrics are piercing. "What have I become my sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end. And you can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt". Released after Cash's death, it is a masterful ending to a storied career of one of country's greats.


bcb said...

Hurt is one of my favorites of all time... I kinda despise the fact that it was a NIN song.

hun*ter said...

"Hurt" is amazing.

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