Wednesday, 26 August 2009

79: Darude - Sandstorm

Anthemic trance from the summer of 2000, courtesy of Finnish DJ, Ville Virtanen, aka Darude. He became the first artist from Finland ever to break into the Top 3 of the UK singles chart. Samples a rave track from 1991. Not sure there's much more to say really.... if you're anything like me, chances are you've danced to this in clubs many times over the past decade.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

80: OutKast - Ms. Jackson

'Ms. Jackson' sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before, and to claim that it reinvented hip-hop would probably be a fair description. Rap music in the early Noughties was dominated by Roc-A-Fella Records (under the control of Jay Z) and Aftermath, Dr. Dre's fledgling label, with Eminem as the public face, Snoop Dogg as the veteran leadership, and young upstarts like Xzibit, Nelly, Usher and The Neptunes producing chart-topping hit after hit.

And then, along came OutKast. They didn't care for guns, money, bitches and bling. Oh no. OutKast wanted to apologise. To the mother of their ex-girlfriend. For splitting up with her. How gentlemanly!

The song, as you well know, centres around a slow pop hook, and those lyrics, a heartfelt message, from OutKast's Andre 'Andre 3000' Benjamin to his "baby's momma's momma". The ex-girlfriend in question was Erykah Badu, and Andre wanted to "apologize a trillion times" for the messy break-up, and encourage Badu's mother to rethink her suggestion that Badu seek custody of their young child. "Yes I will be present on the first day of school, and graduation" he promises. "My intentions were good" he claims. Coming from any of the other Noughties' hip-hop roster, you wouldn't have believed it, but from OutKast, the delivery was convincing.

Most depressing fact about 'Ms. Jackson' is that the UK record-buying public, in their infinite wisdom, kept it off the top of the charts in March 2001, when it was released. It stuck at #2, but couldn't dislodge the massively inferior 'Whole Again' from Atomic Kitten.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

81: Wheatus - Teenage Dirtbag

Another divisive choice. 'Teenage Dirtbag' arguably became more successful than the film in which it featured, the Jason Biggs/Mena Suvari rom-com, 'Loser'. Whilst the movie grossed $2m less than it cost to make, Wheatus' single was an international smash hit. Straight from the "where are they now?" category, Wheatus followed it up with a moderately-successful cover of Erasure's 'A Little Respect' and have never had a charting single since. Amazingly they're still going, no doubt living off the continued royalties of 'Teenage Dirtbag'.

The song itself is a Noughties pop version of Radiohead's 'Creep'. Brendan B. Brown's slightly nasal, whiny vocals are sung in the first person about how the girl of his dreams doesn't even know who he is. But there's a happy ending, because... guess what? Deep down, she's an Iron Maiden fan too, as she tells us when she offers him her spare ticket for the gig.

The song's central story is largely unrealistic. Hollywood lives and dies on this kind of crap, but we all know that in truth, the coolest chick in class, the pretty cheerleader type is never going to be a secret Iron Maiden fan. Nevertheless, teenagers across the world identified with the loser character, and the song became one of those crossover hits - the sort of song that is allowed to be played at school discos, so that the kids can jump up and down, because 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is just too violent.

Come to think of it, I don't know why I like it.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

82: Gang Starr - Battle

"I'm just a little bit older, plus a whole lot wiser, I might advise ya, or I might pulverise ya"

A choice that, most likely, falls totally under your personal radar, 'Battle' was track 15 on the biggest selling film soundtrack of the decade, the quadruple-platinum selling '8 Mile O.S.T'. Of course, it's mostly remembered for Em's chart-topper, 'Lose Yourself', but also featured some huge tunes by the likes of Xzibit, 50 Cent, Nas and Macy Gray. I'd rank it in my top 5 film soundtracks of all time* (even though some of the soundtrack was merely "inspired by" the film).

Gang Starr blew them all out of the water though. The smooth, funky jazz beats laid down by DJ Premier gave MC Guru an amazing base to work from, and he made the most of it. The subject matter of the song is the DJ battle, and specifically, of the beating doled out to other rappers by Guru at such battles. Guru has a remarkable flow and ability, sounding like a more alert Snoop Dogg.

* If you're wondering, the others would be 'Blade 2', 'Pi', 'The Wicker Man', and 'Juno'. Sorry, 'Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels O.S.T' - you gave me lots of good times and now I've betrayed you.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

83: Modest Mouse - Dashboard

What would the music industry be like if it had a transfer market like the football world? Would the Sun be plastered with headlines about rumours of a surprise £20m move for Liam Gallagher to The Saturdays? Would Green Day and U2 get involved in a bidding war to secure the services of Lily Allen on a long term contract? Luckily, we need wonder no more, and that's because, not content with being an integral member of one of the most popular British bands of all time, Johnny Marr has recently decided to embark on a sort of job-hopping that we might expect from a journeyman striker. He's currently a member of The Cribs, but his career revival began in the summer of 2006, when he started recording with Seattle indie stars, Modest Mouse.

'Dashboard' was his debut with the group, the first single from their gold-certified 'We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank' album, released to much fanfare in early 2007. The band had been swirling around the indie underground for over a decade, and had even achieved some mainstream success with 'Float On' off their previous album, but the "signing" of Marr was the equivalent of Bolton Wanderers signing Jay Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo in August 2002. World-renowned stars in the twilight of their careers don't sign for unfancied clubs very often, and Marr's arrival was a coup for Modest Mouse.

This is an unusual song, to my ears at least, because of the lack of any semblance of structure. There aren't really any verses or choruses. It just rumbles along, at a consistent, reasonably rapid pace. In many ways, it's unexceptional, and I did briefly question my inclusion of 'Dashboard' in this list. But then I asked myself the following question: "Will I still enjoy listening to this song ten years from now?" The answer was a resounding "yes", which is why 'Dashboard' keeps its place as my 83rd favourite song of the past 10 years.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

84: The Automatic - Monster

Drowned In Sound gave it 0/10 and described it as "ditchwater". Contact Music called it "daft, irresponsible and unforgettably irritating." 'Monster' is one of those tracks that divides opinion, and I'm firmly on the positive side. Let's face it - in the light entertainment stakes, 'Monster' is at the lowest common denominator end of the spectrum.... three chords, a riff so simple that even I could play it, and a vocal that just repeats the last few words of each line to fill some time.

But that chorus? What a chorus. The song just bursts into life with the refrain of "what's that coming over the hill, is it a monster?" It's one of those lyrics that just sticks. And it obviously did so with the British record-buying public, who purchased it en masse as it rose to #4 in the UK singles chart. And just like the previous song in this countdown, it quickly became adopted by sports fans, in particular Tottenham Hotspur (and latterly Sunderland) fans, who sung "what's that coming over the hill, is it Chimbonda?" at their French full back.

What impresses me most when I hear 'Monster' is that despite being a fairly candid, post-nu-metal rock anthem, it actually revolves around a dance beat, which becomes most apparent as the guitar solo merges into the bridge, that momentum building, Alex Pennie gradually increasing in volume as he first sings, then shouts and finally yells "face down, home town, it looks so grey". And then, the pivotal moment of the song, the moment that earns this song a place in my top 100 of the decade - the guitar, bass and drums silenced, and for a split second, just the chorus line remains. Look, it's not a particularly clever song, but if you hear it in an indie disco over the next 20 years (and chances are you will), I defy you to avoid bouncing around, arms aloft. It's a drinking anthem, in the same vein as Reef's 'Place Your Hands'... a bit stupid, but you know that deep down, you actually love it.

Monday, 10 August 2009

85: The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army

The most widely recognised riff of the decade underlays this hit from Jack and Meg White, from the summer of 2003. The White Stripes laid claim to being one of the most innovative and influential bands of the Noughties, and with this Grammy-winning number, they achieved the peak of their mainstream success.

The riff itself sounds like it is created by a bass guitar, but The White Stripes' have never used that instrument - their standard set-up is Jack on guitar and vocals, Meg on drums. For 'Seven Nation Army', Jack ran his 1950s-style semi-acoustic through an octave pedal, set down an octave. (NB - I have no idea what this means, but Wikipedia says it, so it must be true). It is allegedly based around Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5. A young Jack White supposedly misheard the name 'Salvation Army', hence the song's title.

The song has become massively popular with sports fans, particularly amongst Italian football fans, who sung it all the way through their country's success in the World Cup in 2006. Liverpool fans sing it to Javier Mascherano, and The Guardian described it as "the indiest football album ever." But it has also appeared as entrance music for a Welterwight boxing title fight, at the opening of an Australian cricket innings, and during the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich. Put simply, 'Seven Nation Army' has emerged as the ultimate in multi-purpose popular music. Which is quite an achievement for a track with a wild guitar breakdown and thrashing drums. Well done, the Whites.

Friday, 7 August 2009

86: The Prodigy - Omen

One of the bands of the Nineties make an appearance in my countdown, an appearance which would have seemed highly unlikely this time a year ago. The Noughties have been very quiet for The Prodigy... a lone single in 2002 ('Baby's Got A Temper'), 2004 album 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned' and a Greatest Hits singles boxset. Bear in mind that the previous decade saw The Prodigy release three consecutive hugely successful albums, each with genre-crossing appeal and packed with hit singles.

Early in 2009, though, they were back. And in a big way. 'Omen' took the best rave beats of old-skool Prodge, and married them with that industrial metal guitar sound that Pendulum (pretenders to the throne during the Prodigy's extended absence) had made their trademark. In true Prodigy fashion, lyrics were kept to a minimum, but those they do use are catchy, repetitive and sound best when boomed out across a packed dancefloor. "Now, the writing's on the wall, it won't go away, it's an omen" bellows Keith, sounding as menacing as ever.

Welcome back, Prodigy. We missed you.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

87: Girls Aloud - Call The Shots

In terms of chart success during the Noughties, Kimberley, Nadine, Nicola, Cheryl and Sarah are second to none. Twenty consecutive singles entered the UK Top 10 from their breakthrough 'Sound of the Underground' in 2002 up to this year's 'The Loving Kind' - a run that was only broken when 'Untouchable' peaked at #11 in April 2009. Two albums hit top spot in the charts, and they are probably the most successful reality TV stars ever. £25m of career earnings, six platinum albums, a Brit award, and countless TV spin-offs would certainly suggest so.

Popjustice founder and NME journalist Peter Robinson, in the liner notes for the Girls Aloud singles boxset described 'Call The Shots' as "the greatest pop song of the 21st century". His website also awarded the song with the Popjustice £20 Music Prize. What's interesting, at least from where I'm sitting, is that it's probably the most conventional sounding single that GA released this decade. The Xenomania-Girls Aloud partnership has been massively successful, and yet that success has been built on an unorthodox style of pop song, from the drum'n'bass of 'Sound Of The Underground', to the audacity of 'Biology' (no chorus until a minute from the end of the song). Yet 'Call The Shots' is straight-ahead, old-fashioned pop, crafted to perfection and maximising the vocal talents of the girls.

Here's a live performance of the song from their spring gigs at the O2.

Monday, 3 August 2009

88: Maximo Park - Going Missing

Looking back on the decade as it draws to a close, one of the obvious trends in music has been the rising popularity of the music festival. The turning point may well have been Glastonbury 2000 (100,000 tickets sold, 250,000 in attendance), and the introduction, after a year's hiatus, of the "superfence". Stricter licensing rules and tighter security meant fewer gatecrashers and less crime. Other festivals, as ever, took their cue from Glastonbury. Either way, the music festival, formerly the preserve of the crustie, emerged as the summer holiday option of choice for the discerning middle class adolescent.*

On this basis, is there a more apt song to define this decade than Maximo Park's festival anthem? Not only does the song title accurately describe the experience of most festival-goers (in the same way that Pulp's 'Sorted For E's & Wizz' did 10 years earlier), but as one of the most prolific bands on the live circuit, this song may well have been performed at more festival sets than any other song this decade.

* I count myself in this category, even though I had been attending festivals from 1997