The Best Singles of the ’00s

Best Singles of the 00s

The way Kathie Lee needed Regis

120. Kanye West – “Jesus Walks”
(2004; Roc-a-fella)

Making fun of Kanye West’s faults is all too easy and fun (his lyrics are often nonsensical, he can’t sing for shit, did you SEE him on the MTV Video Music Awards?), and doing so tends to obscure why he’s in a position to be mocked in the first place – his astounding, head-spinning talent. “Jesus Walks,” from The College Dropout, meshes everything that made West so damn fascinating in the first place into one neat package. He raps about faith and about moving coke, questions why the Lord has no place on commercial radio, and actually makes the age-old debate about violence and sex in rap music sound fresh all over again. And, of course, there’s his grade-A production, military drumbeats and triumphal gospel harmonies bouncing perfectly off one another. If every song about Jesus sounded like this, maybe the Christian section in your local music store might be a tad bigger – and more fun to listen to. – Tony Ling

I am guilty for the voice that I obey

119. Portishead – “Machine Gun”
(2008; Island)

At the approach of the eleventh interceding year between Portishead’s second and third studio albums, the trio made one of the scariest decisions they could have approached. They chose to replace, wholesale, every soulful, forlorn trace of their heretofore legendary torch-song trip-hop with Krautrock flourishes and tech-tinged freak-folk. And damned if the move didn’t work. The lead single from Third featured pounding, industrial drum pads and sample triggers threatening to drown out Beth Gibbons’ vocals, impossibly more wavering, weak-kneed, and artfully fearful than ever before. – Adam Blyweiss

We laughed and laughed and laughed

118. Bat For Lashes – “Daniel”
(2009; Parlophone)

The once and future Natasha Khan writes an apparent love song to Ralph Macchio’s character in The Karate Kid, and the musical landscape of 2009 is changed forever. Her second album Two Suns is steeped in breathy British chanteuse glory like [native] Kate Bush, [transplant] Tori Amos and [wannabe] Stevie Nicks before her. Full of tracks surrounded in foggy atmosphere and Khan’s haunting, wandering vocals, the album finds in “Daniel” its moment to break through and shine—shimmer, even. – Adam Blyweiss

You can’t hide

117. Okkervil River – “For Real”
(2005; Jagjaguwar)

Will Sheff has visited death and murder numerous times throughout Okkervil River’s discography, enough that someone should probably tally up his lyrical body count just for reference. With “For Real,” however, Sheff turns away from the traditional idea of murder ballad in favor of a protagonist whose search for something real grows horrific very, very quickly. Love becomes entangled with violence as Sheff howls, “And I really miss what really did exist/ when I held your throat so tight,” as electric guitars stab and slash, splattering blood and bile all over the otherwise serene acoustic melody. Once the initial shock wears off, however, what ensues is one of the most captivating, awe-inspiring rock songs of the past ten years. Sheff crams the word “real” as many times as possible into each verse, quickening and intensifying with each reading, but climaxing with a mighty chorus, an unforgettable guitar solo and a blood-curdling scream of “You can’t hide!” Play this enough, and those chills you feel down your spine may soon come to feel comforting. – Jeff Terich

Just a classic case…s-s-scenario

116. Justin Timberlake – “What Goes Around/Comes Around”
(2007; Jive)

Just think: ten years ago, Justin Timberlake was just a cute lad with the bizarre bleached curls from N*SYNC. Now, he’s a respected artist, an MVP on “Saturday Night Live,” and an all-around well liked guy. Since pairing up with Timbaland, Timberlake has crafted songs that weren’t just catchy, weren’t just throw away pop songs – they were full-on compositions that blended genres and upset expectations of what a pop song was. “What Goes Around/Comes Around” does just that – from the Middle Eastern influences, to the superb ending coda, the song was a ballad, but also a seductive R&B/pop track, melding together exactly that Timberlake does best. At this point, it seems trite to assign the unknown heartbreaker as Britney or Cameron or Jessica or whoever; the song isn’t about gossip page speculation. Rather it’s about Timberlake’s own impassioned performance. Swimming in heartache, anger, drama, and hurt, Timberlake proves himself an extraordinary showman, exposing a vulnerability that we seldom see in male pop stars and shows him coming a long way since “Bye Bye Bye.” – Jackie Im

You’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you

115. U2 – “Beautiful Day”
(2000; Interscope)

Don’t balk, but this was my number one choice for song of the decade. When I posted my own list on social networks, ten tracks at a time, most everyone agreed with the songs I chose, up until number one. Once I posted “Beautiful Day,” there was a surprising uproar. Now, I understand the U2 backlash. Any band that gets that big deserves to be taken down a peg or two. I get that. And frankly, other than a few scattered songs here and there, their last few albums haven’t been that great. “Beautiful Day” is one huge exception. Sure, it has personal and sentimental value. But aside from that, it has had many lives. Bono originally wrote it about a man who loses everything and still keeps his spirits up, thankful for the things he has. I can take solace in that. Michael Stipe claimed that this is the one song out there in the universe he wishes he had written. It was played over and over when Obama was elected. Plus, it’s just a damn fine song, despite your bias against U2. It’s rare enough for a band to achieve a hit song, rarer still for that song to contain some depth in meaning. U2 is the even rarer band that has accomplished the feat more than once. “With or Without You,” “One” and this track could easily be considered the band’s three best. – Terrance Terich

Madness to magnet keeps attracting me

114. Kid Cudi – “Day `n’ Nite”
(2008; G.O.O.D. Music)

Stoner anthems aren’t totally new to hip-hop, but there’s never been one as literal or as lyrical as “Day N’ Nite”. Stranded in the mid-distance of an apocalyptic sprawl, Cudi veers between queasy normalcy and sublime melancholy with all the aplomb of a Denis Johnson protagonist. The beats were minimal until Crookers got a piece of it; their booming remix was the last huge viral hit of the decade but Italians didn’t do it better here. In its initial shadowy state “Day N’ Nite” builds towering echoes of personal void that spatter and ping off every spooky note. Cudi nearly leaps out at himself from alleys, pouring grit and wonder and fuzzed-out survival instinct. – Anthony Strain

One cocksure fox in a house of hens

113. Les Savy Fav – “The Sweat Descends”/ “Knowing How the World Works”
(2004; Cold Crush)

To my knowledge, The Edge never sat in on a recording session with Fugazi. But hearing Les Savy Fav marry gobs of digital delay and heroic choruses to an urgent, intense post-punk rhythm makes me think it’s not such a bad idea. “The Sweat Descends,” one of nine A-sides released for the group’s Inches project, is simply the band’s most powerful single, a rock anthem under the guise of a sneering punk song. Simultaneously more melodic and more jagged than any of the group’s previous seven-inches, it crashes with a thunderous roar, electrifying the listener with Tim Harrington’s shouts of “Wake me up when we get to heaven/ let me sleep when we go to Hell.” I’d call it the group’s best song, but it’s flipside, “Knowing How the World Works” is a strong contender on its own, offering more danceability, more smart-assed lyricism, and an outro that stretches and runs until everything collapses into a chaotic wreck. So, we’ll call it a tie. – Jeff Terich

A ghost is screaming your name

112. M83 – “Don’t Save Us From the Flames”
(2005; Mute)

Taken from a loose concept record (the best kind) about various vehicular dooms, “Don’t Save Us From The Flames” approximates a car tearing open from the inside: upholstery fluttering, metal going janky. It also approximates a freaked-out mind doing the same thing, so I don’t know. As deeply phobic and sinister as it is, “Don’t Save Us” stylizes destruction as a bigger beauty, not that all the background screams are just kidding. As the drums hit their highest scree you can see the smeary handprints, trying to get out. Car, mind, whatever. – Anthony Strain

How did it end up like this?

111. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”
(2004; Island)

Mainstream alt-rock radio became that much more frustrating after Nickelback and Linkin Park defecated all over it, but leave it to a flashy group from Vegas with a penchant for drama to set things straight. After making a considerable splash with debut single “Somebody Told Me,” The Killers only raised the bar that much higher with “Mr. Brightside,” an over-the-top rock anthem that’s unapologetic in its camp and bombast. From its explosive synthesizers, to its tabloid lyrics, to its checkers-match video and its “Ode to Joy”-aping bridge, the song is a celebration of all things ridiculous and fun. Eric Roberts aside, it’s quite simply one of the best rock tracks of the decade, soaring and spectacular. Were I to train for a boxing match, I’d swap out “Eye of the Tiger” for this gem. – Jeff Terich

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