NME.com has been running for more than fifteen years now, and in that time we've seen more bangers than a Walls sausage factory. Whether you're Julian Casablancas' number one fan, a Doherty-ite 'til you die, never gave up on nu rave or a total God like Kanye, there'll be something here for everyone. Viva the 21st century and all who sail within it! Words: Priya Elan, Luke Lewis, Tim Chester, Mike Williams, Tom Goodwyn, Rebecca Schiller, Krissi Murison, Emily Mackay, Matt Wilkinson, Laura Snapes, Jamie Fullerton, Alan Woodhouse.


The sound of New Cross exploding, ‘Banquet’ was a disorienting moment of disco-angst. From the off, Kele sounded hounded by the pressures of urban living. The opening swooshingly sounded like an airplane descending (memories of 9/11 were still percolating in our heads) and the track soared above our heads for the next three minutes, never quite coming into land. As Kele sang of fire and girls who didn’t “think straight”, the guitars swooped into sounding like Daleks on the rampage and/or fragments of his afflicted imagination. (PE)

19We Are Your Friends

Some tracks, the very luckiest and rarest of tracks, hold a unique power in their opening seconds, a certain aural something that has the ability to shift huge numbers of people out of their seat to the very centre of the dancefloor. ‘We Are Your Friends’ was one of those. Anyone who DJ’ed this track in the mid-noughties will attest to the sheer force of those opening synth stabs; it was brainwashing of the finest kind and it got clubs going Neanderthal for years. Still the best thing Justice ever did. (TC)

18No One Knows

Few tracks announce themselves with quite such headbutt-to-the-face ooomph as Queens Of The Stone Age’s first single from their third album. In fact the track, their only single to top the US Modern Rock charts, makes itself known with the force of the US Army in total 'destroy nations' mode from the outset, all whipcrack crash cymbals and crunchy riffs that dissolve into a series of freefalling drum triplets and even more thunderous guitar abuse. Heavy as shit and utterly unrelenting, it’s become synonymous with the desert rockers, and quite rightly so. (TC)

17Get Ur Freak On

The 21st century might have started 15 months earlier, but nothing said 'welcome to the future' as audaciously and sexily as this. Every bleep, twang and spasm of Timbaland's minimal production blew a hole in the fabric of the pop tune as we knew it. Penetrating those holes was Missy Elliot, a spitting, throbbing, eyebrow-arching caricature of ultra-bling and booty wobble that sent a shiver down your back and a heatwave to your loins. “Ain't no stopping me. Copywritten so don't copy me.” she hollered. Plenty have tried, none have got close. (MW)

16Crazy In Love

An ever-so-slightly offbeat Go Go rhythm, some sparsely inputted horns and a lyric about a control freak undone by the instinctive, tempestuous power of love/lust. As Beyonce’s opening gambit it was accomplished, as her first single post-Destiny’s Child (a group known for their innovative run of singles in the R’n’B genre) it was jaw dropping. Jay-Z’s appearance on the track worked on one level as a guest spot from her boyfriend but on another it was a music mogul doffing his cap to a classic in the making. “History in the making,” he rapped. And he wasn’t wrong. (PE) How We Wrote 'Crazy In Love' On what makes the song so catchy: Beyonce: "It's the horn hook. It has this go-go feel to it, this old-school feel. I wasn't sure if people were going to get it." On the hook, which samples the Chi-Lites' 1970 song 'Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)' Rich Harrison, producer: "I remember when I first did the beat. I played it for a lot of my buddies, as I normally do, and they couldn't dig it. But that's when I knew I had something special. Sometimes people need to hear the whole record." On pitching the song to Beyonce: Harrison: "Yeah, I had it in the chamber. I hadn't really shopped it much, because sometimes you don't want to come out of the bag before it's right. People don't really get it and you'll leave them with a foul taste in their mouth. So it was just something that I held on to until I got the call from B... "From her face, she was kind of like, 'I don't know, but I'mma ride with you anyway.' I knew I was going to have to sell it a little bit, because when it comes on it doesn't sound like anything that was being done at the time." (Via MTV)

15Paper Planes

The dream team of Maya, Diplo and Switch created this anthem; at first listen it was the sound of M.I.A. slightly playing away from her strengths, dumbing down, even; wrapped in the gangsta hip-hop tradition but on subsequent rotation the track revealed itself to be so much more. A twirling chunk of The Clash’ ‘Straight To Hell’ gave the track a lilting sense of wanderlust; lifting MIA’s pan-globalism and making it something universal. No wonder it was co-opted by everyone from Jay-Z to Slumdog Millionarie to Judd Apatow’s Pineapple Express; they could see it for what it was: a very modern hymn of transcendence. (PE) How I Wrote 'Paper Planes' MIA On the song being partly inspired by her problems with immigration officers: "Yeah, they’re always giving me a hard time. When I wrote it I’d just gotten in to New York after waiting a long time and that’s why I wrote it, just to have a dig. It’s about people driving cabs all day and living in a shitty apartment and appearing really threatening to society. But not being so. Because, by the time you’ve finished working a 20-hour shift, you’re so tired you [just] want to get home to the family. I don’t think immigrants are that threatening to society at all. They’re just happy they’ve survived some war somewhere."

14Spanish 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. 'Spanish Sahara' - the first track to be revealed from the record - was as big a curveball as Yannis and co could have mustered. All expansive, heart-swelling melodies and vocals that were - big shock - actually sung rather than yelped, it set Foals up as far more than just the difficult mathletes that everyone assumed.(LS) How We Wrote 'Spanish Sahara' Yannis Philippakis How did this song come about? "The chord sequence had been around for a while - Jimmy [Smith, guitarist] wrote it on tour, in a hotel room in America, but then we forgot about it for a long time. The lyrics came later, but after that it came together easily. We recorded it in our basement, in the dark. At the time I wanted to be more disciplined with my lyrics, less cryptic, and I think ‘Spanish Sahara’ is a good example of that. On the title of the song: “The title came from a local band’s cassette that I bought for a pound after a show in Oxford. I never listened to it, but it was wrapped in a map, and on that map it said Spanish Sahara. It seemed to fit with the song’s mood, which is lunar and apocalyptic, but beautiful. Hopefully it allows different interpretations.” On the lyric, “Black rocks and shoreline sand”: “I came up with the lyrics while visiting my dad in Greece. I went for a walk on this really remote beach. It’s the deepest point in the Aegean, and locals think it’s an evil place. The beach was littered with refuse and I saw a dead dog floating in the waves. It was a twisted, hallucinogenic scene, but it had a weird beauty to it. I wanted to capture that sense of malignancy.” On the lyric, “I’m the fury in your head”: (Furies are the avenging angels of Greek myth, referenced in Homer’s ‘Iliad’) “That idea interested me. You experience trauma and it stays with you, it’s a vortex in your head that recurs, and can echo through generations. But you can also sort of become that trauma, make it a positive thing. It’s the idea of taking on things that are against you.” On the video: “I was pleased with the video, because we were able to capture some of the imagery that inspired the song, which has a sparse and fantastical quality to it. I wanted it to conjure a scene where there’s no sign of civilization, and there’s a feeling of loneliness. That said, not everyone reacts to the song in the same way. One person told me they love it because it helps them sleep…” (NME, December 2010)

Foals - 'Spanish Sahara'
Video: Foals - 'Spanish Sahara'

13Empire 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. Jay’s rhyme’s are casually, relaxedly brilliant, riffing off De Niro, Sinatra, the Yankees, dropping street names and social analysis, while Alicia bawls for her life in the choruses, She hardly needed to tell us to “get your lighters in the air” really. (EM) How 'Empire State Of Mind' Came About Angela Hunte, co-writer of the original song "I come from the same building where he [Jay-Z] lived, and we knew each other from Brooklyn, but we never worked together. Not in a million years did I think I'd make this hit for him. I still have no words even for the World Series performance. You get your hopes up with artists but then things happen and the record doesn't make it for whatever reason. But Jay loved the song, it made the album and it sounds crazy. "We were just so happy he wanted to honor our work and our production. Two female producers/writers and for him as a rapper to take our song - that's not a combination you see a lot. For him to be so open-minded about it, we just couldn't be any more grateful and thankful. "[Alicia Keys had] never done a record with him and she also has my same vocal tone. She made the song sound so close to the original. She just nailed it and brought it home. It was a great choice." (Via Billboard)

12Time To Pretend

Sure, ‘Electric Feel’ is probably the tune they’ll long be remembered for, but it was ‘Time To Pretend’ that really proved what MGMT had to offer. Y’know, writing songs about making money and marrying models, only to ultimately choke on your own vomit and die. But with lines like “This is our decision, to live fast and die young/We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun” and “I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars”, it was a strangely honest look the rock’n’roll dream everyone raves about. It was the perfect debut single from the weird world of MGMT. (RS) How We Wrote 'Time To Pretend' Andrew VanWyngarden "They thought 'Time To Pretend' and 'Kids' would be big songs. When we wrote 'Time To Pretend', we were totally taking the piss out of the rock star thing. And all of a sudden that song was, like, a single, and we had to play it every day for … two … years. I'm not saying that 'Kids' and 'Time To Pretend' are stupid songs, but I think there's at least partial irony and sarcasm. Now we're 27. It's hard to keep that naive-19-year-old-at-college philosophy going when you're writing a second album. When you're touring, you have everything taken care of for you. You see what it can do to people. People strive for that, where everything is taken care of for you and you don't have to think for yourself at all. That's not where we want to be. We got a glimpse of that and shrunk back. We thought, hmmm, I dunno. Let's write a really weird album." (Guardian)

11I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor

Hurtling towards us on indie rock’s highway, ‘…Dancefloor’ came with its palms open. Guitars sounded like cars veering off the racetrack whilst Alex Turner’s lyrical dexterity hit with thrilling but entirely gob smacking levels of ingenuity. He seemed like he’d come from another time, a scholar amongst the knuckle dragging indie slackers who were rhyming ‘love’ with ‘dove’. His soon-to-be-legendary character portraits were nascent but here he shows his flair for the cheeky and literary; a quick nod to Shakespeare here, a wink to Duran Duran there. An indie hero was born on the ‘…Dancefloor’. (PE) How We Wrote 'I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor' Alex Turner

"I can remember recording it the first time we did it, because we did it with this guy Alan Smyth in Sheffield. And then when we started our first record with James Ford and this guy Mike Crossey in Liverpool. We did like a week [in the studio], we'd been on tour and we'd done like ten songs in a week and we were like, 'This is it! We've done us our album! Put it our tomorrow, please – yesterday if you can?!' But everything was kind of… we did it on tape and it was recorded at about 300 miles per hour. It were a bit too live. And at that point it was suggested to us that perhaps we try a different avenue. So we went back with this producer called Jim Abiss in Lincoln and started going through the songs and listening to the demos and trying to pick the best bits. Because everyone was so into these demos of it we wanted to get a bit of that, but kind of like a better recording of it. It's funny because when we were recording that tune, the video was already on telly for it. So people would be watching TV in the other room or whatever and be like, 'Quick! We're on MTV' or whatever, because the version we did for the video we did another recording of it, it was just us playing in a TV studio or whatever. That version of it was just there and then. So we were trying to cut it in one room and it was on the telly in the other room. It was like, 'Just use that maybe?!' So we did it with Jim in Lincoln, and then that became the version. But it all came from that drum thing at the beginning originally. That was the first part of the song, that drum bit. I play the lead [guitar] on it, but I really can't remember when that happened, or even what practise room we were in. But I remember Matt [Helders] playing that thing. I guess it was some exercise that he'd seen somewhere, or a version of it, which he'd sped-up, because he was doing it as fast as he could. A lot of those songs back then came from something that he'd played, because he almost plays riffs on drums, or plays leads. It's more fun than ever to play it now. I probably fell out with it for a moment somewhere along the way. But I fall out with all of them at some point. But I'd never imagine not playing it [live], and now when it comes round in the set it's just like…fun. We all really enjoy playing that. Some of the other songs we've written since then are a bit more complex and you have to concentrate a little bit more and you have to think about singing in tune and playing the right notes. And that one, you can sort of have a laugh with it for a few minutes. We still manage to murder it something though."

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