Part 1 here.
100. The Go! Team – Ladyflash (Thunder, Lightning, Strike, 2004) Listen
So we kick off the top 100 with a band that in some ways epitomise the past decade, with their blend of guitars, samples and non-UK/US cultures, each of which have been a massive influence on music in recent years. Hailing from Brighton, the band have an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ attitude to their songs, and this track was their crowning moment.
99. Britney Spears – Toxic (In The Zone, 2004) Listen
Where to start with Miss Spears? Well, let’s stick to the music and bask in the glory of one of the best pop songs of recent years. In truth, it could have been any pop star du jour that bagged this Cathy Dennis/Bloodshy & Avant track, but it was Britney that got it and used it to cement her reputation as the biggest pop star on the planet at the time.
98. Leona Lewis - Bleeding Love (Spirit, 2007) Listen
Musical snobs will always be able to point to Leona Lewis’ TV talent contest background, and as grubby as they may find that, few can deny the brilliance of this song. A truly classy pop song that was a massive hit around the world, it marked a high point for reality show winners.
97. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Date With The Night (Fever To Tell, 2003) Listen
Spiky, punky, dirty and shouty, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs announced themselves in a hail of hype and crazy stage performances by singer Karen O. If that served to hide their song-writing talents, later releases showed they could really craft a tune, though this track from their debut album remains a thrilling reminder of when they burst on to the scene.
96. Scissor Sisters - Comfortably Numb (Scissor Sisters, 2004) Listen
I worked at Polydor (Scissors’ label) when these guys emerged, and this stylish cover of Pink Floyd didn’t alert me immediately to their huge sales potential, but maybe that's why I never worked in A&R. Ironic then that this has endured better than some of their pop hits and is still one of the best disco tracks to come out in the last decade.
95. Doves - There Goes The Fear (The Last Broadcast, 2002) Listen
In a lot of ways it’s hard to choose the best Doves track, so consistent has their output been, but this seven minute tour-de-force is probably their best song, and certainly for me the one that best combines their emotive lyrics, driving production and all-round atmosphere.
94. Bat For Lashes – Daniel (Two Suns, 2009) Listen
One of the most unlikely subject matters for a hit single (this track about the Karate Kid breached the Top 40) came from the beguiling Natasha Khan, and took her Bat For Lashes persona from a fringe indie player to a bona fide recognizable music sleb.
93. Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley - Welcome to Jamrock (Welcome to Jamrock, 2005) Listen
Marley (Bob’s youngest) wrote this as an ode to Jamaica’s social and political struggles, but as is often the case with great tracks, the musical qualities broadened the appeal well beyond the political content. It’s firmly a record-bag staple for me.
92. Shout Out Louds - Very Loud (Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, 2005) Listen
Sweden’s Shout Out Louds had their album released in the UK a full 18 months after their domestic version, and on the quality of this track, the delay is puzzling. They didn’t manage to follow through with anything this good, but most bands would kill to have just one song with this much tangible passion and emotion.
91. Beastie Boys - Ch-Check It Out (To The 5 Boroughs, 2004) Listen
With the recently delayed new album (due to MCA’s throat cancer diagnosis) and an instrumental album (2007’s The Mix-Up), it felt like a stop/start decade for New York’s finest. Indicative of how good a band they are though, ‘04’s To The 5 Boroughs reminded a lot of people how vital these guys are as it combined post-9/11 politics and retrospection with the group’s most hip-hop production since, well, their first album probably.
90. Neon Neon – Raquel (Stainless Style, 2008) Listen
Out of the blue came one of the best records of the 2000s, from Super Furry Animals’ singer Gruff Rhys and producer Boom Bip – a concept album around the life of car-maker (and Back To The Future inspiration) John DeLorean. The album was a pitch-perfect reminder of 80s culture without descending into cliché and Raquel is one hell of a fine dance track from it.
89. Amerie - 1 Thing (Touch, 2005) Listen
At first listen the resemblance to Beyonce’s Crazy In Love was evident, but after two listens it didn’t matter because this track had more than enough to stand on its own two legs. Some would say that it’s proved to have greater endurance than Crazy In Love due to not being over-exposed, but as you’ll see I’m not sure I agree with that. Great track though.
88. Dilated Peoples Feat Kanye West - This Way (Neighbourhood Watch, 2004) Listen
Kanye helped these Californian hip hoppers reach their biggest audience with this track, a soulful self-help dedication to getting your shit together. Long-time stalwarts of the underground rap community, they’ve had several fine tracks in the past decade, but This Way is their high point.
87. Kanye West - Jesus Walks (The College Dropout, 2004) Listen
This for me was always his most compelling and enduring cut from his debut album, The College Dropout. Before fame seemed to catch up with him, on this track Kanye was still wowing music fans with his intelligent approach to hip hop, in both his rhymes and his production.
86. Christina Aguilera – Beautiful (Stripped, 2002) Listen
Although XXXtina was always more interesting when she was being Dirrty (see higher up the list), this was one of the best mainstream ballads for a long time, and had a striking video to match. She was never conventionally beautiful, so it made sense for Christina to sing this, whereas a lot of factory-perfect pop stars would have just seemed plain idiotic to release a message such as this.
85. Stephen Fretwell - New York (Magpie, 2004) Listen
Fretwell had a terrific way with words that plucked at the heartstrings, and arguably deserves greater acclaim than he’s had so far, but this track plays out a conversation that a lot of people have – that urge to jack it all in and move away, no matter how impractical it might be. Touching and pretty in equal measure.
84. Glasvegas - Daddy's Gone (Glasvegas, 2008) Listen
On paper, Glasvegas are a baffling mix, and their terrible, terrible name doesn’t help. All goth clothes, black sunglasses and 50s greaser haircuts, lead singer James Allan’s undiluted Scottish brogue shines through any stylistic reservations, and with the Spector-esque songs, the whole thing became actually captivating in a way that I would never have guessed.
83. R.E.M. - Leaving New York (Around The Sun, 2004) Listen
A sleeper of a song that was undoubtedly REM’s greatest of the past decade, combining Stipe’s fragile vocals and lyrics with the accomplished musical layers that the band are famous for.
82. Girls - Hellhole Ratrace (Album, 2009) Listen
A recent release, but no less deserving of being on this list, and one of the few tracks that stopped me in my tracks on first listen. A seven minute epic from two guys raised in an American cult, this, along with its treacle slow video, summed up every bittersweet night out you’ve ever had.
81. Justice - D.A.N.C.E. (†, 2007) Listen
If you thought after Air, Daft Punk and Phoenix, French music couldn’t get any more achingly cool, Justice came along and in one fell swoop upped the ante once more, all while looking more like members of Black Sabbath than a Parisian dance duo. Their album contained some of the most rock ‘n’ roll beats since, well, Daft Punk’s Homework, but it was this pop crossover track (with a stunning video) that saw them reach a chart audience.
80. Loretta Lynn – Portland, Oregon (Van Lear Rose, 2004) Listen
If, like me, country legend Loretta Lynn was unknown to you, she’d made her mark on Jack White, so keen was he to produce her comeback record, released 41 years after her first album. And 41 was also the number of years difference in age between the two stars, both on vocal duties for this track. Rave reviews and Grammy awards followed, and rightly so because it’s a real stonker.
79. D'Angelo - Devil's Pie (Voodoo, 2000) Listen
D’Angelo became the butt of some wisecracks later in the decade for some, erm, issues in his personal life, but dude had skills, as witnessed here on one of the smokiest tracks of the past ten years. In equal parts as classic sounding as a Marvin Gaye joint, and as modern as a Beyonce track, this can without doubt be marked down as timeless piece of soul music.
78. Death Cab for Cutie - I Will Follow You Into the Dark (Plans, 2005) Listen
I’ve never known so many people to cry at the same song as this one. There are two videos for this track, but if you really want to feel sorry for yourself, find the one with the animated rabbits in it. Watership Down’s got nothing on it. The track’s a simple acoustic ballad but the words are what makes it truly memorable.
77. The Streets - Dry Your Eyes (A Grand Don't Come for Free, 2004) Listen
It can take a few listens to get my head around an artist doing something that goes against their previously established persona, but once Mike Skinner had released this well-considered ballad, it threw him in a new light. It’s a song that’s got better with time, and although The Streets aren’t the force they were this still holds its own against more recent additions to the thinking person’s British urban scene, such as Jamie-T, Toddla-T and Dizzee Rascal.
76. Annie - Chewing Gum (Anniemal, 2004) Listen
If this song was a movie it’d be one of the Carry On films, so saucy is it. It’s a very cool slice of Scando-pop, one of the defining genres of the past decade, and despite her relaxed approach to productivity, Annie’s at the forefront of that and this is her best track – effortlessly sexy and endlessly fun.
Part 3 (75-51)
Part 4 (50-26)
Part 5 (26-11)
Part 6 (10-1)