This used to be the future, part II (Tracks 80 - 61)

Last time, I wrote about what an unexpectedly introspective process this music challenge was, but I didn't get into the list-making process itself, which was incredibly daunting. The vast majority of my music collection has been digitized and properly organized within iTunes. I've always been a meticulous collector of whatever it is I become obsessed with so it was a simple matter to create a smart playlist of all my music that was released from 2000 on. I also did a quick inspection of my remaining physical collection, a small chunk of which I've sold over the last few years - making it slightly possible I've completely forgotten a song I love dearly.

After compiling a massive list of the decade's music, I sorted it alphabetically by artist and began selecting the tracks I loved most. It wasn't very difficult to reduce those thousands of songs to just about 200, but shaving that 200 down to 100 was quite hard indeed and ranking that final 100 in order of preference was just maddening. 

Luckily/unluckily I'd just quit my job and had the free time to indulge one of my favorite hobbies: driving around aimlessly while listening to music. I loaded my iPod with the 100 finalists and set off on a leisurely driving tour of the greater Los Angeles area and beyond: the Hollywood Hills, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Downtown, the San Fernando Valley, Topanga Canyon, some other valley, some other very lovely areas I got lost in, and of course Hollywood itself. Listening to music uninterrupted for 8 or 9 hours or so is a good way to determine which songs you like more than others. "Oh, I like that last one better than this one, and that first one better than everything that came after…" The list pretty much sorted itself on that drive.

Now, on with the music.

I wish it to be known that the goal of this exercise was to compile my favorite songs of the decade -- as opposed to the best songs of the decade. I'm not interested in putting forth a critical examination of music with heavy discussions about genre or cultural context. The lists on this site are simply the tracks I loved most and, in most cases, why I loved them so much.  

[Note: all the mp3 links go to the version of the song I'm talking about, regardless of what Amazon's images and text might suggest]

Song: Call On Me
Artist: Eric Prydz
Release: Call On Me (Single)
Year: 2004

Remember what I was saying about music that doesn't take itself seriously? "Call On Me" may be the zenith of that philosophy. It's the zenith of a lot of things, I think.

Obviously, the transcendently brilliant music video has a lot to do with the success of this single, which on its own might qualify in some people's minds as one of the worst songs of the decade, but just hearing "Call On Me" is enough to make me happy (and inspire thoughts about exercise. Not actual exercise, but I do think about it).

The Steve Winwood vocals and a lot of sounds from that very early 1980s period invoke for me lot of cozy brown and gold imagery. I was living in Abu Dhabi from 1982-1986 or so and I have memories of really, really cheesy, rousing bits of music like the vocal in "Call On Me" playing on the pop radio station my mother used to listen to in the living room of our house, which was on a street that ended not with a cul-de-sac but with an actual desert. It's when I hear sounds like this and think of imagery like that that I feel transported to a version of the world I can no longer experience in any other way. That -- and again, along with the amazing video -- is why I love "Call On Me" so much.


Song: Galaxia
Artist: Ferry Corsten
Release: L.E.F.
Year: 2006

I don't really know anything about Ferry Corsten except that his "Galaxia" track made me want to pull over when I heard it on the radio late one night while I was speeding on the deserted Sunset Strip. The song isn't startlingly brilliant or anything, but I think we all encounter music that happens to contain exactly the right combination of notes, sounds and rhythms that speak to us in a very specific way. This corny trance track did that for me, and I'm continually frustrated that I've been unable to work it into my typically raucous DJ mixes.


Song: Anthonio (Fred Falke Remix)
Artist: Annie
Release: Anthonio (Single)
Year: 2009
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

This late addition by Annie, Richard X and Fred Falke impressed me so much that it jumped into this section of the list. Annie has a real talent for songs about past love affairs, especially ones involving dancing, and I think this one is insanely good. "Anthonio" is about a girl's trip to Brazil, where she enjoyed a passionate one-night love affair with a local man who she never saw or spoke to again. 

Oh Anthonio, my Anthonio
Was I more than just a face in the crowd?
Did you even know my name?
Did you ever really care?

Though the Richard X original supports these words with the appropriate levels of sexiness, drama and meancholy, the Fred Falke version of the song enhances Annie's story with beautiful, spacious synths and a rolling rhythm that conjure a picturesque ocean setting at night, a place where two kids could have a fling that at least one of them would remember forever. This version also eliminates the heartbreaking final lyric from the original, where Annie sings, "My baby has your eyes."


Song: Feel
Artist: Robbie Williams
Release: Escapology
Year: 2002

A schizophrenic's S.O.S. to the world.


Song: Man, It's So Loud In Here
Artist: They Might Be Giants
Release: Mink Car
Year: 2001
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

They Might Be Giant's Mink Car fell into my life right when I needed it in the form of an album sampler at the Cambridge record store I worked in at the time. I don't know anything about They Might Be Giants, I haven't listened to any of their other releases before or since, but Mink Car has some eerily autobiographical moments for me, my favorite of which being "Man, It's So Loud In Here", which I'm probably imbuing with a far darker meaning than the writers intended. 


Song: Rebellion (Lies)
Artist: Arcade Fire
Release: Funeral
Year: 2004

There's probably not much left to say about the work of Arcade Fire or this song in particular. But "Rebellion (Lies)" is one of many piano-heavy tracks on this list. Really grew to love that instrument in this decade.


Song: Running The World
Artist: Jarvis Cocker
Release: Jarvis, Children of Men (soundtrack)
Year: 2006
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)
A gifted singer and one of the more unique looking humans to have ever walked the Earth, Jarvis Cocker’s main talent is summing things up in a way that, while of course clever and sometimes poetic, seems so obvious that you wish you’d thought of it first. “Cunts are still running the world.”


Song: Alien
Artist: Erasure
Release: Loveboat
Year: 2000

Produced by Flood, Erasure's Loveboat is probably meant to be heard on a properly configured hi-fi system. There are deep, deep sounds and lots of Phil Spector BOOOOOM noises that just don't work on earbuds -- quite a change for this once dominant bleep-boop-bleep synthpop duo whose every album went to #1 on the UK charts for a time in the '80s and early '90s. 

Erasure had already been relegated to obscurity in the U.S. by the time I discovered them at the beginning of the decade. I just bought whatever discs I happened to find at used record stores around the country, ripped all the songs to my first generation iPod and waited for the disturbingly prescient Apple shuffle algorithm to decide when I needed to hear them. I forget where I was when "Alien" first came up but I know it was the middle of the night on an open road. The song ends with a clip of singer Andy Bell’s demo tape where he just hums the melody, which is exquisite.  I also just love the words “tuning low like a radio, whispering goodbye”. 


Song: The Line Begins To Blur
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Release: [With_Teeth]
Year: 2005

Occasionally my favorite band ever, Nine Inch Nails came back into my life with the decade half over. Trent Reznor’s bottomless soundscapes helped steer me onto a brief sound design path in art school, so I was skeptical at first of the simpler, low-fi sound of “The Line Begins to Blur”, the first song leaked from [With_Teeth]. But when that deep, droning chorus comes in, I was on board. Nearly five years on, this remains the standout track of the record for me. 


Song: Phantom Pt. II
Artist: Justice
Release: †
Year: 2007

This was one of the only new songs I heard on the dance floor in 2007 that sounded like it really belonged there - and maybe even defined everybody’s purpose for getting dressed up and going out in the first place. Nick Locking summed up Justice nicely by characterizing their sound as “sonic preposterousness”. Indeed, "Phantom Pt. II" is brazen, arrogant, loud, sexy, and features a nice heavy beat, something that had been missing from dance music for a few years in the middle of this electro age.


Song: Clocks (Röyksopp’s Trembling Heart Remix)
Artist: Coldplay
Release: Coldplay Remixes (Limited edition 12" vinyl)
Year: 2003
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)
If it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt then there are few bands as familiar as Coldplay. Nevertheless, the group has demonstrated an ability to create (or steal) some pretty tunes. The first time I heard “Clocks” was in the desert at night, a slightly remixed version of its dramatic piano intro thundering out of a dance tent at the Coachella music festival near Palm Springs. When I eventually heard Röyksopp’s incredible remix (first live in Hollywood, then the studio version), I really learned to appreciate Röyksopp’s trademark sound, which I think of like drums and keyboards being played while soaking wet, if that makes sense. 


Song: Songs Remind Me Of You
Artist: Annie
Release: Songs Remind Me Of You (Single)
Year: 2008

More Richard X and more Annie. I think PopJustice said it best in their review of this song, which was simply the word "amazing" repeated over and over.


Song: I Believe In You
Artist: Kylie Minogue
Release: Ultimate Kylie
Year: 2005

Written by Scissor Sisters, this song is incredibly pristine and shiny and beautiful and represents succinctly all that was good about that abused aesthetic in the decade's music. The sound's a bit disco, the lyrics are classic pop: simple, uncomplicated, to-the-point and totally incidental to the chorus. Megan Harris and I love the "I-be-lieve-in-you-i-be-lieve-in-you" breakdown.


Song: I Might Be Wrong
Artist: Radiohead
Release: Amnesiac
Year: 2001

I like to joke that Amnesiac is one of the greatest B-sides albums ever… well, that's not really a joke. But "I Might Be Wrong" is  an A-side if there ever was one. It's one of those songs that makes me feel very depressed but in a way that feels very good. 


Song: Signal To Noise
Artist: The Cure
Release: Cut Here (UK single)
Year: 2001
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)
This is a sad, sad breakup song that's tucked away as a B-side of a rare single that was created to promote the release of one of an interminable series of Cure compilation albums, so you've probably never heard it.

I have a slightly convoluted history with this song. I wasn't very familiar with the band so I picked up The Cure's 2001 Greatest Hits release along with the "Cut Here" import single and ripped all the tracks for that first generation iPod I mentioned earlier, which I had set to shuffle mode for almost a year. "Signal to Noise" was mixed in with the hits and I was really surprised to discover much later that this song -- which had become one of my favorites of all time -- was a modern era B-side and not a classic track. That "Signal to Noise" is doomed to obscurity makes it that much sadder/cooler.


Song: All My Friends
Artist: Franz Ferdinand
Release: All My Friends (LCD Soundsystem single)
Year: 2007

The original LCD Soundsystem version of this song made #2 on Pitchfork's top 500 tracks of the decade list. I agree it’s a killer track but I like the Franz Ferdinand version a lot more because they really bring the song's inner New Order to the surface. Bravo their work here, an exhilarating and brilliant recreation of a modern classic.


Song: Everyday
Artist: Rogue Wave
Release: Stubbs The Zombie (Soundtrack)
Year: 2005

From what I gather, Stubbs The Zombie is a game where you play a zombie and your goal is to eat as many brains as possible. The soundtrack album features hip indie bands like Death Cab For Cutie, The Walkmen, Dandy Warhols and others performing cover versions of sappy hits from the 1950s and 1960s. I thought it was a novel idea for a horror soundtrack and made sure to promote the item heavily when I was still at Sony. Years later, Rogue Wave’s gorgeous cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” survived the novelty and became one of my favorite songs ever. 


Song: Here To Stay (Radio Edit)
Artist: New Order
Release: Here To Stay (UK single)
Year: 2002

Following a pretty great mostly-guitar album called Get Ready in 2001, I vividly remember praying for New Order to come out with just one more great electronic track before they got too old to get away with it. I got my wish with "Here to Stay", written and performed by New Order with production by the Chemical Brothers, another one of my favorite acts. The Bernard Sumner lyrics are a little less dubious than usual and the tune is awesome, just what you'd expect from New Order + the Chems. The mix of the radio edit is slightly more punchy than the full length version (which you can only get on the UK single) and the ending's better too. 


Song: What You Waiting For? (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)
Artist: Gwen Stefani
Release: What You Waiting For? (Single)
Year: 2004
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

A far, far more successful take on the song than Stefani's original, genius producer Stuart Price found the heart-on-the-sleeve Simple Minds vibe she was going for with a lot of the stuff on her LoveAngelMusicBaby record and turned it up to maximum. The lyrics in this song are fairly substantive for Stefani but for me her vocal track is just another piece of the arrangement, like another keyboard melody or something. A stellar, outstanding production that helped introduce me to the VVVVVRRRRRMMMMM sound that I came to love in this decade. 


Song: Heartbeats (Rex The Dog Remix)
Artist: The Knife
Release: Heartbeats (Single)
Year: 2004

Like everyone else on the Internet, I love The Knife's "Heartbeats". Unlike everyone else on the internet, I love Rex the Dog's dance remix more. If you give it a shot, I think you'll agree with me. Rex is a great producer who made some killer tracks and remixes in this decade, some of which you can hear in my DJ mixes.

Some other people have been participating in this challenge so check out their lists and commentaries:

If you're playing along and want to be linked here, just post a comment with a link to your list and I'll add it here. 

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« This used to be the future, part III (Tracks 60 - 41) | Main | This used to be the future, part I (Tracks 100 - 81) »

Reader Comments (2)

That part in "I believe in you" is my favorite too. For some reason I see her singing in a Marie Antoinette outfit during that part. I have no idea why. But it's always been the imagery I've associated with that part of the song.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGinny

i'm really loving these lists.

i just finished ranking my top 100 tracks (which could not be more different from yours) and i'm writing up little descriptions of the first 20 tracks now. i really love that i took the time to do this so thanks a lot for the inspiration!

- nick

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternickmaynard

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