Here concludes my look at the best songs of the decade. For this edition, I will also have a link to each track on YouTube. Just click on the last part of each write-up.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this version of favoritism. Please leave some comments about what you view as the best songs. Also, check in tomorrow to see the first part of my Decade’s Best Albums list. Thanks for reading!
20. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk
Techno is a tough thing for me to get behind. I appreciate all the rhythm and neat computer-ish music. But the whole thing just seems so fake and cold to me. But then there’s Daft Punk. I can’t help but like them. They know how to conjure a beat and get your body to move. “Harder, Better” is the highest point of their work. Thanks to an amazing vocoder breakdown and a real swagger, even just hearing the song causes heads to bop and feet to tap. I like to believe that, were I a break dancer I would freak out to this song.
19. “Staralfur” by Sigur Ros
Soundscapes can tend to be a bit boring, generally left for those relaxation mixes to be heard before sleep. Sigur Ros manages to pull the soundscape into a new land, thanks to innovative instrumentation. The powerful strings blend with light piano notes and production noises. Things take off when the voice comes in. Sigur Ros has a real give in their lead singer: he transforms songs from otherworldly to angelic. You needn’t know what he’s saying, you just feel it.
18. “Energy” by Apples in Stereo
It’s a pretty instant attraction when this song turns on. The mood can be completely somber, but then “Energy” turns everything bright. The bright chords, bright voices, optimistic lyrics and fun tempo all add up to something great. Where Sigur Ros could bring you to another planet, Apples in Stereo carry you to a better place – a state of personal satisfaction. “And the world is made of energy / And there’s a lot inside of you, and there’s a lot inside of me.”
17. “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead
It bothers me to leave Radiohead so low on my list. But such was the nature of song content this decade. “Pyramid Song” has the distinctive nature of being a decidedly unique song in the Radiohead canon. Everything feels eerie, right from the start. Syncopated piano rhythms ride above strange electronic sounds and strings. Soon enough, the drums kick in, slowly dragging their way in, adding to the strangely swung feel. The whole thing feels like it’s carrying you off to heaven, or maybe hell. But then Yorke’s last clear claim rings out in your mind: nothing to fear and nothing to doubt. Believe in this song.
16. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix
One of the best songs from this year, “Lisztomania” is a pop masterpiece. Catchy lyrics and bright music carry this song along. Great guitars and solid bopping music are complimented by a touch of electronica, giving the song an interesting touch. Really, you could pick “1901” here, too. Both are great songs, proving Phoenix one of the best from 2009.
15. “Blind” by Hercules & Love Affair (feat. Antony)
Disco tends to seem cheesy to me. Maybe it’s the stereotyped guy-in-white-suit thing. Whatever the case, “Blind” is strangely freed from any sort of bad disco feeling. Maybe it has to do with Antony’s vocals. They really steal the show here, transforming the careful emotional classical singer into a dominant power. I can’t help but feel like dancing through this song and yet feel terrible for doing do. Perhaps that is where Hercules & Love Affair really succeed. They get complex emotions to work in music.
14. “Reena” by Sonic Youth
“Reena” is so wonderfully constructed, making it one of my all-time favorite Sonic Youth songs. First, it grabs you with those ringing guitars. Then Kim Gordon manages to sing without sounding annoying. But after all of the introductory “pop song” stuff, they decide to go all Sonic Youth on us. For my money, it’s one of their best breakdowns since Daydream Nation. Everything just goes crazy, drums pounding, guitars thrashing, and then Steve Shelley pulls it back together. Very circular, very awesome.
13. “The Funeral” by Band of Horses
Songs can have some powerful effects, but it’s rare for me to be actually bothered by music. Band of Horses succeeds here with those haunting, lightly plucked notes that open the song. Instantly, you realize that this is something very weighty and somber. Of course, the careful vocals only add to this effect. “The Funeral” is so powerful that even the loud rocking sections manage to add to the mood. Repeated listens diminish some of this song’s power, but never leave you feeling comfortable. Maybe it’s better that way.
12. “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
For all of the loud rock and crazy moments on Fever to Tell, it is the one ballad-like song that we all remember. Everything about this song gives shivers down the spine. Those crashing drums, that intro guitar, even the loud rock guitar. But, of course, it’s Karen O that we all adore here. Instead of yelling and stalking the stage, she lightly explains her love. It’s powerful, tragic, and stunning. This is an impact song.
11. “I’ll Believe in Anything” by Wolf Parade
This song and “Shine a Light” stand tall as the highlights from Wolf Parade’s debut album. But for some reason, “I’ll Believe in Anything” always seems a step ahead. I think it has to do with the unashamed emotion that flows in this song. Seemingly a tale of longing for a lost lover, the whole thing is a bit difficult to dissect. But it is clear that there is a distinct pain in Spencer Krug’s voice. The loud crashing music only adds to the raw strength of this song. By the end of the song, you are also willing to believe, if only for your own happiness.
10. “Clocks” by Coldplay
Coldplay is a very overrated (yes, really) band that garners popular attention because of their refined combination of Radiohead and U2. They’re big, don’t really have a distinct message, and can generally be described as dull.
So why are they in my top 10? Because this song is so good. Perhaps Coldplay was just meant to play this one song and get on with their lives. I’m a sucker for a good piano song, and this thing is just fantastic. Chris Martin sings without getting overly annoying, and the looping piano phrase is just brilliant. And I can’t help but feel taken away when that last phrase hits: “Home, home, where I wanted to go.”
9. “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives” by Voxtrot
This may be the most low-key song included on my list. But the whole thing is wonderful rock. A great, clear voice works well with the instantly appealing guitars and tight drums. It’s a shame that this band hasn’t really caught on. With the EP named for this song, they unleashed a set of five amazing tracks. Every one of them features memorable music, but this is the best of the bunch.
8. “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear made a huge leap from enjoyable folk to super songwriters. The key track off this year’s Veckatimest is a real highlight. Its atmosphere is powerful and evocative, bringing forth real emotional responses. Those voices, that guitar… it’s musical brilliance, with just enough muscle to keep it around your brain for months. This song clearly eclipses all others from this year, constantly echoing in my head. This is one to remember.
7. “3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse
It starts so simply. Lightly plucked, quietly entered. And then the self-admissions happen. And then the world starts to open up with giant faith statements, and comments about the nature of the earth. Oh, yeah, the guitars kick it up too. This song is a great way to enter the land of The Moon & Antarctica, it’s familiar and disarming all at the same time. Of course, this was the one song where we all wondered, “Is this really Modest Mouse?” It’s unfortunate they haven’t reached a height like this again.
6. “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes
If you don’t like the singing, then I don’t know what you’re doing. I mean, first there is the lead voice, strong, right on pitch, beats the pants off any American Idol-type pop artist today. Then there are the backing voices. Each of these singers could take the lead spot and this song would still be in the top ten. Instead, they blend and create a harmonious point of glory. This only functions to add to the amazing musical arrangement, thus creating a powerful, memorable song.
5. “Nothing Ever Happened” by Deerhunter
In an album full of abstract ideas, “Nothing Every Happened” stands out as a beautiful culmination of all the strange noise-rock, but with a very accessible mindset. Of course, it helps to have one of the best outros of the decade working for you. Big bold drums give up the limelight for the stunning guitar work. From the noisy breakdown comes the huge finish: clear, powerful, singular notes.
4. “My Mathematical Mind” by Spoon
It’s sometimes hard to point out what makes Spoon so great. I guess it’s that they break down their songs into the most minimal of ideas, removing the unimportant fuss. They kind of make you work for it – fill in the gaps almost. Here, there’s a sort of self-assured power on display. I don’t really know why exactly this song strikes so much more than any other Spoon song though. I think it has to do with the pianos, the ideas (“I’m gonna stop riding the brakes”), and Britt Daniels’ smooth voice. Or maybe it’s just that this song is really one of the four best of the decade.
3. “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend
The best song of last year is certainly the best pure pop on from the decade. It’s extremely bright, and from the moment you hear that chord structure, you’re hooked. For the next two minutes, you have no choice: you bop your head, and you let the music get at you. Or you watch the video and enjoy even more.
2. “Rebellion (Lies)” by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire are all about big song and big emotions. While some may argue that a few of the “Neighborhood” songs are better, I don’t think you can go wrong with “Rebellion (Lies)” It stands out as such a strong song. Call-and-response ending in yells of “Lies,” and a string part that acts as primary instrumental melody. The guitar flourishes and an enraged lead voice closing out the song. Each of these moments mean so much to those who have heard the song. If you’re not amongst the believers, let this song prove the might of the Arcade Fire.
1. “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem
So Pitchfork nearly got it right, placing “All My Friends” at second in their decade-list. But I view them as wrong.
There are so many great songs focusing on emotion, devastating tragedy, and difficult choices. But it’s rare for a song to confront the idea of growing up like this. Yeah, many have taken the general “I hope I die before I get old” path, but how many have really taken the idea of age and turned it into a 7-minute opus?
The whole song grapples with life and this transitional idea. It’s really strange at first, but by the third minute you’re left wondering where else this guy will go. It’s an intelligent analysis of the self, and James Murphy has some of the best lyrics in recent memory strewn together to make “All My Friends” work.
Of course, without the backing track, his words are just a poetic reflection. Instead, the base layer of piano kicks the whole thing along, allowing a gradual build across the entire song. More guitars are added, louder drums, and even more piano. Everything almost becomes overwhelming, finally ending in the stunning, maybe empowering reflection, “If I could see all my friends tonight.”
James Murphy has penned the greatest song of this decade. Its musical, lyrical, emotional, and human elements are all greater than any other single track from another source. His mastery of his craft and an understanding of himself have resulted in a brilliant song that is forever echoing for me. It is like no other.