Friday, 25 September 2009

61: Electric Six - Danger! High Voltage

In stark contrast to the previous entry (#62 - Cypress Hill's 'Rock Superstar'), here's a song that everyone has heard before. FIRE IN THE DISCO! FIRE IN THE TACO BELL! Electric Six are a criminally underrated band - they're the band that The Darkness should have been. Everyone knows this song, and 'Gay Bar', but five albums in, and with a sixth due imminently, they now have a back catalogue worthy of a Greatest Hits compilation, surely?

62: Cypress Hill - (Rock) Superstar

Cypress Hill's only Top 20 UK single of the decade came just four months after the turn of the Millennium, so it would be no surprise if it had passed you by. If it had, that's a shame - it's their highest charting UK single of all time, and it's a cracking tune.

Musing on that old rapper's favourite subject - the trappings of the celebrity lifestyle - '(Rock) Superstar' sees B-Real, DJ Muggs and Sen Dog issuing a warning to kids that fame may not be all it's cracked up to be, despite the fast cars, women and vast amounts of cash. Indeed, hard work seems to be the theme of the song. "It's a fun job, but it's still a job" says Sen Dog, "the price of fame is high and some can't pay the way" says B-Real.

So, by Cypress Hill's standards, it clearly doesn't cover new territory lyrically, but the music marks a definite step change. In something of a gamble, Cypress Hill released a two-disc album in 2000, 'Skull & Bones'. The first disc, 'Skull' was traditional Cypress Hill rap, whilst 'Bones' was their first real foray into rock. The rock CD was short, at just 6 tracks, and '(Rock) Superstar' was actually just a re-working of '(Rap) Superstar' from the 'Skull' disc.

I found the rock version of the song to be much the stronger version, with that memorable piano intro giving way to Rage Against The Machine-style guitars. But here are both videos, you can decide for yourself.

(Embedding helpfully disabled by those nice folks at SonyBMG)
(Rock) Superstar video
(Rap) Superstar video

Thursday, 24 September 2009

63: Ash - Burn Baby Burn

If I'm listing my favourite songs of this decade, it would be totally remiss of me not to include at least one song by a band that I saw play live on at least seven occasions during said decade. 'Burn Baby Burn's as good a choice as any.... both NME and Q magazine's single of the year for 2002, and the first song ever played on that most "Noughties" of radio stations, BBC 6 Music.

If I could have been any modern rock star, I'd have chosen to be Tim Wheeler. He's always made it seem so effortless, with that "don't give a f**k" attitude, like a credible man's Liam Gallagher. Just hearing a short blast of the soaring guitar intro to 'Burn Baby Burn' conjures up images in my head of Wheeler, standing in perfect rock stance (see Jack Black teaching the kids in 'School of Rock' if you don't know what I mean), flying-V draped across his torso.

'Burn Baby Burn' was the second single off what I consider to be Ash's best album, 'Free All Angels' (controversial, moi?) It was released in 2001. I was just finishing my first year of Uni, and Ash, whose members are the same age as me, were already bona fide stars, on their third major label release. Nevertheless, I felt like I could identify with them. I saw them play at Oxford Brookes Student Union a week after the release of the album, and it was one of the most memorable gigs of my life - I came close to being ejected by security for "crowd surfing too much". For me, Ash summed up everything that was right about British indie-rock this decade, and 'Burn Baby Burn' is still one of their finest moments.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

64: Pussycat Dolls feat. Snoop Dogg - Buttons

I've not really touched upon the subject of image yet in this countdown. But image has always been critical to the success of recording artists. A band can have fantastic songs bursting out of every bone in their bodies, but without an image that can be marketed, few record labels will be prepared to risk stumping up vast amounts of cash to sell those songs. It's as true today as it ever was.... The Beatles were all image, Kiss were turned down by Epic Records because head of A&R, Don Ellis didn't like their image, and Susan Boyle has become an overnight worldwide sensation on the basis of an image that is so unconventional that the world was automatically drawn to her story.

Some "manufactured" girl groups have had their image created for them, the Spice Girls being the prime example that springs to mind. What is so unusual about the Pussycat Dolls, therefore, is that the image pre-dates the pop career by a number of years. PCD were a burlesque troupe, with a regular Thursday night residency at LA's famous Viper Room from 1995-2001. The image was already there, but the vocal talents were clearly not, which explains why Nicole Scherzinger and Melody Thornton were cast in 2003 to lead PCD to global domination.

That image is perpetuated by their flirtatious lyrics (and by their music videos), never more so than on 'Buttons'. The lead character teases her male counterpart by encouraging him to take her clothes off. Snoop Dogg pops up as the confident male who is unable to back up his words with actions.

Scherzinger's vocals waver between sultry sexpot and power diva, whilst the other Dolls sit in the background, murmuring their approval. Which is probably for the best. If you decide to form a group comprising one or two singers and a gaggle of burlesque dancers, it makes sense to keep the dancers dancing, and leave the singing to the vocalists.

And that, my friends, is how image sells records.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

65: Radiohead - Idioteque

"We are not scaremongering, this is really happening"

Released just 10 months after the turn of the Millennium, 'Kid A' was probably the most divisive album of the decade, and 'Idioteque' was its signature motif. Off the back of the the 8 million selling 'OK Computer', Radiohead followed up with a record which was lauded by many as groundbreaking, yet hated by those who had grown to love Radiohead for their songs.

'Idioteque' couldn't have been much further away from the likes of 'Creep' and 'Karma Police' if it had been written as a duet for tuba and mandolin. Sampling an obscure piece of computer-generated electronica from 1973, with layered drum patterns and Thom Yorke's increasingly frantic lyrics about the impending apocalypse, 'Idioteque' sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. I'd probably pinpoint the first time I heard that song as the moment at which my music tastes finally veered away from indie/Britpop and started to move in divergent directions, towards electronic dance, rap, pop and folk.

'Idioteque' was recently named as the 8th best song of the decade by Pitchfork, who noted that it became an instant fans' favourite, "inevitably eliciting greater screams when introduced in concert than any other song". It also drew much of the ire of those fans who felt betrayed by their beloved band. But for me, its bleepy electronic core is as stunning and visionary as anything Radiohead released before or since. Make your own mind up.

Monday, 21 September 2009

66: Destiny's Child - Bootylicious

Girl band lyrics can often be mystifyingly stupid - famously, All Saints indicated on 'Never Ever' that they didn't understand that "either way" suggests only two alternative options. In the case of 'Bootylicious', I've always been confused by what exactly "this" thing is that Kelly, Michelle and Beyonce were struggling to handle. I would have thought that it's the Destiny's Child threesome that us gents can't handle, but the song is unclear about who and what exactly can't be handled. And god knows what "I don't think you're ready for this jelly" means.

Moronic lyrics aside, 'Bootylicious' was a wonderful, early Noughties-sounding piece of fresh pop. That it was kept off the top of the charts by Atomic Kitten's awful cover of The Bangles was a travesty, but following on from two consecutive #1s ('Independent Woman Part 1' and 'Survivor'), it saw the group at the peak of their powers. Subsequent releases never matched up to the glitz of 'Bootylicious' and as we all know, Beyonce experienced more success after going solo than she was ever likely to achieve had DC continued down the same well-worn path. 'Survivor', the album from which this was taken, still stands up to repeat listens almost a decade on, but the signs were already there that Kelly and Michelle would need to be jettisoned - 'Bootylicious' is all about Beyonce's vocal lead. The delivery of lines such as "read my lips carefully if you like what you see, move, groove, prove you can hang with me" were delivered with an assured self-confidence of a pop star about to go stratospheric.

Still, I'm left wondering what flavour of jelly they were talking about.

67: Lostprophets - Shinobi vs Dragon Ninja

What a riff!

Lostprophets - Shinobi VS. Dragon Ninja - Music Video - Funny blooper videos are here

Friday, 18 September 2009

68: Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.

The only song performed by cartoon characters to appear in this list, 'Feel Good Inc.' lived up to its name as one of the most feel good songs of the decade. Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's virtual creations outlasted many human contemporaries with their eclectic mix of trip-hop and rock. 2D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel can now count 15 million album sales, 8 charting singles and a Grammy, for this song ("best collaboration with pop vocals").

The collaborators in question are De La Soul, whose rapping turned 'Feel Good Inc.' from a pleasant pop song with a catchy chorus into a massive international hit that wormed its way into our brains. There's a really impressive flow to the rap, and when De La Soul order "don't stop, get it, get it" you actually pay attention.

The "ah ha ha haaaaaa" is genuinely menacing, in a kind of Count from Sesame Street style - I'm not sure if Gorillaz were hoping to scare small children, but aside from those moments, this is an upbeat song of the highest quality. It peaked at #2 in the UK charts, embarassingly kept from the top spot by Tony Christie and Peter Kay's dreadful 'Amarillo'. But Gorillaz did hit the top of the charts with the follow-up to this, 'DARE', and deservedly so.

Gorillaz are working on a third album at present... the kind of longevity that the Simon Cowell reality popstars can only dream of. Long may the animated success continue.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

69: Dizzee Rascal - Holiday

UK hip-hop's first megastar is at #69 in my countdown. Originally, I had this space reserved for the second of his three number one hits, but 'Bonkers' might be suffering a little from over-exposure. Whilst it's still a great anthemic club tune, I've come to the conclusion that latest single, 'Holiday' is heaps better.

The third consecutive chart-topper from the yet-to-be-released 'Tongue 'N' Cheek' album is a sun-drenched ode to the British summer vacation. Dizzee sets his stall out with the opening gambit of "get your passport and your bikini" and it is immediately clear that Mr. Rascal intends for us to join him in getting away from it all on a beach somewhere.

I was on a stag this past weekend, and when the DJ in Bristol's Syndicate nightclub pumped 'Holiday' out the soundsystem, the dancefloor became noticeably more crowded and unquestionably more sweaty. As the trance-like outro kicked in, the lasers started flashing and a thousand pairs of hands were raised to the sky. This is one song that will be getting us moving on dancefloors for years to come.

Oh, and as if all that wasn't enough, Dizzee's got the lyric of the year prize wrapped up with "I know you're really busy and I know you've got plans, but are you really too busy for a suntan".

70: Santigold - L.E.S. Artistes

'L.E.S. Artistes' is Santi White's attack on the scenesters of Manhattan's Lower East Side (aaah, so that's what L.E.S. stands for), and was the breakthrough hit for the native Pennsylvanian.

Released under the name of Santogold (before she changed her moniker to Santigold), it sounds like a less angry M.I.A., blending R'n'B and indie in equal proportions. It's also yet another of those songs with a chorus that really bursts into life.

Santi's a busy girl.... since finding fame with this song and it's predecessor 'Creator', she's co-written 'Littlest Things' for Lily Allen (alongside Mark Ronson), and appeared on the soundtrack to the film 'Notorious' on the Jay Z track 'Brooklyn Go Hard'.

Interesting Santigold fact: Santi studied at Wesleyan University, whose other notable alumni include the most successful NFL Head Coach of all time, Bill Belichick, as well as 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' writer/director Joss Whedon, 'Transformers' director Michael Bay, and both members of MGMT.

Friday, 11 September 2009

71: Andrew W.K. - Party Hard

Andrew W.K. is a man of many talents. Not content with the simple life of a rock star, he also has his own record label, owns an award-winning Manhattan night club, and as of 2007, appears as a self-help motivational lecturer.

It's fair to assume that his drive and ambition would have ensured him some kind of fame, whatever he did with his life, but 'Party Hard', which reached #19 in the charts back in 2001 was the real springboard to his later success. It's a song beloved by music fans, with its vocoder intro, pop-punk riff and train wreck of a chorus.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

72: Fischerspooner - Emerge

4th May 2002. Three days earlier, I'd turned 21. To celebrate my birthday, I had a barbecue at my student house in Oxford on the Saturday afternoon, whilst we watched the FA Cup Final (Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 with goals from Parlour and Ljungberg). Various friends had travelled down to Oxford from other universities to celebrate with me.

The pièce de résistance of the birthday weekend was St. Hilda's College Arts Festival. In my role as station manager/DJ at Oxford Student Radio, I had been asked to play the headline DJ set. By the time I came onstage at 2am, the crowd were drunk, happy, and in the mood for a dance. I satisfied that desire, playing an electroclash/dance set that I'm still proud of today (I have my original setlist, if anyone is interested). Felix Da Housecat, Jilted Generation-era Prodigy, Kosheen, Ms Kittin and the Hacker, the odd mashup... everything was well received, as the crowd got drunker and danced harder.

And then, I dropped Fischerspooner's 'Emerge'. The place went berserk. Sweaty bodies flying around the room, arms flailing in the air as the beats reached a crescendo (and let's face it - no song this decade has a crescendo quite like that found in this song). I felt like I was on top of the world.

Every birthday should be as much fun as my 21st was. And this song is inextricably linked to that night in my brain.

73: Nelly Furtado - Maneater

Who is your celebrity crush? (Answers in the comments please) Mine is the Portuguese beauty of Canadian origin, with the jet black hair, the electric eyes, and a voice that could melt the icecaps.

Evidently, the Noughties record-buying public agree. Nelly Furtado's songs have been hugely successful all over the globe... 'Promiscuous Girl' was a #1 hit in the USA, 'I'm Like A Bird' was a chart-topper in her adopted nation of Canada, 'Turn Off The Light' went to #1 in New Zealand, 'All Good Things (Come To An End)' was a massive selling #1 in Germany, Switzerland and across Europe, 'Say It Right' was a #1 smash pretty much everywhere (double platinum in the US, triple platinum in Spain, gold in the UK and Belgium). When it comes to Ms. Furtado's output, it's very much a case of quality over quantity.

She's been hugely popular in the UK too. Half of the ten singles on which Ms. Nelly Furtado has appeared this decade (either her own songs, or as a guest vocalist) have hit the top 5 of the charts, with two of them going straight to the #1 spot. Timbaland's 'Give It To Me', which featured verses sung by both Furtado and Justin Timberlake, was her second chart-topper, back in the spring of 2007, but her first UK #1 song may just be her best work of all.

'Maneater' was co-written by Nelly & Timbaland early in the writing sessions for her 2006 album, 'Loose'. Their aim was to recreate the spooky 80s synth sounds of Eurythmics, Blondie, Talking Heads and The Police. The most striking thing about the song is how everything seems to revolve around that loud beat, whilst Nelly repeats the last word of each line for added impact.

She described it as her "dancing alone in front of a mirror" song, but it became a club classic across the globe, and cemented Ms. Furtado's place as one of the premiere pop stars this decade has produced.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

74: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps

"Wait, they don't like you like I love you"

A second appearance in my countdown for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (
'Zero' was at #90), but a totally different sounding song. Whereas 'Zero' is all shimmering disco balls, 'Maps' always strikes me as a lament. What it is, precisely, that Karen O is lamenting, I'm not sure, but she has her reasons, I expect.

I loved 'Maps' from the very first time I heard it. My favourite bit is the second verse, where Karen suddenly raises her voice to sing the line "I'll stay the same" - a defiant message, a refusal to compromise.

When my friends and I played this song on Rock Band, I always ended up doing vocals. And despite the fact that I have a terrible voice (and hate hearing myself sing), I always enjoyed singing this one... it's just a lovely, sweet vocal, the perfect accompaniment to the lullaby-esque tune.

75: MGMT - Kids

MGMT seemingly appeared out of nowhere (they're actually from Brooklyn, NYC) in early 2008, and quickly took the music world by storm. Their debut album 'Oracular Spectacular' topped multiple end of year album polls, and its two biggest hits were unavoidable in restaurants, bars, clubs and high streets throughout Western Europe and North America.

There wasn't a lot to choose between 'Time To Pretend' and 'Kids', when it came to compiling this countdown, but I think the former has suffered from greater over-exposure.

So yes, you're familiar with 'Kids' too, by now. That memorable staccato synth, that leaves an indelible mark on your brain. The disco beat that emerges, then supplanted by those haunting vocals. That chorus, with the nonsensical lyrics ("control yourself, take only what you need from it, a family of trees wanting to be haunted"). 'Kids' is the song to soundtrack a thousand sporting montages on TV, and despite the feeling that it could have been written in the late 70s, it belongs as much to the Noughties as any song on this list.

Monday, 7 September 2009

76: Good Charlotte - Keep Your Hands Off My Girl

Yeah yeah, I know, Good Charlotte, what am I thinking, etc. But 'Keep Your Hands Off My Girl' is unlike anything else they've recorded, and for a while in 2007, it was on constant repeat on my iPod. I've always liked the grey area where rock crosses into rap, and that's what we've got here, courtesy of Mr. Nicole Ritchie on lead vocals and the former Mr. Paris Hilton on backing vocals. The relentless flow of lyrics is undoubtedly the strong point, even if those lyrics happen to be fairly lame.

The story of the song is pretty straightforward... those tough Good Charlotte boys are all covered in tattoos and high-end fashions (note the hypocrisy of this song's lyrics versus their biggest hit to date, 'Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous'). And if you try and steal their girlfriends, they'll kick your ass. Why you'd want to steal either Ms. Hilton or Ms. Ritchie from them remains beyond me.

But there's just something I like in the way that they deliver this message of overprotective threatened violence. I particularly like the line "I've got brass knuckles hanging from my neck and my chain". It is a more aggressive sound, courtesy of Don Gilmore, the man responsible for Linkin Park's 'Hybrid Theory', and on this particular track, it just seems to work.

Friday, 4 September 2009

77: Panjabi MC - Mundian To Bach Ke

Subsequent to my producing this list of my 100 favourite songs of the Noughties, I've discovered that my #77 song was actually written, recorded and first released in the 90s. However, it wasn't until 2003, when it was re-released, that it became a worldwide smash hit, and it's importance in the story of Noughties pop music is such that I feel it should keep its place.

Panjabi MC's story is an interesting one. The Coventry-born rapper (real name: Rajinder Singh Rai) has released 10 albums, in a career spanning back to 1993. Prior to the success of 'Mundian To Bach Ke' ('Beware Of The Boys'), he had already worked with fellow Midlands rapper, Mark Morrison, as well as Snoop Dogg's cousin, Daz Dillinger. However, 'Mundian...' helped him achieve global fame, and subsequently, other music from his back catalogue has been used in TV show 'Heroes', the film 'Inside Man', and as ring entrance music for WWE wrestler, The Great Khali.

All that said, were it not for the clever usage of the bassline from the 'Knight Rider' TV theme to remix Labh Janjua's original vocal, Panjabi MC would probably still be in Coventry, releasing albums no-one had ever heard. Instead, 'Mundian...' became a worldwide sensation, selling 100,000 copies in Germany in just two days, topping the Italian charts, becoming the first bhangra song to reach the UK Top 10, and earning Panjabi MC an MTV Europe Music Award, and a MOBO for Best UK Act. Oh, and a lifetime's stream of royalties. Good work.

78: Green Day - American Idiot

I've been away for a little. Maybe you noticed? Maybe not. I was at Reading Festival, watching several of the acts who appear in this countdown. Anyway, the gist of it is that I'm now running dangerously behind schedule, so expect a flurry of postings here over the next few weeks as I try to catch up. Right, now that's out of the way, on with the show....

... and at #78, it's Green Day's ode to former US President, George 'Dubya' Bush. The opening track and first single from the concept album of the same name, the release of 'American Idiot' was accompanied by massive hype, coming, as it did, three months before the US Presidential election.

It occupies a very specific place in the chronology of Noughties music, alongside works from the likes of the Beastie Boys, Wu Tang Clan and Jay Z. It deals with issues that the entire United States was dealing with in the post 9/11 world... Billie-Joe's lyrics talk of media control, hysteria, fear, propaganda and paranoia. Built around a central, simplistic riff (like most Green Day songs), it proved to be their biggest ever UK chart hit. (In the US, it was released a week before the Billboard charts began to incorporate paid downloads, and as a result, only reached #61 in the charts.)

Best fact that
I discovered whilst researching to write this post:

"In 2006 grocery clerk Paul McPike sued Green Day, alleging that he'd written "American Idiot" and the other songs on their album way back in 1992. McPike's evidence consisted entirely of a copy of the album and a claim that the lyrics sung on the album didn't match those in the sleeve notes. The US District Court Judge suggested he could file a more detailed copyright infringement complaint in the future."