So, when Absolute Radio announced their quest to find the best songs of the decade, I said that I found it hard to pick any. Well, I’ve changed my mind, thanks to some inter-office discussions (ending in this playlist) and listening to a lot of stuff from the last ten years. Like this.
And so, without further ado, here are my Best Songs Of The Decade – I should add that these are simply my favourite songs – I don’t claim that they’ve necessarily defined the Zeitgeist or anything like that, I just really like them. Oh, and they’re not in any particular order.
- Amy Winehouse – Rehab: Not my favourite song off of Back To Black, but this song, and the singer, have certainly defined the last few years. And, along with Lily Allen’s début album, is the reason that Mark Ronson has the career he does now. And on that note…
- Lily Allen – LDN: Maybe it’s because I moved there in 2000, and find myself moving back there in 2009, but London has (again) loomed over this decade, just as it did in the 60s & 90s. And Lily Allen blended genres just as London mixes cultures, and came up with an absolute belter, with a little help from that man Ronson.
- Mark Ronson – Just: Valerie is the one that really got him the fame (and royalties) but his cover of Radiohead’s 90s indie classic, for an album of Radiohead covers, is simply wonderful. The ‘indie tune with brass’ thing still seemed fresh then, and the video was rather wicked too.
- The Strokes – Someday: Making rock cool again, The Strokes channelled The Stooges & The Velvet Underground whilst looking like they’d been spawned by specially reared supermodels (most of them probably had): they’ve not lived up to expectations since then, but by clearing the path for the likes of Kings of Leon, they’ve earned their spot here.
- Kings Of Leon – Use Somebody: It may not be cool anymore in these days of firework bands, who explode onto the scene and then disappear from sight (see above), but the Kings Of Leon spent the decade tirelessly touring the globe, building a devoted European following, whilst slowly improving their music. It led to them owning the last couple of years with Sex On Fire and this, Sex’s more pared down, moody brother.
- Radiohead – Weird Fishes: They spent the early part of the decade experimenting with electronica, but then decided to shake up the recording industry by giving away In Rainbows, which also happened to be their best album in years. And this was the best song from a very strong set.
- Arctic Monkeys – I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor: To show how quickly times have moved on since this stormed to the top of the charts, but just think about the fact that the Arctics were lauded for their use of MySpace (something the band always denied). Whatever the case, they were like a British Strokes, making rock cool again. Except that, if anything, their second album was even better that their début.
- Sebastien Tellier – La Ritournelle: This track can only be described as a French Unfinished Sympathy, with the (several minute long) piano intro alone being worthy of inclusion on this list. The word epic is one that is over-used in music reviews, but is just about the only word that truly does justice to this track.
- LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends: As if being the mentor for the early 90s New York punk-funk scene, James Murphy also found the time to create amazing music as LCD Soundsystem. He’ll probably be best remembered for Daft Punk Is Playing At My House but for cataloguing the terror of ageing for music loving hipsters, All My Friends has no peer. And it reminds me of Marquee Moon by Television.
- Amerie – 1 Thing: Beyoncé may have had her boyfriend rapping on Crazy In Love, causing many people to laud it as the greatest R&B record of the decade but, for me at least, this takes that title. Like Crazy In Love it’s a product of Rich Harrison. With that awesome Meters sample it’s still a song that could be used to test whether people are medically dead, because if this doesn’t make you want to dance, there’s something seriously wrong with you.
- Coldplay – Everything’s Not Lost: Though they were famously derided as making ‘bedwetters’ music‘ (no Alan, they just made music for people not overwhelmed by admiration for one trick pony Beatles wannabes) and have followed an Oasis like trajectory where quality of output is directly inverse to their popularity, there’s no doubt that Coldplay’s debut Parachutes was bloody good or that this, it’s epic closing track, is pretty hard to beat. They’d never have had a career without Travis though.
- Travis – Driftwood: It may seem hard to believe now, but in the early years of this decade Travis were poised for greatness. Their album, The Man Who, had swept the UK and they were poised to do the same to the rest of the world. Then their drummer broke his back and the career had to be put on hold. In the meantime Coldplay took their formula of gentle indie music and sold it to the world. Driftwood is a nice reminder of exactly why Travis were the men who nearly did.
- Common – Go!: Kanye West is probably one of the biggest musical phenomenons to come out of the last ten years, but much of his best work has been his productions for other people. This, a track from Common’s amazing Be, is a brilliantly up-tempo paean to what can only be described as an interesting love-life. But, being Common, it lacks any of the lazy misogyny that blights so much other hip hop.
- Aqualung – Strange & Beautiful: Plucked from obscurity thanks to this beautifully understated track being used as the soundtrack to a lovely VW ad, Aqualung is viewed in the UK as a 1-hit wonder. Apparently he’s done pretty well in the US, thanks to his tracks being used in popular dramas, but this is the one that whisks me back to a time when I couldn’t imagine being 30, let alone approaching my mid-30s. Ho hum.
- Paul Weller – Have You Made Up Your Mind: 22 Dreams is Weller’s best album for years (in fact it’s just one of the best albums for years) and this is one of the many amazing tracks on it. For a man who will never see his forties again he sounds fresher & more full of life than artists half his age. A national treasure, this goes to show why he’s one of the best British artists of the last few decades.
- Gorillaz – Feels Good Inc: Talking of the best British artists of the last 30 years, Damon Albarn’s reinvention of himself since 2000 has been amazing. His ability to invent the ultimate rock-band and then use this vehicle to produce cutting edge 21st Century pop with collaborators such as De La Soul has even seen his nemesis Noel Gallagher expressing admiration. The début was made with uber-producer of the time, Dan The Automator but the the follow-up, including this track, was a collaboration with the even more ubiquitous Danger Mouse.
- Gnarls Barkley – Crazy: Fresh from conquering the world with Gorillaz, Danger Mouse created another ‘virtual band’ (of a sort) when he teamed up with Cee-Lo (the man who, by writing Don’t Cha, gave us The Pussycat Dolls – I’m not sure if he should be shot or sainted). This was their biggest hit and, despite being a look at mental illness set to a thundering beat, is an absolute belter.
- Zero 7 – Destiny: Chill-out, and the dreadful coffee-table CDs it gave us, has thankfully fallen out of fashion. But, as with most fads, it produced some amazing music. Zero 7’s début Simple Things was one such record; for me it was the soundtrack to countless summer holidays and never fails to make me think of Mediterranean sunsets and chilled white wine, which is no bad thing at all.
- Jamie Cullum – Frontin’: Another fad that swept the decade was jazz-lite, as exemplified by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Madeleine Peyroux & Jamie Cullum. It was an unfair tag as they all had their moments and for Cullum his greatest moment was this inspired cover of Pharrell’s stripped down hip-hop classic.
- N*E*R*D – Provider: As with Kanye, Pharrell Williams nearly always saved his best work for other people. Having said that, Provider is a truly fantastic track: raw 21st Century soul which lacks much of the bombast that spoils so much of N*E*R*D’s other work. A true classic and one which Zero 7 did a rather lovely remix of.
- Snoop Dogg – Beautiful: If you needed proof that Pharrell was always very generous with his genius (for a hefty fee, of course) then I give you Beautiful. It more or less reignited Snoop’s career as well as featuring a fantastic Brazilian drumming break-down. Oh, and it also demonstrates Pharrell’s other stroke of genius – insisting he feature in the video for just about every track he produces, thereby getting paid by others to build his profile ready to launch his solo career & clothing range (which he wore in most videos) – pity he didn’t keep some of the best tracks for himself.
- The Streets – Weak Become Heroes: Mike Skinner managed to encapsulate UK garage just as he was outgrowing it (much like Dizzee & grime). There are a bunch of his tracks that could figure on any Best Of The Noughties list, but this one, with its craving for the more innocent early days of the UK house scene is one that will always be close to my heart, and not just because it was the focus of one of my first ever posts.
- Ben Westbeech – So Good Today: One of the best aspects of the noughties as far as I’ve been concerned has been the return of Gilles Peterson to the position of record label owner. This was the 1st single released on Brownswood and remains one of its best releases to date. I really don’t think I could ever get bored of its fantastic simplicity, though I’m still disappointed that his album, though great, didn’t live up to So Good Today’s promise. Not something that can be said of all the artists on Brownswood Recordings though…
- José James – The Dreamer: Another début single from Brownswood, this featured on the first Brownswood Bubblers compilation and is, like much of James’ work, simply stunning. Classic jazz delivered with a hip-hop attitude the single and the album of the same name it came from should be must-haves for any discerning music lover. Here’s hoping the next ten years sees him develop a career of sustained quality.
As I write this I keep thinking of more I could add but I’ve decided that, like all good things, this post needs to come to an end. I think I’ve shown what a good few years it’s been for music, even if nothing has really had the over-whelming cultural significance of house, punk, hip-hop or even the New Romantics. But maybe that’s just a sign of these splintered, multi-media times that we’ve lived through. Whatever the case, I’d love to hear which tracks you think I’ve missed – maybe this one?
Over to you, and I’ll see you in 2010 (if not before) when we can start working out what the hell we’re going to call the next decade.