MGF Presents My Top 21 of the 21st (So Far…)

[Editor’s Note: My Top 21 of the 21st (So Far…) is a retrospective feature where our writers were invited to write a list of top 21 favorite songs, albums or anything else music-related, of the new millennium, explaining why it was picked, or what particular significance it has had over the past ten years. (There is an ongoing debate on whether or not 2000 A.D. counts as part this millennium. For sake of argument, we’re going to go ahead and count it. Hey, a lot of good music came out that year, anyway, so suck it up, and enjoy the feature.)]

Hello, Constant Readers. For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Tom Cocozza, and I used to write for this site. As part of this decade-in-review thing, they asked me to come back and write something up, and after nearly letting the deadlines fly by, I submitted this, my Top 21 songs of the 21st Century. Now, these are mine, not yours; but if you don’t agree with me, well… you’re wrong. Just thought I’d get that out of the way now.

Seriously, though, it’s only opinion. If you have your own opinion, or think I’m full of it, feel free to rip me on the boards, or e-mail me and do it to my virtual face, at

First off, some honorable mentions: These are songs that are great, but really don’t belong on anyone’s “decade’s best” list. Well, maybe some of them do…

Trey Parker (as Kanye West) – “Gay Fish” (2009)
This song is funny as all get out, and really, Kanye West needs to get made fun of more.

The Lonely Island (f/Justin Timberlake) – “Dick in a Box” (2006)
Catchy lyrics, a grooving hook, awesome beards and great advice. What else do you want from a song?

Dave Chappelle (as R. Kelly) – “Piss On You” (2003)
It’s been a while, so people may not remember, but holy crud, was this song hysterical. It’s still stuck in my head six years later. The “remix edition of the song about pissin'” is also a must listen.

Tenacious D – “Tribute” (2002)
I was never much of a metal-head, nor did I partake in weed, but man oh man, did Tenacious D make me wish I did. Hysterically funny, catchy, and musically assisted by Dave Grohl, it makes you remember the days when Jack Black was still refreshingly funny.

The Lonely Island (f/T-Pain) – “I’m on a Boat” (2009)
Spot-on satire usually gives up on humor to intensify the skewering, but this song brings the funny in spades, as well as having T-Pain (presumably) in on the joke of making fun of the kind of songs in which he usually participates. Even if you didn’t like this song, chances are your friends did.

And now on to the list!!!

System of a Down – “Chop Suey!” (Toxicity, 2000)
This song came out, and was just radically different than anything else that was on the radio. It took the mundane and made it scary and violent, and then totally threw you with its slower, pleading bridge, before coming to a crescendo of vaguely religious fervor.

Cake – “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” (Comfort Eagle, 2001)
In some ways, this is the Cake-iest Cake song there is. Syncopated spoke-sung lyrics, sprinkled with clear imagery and obtuse metaphors, are backed with a funky backbeat, a catchy hook, and all the vibraslap you can handle. (And for all you dirty-minded folks, yes, the vibraslap is a musical instrument.) This song, while upbeat and cheery, is somehow the opposite of pop music.

Disturbed – “Down With the Sickness” (The Sickness, 2000)
Well, after hearing this song, you can totally understand the name of the band. This song is actually disturbing—especially the unedited version where a child rebels against the parental abuse they received and actually murders their mother. Still, even without that part, the anger is palpable, both in music and lyrics. It’s been used memorably in all sorts of media over the decade, though perhaps nowhere as fitting as the end credits of the remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood” (Gorillaz, 2001)
Shrouded in mystery, at least to their physical appearance (because, well, they’re not a real band, but whatever), Gorillaz burst on to the scene with this mix of electronic-rock and rap. With a catchy hook, lyrics that make you want to immediately go back and re-listen to the song, plus (according to the video) a rapping ghost who lives in the drummer’s head and controls zombie gorillas, there’s little about this song not to like. Oh, it also doesn’t mention Clint Eastwood in the slightest, though it does invoke the them of The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly… in case you were wondering.

Bob Dylan – “Things Have Changed” (Wonder Boys Soundtrack, 2000)
He’s still got it! That’s what I, and millions of others thought, when Bob Dylan came out with this song in the beginning of the decade. It was made for the film Wonder Boys, and manages to work wonderfully with the film in showing just how aimless aging Baby Boomers were feeling at the time. This, seriously, is probably his best song since the ’70s.

Beyoncé (f/Jay-Z) – “Crazy in Love” (Dangerously in Love, 2003)
OK, I have to admit, I’m not crazy about this song, really. But this is it. This is the number that gave Beyoncé the Diana Ross treatment, and made her a super-duper-star, as opposed to being one of the other women that were in Destiny’s Child. Written primarily by producer Rich Harrison—though it uses heavy samples from a Chi-Lites number from the ‘70s—the song’s signature horn number catches in your brain and refuses to let go. Which of course is the intent.

Now I’ve got the damn song stuck in my head.

Bruce Springsteen – “You’re Missing” (The Rising, 2002)
This is simply the clearest, most heart-wrenching song about loss that I can remember in a long time. Simply put, this song will make you want to cry. I don’t recommend listening to it if you’ve recently lost a loved one, unless you need a good cry.

Usher (f/Lil Jon and Ludacris) – “Yeah!” (Confessions, 2004)
Upbeat, catchy, with a great dance groove—and my vote for best guest rap on a pop song ever—this song was omnipresent through the summer of 2004. It brought Lil Jon to the forefront of national consciousness, which may not be a good thing, and exposed white people the world over to the term “crunk”. Who doesn’t want a lady in the street and a freak in the bed, really?

It just occurred to me, if this were made into a mix CD, it would be quite jarring.

Anyways, back to the list!

The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army” (Elephant, 2003)
Most people may think the song “Fell In Love With a Girl” should be on a list like this, being their first single, and one of the songs harkening a return to straight, edgy, rock. Be that as it may, this song tops that one handily, being a better song with a catchier hook, much better lyrics, and a more measured, mature pace. It may not have heralded a return to rock, but it let you know that return wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

The Killers – “All These Things That I’ve Done” (Hot Fuss, 2004)
The Killers came on the scene with “Somebody Told Me”, a catchy song that, well, frankly, I still don’t understand. It seems like it should mean something other than what it means, you know? Anyways, it wasn’t until this song was released that people realized the band was capable of something that had a little more depth to it. The refrain “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” may not actually make sense, but you know what it means when you hear it. The song connects emotionally to the listener, which is a large step up from a song about an androgynous ex, and a threesome gone sour.

Kanye West (f/Jamie Foxx) – “Gold Digger” (Late Registration, 2005)
You have to like a song that features an actor doing an impression of a famous singer for its background vocals. Let’s face it, as much of a total douchebag that Kanye West is, he was one of the biggest artists of the decade, and this hit got some Academy Award cred by having Jamie Foxx totally sell out and pretend to be Ray Charles singing back-up. Still, it’s catchy as hell, with some blistering lyrics to boot. Am I the only one who kind of wishes Kanye West wasn’t so talented, so he would just go away?

Modest Mouse – “Float On” (Good News for People Who Love Bad News, 2004)
It’s rare that you get a rock song that is this fuzzily upbeat, without falling totally into pop-saccharine territory, but indie-rockers Modest Mouse managed the feat with this catchy number. Between the title, lyrics, and music, you get the impression you’re on a cloud, far away from your troubles. I know, I know… that’s almost too sappy. Still, positive, upbeat rock in the era of emo bands that deserve to get kicked in the face… it’s nice.

Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Paul McCartney – “Numb/Encore/Yesterday” (2006)
This was a live performance from the 2006 Grammys, and the esteemed Sir Paul was a surprise guest. The mix of “Numb” and “Encore” was a catchy hit, and an effective blend of rap and nü-metal, (or rap-rock, or however you’d like to describe Linkin Park). Seeing the three artists share the stage, though, elevated the song to something special—a generational, epic sort of thing, really. The performance sounds good, looks good, and makes for something just a little bit historical in the process. It’s really the total package. Check it out on YouTube if you don’t believe me.

Elvis Presley – “A Little Less Conversation” [Junkie XL Remix] (2003)
Earlier in the list, I talked about Bob Dylan, and how he still had it. But no one ever had more juice in the tank than The King, and this remix, thanks to its constant use in Ocean’s Eleven, made Elvis Presley cool to people who liked to dance in boxes—at least that’s what the video told me. Sure, this song is a cheat, as it’s just a remix of a song from the ’60s, but it’s so balls-to-the-wall fun, and Elvis still sings a song better than most anyone else.

Alicia Keys – “Fallin'” (Songs in A Minor, 2001)
Alicia Keys came out with this piano-driven soul song, and let female artists know what real musicians were capable of. Sultry, powerful, and amazing, this song could have come out of Motown or Philly in the ’70s, as it’s just got that kind of classic vibe to it. Great voice, can play piano, good looking—Alicia Keys was the total package, and this song let you know it. Just ignore Smokin’ Aces. It’s better for everyone. Trust me.

OutKast (André 3000) – “Hey Ya!” (Speakboxxx/The Love Below, 2003)
This is the epitome of pop-funk, like something Sly Stone would have come up with had he been producing music today. Upbeat and wistful with a healthy sex drive, this is a party in three minutes. It may not be the heaviest, most meaningful song, but sometimes you just need to cut loose. Of course, the phrase “Shake it like a Polaroid picture”, once wildly original, is now played out, but that’s a testament to the strength and omnipresence of the song.

Johnny Cash – “Hurt” (American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002)
You want to know how good this cover of Nine Inch Nails’ song is? Trent Reznor said, after Johnny Cash released his version, that the song didn’t belong to him anymore. The only other time I can really remember that happening is when Jimi Hendrix covered “All Along the Watchtower”. Anyway, a lifetime of pain, regret, remorse and sorrow are imbedded this song, which starts off stark and builds to a crescendo of anguish that has to be heard to be believed. It was only made stronger by the death of the inimitable (sorry, Joaquin) Mr. Cash around the time of the song’s release; a last great work by an old master.

Coldplay – “The Scientist” (A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2003)
There is something in this song that speaks to people of my generation (I’m 29). It isn’t an expression of our current thoughts and fears, but rather, I’d say, what we’re going to go through in five to ten years. It’s a glimpse at unadulterated adulthood, and what that might emotionally entail, which is basically that people my age have absolutely no idea how we’re supposed to deal with our emotions; only that we’re supposed to be dealing with them. Often times I feel Coldplay is a hokey, pale imitation of U2, but they really struck a chord here.

Eminem – “Lose Yourself” (8 Mile Soundtrack, 2002)
This not only works as a great song (it is), but it’s the best song from a soundtrack this decade. It’s fully evocative of the movie, it’s evocative of the singer (helps that the movie is about the singer, here), and it makes you identify with both of them. If Eminem weren’t already huge, this song would have made him huge, and, as it was, it just took him to a level where people outside the industry considered him a serious performer. I would consider this song basically flawless. It’s just that damn good.

U2 – “Walk On” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)
In the early ‘90’s, U2 released Achtung Baby, which is just one of the best albums ever. Then they pretty much sucked for the rest of the decade. But then they decided that in the ’00s, they would regain their reputation as one of the best bands in the world, and released All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Roughly every song off this album was a huge hit, so good on them. “Walk On”, though, stands out on an album of great songs—it’s spiritual, triumphant, and is cognizant that great music can lift you up when you are low. “Walk On” endeavors, and succeeds, in doing just that. Most artists go their whole careers and don’t write anything so sublime.

Bruce Springsteen – “The Rising” (The Rising, 2002)
Maybe I’m biased because I live in New York City. Maybe I’m biased because Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist ever. Maybe I’m biased because members of my family barely avoided losing their lives on 9/11. But this song, the tale of an emergency worker who goes to the tower, is buried in the collapse, then dies and goes on to heaven, is just the most beautiful, most powerful and best song of the decade. It is soaring, inspiring, soulful, as well as artfully constructed, with a great rock and roll sound provided by (in my fine opine) the best rock and roll band out there, the E Street Band. After 9/11 happened, I was shocked by, frankly, the lack of music made about it. People really began saying that modern artists just felt it was too big to address, that they didn’t have the artistic means. They needed someone who had the credibility and the presence to show them how it was done (Neil Young tried with “Let’s Roll”, a song about the passengers aboard United 93, which was good, but perhaps too specific). But it was when Springsteen released The Rising that people realized that this was what we were feeling as a mourning country, as a country in shock. The title track led the charge, giving us a cathartic feeling of hope that these men and women who sacrificed their lives to try and save others, that their deaths weren’t in vain. This song is so epic, so important and so meaningful even today… well, it’s not coincidence President Obama used it as a campaign song. It’s the number one song of the 21st century, and we’re all the better for it.

That’s my list, hope you liked it. Happy New Year!

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