The Decade: A Retrospective The Best Songs 55-41

"Poker Face"
Lady Gaga
The Fame (2008)

"Who'd have thought the greatest popstar of the noughties would appear in the decade's final 18 months?" wrote Popjustice. It is pretty phenomenal. After ten years of America being fed pop puppets, Lady Gaga emerged as a true pop artist. She wrote her own songs. She sang. She played instruments. She had a vision of her art and her image. She became famous through hard work and playing at dingy clubs in New York, not the Mickey Mouse club. Of the amazing impact she's had in such a short time, "Poker Face" is her supreme single.

"I Will Follow You Into The Dark"
Death Cab for Cutie
Plans (2005)

Nominated for Best Performance by a Duo or Group at the 2007 Grammys, Death Cab's "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" was beat out by the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps". No, I'm serious. Obviously, the Grammys aren't always the measuring stick for music's cultural value as they would have us believe, because this song's beauty and simplicity beats out the Peas' brash schoolyard ditty any day. In what amounts to a Ben Gibbard solo track, the Death Cab front man ponders love, life, and death.

Amy Winehouse
Back To Black (2006)

In the decade's best neo-soul song, Amy Winehouse managed to reference Motown without ripping it off. Winehouse's brassy rebellious "Rehab" is also the decade's best example of art imitating life, as the singer soon became more famous for her addictions and wild behavior than her music. Her frank lyrics and Etta James style crooning won Winehouse a slew of awards and kickstarted the modern retro revival.

"The Middle"
Jimmy Eat World
Bleed American (2001)

Jimmy Eat World has always had a knack for taking lyrics that others would sound corny singing, and pulling it off. "The Middle" is filled with motivational lines like, "don't write yourself off yet," and "everything will be alright," that Jim Adkins flat out sells. It's little wonder J.E.W. can make music like this though, after all, they were dropped by their record label and recorded their airtight power-pop smash of an album, Bleed American, on their own dime and had labels begging to sign them. Don't write yourself off yet is right.

"Somewhere Only We Know"
Hopes and Fears (2004)

There's something about Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" that reminds me of a Disney movie. It's an epic power ballad that would fit perfectly in the scene right before the climax where the prince and princess declare their love for each other, and reprised as the credits begin rolling. The insistent fluttering piano and Tom Chaplin's promise that there is a paradise somewhere out there is pure magic.

"Like I Love You"
Justin Timberlake
Justified (2002)

"Sometimes people just destined, destined to do what they do," Justin Timberlake muses at the end of his debut solo single, "Like I Love You". Becoming the next Michael Jackson wasn't exactly a sure thing though. Timberlake had a massive task in front of him, having to shed his boy band image and rebrand himself as the new king of pop. With the help of Pharrell, this funky R&B song was crafted, and the rest is history.

"A Thousand Miles"
Vanessa Carlton
Be Not Nobody (2002)

"This must be the white song that all black people like, you know every year there's a song that black people like and this is that," said Kanye West about Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" on his iTunes celebrity playlist. Kanye, don't kid yourself, this is a song everyone likes. The track managed to retain its beauty even with made-for-radio percussion and guitar slapped on, making it perfect for both pop and adult contemporary radio.

Sufjan Stevens
Illinois (2005)

Sufjan Steven's "Chicago" is a life affirming celebration of a song. It begins soft and understated before blossoming into a kaleidoscope of sound. Rich strings, sleigh bells, xylophones, trumpets, and a choir weave in and out to set the backdrop the Steven's tale of driving to Chicago and New York in a van. He repeats the phrase "I've made a lot of mistakes," but its drowned out by the choir triumphantly singing the spiritual line, "You came to take us, all things go to recreate us."

Stankonia (2001)

When OutKast released "B.O.B." in 2000, there were no bombs over Baghdad. By decade's end, Iraq's capital has seen more than enough bombs. "B.O.B." was like a crystal ball, foreshadowing not only a global war on terror (and a "White House painted black" according to Pitchfork , in reference to the cover of Stankonia featuring a black and white American flag), but the disorienting collision popular music would face in the coming ten years.

"Last Nite"
The Strokes
Is This It (2001)

By the end of the 1990s, the term "alternative" had been hijacked, appropriated, and warped beyond all recognition. A decade later, the term "indie" found itself in a similar position. Still, there are a few songs that stand for what those words mean. For alternative, its "Wonderwall" or "Save Tonight". For indie, "Last Nite" by the Strokes takes the crown. Bursting into the scene in 2001 with incredible amounts of goodwill from the rock press, the Strokes deserved every bit of it.

"Say It Right"
Nelly Furtado
Loose (2006)

Nelly Furtado emerged as an innovative earthy folk pop singer in 2000, but after interest faded with her second album, she turned to Timbaland to re energize her career. Her album Loose was a smash hit, but its 80s inspired electro-pop veered away from her organic sound. "Say It Right" was the one exception. Emerging from a jungle soundscape, the song employed Timbaland's trademark yelps and percussion as Furtado tried to convince herself that, "you don't mean nothing at all to me".

"Be Mine"
Robyn (2005)

Dance-pop doesn't get more emotional than "Be Mine" by Swedish singer Robyn. Her anguished lyrics are suffocated by frantic orchestral arrangements and racing beats, creating a desperate soundscape. If her declaration that, "you never were and you never will be mine," doesn't get you, the bridge detailing her man having his arm around, and get this, tying the laces of "whatshername", will. Robyn's stripped down performance of the track at the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize show will bring a grown man to tears.

"Everything Is Everything"
Alphabetical (2004)

Using rapidly chiming triangle better than anyone else has all decade, Phoenix crafted a catchy ditty that harkens to the soft-pop of the late 1980s with "Everything Is Everything". "Things are gonna change, and not for better," sings Thomas Mars. The lyrics are all that ambiguous, which only adds to the track's carefree atmosphere. The guitar, reveling in staccato neo-disco, is ever present, but at times understated.

"When You Were Young"
The Killers
Sam's Town (2006)

Brandon Flowers boldly declared that his band's sophomore album Sam's Town would be "one of the best albums in the past twenty years". Whether the Killers did it, or even if they managed to top the ridiculously good Hot Fuss is questionable, but "When You Were Young" is without a doubt one of the best songs in the past twenty years. Channeling Bruce Springsteen, the band wrote the great American rock song complete with Jesus, highways, and riding on the backs of hurricanes.

"Sex On Fire"
Kings of Leon
Only By The Night (2008)

"Fire" is a word bands love to throw around. It evoke edginess, unpredictability, and a general feeling of hardcore-ness, but if everyone else is doing it, how do you use it and stand out? Kings of Leon threw in "Sex". Can you get any edgier than that? "Sex on Fire" isn't actually about sex though, don't worry, it was just a filler word the Followills used until they decided it would make a good song title. The track is a stirring rock anthem made for the arenas.


AmyLovesYou!! said...

Good list so far. Could have done with out Stronger by Kanye West. Love that Eminem made the list twice so far.

Spencer said...

Great list!

hun*ter said...

Yeah, I figured you'd be happy about Eminem Amy. He's done pretty well for himself...and he's not even done yet!

And thanks Spencer, I'm glad you like the list!

Chioma said...

i adore and worship and admire Lady Gaga and I'm not afraid to say so.

Roy said...

Good to see Say it Right by Nelly Furtado in this list.

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