Thursday, 31 December 2009

The songs that defined a decade... The noughties

Okay, this might go a bit dad at the disco, but I've set myself a task, so I'm going to see it through...

1. 'Yellow' by Coldplay (2000)

No, I don't like it either, despite Devon being centre of the musical universe in the noughties, Coldplay and Muse being the UK's bona fide international stadium filling acts, and Will Young being the reality show star it's almost okay to like - but not quite. However, it's hard to deny that this record did define the sound of mainstream - it is hardly Indie in label or inclination - lite rock for the decade, and many imitators followed, posh lads with pianos crooning yearningly vague lyrics like this one.

2. 'I Can't Get You Out of My Head' by Kylie Minogue (2001)

Being a child of the eighties, I really didn't think I'd be proclaiming a Kylie track as not just one of the defining songs of the decade more than twenty years after her debut, but a dance-pop classic to be enjoyed on its own terms, preferably on a crowded dancefloor. Written by Cathy Dennis (a solo star of the early nineties) and Rob Davis (formerly guitarist with Mud, and composer of 'Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)' which was another contender in this genre, as were The Scissor Sisters, who have their own Kylie connections), the single went to number one in forty countries, and has soundtrack'd many a great night out at the discotheque. Oh, and 'Spinning Around' deserves a mention too, if only for those gold hot pants.

3. 'Lose Yourself' by Eminem (2002)

With hip-hop and r'n'b becoming the commercial mainstream of the decade, my list might seem a little light on rap, but this track broke all records (number one in twenty-four countries, the most successful rap song of all time) crossed all boundaries (it's been used as a motivational piece in primary schools and is a perennial at sporting events) won both an Oscar and a Grammy and deservedly so. It is also the lead single off the soundtrack to 8 Mile, that rare thing - a movie about music that works for the non-fan.

'Hey Ya!' by Outkast (2003)

Outkast became a pair of solo acts joined at the hip only by a shared moniker, so this could equally be described as an Andre 3000 solo track, and although the duo were born in hip-hop, this is closer to funk, but what it is first and foremost is POP, leaping out of the speakers and asking you to dance. For the visually inclined, the video is also a masterpiece of its kind, featuring a cast of Andres dressed as jockeys and golf caddies mimicking The Beatles' 1964 debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

5. 'White Flag' by Dido (2003)

Again, not a track that would ever trouble my stereo, but at the time it provided the musical accompaniment to many a yuppie dinner party. It must have a secret place in more CD collections than I care to contemplate, 'Life for Rent' (the album it was the lead single off) selling over ten million copies worldwide and being in the top ten selling titles of the decade. I blame Eminem's 'Stan' for making her famous, and almost regret not including it in place of 'Lose Yourself' to do Dildo without having to give her a slot of her own. Others in the 'boring music for boring people' slot include the comeback of Take That - if your Granny likes it, it's probably not very good but 'Patience' is a consummate pop song - and James Blunt, may he be stuck in Sesame Street hell forever.

6. 'Crazy in Love' by Beyonce featuring Jay-Z (2003)

R'n'B has been the dominant sound of the decade and few would deny that Beyonce is the queen of the genre, while Jay-Z is not only her husband but hip-hop's premier artist-entrepreneur; between them, their record sales are well into nine figures; together, they are black America's second couple, next to the Obamas. As for the record, it really is an arse-shaker and take it from me, that really is a compliment.

7. 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor' by The Arctic Monkeys (2005)

There's only space for one indie anthem of the noughties, but this one earns its right to decade defining status on several counts. For a start, it demonstrated the power of the internet to hype a band from nowhere to chart topping status, barely touching the sides of the mainstream media in the process. More importantly, it was our first listen to Alex Turner, the best British lyricist since Morrissey. An honourable mention to The Strokes for 'Last Nite' without this, the careers of the likes of The Arctic Monkeys, The Kaiser Chiefs ('I Predict a Riot') and The Libertines ('Can't Stand Me Now') and Franz Ferdinand ('Take Me Out') - not to mention the American contingent such as The Killers ('Mr Brightside') and Kings of Leon ('Sex on Fire') - might never have happened.

8. 'Crazy' by Gnarls Barkley (2006)

One of those songs that came from nowhere and stayed around forever, Crazy was the first song to top the charts by download sales alone, a good couple of years before the MP3 was the dominant medium for the purchase of music. Gnarls Barkley is a collaboration between Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo. Nothing in their previous careers prepared them for success on this scale and they've failed to repeat it, but if this is all they're remembered for, remembered they will be - after nine weeks at number one, they deleted it from the catalogue to save us from the unlikely event of getting bored by it.

9. 'Rehab' by Amy Winehouse (2007)

Somewhere around the middle of the decade, a bunch of girls were doing retro soul, jazz and ska and as good as 'Frank' was, Amy Winehouse seemed like just another chip off that block. Then came 'Back to Black' and for all its musical reference points, you realised you were dealing with a true original with a talent for words, tunes and their delivery. The title track itself could have taken this spot and both 'Tears Dry on Their Own' and 'Love is a Losing Game' will be torch song standards if they're not already. But it's 'Rehab' that both transcends celebrity culture and subverts it, truly a song for our times.

10. 'Pokerface' by Lady Gaga (2009)

I had a moment of conscience here - how can you represent the noughties without a single act born out of a reality TV show? Then I remembered the rules and forgave myself. These songs aren't just meant to define the decade now, but forty years from now. When we look back, I suspect most of the Simon Cowell acts will have thankfully faded from memory, may he be buggered with a ten-foot barge pole. Girls Aloud with 'Biology' came into serious consideration, but more for the Xenomania songwriting and production than what the girls made of it. Girls are very now, of course - Florence and the Machine, Bat for Lashes, Lily Allen, Duffy etc - but the true original among them to my eyes and ears is Lady Gaga and it's no coincidence she's also the one with international reach who goes across genres and defines not just a sound but a look, the Madonna of our times. She wears rubber, scares your parents and if she doesn't have a cock, she probably wears one on a regular basis. Dishonourable mentions in the minx category also go to 'Hit Me Baby (One More Time)' by Britney Spears and 'Umbrella' by Rhianna, both top pop videos, even without the sound turned down. Respect to Dizzee Rascal for this year's most fun single 'Bonkers' but until he breaks America, he doesn't count as decade defining.

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