The Best Singles of the ’00s

Best Singles of the 00s

We will always be a light

130. Stars – “Ageless Beauty”
(2005; Arts & Crafts)

I’d be surprised to learn that the members of Stars weren’t English majors. “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” is a perfectly constructed short story. “Ageless Beauty,” on the other hand, is a prose poem. It’s more concealed, more imagistic, rather than literal. Amy Millan takes center stage, pairing her glorious voice with driving guitars that never let up. The lyrics can be read in a few different ways, but any way you slice it, we see imagery of aging, yet, as the title suggests, life, love and beauty live on. I don’t know what lifts my spirits more, the lines, “Underestimated, undefeated in this love,” or the New Order-like coda from Chris Seligman. Genius. – Terrance Terich

Because it’s perennial don’t make it less real

129. Simian Mobile Disco – “I Believe”
(2007; Wichita)

As evident from new releases by The Prodigy and Crystal Method, big beat, apparently, won’t go away as easily as we hoped. Fortunately, there have been numerous bright spots from the genre’s successors, most notably Simian Mobile Disco, who put aside the recycled crates of hyperactive funk for this light and bouncy psych-pop banger. The synths, how they flutter, bubble and bristle. The beats, how they ping and pong. It’s a wonderfully shimmering sound, but what’s most remarkable is just how calmly and seductively it entices the listener to start moving. And to think, these guys used to be in a rock band. – Jeff Terich

We’ve got devils chasing us to hunt us down

128. Loney, Dear – “I Am John”
(2007; Regal)

It’s highly doubtful if 2007 produced a more universally overlooked track than “I Am John.” In a year when tender-hearted Swedes were peaking (Jens Lekman, Jose Gonazalez) and twee pop was either barely keeping its head above water or hiding beneath retro shoegaze or lo-fi revivalism, Loney, Dear simply wilted beneath the trends. It’s a shame, too, because “I Am John” is about as bushy-tailed a blast of infatuated sunshine as they come. Off to a brisk start with a crisp, finger-swept acoustic, Emil Svanängen’s falsetto whine and wire brush drum swipes, the song pushes past its dainty exterior into an ever-escalating, clamorous finish. Malin Ståhlberg’s back-up vocals softly lift as Emil’s breathless lyrics are crammed into every corner – often carrying over from bar to bar as if struggling to keep pace – until, finally, fading plainly into silence as if nothing much happened. It’s a modesty that runs all through Loney, Noir, but if that’s ultimately what cost this gem from garnering anything more than a passing glance, it’s also what makes Loney, Dear worth listening to: They’re far too sweet for rock ‘n’ roll and all the better for it. – Dustin Allen

Gun me down with yankee power

127. Broadcast – “America’s Boy”
(2005; Warp)

Broadcast has had a strong run of outstanding singles, but few of them come across with an immediate, visceral appeal. That changed in 2005, when they issued “America’s Boy,” a simple, catchy, noisy and even danceable pop song that was less about swirling, psychedelic atmosphere and more about that perpetual throb. The synths are nastier, the beats are more direct, and Trish Keenan approximates the prettiest robot you’ll ever hope to encounter. Given the timing of its release, one might be forgiven for thinking there’s some kind of political message within, but hell, half of the songs on this list could be war/peace/9-11/anti-Bush screeds if you really want them to be. Rather, it’s more of a detached daydream about an ideal: the chivalrous, American man, both as hero and object of desire. There’s no judgment or rage, just a curiously absurd string of words wrapped around one of the coolest, and weirdest, pop songs I’ve heard. – Jeff Terich

Just do your thang

126. Aaliyah – “Try Again”
(2000; Blackground/Virgin)

Treble writer, disco enthusiast and David Foster Wallace aficionado Anthony Strain mentioned over the course of this list-making exercise that he couldn’t stand Beyonce Knowles, but that he absolutely adored Aaliyah. Me, I’m not one to choose sides, but I can certainly sympathize. In her 22 short years on this planet, Aaliyah was almost the anti-Beyonce. Mysterious, sleek and above-all subtle, Aaliyah could make magic out of her restrained, cool voice, and did so numerous times with frequent collaborator Timbaland. Their peak was “Try Again,” which was featured in Jet Li (and Aaliyah) vehicle “Romeo Must Die.” But people tend to forget that part; what they will remember is how simultaneously spectral and bumpin’ this song is, showing that sexiness doesn’t necessarily have to be so bootylicious. – Jeff Terich

Pressure drop!

125. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
“Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”
(2003; Lookout)

Having a conscience doesn’t always make for great songwriting. Frankly, it’s easier to write a song about sex or death than it is to make a convincing case for peace or humanity without succumbing to Zach De La Rocha-style sloganeering or flower power. Ted Leo turned the bleeding-heart message song upside down in 2003, however, by pairing a message of peace and love with a tribute to The Specials, by way of Thin Lizzy. “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” rocks like a modern day “The Boys Are Back In Town,” but with a pure heart, making a plea for sweet, sweet two-tone beats instead of tensions high “over seas and over sky.” I would have agreed with him anyway, but riffs and melodies this undeniable just make it seem that much groovier if everyone put away their aggression and came together in the spirit of song. – Jeff Terich

One hundred telephones sit and ring

124. Guillemots – “Trains to Brazil”
(2006; Polydor)

From the opening rumble of drums, the squeak of wriggling synthesizers and Fyfe Dangerfield’s falsetto wail, it’s apparent that “Trains to Brazil” is going to be a gloriously fun single. With a soulful bounce that recalls The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” and a band of professional jazz musicians to back them up, Guillemots offer a song dense in composition, but bright and immediate. It’s easy to overlook that the inspiration behind this song was a man who was killed for being mistaken for a suicide bomber. Rooted in tragedy, but celebrating life all the same, “Trains to Brazil” is a solid reminder to enjoy life while you can. – Jeff Terich

When you smile it melts away again

123. Caribou – “Melody Day”
(2007; Merge)

“Melody Day” exemplifies Dan Snaith’s successful stylistic shift to more folk driven pastures. It summons the listener like a spectral Fairport Convention mashed through one of Andy Votel’s mutant mix tapes. Ghostly vocals chime between a cacophony of bells and percussive humming. Throughout the zeros, Snaith’s music has struck with an emotional potency which outstrips more pre-meditated efforts. Lyrically, the song might as well be about soap—burying the nonsensical in a sumptuous otherness. “Melody Day” is just as beautiful as anything displayed on prior art. Where Start Breaking My Heart closer “Happy Ending” encapsulated a slow burning afternoon, “Melody Day” serves the rushed head start to a day perfectly. – Thomas Lee

Twenty seven years of nothin’ but failures and promises that I couldn’t keep

122. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals “Let it Ride”
(2005; Lost Highway)

If you’re going to release three albums in one year, you’d better make sure those albums have some damn good songs. Ryan Adams’ creative resurrection began with 2005’s Cold Roses, and lead single “Let it Ride” doubles as its centerpiece. Everything that made Cold Roses so strong is in full display – Adams’ confident, assured vocals, wonderfully evocative lyrics (“I want to see you tonight/ Dancing in the endless moonlight/ In the parking lot in the headlights of cars“), his crack backup band whipping up a steel-guitar and spaghetti-Western solo-laced groove behind him. And, best of all, it sounds so unforced and easy, unlike the mope-rock and ’80s-style headbanging of his previous albums. Adams has grown more consistent as he’s gotten older, and songs like “Let It Ride” prove just how great that consistency can be. – Tony Ling

Ain’t gotta do nothin’ crazy

121. Justin Timberlake ft. T.I. – “My Love”
(2006; Jive)

According to the always-eager claim-maker Kanye West, Justin Timberlake missed out on being “the voice of this generation, of this decade” because he went on vacation instead of making albums. Well, Mr. West may be two albums (and a handful of chart performing singles) up on JT at this point, but there’s no denying that when Timberlake did put out an album, it was good. Really good. Being a pop artist, it’s not unexpected that the excellence of his works would be concentrated into the respective singles of each record – whether the primarily Neptunes-helmed Justified or the Timbaland-produced (and aptly titled) FutureSex/LoveSounds. Stellar single “My Love” from the latter seems to distill the strengths of Timbaland’s stunning, album-spanning electro future shock into one dense, languid gem. Timberlake is in all out ballad-mode on this one, envisioning a settled love life and making promises of commitment in pitch-perfect falsetto, while T.I. plays foil to his “nothing compares to you” adorations, at times in Yoda-speak (“And forget your face, I swear I will […] Just bring with me a pair, I will“). Maybe that’s a tie-in to that maniacal, Muppet-like laugh that song (and album) architect Timbaland drops in the chorus and somehow manages to coalesce with his other mind-boggling layers of songcraft – diffusing techno shimmers, theremin synth drones, and of course, gratuitous amounts of beatboxing. Thanks to his heavy hand, “My Love” is a pop song that – even as we pass into the next decade – still sounds completely ahead of its time. – Derek Emery

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