The turn of the century may have begun with a glut of Toploader and Travis-shaped banality, but by 2002 a new wave of talent had changed everything. First came The Strokes and The White Stripes; The Libertines soon followed dragging a whole heap of Arcadian fantasists with them while, through the rest of the decade, more brilliant bands than you can shake a skinny jean-clad leg at followed suit. Whether you’re Team Foals, Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs or other – here are the decade’s finest offerings.
Words: Tim Chester, Ash Dosanjh, Priya Elan, Jamie Fullerton, Tom Goodwyn, Matthew Horton, Luke Lewis, Hamish MacBain, James McMahon, Emily Mackay, David Moynihan, Krissi Murison, Ben Patashnik, Martin Robinson, Rebecca Schiller, Alan Woodhouse, Matt Wilkinson
100 ‘Apply Some Pressure’
With this, Maximo Park showed they can do rollicking pop songs as flexible and captivating as Paul Smith’s crotch. It’s the rather marvellous keyboard riff that’s the key here, one which hooks you into the main thrust of the song without making too much of a big deal about ‘going electro’. You can’t help but think it was written with Paul Smith’s drum-rise leaps in mind, such is the way it repeatedly quietens then explodes into life, which is probably the best approach to songwriting you can have. The Maximo Park song even the naysayers have to begrudgingly appreciate.
99 ‘Do You Realize??’
“Do you realize, everyone you know some day will die .” Not an obvious idea to present in a pop song, but it worked incredibly well in this highpoint from The Flaming Lips’ ‘Yoshimi…’. Presented as a sweet, necessary reminder of mortality required in order for you to truly appreciate your life and the people around you, it married space-age sonics with heartfelt emotion without being cheesy. The Flaming Lips live experience is this song writ large, joy at life taken to transcendent levels, though always with the knowledge that death is close.
98 ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’
Morrissey’s truly great ‘comeback’ song, a stirring little nationalistic drama which comes across as impassioned rather than bombastic. It heralded the new barrel-chested, gladiatorial Morrissey, who was soon seen brandishing a tommygun on the cover of his ‘You Are the Quarry’ album.
97 ‘Round Round’
Probably one of Xenomania’s most perfect tracks, ‘Round Round’ is mean, it’s taut, it’s sexy and it’s awesome. Preceding ‘Sound Of The Underground’ by several months, it never falls into the slightly nudge-nudge Carry On ‘knowing’ territory that Girls Aloud often do – Sugababes were by far the cooler proposition.
They’re not normally noted for their emotionalism, Crystal Castles, so much as for their shrieking, bleeping, sulking and bottling. Compare, though, the original track on HEALTH’s debut album with Ethan Kath’s reworked version and it’s amazing how it subtly smoothes a jagged, brutalist and tortured thing into a melancholy, gently blooping and squelching, 8-bit mooch of some beauty, bringing the soft fear in Jake Duszik’s actually rather lovely voice to the fore.
95 ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’
The Killers truly touch greatness on this stirring, huge-hooked, last-song-of-the-night monster. The final refrain of “I got soul but I’m not a soldier” is a meaningless phrase when you think about it, but when you’re yelling it in a field along with thousands of people while your seventh pill of the night is threatening to change your sex, it can feel pretty powerful. It manages to pull off that early U2 trick of being both a misty-eyed call of romantic defiance, and a song you can bounce around to with your mates.
94 ‘My Girls’
The fact that Animal Collective are to blogging what the electric guitar was to rock and roll music is not their fault. Yeah, loads of idiots like to write a load of nonsense about them in corners of the web that no one with any semblance of a life ever visits, but ultimately, stripped of any context, songs such as the taster for ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’ exhibit a band who trade in come one, come all euphoro-rave. It would be a tragedy if they were remembered for being merely ‘a blog band’, rather than what they actually are, which is simply an incredible band.
Debut smashes don’t come with much more swagger and bombast than The Big Pink’s breakthrough did. Constructed around a skyscraper-sized beat, the track’s lyrics might be cruder than the bits that were deemed too rude for Viz magazine, but it’s still stupidly catchy and hummable, as proved when Nicki Minaj’s underwhelming re-telling of the hook still left you singing along. They’re going to have trouble topping this with album number two.
When the svengali of Cash’s reinvention Rick Rubin contacted Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor to request if the country legend could cover the song on Rubin’s suggestion, Reznor, replied that he was ‘flattered’ but concerned it’d be ‘gimmicky’. Upon viewing the video, he relented the song was no longer his. The stark, desolate sorrow of the original was translated into harrowing, minimal balladry by the Man In Black. When he died later that year it instantly became a chilling serenade to his fan’s mourning, worldwide.
91 ‘Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above’
Predating the onslaught of lame leggings and skin-burning cracked glow-sticks, CSS’ breakthrough hit did everything you never even knew you wanted from a hit of mid-Noughties indie-disco. The winning recipe of naïve flirtiness, shuffling spacey infectiousness and surprising and irreverent NME-culture references put the spotlight on Sao Paolo in a way pop culture hadn’t seen for some time. As nu rave took hold it became one of the most incendiary sure-fire dancefloor bangers at lektro discos across the world.
90 ‘The Real Slim Shady’
What a way to kick off the new millennium this was. It was vulgar, offensive, and it tore into just about everyone. From Pamela and Tommy Lee to Britney Spears, no one was off limits. Eminem didn’t give a shit and he told it like it was, and this one skyrocketed him into getting his first single to top the chart in the UK. Here’s to the coolest song to reference the Discovery Channel (besides The Bloodhound Gang).
‘Modern Guilt’ was a short, often sonically meandering and lyrically baffling kind of an album, and its preview track was no exception. By this point Beck had more than settled into his role as one of America’s most chameleonic, constantly compelling performers, and on this he delivered a mantra of conspiracy theorist paranoia that only served to intrigue us all even further. His beautiful falsetto here sits beautifully over an elastic bassline, propulsive drums and some marvellously intricate production courtesy of Danger Mouse.
88 ‘Sea Within A Sea’
When The Horrors emerged in 2006 as gothically themed garage rockers, hype quickly gave way to backlash. The darlings of Southend’s Junk Club scene were dismissed as one-trick ponies, and poor sales of 2007 debut album ‘Strange House’ cost them their major-label deal. When they returned in 2009, they were unrecognisable. Mesmeric comeback single ‘Sea Within A Sea’ ran to seven minutes instead of the customary two, featured Faris Badwan singing instead of screeching, and mined a new influence: the smooth, pulsing dream-rock of Can and Neu!.
87 ‘O Katrina!’
It wasn’t until Vice Records released ‘Good Bad Not Evil’ in the UK in 2007 that Atlanta dirt-rockers Black Lips came to wide(ish) public attention in Blighty, but the shove couldn’t have been heralded better than by their greatest song – the moody, brooding yet rip-throat raucous ‘O Katrina!’. With a bass intro more hummy than a beehive, the song soon explodes into a clatter that personifies their cut-loose personalities perfectly, while when played live they morph it into a stretched blues haze that gives it a whole new psychedelic life of its own.
86 ‘Spanish Sahara’
Whereas Foals’ debut, ‘Antidotes’, was packed full with strange, vaguely math-ish constructions, like a spiky game of Tetris, the introduction to its follow-up, ‘Total Life Forever’, gaped like a hole in the heart. It’s sparse, deathly chilling and emotionally naked – Yannis sings rather than barks, and whilst the lyrics are hardly explicit, his order, or invitation – “Forget the horror here” – bears an alluringly universal resonance.
What a track. From the opening choir-like vocals and slamming piano chords, a sound like screaming children and warm, rolling bassline, it’s clear that this is no ordinary song. “I wanna get in the sunlight” sings frontman Chris Keating as the music ascends into a blur of Middle Eastern-influenced, psychedelia-infused, whirling, trippy, gospel goodness. Hailing from – where else? – Brooklyn, the band released their critically-acclaimed debut ‘All Hour Cymbals’ in 2007, before touring with MGMT in 2008 as the ‘psychAmerica’ sound spread like a spilt lava lamp.
84 ‘Bad Cover Version’
They only released one album this decade (2001’s ‘We Love Life’), and this was its best track. The lyric is one of Jarvis Cocker’s finest, pointing out that there’s no substitute for feeling real love by way of pointing out a number of popular cultural landmarks gone rotten (the Stones in The ’80s, Tom & Jerry when they could talk and, cheekily, album producer Scott Walker’s ”Til The Band Comes In’ album). Oh, and it had a great ‘Band Aid’ parody video where Jarvis played Brian May.
83 ‘Independent Women Part 1’
Cast your mind back to 2000 and Beyoncé was the one in Destiny’s Child who had something, well… a bit special about her. Ostensibly a trio, it was clear that Beyoncé was the leader of the pack. But what a pack they formed: Beyoncé, plus sidekicks Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, were every bit as bold and beautiful as the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ whose film this song provided the soundtrack for. “The watch I’m wearing – I bought it. The house I live in – I bought it” declared the singers.
82 ‘Sex On Fire’
It’s become a bit of a drive-time, FM-rock cliché – which is strange, because ‘Sex On Fire’ is really quite a filthy song, describing a shag so mind-bendingly amazing, it’s almost a bit scary (“Knuckles are pale, feels like you’re dying…“). Caleb Followill didn’t think much of it at first, he didn’t want to include it on ‘Only By The Night’, but he was convinced otherwise. Just as well – it became KOL’s biggest hit by miles, rubber-banding them into the mainstream, to the point where, distressingly, even The X Factor’s Jamie Afro covered it.
81 ‘Hope There’s Someone’
It seems strange now, but in 2005, no one knew quite what the fuck to make of Antony Hegarty. Part Nina Simone, part Boy George (with a splash of Robert Smith and Alison Moyet lobbed in for a laugh), he was a jazz diva on one hand and a 6ft 4in transgendered lost child on the other. No wonder we were confused. What was obvious to everyone was that Antony was a unique talent and a master of refined melancholy. This is intense, desperate and, like the wine you’re probably necking while boo-hooing along to it, gets better with age.
80 ‘Hounds Of Love’
For all the lazy comparisons of modern-day female artists to a wily singer-songwriter most recognisable for her creative output in the ’70s and ’80s, there’s only one band in the indieverse that has managed to capture the true essence of Kate Bush’s quirky greatness.
79 ‘Plug In Baby’
The first single from their second album, ‘Origin Of Symmetry’, ‘Plug In Baby’ marked the moment Muse stopped being Jeff Buckley/Radiohead copyists and found their own voice. It started life as a ballad before Matt Bellamy realised it’d work better as full-pelt moshpit-fodder. The lyrics are pretty dumb – the “plug-in baby” with which he “crucifies his enemies” is actually his guitar (not a vibrator, as some have speculated). But with a chorus hook this cataclysmically huge, who’s paying attention to the words?
78 ‘Daddy’s Gone’
One of those tracks that has the ability to instantly make everything else around it seem sham and flimsy, ‘Daddy’s Gone’ sounded like nothing else at the time. Sonically in an echo-washed, cold urban Spector world of its own, opening with that heart-wrenching “Oh-oh, how you’re my hero/Oh-oh, how you’re never here though”, lyrically it took simplicity and openness to a level few could stomach without being self-indulgent or maudlin. James Allan later revealed he’d found it hard to release the song, apprehensive of the reaction of his own father, and embarrassed by its honesty.
77 ‘Men’s Needs’
“Nah-nah-nah-naah-nah-nah-na-na-na, Nah-nah-nah-naah-nah-nah-na-na-na” – the opening riff of the Wakefield brothers’ most anthemic moment has become an indie dancefloor catchphrase in itself. Alex Kapranos’ under-appreciated production, using silence brilliantly between riffs for full whack, helps elevate this above similarly scraggy efforts from the band’s peers into a jean-ripping triumph of what you can do with just three blokes, a couple of guitars and some wires. It also was a huge factor in pushing the band on from cult heroes to one of the UK’s best-loved bands.
Prior to 2006 you’d have been forgiven for not knowing the names Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green; two men who were little more than footnotes in hip-hop, so averse to mainstream success were they. But ‘Crazy’ changed all that when it became a Number One hit in the UK singles chart, as well as bagging the duo a Grammy. With its soulful vocals provided by Cee-Lo, tormented lyrics and crooning hip-hop beats it proved the crossover track of the year, going on to be covered by such unlikely artists as The Kooks, Nelly Furtado and The Zutons.
75 ‘Staring At The Sun’
Pairing the cool vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and the funk sensibilities of Kyp Malone with suave electronic beats and post-rock guitar onslaughts, TV On The Radio have made their name by sounding out against indie rock mediocrity. No song encapsulated such a stance more than the sky-soaring majesty of ‘Staring At The Sun’, from their 2004 album ‘Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes’. And for all David Sitek’s masterful work on the production desk for the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Foals and Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johansson, it’s with TV On The Radio that he has really left an indelible mark.
74 ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’
Whether you were an indie purest or a rock traditionalist, there was one certainty with Kylie’s 2001 hit, and that was that it wasn’t just the fodder of sugared dance pop zealots. For here was a song that encapsulated everything enviable in a well-crafted song. Catchy hooks, a salaciously cool video and lyrical content that did exactly what it said on the tin. Reaching Number One in over 40 countries, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ may not have been the last decent song that this Neighbours alumnus released, but it is arguably still her best.
73 ‘Without Me’
‘Without Me’, the lead off single from Marshall Mathers’ third LP, serves not only as a reminder to the world of the rapper’s brilliance, but a roll call of anyone who scorned him in the years previous. This includes: Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, the FCC and MTV, Chris Kirkpatrick, Limp Bizkit and Moby, as well as – as is traditional in an Eminem tune – his own mother, for the lawsuit she filed against him for the lyrics of his debut single ‘My Name Is’. Sigh. Don’t you wish he still made tunes as brilliant as this?
It’s one of life’s great injustices that probably more people know José González’s cover version than the glorious original from The Knife’s ‘Deep Cuts’. Ironically, it was just such an emphasis on acoustic or traditional instrumentation as more real or emotional that the Swedish brother and sister duo set out to debunk, by refusing to use any organic sounds and declaring “we want to react against the organic, improvised expression”.
Kelis’ biggest UK single was inescapable upon its release in 2003, even though it only managed to reach Number Two in the charts (where it stayed for a month). It’s a lesson in classic pop subversion, because it manages to be both playfully innocent and undeniably crude at the same time.
Bobby Gillespie has long been vocal about his belief in “high energy rock’n’roll” of the type popularised by the likes of The Stooges or MC5. On this – the final single to be released by Creation Records, fact fans – he out-noised even the most abrasive moments of his idols, thanks largely to some face-meltingly intense mixing courtesy of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields (a man who knows a thing or two about noise). “Here we come, we’re coming fast/Out the upside into the past”, Bobby sneered at one point, over an orchestra of overdriven guitars. Which was more than fair comment.
69 ‘Slow Life’
Super Furry Animals’ greatest song amalgamated all their biggest strengths (slow but anthemic melodies, fist-punch choruses and techno bleep-outs) into a seven-minute wonder vastly more magic than the sum of its parts. Cian Ciaran, the dance expert in the band, built a pupil-dilating intro that built until – when played live – the band would cut in with the instruments, anthemic harmonica heralding a career peak for one of the UK’s most special, genre-shoving bands.
68 ‘Red Morning Light’
As introductions go, Kings Of Leon’s paean to the plights of prostitution told you everything you needed to know about the band. Four hickey rabblerousers fresh from ma’s farm in the deep south and with a penchant for three minute guttural blues pop; it’s as close to the Southern Strokes as they ever managed. Deftly produced, Caleb Followill’s scream at roughly one minute 25 remains one of the great moments in modern American rock, while the guitar solo that follows it is pure Chuck Berry – if he were playing Albert Hammond Jnr’s equipment, that is.
67 ‘Highly Evolved’
The debut single proper from The Vines propelled Craig Nicholls and co to instant stardom in 2002. Clocking in at just one minute 34 seconds, it remains as instantly infectious now as it did upon its release. But while Nicholls’ sneering vocal shows him at his nonchalant best, it’s Rob Schnapf’s clean-as-a-whistle production that’s really clever. The man responsible for Beck’s ‘Loser’ turns ‘Highly Evolved’ from a messy three-chord grunge racket (see the band’s early demos of it) into something so pristine sounding that it’s closer to ‘More Than A Feeling’ than ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
Before their obsessions with carnival rhythms and cowbells really took off, Friendly Fires had this 2007 single to propel them skywards. What’s it about? Well, basically, moving to Paris and going clubbing forever. It’s that simple. But more than anything, it proved that guitar bands in the noughties could ‘do dance’ credibly (or should that be the other way round?).
65 ‘For Lovers’
It seems strange to think of it now, but when Pete Doherty released ‘For Lovers’ in 2003 it seemed genuinely different and exciting. Up until then, he was best known for being a podgy Julian Casablancas wannabe with a penchant for talking rubbish in interviews. But ‘For Lovers’ changed everything. Most of all, it made people outside The Libertines’ fanbase take notice for the first time. Ironically, it wasn’t even written by him – though he did add the “jailer” verse to Peter ‘Wolfman’ Wolfe’s original.
As genial and comforting as a friend’s arm round your shoulder on the night bus home as you weep into your chips, ‘Sheila’ is the male counterpart to Lily Allen’s ‘LDN’ – smart, warm magpie pop that could only have been made in the capital. The gentle old-school beats and the romanticism of Jamie Treays’ melody make it more than token ‘urban grittiness’, populated as it is by an array of minor city tragedies – drownings, dealers, domestic violence.
63 ‘Fuck Forever’
“What became of forever?” Pete Doherty asked at the tail end of The Libertines career. Here, he gave the world (and Carl Barat) his answer. How deliciously potent a message it must have been for Doherty, who by the song’s release in 2005 was revelling – like a true Libertine – in the ludicrousness of his own self-propagated soap opera. Or, of course, it could just be about being a really good shag.
62 ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’
Built around Carol Williams’ 1977 Salsoul stormer ‘Love Is You’, Cristiano Spiller’s disco reanimation realised its hit potential when Sophie Ellis-Bextor – then more famous for being Janet Ellis’s daughter than her stint as singer with indie also-rans theaudience – was brought in to add some well-to-do Twickenham sang-froid. Her prim delivery rubbing up against the Chic-like chukka-chukka guitar was a true celebration of Studio 54’s high-class sheen.
61 ‘Back To Black’
‘Rehab’ had the one-liner bellylaugh, but it was the title track to Amy Winehouse’s second album that really proved its depth and worth. Hard faced and broken-souled, its knowing wallowing spoke to anyone who’d ever had a bunnyboiler moment. It smoothly chronicled the lowest of lows (drawing on Winehouse’s first break-up with Blake Fielder-Civil) with unflinching, fierce frankness, couched by Mark Ronson’s most luscious of retro-soul deliciousness, all Dusty Springfield high drama and tear-streaked eyeliner.
Though it was ‘Fidelity’ and ‘On The Radio’ from 2006’s ‘Begin To Hope’ that brought Regina Spektor wider success, it was at the expense of some of the rougher edges on her preceding album, ‘Soviet Kitsch’, a bizarre, intimate and idiosyncratic record in which the sweetness of her piano-led ballads is tempered by a raw weirdness.
The lead-off single and high-point of Interpol’s second album, this has a typically obtuse Paul Banks lyric (“Make revision to a dream while you wait in the van”) only somehow even worse (“Sensitive to faith not”? Bad grammar does not necessarily load things with meaning, Mr Banks). What’s remarkable about this song is that this drivel doesn’t matter one bit.
58 ‘Everything In Its Right Place’
The moment where Radiohead finally left behind the limitations of being an alt.rock band and embraced a whole wide world of weirdness that made ‘alt’ seem as silly a word as it was. The opening track of ‘Kid A’ took their fans further out than they’d ever been before, dabbling in Warp-style electronica, minimalism and all manner of glitchy creepiness. Thom Yorke’s no longer just singing about “unborn chicken voices“, as on ‘Paranoid Android’, they seem to have infected his brain and chatter around him in the weirdly hymnal dreamscape of ambient keys.
57 ‘One Day Like This’
The rise of Manchester five-piece Elbow from relative unknowns into one of the biggest bands in the UK may have been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Sourcing them a whole new generation of fans, as well as landing them with a Mercury Music Prize for ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, ‘One Day Like This’, with its choral chanting and orchestral extravagance, proved so uplifting and inspiring that it’s hardly surprising it’s been used to soundtrack a million sporting TV montages – or that it nabbed them an Ivor Novello for best song in 2009.
56 ‘Dreaming Of You’
Take the insanely-young genius of James Skelly (just 21-years old when he wrote the track), add the veteran know-how of producer Ian Broudie (of The Lightning Seeds fame), and the results speak for themselves. The Coral’s debut album stunned like a cattle-prod on its release in 2002, such was its vitality and the wide-ranging sources for its unique sound. Country, 1960s psychedelia, sea shanties, The Doors, folk and more feed into the eclectic masterpiece that was voted the 4th best album of the year by NME.
A nocturnal proclamation of love (that veers into dangerous co-dependent territory) this was The xx’s finest moment thus far; a simple, effective take on dark, nocturnal love action. As guitars twirls like dance floor partners in the background, Olly and Romy skirt around their loyalty (“I am yours now, so I don’t ever have to leave,” they sing) sounding half in love, half bewitched by Stockholm Syndrome. The synths play like a musical shadow in the background: doomy specters, ominous preludes of what’s to come and what’s waiting at the end of the honeymoon period.
The standout track from the classic ‘Illinois’ album, ‘Chicago’ is on a concept album about the state it exists in, but isn’t really about the city, more about a road trip Sufjan had taken with his friend. No matter, its string-laden majesty was truly a thing of wonder. And even Snow Patrol referencing it on their 2006 song ‘Hands Open’ couldn’t diminish its beauty.
53 ‘Time For Heroes’
“There are fewer more distressing sights, than that, of an Englishman in a baseball cap” sang Pete Doherty in an inch-perfect lyric from this anthemic indie classic inspired by London’s violent May Day riots. The third single from The Libertines’ debut album ‘Up The Bracket’, it was yet another wake-up slap in the face for anyone who thought that British indie rock was dormant after the heady days of Britpop. A post-punk slice of perfection, it’s also imbued with the spirit of The Clash in more than just its influences, thanks to production from the legendary Mick Jones.
52 ‘In For The Kill’
In a world in which everyone and their dog was doing the 80s, Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid pulled off the feat of making something which sounded attached to that decade but which also sounded authentic and effortless. The key seemed to be the duo’s set up, whereby Elly’s lyrics – schooled in Joni Mitchell’s academy of the confessional – and her weird, falsetto vocal style bounced off Ben’s multi-tracked electronic backing brilliantly. The result was a lovelorn classic that, although haunted by the ghosts of Depeche Mode and Erasure, stood on its own thanks to the duo’s uncluttered alchemy.
51 ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’
At the peak of their powers with 2001’s ‘Discovery’, everything the duo did sounded so damn effortless. Their robo-personas were put into full effect as they intoned the Presbyterian work ethic of the lyrics, slowly going out of their tiny, worker ant minds as the words became disjointed and rotten by the climax of the track. The music shuffled along with a snappy groove, echoing the non-stop nature of the lyrics. Kanye would later re-visit the track on his own ‘Stronger’, but the effect was nowhere near as compelling as Daft Punk’s bold and futuristic original.
As singer Tom Meighan explained to NME back in 2006, ‘Empire’ was slang used by the band to mean something good. Something of an understatement, seeing as the album of the same name shot to number 1 and sold around 1 million copies worldwide. A thumping, hypnotic track with a soaring sing-along chorus – “Stop! I said it’s happening again, we’re all wasting away!”, the album version contains a bizarre clip of a random answer phone message, though to have been left by mistake on one of the band’s mobile phones.
49 ’99 Problems’
Helmed by super-producer Rick Rubin, ‘99 Problems’ initially charted at number 12 in the UK on release in 2003, but also returned at number 35 in 2008, prompted by Jay-Z’s legendary Noel Gallagher-baiting appearance at Glastonbury Festival. A true mongrel, the song includes samples of ‘The Big Beat’ by Billy Squier and ‘Long Red’ by Mountain. It also borrows its name and chorus from Ice-T’s 1993 album ‘Home Invasion’ and lyrics from rapper Trick Daddy’s 2001 release, also titled ’99 Problems’, fact fans.
Well to do, world-wise, Ivy Leaguers with boners for vintage Ralph Lauren jumpers, Vampire Weekend were an unworkable proposition on paper. But in reality, it was exactly this mix that helped produce their very modern music. ‘A-Punk’ took us from a New York cancer ward to New Mexico via a Police-ish ska beat, Tom Verlaine-like guitar work and the kind of organ solo you’d find at the Sunday service at your local church. It was a prime example of Vampire Weekend’s brilliant ability to do several hundred things at once and make it sound fresh and organic.
As nerdy as this is – and we could be even nerdier, Britney’s most current signature tune was appropriated into the massively multiplayer online role playing game World Of Warcraft after all – the very fact this song was included in a 2005 episode of Doctor Who entitled ‘The End Of The World’ (as a recording on an ancient jukebox as an example of “a traditional ballad” from 5 billion years prior) should tell you something of its cultural impact. It’s the song that little girls dance to at discos. It’s the standard soundtrack to gay clubs and hen nights.
It’s all in the way she tells it. No one else could simultaneously sound as world-weary and mischievous as Lily Allen delivering that line about her emotionally-retarded ex “fucking the girl next door…what d’you do that for?“. In those ten-and-a-half words alone an exasperated modern female icon was born, creating a perfect pop storm where a song, an attitude and an unlikely star (in this case Harry Enfield’s gobby stepdaughter) collided to create what is commonly known as a bit of a moment. Let’s just all choose to forget ‘Sheezus’, yeah?
45 ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’
Based around a sample of ‘The Big Beat’ by veteran US arena rocker Billy Squier, the boy from Bow’s second single was an arresting, odd arrangement, even by the arresting, odd standards of Dizzee’s parent culture, grime. It marked the arrival of a truly unique British talent – smart, savvy and more-or-less unlike anything music had seen before – it was a veritable pout of a tune. Such is the song’s hookiness, it even survived the appropriation of Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip by being sampled in their song ‘Fixed’.
This song not only marked the first time the New York band had incorporated vocals into their music – apart from some beatboxing on the songs ‘Dance’ and ‘Fantasy’, the two EPs that preceeded this were entirely instrumental – but ear-marked the band as an outfit truly unique. Not only the kind of band comfortable on an ATP line-up (a recording of this song from the 2007 festival opens this October’s documentary) but this song proved they were masters of the dancefloor too. A math-art-dance-punk-groove-rock classic.
The key tune on 2002’s ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ wasn’t even supposed to be on the record at all, and only turned up on the bands second album after Chris Martin, en route to filing the tracklisting to label Parlophone, had a crisis of confidence about the proposed release, asked to put the date back by two months, and recorded the song on the recommendation of the band’s manager Phil Harvey. We should be grateful they did – it’s testament to the songs wonder that it’s appeared in places as disparate as The Sopranos, ER and in the promos for pro-wrestler Kurt Angle.
42 ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’
Written by Beth Ditto as a fiery response to the Federal Marriage Amendment – which would have constitutionally outlawed same-sex marriage in the USA if passed – the Gossip’s biggest song had three stabs at fame before it eventually hit gold. The title track of their third record was first released as a Le Tigre remix in 2005, in its own form in 2006, then for the last time in 2007 – although it was the Soulwax Nite Versions remix of the song, that appeared on the advertising for series one of ‘Skins’, that ensured the tune its status as an essential song of the last ten years.
41 ‘Mr Brightside’
How about this for serendipity? ‘Mr Brightside’ was the very first song The Killers wrote together, at their very first rehearsal session (you can hear the original 2001 demo version on YouTube). Imagine that: within hours of entering the practice studio you’re playing this: a song so melodically perfect, so surging, and so urgent, it will soundtrack end-of-the-night, scream-the-words carnage for decades to come (it’s also the most Scrobbled track in the history of Last.fm).
40 ‘Gold Digger’
‘The College Dropout’ was a thrilling enough mix of myth-making and speeded up soul samples but it didn’t have a peak like this. Kanye returned in 2005 with an unabashed pop song, making inspired use of Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles turn before sampling the great man himself, and bleeding his wit dry with a bottomless pit of quotable lines. Now he’s a compelling blend of braggadocio and woe-is-me, it’s good to remember the party-starting satirist.
39 ‘Sound Of The Underground’
The hangover of conveyor-belt comedy-awful manufactured pap was still prominent in everyone’s minds in 2002. Who’d have thought it would take the puppeteering of Louis Walsh on the back of Popstars: The Rivals to reignite people’s imaginations at pop’s possibilities? The key catalyst at play here was the chap responsible for that weird vocoder effect on Cher’s ‘Believe’.
38 ‘The Cedar Room’
The longest song on Doves’ mesmerising debut album ‘Lost Souls’ represents the true essence of what this most unassumingly special of British bands are all about. A constant live favourite, it creeps along at a lovely, stoned pace, ever so slowly evolving into a classic piece of colourful psychedelia that even the most addled of ’60s acid-heads would be immensely proud of. They made much more concise, accessible pop records than this throughout their careers, but never have Jimi Goodwin’s lot sounded as mesmerizingly beautiful as they do here.
37 ‘Alice Practice’
The reason so many journalists rubbed their sweaty plans together with glee at the prospect of stringing adjectives together over these two Canadian ex-metallers-turned-8-bit-circuit-benders, was because pop music had never had anything quite like it in its midst. Of all the images conjured, that of ‘battery acid rain falling on a playground full of school children’ seems to go some way to coining the noise of their debut single.
36 ‘Get Ur Freak On’
“Who’s that bitch?” Missy asked rhetorically on her greatest single, before answering, “People you know/Me and Timbaland been hot since 20 years ago.” While their prowess as pre-teens could not be confirmed or denied, one thing was for sure: this bass-less cocktail of off kilter bongo beats, synth strings and weird noises was a high point for one of the greatest, most forward thinking songwriting partnerships of modern times.
35 ‘One Armed Scissor’
Perhaps the most significant thing ‘One Armed Scissor’ did upon its release in 2000 was to reinvigorate legions of music fans utterly despondent with new bands. Just like Primal Scream’s ‘XTRMNTR’ was doing for UK music at the same time, At The Drive-In proved that US rock bands didn’t have to be offensively cheesy (Blink-182), inoffensively bland (Nickelback), offensively offensive (Limp Bizkit) or just plain shit (Linkin Park).
34 ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’
There was little not to love about The Hives when they first burst into public consciousness. The matching uniforms, the fat dude with a moustache on guitar, the Mick Jagger-on-Sunny Delight moves of frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and visceral, no-nonsense garage rock nuggets such as this, their most popular song. The criticisms that they only had one or two great songs missed the point entirely: as anyone at all familiar with ’60s garage will tell you, most of the great bands only had a couple of great moments. That’s kind of the whole point!
33 ‘No One Knows’
There’s an argument that the QOTSA line up of Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri and Dave Grohl is the most powerful line up of any rock group of the modern age… including Them Crooked Vultures. Judging by this cut from ‘Songs For The Deaf’, you can see why: growling, prowling and downright sexy, it nails the band’s knack for creating gargantuan heavy rock monsters while still retaining some swaggering sass. No one does it like Queens.
32 ‘Empire State Of Mind’
The funniest thing about this song is that Katy Perry, bless her, actually believes that ‘California Gurls’ is some kind of Westside riposte to it. Smashing as she and Snoop’s ode to “Daisy dukes, bikinis on top” is, the heat of that wig is clearly going to the poor lassie’s head. So colossal you can’t even see the top, ‘Empire State…’ was the song of at least two summers. You can drop it on any dance floor, at any time and be an absolute, instant hero. Somehow it manages to make everyone a New Yorker, if only for a few minutes.
Hey, remember when Bloc Party didn’t suck balls to an almost ludicrous degree? This is a prime cut from their golden era, all paranoid post-punk thrusting and ice-cool stabs of melody, and could be their finest hour. It helped that Kele was singing about the demons that populated the darkest corners of his mind, because that gave ‘Banquet’ a depth no one really expected of Bloc Party, and which means it retains its relevance and brilliance years after its initial release.
30 ‘Take Me Out’
Some songs seem custom-built for a 1am slot in indie discos. This is possibly the most surefire winner any DJ can have in his repertoire, because all the boys can pose and finger-point for the first 55 seconds and then the girls take over. It’s what Franz always wanted, and by criminy they succeeded.
29 ‘Losing My Edge’
It’s testament to the then-razor-sharp nous of James Murphy that ‘Losing My Edge’ is still just as relevant today as ever. Not just lyrically, although the diatribe remains funny as fuck, but the crisp NYC beats, which seem to be hardwired to our hips. In a good way. Murphy and co would go on to bigger and better things later in the decade but this introduction to what would later be discovered as his sound was a secret window into the lives of people who were cool not because they dressed particularly well or had expensive haircuts, but just because they were total unabashed music geeks.
28 ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
In the beginning, there was a song… And it was a really very good one. On the surface, this heads-down rocker seemed like an unspectacular introduction to what would become The Band That Changed Everything Maybe, but its innate exuberance and the sheer joyfulness of knowing just how fun it is to dance like a robot from 1984 elevated ‘…Dancefloor’ well above the sum of its parts. Its cause was helped no end by a charmingly retro video featuring as its centerpiece a wink from Helders to Turner that said more about the canny savvy of the band than a million clever-clever interview quotes.
27 ‘We Are Your Friends’
French electro bomp and sleaze meets otherwise-unspectacular UK indie, unites two hitherto alien tribes and becomes massive hit in the process. That stuttering vocal which seemed to suggest there was an exclamation mark after every single word or so (“We! Are! Your Friends!”) stapled to rubbery, irresistible synths was basically dancefloor catnip, borne out by the fact it’s still played at almost every single club night in the world. Weirdly, despite being a relic of a particular time and place, both Justice and Simian’s finest hour sounds crisp and fresh every time.
On ‘Back To Black’ Amy Winehouse (aided by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson) tied the sound of the past (“jukebox” as Winehouse called it) to the present with effortlessness. ‘Rehab’ was all Ronettes sass and Motown horns but at its heart was the memory of a very real conversation about Winehouse’s post-heartbreak addition and how best to deal with it. In life and in the song, her management wanted her to seek help, but the singer would have rather sought the advice of the masters: Ray Charles and Donnie Hathaway.
25 ‘Wake Up’
From the smallest of acorns come the most statuesque natural beauties: so ‘Wake Up’ grows from an inelegantly struck guitar chord into something practically religious in its fervour and scale. If you’ve ever been in a crowd of any size, from an intimate congregation to some vast festival mass, when this hymn to life takes flight you’ll know just how good it feels to open your lungs. Yes, we know there are some really quite touching lyrics, but nothing quite so affecting as “Whoa-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh” when bellowed out by about 100,000 lungs.
24 ‘There Goes The Fear’
The near seven-minute mournful masterpiece remains one of the most cherished UK tracks of the decade, by one of our best bands of the era, being one of those tunes that is both sad and uplifting at the same time. NME writers loved it enough to vote it the song of 2002. Nuff said.
23 ‘Knights Of Cydonia’
Giddy up! Muse haters tend to portray the band as pompous and humourless, like a modern-day Genesis. This track explodes that idea, for the simple reason that it’s so damn fun. How can you not love a track that bolts defiant, us-against-the-world hollering (“No-one’s gonna take us alive!“) to a fantastical imaginative backdrop of galloping Martian cowboys. To watch this song played live, as the super-heavy riff kicks in at the end, is to experience rock at its most pure and exhilarating.
22 ‘Last Nite’
‘Last Nite’ was the internal soundtrack of every early noughties UK student who didn’t have a sports sweatshirt with a ridiculous nickname they’d made up for themselves written on the back of it. The most frivolous and fun moment of The Strokes’ entire back catalogue to date, never before had a song that sounded as if it was recorded through a plaster wall felt so anthemic. Built on a base of Ramones-like, taut rock, it provided a platform for one of the most air guitar-worthy of Albert Hammond Jr’s axe-amblings ever, and was another reminder of how important these four dudes were.
21 ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’
Jack White’s reverential plundering of the rock canon has resulted in some criticism – but ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, from his and Meg’s breakthrough classic ‘White Blood Cells’, was a garage-rock classic that could hold its own against any two-and-a-half-minutes of noise featuring at least a guitar and a drumkit. Fast, frenetic and as feral as a wild tiger, it quickly became an indie club staple, the kind you drop pints for, in a bid to hit the dancefloor before the last gravelly roar from Jack’s guitar ends.
20 ‘Over And Over’
The second silver bullet (along with ‘Boy From School’) in the Putney electro-popsters’ synapse-ruffling live set, ‘Over And Over’ is simply one of the biggest stone-cold bangers of all time. Play the understated jingly riff that opens the song at any gathering of more than two people and you’ve instantly got a party you’d skip your dog’s funeral to attend – for at least those five minutes. The first single from the band’s second (and first for a major label) album, ‘The Warning’, ‘Over And Over’ was the moment that the lo-fi bedroom nerds became the biggest party-starters since Daft Punk.
‘In Rainbows” finest moment had actually been around for several years before its 2007 release. Although the early incarnation of the song bore scant resemblance to its finished state, the band apparently liked Jonny Greenwood’s instrumental part so much that they decided to turn it into an entirely new track, but keep the same title. What ‘Reckoner’ does so effortlessly is show that Radiohead can still be masters of subtle, guitar-based songwriting.
18 ‘Ms Jackson’
Chart-melting US hip-hop anthems invariably feature bonnet-busting beats, shotgun sound effects and a general tone of bigging up oneself. But one of the biggest hip-hop anthems of the decade, from Andre 3000 and Big Boi, was a very different beast indeed. BB’s Uzi-fire rapping cut against Dre’s feline croon perfectly over shuffling beats and heart-string piano as the pair laid out one side of the story of a custody battle between Dre and his ex, Erykah Badu. Hardly the normal subject matter of your usual block-raising hip-hop smash – but then OutKast are hardly your average hip-hop act.
Written as a tribute to Karen O’s then boyfriend (Angus Andrew of Liars), ‘Maps’ managed to do the near impossible – lyrically fixating on the trials of being separated while on tour (poor rock stars) yet making it sound like a universal paean to heartache and romance. The “They don’t love you like I love you” hook in the chorus is so tender it could make a pitbull well up. Bless.
There are many puzzling things about this song, which was originally written for Britney Spears but rejected by her label. First, how is it that such a daft, stuttered lyric (“Umbrella-ella-ella“) can sound so serious and epic? And second, how is Rihanna able to sing in such a cold and impassive voice, yet make the song sound so weirdly moving? The slick production makes it superficially an R&B track, but the chorus is so toweringly great it transcends genre boundaries. Perhaps that’s why it’s been covered by everyone from My Chemical Romance to Manic Street Preachers.
It’s not just that Yeah Yeah Yeahs managed to outsmart Radio 1’s profanity censors with ‘Bang’ and its downright rude lyrics: “As a fuck son, you sucked” and “The bigger the better”. Or that Karen O is a phenomenal frontwoman, or that Nick Zinner is a guitar maverick that makes them so great. It’s that this New York trio broke through the barrage of indie boy band pap with this single to bring excitement, intelligence and unadulterated fun to a genre noted only for its lacklustre approach to pushing things forward.
14 ‘Seven Nation Army’
Jack and Meg White became proper bona fide megastars on the back of this song, propelled by arguably the finest riff of the decade by anyone. Its popularity was such that football fans the world over continue to adapt the refrain to make their own particular chant. High praise indeed. Named after what Jack called the Salvation Army as a child, the song is now recognised as a proper, grade A classic. Recorded in London for about two pence, it still sounds amazing.
13 ‘The Rat’
Sometimes a band unleash a song so staggeringly, elementally powerful, the rest of their career can only be a let-down. Like The Strokes gone evil, this clattering cut from the New York band’s second album showcased the apoplectic vocals of Hamilton Leithauser, propelled by a relentless backbeat that owed much to krautrock. A maelstrom of finger-pointing rage (“You’ve got a nerve…“), this astonishing track represented the rancorous dark side of the New York indie-rock explosion.
12 ‘Dry Your Eyes’
The song which took Mike Skinner to the summit of the UK singles chart was a surprisingly tender, blokeish lament to lost love, but it only really took off when the lyrics were amended to lament the England football team’s exit from that year’s Euro 2004. The track is the emotional high point of 2004’s magnificent concept record ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’, and will surely be the one most remember Skinner for.
11 ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’
The lead-off track from their second album showcased The Libertines’ gift for combining high romance with scuffed, gutter-level realism. Hence we get the deft poetry of the first verse (“Your light fingers through the dark…“) punctured by the viciousness of the second: “The world kicked back a lot fuckin’ harder“. Like all the best Libertines songs, this tale of an unravelling relationship can be read as a statement on the band’s own imminent collapse (“Have we enough to keep it together?“) – though, surprisingly, it wasn’t all their own work.
10 ‘A Certain Romance’
You might have expected us to go with ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ – but no, NME critics en masse plumped for the subtler charms of ‘A Certain Romance’, the closing track on Arctic Monkeys’ debut album. It’s a strangely even-handed song, in which Alex Turner starts out scorning local townies – the “kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands” – then appears to absolve them at the end of the song: “What can I say, I’ve known ’em for a long long time…” That he can display sympathy as well as mockery is testament to the singer’s unique lyrical gift.
9 ‘Rebellion (Lies)’
Cue kick drum. Cue thudding bassline. Cue keyboards. Is there any intro more guaranteed to make the hairs on your arms bristle in anticipation? From there, the song surges elegantly to a climax so passionate it’d make even the most granite-hearted cynic gaze, clench-jawed, into the middle distance. What’s it about? Win Butler’s images of paranoia and concealment (“Come on hide your lovers…“) hint that it’s a song about self-doubt – but the track’s sheer, ecstatic propulsiveness suggests otherwise.
8 ‘Out Of Time’
Their first release for three years – and their first without Graham Coxon – ‘Out Of Time’ is Blur at their introspective finest. While there were only three of them, they enlisted the help of numerous musicians from Marrakech on cello, violin, oud and the like, and nicked a sample from Doctor Who for the opening noise. The track came with an anti-war video and was their first to not feature the band in any way. Interestingly, it only made number 16 in our Tracks Of The Year list in 2003, which shows how time – and of course its live airings this summer – have bedded it into our consciousness.
7 ‘Golden Skans’
‘Atlantis To Interzone’ and ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ might have been the early rock-rave shots across our bows that first alerted us to the neon phenomenon in our midst, but it was this track that saw Klaxons conquer the classic pop song and wriggle out of any scenester brackets. With a video from cult director Saam Farahmand and clocking in at a give-us-more two minutes 45 seconds, ‘Golden Skans’ was rightly voted NME’s Track Of The Year in 2007. If only they’d get their act together and pull it off again.
6 ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’
The scratchy guitars, the frenetic dance-funk drums, a liberal sprinkling of cowbell and that tortured vocal: ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ was a masterpiece in danceable post-punk. Originally released in 2002 but properly grabbing the nation by the gonads in 2003 it was the stand out track on their DFA-produced debut proper and woke both sides of the Atlantic up to the dance-punk the Brooklyn boys had been perfecting for half a decade. A year and one NME tour later and The Rapture were household names, and handclapping in discos was mandatory.
5 ‘Hey Ya!’
If you were a DJ in the early noughties, this was your secret weapon. From the opening “one two three uh” it saw nonchalant bar-huggers drop their pints and race headfirst onto the dancefloor to shake it like a Polaroid to ‘Hey Ya!’’s bendy pop-hop. The standout track on OutKast’s untouchable double album ‘Speakerboxxx / The Love Below’, it came jammed amongst Andre 3000’s soul/funk/jazz/hip-hop/whatever cuts on the second disc, featured rap lines fed through a vocoder and re-recorded up to 30 times, and came backed by an excellent Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan aping video. Pop perfection.
4 ‘Paper Planes’
With Switch and Diplo sharing production and The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’ providing the backbone, this track was always destined for greatness. Peppered with gunshots and confrontational lyrics, ‘Paper Planes’ is one of the most commercially unviable tracks going and yet from the charts to Slumdog Millionaire and Pineapple Express via a Grammy nomination, Dizzee Rascal’s live cover and the clubs of Europe, it’s been unavoidable. The Beastie Boys starred in the video too – and it’s also had about a million ace remixes done. A latter-day classic.
3 ‘Hard To Explain’
It’s hard to imagine just how seismic a change The Strokes caused when they first landed in 2001. Vital, vibrant and just really fucking cool, they were a blast of fresh air and ‘Hard To Explain’ was their first proper single. Like a nail-barbed plank to the solar plexus it walloped the nation sideways and declared our four-year musical drought over. Backed by the infamous ‘New York City Cops’, the track found its way to the top of DJ boxes from KOKO to John O’Groats and notched seventh place in our Tracks Of The Year list.
2 ‘Time To Pretend’
“I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life / Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives / I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars / You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars” – thus began MGMT’s tongue-in-cheek ode to the fame that was inevitable after the release of such a classic. Remixed and revamped at the end of 2007 but only hitting 35 in the national charts, it nevertheless shot to number four in our 2008 Tracks Of The Year list and sent a nation tie-dye loopy.
1 ‘Crazy In Love’
Beyonce’s finest single was released in 2003 to universal acclaim, shooting to the top spot in America and the UK and picking up two Grammy Awards along the way. Built around a horn sample from 1970 hit ‘Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)’ and featuring a rap from boyfriend Jay-Z (reportedly thrown out off the cuff in 10 minutes at a 3am studio session), it remains a classic. If you can judge a song by the amount of times it’s been covered, this track has had the treatment from numerous artists, from Snow Patrol to Switchfoot and The Magic Numbers.