Top 10 Songs of the Decade

The decade's end has brought with it an obnoxious overload of lists. Am I above such essentially meaningless tallies? Nope. Not at all.

Here are my favorite songs from the '00s.

1. "Fidelity" (2006), Regina Spektor

An expressive vocalist with a singular phrasing style, Spektor has created a most intriguing song about the roles we play in relationships, how we often betray our lovers--and ourselves--with equal abandonment. Plucked strings and piano merge with gentle percussion to create a repetitive, hypnotic invitation to the singer's journey through the highs and lows of heartbreak. Spektor alternates between playing with words flirtatiously and caressing them tenderly. It's as if she's searching for a true meaning--one that might never present itself. "I never loved nobody fully," she warns, and we wonder, is the singer addressing herself or her lover? It's that spellbinding uncertainty, which speaks to love itself--along with Spektor's adorably exotic voice and that opiate melody--that makes the song such a standout.  Plus, you gotta love the way she owns the line "break my h-h-h-heart."

2. "Not on Top (67 Better Ways to Make Some Sense)" (2006), Herman Dune

French pop-folk duo delivers charming ditty--with choice keyboard hook--about approaching age 30 and realizing you have not accomplished shit. It's a sad song but not hopeless. There's a hazy sense of determination in the singer's voice. He's going to get it together. Really. First, though, he must take an honest look at where he's at. "I'm 27 and I'm fucked," our hero sings, "it's 10 years from teenage, and that's a freaking lot."

3. "This Tornado Loves You" (2009)," Neko Case

Did you ever wonder what runs through a tornado's mind as it flattens storefronts and separates souls from their homes, leaving children "motherless, fatherless"? Me neither. But those are the kind of ideas that stimulate Neko Case while she does such household chores as washing dishes. Case has such an avalanche of a voice that she can make nearly anything sound at once gorgeous and important but this song--with its lightly driving, twang-tinged melody and darkly detailed lyrics--finds her in top form.

4. "Paper Planes" (2007), M.I.A.

The Sri Lankan sensation creates what must be the catchiest song ever about waging international class warfare. Richly textured sonics featuring smart samples and fabulous found sounds--dig the crackling gunshot blasts; best use of cash register since Pink Floyd's "Money"--allow the witty, revolutionary rapper with maximum swagger to drop an ostensible club banger fitted with rhymes about, ah, terrorism. 

5. "Seven Nation Army," (2003), the White Stripes

Jack White concocts the most killer guitar riff of the decade and uses to great effect throughout entire song. Awesomely primitive with a winningly mysterious vocal about world domination, revenge and avoiding the hounds of hell, "Seven Nation Army" ranks with anything in the pantheon of classic guitar-based rock songs.   

6. "Killer Parties" (2004), the Hold Steady

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn might have a thing for Sprinsgteen and his band does occasionally draw their inspiration from E Street, but the singer's tales of sympathetic losers are all his own. This one takes place in Tampa's club-intensive, Ybor City, where I spent many nights during the past decade. Finn hadn't been there before he wrote the track but a friend gave him enough info to capture the grimy, chemical-fueled feel of the infamously decadent party district.

7. "Love Is a Losing Game" (2006), Amy Winehouse

Better than any artist of her generation, Amy Winehouse updates classic R&B without sacrificing any of the grittiness of the genre's 1960s and early '70s golden era. Winehouse's phrasing here is most impressive, as is the alluring melody and wisely understated production. But that's not what makes the song so terribly profound. The singer's tears linger on each note. You hear every ugly word she and her lover ever shared; each infidelity, real or imagined; all the insecurity that comes with a breakup, the fear, the frustration, the rage, and ultimately, the sadness. It's beautiful despair, something that can only exist in the finest of music.

8. "Crazy" (2006), Gnarls Barkley

Over thumping, string-laden production by Danger Mouse, rapper Cee-Loo Green croons with an endearing gruff edge about the pros and cons of going insane, resulting in the decade's most unlikely--and evocative--pop smash. The Raconteurs, of Montreal, Beyonce and numerous others have covered "Crazy," making it something of a contemporary standard. But Gnarl's Barkely's original remains the definitive. Listen again, closely, to Green's spectral vocals, to the way he unleashes a lunatic laugh right before singing, "Bless your soul, you really think you're in control?" Genius.

9. "Evil Urges" (2008), My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket draws from a library of influences to craft a song that floats above categorization, without, and this is key, sounding like a noisy mashup meant to confound listeners. Singer Jim James' upper register soars just above the densely-layered guitars, his gripping vocals easing in and out of the gently shifting melody. "Evil Urges" implements the right sonic tool--be it reverb, rich orchestration or prog-y keyboard touches--to serve the song, which studies the human condition with a curious, rather than judgmental eye.

10. "Hey Ya! (2003)," Outkast

In the decade from hell, Outkast blessed us with this cheery gem of a dance number. It's more of a celebration than a song, an unabashed ass-shaking anthem with self-awareness and a certain poignancy. Generations from now, party people won't have a clue what a "Polaroid picture" is but a great many of them will know and love this song.


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