May 2013

#91 – Britney Spears – “Oops!… I Did It Again” – (2000)

“Oops!” was the title song from Britney’s second album, which was released six months into the new millennium. I guess it was supposed to be a new, grown-up Britney but it really wasn’t. It was more of a transition from teen idol to her, umm, sluttier days. All of it pre-crazy, of course. What I kind of like about this song is it is nearly a mirror to her first single, “…Baby One More Time.” Let’s look at the commonalities. 1: Lead single from an album. 2: Ellipsis. 3: They both start with their own signature pounding notes (“Baby” had three, “Oops” has only two). And don’t forget the friggen title: she’s saying that she’s “doing it again,” with ‘it’ being released a giant pop smash. Then there’s the whole “I’m not that innocent” thing that really is her saying “Hey, stop calling me a princess! I can be nasty! Wait till my next album!” Anyway, I remember watching the Making The Video for this song, so I guess that makes it significant. Plus, Britney was a fixture for the 2000s: in musical ways and in other ways.

#92 – Robert Randolph and the Family Band – “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” – (2006)

Not everybody knows about Robert Randolph and the Family Band. And those of you who don’t – check them out. Seriously. It’s amazing to me that songs as good as this go un-played on American radio. But I’ll stop talking about it before I become one of those annoying YouTube commenters bemoaning the death of good music. This is from their second album. And it’s funky. Robert Randolph is consistently ranked among the top guitarists in the world – and he plays the pedal steel guitar. It’s really cool.

#93 – Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood” – (2001)

Gorillaz is one of the weirdest music acts ever. Why? Because they are a “virtual band.” The music is an always-changing mix of hip-hop, rock and electronica. Weirder still, it was founded by the lead singer of Brit Pop band Blur and a comic book artist. This song features vocals by Damon Albarn (of Blur) with hip-hop vocals supplied by Del the Funkee Homosapien. When this song came out, many people didn’t know what to make it – but many people loved it. The half-creepy cartoon video was everywhere. I have no idea why it’s called “Clint Eastwood” but it became a worldwide smash: #1 in Italy, Norway, and Spain and a top five hit in Austria, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Romania, Switzerland, the UK and the American Modern Rock chart (as well as Europe as a whole).

#94 – Phantom Planet – “California” – (2002)

This rock song but Phantom Planet on the map, albeit briefly. It rocketed to prominence as the theme song to The O.C. – a sort of Beverly Hills 90210 for the 2000s. It was one of those shows (and there were multiple during this period of time) that made Southern California seem like a really great place to live (“ooh it’s so sunny and beach-y” and “everyone has upper-class white people problems”). This song had quite a following among teens who watched the show – and foreigners: it was a top ten hit in the U.K., Austria, Ireland and Italy.

#95 – Method Man & Redman – “Part II” – (2001)

Method Man & Redman – as a duo – are way more entertaining than their personas separately and way more entertaining than either of the groups that they spawned from. How High was a movie they were in back in 2001. A soundtrack was created for the film featuring music from both of them, both separately and together. This was the best part of it. This song samples Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High” – which is an interesting song to sample. Anyway, this is one of my favorite rap songs ever.

#96 – ‘N Sync – “Bye Bye Bye” – (2000)

Remember when boy bands were so big that if they made an appearance on TRL (to premiere a video or just to chart with Carson Daly and his three-finger black nail polish) that the NYC police would have to barricade Times Square in an attempt to contain screaming tween fans? Well this song was about as big as possible in the early part of 2000. It dominated TRL – debuting at #1 and riding the top two spots (in a constant battle with the Backstreet Boys) – falling out of the top two only twice (for weird reasons I won’t explain) before it was “retired.” As was the strange case: TRL success didn’t transfer into chart success. This song peaked at #4 (perhaps a sign that this part of the MTV generation would rather illegally download than buy). No Strings Attached was a huge album but the beginning of the end for the short burst of boy bands in 1998/1999/2000.

#97 – Red Hot Chili Peppers – “The Zephyr Song” – (2002)

I remember everyone being excited when the Chili Peppers released their first album in the 2000s. There’s an effect that big artists get their newest single on the radio with no effort at all. It doesn’t even have to be good. If a popular artist releases trash, it still gets played (I want to call this the “Fun.” Effect). The title song and lead single off this album was trash. This song, however, I’ve always kind of liked. It was single #2 and it barely cracked the top 50 on the Hot 100. But it’s very mellow and nice. It redeems them for the rest of the album.

#98 – Five for Fighting – “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” – (2000)

I don’t want to sound mean, but it’s hard not to make note that a terrorist attack really made the career of John Ondrasik – the guy who uses “Five for Fighting” as his stage name. The album, America Town, was released in the second half of 2000. “Superman” was a single released in April of 2000. It really gathered zero attention – until 9/11 when the song reached near-anthem status surrounding everything happening in New York. The song shot up the charts in the weeks following the attacks (I’m not sure who gave the song its break but it definitely happened). It hit #15 on the Hot 100 and has kind of been an Adult Contemporary staple ever since. I’m not a huge fan, but I recognize its importance as a cultural milestone (that’s right) and I’ve tried to escape this song (and subsequent singles from Ondrasik) but just can’t.

#99 – No Doubt feat. Bounty Killer – “Hey Baby” – (2001)

No Doubt makes this list twice – originally, both for songs from Return of Saturn. I was debating whether or not this was a good thing and realized the song I had here really wasn’t that great so I swapped it out with this one. One thing really blows my mind: Return of Saturn was released on 2000 (April) and it sounded very much like a follow-up to Tragic Kingdom (released in 1995). Or maybe more of an extension – not as good but similar in nature. But only 19 months later (if my math is correct) they released Rock Steady (December of 2001). Holy crap! The two albums could not sound more dissimilar. This was the lead single (released in October of 2001) and since it is past the 9/11 cut-off for the 1990s, it’s definitely in a different decade than anything from Saturn. It features a killer dancehall vibe with guest vocals from Bounty Killer and the video features Gwen at her most stunningly beautiful. Glad I made this switch.

#100 – Pink – “Most Girls” – (2000)

“Most Girls” was a successful single from Pink’s debut album – long before she became trapped in this weird no man’s land between adult contemporary, pop and whatever it is her songs are doing. I do not care for anything she’s done, really, since this album. This was single #2 and it was a top five hit in the U.S. and a #1 in Australia. It was her highest charting single until she hit #1 in 2008. This is back when she had pink hair to match her name. The music video is chock full of embarrassingly awesome turn-of-the-millennia clothing and visuals. A decent way to kick off our countdown.

#101 – Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse – “Valerie” – (2007)

From one incredible vocal to the next. “Valerie” was a song originally released by British indie rock band The Zutons in 2006. Mark Ronson, who is a producer and musician in his own right, covered the song the following year. He asked Amy Winehouse to provide the vocals – my favorite Winehouse performance ever, by the way. Ronson produced some songs for Amy over the years and, how I remember reading it, she agreed to be “featured” on the track as a thank you to Mr. Ronson for his support in helping her become a household name. She doesn’t even appear in the music video as to have done so would’ve put the entire spotlight on her. This was a huge hit in Europe. With all due respect to The Zutons and hipster fans who “liked the original better” – this is better. Recognize brilliance when you hear it.

#102 – Norah Jones – “Chasing Pirates” – (2009)

The lovely Norah Jones is one of the best artists to come out of the 2000s. She was nominated for a Grammy for this song and didn’t win – the first time that had happened in three nominations. Tell me the vocals on this song aren’t incredible (she lost to Lady Gaga at the Grammys, which is a crime). The jazzy feel coupled with the beating drum gives this song a really cool vibe that you usually don’t find in a song that crosses genres such as pop and jazz. The song wasn’t a huge hit – a top ten in two countries and top 50 in many others. The U.S., of course, while being obsesses with Lady Gaga, really wouldn’t know good music if it ran them over. This song didn’t chart here. Another crime.

Well I’m wasting no time in starting our next countdown: the Top 100 Songs of the Noughties. The 100 greatest songs released between 2000 and 2009. I chose to call it “the noughties” because that is my favorite name for the decade and the “00s” looks dumb and isn’t as fun to say. Now, in previous countdowns I’ve instituted rules such as “one song per artist.” That’s not the case this time around. And I know the theme of this blog is “re-discover songs from your past” and 2009 wasn’t all that long ago. But the entire decade has ended (were in the 4th year of the next decade, if I may scare you a little). Enough time has passed to sort through the music and find what I thought was the best – and that’s just it. It’s my opinion. You probably won’t agree, but at least you’ll get an insight into my warped mind. But seriously, I will try and make an argument as to why each song is here.

Also, you may notice a slight favoring of songs from the year 2000 and early 2001. This is because I love the 1990s and the 1990s didn’t end until 9/11. Think about it. They didn’t. At least not musically (okay, 2001 was pretty different from 2000, which was just an extension of 1999). There is also a favoring of later in the decade with the middle part getting skimmed over. Because it sucked. Almost all of these songs got regular radio airplay on pop music stations (with very few, and worthy, exceptions). The two songs I feature this week were “leftovers” – songs I don’t remember hearing on the radio that I personally discovered after the decade had ended. Here we go…

Richard Grey and Nari & Milani feat. Alexandra Prince – “Mas Que Nada (Bimbo Jones Remix)” – (2012)

Long enough artist/song combo for you? This is the song I began every summer afternoon when I went swimming last year. The song is glorious. “Mas Que Nada” is a Brazilian song with near-anthem status that was first recorded in 1963 and made famous a few years later by Sergio Mendes. It has been covered and sampled to death but this is the primo version as far as I am concerned. The lyrics are gentle and extremely Brazilian and the music is the perfect complement. This is the final song I’m doing with “Songs for Summer 2013” and it is the best. Whenever I think of it I will always picture clear-blue water and, even though I’ve never been yet to go there, it will remind me of a bright Brazilian beach full of beautiful women (see video). It’s only 60 degrees today as I write this – but come one, 85 and sunny. I’m ready for summer!

Mayra Veronica – “Ay Mama Mia (Dave Aude Radio Edit)” – (2013)

This is the second to last Song for Summer 2013 – and the newest. It might even be the only song from 2013 on the list. (P.S., I’ve saved my five very favorites for this week with the absolute best coming tomorrow). This was a #1 only a few weeks ago on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play chart. Also notice, I’ve featured the Dave Aude Radio Edit – the version for which a music video was made. I think there is an original version and I don’t think it’s great. Just checked and I was right. It’s not good. This just has a pumping beat and I listened to it non-stop when it first came out. It’s very Spanish-club sounding. Which counts positively for summer-y-ness. Oh, and if you’ve never heard of Mayra Veronica (there’s an accent on the “o” but I’m too lazy to find it) is a Cuban-born American model/singer.

Gabry Ponte feat. Pitbull & Sophia del Carmen – “Beat On My Drum” – (2012)

Gabry Ponte is an Italian DJ and was part of Eiffel 65 (so his cred obviously check out). Pitbull is an American rapper who would like you to think he was raised on the streets of Havana. He is also featured in every song ever. Sophia del Carmen is a half–Costa Rican half –Guatemalan singer who hasn’t made to many waves internationally. But her Spanish vocals in this song (and their oh-so-subtle innuendos) are pretty good. And I have to admit, Pitbull’s rap is quite awesome. Especially with this beat – which I always picture as some guy (Ponte, presumably) pounding back and forth on a set of bongos. He must’ve had fun with the drum mixer when making this song. Oh yeah, and there’s brass to boot. Good stuff.

Kaoma – “Lambada” – (1989)

We’ve talked about this song previously – in 2010 and 2011 it began to be sampled right and left, first prominently by Jennifer Lopez and then much more successfully by Don Omar. However, this song itself samples earlier songs. Well start with the 1981 song “Llorando se fue” by Los Kjarkas. It’s a Bolivian folk song and the source of the hypnotically tropic melody that is the core of this song and everything this song has been sampled into. More specifically, this song is a cover mix of two songs that both were versions of that 1981 tune: “Lloradno se fue” by Cuarteto Continental, a Peruvian group that turned the folk songs into an upbeat song that uses the accordion; and “Chorando se fiu” – a vocal track in Portuguese by Marcia Ferreira. The history of all these things is more complicated (lawsuits, other performers, etc.) but what remains is that “Lambada” is a timeless track from a French pop group that used a Brazilian vocalist for the Portuguese vocals. The music video was shot in Bahia, Brazil (one of the world’s most beautiful places) and stars Chico and Roberta – a then-child dance duo who have a tribute to them in the music video for Don Omar’s song we feature a week or two ago. This song was a #1 hit in 11 European countries plus a #1 on the European chart as a whole. It was a top 15 track in Japan, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Only the cold United States barely let it into the top 50, with frigid Canada shutting it out to #78. Summer songs barely get better than this.

No Doubt feat. Busy Signal & Major Lazer – “Push and Shove” – (2012)

This is the greatest No Doubt song in quite some time. Listen to the bouncing brass! I cannot explain why this wasn’t the comeback single from the album that shares its name with this song – it hasn’t even officially been released as a single at all! That’s a crime because “Push and Shove” harkens back to the band’s ska roots better than any single they’ve had in longer than I care to remember. It’s pure No Doubt – killer vocals from Gwen and a rockin’ beat from the band. Plus, it features Major Lazer (of the reggae fusion scene) and Busy Signal, whose reggae raps (that is a horrible, old person term) pretty much just kill it. This is the kind of upbeat reggae-esque song that is perfect for outdoor summer parties. Listen to it!

Tim Tim – “Rum ‘N’ Coca Cola (Shake it Up Well)” – (2007)

What a cool track this one is. Who samples The Andrews Sisters? No one. The Andrews Sisters took this track to #1… in 1945. Well in 2007, Austrian reggae band Tim Tim remixed that song into this delightful and fun track that is guaranteed to make you want to dance. I know, it sounds like I’m being paid to sell this song – but I’m not. It’s just that bouncy that you can’t help but move when you hear it. And whatever female (non-Andrews Sister) is singing in whatever language that is (sounds French) has one of the sultriest voices I’ve ever heard. Give this a listen and thank me later.

Nas & Damian Marley – “Count Your Blessings” – (2010)

Nas & Damian Marley’s 2010 collaborative album is pretty cool. And it’s pretty good – and I’ve never (and still am not) a fan of Nas – at all. But Damian Marley has the ultimate “rasta voice” and can make anything sound awesome. But in listening to the entire album, I came across this track and fell in love with it. It’s hands-down the finest effort on the entire CD. It’s a song with a message but it’s not overbearing. This was one of my absolute favorite songs to blare while I was in the pool last summer.

Samim – “Heater” – (2007)

“Heater” is a good title for a song about summer, no? The genre of this song is definitely “house music” and I know I promised last week that there wouldn’t be any more straight-up house tracks on this countdown, but I have an out here: this song was a major crossover hit in Europe – a top ten in Belgium and the Netherlands and a top 20 hit in Finland and the U.K. It’s über-catchy and the accordion in the song will always make it stand out in my head.