Combining a yearning vocal and some pretty emo lyrics by Death Cab For Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard with the delicate electronic bleeping and synth swells from Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello, ‘Such Great Heights’ is the greatest song that either artist has ever been associated with. Covered dozens of times, soundtracking any amount of on-screen romances and a part of countless playlists, it quickly became a millennial lifestyle anthem.
Oliver Dene Jones, known by his moniker Skream and one of the first artists to help dubstep find a wider audience, crafted one of the genre’s early classics when he was just 19. The squiggles of effects on ‘Midnight Request Line’ brought something a little more melodic to a style that had previously relied on texture and ambience, but the dark, twisty bassline was minimalistic and innovative to satisfy the purists as well.
Coming across as the imaginary theme tune to an anime that doesn’t exist about a karate-kicking female superhero ridding the world of evil robots, this immensely fun hit was the big, bold pop fantasia that acted as a tentpole for an album about mortality and philosophy. It also allowed the Flaming Lips to access a mainstream crowd for the first time – check out Justin Timberlake helping to perform the track on ‘Top of the Pops’ while dressed as a dolphin!
Technically an Ethan Kath remix of an existing HEALTH track, ‘Crimewave’ acted as the debut single for both bands in the summer of 2007, introducing the world to two of the most consistently innovative electronic bands of the last decade. Icy electronics and a rigid, minimalist beat made it fashionably hedonistic, but ‘Crimewave’ was also undefinably but definitely sad, the heartbroken synths making the same kind of sound you might expect a depressed GameBoy to make.
A heart-swelling track whose utter, total beauty is down to its simple ‘us against the world’ conceit and perfect execution, ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’ wove acoustic and electric guitars, a string orchestra, a backing chorus and a tinkling piano into pure retro magic. Everything about it ought to have been a cliché, but in Hawley’s hands it was spellbinding and timeless, becoming his first (and, sadly, so far only) UK Top 40 hit when released as the lead single from 2007’s Lady’s Bridge.
Touted variously as a one-man Arctic Monkeys and an indie Mike Skinner, Jamie Treays quickly became the centre of media attention in 2006 for his street-level observations of British youth culture. It helped that ‘Sheila’, his first major-label release, was a hook-laden delight, setting off a jaunty, bleeping sample against a loping, loose beat and an extremely dark tale of an abused woman on the edge of a breakdown.
A song that fundamentally altered the dynamic of QOTSA’s existing template, creating atmosphere and dread through the absence of volume and reliant instead on dampened, warm guitar tones and a creepy bell that rings through the verses – however, it made the explosion of noise in the chorus more thrilling. This masterful restraint and release helped make ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret’ and its parent album Rated R one of the last great hard rock albums.
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett delivered on the potential of their animated band project Gorillaz the second time around, deciding to go overtly pop with Demon Days. Roping in golden-age hip-hop legends De La Soul and constructing a beautiful, Hayao Miyazaki-inspired video featuring a floating prison island, ‘Feel Good Inc.’ was a bittersweet pop masterpiece that became the biggest worldwide hit in Albarn’s career (yes, even including all those Blur singles!)
An imagined response song to Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ that gained Camera Obscura some much-deserved attention. Tracyanne Campbell’s gorgeous and mellifluous vocals were the icing on a delicious cake baked from retro musical ingredients: swooning, madly infectious and fully-orchestrated power-pop indebted to the mid-‘60s. Quite literally, they don’t make them like this anymore.
Former Disney star Timberlake had surprised quite a few people with the quality of his debut solo album Justified in 2002, but fewer still were prepared for the forward-thinking and innovative sounds of his follow-up effort FutureSex/LoveSounds. ‘SexyBack’, its lead single, was a minimalist club banger that boasted tricksy electrofunk rhythms, hard-edged production and was topped off with Timbaland’s trademark synthesiser crunch, making for one of the decade’s most surprisingly credible pop smashes.
An absolutely colossal guitar-pop track taking inspiration in equal parts from Phil Spector and The Jesus & Mary Chain, ‘Geraldine’ was a wall of glorious noise that provided the lethal knock-out punch after Glasvegas had left everybody starry-eyed with one-two sequence ‘Daddy’s Gone’ and ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’. The titular Geraldine is a real person, who actually quit her job as a social worker to sell merchandise on Glasvegas’ tours.
A whirling dervish of vintage organ sounds, new-wave guitars and yelping Robert Smith-esque vocals, Canadian four-piece Hot Hot Heat were outrageously denied what surely would have been a Top Ten hit when their signature song ‘Bandages’ was banned from radio because of the Iraq War. Bandages means war, see. Those who did experience the maddeningly catchiness of HHH’s remember it well, but it could so easily have been an immortal crossover hit like ‘Mr. Brightside’.
For their third album It’s Blitz!, YYYs went full-on electro-pop after half a decade of brash, technicolour indie-punk, and the change suited them so naturally it was almost insulting to everybody else. ‘Zero’ was its dazzling lead single, a vast expanse of juddering electronics and effects-treated guitar onslaught, guided by efficient Kraftwerk-inspired rhythms and one of Karen O’s finest vocal performances to date, that gradually built into something truly cinematic.
A rather unexpected worldwide hit, reaching No.1 in the UK, for Swedish pop misfit Robyn who had spent most of the noughties dwelling in the commercial hinterlands, ‘With Every Heartbeat’ was a heartbroken epic in the same vein as Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. Gentle touches of electronica, panoramic strings and lacking a distinct chorus, this was mood music blown up to silver screen proportions.
Becoming the second UK No.1 hit in a row for Arctic Monkeys, then riding the biggest wave of publicity and hype since Oasis, ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ was another instant and enduring classic from Alex Turner, whose exceptional character studies and observational songwriting chops about his home city at night and the ‘Scummy Man’ who crawls the kerbs for prostitutes allowed you to see the world, warts and all, through his eyes.
The best British rap single in years, it’s a serious injustice that Roots Manuva missed out on the UK Top 40 altogether in 2001, even if its reputation has burgeoned into a sure-fire dancefloor-filler over the years. Marrying Rodney Smith’s distinctive, unaffected British flow with his own cultural influences – dancehall, funk and a juddering electronic bassline, as opposed to the American themes and sounds that dominated hip-hop at the time – ‘Witness (1 Hope)’ is still an underrated gem.
The secret to Vampire Weekend’s endless charm is how deceptively unstudied their songs sound, as if they’re just playing them for the first time. They’re actually one of the most practised and efficient musical units in rock, but their joie de vivre of playing instruments is always present. There’s perhaps no better illustration of that than their third single, ‘Oxford Comma’, a playful ode to bookishness and correct punctuation that bounds around like an excited puppy.
Licensed for TV and adverts and sampled on countless occasions on account of its piano hook, ‘Two Weeks’ was a romantic dream sequence and a highlight of Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough album Veckatimest. They opened out their previously densely-produced indie into vast soundscapes of stacked harmonies and instrumentation, with co-vocalists Ed Droste and Chris Rossen intertwining their falsettos with Beach House’s Victoria Legrand on backing vocals.
Although New York’s The Walkmen are literate and powerful, authoring several quality albums, their indie break-up classic ‘The Rat’ is the song they’ll forever be remembered for. The dagger-eyed malevolence in Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals, one minute self-pitying and the next scabrous and denouncing, are a force of nature by themselves, but when combined with a roaring combustion engine of vein-bursting post-punk and smashes of drums, it adds up to an anti-Valentine’s anthem like no other.
The spectral, post-punk qualities of Interpol were magnified on ‘NYC’, a jaded, cynical but ultimately affectionate tribute to their home city, with Paul Banks’ typically obtuse lyrics (“subway she is a porno / and the streets they are a mess”) that became a kind of alternative healing anthem for New York in the aftermath of 9/11. It was paired up with the raucous bar-room rocker ‘Say Hello To The Angels’ for an AA-side release that perfectly showcased the two distinct sides of Interpol’s personality.
Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid, who basically owned 2009 as La Roux, were always a cut above the electropop revivalists that characterised a lot of the pop scene in the noughties. An intelligently observed and passionate homage to the early ‘80s electro of Erasure, Yazoo and The Human League, their insanely infectious second single smashed its way to the top of the UK charts at the start of the summer.
The song that turned Elbow from critics’ darlings to household names, the truly epic and unremittingly positive ‘One Day Like This’ seemed to be culmination of everything Guy Garvey and his band had been working towards for so many years. Telescoping from diary-like intimacy to swelling, stadium-filling sing-along in the vein of ‘Hey Jude’, it helped Elbow scoop the Mercury Prize, beat Coldplay to the Best British Band Brit Award and win the Ivor Novello award for songwriting in the space of a year.
The short-lived cultural sensation that was The Libertines gave us many memorably messy and energetic singles, most of them from their Up The Bracket debut album, but the comparatively modest and literate ‘Time For Heroes’ was the best of the bunch. Detailing Pete Doherty’s experiences of police brutality during the London May Day riots of 2000, it was festooned with superb couplets like “Wombles bleed / truncheons and shield” and “there’s fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap” and fully justified the Libs’ hype.
Still a guaranteed party-starter more than a decade later, Dylan Mills’ holler of “OIIIII!!” at the start of his breakthrough hit ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ introduced the world both to a prodigiously young talent and the wider grime scene that had been bubbling underneath the radar in Britain. A tight, insanely big beat sample (from Billy Squier’s ‘The Big Beat’, natch) offset by a frantic but very funny word association freestyle rap, Dizzee’s confidence at only 17 was a marvel to behold.
One of many prime cuts from The xx’s exceptional and highly influential debut album, ‘Islands’ was the single that first earned them some radio exposure (just before the ubiquitous beauty of the instrumental ‘Intro’ got used absolutely everywhere in the media). Co-vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft sing-whisper intimately and vulnerably to each other – why use poetry when “I am yours now” says everything? – as smoke-like wisps of guitar and programmed beats bring the emotion to a head.
Tags: Ed Biggs, staff lists, The Top 200 Tracks of the 2000s
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