50. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero (It's Blitz, 2009) Listen
There are other reinventions on this list that were as subtle as a sledgehammer (JT, Xtina for instance), YYYs have been going through a much quieter sort of revolution over the past few years, the culmination of which is their recent excellent album, It’s Blitz, featuring this brilliant track. Based on a rock blueprint, but polished for the dance floor, Karen O and pals ensured that they lost none of their spunk, as it were, but broke out of any niche bracketing with superb effect.
49. The White Stripes - Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground (White Blood Cells, 2001) Listen
Uncut magazine have recently put this at #1 in their best albums of the noughties list, and while the White Stripes have never moved me as much as I’ve admired them, this a terrifically grimey modern blues number. I’d doubt anyone who claimed that when this came out they could see Jack White becoming the all-powerful alt.rock god that he is now, but he’s built that reputation on hard work and great song writing.
48. Ryan Adams - Come Pick Me Up (Heartbreaker, 2000) Listen
It would probably be possible to do a top 100 of Ryan Adams songs from this decade, so prolific has his out put been, with seven solo albums and three more with The Cardinals. Inevitably, with that level of output, some of it’s been patchy, but this is still a stunningly bleak plea of a song, written by someone who sounds like he really needs help.
47. Iron & Wine - The Sea And The Rhythm (The Sea & The Rhythm EP, 2003) Listen
Sam Beam AKA Iron & Wine is a master of ghostly acoustica and this is him at his best, with barely audible vocals, fuzzy production and nursery rhyme melodies. His later output developed a little beyond that into down-the-line acoustic indie, but his early output is some of the best lo-fi music you’ll ever find.
46. Eminem – Stan (The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000) Listen
Undoubtedly one of the best lyricist’s, across any genre, this was a creative high for Eminem and repositioned him as an artist who was about more than just cartoon violence raps. It also launched Dido’s career, though not everyone thinks that that was a good thing. It's still a fantastic testament to Eminem's story-telling ability.
45. Foo Fighters - Times Like These (One By One, 2002) Listen
Grohl and co have worked hard to become the rock titans they are now, and while their current greatest hits package may seem a little premature (Grohl considers it akin to an obituary), it’s only possible because of a slew of great rock singles, this being the best. It’s the perfect Foos track – melodic but not soft, rock but not too heavy, spiky but with a singalong chorus. And he really is the nicest man in rock, which is great for all concerned.
44. The Roots - The Seed (2.0) (Phrenology, 2002) Listen
Another band that have never quite reached the wider audience that they deserve, The Roots have been putting out some of the most well-considered hip hop for well over a decade now. Hailing from Philadelphia the band play their own instruments and write songs that mostly transcend a normal hip hop tag, and this guitar led cracker is one of their best.
43. The Gaslight Anthem - Old White Lincoln (The '59 Sound, 2008) Listen
If Springsteen received royalties for every recent band that’s been influenced by him, he’d have no bigger cheque than from The Gaslight Anthem. But I’ve never considered good influences to be a black mark next to a band, especially when they’re channeled so well as they are by Brain Fallon and the boys here. It’s unashamedly Springsteen-esque, but they admit as much, so who’s complaining?
42. Aaliyah - Try Again (Romeo Must Die OST, 2000) Listen
Not only was this Aaliyah’s best song, it’s one of Timbaland’s too, thus playing a part in making two artists stars. It’s a sexy, subtle R&B track that surprisingly came from a movie soundtrack originally (though it was later added to Aaliyah’s eponymous third album as a bonus track). She was only 22 when she died and with songs like this under her belt, she could definitely have been an even bigger star with a little more time.
41. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand, 2004) Listen
Despite their obviously arty pretensions, Franz Ferdinand announced themselves with this belting indie stomper, more glam rock than Bowie, all scratchy riffs and shouty pomp, and althought their subsequent work’s all been above average at least, this still remains one of the best singles of the past decade.
40. 50 Cent - What Up Gangsta (Get Rich Or Die Tryin', 2003) Listen
I worked on the first 50 Cent record so perhaps I’m biased, but I remember very well just how genuinely exciting he was as a new artist – blessed by Em & Dre, built like a brick shithouse and shot nine times? He was like a movie character (which is more than can be said for most of the movie characters he plays). In Da Club was ubiquitous but it was this track, the first on his album, that really blew the roof off. Unusually for a rap album, Get Rich... was critically acclaimed, and although that edge has long since gone, this was a guy you knew had lived through his violent rhymes.
39. Beck - The Golden Age (Sea Change, 2002) Listen
If I was doing a list of the best artists of the noughties, Beck would definitely be in the top 10, as he would have been in the 90s too. And if he'd had a Loser of a Devil's Haircut this century then no doubt he'd be higher in this list too. As it is he'll have to settle for 39 - sorry Beck! This stark track sticks out though, and comes from his acoustic album of 2002, Sea Change. It took a lot of people by surprise after the Prince-inspired Midnite Vultures, but with strings from his father (David Campbell) and production from Radiohead cohort Nigel Godrich, it was one of the best breakup albums of the decade.
38. The Killers - All These Things That I've Done (Hot Fuss, 2004) Listen
A bit like Green Day, success seems to be changing The Killers, and for my tastes, not for the better. But Hot Fuss was a ray of glittery light in a sometimes-grey landscape, with flashes of showmanship and exuberance hinting at their Las Vegas background. Even the recent terrible-but-for-a-good-cause War Child cover of this can’t diminish the brilliance of the line “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”.
37. Roots Manuva - Witness (1 Hope) (Run Come Save Me, 2001) Listen
Sorry Dizzee, but the highpoint of UK rap in the 00’s (in ever??) comes from Rodney Smith, better known as Roots Manuva. The production’s as good as any US knob-twiddlers of the time without ever sounding like it’s trying to ape them, and Roots wears his Britishness on his sleeve with references of pints of bitter and cheese on toast. Oh, and it's a wicked party track.
36. Kings Of Leon - On Call (Because Of The Times, 2007) Listen
Another of those diverse songs I referred to in KOL’s earlier entry, and again it does the big and brash American rock thing, but in a way that’s not altogether expected, with a great hypnotic bass-line as the spine of this song.
35. John Legend - Ordinary People (Get Lifted, 2004) Listen
John Legend is a talent in the classic sense – a true songwriter who might never have that big pop hit but will always make music that strikes a chord, and never more so than on this piano-only plea to a lover to stay the course. It’s a beautifully simple sentiment and one of the most uplifting songs of the past ten years I think.
34. The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army (Elephant, 2003) Listen
Jack White’s laced-with-acid way with words is something he doesn’t always get credit for, at least not as much as his instrumental qualities, but there are some great lines on Seven Nation Army, my favourite part of my favourite White Stripes track.
33. Outkast - B.O.B. (Stankonia, 2000) Listen
Pitchfork installed this futuristic cut as their best song of the decade, and while I rate it too, it’s not quite #1 for me. But it still stands out as a unique song, across any genre. It’s almost metal in its beat and instruments, all seriously heavy drums and wailing guitar solos, but it’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 that rightly steal the show, with their super-fast rhymes and political framing.
32. Justin Timberlake - Cry Me A River (Justified, 2002) Listen
If Like I Love You was the sound of a new credible pop hero being created, Cry Me A River was the calculated move to make that hero appeal to a wider music audience and make his flash extend beyond the pan. It benefited from the massive PR push and whispering campaign about the true subject of the lyrics (Britney, of course) and the video all-but confirmed that. Again, another slice of bona fide pop gold from Timbaland.
31. The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations (Boys And Girls In America, 2006) Listen
The Hold Steady hadn’t caught much attention in the UK before the release of this, their third record, but with it they blew up all over the music press and were, like The Gaslight Anthem, put in the Springsteen-acolytes bracket. Soon to be dubbed the best pub band in the US, they were a million times better than that, with Craig Finn’s acutely observed lyrics being up their with the best songwriters, and never more so than on this New Jersey epic.
30. Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out Of My Head (Fever, 2001) Listen
The beginnings of Kylie’s renaissance had been evident with her 2000 album Light Years, but it was 2001’s Fever that took her supersonic. After a couple of listens of this (let alone seeing the video), it was nearly impossible to remember that this was the same girl from Neighbours and of Locomotive fame, and it’s without doubt the best pop song by a pop artist of the past ten years.
29. The Knife - Silent Shout (Silent Shout, 2006) Listen
The Knife have had a little more attention lately than in recent years thanks to singer Karin Dreijer-Andersson’s solo project Fever Ray, but before that even Jose Gonzalez’s hit single cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats failed to wake the mainstream up to them. Good, I say. Their album Silent Shout, and in particular this title track, is so absolutely brilliant that I’m glad more people don't seem to know about them. The warped vocals and scary electro beats never detract from what is a fundamentally listenable experience, and it’s the musical equivalent of one of those paintings that people say they see something different in no matter how many times they view it.
28. Queens Of The Stone Age - No One Knows (Songs For The Deaf, 2002) Listen
QOTSA had picked up a cult following over the course of several years of releases before 2002’s Songs... album, and their break to a bigger bunch of ears was perhaps helped in no small part by the fact that they had a certain Dave Grohl playing drums for them on this album, and their subsequent tour. On the album, the rock was ferociously loud, but on this track they trod the line between metal and rock (yes, there is a difference), and came up with a track that swings like few heavy rock songs ever do.
27. Radiohead - 15 Step (In Rainbows, 2007) Listen
Once the furore over Radiohead’s controversial self-pricing policy had died down, it became clear that they weren’t using just any old album to experiment on. In Rainbows was their best of the decade (controversial, I know) as it bridged a gap between the more conventional song-writing of The Bends and their inspirational-but-difficult albums like Kid A.
26. Jay-Z – Takeover (Blueprint, 2001) Listen
Long before the mainstream woke up to the fact that Jay-Z was and is the king of New York, he knew it, and like all kings, he had to withstand a barrage of oncomers. So Kanye put together an awesome track based around a Doors sample and Jigga man goes to work on abso-fucking-lutely destroying a couple of those pretenders to his throne. Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) and Nas are the two in his line of fire, and it’s the most comprehensive diss track ever. “You little fuck, I’ve got money stacks bigger than you” is just one of dozens of perfect lines.
Part 5 (26-11)
Part 6 (10-1)