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 pinnacle of the Manics’ blockbuster phase, ‘Australia’ sounded grandiose and full of confidence – no wonder it got hammered on the radio for months – but lyrically it was the opposite: full of paranoia and self-doubt. Nicky Wire wrote it about the aftermath of Richey Edwards’ disappearance, wanting to escape, get as far away from home as possible. It’s a biting evocation of personal collapse (“My cheeks are too yellow, think I’ll take another pill”), powered by a toweringly anthemic chorus. A very Manics combination. (LL).
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.
“You-oo… are.” You are what? “And nothing else compares.” Compares to what? Chris Martin’s lyrics might be maddeningly vague, but that’s what makes Coldplay songs so moving to so many people. Since they mean nothing, they can mean everything. And ‘Clocks’ is the sound of the band finding their voice in heroic style. After the tentative, polite sound of ‘Parachutes’, ‘Clocks’ was sleek and propulsive and confident. It was also (little-known fact!) heavily inspired by Muse’s piano-led tracks such as ‘New Born’.
147 First Of The Gang To Die
And so Mozzer’s retro lad fetish reached its apogee with this swinging track from ‘You Are The Quarry’. He may be in love with the glamour of the gunpowder, but he’s also familiar with the rulebook of the street; the shocking non-emotionality of it all. He assesses, gimlet-eyed, the sharp-suited, Brylcreemed situation, as if these gangsters were some latter day Robin Hoods. Alain Whyte gives Morrissey his best hooks since the ‘Vauxhall & I’ days. (PE)
146 My Manic And I
A stately waltz that belies the dark shade of the lyrics; a troubled dalliance with a self-obsessed nihilist. Marling’s as subtly cryptic as ever. There are allusions to mental illness and the breakdown of religious faith, as well as drug addiction, but things are left deliciously open ended. There are subtle sonic touches, with the sparse piano chords, the brush of drums and the sole cello that add to the sense of unease. She crafts the musical equivalent of seeing the horror behind the white-picket fence and walking on.
145 If I Had A Heart
Post-‘Silent Shout’, many wondered out loud as to where The Knife would go next. To conceptual opera, it turned out, but as a solo artist, Karin Andersson went further into the dark, petrol-coloured altitudes hinted at on ‘Silent Shout’ with Fever Ray. ‘If I Had A Heart’ sounded ritualistic and unrelenting, with malevolence seeping out of every pore. It called to mind zombies, death cults and the Tin Man from The Wizard Of Oz, but Andersson’s brilliance was that she never revealed the full identity of the song’s evil. (PE)
Are we human? Are we dancer? We’ll probably never know. At the time, the lyrics confused all of us, yet we still sang along as if we knew what the devil he was on about. Despite the song’s slightly maddening grammatical flaw and B. Flo’s bizarre feather-encrusted jacket that spawned out of this era, this was a tune. In fact, we loved it so much that Mr. Flowers earned a spot in the Top Ten of our annual Cool List that year. (RS)
143 The Hindu Times
The first single from ‘Heathen Chemistry’ combines all the hard rock bluster of early Oasis with the forays into mysticism that marked Oasis 2.0. Forget the lazy video, or those nagging Stereophonics comparisons that have haunted the track over the years (ie that it sounds like ‘Same Size Feet’), this is classic Oasis songwriting at its best. Awarded a spot at the top of the charts (their sixth to do so) for a week before getting rudely dislodged by Sugababes, it’s yet another reminder of what the Gallagher two could get round to when they put their minds to it.
“Hopefully people won’t want to kill us” – the words of Yannis Philippakis, contrary-bastard-in-chief of Foals, breaking the news that their most beloved early track wouldn’t get near their debut album. At the time, it seemed foolish. In hindsight, it was shrewd. While it might sit awkwardly in Foals’ cannon (imagine the surly buggers letting one of their tunes be used on Skins now), ‘Hummer’ is a relentless and joyous reminder that while their output may dally in the realms of serious-face, they’re only a glitchy riff away from pop perfection. (MW)
141 Clint Eastwood
Sneaky, stoned and cracking with an urban-ish nonchalance, the Gorillaz’s opening shot grooved with appropriate nursery rhyme/theme tune simplicity, setting the scene of this band of cartoon characters to doodle into development and arch knowingly into the spotlight. This and Del The Funkee Homosapien’s rap suggested a world of brave new possibilities, not least of all for Damon Albarn, who has managed a re-invention much more all-encompassing and successful than even his biggest fans could have ever imagined. (PE)
140 A Certain Romance
The case for Alex Turner as indie poet laureate is nowhere better served than on this closing track from their debut. The ‘bad side of town’ here is dangerously lug-headed and crassly unfashionable.
OK, so the lyrics are about as advanced as a Moonpig Valentine’s card – Martin sounds like he’s actually wetting the bed while singing – but somehow it all comes together into one of the great indie anthems of the 21st century. When all is said and done and Chris Martin awkwardly shuffles off towards the pearly gates, this is what he’ll be judged by. And it’s easy to see why ‘Yellow’ was Coldplay’s breakthrough song. Falsetto-led in that then-modish post-‘OK Computer’ way, and aching with a sense of puppyish romantic devotion, it was – and is – scientifically impossible not to like.
138 What’s A Girl To Do?
In amongst Natasha Khan’s obsession with storybook fantasy and delicate experimental songwriting, there beats the heart of someone who’d actually quite like to be a pop star. And on ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’, both worlds collide perfectly, with Khan building her David Lynch-inspired fantasy world around an insanely catchy pop chorus which perched on top of twinkling pianos and driving drum beat. It was with this that Khan proved she wanted to be more than just a blogosphere favourite and a name in her own right. (TG)
137 There Goes The Fear
Hard to imagine Doves getting a Number Three hit now, isn’t it? And although ‘There Goes The Fear’ achieved the feat largely due to some rather crafty single pricing strategies, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t belong in the realms of the ‘featuring Chipmunk’. It was more of a journey than a song – a dance music-inspired canter with that twinkling intro riff, as Jimi Goodwyn relayed the emotions of a man coming to terms with life passing him by and the feeling of melancholic undertow that accompanied it. Sadly stunning. (JF)
Even though she’s moved far and beyond from this one, she’ll forever be remembered as the girl who sang that weird, euphemistic song, bragging about how excellent her milkshakes are. But we don’t really need to tell you how great this song is, because Kelis did that for us. “You kind of have to be retarded to deny that [‘Milkshake’] literally changed female vocalists,” she told the Associated Press last year. And by golly, it’s true. Brag all you like, Kelis. (RS)
135 Since U Been Gone
Legend has it that Britney Spears and Katy Perry hit makers Dr. Luke and Max Martin started the process of writing this song by studying (and then ripping off) the low-ended, bass heavy guitar sound of The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The results are line-for-line authentic (the track begins like ‘The Modern Age’ played in a different key); whilst Clarkson’s vocals – steeped in the over-emoting Mariah Carey school (via American Idol) – sound both bruised but surviving and incredibly soulful.
134 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 an 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. (MW)
133 Under Cover Of Darkness
The Strokes had been away for four years when this came out, so it was a colossal relief when ‘Under Cover Of Darkness’ arrived – as spring-loaded and energetic and irresistible as anything on ‘Is This It’. OK, the rest of ‘Angles’ turned out to be a bit undercooked, but – on this song at least – The Strokes regained their long-lost songwriting mojo, and it was glorious: bursting with that weirdly chirpy, heel-clicking Strokes spirit that always seems so at odds with their taciturn hipster demeanour. (LL)
132 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. (PE)
131 Pyramid Song
Being somewhat revered now, it’s easy to forget how worried Radiohead fans initially were after 2000’s bleep-fest ‘Kid A’ arguably signaled the point by which the band would never return from their ‘experimental’ crusade inside their own back passage. But heralding the arrival of 2001 follow-up ‘Amnesiac’, ‘Pyramid Song’ showed that they could still toss off ghostly hymns of stunning beauty, Phil Selway’s spine-shivery patter and tish drums setting the bed for arguably Thom Yorke’s most darkly divine piano lines yet. Oh, for a few more like them now… (JF)
130 The Boy With The Arab Strap
The title track of the Scottish indie scamps’ 1998 album proved they were a whole lot saucier than their wholesome reputation had previously suggested. An ode to Arab Strap’s filthy-mouthed frontman Aidan Moffat, the song, whose tune is nicked liberally from two Queen songs (‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and ‘You’re My Best Friend’) is still a regular in B&S’s live sets, although God-fearing singer Stuart Murdoch is now somewhat reluctant to sing the line about “updating your hit parade of your 10 biggest wanks”. (AW)
On the surface, it just sounded like The Strokes-doing-The Strokes pretty damn well. Dig deeper, though, and the lyrics reveal a divided state of affairs. It’s an eloquent slice of post-‘Is This It’ fame, where success was a poisoned chalice. In hindsight, Casablancas’ lyrics seem to predict the diverted, solo paths this one time band of New York brothers would find themselves in. “Our lives are changing lanes…You’re no longer laughing,” feel eerily prescient and seem to describe the current, passive aggressive mentality of the band. (PE)
A disco song which called to mind the gaudy gold furnishing of Studio 54, the hedonism of the late 70s gay scene and a glitter ball spinning endlessly into musical infinity. Hercules front man Andy Butler managed a rare feat: a four to the floor thumper that sounded authentically steeped in the past, but also revelatory and fresh. But his genius moment was recruiting Antony Hegarty as its vocalist. In Hegarty, Butler found a vocalist whose every syllable shook with deeply felt sadness, but in this context sounded like the wonderful bastard child of Edith Piaf and Sylvester. (PE)
127 Don’t Let Go (Love)
After a lengthy break, En Vogue returned with this track from the soundtrack of the little seen film Set It Off. A ballad about a potential lover who just won’t commit, the song became, through the sheer strength of their vocal wills, about female empowerment. Dawn, Terry, Cindy and Maxine pummeled this song into submission with the same focus that they used to power the likes of ‘My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’ and ‘Hold On’. The lyrics may have been desperate and unresolved but their performance was gutsy and full of knowing gravitas. (PE)
126 Celebrity Skin
Aided by a balls-in-the-air guitar riff the size of Australia and a production sheen that was the sonic equivalent of looking directly at the sun, Hole’s return showcased Courtney Love’s effortless way with words. With passing reference to the tumult of the last few years (calling herself “a walking study in demonology,”) ‘Celebrity Skin’ charts Courtney’s trajectory from indie rock grind to Hollywood A-list with a shamelessly eyes-on-the-prize sense of victory whilst choking on the ridiculous vacuity of it all. (PE)
125 Atlantis To Interzone
The sirens blared, the harmonies popped with engergised urgency, the verses were the sonic equivalent of Burroughs’ stateless city. The chorus was a different matter entirely, as the band shifted the KLF-esque rave down in favour of a messy, grot rock doom-down that had more in common with Test Icicles’ messy jam/meltdowns than anything involving green lasers or unironic neon. It felt like an effortless, on-the-money evocation of genre barriers melting down into one multi-coloured mass of beauty. (PE)
124 Pumping On Your Stereo
Nothing screams Britpop louder than Gaz Combes’ magnificent mutton chops, and while the big musical movement of the 90s may well have died on its arse by this point in time, Supergrass were still believing.
123 Daddy’s Gone
I remember getting the promo single for this when no one was really talking about them, going for a run and almost falling into the bloody canal with shock at how good it was. The thought of someone doing that sort of heavingly romantic Shangri-Las style melodrama girl-group ballad about the sort of small, yet horribly huge dramas, that make up and break up the lives of so many people… before the song even got started, it was genius.
122 Goddess On A Hiway
Things looked bad for Mercury Rev in the mid-90s. Their 1995 album ‘See You On The Other Side’ had flopped, and several band members were nursing drug problems. It looked like they were completely washed up, and then they came back with this, the first single from their 1998 album ‘Deserter’s Songs’. It ended up being NME’s album of the year, and can lay claim to being one of the decade’s most unexpectedly brilliant surprises. ‘Goddess…’ is the biggest pop moment of the record, like a Disney theme tune if it had been fucked up by a cult US indie band. It still sounds awesome. (AW)
121 LES Artistes
Bereaved following the death of her father, Philadelphia-dwelling Santi White traveled to New York, following the Madonna trail, to make it as a musician. And it’s here we find her, with her defenses up, restless, singing about those moments where your personality feels annihilated by a big city (“What am I here for? To disappear is all,” she sings in one of the song’s most affecting lines). The riff itself is pure NYC: a little bit VU, a lot Yeah Yeah Yeahs. A pure moment captured perfectly on her first (and best) single. (PE)
120 This Is Hardcore
Chances are this seven minute sex-pest of a single wouldn’t have even got a look into the Top 150 if we’d been compiling it this time last year. Not because time has aged it badly, more that it had overlooked it entirely. Thank God for reunion tours then. When Pulp reformed for their summer 2011 shows, it was ‘This Is Hardcore’ – the slow-creeping orgy of pop noir and perversion (from 1997’s criminally underrated album of the same name) – that was the fitting but unexpected climactic centrepiece. What exactly did they do for an encore? ‘Razzmatazz’ as it happens, the night I saw them. (KM)
119 We Need A Resolution
Timbaland always saved his best beats for his ‘baby girl’ and ‘…Resolution’ was no exception. On her final, self-titled album this was the haunting lead single; a song about questioning a relationship’s compromise when it seems pointless (someone would always come off worse off). The whole thing was piqued by an underwater, Egyptian-riff that gave the song a disorientating, three-dimensional atmosphere, as if the whole crisis was a bad dream and the ‘resolution’ was to be found by waking up. Timbaland would spend the following decade attempting to re-capture a moment as innovative as this.
118 All My Friends
Lost in the loneliness of the road? Undone by the glare of the spotlight? Or just buckling under the inherent solitude of being James Murphy? Who knew, but ‘All My Friends’ is an eight-and-a-half-minute tale of aching disco-angst, a confessional Kraut rocker about the ephemeral nature of friendship and fame. In a song where time passed through fingers like grains of sand, the keyboard riff begins nervy and twisted, ending up rolling along like an all nighter. “That’s how it starts,” James Murphy sings, his vocal shadowed by the knowledge that every beginning is also an ending. (PE)
117 What’s My Age Again?
Few songs capture the urge of wanting to act stupid and be immature as well as this 2000 single does. The lead-off track from Blink’s phenomenally successful album ‘Enema Of The State’, this is everything pop punk does well. Its guitar riffs seem to have been soaked in Relentless and its chorus makes you want to jump around the room. It’s been imitated thousands of times since, but nothing’s come close to this perfect two and a half minutes. (TG)
116 Gravel Pit
On which a soul legend, Bruce Lee, and a French TV series combine to provide an unlikely bedrock for one of Wu Tang’s biggest tracks. The sax break from ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ sits next to clips from Enter The Dragon and the theme from ‘60s show Belphegor while the crew, including RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon, do their thing over the top. The video? Why it sees the band transported to 2,000,000 BC to roam with dinosaurs – before a massive samurai fight – of course. (TC)
Before Pigeongate, before the stage storm-offs, before the snooty, overpriced clothing line, before that rather embarrassing flop of an album, these Southern gents howled their way into our hearts with hits like this one. There was something about Caleb’s unnervingly blood-curdling, bone-chilling shrieks in this song that we just couldn’t get enough of. ‘Charmer’, along with the rest of the tracks on that album (‘Because Of The Times’), proved that KOL were still arguably one of the best things in American rock at the time. (RS)
What a way to go out – ‘Accelerator’ was the last single released on Alan McGee’s Creation label, and in terms of exits, it’s pretty much as dramatic as leaving a party in a fighter jet. The Scream’s ‘XTRMNTR’ album was a boundary-pushing mesh of industrial chrome-rock-pop, but this was simply a punk blast that shook the walls of the charts and sent one of the most influential labels of all time off in raucously jagged style. (JF)
113 One Armed Scissor
The lead-off single from the masterpiece that would both make and ultimately destroy At The Drive-In, ‘One Armed Scissor”s jagged riffs and pummeling rhythm section are fused perfectly to make a peerless rock floor filler. Although, it sadly serves as a reminder of what the band could have achieved if they hadn’t imploded a few months later. As well as all this, it’s easily the best song ever to be named after a vodka/Red Bull. (TG)
112 Fuck You
Given Gnarls Barkley had mainly been viewed as another achievement in producer Danger Mouse’s ever-growing list of platitudes, no one was expecting too much from Cee Lo Green’s solo output. But after hearing this, all skepticism was chucked out the window. Taking all the joyful exuberance of classic Motown and jamming his tongue as far into his cheek as it would go, Green created a worldwide smash that’s still on most radio stations’ playlists over a year after it first came out. (TG)
It’s the song that made them huge, making Union Jack dresses and platform heels all the rage in the late 90s. It’s the song that made us all want to “zigazig-ha”, without knowing what the hell it meant. From the moment it kicks off with Mel B’s hearty laugh, you know you’re in for a treat. ‘Wannabe’ was the ultimate song about ‘Girl Power’ and friendship, and everyone from pre-teen girls to grown men appreciated it (whether or not they admitted it). (RS)
110 La Ritournelle
By far the pinnacle of Tellier’s career to date, ‘La Ritournelle’ is also one of the most beautiful love songs of the last decade. “Oh nothing’s going to change my love for you / I wanna spend my life with you,” he croons at the outset like only a Frenchman can over twinkling glocks, that immemorial piano riff and of course a funky breakbeat from Tony Allen (of Fela Kuti’s band). Add in some searing strings and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Forget his bizarre breathy foray into hardcore, 2008’s ‘Sexuality’, this was Sebastian at his most seductive. (TC)
109 Stay Young
Put ‘Stay Young’ through a Wiki search and you get plenty of results: the Oasis track sitting among efforts from INXS and Gallagher and Lyle. Sadly, but not surprisingly, though, no mention of Ultrasound, the 90s’ most underrated band. The indie-prog behemoths made one perfect, bloated double album of endlessly ambitious guitar rock before imploding (although they resurfaced a year ago for a reunion that’s still seeing them play to a small hardcore across the country).
108 Club Foot
The musical equivalent of clobbering a stranger in the face with a rubber mallet, ‘Club Foot’ introduced the world to Kasabian with the same level of subtlety that Tom and Serge have been trotting out in the seven years since its release. That the band have become so huge yet this remains their live trump card tells you everything you need to know about the raw power at the heart of the tune. That they managed to achieve anthem status with not only their first single, but a single without a recognisable chorus, tells you why Kasabian are and always will be the band of the people.
107 No Surprises
Never before has depicting a monotonous life in a dreary society sounded so compelling. The third and final single from ‘OK Computer’ (and the first to be recorded for the album) remains one of Radiohead’s best-loved songs, its simplistic, almost childlike tune and gloomily observational lyric striking a chord as the millennium approached. Oh, and it’s got a great video too. (AW)
106 Let Down
Listening back to everything Radiohead have done since ‘OK Computer’ is weird. Let Down sounds so…simple and unassuming. It’s almost Byrdsian in its guitar sounds. But it’s weighty, clever, sleek and soulful. How many times do you find yourself saying that about Radiohead in 2011? The best bit arrives at 3:37, when Thom just loses it amid the band’s gloriously uplifting crescendo. “You know where you are,” he coos over and over in his best choirboy voice. He sounds unstoppable. (MW)
105 Brimful Of Asha (Fatboy Slim Remix)
Cornershop were – still are, actually – an underrated albums band who became defined by the one hit they had that took over the world and, in “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow“, germinated a phrase that should have been as all-encompasing in British culture as “am I bovvered?” The original version was a slowed, stretched guitar meander that only sounded right when delivered – as the band tended to – when sat cross-legged; this remix was the party-starting peak of Norman Cook’s career and became the pop and dance anthem of the year. (JF)
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, bloomed and was shortly after hounded into an early retirement.
103 Poker Face
It’s the most downloaded song by a female artist – ever – in the world. So clearly, you all like it. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? Because that single “P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face line will stay nestled in your skull for days on end, even if you hate it. Only the Gaga could make the line “bluffin’ with my muffin” both acceptable and cool.
102 Formed A Band
If pop is all about the eternal and ever present now now NOW, what more brilliantly ‘this is happening!’ opening statement than having the chorus of your first single feature a man shouting “FORMED A BAND! WE FORMED A BAND!” over and over? Over the years, Art Brut have carved out a left-of-centre niche, fighting the indie fight, old-school style. But when they play this, it reminds us that back when they had just formed a band, they had a ramshackle fire and a way with an Elastica-raw riff that made them seem if not quite dangerous then, well, pretty thrilling.
101 Sea Within A Sea
This eight-minute epic signalled the point that everything changed for The Horrors. After an underwhelming first album, many had written off the five-piece – until they heard this. The first taster from ‘Primary Colours’ showed the band had been absorbing their impeccable influences and creating something far more satisfying – in this instance an amalgamation of the motorik rhythms of Neu!, the intensity of My Bloody Valentine and the druggy beauty of Spacemen 3. The results put them up there with all of those guys, and they’ve never looked back. (AW)
100 Two Doors Down
A classic trip down pop memory lane, ‘Two Doors Down’ is like a bubblegum version of Lloyd Cole And The Commotions for the iPod generation. Catchy as Hell and never taking itself too seriously, Blaine and co. channel their inner intellect with a Doherty-esque reverence, referencing Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ along the way (not to mention introducing the wider world to Ms. Laura Marling). (MW)
The flip side of ‘Time To Pretend’’s existential rock star angst, ‘Kids’ was joyously light. It found Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden in love with the fragmentary innocence of childhood, the lightness of just being. An early version of the track (from the ‘Time To Pretend’ EP in 2005) sounds cheerful but cheap, as if it were being played off ‘My First Keyboard’ from the Early Learning Center. Thankfully, it got jacked up by producer Dave Fridmann for their debut album and built into some sort of symphonic New Order.
98 Men’s Needs
Polishing up a little (not a lot, mind – thank God) with the help of Franz man Alex Kapranos on production duties, The Cribs hurtled into album three with giddy guitar hooks and their most commercially viable track to date. A sense of the joyous over-rides as Gary piggybacks onto Ryan’s vocal and yet, lyrically we’re in familiarly dark Jarman territory: the gloomy specter of machismo, power and powerlessness all rearing their ugly heads. (PE)
97 Golden Skans
A swell of post-Beach Boys, Animal Collective-like harmonies take off as guitars swoop in, like ribbons wrapping round a birthday present. You almost don’t notice the music shifting uneasily between post-punk clatter and spaced-out orchestration. Undoubtedly this was the sound of the Klaxons riding high, catching a wave that would lead to the pop peak of ‘Myths Of The Near Future’). They were dipping their toes in melodic musical waters they would, disappointingly, make infrequent visits to. (TG).
96 Sheena Is A Parasite
When this casually brilliant garage-punk brawler was released, The Horrors were still routinely derided as shallow scenesters. How were folk to know what they’d become, people say. Well, bollocks, frankly, the evidence of their genius was there right from the start, as well as of the omnivorous and exquisite musical taste that would blossom darkly in the years to come. The drumbeat is based on the flipping Amen Break, for god’s sake. Faris’ splenetic, taught yowls (“She hates everyone/She knows no one”), that hammy horror organ… it’s thrillingly brilliant.
Karin and Olof would never sound this human again; caught in the grip of broken promises and infidelity, ‘Heartbeats’ become a sort of unofficial template for the Scandinavian pop that would follow in the next decade. Deep synth chords ruminate, as processed drums click off whilst someone plays the cowbell as if it were a steel drum. Karin delivers perhaps the prettiest vocal of her career and equally Olof’s synth playing sounds rather quaint considering what they would come up with later.
94 Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above
Music needs rebels and shit-stirrers as much as it needs visionaries and geniuses, so when a bunch of gobby bi-sexual Brazilians burst onto the scene aping Beyonce (“I’m tired of being sexy”) and with fucking and dancing on the brain, it was difficult not to take notice. Not that you could ignore the debut single, a demented jaunt into new wave electro that grooved along like classic disco whilst stabbing away like the best European electro-clash. Listen to most of your old faves from the nu-rave era now and you want to rip your face off to hide your embarrassment.
OK, it might not be the song everyone bellows for at live shows, but ‘Reckoner’ is one of Radiohead’s most subtle and powerful songs. Lyrically and melodically, it’s so slight it’s barely there – and yet it still manages to worm its way inside your brain. Perhaps that’s because it’s not really all about Thom Yorke’s falsetto vocal (though it’s one of his warmest and most understated); but more the ensemble playing: the whispering percussion, the syncopated guitar, the sumptuous strings that emerge at the three-minute mark.
92 Young Folks
The cold-hearted zombies of 2011 might hear this chirpy lovesick shuffle as some kind of pied-piper’s call to their local DIY superstore to tool up with nailguns and hacksaws (the war against twee is raging, people), but things were different in 2006. Looped around the kind of melody that demands the nodding of head and swinging of pants, this, of course, will always be remembered for that whistle. In reality, it’s the breathy delivery from guest-vocalist Victoria Bergsman that makes it a classic, and for that reason, corporate home maintenance will never really own it. (MW)
91 My Girls
Lyrically the message was very simple. It was a song about wanting a place of your own. Strong physical foundations of your place of abode (that matched the strong emotional bonds between kith and kin), “four strong walls and Abode slats,” sang Noah Lennox. The music, however, was revolutionary, even by Animal Collective’s standards. Beach Boys harmonies met Robin S’ ‘You Got The Love’, whilst the spectre of nightmarish, acid flashbacks pogoed along in the distance. A beautiful mess, like all our closest relationships are. (PE)
After their tribalistic debut, ‘All Hour Cymbals’, ‘Odd Blood’ was a revelation and ‘O.N.E’ its shiny calling card. Having seemingly learned some sonic tricks from former tour mates MGMT this was buoyant and joyous where previously they had been ponderous and worthy. Innovative in unexpected ways, here was a refreshingly bright slice of experimental pop as Brooklyn seemingly morphed into Sunnyville over the course of a song. This track puckered up with the late-noughties trend of mixing simple keyboard riffs with punk-funk bass and a sprinkling of energized percussion.
89 Hounds Of Love
Mixing barbershop harmonies with short, sharp snaps of post-punk guitar riffing in post-industrial Northern Britain was pretty darn special, but it was this, the Futureheads’ re-imagining of Kate Bush’s 1985 smasher that would prove their most widely loved track. Caught between Ross Millard’s dewy lead vocal, the break-neck drum track and the very real mutt-ish backing harmonies, this track felt like you were taking off with the world beneath your feet.
88 Everybody Here Wants You
Everyone remembers Jeff Buckley as a sensitive alt-singer-songwriter type – an influence on Radiohead, Keane et al. But he was more versatile than that, and could turn his hand to anything, including mellifluous Prince-esque soul, as on this extraordinary track, released after his death in 1997.
One of Buckley’s most restrained vocal performances (vocal restraint wasn’t generally his thing), ‘Everybody Here Wants You’ must have soundtracked ‘sexy time’ for a generation of pasty indie types, but don’t let that put you off. (LL)
87 Dry Your Eyes
Who’s ever felt their stomach drop through their legs during the moment they get dumped for the first – or at least worst – time? Everyone – which is probably why ‘Dry Your Eyes’, the centerpiece of Mike Skinner’s stunning concept album ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’, hit the nerve of a nation with the force of a sledgehammer to a foot. His most irresistible chorus yet wrapped around lines about the hopelessness of being shafted by a loved one, as co-singer ‘Leo The Lion”s assertions that there are “plenty more fish in the sea‘ fail to comfort. Depressingly incredible. (JF)
86 House Of Jealous Lovers
The punk-funk movement of the early noughties might have lasted only a breath longer than electroclash but there was a time when it ruled the world. Or at least Britain’s clubs. And this scuzz bass, shape-shifting disco anthem was the clarion call, seeing The Rapture firing on all cylinders and leading indie kids off into the night like drainpipe jeaned pied pipers. Add some cowbell and a million handclaps in unison and you had arguably 2003’s defining hit. (TC)
85 Dreaming Of You
Pete Doherty used to lie that he’d written it and sold it to James Skelly in a pub aged 15. Noel G regularly pilfers the bassline. Bill Ryder-Jones turns in the indie-solo of the decade (Valensi on ‘The Modern Age’? Pah!) midway through. But the best thing about ‘Dreaming Of You’ is… well, The Coral themselves. They’re tight as fuck – the true embodiment of what it is to be young, talented beyond belief and in love with the dustiest corners of 60s beatpop. (MW)
84 Hate To Say I Told You So
Sure, it’s easy to argue against the idea of The Hives being a great band: pastiche, wackiness, ludicrous nicknames – they have them all in spades. But one thing you can’t argue against is the sheer bloody fun of ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’, pure retrograde that’s part Dandy Warhols, part Cornershop, part ‘Nuggets’ compilation, but blasted through with Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s camp, infectious yelp: “Gonna call all the shots, all the no’s and the not’s, because I WANNA!” (LS)
83 Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
The song that would become Kylie’s signature track (soz ‘I Should Be So Lucky’) was the musical equivalent of a roomful of minimalist Scandinavian furniture. Simple, full of white spaces and workman like, wipe clean surfaces, it was an unmistakably European sound.
82 Feel Good Hit Of The Summer
You know when someone catches you sitting on the back of a bus, with your headphones on full blast, as you’re singing along to whatever song’s playing on your iPod? Yea, this song probably isn’t a good one for that. With lyrics that essentially boil down to a listing of illegal drugs available at your local street corner, it’s no surprise the song was banned by most radio stations. Some say this was a “joke” or a “social experiment” to test the waters of public acceptance of drugs, but who cares, really?
81 Ms. Jackson
OutKast played so far away from rap’s boundaries, it’s no wonder they were so warmly welcomed by the hipsters. This track – an apology to the mother of Andre 3000’s baby mama (who happened to be Erykah Badu) – larked about with the preconceptions of what masculinity meant in hip-hop: from the surface (like the duo’s dandyish sense of style) to the depth (the track flew in the face of misogynist cliché in favour of something almost archaically polite). All of which you didn’t really notice at first because the hook was so unapologetically massive. (PE)
80 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). (RS)
79 Song 2
OK so it may not have a proper name but who cares when it had that riff? And not forgetting that drum beat and of course that immortal “woo-ooh”. ‘Beetlebum’ and the like were OK and everything, but for anyone that loved ‘There’s No Other Way’ Blur, ‘Popscene’ Blur, kick out the jams Blur, this was manna from heaven, wrapped into two minutes flat of pseudo grunge joy. The US military wanted to use the track at the launch of a new stealth bomber but the steadfastedly anti war band said no. They let Lego Rock Band take it though.
78 The Drugs Don’t Work
A song that balls a lump in your throat as bulky as, say, the Manics’ ‘Ocean Spray’, Richard Ashcroft’s heart-quaking song for his father, tackling the emotion of watching him succumb to cancer, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ is a thing of devastatingly downbeat beauty. No-one does cheesy worse than Richard – as everyone who’s heard his ‘United Nations Of Sound’ album knows – but back in 1997 he was the greatest songwriter in the UK making a nation weep with him. (JF)
How We Wrote ‘The Drugs Don’t Work
“There’s a new track I’ve just written.
77 D’You Know What I Mean?
Ah, the ‘90s. Oasis’ stock was so high following ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ that they were able to get away with one of the most arrogant and overblown comeback tracks ever. Endless feedback! Morse code! Helicopters and grenades in the video! “I can’t believe I wrote it, it’s going to blow people away,” said Noel at the time, though he later admitted it wasn’t his finest hour. It still sold 720,000 copies, and remains one of the standout tracks from Oasis’ not-as-good phase – a titanically self-assured work of blustery-bollocks brilliance.
76 Where It’s At
The first – and arguably best – single from Beck’s breakthrough album ‘Odelay’ sees subdued Hammond synths introduce an idea-packed treat of a track that takes in all manner from samples, from obscure sex ed album ‘Sex For Teens’ to the classic Mantronix call of “we got two turntables and a microphone” and The Frogs’ “that was a good drum break”. The video, which saw Beck take on a variety of professions from garbage man to pirate, was the first ever clip played on once-essential station MTV2. (TC)
75 A Design For Life
I’ve written about this song so, so many times now, but still I don’t think I’ll ever be able to come close to really explaining how good it is. So let’s just say that musically and lyrically, it’s pretty damn close to perfect. It would take most people a decent-sized novel to get close to touching the subtle anger, the apt analysis of post-war social history and the flamboyant defiance that Nicky Wire lays out with classical concision here. And the music! The grand, string-swept sway of it, the romance and rage, James’ raw-throated bellow.
74 Supermassive Black Hole
On which Matt finds his funk. Inspired, according to an NME interview, by nights out in New York clubs and Franz Ferdinand’s pioneering dance-rock dalliances, it’s Muse at their most genre-bending, pulling together loose strands of R&B, robo-funk and industrial for one slinky shuffle. And it paid off, charting at Number Four and earning Muse their highest spot to date. Of course, placement on Twilight, Doctor Who and all manner of films and video games didn’t hurt either.
73 Out Of Time
Funny to think it now, but when Blur released this they were in choppy waters. Coxon had left and an army of new bands – Strokes, White Stripes, Libs – were finally threatening to make the old Britpop guard look utterly redundant. But then this came along – all sombre and otherworldly and different sounding, and released smack bang in the middle of the Iraq war. ‘Out Of Time’ seemed to sum everything up. And you can’t ask for anything more than that from a pop song really. (MW)
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. (TG)
71 Don’t Look Back Into The Sun
If it was brilliant at the time, it’s even more poignant now. Whilst there’s that line about how “She’ll never forgive you but she won’t let you go, oh no”, there’s no doubting that arguably The Libertines’ best song – that perfect match of sweet and scruffy – was ever about anything but Pete and Carl’s eternal, beautifully doomed romance. It stands strong as one of the cornerstones of the noughties’ indie stronghold and a bittersweet reminder of that youthful, us against the world optimism: “Oh my friends, you haven’t changed… (LS)
Round about spring last year, it’s safe to say MIA had our attention. Having made her comeback with ‘Born Free’ and its attendant ginger-assassinating video (a Romain Gavras creation that created about ten billion views and no end of controversy) she was back in the game. This follow up track was even better, a digital jam about porn, technology and shifting identities backed up with lyrics about tweeting on your iPhone and a video full of MySpace and YouTube imagery. Dangerously attached to the zeitgeist it may date worse than David Brent but for now, a top track. (TC)
69 Jesus Walks
For years known as an ‘on the up’ producer and songwriter, ‘The College Dropout’ revealed Kanye to be a brilliant, unique MC. One of the things that made him special was the way he took a microscope to the black American experience and ‘Jesus Walks’ was one of his first singles to do this. Catching the air of post-9/11 disenfranchisement, the verses find Kanye taking in police prejudice, the poverty trap and the irony of religion being the only no-go area on radio. All tied together with a hook that sounds like it should be a National Anthem. Game changing. (PE)
68 Scarecrows On A Killer Slant
Liars’ excellent dissection of Los Angeles life and the mixed emotions that come with West Coast living, ‘Sisterworld’, was one of the most rewarding albums of 2010. Somewhat more accessible than their previous (but by no means conventional), their fifth full-length saw them examine all sides of the sprawling Californian metropolis, and few tracks summed up the dichotomy of existences available there than this. “Why’d you pass the bum on the street?” they question repeatedly over diseased chords before deciding, “cos he bothered you!”. Quite. (TC)
Ian Brown likes to write lyrics about the grander philosophical topics that run through his brain, and the results are often as cringe-inducing as being forced to watch every episode of The Office back to back while strapped in a Clockwork Orange-style seat and eyelid-priser combo. But in ‘F.E.A.R.’, everything fell into place for King Monkey, the repeated acronym expansions (“Forget everything and remember”, etc) tumbling deftly over the kind of anthemic strings The Verve would murder for. (JF)
66 The Man Don’t Give A Fuck
This was originally going to be a B-side, you know. Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen initially refused permission for the Welsh band to use the sweary sample from ‘Showbiz Kids’, which gives this deliriously catchy protest anthem its title. But when Fagen relented, it came out on its own and promptly became the sweariest UK chart hit ever. It also became SFA’s regular set closer and arguably their most popular song. (AW)
“I’m on fiiiiiire!” Kasabian singer Tom Meighan yelled at the multiple climaxes of this, the lead single from the band’s 2009 arena-filling psycho masterpiece ‘West Ryder Lunatic Pauper Asylum’, a justified statement of confidence if ever there was one. A Serge guitar lick so catchy it replaced ‘L.S.F.”s outro as the biggest bellow-along at the band’s shows, it demonstrated that you can keep things dark-eyed while still taking the roof off Wembley.
64 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.
Despite the fact that this was the lead single off her third album, in a lot of ways this felt like the first time we’d ever heard from the Barbadian. Featuring an introductory rap from her Def Jam boss Jay-Z (giving the song his weighty stamp of approval) ‘Umbrella’ was Rihanna’s irresistibly simple statement of intent that set her apart from her contemporaries.
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. (PE)
61 Keep The Car Running
This jaunty, mandolin-led single was by far and away the best pop moment on the Canadian band’s rather gloomy second album ‘Neon Bible’. It’s also an extremely good example of how a great band can bring the most uncool reference points into a song (in this case 80s ‘big music’ exponents The Waterboys) and have it sound like the most cutting edge thing around. (AW)
60 Let’s Go Surfing
And lo, with a stripped back Joy Division bassline and a chirpy whistle The Drums made themselves known. And this simple ode to surfing (from a New York-based band who have barely hung ten between them and soon grew tired of questions about the sport) made itself comfortable in our brains. An effortless balancing act of the maudlin and the perky propelled by Jonathan Pierce’s inimitable vocals and of course some well-timed handclaps it quickly shifted Peter, Bjorn and John off the coveted ‘best whistle track’ top spot. (TC)
Piledriving a path for a legion of grime-dance crossover pretenders, no one ever really topped Dizzee and Armand’s armour-plated radio-eater for sheer ridiculous fun. It took some months before we could muster the self-control to stop sneaking up on people and saying ”BONKERS” in their ear in that stupid robot voice.
58 Say My Name
Wunderkind producer Rodney Jerkins seemed to peak early before disappearing behind less-than-stellar work that came later in the decade, but 2000’s ‘Say My Name’ found Darkchild at his innovative best, only rivaling Timbaland and Missy Elliot in the bold sonic innovations department. The track shakes all over itself with about three different rhythms happening at once while de facto DC leader Beyonce proves her mettle by perfecting an offbeat vocal style that would later become her trademark. A decade on, it still sounds utterly fresh. (PE)
57 Lose Yourself
‘Lose Yourself’ was Eminem at the absolute peak of his powers. Written to support 8 Mile, the film that told the story of his life, the track laid bare his early struggles over a brooding guitar sample and built to a huge, swooping chorus line. He might have sold more records since, but this was when no rapper on the planet could touch him. (TG)
56 All These Things That I’ve Done
Was there ever an album more outrageously stuffed with room-igniting, we-have-lift-off choruses than ‘Hot Fuss’? ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ is just one such sky-scraping moment among many. The fact it was (oh dear) used as David Cameron’s campaign song during the 2010 general election should not detract from its amazing power to uplift and exhilarate, even if – as Bill Bailey likes to point out (“I’ve got ham but I’m not a hamster”) – the lyrics are a load of old guff. (LL)
One of those ballads that’s transcended indieville to the point where people who’ve never heard another Yeah Yeah Yeahs song in their life would be like ‘oh yeah, that one, I loooooove that’, where you hear it on emotional teen dramas on the telly, where it’s on bloody Guitar Hero, given the amount of times we’ve all listened to it drunk and teary, we should all be sick to death of ‘Maps’ by now. The fact that we’re not even close is testimony to its masterful control.
I’ll never forget the disappointment I felt when someone told me that Tyondai Braxton’s screwy, obscured lyrics to this otherworldly song were in fact not “Dinglehopper, dinglehopper, dingle-hopper” but “People won’t be people when they hear this sound/Glowing in the dark on the edge of town”.
Post-VMAgate, Kanye was the monster, or as he put it on ‘My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy’, “The abomination of Obama’s nation,” and whilst his verse was good, it was star turns from Jay-Z (channeling his world-weary hip hop legend who just needed a cuddle) and Nicki Minaj (a show stealing turn from the heir apparent who was battling herself as much as the haterz) that took this track over the edge. Boisterous as it was reflective and revealing, this was an anthem for all the outsiders but also all the multi-millionaire rappers and their devil may care attitudes. (PE)
This was the track that took the Essex mentalists from basement-playing chancers to arenas. Everything that made people fall in love with The Prodigy is here: snarling verses, a huge bombastic breakbeat and then that little dash of controversy to top it off. Despite being released to a Top 40 dominated by manufactured bands riding on a post-Spice Girls boom, it went straight to Number One and they’ve pretty much never looked back.
After the Spice Girls’ universe-conquering and All Saints’ tales of rampant egotism, this non-starry girl band felt like they were pulled straight from the real world. ‘Overload’ was frontloaded with great, unexpected ideas: the sauntering rhythmic breaks, the sparse guitar line with pitches up like a hip Flamenco dancer, and of course the cool girl lyrics from Mutya, Siobhan and Keisha. It wouldn’t last of course, but for one album (‘One Touch’) and especially this single, they felt untouched by the machinations inside that notoriously wonky vessel that is the girl band. (PE)
50 Hey Boy Hey Girl
Featuring perhaps the most famous dance intro of recent history, this track has earned The Chemical Brothers the huge festival slots they’re continually rewarded with. Starting with a menacing, trance laden groove and building to an absolute dance stomper, there’s not a person over the age of 15 who doesn’t know what’s coming when they hear the first vocoded “Hey boy” filter through the speakers. (TG)
The kind of genius Bethany Cosentino displayed was a deceptively simple one: classic songwriting tropes featuring an undercurrent of grunge, brought together all with the endless Californian summer shimmer of Brian Wilson. ‘Boyfriend’ was part teenage longing and part womanly angst (“She’s prettier and skinnier, she got a college degree,”), whilst the guitars chimed together like Phil Spector’s in-house band. It was the timeless quality of the track that made it feel like it could have been made at any point during rock and roll’s 60-year history. (PE)
For an album as near perfect as ‘The Colour And The Shape’ to have a standout track is pretty astounding, but ‘Everlong’ is more than worthy of such an accolade. The gentle strums of the first few seconds give way to a bruising riff and a chorus that catapulted Dave Grohl’s boys from a curiosity into an arena filling priority. They close with this most nights and, even if its 15 years since it came out, it’s easy to hear why. (TG)
There aren’t many great songs about platonic male-female friendship, but this is one. Taking a dreamy, presumably mashed-up chat as lyrical source matter, singer Ed Macfarlane perfectly captures that mood of late-night, saucer-eyed scheming: “I’ll find you that French boy, you’ll find me that French girl”, he vows. “I promise, I’m on it”. Yeah, right. You know it’ll all be forgotten in the morning when the drugs wear off. But, in the moment, it all makes sense, and – for the listener as well as the two dreamers in the song – it all sounds impossibly romantic and exciting. (LL)
46 Wolf Like Me
Of course TV On The Radio are never short of a tune or two – they’ve got great credit at the global ideas bank and never fail to turn out something interesting – and their sophomore 9/10 album ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ was packed full of aural joy, from ‘I Was A Lover’ to ‘Province’, but somehow ‘Wolf Like Me’ is the track that sums them up like no other. Pounding at your subconscious’ door from the outset it’s a handful of minutes of frantic genius, split in half with one of those classic slow-it-down breakdowns that only serves to intensify its main thrust.
45 Swastika Eyes
Surely the best and most successful song to reference a Nazi symbol in relation to what singer Bobby Gillespie called “American international terrorism”. Not the sexiest subject matter, but when you ally it to such a ferocious sonic assault as the band did than you’ve got a bit of a winner on your hands. It was the first single to be released from the group’s ‘XTRMNTR’, whose pummeling, pile-driving music and overtly political lyrical content proved a surprising winner with fans more used to the band’s hedonistic approach to life. (AW)
44 Knights Of Cydonia
Another quiet, introspective acoustic number from the band that softly reflects on kitchen sink British life… nah, course not. This is Muse. So this is six minutes of intergalactic horseplay that gallops on enormo-riffs, bombastic vocals, sci-fi western imagery and all manner of other ideas from Matt’s infinite headspace. It also half-inches a riff from his dad’s old band, The Tornados (‘Telstar’). Their third single from ‘Black Holes And Revelations’ it’s been turned into a Guitar Hero track and used to accompany Britain’s Olympic triumphs. Our generation’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. (TC)
43 Little Lion Man
Although it climbed the chart slowly, and only hit the Top 40 for a fortnight, Mumford’s debut single from their debut album is perhaps their best known, and certainly their best. If anyone had told us in spring 2009 we’d be bellowing along in unison to a banjo-plucked stomper about regrets in relationships we’d have laughed you all the way to Johnny Borrell’s gaff. But what do you know, sometimes the best bands are those that give us what we never knew we wanted. (TC)
42 Come To Daddy
Inextricably linked to Chris Cunningham’s horrific, genetically mutated ‘kids’ in the video, ‘Come To Daddy”s thrash pop gloom was one part ghost train camp (“COME!TO!DADDY!“) and many parts compressed, lo-fi, drum and bass riffing. Inventive as always, Richard D James admitted he composed it whilst listening to some ‘crap death metal’, but in fact its brilliance was how it morphed genre into genre like a shape shifting time-traveler. The real horror came in the latter half (the tunneling screams in the closing minutes), but it didn’t matter, the mark it left was indelible.
41 One Day Like This
OK, it’s possible this song might have been overplayed just a touch. Elbow’s stirring, carpe diem ode to long-term love has been used to inject gravitas into everything from the Beijing Olympics to the British Parking Awards (probably). But it’d take a heart of flint not to be moved by Guy Garvey’s tender and truthful observational eye (“Shaking off a heavy one”).
Plus, the song is part of a broader heartwarming narrative: it made Elbow massive, after years of semi-obscurity. So what if it’s the soundtrack every other wedded couple’s cheesy first dance? It still rules. (LL)
40 Losing My Edge
Throughout LCD Soundsystem’s career, James Murphy cornered the electronic mid-life crisis market, and this was the first, explosively brilliant, burst of that. Inspired by the fact that the records he was DJ-ing with had become co-opted by others, Murphy sliced things with a large dollop of humour but also a sprinkling of tragedy.
NME writers’ track of the year in 2009 saw Yeah Yeah Yeahs embrace sexy synth dancepop with as much enthusiasm and effortlessness as they had straight-up indie rock. The result was a track which can justifiably claim to be a ‘Heart Of Glass’ for the 21st century. Yes, it was that good. Only Blondie were never this smutty (hell, neither is Lady Gaga for that matter). When Karen O exhorts us to “shake it like a ladder to the sun” we don’t know what the hell she’s on about, but it still manages to sound like the filthiest thing in the world.
38 The Bucket
What’s that you say? “Look at the shakies, what’s with the blush?/Fresh off the plane in my fuzzy rush.” Something about a balding 18-year-old? Sorry, Caleb, would you mind explaining what the quaking ARSE you’re on about? Well, apparently the song’s sort of about bassist Jared Followill, who’d been thrust into rock stardom at a young age, though you’d never guess from Caleb’s vocal performance, sung with all the clarity of a man with gym socks stuffed in his cheeks.
37 The Scientist
Like so many great songs, it started life as a mistake: suffering from writers’ block, Chris Martin was sat at the piano trying to play George Harrison’s ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ when he hit upon a chord that sounded “lovely”. ‘The Scientist’ grew from there – as simple and beautiful a piano ballad as you’ll ever hear. Like a lot of Coldplay songs, the lyrics dissolve into nonsense when you listen closely, but Martin has the knack of communicating on a more instinctive level.
36 Hard To Explain
I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard it for the first time: the number 88 bus from Truro to Falmouth, August 2001, sharing the walkman with my mate Guy. Those drums! The heavy, heavy guitar line that still somehow manages to sound like Johnny Marr. And Casablancas, during the bit where all the guitars go really high, “I’m not like them“. It made rock ‘n roll believable again, simple as. (MW)
Although it wasn’t the last thing he recorded before his death, this Nine Inch Nails cover has become accepted as The Man In Black’s swansong. Although his version of Trent Reznor’s song (with the line “I wear this crown of shit” changed to “crown of thorns” in order to remove profanity and reference Cash’s spirituality) is enormously affecting in its own right, the video, where Cash’s frailty is starkly evident (he and wife June, who also appears, both died that same year), is now rightly regarded as one of the best of all time.
34 Standing In The Way Of Control
Grounded by an about-to-explode bassline and a spinning guitar riff, ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ was The Gossip’s glammy moment in the sun. Beth Ditto later revealed herself to be a dizzyingly charismatic addition to indie’s mothballed regulars, but at this very moment she was just a vocalist who oozed the sort of creamy, soul voice that seemed to have sprung from another time and universe. Despite the political nature of the lyrics, which were written with a sexuality specific agenda, they could brilliantly be applied universally.
33 Dog Days Are Over
Don’t blame a track for its ubiquity. There’s a reason every ad-buyer and TV soundtrack creative across the globe borrowed snippets of Florence’s true clarion call: it’s one of the most startling, original and simply powerful tracks in recent memory. Harp crescendos, drums you can clap along to, and of course Florence’s cathedral-lunged delivery at the heart – you’d be a little dead inside not to respond.
Danger Mouse’s skitterish funk and Cee-Lo Green’s smooth soul vocal made for ridiculously compatible bedfellows, creating something that was simultaneously retro and modern. And whilst some of their later collaborations veered too far towards the cerebral, ‘Crazy’ was a three minute slice of effortless pop heaven. That the whole thing was a very real account of mental illness gave it a subversive edge, with Cee Lo singing that eternal refrain: “Does that make me crazy?” like the internal dialogue of the Indian Chief in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’.
31 The Rat
Though ‘The Rat’has since become an albatross around The Walkmen’s neck, it’s unlikely that it hangs heavy in anyone’s record collection. Few songs capture the post-break-up knifepoint between rattled fury and enduring manic obsession better – one minute frontman Hamilton Leithauser spits “You’ve got a nerve to be asking a favour/You’ve got a nerve to be calling my number” before confessing that he’s doing exactly the same thing back: “Can’t you see me? I’m pounding on your door”.
30 With Every Heartbeat
Released from the shackles of child stardom and the major label treadmill, Robyn got back to basics, releasing her self-titled album on her own label. But she wasn’t just an auteur of her own career, she was an auteur of her own sound; where swathes of glossy noughties pop were tempered by a lifetime’s worth of experience lived under the spotlight of the music biz. ‘With Every Heartbeat’ was typical of this; Kleerup’s trancey music came with an orchestral accompaniment and Robyn’s vocal came with the mature knowledge of love attained, then lost but never forgotten.
29 Alice Practice
This opening shot from the duo that used myth and obfuscation as their own media breadcrumb trail was appropriately strange and brilliant. A riddle waiting to be solved, it was an alien melding of Ethan Kath’s 8-bit video game synth rhythm and Alice Glass’ desperate punk rock squall. Allegedly, its creation was a happy accident, but in retrospect it seems to perfectly capture the duo’s modus operandi; a punk rock mindset operating in the alt-dance music arena. It was a place where the cold and inhuman meet the warm, and all too relatable. (PE)
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. (PE)
27 Take Me Out
British indie-disco’s very own year zero. The Strokes and The Stripes might get all the credit for redefining rock music in the early 00s, but it was Franz Ferdinand who gave the UK its first homegrown guitar anthem in five years with ‘Take Me Out’. The fall-out? An unprecedented No. 3 in the Official Top 40 singles chart (back when those kind of things still really mattered), the re-establishment of the word ‘angular’ into the pop lexicon, and enough money to allow their record label Domino to sign some band called the Arctic Monkeys a few years later.
26 Can’t Stand Me Now
Never has rawness of frayed emotion been captured on record as urgently and accurately as it was on the second-to-last single The Libertines would ever release. The frustration Pete Doherty and Carl Barat felt at the un-workability (to say the least) of their relationship was played out over arguably their finest musical moment. More frustrating than the ins and outs of their relationship was the fact that, as they were articulating what they were about to lose, they were demonstrating what a huge loss it would be, before they split later in 2004. You don’t get that with The Kooks. (JF)
25 Fix Up, Look Sharp
It would be a hard challenge to go through this Top 150 song list and find a more influential British track than this one. Written at some point between Dylan Mills’ 15th and 17th birthday, ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ was more than just a breakthrough moment for Dizzee Rascal, it was the tipping point for the most important underground UK music scene of the noughties.
24 99 Problems
There are few things more satisfying that publicly scoring a lot of points off someone who’s made you feel small. Like that time some gormless bint yelled “Lesbian!” at me in the street as if it was an insult and I yelled back “Yeah, you wish love” and all her mates laughed at her. ’99 Problems’ is kind of like that moment multiplied many times over and made into a song. Jay-Z’s tale of a narrow escape after being pulled over by a patronizing cop while carrying coke is the ultimate ‘in your FACE’ anthem.
23 Seven Nation Army
Surely the most maddeningly compulsive bassline of the decade, and not even actually played on a bass guitar. That’s just how Jackie rolls. A cocky, strutting, monster of paranoiac ego-puffing, Jack frets and frays (“And I’m talking to myself at night because I can’t forget/back and forth through my mind behind a cigarette”) then seethes and spits at mysterious adversaries in a strop-storm of whipping and squalling guitar, before deciding, as you do, to up sticks to Wichita and work on a farm. Again: how he rolls.
22 Wake Up
There’s a reason why six years on, ‘Wake Up’ still remains one of the biggest guns in the AF live arsenal. Well, there’s many. That surly, chugging riff and the way the ripple of keys introduces the chorus like a sunburst through the clouds. The way that Win Butler realized that the best thing he could do for that chorus would be to just get his whole band to sing “ohhhh, ohhh, woaaah-oh-oh-ohhhhh” over and over.
21 Around The World
Too many DJs and producers misuse repetition, using the device to prop up their lack of ideas and innate creative laziness. Not so Daft Punk, whose genius manipulation of just three words and five instruments created an almost illegally infectious club classic that’s survived nearly fifteen years of so-called innovation in dance music. Michel Gondry recognised their smart manipulation of just a few noises and created a stunning music video to match featuring robots and disco girls dancing the disparate elements of the track. A set text for any budding DJ to this day. (TC)
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)
19 We 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)
18 No 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)
17 Get 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)
16 Crazy 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.
15 Paper 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.
14 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. ‘Spanish Sahara’ – the first track to be revealed from the record – was as big a curveball as Yannis and co could have mustered.
13 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.
12 Time 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.
11 I 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’.
10 Time For Heroes
The third single from The Libertines’ 2002 debut album ‘Up The Bracket’, ‘Time For Heroes’ soon became its calling card ahead of the arguably more frenetically lapel-grabbing likes of ‘What A Waster’ and ‘I Get Long’. Why? It encapsulated the grotty, on-edge romanticism that defined Pete Doherty and Carl Barat’s band greater than any other of their songs – the poetic twists of “stylish kids in the riot” and “truncheons and shields… oh how I cherish you my love” now serving as tear-jerking snippets of what made the band so great.
9 Bitter Sweet Symphony
Just when the world was crying out for a genuine protest song, we got one of the greatest ever. “You’re a slave to money then you die,” is Dickie Ashcroft’s cruel payoff as he howls his way through his sermon of frustrated lament. Sounding at once beaten and yet furiously optimistic (that’ll be Andrew Oldham’s strings then), ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ is one of the saddest rabble-rousers of the 90’s. (MW)
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.
7 Over And Over
So good it was released twice – and it was voted single of the year back in 2006 by NME staffers. “The single seemed to have a strange life of its own where people kept returning to it,” Alexis Taylor said of the track. And from student unions to clubs across the globe, you simply couldn’t escape this overly repetitive, so-annoying-it-couldn’t-leave-your-head song. Which is probably why it stuck with us for so long and earned a spot in the top ten. (RS)
6 Fell In Love With A Girl
This was the one minute and 50 seconds that properly introduced Jack and Meg to the world, its frenzied assault on the senses convincing all but the most idiotic that the red and white-loving duo were the real deal. A snotty whirlwind of spat out vocals and hurricane tempo, it was an uncompromising opening salvo that even Joss Stone’s horrendous lounge cover couldn’t ruin. (AW)
On hearing the song on the radio for the first time:
Jack White: “I just laughed. I mean, it would be Staind, P.O.D., then us and then Incubus. Half of your brain is going, What is going on?
5 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).
4 Last Nite
Yeah, so it rips off Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’ like there’s no tomorrow. It only uses about three chords. But I don’t care about any of that. What ‘Last Nite’ did more than any other song from 2001 was prove that guitars could still be king, that the sound of some dude with greasy hair singing nonsensical guff about spaceships could come across like the most important thing you will ever hear. I’m listening to it now and it still sounds like the most important call to arms since forever.
3 Hey Ya!
It’s got the line we all know and love: “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” This bizarre crackpot of a number will forever be remembered as the song that made Polaroids cool again (even though OutKast inadvertently gave us all bad information, seeing as shaking your Polaroids actually damages your pictures). But we’ll excuse the photography faux pas in an otherwise eccentrically excellent top tune of the noughties. (RS)
2 Rebellion (Lies)
Win Butler’s never shied away from telling the truth to those kids he’s so obsessed with. He looks out for them. While others would let them sleepwalk blindly through life, here he’s urging them to be alert, to see and think for themselves, while the rest of the band while the rest of the band shout down his inconvenient truths with a chorus of “Lies! Lies!”.
1 Paranoid Android
Where were you when you first heard it? I’ll never forget. April 30, 1997, a Wednesday night: the first exclusive play on Radio 1’s Evening Session. I’d expected ‘The Bends’ part two. What I heard instead was bizarre and breathtaking: six and a half minutes of spiralling melodies, twisted-metal dissonance, robot voices, and a desolate choral coda featuring the line, “The dust and the screaming, the vomit, the vomit.”
The song left me spellbound, exhilarated, slightly baffled…