I debated how to best represent the decade in music in list form. Eventually, I decided on songs over albums; it seemed more fitting in the era of iTunes.
This list shows that my musical tastes, like my politics, are pretty middle-of-the-road. I like the most mainstream and accessible indie rock and I’m a sucker for the occasional pop song.
I should also point out that I think this might be longer than anything I wrote in college. It’s entirely possible that the length of this will make it completely unreadable. But whatever, brevity has never been my strong suit. Here they are, my 150 favorite songs of the decade (music videos when I was able to easily find one that I liked that allowed embedding):
150) Cannibal Ox – “Iron Galaxy” (2001)
This album has such a singular sound that it’s weird hearing Vast Aire rapping over any other production. I think that’s why I could never really get into Look Mom…No Hands. The Vast Aire verse at the end of this song is sort of the end of the golden age of underground hip hop for me, a topic that will definitely be more thoroughly discussed if I ever do a list of my favorite songs of the 90s.
149) Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – “Johnny Appleseed” (2001)
The best part of John from Cincinnati. Almost makes me want to check out the rest of Joe Strummer’s post-Clash career.
148) Air – “Universal Traveller” (2004)
The only song from Talkie Walkie that holds up for me. Really the only Air song that I listen to on a regular basis. Pops up on the occasional Rick Steves podcast, so that’s a plus.
147) American Analog Set – “Punk as Fuck” (2001)
I burned this album from my roommate Shane in the summer of 2004, so I was a bit late to the party. I actually like the entire album roughly evenly, and this was a toss-up with “Gone to Earth” and “Million Young” for this list.
146) Eminem (feat. Dido) – “Stan” (2000)
I also should admit to totally loving the Dido song “Thank You.” My favorite part about this song is that while most of Eminem’s oeuvre makes him seem like a sociopath, every once in a while he releases a song that attempts to make him seem like the world’s greatest guy. As if he actually sends everyone that requests an autograph a signed Starter cap.
145) Nicolai Dunger – “Last Night I Dreamt of Mississippi” (2003)
I love this song even if it does take a bit too long to get to the vocals at the beginning. I saw Nicolai Dunger open for Sufjan Stevens at Schubas, and then went over to The Metro to see Ted Leo that same night. My best non-Lollapalooza concert day ever.
144) T.I. (feat. Rihanna) – “Live Your Life” (2008)
This song featured heavily in T.I.’s character rehabilitation push after his federal firearm issues. It apparently convinced me, because I just assume that he is a humble, remorseful, and friendly guy. And then I read his Wikipedia page and realize that he’s probably actually a bad guy.
143) !!! – “Must Be the Moon” (2007)
I love this song, and I enjoy many other songs by this band. That said, it is completely obnoxious to make me do online research to know how to pronounce your band’s name.
142) The Shins – “Australia” (2007)
The song from the third Shins album that sounds most like it could be from one of the first two. I long predicted that Pitchfork would give the third Shins album a terrible review, after the band had achieved Indie ubiquity and had a much-mocked connection to Garden State. I was wrong; they got a 7.0. Which is sort of what happened to their career. They went from an 8.9 to a 7.0. Nobody dislikes them, but no one really talks about them anymore.
141) Passion Pit – “Moth’s Wings” (2009)
Sounds much more serious than a lot of the rest of the album. As mentioned below, it’s on the soundtrack for FIFA 10, so it will be playing in the background a lot in my apartment.
140) Shout Out Louds – “The Comeback” (2005)
I saw this band in concert at a little club in Rome in 2008. I had to be convinced to go by Anna Lyman; I had just arrived that day, and the jet leg had hit me pretty hard. It turned out to be one of my favorite concert experiences. They had some travel trouble of their own; Al Italia had lost their luggage and they were playing borrowed equipment.
I was shocked when I looked this song up and saw that it came out in the U.S. in 2005, and came out in their native Sweden in 2003. I came very late; I’m pretty sure I wasn’t listening to them until 2007. I should have known, though. Shout Out Louds is totally an early 2000s band name.
139) Common – “Cold Blooded” (2000)
In my opinion, nothing Common did this decade was as good as anything on Resurrection or One Day It’ll All Make Sense, but this is my favorite track off of his best album other than those two. The first verse is outstanding; “?uestlove said, ‘We ain’t got no time for that.’” Common does not rap like this anymore. I blame Erykah Badu.
138) Five Deez – “Latitude” (2001)
Another group from the tail end of my favorite era in hip hop. After this album, I’m sure I predicted big things for Five Deez, which just seems silly now. I really thought things were going to explode for all the groups I loved at the time, but I should have known better. Underground hip hop in the late nineties was one of the most cohesive music scenes around. Then things started to splinter, and groups (like this one) started to pop up from weird places like Ohio. At the time it seemed like it was expansion, but really it was just everything breaking apart. Now Common and Talib Kweli are making songs with will.i.am and Mos Def is a movie star.
137) The Books – “There is No There” (2003)
A weird little song that I got really into for some unknown reason. They played at Ida Noyes fourth year of college, but I couldn’t get anyone to go with me. Probably for the best, really; I’m guessing the show was a snore.
136) Handsome Boy Modeling School (feat. De La Soul and Starchild Excalibur) – “If It Wasn’t for You” (2004)
Dan the Automator is an underrated producer. He has a totally unique sound and is behind four of the songs on this list, including the honorable mentions. I also enjoy the 21st Century phase of De La Soul’s career, where they seem to exist almost entirely as a “feat.” group.
135) Imogen Heap – “Hide and Seek” (2005)
Makes the list almost entirely because of the fact that it played over a classic scene on The OC and then one of my favorite digital shorts on Saturday Night Live, although the “Whatcha say” part is pretty flawless.
134) Beck – “Paper Tiger” (2002)
I always loved the strings on this song. I loved them even more after finding out that they were arranged by Beck’s dad, even if they are both Scientologists. Kind of surprising in retrospect that Sea Change was his first US Top 10 album.
133) Spoon – “The Underdog” (2007)
A great band that is super-consistent, but this is the only song of theirs that really grabs me. I like that they’re from Austin, because they sound exactly how you would expect a band from Austin to sound.
132) RJD2 – “Clean Living” (2004)
Producer of some of the best, and almost definitely the most listenable, instrumental hip hop this decade. I have 63 songs of his on my computer, which is shocking even to me. And that does not include the rock album he made that I never listened to. He should be scoring movies like RZA.
131) Cam’ron – “Hey Ma” (2002)
I love both this song and “Oh Boy.” I think his cousin was a year below me in my high school. I’m pretty sure there was even photographic proof, but I would have to check with some other sources to be sure.
130) Sufjan Stevens – “Casimir Pulaski Day” (2005)
Growing up, I thought everyone got Casimir Pulaski Day off of school; it was kind of like how the city of Boston thinks that people outside of Red Sox Nation have any clue what Patriot’s Day is. A great song about a great state; I’m glad Sufjan came out with Illinois before (seemingly) abandoning the 50 States Project.
129) Lily Allen – “LDN” (2006)
Such a ridiculously British song, I would never have stopped listening to it if it were out when I lived in London. Began my crush on Lily Allen that continues to this day.
128) Bloc Party – “Like Eating Glass” (2005)
I love the frenetic pace of this song. I listened to this CD like it was my job when it first came out.
127) The Strokes – “Under Control” (2003)
Only having one Strokes song on a list of my 150 favorite songs of the decade kind of surprises me, but it turns out that I like their albums more than I like their songs. I would happily put one of the first two albums on at a party, but if a single comes on my iPod, I might skip it.
I actually prefer the second album to the first, which is kind of odd, I guess. I’m pretty sure that my friend Mike, a bigger Strokes fan than me, agrees; we also both independently came to the conclusion that this was the best song on the album. He once said “I would really like to see the Stokes in concert some time” after forgetting that we had actually already seen them in concert a year and a half previous, so maybe he’s not the best source.
126) Sufjan Stevens – “Jacksonville” (2005)
I have no idea where the town of Jacksonville, IL is. The lines “I’m not afraid of Nichol’s Park/I ride the train, and I ride it after dark” resonated with those of us at the Suzanne apartment building because of our proximity to Chicago’s Nichol’s Park and our experiences on the “L” train.
125) Billy Bragg and Wilco – “Airline to Heaven” (2000)
I somewhat arbitrarily picked this song to represent Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2. There are maybe six songs that could have made the list. But I love how this song sounds like Jeff Tweedy singing Woody Guthrie with Led Zeppelin as his backing band.
124) Lupe Fiasco feat. Jill Scott – “Daydreamin’” (2006)
I don’t really have anything to say about this song, so I’ll instead tell a story about Jill Scott. One time I was in Best Buy with my dad, walking around the CD section. He had a big CD collection, and would buy anything that piqued his interest. He picked up Jill Scott’s debut album, and without seeing the title, asked sincerely, “Who is Jill Scott?” Which is also the name of the album. That always cracked me up.
123) Radiohead – “In Limbo” (2000)
It’s tough to write about Radiohead without sounding like a pretentious asshole or someone who is just repeating what they’ve heard other people say. And I have other Radiohead songs to talk about on this list. So instead I’ll just write about buying this album. I got it at Record Service on Green Street in Champaign before they closed. Mike Donovan was with me, along with probably a couple other people. I put the CD in for the drive home, and about a song and a half in, he turned to me and said something like “You’re not actually going to tell me you like this, right?” His premise wasn’t totally flawed; it’s not like I had never pretended to like something just to be cool. But I argued with him the rest of the ride, because I fell hard for this album immediately.
122) Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet” (2003)
This might be the song that I have the hardest time not dancing to when it comes on, ever. For that reason alone, it probably deserves to be higher on this list.
121) Aesop Rock (feat Vast Aire) – “Attention Span” (2000)
One of the best bass samples of the decade. Also one of the few times I’ve heard Vast Aire off of The Cold Vein and it didn’t sound weird. Aesop Rock is a guy that I’ve listened to consistently for ten years but never really think that much about.
120) Yeasayer – “2080” (2007)
Generally when we’re in the car Johanna and I listen to my iPod. Every single time this song comes on she asks me whom it’s by. In one ear and out the other.
119) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll” (2009)
I really like old Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as evidenced by number 31 on this list, but I really hope that they stick with the new direction they took on It’s Blitz. So much fun, beginning to end.
118) Sigur Rós – “Gobbledigook” (2008)
A hard band to pin down. This earns a spot on the list if only because this song appears almost every single time I make a “Genius” playlist in iTunes.
117) The Shins – “Kissing the Lipless” (2003)
I apparently felt like I needed one song from each Shins album on this list, and this is my representative from Chutes Too Narrow. This could have been almost any song from the CD, because nothing really leaps out. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, considering how much I love it as a whole. This and Oh, Inverted World will serve as awesome, kind of generic background music for my mental montages of my college years.
116) Wilco – “The Late Greats” (2004)
A great song off of an album that is harder to enjoy now that I see where Wilco was headed. I was really close to taking a nap during their set at Lollapalooza. As annoying as he was in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and as much as I love Jeff Tweedy, I wonder if they’re missing Jay Bennett.
115) A.C. Newman – “Miracle Drug” (2004)
This is possibly the only song that was played at each and every Wine Night during my senior year of college. Has a very, very strong first twenty seconds. I like that A.C. Newman went with “A.C.” for his non-New Pornographers stuff just because he liked how it sounded, and his name is actually Allan Carl.
114) Peter Bjorn & John – “Let’s Call It Off [Single Mix]” (2006)
This album is chock full of great pop singleish songs, with this, number 15 on my list, “Paris 2004,” and “Objects of My Affection.”
113) Jay-Z and Danger Mouse – “December 4th” (2004)
I actually proudly owned a first printing copy of The Grey Album that I had my friend Jon Whitmer buy for me on hiphopsite.com and then ship to me in London (I hope I paid him back). I then left it, along with 19 of my other favorite CDs, on an airplane. Fortunately, the mp3s on my computer survived. This is a rare song that I think Johanna actually specifically requested that I stop putting on playlists. I also love the original off of The Black Album, and vaguely enjoy the “Say it Ain’t December 4th” version off of the Jay-Z/Weezer mashup album The Black and Blue Album.
112) TV on the Radio – “Staring At The Sun” (2004)
This song weighs two thousand pounds. A ton of musical weight. Which is why it’s funny that it played over the end credits of an episode of Entourage, maybe the definition of TV fluff (not that I don’t love that show).
111) Hot Chip – “Over & Over” (2006)
Another song I heard for the first time on WPGU in Champaign. They were playing it constantly, and I would describe my timeline with this song as follows: Listens #1-3 – “WTF is this. This is completely annoying. I hate this song.” Listens #4-5 – “This song is still annoying, but even I have to admit that it’s catchy.” Listen #6 – “God, I love this song, I wish they played it more often.”
110) Death Cab for Cutie – “Grapevine Fires” (2008)
If “I Will Possess Your Heart” wasn’t eight and half minutes long, maybe it would get this spot. I’ll leave this song here, though, because Ben Gibbard deserves as much credit as possible for locking down Zooey Deschanel.
109) Dan Bern – “Albuquerque Lullabye” (2001)
I have no idea why I bought this album, and I might not recognize any other songs on it at this point, but this one really stuck with me. I associate this song very strongly with my time working for the National Council of Teachers of English. Another song that annoys Johanna when I put it on playlists; I think she views his vocal style as an affectation.
108) Gnarls Barkley – “Going On” (2008)
When I was listening to Ghetto Pop Life and The Grey Album I would never have guessed that Danger Mouse was going to form a group with Cee-Lo and become legitimately famous. But here we are.
107) Green Day – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (2004)
A song that I’m pretty sure Johanna and I started out liking ironically and ended up sincerely loving. This song almost convinces me that I care about Green Day’s renaissance. Then I hear any other track off of American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown and realize that I don’t.
106) Crystal Castles – “Crimewave” (2008)
It’s kind of funny that electronic music has started to become a competition to sound as much as possible like an 80’s video game soundtrack. Not that I’m complaining.
105) Rihanna – “Rehab” (2007)
Even I am sort of surprised that I have a song named “Rehab” on this list and it’s not by Amy Winehouse.
104) Kings of Leon – “Ragoo” (2007)
Fourth year of college, when my roommate Mike was constantly playing Aha Shake Heartbreak, I hated Kings of Leon and couldn’t conceive of a time when I would like them. So when I first listened to Because of the Times at Virgin Megastore on Michigan Avenue and loved it, it came as quite a surprise. The more poppy they get, the more I like them, I guess. I really love this whole album, especially this song, “Fans,” “Knocked Up,” “Charmer,” and “On Call.”
103) LCD Soundsystem – “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” (2005)
I’m pretty sure my friends Nikhil and Paul saw LCD Soundsystem and M.I.A. together in concert fourth year of college. I guarantee that I pretended that I knew whom at least one of them was at the time, and I also guarantee that I had no idea.
102) Lykke Li – “I’m Good, I’m Gone” (2008)
I know next to nothing about Lykke Li, so I don’t really have much to say here. I like her album. This song is great. She put on a good show at Lollapalooza.
101) Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone” (2004)
This is a great pop song, if only because it made Kelly Clarkson transcend American Idol. Not an easy feat. I once got yelled at by the bartender at Second City for humming along to this song when it was playing on the bar’s speakers. It will be eternally annoying that the title includes “U.”
100) Hot Hot Heat – “Bandages” (2002)
This feels like a song that I should have eventually gotten annoyed by, like “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand. But it never happened.
99) The Flaming Lips – “Fight Test” (2002)
Three things that I have a hard time wrapping my head around when it comes to The Flaming Lips: 1) I cannot believe this is the same band that released “She Don’t Use Jelly” in 1993, 2) I cannot believe “She Don’t Use Jelly” came out in 1993, yet it was off The Flaming Lips SIXTH album, and 3) I’m surprised, but think it’s awesome, that Oklahoma chose “Do You Realize??” as their state rock song.
98) Radiohead – “15 Step” (2007)
Again, there is going to be plenty of time to talk about Radiohead below, so let me just say, I still feel guilty about opting to pay nothing for In Rainbows.
97) Kanye West – “Through the Wire” (2004)
I’m pretty sure this was the first Kanye song I ever heard; the early video did the rounds among U of C students because of the South Side clips, most notably the shots of Harold’s Chicken Shack. Rewatching that video brings me back to a simpler time for both Mr. West and myself.
96) U2 – “Beautiful Day” (2000)
Probably the song from this decade that, when I think about my earliest memory of it, seems most like a song from the 90s. I mean, this really seems like it was around for all of high school. It holds up, though, and is much better than most of what U2 has produced since.
95) Jay-Z – “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (2001)
I can’t believe that The Blueprint came out on Sept. 11th. And then I showed up at college shortly afterwards. This song was blaring from the frat houses across the street from Max Palevsky for the first few weeks of my college experience. This song feels timeless to me, but is also evocative of a very specific, very important time. Weird.
94) Interpol – “Untitled” (2002)
I wish Interpol had just stuck to making songs like this. Reminds me of nighttime road trips with Johanna.
93) Badly Drawn Boy – “Once Around the Block” (2000)
Is this song actually really similar to “River-Sea-Ocean” from the About a Boy soundtrack, or are they just in the same time signature?
92) Vampire Weekend – “Ottoman” (2008)
I like this song enough that the fact that it was “Album Only” on iTunes got me to purchase the entire Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist soundtrack.
91) Sea Wolf – “You’re A Wolf” (2007)
One of the many songs this decade that I was introduced to by a commercial. A GM commercial at that. Yikes. This is a great song, though. And when I listen to it, I picture Severus Snape singing it for some reason, so that’s always fun.
90) Muse – “Starlight” (2006)
Such an easily likeable song that if you don’t like it, you must be actively trying to not like anything with a pop hook. This is the type of song that could only be made by a British band.
89) Metric – “Monster Hospital” (2005)
I think this is the only Metric song I’ve ever heard. I saw them perform it on Conan or something and immediately downloaded it, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. I like it enough that you would think I would delve into the rest of their catalogue. If you’ve heard anything else, let me know what you think.
88) MGMT – “Kids” (2007)
Deserves a spot on this list if only because it led to a lawsuit with MGMT as the plaintiffs and Nicolas Sarkozy as the defendant.
87) Death Cab for Cutie – “Title and Registration” (2003)
Death Cab for Cutie is a band that I would NEVER think about if you asked me to list my favorite bands of the decade. But in thinking about this list, I realized that they really have a lot of songs that I have listened to quite a bit over the past ten years. Much more than I realized, especially if I count The Postal Service.
86) LCD Soundsystem – “North American Scum” (2007)
Lyrically, one of the most entertaining songs of the decade.
85) Radiohead – “Reckoner” (2007)
There are too many Radiohead songs on this list. Let’s just move on.
84) Bat for Lashes – “Daniel” (2009)
Fun fact: This song is about the Daniel LaRusso from The Karate Kid. I’m not even kidding.
83) Band of Horses – “The Funeral” (2006)
“At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral.” Yikes. This song sounds like they wrote it specifically for television, so it should come as no surprise that it’s already been in about twenty commercials/television shows.
82) Kings of Leon – “Use Somebody” (2008)
As I said before, I like Kings of Leon best when they are at their poppiest, and this is it. I physically cannot hear this song without singing along with the “You know that I could USE somebody” line.
81) TV On The Radio – “I Was A Lover” (2006)
What is the deal with the album name Return to Cookie Mountain? That’s terrible. Is there some meaning there that I don’t get?
80) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Timorous Me” (2001)
So, I’ve admitted to not exactly being the first to hear a lot of the bands on this list, but let me say, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are one of the few bands that I know I was into relatively early, and I know I introduced all of my friends to. I saw them play at a bowling alley, for Christ’s sake. And I feel relatively responsible for Ted Leo opening up for Nas during my senior year at U of C. I think this song is the one that really hooked me.
79) Fleet Foxes – “Ragged Wood” (2008)
I think the Fleet Foxes album was a gift to Johanna from her sister Becca, and I know for a fact that I listened to it at least twice without liking it at all. So I am by no means an early adopter here. But I’ve come around, and love this song, along with “White Winter Hymnal” and “Blue Ridge Mountains.”
78) U2 – “City of Blinding Lights” (2004)
I don’t own this album and will never buy it. But the fact that this song was in a pivotal scene in The Devil Wears Prada alone is almost enough to get it on this list. Then it was used as the song Obama came out to when he accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver in 2008. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I’m surprised it’s not in the top fifty.
77) The Wrens – “This Boy is Exhausted” (2003)
This album has four or five songs that I love, but this one wins because it expresses the emotion I most felt this decade. Seriously, “This boy is exhausted” should be my motto.
76) Outkast – “B.O.B.” (2000)
A popular pick for the best song of the decade. My problem with it is that I absolutely love the first half of the song and I’m really bored by the second half. This would be thirty spots higher if the last two and a half minutes didn’t sound so cheesy to me.
75) Santigold – “Lights Out” (2008)
Next time you listen to this song, listen for the weird mumbling voice in the background of the chorus. Johanna and I discovered it for the first time while driving through the Bronx on the way home from Boston, and were briefly concerned that there was a serial killer in the back seat.
74) Ra Ra Riot – “Ghost Under Rocks” (2008)
I’ve heard that late drummer John Pike wrote a lot of these songs, which is kind of creepy considering some of their names.
73) The Postal Service – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” (2003)
Still waiting on the second album from these guys. Apparently, Rolling Stone calls it the indie rock Chinese Democracy.
72) Rogue Wave – “Lake Michigan” (2007)
Between this song title and the song “Chicago X 12,” I would not have guessed that they were from Oakland.
71) Maxïmo Park – “Books From Boxes” (2007)
Another song that causes Johanna to ask me “Who is this again?” every single time it comes on in the car.
70) Radiohead – “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” (2001)
The last of a string of three Radiohead album openers that ended up being my favorite song on the album, along with “Airbag” and “Everything In Its Right Place.”
69) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” (2005)
Another song that I think I heard for the first time on WPGU in Champaign. I love that station. It also appeared in a classic episode of my seventh favorite television show of the decade.
68) Lady Gaga – “Poker Face” (2008)
I’m pretty sure that I will always absolutely hate any Lady Gaga song the first time I hear it, but then eventually become obsessed with it.
67) The Shins – “New Slang” (2001)
Is this the song that led to the infamous “this band changed my life” line in Garden State, or was it “Caring is Creepy”? Either way, no matter how you feel about Zach Braff, it was sort of true at the time. Nothing felt like the Shins. I almost feel bad for them, because they can never reproduce the buzz they had. It’s like the beginning of a relationship with someone you really like.
66) Dirty Projectors – “Cannibal Resource” (2009)
Not much to say about this song that I couldn’t say about the whole album. Sounds sort of like a very artsy Ted Leo. With female back-up singers. I almost put “Temecula Sunrise” on the list instead just for how much Johanna and I love the line “I live in a new construction home.”
65) DeVotchKa – “Transliterator” (2008)
Not much to say about this song other than I love it. Considering how often they seemed to be in Chicago, I figured they were a local band, but apparently they are from Denver.
64) MGMT – “Electric Feel” (2007)
This was the 30-second iTunes clip that got me to order this CD on Amazon (how 21st Century was that sentence?). I listened to it about twenty times while waiting for the CD to show up, and the build up was worth it. I worry about these guys, though, since they seem to be sort of a parody of a rock band.
63) Atmosphere – “Between the Lines” (2001)
Between this, “Like Today,” “Guns and Cigarettes,” “Don’t Ever Fucking Question That,” and “Nothing But Sunshine,” I was pretty blown away when I first listened to Lucy Ford.
62) Madvillain – “All Caps” (2004)
My favorite song from both Madlib and MF DOOM, but boy were those two guys productive this decade.
61) Sufjan Stevens – “Chicago” (2005)
The best song about Chicago (that is actually about New York) ever written. Seriously, though, doesn’t this seem like it doesn’t belong on the Illinois album? Considering that, and the fact that it is on a soundtrack for a movie I really don’t like, it’s surprising that I have it this high. Helped by the fact that I love all of the versions of it on Avalanche.
60) Lily Allen – “Back to the Start” (2009)
This song sounds almost exactly like the theme song to How It’s Made on the Discovery Channel.
59) Beirut – “Guyamas Sonora” (2007)
Such a dramatic, timeless, worldly song that it’s hard to believe it’s the product of a youngish kid from Santa Fe.
58) Animal Collective – “Brother Sport” (2009)
So, I discuss Animal Collective more thoroughly below. Here I’ll just talk about the two times I’ve seen them live. The first time was at Ida Noyes, very early on in their career. I knew nothing about them. I’m pretty sure I was completely bored, and left about two songs in to go to Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap.
The second time was Lollapalooza 2009. Again I was completely bored. Not only did they not play this song, or “My Girls,” or anything else off of their most recent album, the only song I actively recognized was “Fireworks” off of Strawberry Jam. I was worried that maybe I just didn’t get it, but even Pitchfork agrees with me. So that’s kind of dick of them.
57) R.E.M. – “Supernatural Superserious” (2008)
This song is probably fifty spots higher than it should be, entirely because it was playing on the radio multiple times while I was riding around the backstreets of Rome in my friend Flavio’s car. That will make most things sound amazing. A great song on its own merits, though. Probably my third favorite R.E.M. song, after “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Radio Free Europe”, and just before “Nightswimming” and “Daysleeper.”
56) Feist – “1234” (2007)
It’s sort of embarrassing to admit, I guess, but there have to be at least five songs on my computer that I never would have heard if not for Apple commercials. And this is the best of the bunch.
55) Arcade Fire – “Rebellion (Lies)” (2004)
Does Régine Chassagne remind anyone else of Bellatrix Lestrange? Or at least a generic Helena Bonham Carter character?
54) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Biomusicology” (2001)
I know I have a different Ted Leo song down below, but I think I can safely say this is my favorite song off of my favorite Ted Leo album. And I think my friend Robert would agree.
53) Deltron 3030 – “3030” (2000)
A bizarre opening track to a crazy Sci-Fi hip hop concept album that served as the soundtrack to the beginning of the 21st Century for me. I hope they get back together for the long-rumored sequel.
52) Interpol – “Evil” (2004)
I love the first fifteen seconds of this song. Like pretty much every Interpol song ever, the lyrics are nonsense.
51) Yo La Tengo – “Our Way to Fall” (2000)
I’ve actively tried to get into Yo La Tengo, and every other thing they’ve recorded bores me to death. And I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and love it. A perfect example of how subjective opinions on music can be.
50) Passion Pit – “Little Secrets” (2009)
Oddly enough, the band is from Cambridge, and I was living in Cambridge at the time, but I first heard them on a trip to Champaign. WPGU was playing this song, and I loved it but couldn’t make out any lyrics. Eventually I pieced together enough snippets to Google it and find out the band name. I bought the album, ended up seeing them at Lollapalooza, and now #141 on this list is on the soundtrack for FIFA 10.
49) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero” (2009)
They were a last minute replacement when the Beastie Boys cancelled their Lollapalooza appearance, and they ended up being my favorite show of the festival. Karen O is an outstanding performer. Also, I’m listening to this song as I write this, and I’m thinking I should have had this higher. If I ever redo this list, it will definitely jump a few spots.
48) The Postal Service – “Clark Gable” (2003)
My favorite thing about The Postal Service is that they actually got sued by the real postal service, and ended up settling, with the USPS “allowing the band use of the trademark in exchange for promotional efforts on behalf of the USPS and a performance at its annual National Executive Conference (according to Wikipedia).” Bizarre.
47) Vampire Weekend – “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (2008)
Johanna and I love this whole album, and we thought that everyone would, but it seemed like no one we were talking to about it was that enthused. I assumed initially that it was just the normal backlash that plagues buzzed-about bands, and with some people that was part of it, but delving deeper led me to the conclusion that, to a lot of people, Vampire Weekend is too world music-y, like a kids’ record crossed with a bad Paul Simon album. Fortunately for me, I’ve never met a Paul Simon album I didn’t like. I even love the very African “The Very Best Remix” version of this song from the single. I love Contra, too, but it certainly isn’t going to win any of the detractors over.
46) Beirut – “Scenic World” (2007)
For Beirut fans, I should point out that this is the Lon Gisland version, not the Gulag Orkestar version.
45) Lady Gaga (feat. Colby O’Donis) – “Just Dance” (2008)
Pop music is immeasurably better in 2010 than it was in 2000, and we’re all better off for it. Many thanks to Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, and everyone else. Also, I love how this song is basically about being completely wasted in a club and not knowing what’s going on.
44) Wilco – “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (2002)
My favorite lyrically nonsensical opening track of a classic album since “Come Together.” This is such a disjointed, all-over-the-place song that it seems weird to place it this high, but I just love it so much. Sort of like the album as a whole.
43) Sufjan Stevens – “Romulus” (2003)
This song seriously wrecks me. A lot of Sufjan Stevens’ songs are a bit like short stories, and this one really strikes a chord with me. The line “Our grandpa bought us a new VCR/We watched it all night, but grew up in spite of it”, in particular, makes me very fundamentally depressed, and gets to me in a way nothing else this decade has.
42) Belle & Sebastian – “Don’t Leave the Light on Baby” (2000)
Belle and Sebastian were certainly not floating around Champaign Central High School. I had never even heard of them, let alone heard one of their songs, before going to college. But by the end of my first year I had seen them in concert and heard pretty much everything they had put out. So maybe that serves as an explanation for why I picked one of their less remarkable tracks to love so much. Timing is everything.
41) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Hearts of Oak” (2003)
Back when I put a lot of thought into these sorts of things, I would make mix CDs with a tempo philosophy of slow, medium, fast, medium, slow. This song featured at track five or six on pretty much every mix CD I made for about a year.
40) Ryan Adams – “Wonderwall” (2004)
Again, if I ever do a “Favorite Songs of the Nineties” list, the original will feature highly. I might actually prefer this version, though. Noel Gallagher has said “I think Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got that song right.” So I’m not alone.
39) Arcade Fire – “No Cars Go” (2007)
My favorite song on this album, followed by “Intervention,” “The Well and the Lighthouse,” and “Keep the Car Running.” I read a review on iTunes that somehow interpreted this as an anti-oil, anti-Bush song and told the band to get out of America.
38) Lily Allen – “The Fear” (2009)
A remarkably honest song by a pop star, just one of the many reasons that I developed the crush on her that I mentioned in number 129 above.
37) Shout Out Louds – “Please Please Please” (2005)
My favorite Shout Out Louds song. It’s much more kinetic than “The Comeback.” This is probably a good time to mention the fact that I love songs in English by musicians/bands that have a different first language. They always have a weird feeling to them. This explains my affinity for this band, Jens Lekman, Phoenix, Peter Bjorn & John, and Annie.
36) John Mayer – “Kid A” (2004)
I like John Mayer now a lot more than I did in 2001. I think he’s a legitimately funny guy. I will admit to liking a few of his songs. But I really love this cover of “Kid A”. Barely beats out number 40 as my favorite cover of the decade. Other contenders include “Since U Been Gone/Maps” by Ted Leo and “Just Dance” by Maxïmo Park.
35) Justice – “D.A.N.C.E.” (2007)
I knew I was going to love this song about twelve seconds into it. Also, Johanna and I both heard a line from this song as “One Two Three Four Fives” (note the plural “fives”) and loved it, but the Internet is reporting that this is actually “1234 fight.” I’m going to stick with my original interpretation.
34) MGMT – “The Youth” (2007)
This song, combined with the album cover, had me convinced that these guys were aspiring cult leaders. Like Charles Manson if his music career had taken off. Turns out they’re just wacky liberal arts kids with too much time on their hands.
33) Bloc Party – “Banquet” (2005)
If this were just a list of how many times I’ve played a song this decade, this would be higher. This song is mandatory when I’m driving up Lake Shore Drive and there’s no traffic. Probably the song I most closely associate with the summer after college.
32) CunninLynguists – “Linguistics” (2001)
A weird little song that came out of nowhere for me early on in the decade, and then reappeared on a random CD that my friend Jon Theobald burned for me when I worked at KPMG, and eventually became a favorite of Johanna’s through playlists I’ve made over the past few years.
31) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps” (2003)
During the aforementioned Lollapalooza set, Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed this song acoustically (eh) and Karen O forgot the words (ended up being charming, but WTF?), and it was still awesome. This is basically an evolutionary power ballad, and I mean that in the best possible way.
30) The Roots feat. Cody ChestnuTT – “The Seed (2.0)” (2002)
I was already a fan of “The Seed” by Cody ChestnuTT when I heard that he was remaking it for the new Roots album. I was a fan of the Roots, too, so I was excited, and 2.0 is definitely an improvement. I do think, however, that the fact that this is a better song than the original is due not to the fact that Black Thought is rapping on it, but rather to the fact that it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in someone’s basement.
29) Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy” (2006)
Down below, I discuss how “Hey Ya!” was from another universe when it came out, and a lot of people take it for granted now that music as a whole has gotten weirder. Well, here is a great song that is also a great example of something that I really doubt would have been such a big hit if “Hey Ya!” had never existed.
28) Beirut – “Nantes” (2007)
A beautiful song that sounds like it would fit right in on the Amélie soundtrack, and that’s high praise coming from me. Now that I think about it, I should have included some Yann Tiersen songs on this list. Oh, well.
27) Kanye West (feat. Lupe Fiasco) – “Touch the Sky” (2006)
I played this song to celebrate after the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, so it brings back good memories. I will also admit that I probably like this song more than it deserves because its main sample is a slowed-down version of “Move On Up” by Curtis Mayfield, a song that I love, and one that was also featured in season four of The Wire, my favorite season of television ever. So, basically, this song has a lot going for it.
26) Sufjan Stevens – “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” (2004)
Sufjan Stevens really knows how to start an album. This opens my favorite of his, Seven Swans, and is my favorite song by him. “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” starts off Illinois, and that’s one of my favorites on that CD. The Avalanche begins with the title track, which is, at the very least, the song I’ve played most off of that album. “Flint: For the Unemployed and Underpaid” off of Michigan is sort of mediocre, I guess. This song makes me want to learn how to play the banjo.
25) Annie – “Heartbeat” (2004)
Another song that, owing to how much both Johanna and I like it, I put on pretty much every road trip playlist I make. When I’m trying to make a playlist that will annoy Johanna as little as possible, I follow a few simple rules: 1) Include every pop song that I like, 2) Don’t try to get away with more than two jazz songs, and they’d better be under five minutes long, and 3) no more than one hip hop song for every 5 non-hip hop songs.
24) All Natural – “Renaissance (feat. Lone Catalysts)” (2001)
I’m a sucker for all things Chicago, and that doubles when it’s Hyde Park, so that certainly helps this song. There is even another song on this album, “Chatham,” that talks about eating pasta at the Medici. But this song holds up even without the U of C connections. It’s up there with “Resurrection” and “Invocation” by Common as the hip hop songs I am most likely to put on a playlist.
23) Band of Horses – “No One’s Gonna Love You” (2007)
I will always love Band of Horses for their set at Lollapalooza. After being delayed for a half hour or so by Lou Reed being an old dick, they refused to end their set when Jane’s Addiction started playing, and kept going for twenty-five minutes or so. Good times.
22) People Under the Stairs – “Yehaw Partystyles” (2000)
My favorite song off of a totally ignored, completely underrated album. The beat has always sounded to me like someone beating on the roof of my car.
21) Coldplay – “Clocks” (2002)
I’ve long pretended that I was less of a Coldplay fan than I actually am. But whatever. I love Coldplay. I love the new album; I think it’s their best yet. I saw them in concert and loved it. And I love this song, and its piano riff, and I’ll be listening to it forever.
20) Wilco – “Jesus, Etc” (2002)
As mentioned below, thinking about The Blueprint makes me want to do a best albums list. The same is true of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And like The Blueprint, this album was supposed to come out on September 11th. Crazy. Anyway, I love this very simple song from a very complex album.
19) Phoenix – “Lisztomania” (2009)
The opening track on a great album. This and “1901” are the first two songs on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, maybe my favorite combined first two tracks on any album this decade.
18) Jens Lekman – “Black Cab” (2005)
I love the bizarre songs that Jens Lekman writes. This song samples a Belle and Sebastian song, which is not at all surprising when you listen to it.
17) Modest Mouse – “Float On” (2004)
This song sounds like a throwback to the late-nineties, sort of. Normally I would mean that as an insult, but it works here.
16) Santigold – “L.E.S. Artistes” (2008)
My friend Robert Martin’s favorite song of the year in 2008, I believe. At the time, I think I said mine was “Umbrella.” I actually recorded an awesome cover version of this on my computer. Don’t ask, there is absolutely no chance that I will ever let any of you listen to it.
15) Peter Bjorn & John (feat. Victoria Bergsman) – “Young Folks” (2006)
How many spots lower would this song be if I didn’t have the whistling bit seared into my brain? At least fifty. What a great decade for the Swedes! Including the honorable mentions, I count 9 songs on this list by Swedish artists. There’s also a Dane, a Norwegian, and an Icelander represented. That’s totally unbelievable.
14) Ra Ra Riot – “Oh, La” (2008)
I have the same issue with Ra Ra Riot that I do with Vampire Weekend, where I just expect that everyone is going to love them as much as I do, and then people seem indifferent. Who knows, maybe I just like boring music. This is a really great song with a nice use of strings, and it’s super-fun to sing along with. Like it or don’t, what do I care.
13) Simian Mobile Disco – “I Believe” (2007)
A classic move of mine where I buy a dance or electronic CD, and then find myself only really listening to the most accessible track. Has one of my favorite videos of the decade, although I don’t really know why I like it so much.
12) M.I.A. – “Paper Planes” (2007)
“Galang” was too much song for me, but this one is just right. I don’t even remember it in Slumdog Millionaire, which seems weird, but it was great in the Pineapple Express trailer. I expected it to be in the movie, and was disappointed; other examples of this are “Jesus Walks” for Jarhead and “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” in the American Gangster trailer (I’m pretty sure this wasn’t in the movie, but could be wrong).
11) Amy Winehouse – “Tears Dry On Their Own” (2006)
I really love this song, and the album was one of my go-to “I’ve got a long train ride and I want to zone out” CDs for the latter half of the decade. But I have trouble listening to it without getting sad, thinking about how unlikely it is that Amy Winehouse will ever get it together enough to pull anything like this off again.
10) Phoenix – “1901” (2009)
I love this song so much that I almost want to buy a Cadillac. My friend Anna Lyman predicted in February that this would be the song of the summer; I’m not sure it broke quite that big in the general public, but it might have been my personal song of the summer.
9) Jens Lekman – “A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill” (2005)
This was probably the most fun song to record this decade. It sounds like he just got his friends together and had a big sing-a-long. I love how Jens Lekman plays these weird indie rock songs, but sings them like a crooner.
8 ) Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks” (2009)
An extremely well-crafted song. I hate to make the standard Beach Boys comparison, but this reminds me a bit of “God Only Knows,” although not as good.
7) Jay-Z – “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” (2001)
I’m guessing Johanna might actually have this song even higher if she were to make a list. She used to play it incessantly. Also, just thinking about The Blueprint for the second time this list makes me want to do a list of the best albums. Apparently he has remixed this with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” a few times live.
6) Vampire Weekend – “Oxford Comma” (2008)
I’m happy to listen to this album in its entirety, but this is the hookiest song, in my opinion. Plus, it’s tons of fun to walk around the apartment singing the first verse. You can even replace the words “Oxford comma” with “dog named Ernie” or, if you say it fast enough, “Johanna Cronin.” This is also currently my ringtone, although I should change it soon. I will eventually begin hating any song that I start associating with phone calls.
5) Rihanna – “Umbrella” (2007)
Made R & B cool for hipsters, and, I suspect, might have had something to do with Pitchfork realizing that it should stop pretending that pop music didn’t exist. Played over one of my favorite television sports montages of all time, during the rain-drenched 2007 Wimbledon.
4) Outkast – “Hey Ya!” (2003)
I think this song’s legacy has probably been hurt a bit by the fact that it was pretty overexposed. Along with number 21 above, this is a song that I eventually took a break from, before it worked its way back, permanently, into my good graces. I also think that it’s easy to forget, now that popular music is getting increasingly eclectic and weird, how completely out of left field this song was at the time. I first heard it on WPGU, prior to the release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and had absolutely no idea what I was listening to; I just knew that I loved it. A song of a very specific time, I’m guessing everyone has at least one distinct memory of doing something with this playing in the background.
3) Daft Punk – “One More Time” (2000)
This is a great gateway drug that got me listening to the rest of Daft Punk’s discography, and led me down paths I probably wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise. Totally infectious; this is probably the song that I have the second hardest time resisting the urge to dance to, after number 122 above. I have great memories of this as the weekly closing song at the Friday night Crush parties at LSE.
2) Animal Collective – “My Girls” (2009)
I wouldn’t even pretend to be a serious Animal Collective fan. I very actively ignored them for the majority of the decade, in the way that some people refuse to watch Arrested Development because too many people have told them that they simply MUST see it and they’re sick of hearing about it. I finally broke down and bought Merriweather Post Pavilion during my spree of listening to new bands prior to Lollapalooza. I’m now working my way backward through their discography, and enjoying it, but nothing has grabbed me like “My Girls.” It currently sits at #1 on my iTunes list of most played songs.
I initially had this at number one. I moved it because, a) I think I was giving too much weight to songs that I really enjoy listening to right now, b) I had only really been listening to it for 1/20th of the decade, and c) Johanna was appalled when she found out I had it ranked first. I’m guessing that if I were to redo this list in ten years, these top two would be reversed. Such an exhilarating song; my favorite part occurs at the 3:15 mark, when things are really building up steam, and there is the first of the muffled shouts in the background after the “For my girls” line.
1) Radiohead – “Everything In Its Right Place” (2000)
This song is so great that when you combine it with a Ferrari and an empty Times Square, it’s almost enough to save the movie Vanilla Sky. I love every cover version, every live version I’ve ever heard. I loved OK Computer, but I never really listen to it. I still listen to Kid A pretty regularly. This song has maybe my favorite first five seconds of any song ever.
For pretty much every song on this list, even if it came out eight years ago and I still listen to it today, I associate it most strongly with a specific time. All of them have a time when they peaked for me. That’s not really the case with “Everything In Its Right Place.” I listened to it as a senior in high school, and I listen to it now, almost five years after college. I listened to it in Champaign and Chicago and Cambridge and Chapel Hill, and I’ll still be listening to it wherever I go next. This song has nothing to do with my life; I’m not even really sure what it’s about. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t somewhat defined me over the past ten years.
Honorable Mentions: Aesop Rock – “None Shall Pass”, Atmosphere – “Modern Man’s Hustle”, Badly Drawn Boy – “Something to Talk About”, Beck – “Earthquake Weather”, Beck – “Gamma Ray”, Belle and Sebastian – “If She Wants Me”, Billy Bragg and Wilco – “Remember the Mountain Bed”, Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”, Cody ChestnuTT – “Upstarts In a Blowout”, Coldplay – “Don’t Panic”, Common (feat. The Last Poets) – “The Corner”, Deltron 3030 – “Madness”, Dirty Projectors – “Stillness is the Move”, El-P – “Up All Night”, Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal”, Gorillaz – “Feel Good Inc.”, Grizzly Bear – “While You Wait For The Others,” New Order – “Crystal”, Of Montreal – “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games”, Okkervil River – “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe”, People Under the Stairs – “Plunken’ Em”, Peter Bjorn & John – “It Don’t Move Me”, Phoenix – “Everything Is Everything”, Radiohead – “There There”, RJD2 – “Chicken-Bone Circuit”, Elliott Smith – “Color Bars”, Timbaland (feat. Keri Hilson & D.O.E.) – “The Way I Are”, Travis – “My Eyes”, Turin Brakes – “Blue Hour”, TV On The Radio – “Love Dog”, The Virgins – “Rich Girls”.