Staff List: The Best Songs of the Decade

Not to be outdone by Pitchfork’s Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s, the Bureau Staff presents the Best 10,000 Songs of the Decade.

Just kidding. We each picked one song.

While this may not be the best song of the decade, I feel quite confident that it is one of the most fitting. From the catchiness of the tune, to the lyrics, to the band’s presence on stage, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” is an anthem to contemporary culture.

To begin, the song’s over-produced electronic rhythm embodies our fast-paced, zero-attention-span lifestyle. The beat shrieks and hums like an iPhone ringtone on crack, and the quick changes and breakdowns create a constant hook that captivates a group that refuses to read any blog post longer than two paragraphs.

These societal illnesses are also addressed in the lyrics, where the band members dream of fame, fortune, and women, regardless of its cost (“This is our decision to live fast and die young/ We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun”). For most of the last decade, our generation has been labeled a spoiled one. We were uncompromising in our dreams, and incapable of taking harsh criticism. There were no hard times because mommy and daddy were there to catch us whenever we fell. Then came the crash, and we realized that perhaps we were simply “fated to pretend.”

We are the pretenders, or we were. Upon seeing the band in August, I realized that they still are. Although they have one of the most talked about albums of the last two years, they can’t play a live concert to save their souls. At Hamburg’s Dockville Festival, MGMT had people leaving in droves due to one of the worst performances I have ever seen.

It has all been a bitter reality. – Bureau Writer Locke McKenzie

I like to joke that my introduction to indie rock occurred through my parent’s subscription to Newsweek. A short blurb in an early 2005 issue presented Bloc Party to middle-age America, comparing the band to Noam Chomsky and early U2. I downloaded Silent Alarm and from the first oscillating notes of “Like Eating Glass,” I felt myself falling down the rabbit hole.

The energy of “Like Eating Glass” is its greatest strength. Drummer Matt Tong is relentless while lead guitarist Russell Lissack does his best to channel OK Computer-era Johnny Greenwood. Lead singer Kele Okereke yelps and half-sings his way through, his voice perfectly matched to the staccato of the lyrics.

“Like Eating Glass” is the type of song Bloc Party stopped writing after Silent Alarm. It’s sharp, angular, and danceable. The lyrics are simple without being repetitive and cryptic without being meaningless — a quality that Okereke hasn’t been able to achieve since. The opening declaration — “It’s so cold in this house” — is as grandiose or as personal as the listener chooses to interpret it; the song is about anything from British society under Tony Blair to a bad breakup — it’s the ambiguity that makes it great.

It’s been frustrating to watch Bloc Party fail to live up to Silent Alarm’s promise, but if nothing else, I’ll always have “Like Eating Glass’” four and a half minutes of indie dance rock perfection. – Bureau Contributing Writer Tim Lehman

Four years later, Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.” sounds as fresh as it did the day it first aired. The production is slick yet sparse, giving room for a hip-shaking bass line (maybe one of the best since “Billie Jean”), a surprising acoustic guitar progression, a pitch-perfect rap part from De La Soul, and Damon Albarn’s “shuba shubadah,” delivered with haunted nonchalance.

The song sounds kind of like a mash up. Production from Danger Mouse, hot off releasing mash up masterpiece The Grey Album, might explain that. “Feel Good” accomplishes what’s often the goal of mash ups — to take seemingly dissimilar parts and creates something entirely new — but with entirely original material. But whereas the highs of mash ups come from familiar riffs and choruses embedded beneath a rap track, “Feel Good Inc.” makes the unexpected feel comfortable and assured. Excuse the tired use of the phrase “better than the sum of its parts,” but if “Feel Good Inc.” was sewn together like pop music’s version of Frankenstein, the song’s stitches are nearly invisible. It’s an unashamedly cool monster. – Bureau Editor Kevin Nguyen

Like a senile old person, I’ll choose to only remember the “good ole’ days” of Against Me!. That period was 2001-2002, when the band released two EPs (The Acoustic EP and Crime) and their first full-length album, Against Me! is Reinventing Axl Rose. “What We Worker For” appeared only on Crime, which surprises me because it is their best work.

The song begins with the band’s characteristic obsession of revolutionary freedom-making (“I lost the confidence to write a song/ so I found three simple chords and I held them together with my weak voice”) and soon gains the self-assurance to diss on their predecessors (“May Elvis turn in his grave and Les Paul curse my dirty calloused fingers”). When I first listened to this song, in the grips of teenage existential distress, “What We Worked For” held the promise of authenticity which seemed absent in the music of the time since the rise of pop icons engineered for mass appeal. The song holds a particular, unnamed hope (“It’s more than the actions you know it’s safe to make/ It’s more than money could ever buy”) for those that would follow the band’s ideal of freedom. It is true that complete freedom brings poverty, but Against Me! is obsessed with realness (before that phrase was popular) and ultimately the ideal wins out (“may the likes of this song never make one fucking dollar / leave it for a demo tape to be played until it’s broken /
then remembered only for what it was…”). – Bureau Writer Jordan Barber

Not only was High School Musical 3 a hit at the box office last fall, but songs from the past three films have dominated iTunes most-purchased list for the past half-decade. Of course, popularity alone isn’t reason to name a song best of the decade, but it is a little compelling, you must admit. Of course, there are multiple reasons “Breaking Free” from HSM (the first) is the best tune of the aughts. The first film was made on a reasonable budget as your run of the mill made-for-TV Disney flick. When it got rave reviews, Disney didn’t really know what to do besides play it more. As time went on, however, they realized fans were clamoring for a soundtrack, for a DVD set, for backpacks and pencils and HSM candy!

So, the first High School Musical has some of the only music I can think of that was demanded exponentially more than it was marketed. This, frankly, astounds me because the plot is stupid and the dialogue sucks. But, that goes to show even more how catchy and fun the music really is. Although show-stopper “Breaking Free” isn’t anything incredibly innovative — it’s a kind of music we haven’t had much of in the past twenty years. Musicals used to be laced into our every day films and media, but since Footloose they have seemed lame (I blame Kevin Bacon).

The point is, every once and a while, even if they are cheesy, it’s feels good to sing along to something with exciting tempo changes, beautifully trained boy and girl voices hitting the high notes, and a dramatic key change right at the end. Chicago made a brief appearance in 2002, but we basically hit a dry spell with musicals until 2005. Even kids’ movies were phasing out songs. Now we’ve seen RENT, Sweeney Todd, Mamma Mia, and Hairspray come into the picture. High School Musical preceded them all. Coincidence? The truth is, we have been hungering for performing arts because we are now a society that desperately wants to stimulate the economy without harming the environment. How else do we spend money without buying into consumerism and waste? That said, “Breaking Free” is not only one of the most toe-tapping numbers of the century so far, it might be saving the century to come. – Bureau Contributing Writer Alice Stanley