Putting together my top 20 songs of the decade list is more personal, more a matter of taste, than compiling the TV and movie lists. There will be a few songs on this list that you love, too, but mostly it’s stuff you have no interest in sampling, let alone purchasing.
I’ll warn you up front that you’ll find only three types of songs among my top 20 pop songs of the Aughts: 1, songs that will make you want to kill yourself; 2, songs that make you want to keep living, only so you can keep hearing brilliantly depressing songs like this; and 3, unapologetically catchy throwaway hits (which might, if your tastes run a different way, make you want to kill yourself when you listen to it).
Anyway, here are 20 songs that struck a chord with me this decade:
1. “Honey in the Sun,” Camera Obscura (2009) — Camera Obscura (pictured above) has everything I look for in a pop band: Scottish. Check. Cute female lead singer with a beautiful voice. Check. Pop hooks. Check. Breaks from the pop hook where you get swept away on a wave of what seems like 100 different instruments blended together. Check. This song, among many tasty gems from C.O., best sums up the band.
2. “Another Sunny Day,” Belle and Sebastian (2006) — The prettiest pop song ever written for overly emotional, socially challenged, hopelessly romantic young men who like throwback-sounding bands from Scotland.
3. “Tunnels,” Arcade Fire (2004) — It’s a relatively vague song, yet it’s clearly about growing up. The Canadian band packs in great, kind-of-sad lyrics that raise the whole thing to an epic level: “Then we tried to name our babies/We forgot all of the names that/The names we used to know.”
4. “Cool,” Gwen Stefani (2004) — Both the song and the video define bittersweet. Stefani sings about how it’s great to be friends with an ex who is now married to someone else, but when she brings up memories like Harbor Boulevard, you get a feeling she’s a bit sad about the days gone by.
5. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” Bruce Springsteen (2007) — Easily the most profound song ever written about girls wearing summer clothes. We all want to be as cool as Springsteen when we get to be his age. Or heck, even now.
6. “Goddamn Lonely Love,” Drive By Truckers (2004) — It’s so cry-in-your-beer downbeat that it borders on being a parody of itself. But it works, because sometimes you just need to lose yourself an endless parade of great lyrics like “I ain’t really drownin’ ’cause I can see the beach from here.”
7. “Hey Ya!,” Outkast (2003) — Here’s a pop song that’s not ashamed to be a pop song. Consider that the chorus is “Hey ya, hey ya, hey ya, hey ya,” and yet it still sounds somewhat profound. That’s an impressive trick.
8. “You’re Beautiful,” James Blunt (2005) — We were all singing along in the summer of ’05, stumbling over “when she thought up that I should be with you” and laughing about how “f***ing high” was changed to “flying high” on the radio. Do a YouTube search now, and you’ll mostly find parodies, but that doesn’t make this less of a melancholy masterpiece.
9. “Human,” The Killers (2008) — Brandon Flowers explores the age-old dilemma: “Are we human, or are we dancer?” You have to admire a song that fits right in on the sound system at American Eagle Outfitters, and at the same time doesn’t suck.
10. “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” The New Pornographers (2005) — The lyrics from this Canadian band lament about “listening too long to one song.” It’s appropriate, because this beat is catchy enough for many repeat listenings.
11. “Everybody’s Changing,” Keane (2004) — The best song off the best album by a British band that knows how to make pianos rock.
12. “History in the Making,” Darius Rucker (2008) — As a fan of Hootie & the Blowfish’s ’90s work, I never thought I’d sign off on Rucker goin’ country. But songs like this actually make country respectable, so the Hootie frontman has my blessing.
13. “Wake Up,” Hilary Duff (2005) — Of all the tween idols that emerged in the ’00s, Duff is my favorite, mostly because of “Lizzie McGuire” and “Raise Your Voice,” but also because of this pop gem that imagines the possibilities of the club scene (way too optimistically, but that’s the charm).
14. “Such Great Heights,” Iron and Wine (2003) — This soft and simply recorded remake of a previously synthetic-sounding Postal Service song sums up the rich emotions of “Garden State,” my favorite film of the decade.
15. “Won’t Go Home Without You,” Maroon 5 (2007) — Lead singer Adam Levine captures that feeling when you don’t know if a girl likes you or not, but you’d really like to find out.
16. “It’s My Life,” Bon Jovi (2000) — The Kmart Bruce Springsteen bellows about how he’s gonna live while he’s alive, and that’s not a bad message. Bon Jovi gets bonus points for casting Shiri Appleby in the music video.
17. “Love Like This,” Natasha Bedingfield feat. Sean Kingston (2008) — Pure pop bliss, sung by one of the most ridiculously attractive songstresses out there.
18. “My Humps,” Black Eyed Peas (2005) — You forgot about this song, didn’t you? Well, beware the wrath of end-of-decade lists, which must include any song that asks the timeless question: “Whatcha gonna do wit all dat ass, all dat ass inside dem jeans?”
19. “Innocent,” Our Lady Peace (2002) — This Canadian band reminds us that none of us asked to be born, none of us has a manual for life, and none of us gets a second go-around. It’s easy to be hard on ourselves after humanity’s performance in the Aughts, but OLP puts a refreshing spin on things with this “Don’t be so hard on yourself” anthem.
20. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Glee” cast (2009) — The 1981 rock anthem by Journey is so good that it now makes it onto lists for other decades. The “Glee” version isn’t as good, of course, but it gives the song an interesting spin with wide-eyed, big-voiced Rachel belting it out. Besides, “don’t stop believing” is a pretty good message to carry into the next decade.
Agree? Disagree? Share your favorites of the decade below.