Friday, October 9, 2009

The 100 best songs of the first decade of the 2000s (100-91)

Whatever you want to call the decade spanning 2000 to 2009 -- the '00s, the aughts, the naughts -- we're reaching the end of it. So it's time to take stock of the past 10 years by answering the question: What were the 100 best songs?

(Click here for the whole list.)

First, some criteria and notes:

1. A list like this is inevitably going to short-change the strongest artists. I've used a general rule of one-song-per-artist, with a few particularly worthy exceptions.

2. The original version of the song must have been released in 2000 or later. In other words, covers of pre-2000 songs are out.

3. As far as this list is concerned, a "song" is, by definition, sung. Instrumentals by Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Amon Tobin, Four Tet, Daedelus, Kaki King, the Bad Plus, the Avishai Cohen Trio, Mouse on Mars, the Octopus Project, Ratatat, and others might deserve to be mentioned in a discussion of the best music of the 2000s, but they don't qualify for this list because they're not songs.

4. Many such lists give extensive commentary on each song. I don't plan to do this. For the most part, just including the song on the list is the commentary. Trying to justify your feelings about a song is usually an exercise in futility. Anyone making a list of the best songs of, say, the 1980s would probably include Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," but who could convincingly explain why? I'll add my own thoughts if I have something to say, but this will be the exception rather than the rule.

A major exception is the commentary on song #96 (see below), where I've spelled out 5 factors for whether a song makes the cut. Also, after I've posted the whole list, I'll draw out some general themes of the decade's music.

5. Each artist's name links to his/her/its Wikipedia entry, and each song title links to the Amazon page for the album that has that song on it. I'll provide videos when possible. In the few cases where this isn't possible, I'll link to free audio.

As I'm sure you're aware, streaming online video is an inadequate, low-quality way to listen to music, but a useful tool for discovering music you wouldn't have otherwise listened to. If you like a song enough that you find yourself listening to it repeatedly, please consider buying the album so you can get the full experience and support the artist.

6. A million thanks to the 100+ Metafilter commenters who helped me out in response to my call for song suggestions.

7. In order to mitigate the arbitrary, subjective, and presumptuous nature of this project, here are some other people's lists:

- Pitchfork's top 500 (This seems to be the most high-profile list so far, though there are some rather scandalous omissions. If you just want to scan the whole list at once, without audio or Pitchfork's commentary, this is the link to use.)

- Summer Anne's top 125 (A highly personal list with an emphasis on the heart-breaking. Still in progress, with about one new song a day.)

- Jonathan Bogart's top 100 (This list has an unabashed pop/radio focus.)

- The Factual Opinion's top 100 + 100 runners-up (No shortage of drum machines or subtle analysis.)

- Telegraph's top 100 (These aren't intended to be the best songs released in the past 10 years; rather, they're the songs that "defined" the decade, dating as early as 1981.)

- 50 Songs, 10 Years (Scrapping any pretense of objectivity and just telling the stories of how these songs changed the blogger's life.)

- NME's top 100 (Possibly the least idiosyncratic of all these lists.)

- Largehearted Boy is keeping a huge meta-list of "best of the decade" music lists. (As well as song lists, there are also lists of the best albums, the best music videos, etc.)
8. I'm starting the list now so that it'll be finished before the end of the year. This is obviously flawed since I'm sure to miss out on eligible songs that happen to be released in the final months of 2009. Summer Anne plans on dealing with this problem by taking note of any new songs that come up. That's a clever idea, but I'm not sure I'll be alert enough to put it into practice. Instead, here's my vow to artists releasing great songs in late 2009: 10 years from now, when I'm putting together the list of the greatest songs of the 2010s, I'll include songs from 2009 that this list overlooked.

9. I'll post 10 songs every Friday for the next 10 weeks. I'm going to store all the links in this post so it's easy to access the whole list.

10. Here we go!

100. The Shins - Kissing the Lipless

Possibly the silliest song title of the decade.

99. Psapp - Hi

98. The Killers - Read My Mind

97. Bon Iver - Skinny Love

This song, along with the rest of the album it's on, emerged accidentally from a state of illness and hibernation in northern Wisconsin. (Wikipedia has the details.)

96. Sara Bareilles - Love Song

Some might find this a surprising choice, so I'm going to take this opportunity to list a few of the main questions I've asked myself in selecting the songs:

1) Is it capable of giving me chills? (Or: does it emotionally affect me?)

2) Is it capable of getting stuck in my head?

3) Do I enjoy listening to the singer's voice?

4) Does the music have some sort of dramatic arc or development? (A bridge or other deviation from "verse/chorus/verse/chorus" is especially helpful.)

5) Is there a sense of "inevitability" -- that is, does each note seem to lead naturally to the next?

A song where I'd answer "Yes" to all those questions is going to be a good candidate for the list. A song where I'd answer "No" to at least a couple of those questions is unlikely to be on the list.

So, if I have to choose between (1) a sappy, top-40-ish song that might not be too well respected, where the answer to all those questions is "Yes," or (2) a song with all the indie cred and critical acclaim in the world where the answer to some of the questions is "No," the first song will easily win out.

This song -- which has a nonchalantly effervescent quality that reminds me of Paul McCartney -- gets a "Yes" answer to all 5 questions.

95. The Knife - Silent Shout

One of the few songs that's on the list mostly for the instrumentation rather than the vocals.

94. The New Pornographers - My Rights Versus Yours

The truth in one free afternoon...

93. Edith Frost - Cars and Parties

Here's a video of her lip-synching the song on a cable-access show (her words).

92. Animal Collective - Leaf House

91. Beyonce - Crazy in Love

Credit is also due to the Chi-Lites; the brass-section hook is sampled from their 1971 song "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)."


Summer Anne said...


John Althouse Cohen said...


I'm looking forward to seeing how much overlap there is between our lists.