As a shorter companion piece to our ‘200 Greatest Albums of the 2000s’ feature, we give you our run-down of the finest 200 tracks of the noughties.
Combining tangible influence, subjective nostalgia and sheer downright brilliance, this list may look a little different to how our albums feature does. Commercially oriented pop music has always seemed to translate more effectively to the humble single format as opposed to full-length albums, and a list like this allows us to remember the one-hit wonders and fleeting triumphs whose work has perhaps dated less well than artists who occupy our albums feature.
The soaring highlight from The Mozfather’s great comeback album You Are The Quarry, giving him back-to-back UK Top Ten hits for the first time in 15 years.
Two-hit wonders The Ting Tings hit the top of the UK charts with this DIY / playground chant nugget. That’s not her name!
Dizzee hooked up with Armand Van Helden to cement his place as Britain’s premier hit-maker at the end of the noughties.
A moody synth-pop beauty harking back to the electronic ‘80s that established Australian band Cut Copy as a serious force.
British songwriter Matt Hales went from total obscurity to fleeting transatlantic fame and back again with this sparse, delicate snowflake of a track.
Playful, exotic and totally different from most of the chart-pop of 2009, Shakira scored a worldwide hit with this hi-NRG anthem for liberation from domestic boredom.
The point at which momentum really started to gather for Foals, third single ‘Mathletics’ was an ace in the hole that was confusingly left off debut album Antidotes.
An acoustic chill-out classic, featuring a certain Sia Furler delivering a spectral and understated vocal performance that compliments the warm and lazy vibe.
Spending 10 weeks at Number One in America, a prominent Ray Charles sample was turned into a modern party-starter by Kanye West, who was fast becoming the biggest star in hip-hop.
Tending his father’s songwriting flame but simultaneously stepping out of his shadow, Damian Marley’s breakthrough hit lamented poverty and corruption in Jamaica, set to an Ini Kamoze sample.
Built on a hypnotic, arpeggiated piano riff, ‘Clocks’ rapidly became Coldplay’s signature song as they rose to international superstardom with second album A Rush Of Blood To The Head.
Spawning a feud with Toni Braxton over the rival use of the same Tupac sample, Jay-Z and Bey’s power-couple relationship dates way back to this slick R&B/hip-hop crossover.
Scottish cult heroes Idlewild refined their scruffy, student-house-party indie/punk into something more sonorous and melodic with 100 Broken Windows, of which ‘Roseability’ was the highlight.
Dark and seedy yet unmistakably hedonistic, French electronic artist Pascal Arbez created the underground club hit of 2001 with this instrumental.
Mike Skinner became a household name in the aftermath of this UK Number One hit, a human, universally relatable sentiment that doubled up as the unofficial soundtrack to England’s Euro 2004 exit.
An absolutely colossal hit in The Presets’ native Australia, this anthemic slice of shiny electro-punk-pop was everywhere in the media and was written about the plight of asylum seekers in the country’s detention centres.
This savagely noisy cut from the Scream’s underrated masterpiece XTRMNTR had the great honour of being the last ever release on Creation Records. Going out with a bang doesn’t even begin to cover it.
After a solid, encouraging debut album, the Brothers Jarman crafted their first bona-fide indie classic with the first single from The New Fellas, baiting hipsters and indier-than-thou snobs – and never looked back.
A hymn to the ups and downs of life in their shared home, Jay-Z produced one of the very biggest hits of a career already littered with multi-platinum records when he teamed up with fellow New Yorker Alicia Keys for this Grammy-winning smash.
A piece of cosmic electro-dance that sounded like Fleetwood Mac reinvented for the 21st century, ‘Daniel’ was the disarming centrepiece of Natasha Khan’s second BFL album Two Suns.
Another massive success for Brian Higgins’ Xenomania production team, Girls Aloud cemented their reign as queens of disposable pop brilliance with this elaborate and structurally unconventional hit that broke all the rules of manufactured chart music.
Yes, technically this is a ‘90s cut, but Rajinder Rai’s cracking remix, crossing an existing bhangra track with the propulsive bassline from ‘Knight Rider’ and a forearm smash of a beat, found massive worldwide success on re-release in 2002.
A masterful demonstration of tension build-up and release in modern rock music, ‘Keep The Car Running’ was the first single from Neon Bible and showed that Arcade Fire wouldn’t be suffering from difficult second album syndrome following their magnificent debut.
A gory, ghoulish mutation of hard rock and electronica that boasted a memorable guest vocal from Iggy Pop, telling the story of a mass murderer from the first-person, ‘Aisha’ was a hugely unexpected UK Top Ten hit for production duo Death In Vegas.
A soothing piece of shuffling, bleeping, feather-light electro designed for comedowns, ‘Eple’ quickly became the calling card for hitherto unknown Norwegian duo Röyksopp and fuelled the hundreds of thousands of sales of their album Melody A.M.
Reciting a ton of Michael Jackson songs in its lyrics as a tribute to their childhood hero, French duo Justice crafted a highly distinctive hit using an eight-strong children’s choir and setting it to a twitching, glitchy electro that sounded just polished enough for radio but also charmingly DIY.
Operating on the more experimental outskirts of the nascent UK garage scene at the turn of the millennium, producer and DJ Zed Bias infiltrated the charts with this summer classic. Years later, it was credited as a major influence on the dubstep scene with its tricksy, skeletal rhythms.
There can’t have been many more purely enjoyable singles in 2004 than ‘Freakin’ Out’, a fizzing pop-punk gem that provided Graham Coxon’s first significant hit as a solo artist. Who the hell wants artists to grow old gracefully when they could do stuff like this?
A neon-spattered collision of rubbery bass, frenetic drumming and blaring sirens that often sounded like it had been edited in a blender, Klaxons’ second single was terrific fun and came to define the sound of the short-lived ‘nu-rave’ scene.
Representing a fifth UK Top Five hit in under two years for Arctic Monkeys, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, telling a story of a unsatisfied suburban housewife looking back regretfully on her youth, was Alex Turner’s cleverest and most mature songwriting yet.
One of the biggest-selling singles of all time, ‘Poker Face’ has sold more than 14 million copies around the world, fuelled by its robotic hook and earworm chorus addressing bisexuality. It ensured that 2008 and 2009 belonged to Lady Gaga, whose fame has influenced pop stars ever since.
The former Kenickie singer and current Radio 6 DJ Lauren Laverne scored the biggest hit of her career with ‘Don’t Falter’, lending her sugar-sweet vocals to Mint Royale’s dreamy big-beat electronica to create an effervescent summer classic.
Kelis found global fame with ‘Milkshake’, a three-minute tutorial in sex appeal set to a deep yet lean, minimalist production from studio wizards The Neptunes, which rapidly became her signature song. Damn right, it was better than yours.
The sound of a life falling apart set to tribal drums and stark stabs of piano, ‘Love Lockdown’ was the desolate lead-off single for 808s & Heartbreak. Kanye’s prominent use of Auto-Tune was used to depict a man trying, but failing, to shield his feelings from the outside world.
A weaving and bobbing cross between heavy rock and R&B that thrillingly held together in the face of logic, ‘Stillness Is The Move’ is the closest thing that challenging art-pop act Dirty Projectors have ever made to being commercially viable.
The song that made Sophie Ellis-Bextor into a chart star, Italian DJ Cristiano Spiller added the former indie singer’s sultry vocal to his laid-back instrumental track to create early-evening chill-out perfection. It’s still the highest-selling vinyl single in the UK since the turn of the millennium.
A non-album single that followed difficult second record A Weekend In The City, ‘Flux’ was singer Kele Okereke’s greatest vision for his attempted reinvention of Bloc Party as a dance-oriented band. Set to a gibberingly fast house beat, it became the group’s fourth UK Top Ten hit.
Jigga’s classy yet savage sideswipe at the overabundance of Auto-Tune at the end of the decade, ‘D.O.A.’ may have been controversial, but certainly reminded everybody who the undisputed king of the scene was.
Always getting rave reviews from critics and fellow musicians (Oasis and Radiohead, to name a few) The Beta Band were always too wilfully perverse to ever really penetrate the charts. ‘To You Alone’ was a sullenly romantic trip-hop ballad that caught them at the height of their powers.
Possibly the best love song ever to be set in a library, the almost stereotypically whimsical POBPAH combined an endorphin rush of jangling guitars with Kip Berman’s clever wordplay (“don’t check me out!”) to create one of the finest indie tracks of 2009.
Released as the fifth and final single from the unstoppable sales behemoth Back To Black, ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ may not have had the autobiographical relevance of ‘Rehab’ or the sass of ‘You Know I’m No Good’, but it was a stark insight into Amy’s relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil that sounded mature and totally timeless.
Confrontational, politically charged and ruthlessly minimal rap from the underrated Dead Prez that railed against the commercialisation of the genre, ‘Hip-Hop’ boasted one of the most recognisable basslines of the decade that has, ironically, soundtracked countless TV segments since.
The most memorable moment of Klaxons’ brief career, ‘Golden Skans’ has endured precisely because it steered clear of the gimmicky nonsense of the ‘nu-rave’ label that had been pinned on them and stuck to pure, glorious melody. A bona-fide indie anthem beamed down from the heavens.
Nicking an ABBA intro and setting it to a pulsing, modern disco track crafted by producer du jour Stuart Price (Jacques Lu Cont, Les Rythmes Digitales), Madonna successfully and credibly reinvented herself for the mid noughties with the insanely catchy ‘Hung Up’.
What seemed to be Conor Oberst’s romantic statement of personal redemption (“Yours was the first face that I saw / I think I was blind before I met you”) delivered in his aching voice, also hinted at a wider social agenda for counter-cultural America in the George W. Bush years.
An atmospheric mutation of house and dubstep haunted by disconnected swirls of female vox, London-based producer Peter O’Grady established himself as one of the hottest names in the UK underground with this influential track.
Putting any potential pretenders in their place, ‘The Real Slim Shady’ was also an opportunity for Marshall Mathers to indulge in a bit of myth-making with this hilarious cut from a rather darker second album. It was prophetic, too: in all the years since, there’s not been anyone quite like him.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere to lay down the template for crossover indie in the noughties, The Shins combined Brian Wilson harmonies with the introverted charm of early R.E.M. as James Mercer bemoaned his loss in love. ‘New Slang’ later became a sensation when it featured in the indie movie Garden State in 2004.
British ‘indietronica’ band Broadcast operated under the radar for years, their mixture of analogue instruments seeming at once futuristic and nostalgic. Trish Keenan’s warm voice held the listener’s hand during the shared experience as you navigate the psychedelic trip of analogue synths and treated percussion of career highlight ‘Come On Let’s Go’.
There surely can’t be anybody in the Western world that doesn’t recognise ‘Young Folks’ from its distinctive whistling intro. It remains a disarming and winsome piece of Scandinavian indie-pop despite its utter, long-lasting saturation in media to advertise sporting events to furniture sales.
Tags: Ed Biggs, staff lists, The Top 200 Tracks of the 2000s
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