As yet another year — and decade — comes to a close, get ready for the annual barrage of best-of-the-year/decade lists. I generally try to keep mine to a minimum, but after checking out the still-in-progress The 101 Best Songs of the Aughts at The Critical Condition, I decided that two can play that game, so I got to work compiling a similar list of my own. To narrow down the playing field a bit, I decided to include only songs that were released as singles (hence making such aughts favorites as PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke’s “This Mess We’re In,” Hot Chip’s “Don’t Dance” and El Perro del Mar’s “I Can’t Talk About It” ineligible), and each musical act was allowed to be the lead performer on only one single (sorry, Kylie and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, gotta spread the love). I’ll be counting down 10 songs every Monday until I get to No. 1, so stay with me.
100. Juanes “La Paga“ (2003)
I had never heard anything by Juanes until early last year when I was in a bar in Lima, and the video for this song came on. I couldn’t take my eyes off the trippy animated clip. I fell equally hard for Juanes’s reedy vocals; his agile turns of phrase; the insistent, driving beat; and the subtle electronic shadings of the music. The next day, I downloaded the video on iTunes and explored some of his albums.
I’d always thought Juanes’s music would sound a lot different than this. What was I expecting? Something more in the bland, balladeering vein of Luis Miguel, because, you know, I assumed that is what mainstream Latin pop musicians do when they aren’t singing in traditional tropical-pop music idioms. It’s awesome when no-so-great expectations are soundly dashed.
99. Erasure “Breathe” (2005)
Just when I’d written off Erasure as a relic from the ’80s/early ’90s, the duo resuscitated my interest in them and my belief in the power of love with this stately mournful ballad that chills with its unmixed emotions.
98. Simon Webbe “No Worries” (2005)
A year or two before acoustic R&B caught on in the U.S. mainstream (thanks, Ne-Yo) and Motown-influenced pop-soul took over the airwaves in his native UK, Blue’s Simon Webbe advanced an argument begun by Robbie Williams and Justin Timberlake that it’s possible — improbable but not impossible — to transcend your cheesy boy-band roots.
97. Kings Of Leon “Molly Chambers” (2003)
The sudden overnight popularity of Kings Of Leon perplexes me. Six years ago, when this chugging alt-rocker that’s way to the left of the band’s current hits was included in a Jetta commercial, they still couldn’t get any chart traction. I love “Sex On Fire” (both the song and the concept) as much as the next guy, but my heart belongs to “Molly.”
96. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah “The Skin Of My Country Teeth” (2005)
The first time I ever heard this song, it was playing on the jukebox of a gay dive in the East Village of New York City. If CYHSY ever pull a Kings Of Leon and rule the charts, I hope they do so with the exhilarating edginess demonstrated on this track in tact.
95. Jewel “Stand” (2003)
She got the beat! Jewel’s one-album makeover into a pop glamour puss would have been laughable had her music not improved in the process. And I know that I’m probably in the minority when I say that. Once she ditched the glitter and the hot dance beats and got her granola groove back, I promptly lost interest again.
94. Pet Shop Boys “Love etc.” (2009)
How do they do it? Like Madonna and Kylie, more than 20 years into their string of solid singles, PSB are still masters of pop songcraft — and still musically and lyrically relevant. Modern life is rubbish, and on this song PSB laid out the reasons why, with their usual clever, hooky precision.
93. Bush “Letting The Cables Sleep” (2000)
I didn’t think that grunge also-rans Bush could ever move me until I heard this love song to a platonic friend losing a battle with AIDS. The N.O.W. remix posted below enhances the song’s eerie, elegiac beauty.
92. Dannii Minogue “So Under Pressure” (2006)
Those who adore Kylie but dismiss her kid sister missed both the boat and the beat. Sure it’s fluff, but it’s perfectly executed fluff that does the family name proud.
91. Toni Braxton “He Wasn’t Man Enough” (2000)
Take a bow, Toni. If you are going to spend the decade trying (and failing) to relight your chart fire, you might as well make your final Top 10 trip an unforgettable one. The song still makes me want to run out and dump someone.