Something meaty for you to chew on, should this be a short week for you. If not, tuck it away and save it for a day when you have time to read about my 30 favorite songs of the decade.
30 – “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” – Idlewild 2005.
This band started out the decade gangbusters, a rocking outfit from Edinburgh. Their sound morphed, becoming more poppy, radio-friendly, etc. Eventually it kind of sucked. But this power-pop gem was their high point.
29 – “Walk On” – U2 2000.
The lads put it all together for one last, epic album in 2000. Then they kind of turned to shit.* This track was both the centerpiece of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and the magnificent closing song for their Elevation tour.
(In my opinion, of course.)
28 – “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs 2008.
Jack White was the King of the Aughts. Perhaps it is better to call him the Prince of the decade: wildly prolific, always attempting new things and going away from expectations, both defining and defying genres. This is the finest of the many wonderful things he did with The Raconteurs.
27 – “PDA” – Interpol 2002.
Perhaps the first shot in indie rock’s attack on the mainstream, Turn On The Bright Lights was one of the best and most important albums of the decade.
26 – “Plasticities” – Andrew Bird 2008.
Over the last couple months, the girls have forced Miley Cyrus into my skull. She won’t go away. Thankfully, they also indirectly introduced me to Andrew Bird when he appeared on Jack’s Big Music Show as Dr. Stringz. Certainly one of the most interesting and original artists of the decade.
25 – “If You Fail We All Fail” – Fields 2007.
This song has it all: British power-pop, shoegaze, early Radioheadesque guitar rock. While staying true to British rock’s indie roots, it roars in a way that is reassuring to those of us brought up on Top 40 radio.
24 – “Crazy” – Gnarles Barkley 2006.
As if this song wasn’t everywhere in the summer of ’06 already, it seemed like everyone and their mother recorded their own version of it shortly afterwards. Fortunately, it was so damn good it held up to all that exposure.
23 – “Such Great Heights” – The Postal Service 2002.
Written and recorded by the decidedly old school manner of exchanging tapes via mail, this set the standard for indie artists performing in more than one group. In this case, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard offers vocals.
22 – “The Rising” – Bruce Springsteen 2002.
No one put the events of September 11, 2001 into perspective better than The Boss.
21 – “The Way We Get By” – Spoon 2002.
Spoon carved out its own niche in indie rock. They made smart, literary music, like Death Cab or the Decembrists, but grounded it in rock with a healthy bit of experimentalism a la Wilco or Radiohead.
20 – “1 2 3 4” – Feist 2007.
Try to think back at all the iPod commercials you saw this decade. Didn’t you eventually get sick of every one of those songs? Except for this one, I bet. Feist is like an indie rock angel sent to earth to make us all happy.
19 – “Caught By The River” – Doves 2002.
One of my favorite bands of the decade churned out epic pop masterpiece after masterpiece across five albums. Several of their songs warranted consideration, but this has long been my favorite.
18 – “For Nancy (Cos It Already Is)” – Pete Yorn 2001.
I remember hearing this and not being sure where it fit into the musical landscape. The indie rock movement hadn’t really broken yet, but the mainstream alternative* sound had begun to recede. All I knew was the song rocked and I dug it.
(Cumbersome, Ironic Music Genres for 400, Alex.)
17 – “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West 2004.
Both honoring the sound of classic hip-hop and forward looking, this song drug Yeezy into the mainstream.
16 – “You Could Have Both” – The Long Blondes 2006.
I love songs that are about romantic failings, but tell their tales in an honest way. Don’t just sing about how your heart was broken and how you were depressed, sing about how low you were willing to stoop to keep a relationship alive, of the awful things you wished on your ex, and of how bad you were really feeling.
In this example, our protagonist is a young man’s second choice. Despite knowing that it means nothing other than pain and humiliation for her, she’s perfectly willing to be the other woman if the object of her affection will have her. That’s honesty, bitches!
15 – “Star Witness” – Neko Case 2006.
Another repeating theme in this list: cinematic songs. This sounds like it was made to be in a movie, perhaps as background music to a scene that takes place in a smoky, sultry nightclub where an important conversation takes place.
14 – “Lazy Eye” – Silversun Pickups 2006.
Beautiful, beautiful noise.
13 – “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” – The White Stripes 2003.
Here’s that Jack White kid again. Give him a Burt Bacharach song, a guitar, and turn him loose. The result: magic.
12 – “Landed” – Ben Folds 2005.
I have to admit, there’s always been a part of me that is worried about admitting that I love this song. I’m a happily married man; why should I enjoy a song about ending a relationship and returning to someone from the past so much? Because it’s Ben Folds and the song is freaking great, that’s why.
11 – “Long Time Coming” – Delays 2004.
Historically I was a big repeat listen guy. If I liked a song I was one of those people who picked up the needle, rewound the tape, or hit the Back button two, three, four times to listen to it again-and-again. The age of iTunes and the iPod have beaten that out of me; now I’m more worried about what’s next that looking back. But this may have been the last song that I would spend an entire afternoon running errands and listening to on repeat.
10 – “Hey Ya!” – Outkast 2003.
The defining song of the decade? It crossed about every genre line, getting airplay almost everywhere. Could be heard in heavy rotation for months. And just about everyone loved it. “Crazy In Love” or “Since You Been Gone” might have cases to make, but this gets my vote for song that best defines the decade.
9 – “Float On” – Modest Mouse 2004.
An important transition song in my life. On July 24, 2004, just after 10:00 pm I was sitting at my desk, listening to it when my wife called down to let me know her water had broke and it was time to go to the hospital. Eight hours later, I was a father. Thank goodness it was a good song!
8 – “Intervention” – Arcade Fire 2007.
Yet another strong contender for artist of the decade. Their Funeral album helped to redefine the music scene. I considered several songs from that album, but this majestic track from their second disk, Neon Bible, got the nod.
7 – “Portland, Oregon” – Loretta Lynn 2004.
LORETTA LYNN?!?!?! WTF?!?! OK, Loretta is certainly part of the equation here; she busts out some old school vocals that defy her age. But the real star here is our friend Jack White, who took a washed up, has-been country artist, threw some bluesy southern rock behind her, and turned her into a siren for a whole new generation. It doesn’t hurt that they’re singing about one of my favorite cities in the world.
6 – “Phantom Limb” – The Shins 2007.
The Brian Wilson comparisons are so obvious, yet they can’t be avoided. The second half of the song, beginning with the first “Oooooh, whaooooo, whaooooo” are perhaps the finest 2:00 of music recorded this decade.
5 – “With Every Heartbeat” – Robyn 2007.
Here’s a song that got under my skin in a big way. It nearly slipped by me, then snuck its way into the list as I was putting together my best of ’07 list. By the time I had finalized it, Robyn was into the top five. And how she’s done it again for the decade. Another tale of emotional honesty at the end of a relationship.
4 – “Going Missing” – Maximo Park 2005.
A more standard take on the end of a romance, this one has always sounded like the empty feeling that comes with the end of a summer affair.
3 – “Mistaken For Strangers” – The National 2007.
Cinematic indie rock at its finest. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anything quite like it before.
2 – “Stuck Between Stations” – The Hold Steady 2006.
The most quotable song of the decade by perhaps the most important band of the decade off the most important album of the decade. Heady stuff! This decade lacked a Nevermind or Ten: a huge album that topped the charts, sold millions of copies, and defined the sound of an era. I would argue this was the closest thing we had, though, and the fact it sold a fraction of the copies the biggest albums of the 90s sold tells the story, in many different ways, about how the music industry changed this decade.
Oh, and this song fucking rocks.
1 – “The Modern Leper” – Frightened Rabbit 2008.
Funny thing: I did not have a single breakup this decade.* I was once the king of romantic failure and I have to admit, this has been a pretty good ten years for me. Yet, I still loves me some breakup music. I suppose it’s because I can always relate to the pain that these songs are loaded with. I never want to relive any of my darkest, post-breakup times, but remembering can be good. Recalling your failures can make you better in your current relationship and remind you of how lucky you have it.
(Knocking on wood that my wife doesn’t dump me in the next six weeks.)
This song, and the album on which it appears, brought the pain in a serious way. So much so that after spending a weekend listening to it intensely, I found myself mildly depressed. Thankfully I moved past that. The Midnight Organ Fight was my favorite album of the decade; so good that it cracks my top ten of all time. And the first track is a fearsome introduction to what the rest of the disk holds.