I had a bunch of favorite songs that meant a lot to me but did not appear on albums that qualified for the list, or were from bands who were not represented anywhere else on the list. I wanted to highlight those songs and artists, so, here’s your list.
I was planning to weave this in throughout the week, but it was so long by itself (and each piece of this article was so long already) that I broke this out into its own article. Keep in mind that this is just a list of best songs by unmentioned artists, and not a definitive list of the best songs of the 2000s. You’re not going to find, say, Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” or “99 Problems” on here, because I already have entries for him with The Blueprint and American Gangster, even though neither song is on either album.
I’ve picked 55 artists who were not mentioned on the albums or EPs lists and chose a favorite song by each of them. (Well, 57 songs– two artists I couldn’t break a tie between. Also, I have to admit I was shooting for 50 and then remembered several songs I considered necessary for inclusion after I got there.) As you’ll see throughout, I had varying degrees to which I wanted to add comment on these songs. Let’s start with 20 artists I didn’t want to add any comment for at all, beyond including them here and hoping you listen.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Animal Collective, “My Girls”
Barbara Morgenstern, “The Operator”
Beulah, “If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart”
Clem Snide, “Joan Jett of Arc”
Common, “The Game”
Das Racist, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (wallpaper. remix)”
Death Cab For Cutie, “We Looked Like Giants”
DeVotchKa, “We’re Leaving”
Dinosaur Jr., “This Is All I Came To Do”
Edan, “Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme”
The Foreign Exchange, “Let’s Move”
Killer Mike, “That’s Life”
Liars, “Mr. Your on Fire Mr.”
Lily Allen, “Smile”
Los Campesinos!, “You! Me! Dancing!”
Matthew Dear, “Don and Sherri (Hot Chip Version)”
Mouse on Mars, “Wipe That Sound”
Squarepusher, “My Red Hot Car”
Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago” and “To Be Alone With You”
Wilderness, “Marginal Over”
I have 35 songs that I actually wanted to write a blurb about. I’ve ranked them:
“SexyBack” is the most sleazy fun, and the whole album is quite good, but “My Love” is the standout jam, works out all the pop-star muscles, and also I came up with an acoustic version that I think is pretty cool.
I still don’t know what “math rock” is, I just know that “Atlas” is nearly eight minutes of pounding drums and virtuosity.
I miss when “dubstep” meant something like “Archangel” instead of “screaming robot farts.”
This was sort of an odd album to find its way to me when and how it did. A couple of the songs gripped me pretty hard, this being one of them. Oddly, listening again, I didn’t like it quite as much now as I did then, but I still think it’s a pretty hard-rocking song.
I like the violin. I like the spareness of the verses. Quiet verse / loud chorus has been a winning combination at least since the Pixies, and while I don’t believe Bird was trying to engineer a hit (lines like “And I’m gonna tie your wrists with leather / And drill a tiny hole into your head” are not conducive to that), he did come up with his best song, attention-grabbing and compelling and even capable of getting you to, if not move your feet, at least sway and turn for a while.
In some ways a relic of its time, in others a forebear of indie music’s turn toward dance, “Move Your Feet”– eh, let’s drop the academic discussion about “Move Your Feet” and tell me you don’t do exactly that when that track hits the turntables, when that back and forth– “Can’t stop (can’t stop) won’t stop the beat”– and GO!
If that titular sample, pulled from Rose Royce’s “I’m Going Down,” doesn’t worm its way into your head, I don’t know what to tell you. (Shout out also to “Hey Ma,” also featuring Juelz Santana; it was a tough call to choose between the two.)
Sigel’s third album– released while he was in prison on federal weapons charges– is one of the most underrated hip-hop albums of its time, and the stellar guest talent he attracted is a sign of how respected his skills are in the scene. If you didn’t get enough of him with his guest spot on Jay-Z’s “Ignorant Shit,” check this out.
That beat. That opening. That chorus. It’s just one of the best hit-the-hydraulics, party-in-your-car songs of the decade.
Mclusky really defies description to me– kinda punk-ish, a lot of odd non-sequiturs and sense of humor and not the tight song structure you might expect from a punk band. But they, and this song, are fun and funny and odd and if you can explain these lyrics in a coherent way I’d love to hear it.
I didn’t really know anything about The Faint when I first heard this song. (I still don’t– a few years ago I saw Gang on Four (well, this version of them) on a bill where they were opening for The Faint, and we left before The Faint came on.) But I love the combination of electronic-siren melody and that noisy chugging beat that follows every line in the verse. It’s a really forceful, energetic dance song from a scene that usually isn’t mine.
This might be cheating a little because both David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal appear in the albums list, but The BPA doesn’t. The Brighton Port Authority is the name of the latest project from Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim. “Toe Jam,” the single, was released in August 2008 and ended up being a signature funky jam in our scene over the next year or so, helped by an extremely memorable video.
The kind of simple, clear, heartfelt love song Big Star elevated into art.
A band probably best known for their hit single from the throw-anything-at-the-wall alt-rock era, “Novocaine for the Soul,” Eels’ songwriting and output on the whole is far more, uh, soulful than that, and this may be its peak.
A really good album in general, although it didn’t quite stick with me enough to make the final list. Some good white-boy funk and soul; this (and next track “When I Come Back Around”) are probably the highlights, the latter being more upbeat and funky while this one is more groovy and soulful.
No irony here: Shatner’s meditations on aging and life make Has Been work a lot better than you would expect it to, and his cover of “Common People” (with a guest spot from Joe Jackson) contains a level of sneering contempt in his performance that Jarvis Cocker’s original doesn’t have, that fits the tone of the song perfectly.
Timbaland’s beat and production really makes this song go boom, but we shouldn’t shortchange Cee-Lo’s performance, either: “How could I possibly be inconspicuous / When my flow is fucking ridiculous?” is a very apt opening line for the way Cee-Lo bobs and weaves throughout this track around Timbo’s beats.
I’ve never been as big a fan of Broken Social Scene as many of my peers, and their masterpiece album couldn’t quite crack this list for me. Some of the songs are undeniably great, though, no more than this one looking back at a past self or an old friend, who’s changed, polished up, what we call “matured” but which still isn’t clear if growing up and growing older and growing wiser are the same thing. Emily Haines of Metric takes the vocal lead on the best track ever recorded by this collective (which also included a pre-”1,2,3,4” Leslie Feist). Also check out “Cause = Time” and “Kc Accidental.”
The start-stop of this song, the mumbly ramblings of the verses and the anthemic chorus, recall the quiet-loud dynamic of the past greats like Pixies and Nirvana, but more consciously creating a sing-along chorus. A great track from a band very rarely heralded even in its time. I wasn’t able to confirm this again by press time, but after reading it back in the day (and listening again) I am pretty sure that is Nick Hexum of 311 doing a guest vocal turn on the chorus.
One of the best instrumental jams of the era, hard hitting and funky and immediate dance-floor candy.
This might rank even higher if I had a strong personal connection to it (other than the parodied Chamillionaire being from Houston), but I include it because it’s one of the best things Weird Al has ever done, a rap song that stands on its own merits. Sure, Chamillionaire supplied the beat and the structure, but Al’s lyrics and flow stand as a genuinely excellent example of the form, terrifically difficult to pull off even if the subject is less about drug trafficking and more about computer programming, less Tec-9 and more [Star] Trek: [Deep Space] Nine. This became, after thirty years of musical parodies, Weird Al’s biggest commercial hit for a good reason.
(Also, apologies if you were hoping to hear something from Flight of the Conchords, Jon Lajoie, or Stephen Lynch, but this is the only comedic song on the list.)
A great example of what punk-inspired indie-rock could do when it embraced the groove, this opening track from what would turn out to be Q and Not U’s last album has a distinctive, catchy riff and moves from phase to phase effortlessly, as easily and slickly as you might glide across the dance floor while listening to it.
Nick Cave often feels primal, but rarely this blunt. For whatever you think of the title, it is, I must say, a perfect expression of raw male frustration: The narrator’s continued best efforts, the building refrain of “she just didn’t want to,” the periodic breaks in his calm facade and moments where the guitar enters, before it all descends into madness at the end, Cave screaming “I GOT THE NO PUSSY BLUES!” over screeching, howling, feedback-driven guitar. This song is elemental in a way some of our best hundred-year-old blues songs are– and really, aren’t most of them about the same thing as this?
Yes, the Jose Gonzalez cover is great, too, but the funky aggressive urgency of the original makes it the more interesting and special choice for this list. Either way it’s one of the best and definitive love songs of the 2000s.
Okay, I’m cheating picking two at once. I couldn’t decide and together they’re still shorter than some of the songs on this list. “Fall of the High School Running Back” has the better narrative, but “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” is more fun. And I had to highlight one of my favorite experiences doing graveyard-shift college radio: A guy called in around 5 AM to say he was driving in from Denton and made a request. I couldn’t find his request in our stacks, so I played “Best Ever Death Metal Band” instead. He called back to tell me how much he enjoyed it.
Ask them originals ‘cause they know. It’s quite a collection of talent here that’s had very divergent lives and careers since: One deceased; one stuck in record-label hell; one now named Yasiin Bey. I just love the whole thing, from the grind-never-stops details (“It’s been seven days the same clothes”) to Mos Def’s smooth flow to Pharaohe Monch jumping in just a little early for his verse, perfectly so. It’s all anchored around Nate Dogg’s slick, low chorus. This was an every-morning get-ready-for-your-grind anthem for me at the World Series of Poker in 2008.
God, Antony’s voice is so singular. (The former Antony / Antony Hegarty announced in 2015 that she now identifies as and uses the name Anhoni.) That plaintive, heartbreaking warble, the only instrument capable of communicating the fear of being unloved, of being caught in the space between life and death, that drives this song. A real anomaly among the rock-and-dance-driven indie set of the time, but an absolutely devastating track that can be difficult to listen to often. But it provokes a strong reaction within us, as all art should.
Do you like big beats? I like big beats. And they don’t get much bigger than that bass-pumping, stomping intro to “What You Know,” the kind of song that makes you want to turn up your bass and rattle your car’s frame and scream the lyrics out the window. An all-time classic that rates as the best track T.I. ever cut.
You won’t get me to say anything nice about Robert Kelly the man. (If anything, Dave Chappelle went too easy on him.) This isn’t a list about the best human beings to make music in the 2000s, though. It’s about the best songs of the era, and Kelly got away with so much shit for so long because he was an undeniably talented pop songwriter, knowing exactly what got people onto the dance floor, even when his lyrics were ridiculous. (“Now it’s like Murder, She Wrote / Once I get you out them clothes”??) Lord help me, if I’m on the dance floor, and I hear “Now usually I don’t do this,” I’m not going anywhere for the next 3:09. And if I’m not on the dance floor, I will be. Even if there isn’t one around. Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce.
Before they had a falling out, The Game and 50 Cent cut this classic, using a sample from the Trammps’ “Rubberband” perfectly to anchor the song, 50’s laconic flow and Game’s on-edge delivery complementing each other perfectly. Plus it touches on classic rap tracks like Rakim’s “My Melody” and 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” It’s still a jam that holds 15 years later, full of clever puns, social consciousness, and perhaps rap’s only use of the phrase “believe you me.”
This is the track that presaged the Postal Service. Jimmy Tamborello had a number of guest vocalists on his third album, but none must have clicked with him quite like Ben Gibbard, because they went and recorded an entire album together. That album leans more on Gibbard’s pop sensibilities than this track does, and for my money, the increased emphasis on Tamborello’s aggressive production makes this the stronger track on the whole, not only for how it keeps the forward momentum going on the dance floor but how it crescendos to that cathartic climax. Ringing, ringing, ringing, ringing, ringing off…
What might come across as a pretty standard boogie of an indie-rock song has a special, indescribable place in my heart. I don’t know what it is: The song is very groovy, but the Secret Machines don’t particularly stand out from their peers. I think maybe it just has that sense of style and panache that not always quantifiable or even describable. Or maybe, as an insecure, sensitive lad, it made me believe, at least for four minutes and forty-two seconds, that I was capable of blowing all the other kids away with all of my charm.
Before he was The Guy Who Discovered Justin Bieber, after he was the teenager who cut “You Make Me Wanna,” Usher put together this all-time classic, boosted by Lil’ Jon’s production and that absolutely killer beat. The Ludacris verse is almost unnecessary, although it provides a good bridge after you’ve been sweating for a few minutes. Nothing of the era is as much a sure-fire dance-floor classic as this. (Hear me now, believe me later.)
Perhaps the most unlikely Oscar winners in history, Three 6 Mafia put together an absolutely dynamite collaboration of Southern rap all-stars– specifically, Tennessee’s finest, a region that can easily be overlooked considering the scenes in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Houston. Memphis (well, Young Buck is from Nashville) stands with the best any of those cities can offer on this track, an absolutely unstoppable force of nature backed by a sample of Willie Hutch’s “Tell Me Why Our Love Has Turned Cold.” A true collaboration where everyone has a part and everyone’s part is distinctive, “Stay Fly” is simply one of the best hip-hop tracks of the decade. (And, personally, one of the anthems of one of the most important times in my life, the summer of 2008, when I made some major steps in my road to psychological recovery and had some of the best times of my life surrounded by friends.)
I almost put this album on the list– it’s pretty good– but really, nothing on it, or anything else The Walkmen ever did, reaches the heights of “The Rat,” an absolute catharsis of a song from start to finish, all action, all aggression, behind those incredibly loud guitars, rapidly pounding drums, and Hamilton Leithauser having to practically scream over it all to be heard. And in between, a song of loneliness– the loneliness of an aging, angry, jaded drinker, but loneliness nonetheless. Few songs ever come to as pure an expression of feeling as “The Rat”; few songs ever come as close to setting your hair on fire. An absolutely legendary song that deserves all the acclaim it’s ever gotten, and then some. Total catharsis.
(Oh, and if you’re looking at that header image and wondering why Missy Elliott isn’t on here, it’s because she was already mentioned on the entry for Ghostface Killah’s The Pretty Toney Album, as the guest singer on “Tush.” Besides, you well know about “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It” by now.)
Here’s a playlist with all these songs (well, the ones that were available on Spotify), as well as the highlights from yesterday’s EPs list.