Ten for the Aughts
A highly subjective list of the greatest sonic offerings from the ’00s
The decade that nearly killed the music industry also produced memorable songs in every genre imaginable. We enjoyed tremendously catchy pop that inundated the airwaves and indie gems that quietly bubbled to the surface thanks to mp3 blogs. With an abundance to choose from, here’s my highly subjective list of the decade’s top songs.
1. “Fidelity” (2006), Regina Spektor
An expressive vocalist with a singular phrasing style, Spektor has created a haunting song about the roles we play in relationships and how we often betray our lovers—and ourselves—with equal abandon. 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. “I never loved nobody fully,” she warns, and we wonder if the singer is addressing herself or a lover. It’s that spellbinding uncertainty, reflecting the vagaries of love itself, that makes the song linger like a final kiss. Plus, you gotta love the way Spektor owns the line “break my h-h-h-heart.”
2. “Not on Top” (2006), Herman Dune
French pop-folk duo deliver a charming ditty—goosed by choice keyboard hook—about approaching 30 and realizing you haven’t accomplished shit. A hazy sense of determination surfaces in the singer’s voice. He’s going to get it together. Really. First, though, he must honestly assess his situation. “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
Over a relaxed, twang-tinged melody, alt-country chanteuse Neko Case uses her perfect storm of a voice to animate a tornado as it flattens storefronts and separates souls from their homes, leaving children “motherless, fatherless.”
4. “Paper Planes” (2007), M.I.A.
Richly textured sonics featuring smart samples allow the witty, revolutionary rapper with maximum swagger to drop an ostensible club banger fitted with rhymes about, uh, terrorism.
5. “Seven Nation Army,” (2003), the White Stripes
Jack White concocts the most killer guitar riff of the decade and hammers it throughout entire song. Awesomely primitive with a mysterious vocal about world domination, revenge and avoiding the hounds of hell, “Seven Nation Army” easily ranks among the pantheon of guitar-based rock gems.
6. “Killer Parties” (2004), the Hold Steady
The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn might have a thing for Springsteen, but the singer’s highly literate tales of sympathetic losers are all his own. Set in Tampa Bay’s club-intensive Ybor City, “Killer Parties” captures the grimy, chemical-fueled feel of the decadent party district and the mindset of those who get lost in such places.
7. “Love Is a Losing Game” (2006), Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse updates classic R&B without sacrificing any of the grittiness of the genre’s 1960s/early-’70s golden era. On this devastating breakup ballad, we’re reminded of every ugly word she and her lover ever shared; each infidelity, real or imagined; all the insecurity that comes with a busted relationship—the fear, the frustration, the rage and, ultimately, the sadness. It’s beautiful despair, something that can only exist in the finest of music.
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8. “Crazy” (2006), Gnarls Barkley
Over thumping, string-laden production by Danger Mouse, Cee-Lo Green croons with a spooky edge about the pros and cons of going insane, resulting in the decade’s most unlikely—and evocative—chart topper. And the lunatic laugh right before the line “Bless your soul, you really think you’re in control?” Genius.
9. “Evil Urges” (2008), My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket draw from a library of influences to craft a song that transcends categorization. Singer Jim James’ upper register rides just above the densely layered guitars, his gripping vocals easing in and out of the shifting melody. “Evil Urges” features just the right sonic tools—be they reverb, rich orchestration or proggy 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 gift of a dance number. It’s more of a celebration than a song, an unabashed ass-shaking anthem with self-awareness and a subtle poignancy.