75. Ryan Adams - The Shadowlands (Love Is Hell, 2004) Listen
“God please bring the rain” is the first line which sets the tone for this this heartbreakingly slow song, best listened to in a dark room with a lot of red wine (or is that the worst way to listen to it?). It’s taken from my favourite Adams album (and there’s a fair few to choose from), and it’s typical of the fractured beauty of Love Is Hell. And if the barely-there vocals weren’t enough, about 3m30s in, there’s one of those guitar solos that just stops you right in your tracks. Beautiful.
74. Nas Feat. Olu Dara - Bridging the Gap (Street’s Disciple, 2004) Listen
It’s a brilliant idea for a track – get your dad, who was a touring jazz musician, to do a song with you, and have him sing about his life over the chorus. In the wrong hands that might turn into a pure schmaltz-fest, but when Nas throws in a killer sample of Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy, and can call on his uber-cool pops to help out, it’s a winning combo.
73. Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You (Partie Traumatic, 2008) Listen
Florida’s Black Kids have a brilliant way with fun, and this cheeky song title sounds more like a well crafted short story than the debut single of a new indie pop band. Their album contained several cracking guitar pop singles, but this song, with its catchy chorus and shouty backing vocals was one of the best indie crossover hits of the past ten years.
72. Gwen Stefani - Hollaback Girl (Love. Angel. Music. Baby., 2004) Listen
While Gwen’s solo career might not have been as astounding a reinvention as Justin Timberlake’s was, it still firmly repositioned her in a light that had barely been hinted at with No Doubt. She ditched the rock styling and came out looking absolutely stunning, turning herself into a true style icon in the process. And the tunes? They were bonkers, cool, clever and very now, setting a musical agenda rather than following one, with this Pharrell-produced banger the best of the bunch.
71. Girls Aloud – Biology (Chemistry, 2005) Listen
It would have been inconceivable to predict that Girls Aloud would become such a shining beacon of pop brilliance when they won Popstars: The Rivals in 2002, but that’s exactly what they did, thanks mainly to the clever team behind them, including some masterful PR positioning and song-writing par excellence from hit factory Xenomania. They’ve had more great singles than you can shake a glo-stick at but this has got all their best bits in – it’s a cliché, but sassy might just be the one word that defines it.
70. The Arcade Fire - Keep The Car Running (Neon Bible, 2007) Listen
Canada’s The Arcade Fire arrived in a flurry of excitement and hype in 2004 with their debut album Funeral, but it was their sophomore effort that saw them make the leap towards a wider audience. Only time will tell whether that will culminate in a place alongside other global alt.rock superstars (or whether the band even want that), but this inspiring and deceptively upbeat track has already been covered by Foo Fighters and Springsteen, so the Fire are rightly in the spotlight now whether than aimed to be or not.
69. The Postal Service - Such Great Heights (Give Up, 2003) Listen
The story of this song is well known – the band were sued by the US postal service and as part of the settlement had to allow the use of the song in a post office advert, but such annoying legal wrangling shouldn’t detract from what is still a stunning piece of songwriting. Sung and written by Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For Cutie) the track melds elctronica and indie to perfection, and the digital beats and blips give a perfect contrast to Gibbard’s sweetly classic voice.
68. Beyoncé Feat Jay-Z - Crazy In Love (Dangerously In Love, 2003) Listen
This could have been in the top ten for me, so brilliant did it seem when it first came out, but time hasn’t necessarily been as kind to it – or has it simply been overplayed because it’s so good? Anyway, it’s still a fricking cool track – it’s powerful and pushy in a way that only R&B does, and it not only paved the way for Sasha Fierce to conquer the pop world, but also surely played a significant part in the transformation of Jay-Z from rap star to star, full stop.
67. Hot Chip - Ready For The Floor (Made In The Dark, 2008) Listen
This was a top ten hit for Londoners Hot Chip which is a relief because I was just wondering whether this did actually get the mainstream recognition it should have had. For a band beloved of the likes of NME and Mixmag, it’s one of the most catchy pop records of the past decade and unlike, say, Crazy In Love, I’ve never once grown even remotely tired of it. And if that’s not the definition of a brilliant pop song, than I don’t know what is.
66. Band of Horses - No One's Gonna Love You (Cease to Begin, 2007) Listen
Ben Bridwell’s voice has got to be one of the most American ever. He surely was born in a log cabin. Or a pickup truck. With the release of the single Is There A Ghost?, this previously niche Seattle indie band on Sub Pop found some UK attention coming their way, but the real gems were to be found on their album and especially this track, the second single from it. Their gig at Bush Hall was one of my favourites of the decade.
65. DJ Shadow - You Can't Go Home Again (The Private Press, 2002) Listen
After his mid-90s envelope-pushing releases Entroducing and Camel Bobsled Race I switched off from Shadow, but then a little after the release of The Private Press (probably about 2005), this track popped up randomly and I knew immediately it was a work of genius. The sample of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa at the beginning is a beautiful set up for what turns into a heavy dance track, but the whole seven minutes have a captivating beauty in a way that most dance music never gets anywhere near.
64. 4Hero - Les Fleur (Creating Patterns, 2001) Listen
London production duo 4Hero hit musical gold with this cover of a Minnie Ripperton classic, turning a swingy, jazzy number into something that can truly make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s euphoric in the extreme and while a lot of contemporaries have gone the way of dated dinner party music, Les Fleur manages to sound both classic and contemporary at the same time, even eight years after its release.
63. Alicia Keys - You Don't Know My Name (The Diary Of Alicia Keys, 2003) Listen
Recent R&B in general is a genre that disappoints me regularly – it can often leave me flat and feeling like there must be more to it. But there are a handful of modern R&B songs that have really grabbed me, and this is one of them. It doesn’t shy away from being proudly retro – right down to the arguably corny monologue – but even that only serves to put it in line with the classics of Stevie, Diana, Michael et al.
62. Kings Of Leon - Knocked Up (Because Of The Times, 2007) Listen
I’ll be honest and say I don’t totally buy into KOL as a massive band, either in artistic terms like Radiohead, or in stadium-filling terms like Foos, but they have written a couple of brilliant songs. After the good-but-predictable Southern rock of their first album, they spread their musical wings and by their third album, from where this comes, were really making some terrifically diverse rock songs. This one’s over seven minutes, itself a brave step, but its moody swagger sees it justify its length.
61. Peter Bjorn & John - Young Folks (Writer's Block, 2006) Listen
I know it’s hard not to be put off by the DFS adverts but if a song’s so catchy that every advertiser and his dog wants to use it, then I try not to hold that against the song. With a killer whistling hook and a softly softly set of verses, it’s one of the many brilliant songs to come out of Scandinavia in the past decade or so.
60. Green Day - American Idiot (American Idiot, 2004) Listen
Green Day might now seem in danger of disappearing up their own stadium-rock arses, but they were once a punk band in the 90s, and this fiery number is the closest they came to recapturing that spirit in the noughties. American Idiot was politically well-timed and came with a brilliant video, done by the guy who did Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, pop trivia fans.
59. Coldplay - Yellow (Parachutes, 2000) Listen
I’ve always had time for Coldplay, one of the biggest bands of the past decade, even their recent albums which seem to have turned off any supposedly serious music critic. But it’s still their stripped down and more humble debut album that is their best moment. This gorgeous ballad is perfect for Chris Martin’s flawed-but-capable voice and can still claim to be a massive live anthem, in any venue.
58. The Strokes - Last Nite (Is This It?, 2000) Listen
It’s unlikely New York’s posh kids The Strokes will ever get anywhere near the relevance they had when their brilliant debut album came out, but any self-respecting NME reader would agree that they changed the musical landscape. For one, they brought the indie rock crown back to the Big Apple after years in London, and secondly they proved that stripped down doesn’t have to mean you can’t have tunes.
57. LCD Soundsystem - Daft Punk Is Playing At My House (LCD Soundsystem, 2005) Listen
And staying with New York, another of the coolest bands to come from that city (ever?) enjoyed their greatest UK chart success with this archly-clever track about the New York scene. As with all James Murphy’s tracks (and there are more to come later in my Top 100), it’s dance music but so much more.
56. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Universally Speaking (By The Way, 2002) Listen
As a teenage metal fan I loved the Chili's breakthrough album, Blood Sugar Sex Magic but then thought I’d grown out of RHCP, and ignored their massive selling 1999 record Californication, so I was more than a bit surprised to listen to this record and absolutely fall in love with it. They’d grown up and written a collection of genuinely classic sounding rock tracks, this being the highlight, with its retro backing harmonies and complete absence of any white boy rock-rapping.
55. Daft Punk - One More Time (Discovery, 2001) Listen
If only this French duo released more records and played ‘the game’ a bit they’d be massive. But then clearly that’s not what they want, and that’s why we love them even more. Daft Punk are a stunning band, and where they go, others follow. This is their most conventional dance track but still manages to sound an absolute country mile ahead of the competition.
54. CSS - Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above (Cansei De Ser Sexy, 2006) Listen
Staying on a dance tip, Brazil’s CSS came across like a bunch of crazies in interviews but played it relatively straight when it came to songs like this super-sexy little number. This still comes out of the record bag very regularly and hasn’t jaded one bit in the three years since its release.
53. Friendly Fires – Paris (Friendly Fires, 2008) Listen
St Albans’ Friendly Fires could at first glance look like they were just one of the indie crowd, but their attraction to the pop and dance scenes, and their tapping into rhythms and tempos from all around the world, ensure that they stick out a long way from that crowd. Paris is a song with such a fantastic sentiment, similar to Fretwell’s New York, that it scores high on the emotion scale as well as the music scale.
52. The Game Feat 50 Cent - Hate It Or Love It (The Documentary, 2005) Listen
It’s a shame that this track became a source of acrimony between these two rappers, seeing as it’s one of the most durable rap songs of the past ten years. Glossing over the fact that it’s refreshing to hear two gangsta rappers extol virtues that they're not normally known for talking about, it’s just a very well produced hip hop track that is unashamedly poignant.
51. Justin Timberlake - Like I Love You (Justified, 2002) Listen
JT’s post *NSync reboot was one of the most successful career reinventions in pop history, and his corny past was soon forgotten. Goodbye Joey Fatone, hello Cameron Diaz and Timbaland. This would be a brilliant track by anyone, but to come out with this when it was the last thing anyone was expecting, was jaw-droppingly cool. He even has Clipse, some slightly dangerous rappers, on his record (*swoon*)!!
Part 4 (50-26)
Part 5 (26-11)
Part 6 (10-1)