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The 100 Best Singles of the Aughts

The decade that began with the commercial single seemingly gasping its last dying breath ended with it being the dominating format.

The 100 Best Singles of the Aughts
Photo: Atlantic Records

It’s more than a little bit ironic that the decade that began with the commercial single seemingly gasping its last dying breath would end with it being the dominating format. Tellingly, Billboard placed the invention of the iPod—the King of iPop, if you will—above the death of Michael Jackson on its list of the Top 50 Moments of the Decade: The ever-evolving gadget revolutionized the way we consume and listen to music. Some of us still cling to the album as an art form, and next week we’ll unveil our list of 100 reasons why the long-player is still vital, but the single is as relevant today as it was when Billboard used to track jukeboxes. Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together”—which, according to the industry Bible, was the decade’s biggest single—is a testament to the enduring power of the radio hit: “Come-back, come-back” went the prophetic background hook. The decade saw its share of one-hit wonders (Daniel Powter, Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, Blu Cantrell), novelty hits (Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?”), and novelty hits by one-hit wonders (again, Baha Men), and Jay-Z gave Kanye West a run for his money when it came to guest-rapper ubiquity. In fact, Jay’s number of appearances on this list is second only to Missy Elliott, who is, impressively, the main artist on all five of her singles here. Put simply: hip-hop dominated. And everyone secretly fancied themselves a disco star. Sal Cinquemani

Editor’s Note: Head on over to The House Next Door to see # 101 – 250.

100. M.I.A., “Sunshowers”

I first heard M.I.A.’s “Sunshowers” at, of all places, a Matthew Williamson fashion show. A runway is not the venue you expect to hear about gun culture, the Iraq War, the PLO, snipers, racial profiling, and sweatshops, but those are just some of the topics that M.I.A. managed to squeeze into the three-minute sophomore single from her debut album Arular. That and a sunshiny pop hook lifted from Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band’s oft-sampled disco hit “Sunshower” Cinquemani

99. Arcade Fire, “Keep the Car Running”

If his spill at the Super Bowl halftime show and the entirety of Working on a Dream suggest that it might be time to put Bruce Springsteen out to pasture, “Keep the Car Running” suggests that he may have unlikely successors in the kids of Arcade Fire. With its slowly escalating backbeat and its singular mandolin riff, combined with a naked desire to escape from unspecified traps and its on-the-verge narrative, the single is one of the decade’s finest examples of Americana without the self-seriousness or monotony that tag implies. Jonathan Keefe

98. Ciara, “Like a Boy”

With synthesized strings lifted from Vivaldi and a chorus that glides as slickly as a boy sneaking under his girlfriend’s bedcovers at dawn, Ciara’s role-reversing “Like a Boy” might be the sexiest revenge fantasy ever. Though her voice is pitched down like a serial killer in a horror film (“What, you mad? Can’t handle that?”), she ultimately plays a superhero—only she dons a pair of boy jeans instead of a cape. Cinquemani

97. The Ting Tings, “That’s Not My Name”

It makes a certain kind of warped sense that the decade’s most unlikely, slowest-burning hit (it cracked the U.S. Top 40 more than a year after it entered the U.K. singles chart) would be a swinging, shouty, danceable, shoegazy feminist anthem, the illegitimate daughter of Toni Basil and My Bloody Valentine. Why not? In a decade when music could hopscotch across the Internet, bypassing actual markets and traditional taste arbiters, musicians could chart a path to chart success through blogs and word of mouth and a prayer, and this song’s type of strange novelty became even more of a strength. Really, the surprise is that no one has licensed it to become a cheer routine on Glee or a commercial for hairspray yet. Dave Hughes

96. Gorillaz, “Eastwood”

Within the brief window when the Gorillaz’s cartoon faux-anonymity didn’t seem like a silly gimmick, also came their most lasting contribution, a delirious meeting between Damon Albarn’s plaintive yarl and Del the Funky Homosapien’s chunky verses, which butt up against each other atop a tangled landscape of thick-sliced bass and minor-chord piano. Jesse Cataldo

95. Ludacris, “Rollout (My Business)”

When Ludacris crossed over by making mock of those asking him, “Who’s your housekeeper? What you keep in that house?,” I hadn’t laughed so hard since Destiny’s Child’s cover of Samantha Sang’s “Emotion” A novelty song disguised as a diss track, or vice-versa, “Rollout (My Business)” is an aural circus, in which Timbaland’s lumbering calypso riffs match perfectly with Luda’s pitch-vague slant rhymes. It takes a true cracked genius to pair “diamonds in it” with “windows tinted” And I know I’m not the only one who spent most of the decade trying to figure out what he got in that case. Eric Henderson

94. Bat for Lashes, “Daniel”

Bat for Lashes a.k.a. Natasha Khan’s love-torn “Daniel,” from her impressive sophomore effort Two Suns, features all of the singer-songwriter’s dramatic charm to which we had grown accustomed, but it’s delivered in a decidedly sleeker, more accessible, and simultaneously modern and retro new-new wave package that would be as equally at home blasting from a boombox in the mid-‘80s as it would playing over the “marble movie skies” of some late 21st-century film’s ending credits. Cinquemani

93. Coldplay, “Clocks”

Name your children Apple and Moses and you cop to having Miranda Julyism. This is not unlike Coldplay’s distinctly English and unquestionably vanilla music, so unthreatening but intriguingly teasing at times—asking for trouble without ever really causing it. On “Clocks,” the band’s finest song, Chris Martin’s grandiose sincerity of feeling gives the grade-school lyrics a haunting import, an impression amplified by the unforgettably heart-racing piano riff of the song’s sterling soundscape. Like swimming in a dream you’d never have, but a dream worth swimming in nonetheless. Ed Gonzalez

92. The Streets, “Weak Become Heroes”

This tune probably reminds a lot of people of their first E. At once a pitch-perfect evocation of rave nostalgia (that looping piano, those warm ascending pads, the stuttering vocal sample) and an unsentimental acknowledgment that the communal joy of a rave, and of raving as a lifestyle, is both beautiful and fleeting, it’s a sort of joyous hangover. Mike Skinner’s sober, steady, insightful reflection is in itself a kind of rejoinder to the sorts of laws he fingers in his conclusion’s still bracingly abrupt return to conscious reality. Hughes

91. Cut Copy, “Hearts on Fire”

Some of the most talented remixers of the late aughties took aim at this song. Calvin Harris stripped out the disco and upped the amperage, juicing the riffs onto the world’s more angular dance floors. Holy Ghost! took things the other way, easing the beat and sprawling across it languorous saxophone and hypnotic piano. Aeroplane excelled just by setting all their phasers on “drama” and pressing play. But while there were many worthy challengers, there could be only one—and ultimately, to Cut Copy’s credit, no one managed to surpass their original’s unlikely collision of windswept post-punk drama and ass-shaking freestyle sass. Hughes

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