As I mentioned at the start of the countdown 10 weeks ago, the list has included only singles and one lead performance per artist. Before concluding, allow me to give props to 10 two-hit (or more) wonders who may have placed multiple singles on the list had I bent the rules.
- Amy Winehouse “Rehab” “Tears Dry On Their Own”
- Billie Ray Martin “Undisco Me”
- Destiny’s Child “Lose My Breath”
- Kylie “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”
- Madonna “Music”
- Nelly Furtado “Maneater”
- Rachel Stevens “Sweet Dreams My L.A. Ex”
- Sugababes “Red Dress”
- Texas “Getaway”
- Zero 7 “Destiny” (Photex Remix)
And now, the best for last…
10. Patty Loveless “On Your Way Home” (2003)
The best country single of the decade from the best female country artist of the last 20 years. I always cock an eyebrow whenever people deride country and dismiss it as hick music. Done right, it’s actually just soul music sung predominantly by white people with a twang, and when Patty Loveless is really on, Aretha Franklin doesn’t have anything on her. Just listen to the way she delivers the line “Where’d you get that alibi? Did it fall out of a midnight sky?” her voice dripping with bitterness and contempt. Anyone who’s ever been saddled with faithless love will know exactly where she’s coming from, which makes the sting even harder.
9. Mary J. Blige & U2 “One” (2006)
I have a confession to make. When U2 released this as the third single from their 1991 album, Achtung Baby, I didn’t care for it at all. For 15 years, it bored me. But when Mary and Bono (backed by the rest of U2) sang it as a duet in 2005 on the post-Hurricane Katrina TV telethon Shelter From The Storm: A Concert For The Gulf Coast (a studio recording appeared later that year on Mary’s 2005 The Breakthrough), I finally got it. It’s not a song about brotherhood or human rights. It’s about a relationship that’s chipped, cracked, shattered, possibly beyond repair. Mary sang it like she wrote it, and every time I listen to it, I can’t help but think it’s personal, that she is singing directly to a specific person. This is not a silly love song. Yes, it’s about love, but it’s fully of fury and recrimination. Thanks to Mary, U2 at last got their message across.
8. Muse “Supermassive Black Hole” (2006)
Who knew Muse and funk would sound so good together? Stange but perfect musical bedfellows. Until I heard this song, I never had the slightest interest in Muse and their operatic pop-rock, but “Supermassive Black Hole” presented the trio as an entirely different band without making them sound like they were trying too hard to out-Prince Prince (which, by the way, they practically did). They caught my attention a second time with “Uprising,” their Top 10 UK single from this year, which found them breaking out the test tubes once again. Without “Uprising,” this might be a little farther down my list, but in the end, the newer song led to my revisiting my first Muse love and falling in love all over again.
7. Shakira Ft. Alejandro Sanz “La Tortura” (2005)
My native Spanish-speaking friends laugh at me while embracing Shakira’s tacky schlocky pop-rock. Sorry, chicos, this is the only Shakira song I’ve ever been able to listen to all the way through without cringing at her billy-goat vibrato as my mind starts to wander. It’s hot and sweaty, dripping with sex and passion. Maybe I’m just a voyeur/sadomasochist, getting off on la tortura (the torture) of others. For my first six months in Buenos Aires, I couldn’t leave a bar without requesting that the DJ play it at least once. It’s torture, baby, and it hurts so good.
6. Bodyrox Ft. Luciana “Yeah Yeah” (2006)
Only in the UK, where music fans aren’t as obsessed with categorization and the status quo, could such an offbeat single make it all the way to No. 2 on the charts. Backed by a chainsaw techno beat that’s more Prodigy rock than David Guetta disco, Luciana comes off like the ultimate badass chick, M.I.A. with a major attitude. If the song has one flaw, it’s that it’s way too short, at only 2:37. But then again, it always leaves me wanting much much more. Repeat.
5. Royksopp Ft. Robyn “The Girl And The Robot” (2009)
Sweden’s Robyn has spent the decade releasing stellar albums and singles that were popular everywhere in the world but the United States. Her best moment of the century so far, though, didn’t even appear on a Robyn album. It’s this collaboration with the Norwegian duo Royksopp where she bemoans being emotionally attached to a workaholic. The subject matter sounds quotidian and maybe just a little hokey on paper, but there is nothing ordinary about Robyn’s performance. She is so vocally invested that you feel her pain, suffering, crying right along with her. And if you’ve ever wanted someone you couldn’t have — physically, emotionally or both — it will rip you to shreds. You’ve been warned.
4. Amy Winehouse “You Know I’m No Good” (2007)
Every Amy Winehouse fan has a song on her Back To Black album that is so them, and for me, this one is it. Similar in anti-heroine spirit to Fiona Apple’s “Fast As You Can,” the lyrics are pure poetry and reward repeated listens. That Amy can sing about being with one guy but, um, climaxing only when thinking of another without coming off as vulgar or slutty says a lot about her way with words and phrasing. Toward the end when her voice cracks ever so slightly when singing the line “I cheated my myself, like I knew I would,” the emotional effect is heartbreaking. “Rehab” may have been her big worldwide hit, but for me, this will always be her — and my — signature song.
3. Air “Radio #1 (2001)
The best song you’ve may never have heard. Nothing this decade — or any decade — sounded quite like it. Ethereal, psychedelic, mind and mood enhancing. It’s post modern enough to keep you on the cutting edge of your seat — if not on your feet. If more music on the radio sounded like this (and despite the title, this is not exactly radio-ready pop), I’d tune in more regularly. In a decade in which Gallic musicians, from Daft Punk to Modjo to David Guetta to Alan Braxe, ruled, this is French electronica at its most mesmerizing. It’s like the soundtrack to a dream in which you’re floating on little fluffy clouds. Eight years later I still don’t want to wake up.
2. Rihanna Ft. Jay-Z “Umbrella” (2007)
The song that made Rihanna a star. Without it, she might still be merely a hit maker. It’s one of the few times when a guest rap (courtesy of Rihanna’s mentor, Jay-Z) serves the song well, and I love that it introduces the song, preparing us for Rihanna’s grand entrace, rather than being tacked on as a bridge near the end like an afterthought. Then there are Rihanna’s vocals, the way her voice climbs upward on the chorus and descends downward on the verses. It’s already inspired tons of cover versions, but there’s no topping Rihanna’s original, which wisely doesn’t sugarcoat an already-cavity-inducing sentiment with a too-reverent musical backdrop. Move over, Carole King. “You’re Got A Friend” served us well for 40 years. But from now on, this will be the ultimate song of faith and devotion.
1. Kylie Minogue “Slow” (2003)
“Kids.” “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.” “Chocolate.” “I Believe In You.” No other artist this decade has thrilled me, killed me with more excellent singles than Kylie Minogue. But nothing she’d ever done before prepared me for “Slow.” I’ll never forget the first time I heard it. I woke up at St. Martin’s Lane in London, turned on the TV, and there she was, on her back, twisting and turning poolside with a cast of hardbodies in a tight slinky Pucci-esque get-up, singing in a sexy-robotic tone to a burping Kraftwerk-inspired beat. She took me straight to heaven, and she never left the ground — figuratively and, in the video, literally. I couldn’t — and still can’t — get it out of my head.