Friday, 28 August 2009
Top 100 favourite songs of all time [Part 6: The 00s]
While the 21st century didn't officially begin until 2001, everyone seems to be posting their list of favourite albums/songs of what they call the "first decade of the new millennium" now (encompassing the years 2000-2009).
Because the common and official understandings of when this century/millenium began clash with each other, I'll phrase it like this: here are my favourite songs from the decade of 2000-2009.
While the size of this list is pretty small compared to the previous decades, there was still a lot of great music released this decade. It's just that, for me, the music of this decade was significantly overshadowed by the music from past decades.
Augie March - Owen's Lament
This spine-tingling and haunting finale from their debut masterpiece Sunset studies stands out as a highlight on what is essentially an album full of highlights. At its core, it's the perfect vehicle for Glenn Richards' amazing vocal abilities, but saying that is underselling the delightful subtlety of the rest of the bands' performances here. Constructed in multiple parts, it begins in a very minimal fashion and builds and builds to an epic climax that makes you want to play the album all over again. While they have released many great albums and songs since, I couldn't imagine anything they do topping what they achieved on this stunning song.
Eminem - Stan
A perfect example of musical fusion -- take two artists who are decent at what they do in their respective genres (Eminem in hip-hop, Dido in folk-pop), combine their work together and watch the magic happen. Okay, so Dido's song Thank you is merely sampled in this song, but it's the magic ingredient which adds the haunting quality that lifts the song into masterpiece territory. Eminem steals the show with his fascinating portrayal of the titular character, an obsessive fan who only wants Eminem to acknowledge him. It all ends in tragedy, of course. A glorious piece of cinematic songwriting and performance, and proof that the art forms of music and film are not as different as we think.
Ben Harper - Amen Omen
Ben Harper has demonstrated his spark of song writing and performance genius on many occasions, but this song from his underrated Diamonds on the inside album is probably his most spiritual and fulfilling song. He reaches a level of transcendence and enlightenment here that is as good as anything Stevie Wonder released during his peak in the 70s. I can't see how anyone couldn't love this song -- a highlight in a remarkably accomplished discography.
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives - Nevermore
Noel Gallagher name-checked and hyped this Swedish group when Behind the music was released in 2001, but don't let that put you off. Nevermore is the centrepiece and highlight of the (very solid) album -- a perfectly constructed 3 minute "Britpop style" epic ballad that is as anthemic as a lot of early Oasis songs, but without a lot of the bombast which overshadowed their later work. Nothing deep here musically, but very enjoyable.
Spoon - The Way We Get By
You know how over-hyped "flavour of the month" bands are often referred to as the saviors of rock? Aren't you sick of hearing that? Well if I was to give any band that ridiculously silly title, it would be Texas indie rock band Spoon. They have the perfect combination of rock star integrity (Britt Daniel's amazing vocals), tight rhythms (courtesy of Jim Eno and Rob Pope) and piano-based melody (Eric Harvey). This little number from Kill the moonlight is a classic 2:40 contemporary pop/rock song that sounds like it has been around for a lot more than 7 years; it never fails to make me happy when I hear it.
Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Much of his marvellous concept album Illinois consists of more upbeat pop numbers, but this emotionally haunting track comes up fairly early in the proceedings. Sufjan tells the tragic true story of the serial killer from Chicago who dressed up as a clown, raped and murdered young boys, and hid their dead bodies under his house. Sufjan's vocal delivery of the tragic lyrics is one of the most emotional I have ever heard -- I don't think a musical moment has ever moved me more than the part when he softly laments: "Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs, Oh my God". A wonderfully haunting tribute to the lost souls who died at the hands of this evil animal.
The Streets - The Irony Of It All
I was surprised at how much I loved the Streets' debut album Original pirate material, as its amalgamation of the UK garage, hip-hop and electronica genres is not something that I would traditionally listen to. But I loved it, and this character-based song is the pick of the bunch for me. Mike Skinner plays two parts in this song with considerably talent and conviction -- a laid-back pothead who wants to chillout, finish his PlayStation game, and be peaceful to all mankind; and a drunken thug who wants to start fights at the pub and cause trouble to everyone around him. It's a superb call-and-response number where the thug defends himself (and condones his behaviour) with the argument that his choice of poison is legal, while the pothead spends time discussing the calming virtues of his illegal drug and the...erm, irony of it all.
The Strokes - Hard To Explain
In many ways, the Strokes can be blamed for the overuse of the aforementioned "saviours of rock" phrase which is so casually bandied around the music press nowadays. This song was the highlight from their fantastic debut album Is this it; the production is delightfully raw and Julian Casablancas is in final vocal form, channeling Lou Reed perfectly. The magic moment in this song for me comes just after the 2 minute mark when everything goes silent for a second...and then it all comes back. French impressionist composer Claude Debussy once said that "music is the space between the notes". He was right, you know.
And that's the end of the list of my 100 favourite songs of all time.
I hope you have enjoyed reading it; I have certainly enjoyed writing it.
Please feel free to comment on any of the posts in the series.