I decided that attempting to compile any objective sort of list of the ‘best songs of the decade’ was was ultimately a futile effort, so instead you get this – a vague attempt to recount the songs that not only are great tunes (well, mostly), but in many cases have also had some personal relevance to my life. I’m going to list them year-by-year, so you’ll have to excuse the inevitable fragmentation of my own personal chronology, as I didn’t ‘get into’ many of these songs until years after they were released.
And yes, I’m aware that by this time ‘End of Decade’ lists are “so last decade”, but never mind.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Do Me A Favour’ – (Favourite Worst Nightmare)
Not only did ‘Do Me A Favour’ contain a pounding, almost tribal drumbeat, an infectious bass hook and lashings of atmospheric guitar, it also yet again showcased Alex Turner’s lyrical talent. It takes a certain something to come up with a line like “And to tear apart the ties that bind/perhaps fuck off might be too kind” – perfectly encapsulating the kind of situation you hope you never have to be in, whilst simultaneously making you wish for an opportunity to use the latter half of it as a bitter kiss-off. For me, this was the standout track on Favourite Worst Nightmare – and considering the overall quality of Arctic Monkeys’ second album, that’s saying something.
Battles – ‘Atlas’ – (Mirrored)
‘Atlas’ is pretty much a seven-minute summation of the genius of Battles. Jagged guitars, warped vocals and bursts of electronic noise are all underpinned by the biggest, bounciest drumbeat heard all decade to create one of the most maddeningly, brilliantly relentless tracks ever. I’m sure a lot of people couldn’t get past the smurf-like vocal hook, or simply just don’t ‘get’ Battles – but for me, hearing this is still as much of a raw thrill for me now as it was two years ago. Up there with ‘Idioteque’ in my hypothetical ‘definitive list’ of the best tracks of the decade.
Cardboard Radio – ‘Last Week’s Town’ – (Cardboard Radio LP)
It might seem odd to include a song by a local band who gained very little national exposure, but I’ve yet to find a song that encapsulates my own personal resentment for my hometown as well as ‘Last Week’s Town’. “I’m sick of hanging round in this town/With the pretence we’re keeping it real” is surely a sentiment that many people – from York or otherwise – can relate to.
GoodBooks – ‘The Illness’ – (Control)
The indie-disco anthem that never was from one of the decade’s most criminally overlooked bands. This sparkling electro-pop gem should have propelled GoodBooks to great heights – instead, the band would never even get to release their second record, leaving only their brilliant debut album as a reminder of what could have been. Curse you, music industry, and curse you too, fickle record-buying public!
Hadouken! – ‘That Boy That Girl’ – (Single)
There’s a reason I’ve cited the single release from 2007 rather than this song’s eventual inclusion on 2008’s Music For An Accelerated Culture – because it sounded far more fresh and vital at the beginning of 2007 than it did over a year later, packaged as part of a decidedly ‘meh’ debut effort. The band’s zeitgeist-skewering wit and infectious energy have rarely been as potent as they were here.
LCD Soundsystem – ‘All My Friends’ – (Sound Of Silver)
While spending New Year’s Eve 2007 in York with some friends, I recall managing to lose everyone else whilst heading to The Minster to see in the new year. I stuck this on my iPod, and as I wandered around, vaguely searching for people and taking in the celebratory atmosphere, I couldn’t help but smile when James Murphy asked “where are your friends tonight?”
It didn’t matter.
M.I.A. – Paper Planes – (Kala)
I could try to come up with some intellectual or intelligent reasons as to why I like this song, but what I’m actually going to say is ALL I WANNA DO IS *BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM* AND-A *KAH-CHING!* AND TAKE YOUR MONEY!
PJ Harvey – ‘Silence’ – (White Chalk)
By this point in her career it was already well established that PJ Harvey was in possession of a great voice, but White Chalk thrust it into the spotlight more than ever. Having basically learned the instrument from scratch for the album, her piano playing has a simple beauty about it – and crucially, it really allows her voice to shine. For me, this was most spine-tinglingly realised on ‘Silence’ – just listen to this live version of the track and you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about.
Radiohead – ‘Videotape’ – (In Rainbows)
Prior to seeing Radiohead live, I didn’t really ‘get’ In Rainbows – apart from this song. ‘Videotape’ is, quite simply, one of the most poignant, touching things Radiohead have ever done. A plaintive piano ballad with subtle electronic accompaniment, it’s a showcase for Thom Yorke’s unique voice and lyrical talent. Amazingly affecting – one of those songs that I’d secretly love to cover but dare not even try for fear that I’d ruin it for both myself and everyone else involved.
Crystal Castles – ‘Vanished’ – (Crystal Castles)
Can a synthesiser sound lonely? Crystal Castles certainly managed to capture that feeling here, with what basically sounds like a Pong machine in an echo chamber. The reverberating notes give the track a sense of space – and the feeling of isolation and emptiness is created by the fact that the only other things occupying said space are a minimal beat and choppy vocals. Absolutely masterful.
George Pringle – ‘We Could Have Been Heroes’ – (Poor EP, Poor EP Without A Name…)
George Pringle basically represents the logical conclusion of my love of spoken word sections, being, as she is, a spoken word artist. But that doesn’t mean she’s dull – far from it in fact, I find her absolutely engaging, riveting even. Whether or not you can actually relate to what she’s saying or just kinda wish that you could, she has the ability to leave you hanging on every word she says. Her Garageband-crafted instrumental backings are also worthy of mention. They’re often as crucial to the atmosphere of a song as the words themselves – and yet they never get in the way of them either.
Johnny Foreigner – ‘Salt, Peppa And Spinderalla’ – (Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light)
For me, it’s difficult to pick just one song from Johnny Foreigner’s debut full-length. In the end, however, I went with ‘Salt, Peppa And Spinderalla’ for one simple reason – the massive euphoria created by the song’s tension-and-release structure is perfectly centred around one sublime moment:
“Bring out the real fun; turn on the real drums.”
The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Age Of The Understatement’ – (The Age Of The Understatement)
‘The Age Of The Understatement’ saw The Last Shadow Puppets establish themselves as a band with ‘cinematic’ written all over them. The song basically sounds like the best James Bond theme tune that was never actually used for a Bond film – suggesting that the producers should draft Alex Turner and Miles Kane in to write the next one, or even call the next movie The Age Of The Understatement so they could just pinch this instead. But if the comparison to Bond themes has put you off, here’s an equation for you instead: Alex Turner + Miles Kane + a symphony orchestra + guitars that sound like The Coral + the drums from ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ = bloody brilliant.
Late Of The Pier – ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ – (Fantasy Black Channel)
‘Bathroom Gurgle’, in contrast with Fantasy Black Channel’s more brilliantly ridiculous moments, is simply an utterly sublime synth pop song. From the squelchy opening hooks to the infectious vocal hooks (“Find yourself a new boy!”), to the fact that it breaks down into a completely different song halfway through, it is pure genius. End of.
Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing! – (Hold On Now, Youngster…)
I could have put this in 2007, as that’s when I first heard this song – but this entry not only represents the individual brilliance of ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, but of Hold On Now, Youngster… as a whole. Los Campesinos! are only matched for abundant, noisy exuberance and sheer lyrical relatability by Johnny Foreigner, so it’s no surprise that I gush like a fanboy about both bands. Oh, and yeah, there’s a bloody ace spoken word section at the end.
Los Campesinos! – ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ – (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed)
Because, well, if you release two outstanding albums within the space of a year, you kinda deserve two spots on my list. And really, how could I not include a song that so perfectly encapsulates the frustration, the uncertainty, the pain, the negativity, and the sheer desperation (“OH WE KID OURSELVES THERE’S FUTURE IN THE FUCKING/BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE!”) that being in a long distance relationship can cause?
Bat For Lashes – ‘Two Planets’ – (Two Suns)
This is the kind of song that can lend an instant sense of cinema to any moment – running through rainy city streets, travelling through hills on country roads, exploring an unfamilar town at night, watching a beautiful sunset. There’s always something about ‘Two Planets’ that makes it feel like a perfect soundtrack – be it the pounding, echoy drums, the otherworldly synths, or simply Natasha Khan’s wonderful voice.
The Big Pink – ‘Velvet’ – (A Brief History Of Love)
Hyped-up they may have been, but with songs like this The Big Pink arguably deserve it. Not only is ‘Velvet’ an epic, noisy shoegaze anthem that washes over you in a wave of sound, it also poignantly talks of disillusionment with love . “These arms of mine don’t mind who they hold/so should I maybe just leave love alone?” goes the chorus lyric – and I’m sure that a hell of a lot of people can relate to that last part in particular. What makes ‘Velvet’ truly great, however, is the fact that the sheer noise of the track acts as a catharsis to the troubled subject matter – there’s just something liberating about it all. Listen to this and let it blast away your troubles for four minutes.
Grammatics – ‘Broken Wing’ – (Grammatics)
Again, this arguably belongs in 2007 as that’s when it first came out (as a B-side to the original ‘Shadow Committee’ 7″) and it was certainly relevant at that time too. But given the personal nature of this list, ‘Broken Wing’ still gets the nod over other, equally worthy Grammatics songs because of its heartstring-tugging portrayal of a long distance relationship – starting out sparse and plaintive, and then suddenly bursting into a sweeping epic halfway through. Still sounds as tragically beautiful as the first time I heard it.
Fever Ray – ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ – (Fever Ray)
I’ve already gushed about how Karin Dreijer Andersson’s debut record as Fever Ray is an atmospheric masterpiece, and ‘Keep The Streets Empty For Me’ represents the album at its absolute zenith. With ominous synths and ghostly pan-pipes underpinned by an echoing drumbeat and a quietly strummed guitar, the song creates an almost tangible feeling of a bleak, empty landscape. The only thing cutting through this darkness is Karin’s distinctive voice – and yet, she wishes to cling on to her loneliness, to make it her own… “Morning, keep the streets empty for me.” Utterly mesmerising and stunningly beautiful.
The Horrors – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ – (Primary Colours)
I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again – ‘Sea Within A Sea’ represents just how far The Horrors had come since their debut album. No-one was expecting an 8-minute, slow-burning but incessant soundscape from a band previously best known for snarling garage-punk nuggets. It was a giant ‘fuck you’ to their critics, many of whom I’m sure were quick to jump on the gushing bandwagon of praise that followed the release of Primary Colours. And you know what? The band deserved every word of praise flung their way. I can only hope that their next record turns out to be just as exciting.