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

50‘Empire’

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.

48‘A-Punk’

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.

47‘Toxic’

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. And it basically soundtracked all fun in the last decade from the moment it was released.

46‘Smile’

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’.

44‘Atlas’

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.

43‘Clocks’

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). 

But this is more than just boozy indie-night fare: it’s the lyrical riptide of paranoia that makes it, as Brandon Flowers details the gut-twisting horrors of jealousy (“I just can’t look, it’s killing me”). But it’s all OK, because destiny is calling him…

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