The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Tracks of the 2000s

  1. The Horrors – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ (2009) (XL)

In which The Horrors finally convinced the doubters of their total artistic reinvention, ‘Sea Within A Sea’ was the astonishing closer to 2009’s Primary Colours, an album that saw them reject the schlocky pantomime-punk of their indifferent debut to become one of Britain’s most forward-thinking guitar bands. A glacial eight-minute epic set to pulsing, ominous motorik rhythms and a gradually expanding universe of synths and guitar swirls, it was like a heaven-made marriage of Spiritualized and Can.

  1. The Cribs – ‘Men’s Needs’ (2007) (Wichita)

After four years of gradually raising their profile with their first two records and an almost continuous stream of energetic gigging, The Cribs achieved critical mass and pierced the mainstream for the first time in 2007. Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos took over production duties for their third album Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, a more pop-orientated distillation of their fiercely independent ethics, and its razor-sharp lead single ‘Men’s Needs’ became an instant indie classic.

  1. Kanye West – ‘Through The Wire’ (2003) (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam)

Providing a self-deprecating but insightfully vulnerable account of his recovery following a car crash, in which his jaw had to be wired to his face in reconstructive surgery, Kanye’s debut single was a daring and risky release but successfully forged his dual status as underdog and demi-god. Replicating his trademark move as a producer of using a high-speed soul sample (Chaka Khan’s 1985 hit ‘Through The Fire’) and telling a tragedy-to-triumph story, a hip-hop megastar was born.

  1. Antony & The Johnsons – ‘Hope There’s Someone’ (2005) (Rough Trade / Secretly Canadian)

When it was played on the radio, people wrote and rang in with floods of tears, with people having to pull over to the side of the road to listen to ‘Hope There’s Someone’, a voice and piano piece that led off Antony & The Johnsons’ Mercury-winning album I Am A Bird Now. The dramatic power comes from the interplay between the unshakeably stark and vulnerable lyrics ruminating on mortality (“hope there’s someone who’ll take care of me when I die”) and the androgyny in Antony Hegarty’s captivating voice. Rarely does such beauty interject so brutally into everyday life.

  1. The Strokes – ‘The Modern Age’ (2001) (Rough Trade)

The track that introduced the world to the noughties’ most influential guitar band and sparked an almost unprecedented bidding war among the major labels, the original cut of ‘The Modern Age’ was much faster and janglier than the moody lo-fidelity version that eventually appeared on Is This It. A fresh take on classic garage rock and new-wave influences that blew away the cobwebs on an increasingly stale guitar scene, it inspired a wave of revivalism.

  1. Amy Winehouse – ‘Rehab’ (2006) (Island)

The late great’s signature song, which took on even deeper meaning after her sudden death in 2011, ‘Rehab’ saw Amy Winehouse channel some of the greatest soul and R&B singers of all time in this autobiographical smash hit that won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song. The first single from the multi-platinum sales machine of Back To Black, it drew her comparisons with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James.

  1. Britney Spears – ‘Toxic’ (2003) (Jive)

Putting her bubblegum pop years fully behind her with this mature, sophisticated but appealingly lascivious track, ‘Toxic’ was an artistic breakthrough that saw Britney Spears finally acting like an adult, rather than constantly just telling us she wasn’t a girl anymore. A club-orientated dance track with elements of bhangra, hip-hop beats, Bollywood strings and surf guitar, it was a piece of compositional genius that gained Britney a credibility boost and her first ever Grammy.

  1. Franz Ferdinand – ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ (2003) (Domino)

Franz Ferdinand’s suave, seductive and ultra-stylish debut single was arguably the most fully-formed musical mission statement of the decade. Careening joyfully through two-and-a-bit minutes of angular art-punk and new-wave, before culminating in a brilliant German-sung coda (“Ich heiße Super Fantastisch!”), ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ was a perfect encapsulation of everything that Alex Kapranos and gang would come to stand for over the next decade.

  1. Aaliyah – ‘Try Again’ (2000) (Blackground / Virgin)

One of a large number of fresh, genre-splicing hits at the start of the noughties that updated and modernised the sound of R&B for the years to come – Britney, Outkast, Missy Elliott – Aaliyah’s signature hit ‘Try Again’ is one of her most smouldering vocal performances, and the fuzzy, squelching soundscape one of Timbaland’s best productions. However, the track is tinged with sadness as the talented singer lost her life in a plane crash at the tragically young age of 22 the following year.

  1. Muse – ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ (2006) (Warner Bros. / Helium-3)

The show-stopping closing track from Muse’s gargantuan Black Holes And Revelations, later tapped for its third single, was so grandiose that it almost defied description – if Ennio Morricone were to soundtrack Star Wars with Led Zeppelin at his disposal instead of an orchestra, it might sound like ‘Knights Of Cydonia’. Chris Wolstenholme’s galloping bass line underpinned Matt Bellamy’s insurrectionary lyrics and furious, precise riffing to make for a truly cinematic experience. Deeply silly but immensely enjoyable, Muse would never sound this spectacular again.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – ‘Chicago’ (2005) (Asthmatic Kitty)

The breathtaking standout song from Sufjan’s exceptional Illinois, ‘Chicago’ saw the ever-ambitious and literate singer-songwriter adopt a full-band approach as opposed to his normal stripped-down, acoustic style. Telling an everyman story of travelling across wide, endless vistas of countryside to start life in a new city, tapping into the founding myths of America with imagery of geography and history, it’s impossible not to be moved by this road-trip number that’s fuelled equally by optimism and regret.

  1. Jay-Z – ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’ (2001) (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam)

Rather incredibly, for all his chart-topping album successes and his huge rap empire, it took five years for Jay-Z to score his first American Top Ten single as a lead artist. Produced by Kanye West and prominently featuring a sample of The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’, ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’ landed him that honour with a maddeningly addictive earworm of a track that was the first cut from The Blueprint – to our minds, the finest hip-hop album of the decade.

  1. Sugababes – ‘Freak Like Me’ (2002) (Island)

A mash-up cover of Adina Howard’s ‘Freak Like Me’, set to an existing Richard X bootleg entitled ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends’ that prominently sampled Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army’s ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ (bear with us!), this smash summer hit was a thrilling intrusion of the burgeoning, semi-legal ‘bastard pop’ sub-genre into the mainstream. Sugababes’ pop sensibilities chimed perfectly with Howard’s horny R&B and Numan’s cold synth-pop, and a thoroughly modern pop classic was born.

  1. The White Stripes – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ (2001) (XL / Third Man)

A brutally economical sub-two-minute thrash of angular, primal garage rock, The White Stripes delivered a track that would become one of their two calling cards. An homage to matters of the heart that doesn’t stick around for any longer than it absolutely has to, ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ introduced the rest of the world to the duo’s charmingly simple musical formula. Coupled with its equally charming and iconic Lego music video directed by Michael Gondry which won three MTV VMAs that year, the Stripes were the complete audio and visual package.

  1. Modest Mouse – ‘Float On’ (2004) (Epic)

Providing the popular breakthrough for Isaac Brock’s indie project Modest Mouse where the biting The Moon & Antarctica had bowled over the critics four years previously, ‘Float On’ was preppy and bouncingly optimistic indie anthem that boasted a hook so sharp you could cut yourself on it. The subsequent heavy radio and TV rotation, combined with any number of media licensing arrangements, drove its parent album Good News For People Who Love Bad News to platinum status and laid the foundations for the band’s future successes.

  1. Bon Iver – ‘Skinny Love’ (2007) (4AD / Jagjaguwar)

Firstly, forget everything about the irritating Birdy cover version – ‘Skinny Love’ is Justin Vernon’s most recognisable song and perhaps his finest single moment as a musician. Constructed from acoustic guitar so fragile it’s barely there and building almost imperceptibly through the introduction of a solitary drum-beat, Vernon forsakes his usual, cryptic falsetto for something earthier and darker, telling of a love betrayed and a heart broken.

  1. Eminem ft. Dido – ‘Stan’ (2000) (Aftermath / Shady / Interscope)

An epistolary exchange between an artist and a dangerously obsessed fan, ‘Stan’ was an extremely moving piece of storytelling that caused the public at larger to see Eminem, previously famous for the cartoonishly violent raps of his debut album The Slim Shady LP, in a new and more sensitive light, showcasing his technical brilliance rather than a cultivated media image. Set to a sample of Dido’s lilting, lullaby-like ‘Thank You’ functioning as a chorus, it’s a jarring but surprisingly congruous artistic pairing that also turned the British songstress into an international star almost overnight.

  1. Animal Collective – ‘My Girls’ (2009) (Domino)

Pop music and rock’n’roll is nominally about freedom, rebellion and hedonism, but occasionally it makes room for unusually conservative impulses. Animal Collective’s dazzling single ‘My Girls’, was about Noah Lennox’s wife and young daughter, and his “desire on a basic level to own my own place and kind of provide a safe house for my family and the people I care about.” Arranged like a piece of early house music with a comparatively simple motif and hypnotic rhythm looped over and over, it was a surging piece of psychedelic pop.

  1. Burial – ‘Archangel’ (2007) (Hyperdub)

Adding snatches of vocal samples – albeit scrambled, time-stretched and pitch-shifted – into his stark, monochrome mix for the first time, Will Bevan had music reviewers raving with wonderment at his second album Untrue, now considered a landmark in the dubstep genre. ‘Archangel’ was its opening cut and lead single, a coldly ambient monolith built from dusty, cobwebbed beats and heavily distorted vocal samples of Ray J’s ‘One Wish’ and the score from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Absolutely amazing.

  1. La Roux – ‘In For The Kill’ (2009) (Polydor)

The first of two massive hits that allowed La Roux to corner the market in 2009 for grown-up yet uncomplicated synth-pop. One of those hugely characterful and interesting tracks that crosses over to be a massive mainstream success, as occasionally happens in Britain, ‘In For The Kill’ was both quaintly retro and positively futuristic at the same time. Skream’s Let’s Get Ravey remix, which dropped almost all of the instrumentation out to leave Elly Jackson’s piercing yet vulnerable vocal exposed, gave the track a new lease of life later that summer.

  1. The Killers – ‘Mr. Brightside’ (2003) (Island / Lizard King)

Although it’s been played utterly to death – seriously, nobody actually needs to hear it again – there’s something appealingly simple about ‘Mr. Brightside’ that allows it to retain its greatness even after the kind of media exposure that usually destroys a song’s credibility for good. Paying homage to the British new romantics and American new-wave bands that influenced them, Brandon Flowers and co. hurtle through the track with chests puffed out, as if they’re playing a power ballad on amphetamines, mental images of his partner’s unfaithfulness torturing the narrator.

  1. LCD Soundsystem – ‘Someone Great’ (2007) (DFA)

Originally an instrumental that formed part of the 45:33 ‘jogging soundtrack’ album recorded for a Nike promotional campaign, the heartstopping ‘Someone Great’ became a centrepiece of 2007’s Sound Of Silver when James Murphy added a vocal concerning the aftermath of personal loss, and the numbness and quiet devastation that follows. With a rolling beat sequence that flowed like liquid sugar, LCD Soundsystem kept the sound simmering, never exploding into life as Murphy surveyed his surroundings – everything’s the same, but somehow different now that somebody’s gone. A masterpiece of dignity and restraint.

  1. Doves – ‘The Cedar Room’ (2000) (Heavenly)

Doves were one of the most exciting British bands to emerge in the aftermath of Britpop, echoing their previous incarnation as house act Sub Sub but speaking in the language of guitars rather than sequencers and synthesisers. Their debut single ‘The Cedar Room’, arriving after a clutch EPs in 1999, had something of the elongated structure and dynamics of dance, but it was a colossal and cathartic epic, with an absolutely cavernous drumbeat, as Jimi Goodwin sung a cryptic but emotional track about growing up and leaving the past behind, regrets and all.

  1. Chairlift – ‘Bruises’ (2008) (Kanine)

Brooklynite synth-pop duo Chairlift announced their arrival into the world with this heaven-sent alt-pop delight. Dreamy but emotionally damaged, cutesy and emotional without veering into irritating whimsy, it launched into the stratosphere with Caroline Polachek’s breathy, somersaulting chorus. It found massive exposure when Apple picked it up for the soundtrack for its 4th-generation iPod Nano advert, causing it to be absolutely everywhere for a brief time. Sometimes the greatest impact can be made with the lightest of touches.

  1. Basement Jaxx – ‘Romeo’ (2001) (XL)

A track that became an instant dancefloor classic upon release as the first cut from Rooty, one of British dance music’s all-time greatest accomplishments, ‘Romeo’ was a hyperactive, Bollywood-esque kaleidoscope of global sounds that had become Basement Jaxx’s stock-in-trade by the turn of the millennium. Kele Le Roc’s attitude-laden guest vocals veered between plaintive and playful, as the Jaxx’s pinball production ricocheted all over the place to make for one of the most straight-out enjoyable pop moments of the decade.

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