40: Broken Social Scene – Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl (2002)
Though they released Feel Good Lost the year before, Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It in People felt like our actual introduction to the band. Full to bursting, with 15 people playing together, this was an album that could have filled every nook and cranny with noise, but—and this is the miraculous part—the album maintains a preternatural balance between patience (“Looks Just Like the Sun”) and being bombastic (“Almost Crimes”). Smack dab in the middle of the album, though, there’s a revelation: “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.”
“Anthems,” the most unassuming track People has to offer, is built around repetition. Anyone who was a teenager at the time knows that repetition too well: “Park that car/ Drop that phone/ Sleep on the floor/ Dream about me”. It feels as much a gentle song lyric as it does a to-do list, or an oblique note written by someone aware of the Groundhog Day-like drudgery of everyday life. If that sounds overdramatic to you, keep in mind this is the anthem of a 17-year-old.
Despite the multitudes contained within Broken Social Scene, Metric’s Emily Haines is perhaps the most qualified party to deliver this song. Vocals on Broken Social Scene songs are rarely ever clear, but there’s a warmth to the tape-like quality of the song’s vocal track. It gives Haines’ cooed lyrics a hazy quality, and in moments, you can feel what the song’s protagonist is feeling. There’s a tenderness contained within that first repetition: “Used to be one of the rotten ones/ And I liked you for that/ Now you’re all gone, got your makeup on/ And you’re not coming back.” After repeating this a couple times she adds in a mumbled plea: “Please come back?”
It’s a rudimentary portrait of loss, but it’s up to the listener to decide who has been lost: a friend or the person the singer used to be. Whomever the “You” that formerly rotten one was remains a mystery, but whoever it was, there’s no question that they’re deserving of the softly plodding drum beat and swelling string section. “Anthems” may be a minor sonic outlier on You Forgot It in People, and it may not utilize the band’s extreme headcount, but it’s a near-perfect anthem for a band that has trafficked so effortlessly in songs that could be anthems for everybody. – Hollister Dixon
39: Radiohead – Everything in its Right Place (2000)
In 2000, everyone wanted Radiohead to be the saviors of meaningful rock music, and Radiohead wanted to be anything but that. So, they didn’t save rock. Instead, they confounded and shocked listeners with an impressionistic album that relied on electronic sounds and textures instead of using them as added flourishes. At points, Kid A is barely a rock album as fans understood it back then, and “Everything in its Right Place” is about as far as Radiohead got from a rock song at the time.
There are no guitars on “Right Place”; hell, there aren’t even organic instruments on the song. It owes quite a bit to experimental electronic pioneers old and new, from Kraftwerk to Aphex Twin, but where Radiohead succeed on “Right Place” is not in wholly untethered innovation, but in introducing new sounds and exciting musical possibilities to an audience that would never have explored them otherwise.
As the opener of an album that found Radiohead ripping everything up and starting from scratch, “Right Place” does the trick. There’s a jittery sense of unease that colors Thom Yorke’s voice, which is looped and fed through various effects to create an even more dizzying experience. The lyrics are nonsense on the surface, but Yorke’s urgency and the concluding line of “What was that you tried to say?” after minutes of sucking lemons and choosing between two colors imply an inability to communicate. The mere act of attempting to express one’s feelings isn’t enough here, and it’s only accentuated by the discordant arrangement of synth sounds that are initially chaotic before settling to a calm finale. In the end, everything is in its right place, even though it’s painfully obvious that Yorke’s speaker is only barely holding things together. It’s a powerful, jaw-dropping statement from the band, and they didn’t even have to pick up a guitar. – Kevin Korber
38: Amy Winehouse – Valerie (2007)
When Dave McCabe and his band, the Liverpudlian Zutons, scored a top-ten hit with “Valerie” in 2006, he never could have imagined how far his composition would go. Throughout her short lived yet influential career, Amy Winehouse adopted soul, motown, reggae, girl group, doo wop and R&B, though she rarely acknowledged the then-bludgeoning British Indie rock scene in any musical sense. However, there was something about “Valerie” that proved to be undeniable to Winehouse, and she was humming along to the tune throughout her own tumultuous 2006 — the year her sophomore album, Back to Black, was conquering the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Riding high on his own Back to Black success, the album’s main producer, Mark Ronson, was collecting an album of oddball covers for his own album, Version. Encouraged by Ronson to pick a modern song to contribute to the album, Winehouse couldn’t shake “Valerie” out of her head. “To be honest, the first time I heard the song I was like, ‘Uh. . . OK.’…but she knew what a great song it was,” stated Mark Ronson, adding, “those chords spoke to her.” While Ronson couldn’t hear it, Winehouse knew she was hitting on something special.
In her first iteration, Winehouse dropped by the BBC Live Lounge, providing a stripped down take with only a guitar, shakers and backing vocalists. Winehouse’s rendition for Version is more in line with the source material, retaining the original’s horn-drive arrangement while stripping away its chugging guitars in favor of a bouncy, strutting groove and yearning orchestral flourishes. However, the best interpretation, and Amy’s personal favorite, was titled “‘68 version,” a less polished reading who’s tempo finds a middle ground between Ronson and the BBC. All three sound essential, a personal quest by Winehouse to extract the true sound of “Valerie.”
Winehouse’s captivating voice is the main draw, all smoky sensuality and joyful exuberance. Despite her ups and downs, Winehouse always sounded exhilarated when she sang. Due to her untimely death, “Valerie” stands as the last solo single Winehouse recorded. It peaked at #2 in the UK charts, spending a total of 73 weeks as both a single from Ronson’s Version and the deluxe edition of Back to Black, and stands as her most successful single other than “Rehab.” While The Zutons’ original sounds like the 2006 hit it was, Winehouse turned the song into a timeless classic. – Edward Dunbar
37: Spoon – The Underdog (2007)
Don’t pretend you don’t know “The Underdog.” Even if you don’t know that you know it, you still do. Unless you’ve been in an “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” or Room situation, you’ve encountered this song at least once in the last decade—on the radio, in Cloverfield, in I Love You, Man or in Horrible Bosses. This very year, the song was the opener in Spiderman: Homecoming. Spoon have gotten very good at making songs that grab the public at large for at least a few moments—we’re 12 years removed from “I Turn My Camera On” but if you listen to any alternative radio station for an afternoon you’re bound to hear it eventually. But even with these standards, with “The Underdog” they really grabbed something special.
Everything about the song—the horns, the staccato riff after the chorus, the way Britt Daniel yells “Right?!” at the very end—is made to corkscrew its way into your mind. Producer Jon Brion has always brought an impeccable polish to other people’s work, and “The Underdog” is no different. The other songs on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga sometimes approach the type of gloss that coats this song, but they never match it. Don’t think any of this is meant to be derogatory; the tissue-thin layer of grime elsewhere on the album is just as much of an asset to “Don’t Make Me a Target” as the infectious brightness of “The Underdog.”
Like the best of Daniel’s songs, “The Underdog” is a lyrically simple and charming one. While it isn’t the best in his catalog, it’s hard to argue with lines like “I wanna forget how conviction fits/ But can I get out from under it?” or the biting “There’s so much you can learn, but you don’t wanna know”. It’s a jangly clarion call for every record exec and promoter and disenfranchised A&R rep to watch their backs and pay attention to the little guys. The Keven McAlester-directed video takes this a step further, as we literally watch the back of a faceless suit stalking the studio as Spoon plays the song, with loving shots of session players and engineers at work. Spoon are rarely subtle, but with “The Underdog,” they made great use of every inch of their bombast. – Hollister Dixon
36: Amy Winehouse- Rehab (2006)
“Rehab” was a darkly boozy romp when it was released in 2006. In the wake of Amy Winehouse’s passing, it became depressingly prophetic. But even beyond Winehouse herself, “Rehab” was an utterly strange cultural touchstone for the ‘00s, and a damn fine song to boot.
It’s hard to imagine Adele’s own ascent to world domination or Florence Welch’s fiery rock-god performance without Winehouse’s ubiquity and triumph. That was just the sort of charisma that oozed from Winehouse’s sultry alto. It was playful, swagger-filled and bullshit-less. She further emphasized the darkness that was always in classic soul and R&B records, but perhaps giving it an even catchier coating. Her idols mentioned in the song, Ray Charles and Donnie Hathaway, certainly weren’t above sneaking their own sins into a smooth tune.
And this was also the song that put Mark Ronson on the map, thanks to his punctual, crafty brass section. His tight touch on “Rehab” would eventually grab the ears of Queens of the Stone Age and influence The Arctic Monkeys’ shift from gawky rockers to leather-clad rave-up artists. But, of course, it all comes back to Winehouse.
“Rehab” was allegedly based on her experience of walking into a clinic and explaining, “That I drink because I am in love and have screwed up the relationship. Then I walked out.” And it was that ballsy self-destruction that she captured perfectly on record. That “no-no-oh” was right there with Rihanna’s “ella, ella, ella” as the decade’s finest syllable mangling. And though it’s been covered to death in the years since, with Seether and Hot Chip taking a turn, no one would ever deliver “Rehab” with the same stumbling confidence.
The song has a complicated legacy at this point, with Winehouse joining the 27 Club and the public consuming her internal struggles though the filters of the tabloids rather than seeing the help she needed. But still, for three and a half minutes, she channeled every inch of darkness in her into a sublime tune. Surely Ray and Donnie would be proud. – Nathan Stevens