50. LCD Soundsystem “Losing My Edge”
DFA · 2002
The hipster hymn of purpose, the “Internationale” of the skinny-jeans-and-black-frames brigade. Except that’s hardly the point, because what do I know from hipsters? I’m an aging dork in an exurban wasteland, and when I heard this while stumbling around the University of Arizona one autumn evening, I fixated not on the codings of taste and cultural capital, but on the sheer perverse delight of lines like “I hear that you and your friends have sold your guitars and bought turntables. I hear that you and your friends have sold your turntables and bought guitars.” The buzzing Krautrock disco behind it all only amped up the feeling that this matters, man, even if Can and Captain Beefheart and Daft Punk were only names in a Rough Guide to me at that point. In closing, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics.
49. Camera Obscura “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
Elefant · 2006
If modern indie requires an unsustainably high level of familiarity with the touchstones of the past, as its critics have claimed, then my experience of this song could never have happened. I had no idea it was the answer to a question asked by the title of a Lloyd Cole song until two years after it had become part of the fabric of my life. (The song it answers? Eh. It’s okay, I guess.) But the song’s winsome jangle, its healing organ, and Tracyanne Campbell’s everyone’s-indie-crush voice, was more than enough. When I found out about the Lloyd Cole connection, it was like discovering that the girl I married had had a girlfriend before I met her: somehow, it only made her hotter. (Ick! Male gaze! Male gaze!)
48. Girls Aloud “Sound Of The Underground”
Polydor · 2002
This remains the only Girls Aloud song I’ve ever heard (like I keep saying, I’m not British, although you could be excused for thinking that it sure seems like I wish I were). I’ve read stuff that people say about Xenomania, the production team here, but I don’t know what the Xenomania “sound” is, if there is one. For someone who flatters himself that he has a wide-ranging taste, I can be remarkably incurious; one song is so often enough for me that I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to listen to an album. In the case of this one song, I think it’s that I’m afraid nothing else in their repertoire could live up to it: a dance-pop song with breakbeats and spiralling surf-guitar lines, it’s so giddily infectious that it doesn’t matter that, as everyone’s already said, nobody could ever mistake this for any kind of underground.
47. Modest Mouse “Float On”
(Isaac Brock, Dan Gallucci, Eric Brody)
Epic · 2004
The only reason I knew the name Modest Mouse before this became an unlikely radio hit was because I used to look for Moby Grape records in indie stores, the alphabet being what it is. And the only reason I knew they had an unlikely radio hit was because one of the at-risk youth I used to play basketball with back in 2004 would not stop singing it during a game, which was both really annoying and kind of charming, and when I found out that those two things were related, that the anonymous indie-rock band had a catchy hook and that the carefully-managed idiocy of radio still allowed for freak guitar-pop hits, I had to be part of that story. Again, I haven’t really bothered to investigate Modest Mouse further — one-hit-wonderhood should be a badge of honor.
46. Golden Boy ft. Miss Kittin “Rippin Kittin”
(Golden Boy, Miss Kittin)
Emperor Norton · 2002
One of the first words I learned when I started reading Pitchfork in the summer of 2002 was “electroclash.” I downloaded a whole bunch of stuff that got tagged with the name (remember KaZaA? That takes me back), and in between all the Eurotrash poses and unimaginative distorted beats, this haunting little song kept coming up, an electronic slice of psychological noir that never bothered to explain itself or do more than slink darkly by. And long after I forgot what Chicks On Speed or adult. sounded like, it kept recurring, showing up in other people’s best-ofs and slowly gathering a reputation as The Only Worthwhile Thing from that moment when electroclash was a word.
45. TV On The Radio “New Health Rock”
(TV On The Radio)
Touch And Go · 2004
“Hey, I know this,” I said to the air. “TV On The Radio, ‘New Health Rock.’” The uncomfortable space that followed was a silent reproof to my approval-begging wanton dispensal of knowledge. And that was the last time I attempted to strike up a conversation with relative strangers over shared musical interests. (Didn’t help that me and the dude playing it were both interested in the same girl, also present.) Thankfully this is far from my only memory of the song — like many of these songs, it was one I put into a playlist of new music that no one I knew was cool enough to have heard and listened to over and over again. I lost track of TVOTR shortly thereafter, and being busy demolishing my interest in the stiff-armed snobbery of cool, still haven’t heard the (apparently) epochal Dear Science. I once described this as an imaginary collaboration between Prince and Interpol, but the percussion is Third World, and to his credit Prince was never this abstruse.
44. Amerie “1 Thing”
(Amerie, Rich Harrison, Stanley Walden)
Columbia · 2005
When I say I was left cold by modern R&B, I was always willing to make exceptions, especially for something as obviously amazing as this. It’ barely counts as a production at all, just a series of looped hard-bop drum breaks and some guitar stings for texture, over which Amerie’s thin voice pipes an oblique soul song about falling in love or something. In retrospect, it’s the high-water mark of the avant-garde production technique as massively successful pop single that crested in the early 2000s and has receded somewhat today, as personality and performance-based criteria have taken a (reality-show prompted?) more dominant role. After the middle of the decade, pop never got more decisively strange than this.
43. System Of A Down “B.Y.O.B.”
(Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, Casey Chaos)
American · 2005
I’ve complained before that my one real blind spot in popular music — as in, music I can’t like no matter how hard I listen, rather than music I just haven’t paid sufficient attention to yet — is metal. So it’s with a distinct sense of irony that I note that this is the song on the list which seems to demand the most intensely physical response from me. I love dance music, and dance to it frequently — but it’s always a decision. Moshing and headbanging to this isn’t. This is tribal music, and if I believed in any kind of cultural determinism I’d say it was my suburban white-trash metalhead roots showing through. But holy shit, you guys. I could never listen to a whole record of this stuff, but as a four-minute blast of righteous rage and political sloganeering (with a beach-funk chorus, which relates it to everything else on the list), music rarely gets better.
42. Usher ft. Lil Jon & Ludacris “Yeah!”
(Lil Jon, Sean Garrett, j.Que, Ludacris, Robert McDowell, LRoc, LaMarquis Jefferson)
Arista · 2004
One of the five or six jobs I’ve had over the past decade involved filing paperwork in a cement room off a mechanic’s garage. One day two young ladies from the receptionist department were assigned to help me shift stuff around. They brought in a radio and kept it tuned to the local pop station for the entire eight-hour day. I wanted to kill myself by the end of it. That was the context in which I first heard this song. (Actually, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth; that fucking station, man.) And not only my critical and emotional turnaround on chart pop can account for the fact that this song nevertheless made the list. Lil Jon is a one-note guy, but for the space of a single song, that one note is the greatest party ever. Usher’s Michael Jackson, Jr. moves and Luda’s greatest guest verse ever (which is saying som’n) only add to the festivities. If I had that day to do over again, I’d have such a ball.
41. Feist “1 2 3 4”
(Feist, Sally Seltmann)
Cherrytree · 2007
I have for the most part kept at arm’s length all the indie, both hipster-approved and NPR-respectable, that has emerged in the past couple of years, partly out of a sense of having fallen behind and never being able to catch up again — but just like how most people have no idea what’s on the charts at the moment yet still manage to hear the Really Big Songs, the “Umbrella”s and “Hey Ya”s, there are some indie songs which even unhip I end up hearing — and loving. Feist was sold to me as a gentler Neko Case, and Neko Case was already too gentle for me, so I was all set to hate this until I saw her sing it on Sesame Street. My weakness for horn charts has already been confessed; my weakness for Joan Baez, especially one leached of the stridency of the original, was something even I didn’t know about until Feist showed me.