Audio: Press play ... singles of the 2000s

Editor’s note: Each month we’ve been exploring the best music of the new millennium’s first decade. This month we look at some of the author’s favorite singles. Go to to hear some of these tracks.

Even more so than rating albums, rating single songs is tricky business.

Subjectivity is amplified when you are judging three or four minutes of music rather than 40. As you’ll see in my list below, there are few things I love more than a hook-heavy pop song. There’s a reason they dominate the airwaves and downloads charts. They are sugary pleasure best enjoyed in small doses. But like downing a pint of Häagen-Dasz, played out over an entire album those songs leave you a little queasy.

All of this is to say that it’s impossible to create a best singles list, no matter what might tell you.

What follows are 10 of my favorite singles of the 2000s, in no particular order.

“The Rat” by the Walkmen (2004). The majority of this track is a furious assault on turncoat friends. But in the end, when lead singer Hamilton Leithauser laments “when I used to go out I’d know everyone I saw. Now I go out alone, if I go out at all,” you get the feeling he wasn’t so much betrayed as had grown apart from his circle. It perfectly summed up a point in the decade when I was growing weary of partying.

“Ignition (Remix)” by R. Kelly (2003). This song sums up everything great about R. Kelly. Killer hook? Yep. Delightfully quotable? Uh-huh. Slightly weird? For sure. The amazing thing about “Ignition (Remix)” is it sounds just like 2003 but manages to be fresh today even as pop R&B has gone through a world of changes. For whatever you think about Kelly as a person, “Ignition (Remix)” reminds us that he is the Prince of his generation — an underappreciated songwriting genius.

“Untitled (How Does it Feel?)” by D’Angelo (2000). “Untitled” is remembered as much for its video, which featured a nude D’Angelo in all his chiseled glory looking like he was, let’s just say, really enjoying himself, as it was for the song itself. But this is D’Angelo at his finest, backed by sparse keyboards, a supple bass line and and an army of vocal overdubs that made him sound as if he were everywhere at once. The song builds to a glorious climax, cools down and then goes at it again.

“Inside and Out” by Feist (2005). She’s most certainly better known for the aural earwig “1234,” but this slinky Bee Gees’ cover is the Feist track I can’t get enough of. Buffeted by a bedroom disco track, Feist’s voice covers a gamut of emotions slightly more than four minutes — sultry, pleading, insecure, distraught, angry and forceful. That she manages to take a song that was a No. 1 hit for another artist and make it sound completely distinctive shows the interpretive powers of a singer just coming into her element.

“Paper Planes” by M.I.A. (2007) M.I.A. is one of those artists who seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else. When she broke out with “Galang” in 2004, no one knew what to make of the London-via-Sri-Lanka rapper. By this February, she had been nominated for Grammys and Oscars. “Paper Planes” represents the perfect combination of her sing-song rapping style and the clever sampling that makes her songs sound instantly familiar. In this case she took parts of “Straight to Hell” by the Clash and “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-n-Effect, and created something wholly original and completely unforgettable.

“B.O.B.” by Outkast (2000). Perhaps the most pure 2000-era song, “B.O.B.” foretold the collision of rock, pop, hip-hop and electronic music that would come to define the decade. It set the stage for Andre 3000’s fantastical hit “Hey Ya.” But more importantly, it expressed a post-millennial tension that consumed America, but with a beat that encouraged us to dance the anxiety off.

“1 Thing” by Amerie (2005). This song is a testament to the powers of minimalist production. Using fractured riffs from the Meters’ funk classic “Oh, Calcutta!” and with a simple syncopated drum part, producer Rich Harrison creates spaces for Amerie’s piercing voice to settle in. The songwriting itself is brilliantly vague. We never know what the one thing her lover did right to catch her attention. But, man, do we wish we did?

“Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson (2004). The original American Idol, Clarkson didn’t fair too well her first go ’round. She seemed lost in a sea of similar, vanilla girls. But “Since U Been Gone” recast her by adding some edge. The pulsing rock guitars and bass gave her powerful voice a foil.

“Multiply” by Jamie Lidell (2005). This has to be the most unexpected song of the ’00s. Lidell’s previous efforts had been odd electro-experiments in danceable noise. Suddenly he was reborn as the latest-word blue-eyed soul. But few have done it better. “Multiply” showcases Lidell’s gritty voice, which sounds more like Otis Redding than you’d think a Brit should. This gospel-influenced track stands up with the best of Stax and the Memphis sound.

“Stuck Between Stations,” by the Hold Steady (2006). By the time this track came out, the Hold Steady had firmly ensconced itself as my favorite band. Not much has changed since then. This track is a formidable soup of classic rock and indie witticisms. It includes on of my favorite lines of the decade, “She was a really cool kisser and she wasn’t that strict of a Christian. She was a damn good dancer, but she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend.”

Other awesomeness: “Such Great Heights,” by the Postal Service; “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told),” by the White Stripes; “Grindin’” by the Clipse; “Tears Dry on Their Own,” by Amy Winehouse; “Black,” by Okkervil River; “Losing My Edge,” by LCD Soundsystem; “Long Distance Call,” by Phoenix; “Hide and Seek,” by Imogen Heap; “Crazy in Love,” by Beyonce, featuring Jay-Z; and “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” by Spoon.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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