Music is very subjective, and every single one of us likes or dislikes songs for our own particular reasons and biases. I’m a huge fan of melodic and alternative rock, so my picks for the best songs of the first decade of the 21st Century are going to reflect that. Coldplay, one of my favorite bands of all time, has six songs on this list, as does another favorite, Incubus. Green Day and Weezer, two bands I also love, have four each, and Linkin Park, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys have three. I’m sure that no one will completely agree with my selections, though I hope readers will find this list interesting and agree with at least some of them, and comments are welcome.
I’ve included videos for each song, some of which are embedded into the body of this post. The rest are provided as links you can click on to listen to the songs.
100. CHASING PAVEMENTS – Adele
“Chasing Pavements,” from British singer/songwriter Adele’s debut album 19, was inspired by an incident she had with a former boyfriend of six months, according to an interview she did with Rolling Stone. After learning he had cheated on her, she went to the bar he was at and punched him in the face. After being thrown out, Adele walked down the street alone and thought to herself, “What is it you’re chasing? You’re chasing an empty pavement.” She came up with the lyrics then and there, sang and recorded it on her mobile phone, and arranged the chords when she got home. With her first hit, Adele proved what an incredible voice she had, and it was only a matter of time that she would explode onto the music scene with her monumental album 21, which would become one of the greatest selling albums of all-time.
99. BEATING MY HEART – Jon McLaughlin
“Beating My Heart” by American pop-rock singer/songwriter Jon McLaughlin, is a really great, underrated song. The song received a glowing review from Billboard Editor Chuck Taylor, who wrote that the song “…is a joyous uptempo romantic romp, featuring hook after hook, from tinkling piano to driving percussion and a start-and-stop bridge, alongside a joyous effortless vocal that soars with falsetto to the high heavens.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
98. WISH YOU WERE HERE – Incubus
The sixth song from Incubus on this list, “Wish You Were Here” is basically about being happy living for the moment and not looking forward to the future as some event, according to band member Mike Einziger. Lead vocalist Brandon Boyd stated that “the song wasn’t specifically about a person. It was about me acknowledging a very brief moment in my life and my experience with all of these guys in making this record. In that moment, I wish that I had somebody to go, ‘I love you, man.’ I was wishing that there was someone there to share that moment with.” Musically, the song features crunchy guitars, moderately heavy percussion and recurrent dj scratching.
97. PORK AND BEANS – Weezer
Rivers Cuomo wrote “Pork and Beans” after meeting with Geffen executives, who told Weezer that they needed to record more commercial material. Cuomo remarked, “I came out of it pretty angry. But ironically, it inspired me to write another song.” The many references to popular culture in the song were described as a “statement of defiance” according to Internet reviewer David Ritter, that explores what it means to be an aging band in the music business. The song is about being yourself and happy with who you are. The lyrics also make reference to Timbaland with the line “Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the chart.” “Pork and Beans” spent 11 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart.
96. BROTHERS ON A HOTEL BED – Death Cab For Cutie
A mellow, bittersweet song by alt-rock band Death Cab For Cutie, “Brothers On a Hotel Bed” is about someone telling a loved one that, over time, as he grows older his looks will fade, and they will grow more distant and even possibly out of love: “You may tire of me as our December sun is setting, ’cause I’m not who I used to be. No longer easy on the eyes, these wrinkles masterfully disguise the youthful boy below.” Their relationship will be like two brothers on a hotel bed, who lay on opposite sides not facing each other nor touching. As on all their songs, Ben Gibbard’s vocals are sublime; he sings the poignant lyrics with a soothing calmness that borders on melancholy, though not depressing.
95. ALREADY GONE – Kelly Clarkson
Another beautiful but sorrowful song about a failed relationship, “Already Gone” is one of Kelly Clarkson’s best, and really showcases her impressive vocal abilities. The song was written for Clarkson by OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, and features lush orchestration and Clarkson’s soaring vocals.
94. HERE WITHOUT YOU – 3 Doors Down
The second song from 3 Doors Down on my list, “Here Without You” is a decidedly more ballad-type song than their typical post-grunge rock format. Still, it’s a really moving song about missing a loved one, and became popular during the Iraq War as an anthem for deployed troops and their families and friends back home.
93. SOMETIME AROUND MIDNIGHT – Airborne Toxic Event
One of the most emotionally wrought songs on this list, “Sometime Around Midnight” was written by lead singer Mikel Jollett after he saw a former girlfriend while out at a bar with the rest of the band. Seeing her made him realize that he still loved her, and a band member remarked that Jollett looked like he’d seen a ghost. The song opens with soaring violin, almost like the beginning of a classical symphony, then shifts to a gentle guitar riff. It gradually builds in intensity as percussion, more forceful guitar and strings are added, eventually reaching a bombastic crescendo, accompanied by Jollett’s heart-wrenching vocals, and ends with him spent, with a repeat of the gentle riff.
92. THE KILL (BURY ME) – 30 Seconds to Mars
“The Kill (Bury Me) is a powerfully compelling song from alternative rock band 30 Seconds to Mars second album A Beautiful Lie. Lead singer Jared Leto described its meaning as being about a relationship with yourself, about confronting your fear and the truth about who you are. The guitar riffs and music production are first-rate and Leto’s ear-splitting vocals are – no pun intended – killer.
91. ANNA MOLLY – Incubus
“Anna Molly” (pronounced like “anomaly” in the song) is from Incubus’s sixth album, Light Grenades. The song’s title is a play on the word “anomaly”, and obliquely describes a woman who may or may not exist. Musically, the song features the use of a Marxophone, a type of fretless zither, along with rapid-paced guitars and drums, accompanied by Brandon Boyd’s earnest vocals that rise and fall in intensity with the music. It’s a great rock song.
90. YOU FOUND ME – The Fray
The Fray’s lead singer and pianist Isaac Slade wrote the mournful song “You Found Me” during a difficult period in his personal life. He stated that the song is about “the disappointment, the heartache, the let down that comes with life. Sometimes you’re let down, sometimes you’re the one who lets someone else down. It gets hard to know who you can trust, who you can count on.” At another time, he stated “If there is some kind of person in charge of this planet – are they sleeping? Smoking? Where are they? I just imagined running into God standing on a street corner…smoking a cigarette, and I’d have it out with Him.”(Wikipedia)
89. AIN’T NO REST FOR THE WICKED – Cage the Elephant
“Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” is one of those great songs that tell a story, from the alternative rock band Cage the Elephant. Lead singer Matt Shultz stated the song was inspired by an old co-worker who was a drug dealer. When Shultz asked him why he dealt drugs, the co-worker told him that “There’s no rest for the wicked.” Shultz was a plumber at the time, and said that he wrote the lyrics on a piece of drywall he found while working at his co-worker’s house.(Wikipedia)
88. MOVE ALONG – All-American Rejects
“Move Along” is an energetic rock song by the All-American Rejects, and was written by band members Nick Wheeler and Tyson Ritter. Wheeler explained that the song is an “anti-suicide message about believing in oneself and persevering in the face of problems”. He stated that they wrote the song at a time “we were at our wits end wondering if we were ever going to get to make a second record. Our manager…just kept saying, Keep writing, keep writing.”
87. ROCK YOUR BODY – Justin Timberlake
“Rock Your Body” is an uptempo, soulful song by Justin Timberlake from his debut studio album, Justified. It was written by Timberlake along with The Neptunes (consisting of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams), who also produced it. The song contains influences from Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and the female lyrics are sung by Vanessa Marquez. Originally intended to be featured on Michael Jackson’s album Invincible, Jackson rejected the song along with several other tracks, which were instead given to Timberlake.(Wikipedia)
86. STOP AND STARE – OneRepublic
The follow-up song to “Apologize,” “Stop and Stare” is a lovely ballad from OneRepublic’s debut album Dreaming Out Loud. OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder has stated that the song describes the frustration of finding yourself stuck in a proverbial rut in life – where you’re left wondering how you got there, to this place where you’d rather not be, and how it is that you’re watching everything you ever wanted in life pass you by.(MusicBanter)
85. CRAZY – Gnarls Barkley
“Crazy” is the debut single by Gnarls Barkley, a musical collaboration between Danger Mouse and CeeLo Green. The song was immensely popular, becoming a worldwide hit and one of the most downloaded songs in the history of the UK music business. “Crazy” won a Grammy Award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance of 2006.
84. I WRITE SINS, NOT TRAGEDIES – Panic! At the Disco
One of the more eccentric tunes on this list, “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” was the first major hit for the alternative punk/baroque rock band Panic! At the Disco. The song begins with a delicate riff played on a cello that continues through the verses, then xylophone, piano, guitar and drum are added to create a lush orchestral sound. The song addresses the discovery that, just before her wedding, the bride has cheated on her fiance. The lyrics are simple but highly entertaining. Brendan Urie sings “Oh, well imagine, as I’m pacing the pews in a church corridor, And I can’t help but to hear. No, I can’t help but to hear an exchanging of words: ‘What a beautiful wedding! What a beautiful wedding!’ says a bridesmaid to a waiter, ‘And, yes, but what a shame, what a shame the poor groom’s bride is a whore.‘” Such fun, and the video is imaginative and stylish.
83. YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL – James Blunt
“You’re Beautiful” is a lovely but melancholy song by British singer/songwriter James Blunt, who was inspired to write it after seeing his ex-girlfriend on the Underground in London with her new man. As Blunt recalled in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on her show in 2006, “She and I caught eyes and lived a lifetime in that moment, but didn’t do anything about it and haven’t seen each other since.” The song’s rather dark video shows Blunt undressing on an icy surface, then jumping into a large body of water, presumably to commit suicide.
82. WE BELONG TOGETHER – Mariah Carey
“We Belong Together” was named the #1 song of the decade on the Billboard Hot 100. While I don’t agree with that ranking, it’s still a great, soulful R&B/hip-hop love song and a strong performance from one of the most successful female singers of the past quarter-century.
81. DROPS OF JUPITER – Train
From the band Train’s second album of the same name, “Drops of Jupiter” is a beautiful, melodically complex rock song with gorgeous strings orchestration arranged by Paul Buckmaster, who won the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. In an interview for Vh1’s Behind the Music, lead singer Pat Monahan stated that the song was inspired by his late mother, who died of cancer, and that the opening lines came to him after waking up from a dream about a year after she passed away “with the words ‘back in the atmosphere’… It was just her way of saying what it was like – she was swimming through the planets and came to me with drops of Jupiter in her hair.” (Wikipedia) The song also won a Grammy for Best Rock Song.
80. FEEL GOOD DRAG – Anberlin
“Feel Good Drag” is a hard-driving rock song from the American alternative rock band Anberlin. The song’s lyrics address themes of infidelity and the loneliness and lack of fulfillment from casual sex: “Everyone in this town is seeing somebody else/ Everybody’s tired of someone, Our eyes wander for help/ Prayers that need no answer now ’cause I’m tired of who I am/ You were my greatest mistake/ I fell in love with your sin/ Your littlest sin.” The blistering guitar riffs are monumental.
79. BACK TO BLACK – Amy Winehouse
In a brilliant career that was sadly cut short far too soon, Amy Winehouse had a soulful powerhouse voice. One of her best songs was the gorgeous torch song “Back to Black.” Written by Winehouse and Mark Ronson, who also produced the song and album of the same name, the song received universal critical acclaim. The song was inspired by Winehouse’s break-up with Blake Fielder-Civil, who had left her for an ex-girlfriend, and the opening lines are explicitly direct: “He left no time to regret, Kept his dick wet, With his same old safe bet, Me and my head high, And my tears dry, Get on without my guy“. In his 2012 book Amy, My Daughter, Mitch Winehouse states that ‘black’ likely refers to heroin, to which she was openly addicted.
78. NUMB – Linkin Park
The third single from their second studio album Meteora, “Numb” is one of Linkin Park’s most well known and critically acclaimed songs. The song’s powerful lyrics address the feeling of not being accepted or measuring up to the expectations of others – whether it be parents, friends, lovers, etc. Musically, the song features Linkin Park’s signature dynamic guitar, piano and drums, along with Chester Bennington’s commanding vocals.
77. I’M YOURS – Jason Mraz
“I’m Yours” by singer/songwriter Jason Mraz is a mellow, incredibly upbeat pop song with a Hawaiian vibe. It was immensely successful in the U.S., reaching #1 on several different Billboard charts, and spent 76 weeks on the Hot 100. It was also a big hit worldwide, selling over 6 million digital downloads in the U.S. and over 12 million worldwide.(Billboard)
76. LOVERS IN JAPAN – Coldplay
“Lovers in Japan” is a stunning anthem by Coldplay, from their album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The song is built around an introductory tack piano sound, then followed by chiming guitars and soaring choruses. When asked about the development of the song by James Montgomery of MTV News, drummer Will Champion said: “We were in a studio in New York…and it had this thing called a tack piano, which sounds like an old honky-tonk piano, where you put little tacks in the hammers, so it sounds like more of a harpsichord almost. And so we wanted to use that kind of sound, but we didn’t have a tack piano, so rather than sample it, we went and bought an old piano from the shop up the road from our studio, and we bought a load of tacks, and me and Guy and Jon spent a couple of hours pushing tacks into the piano hammers.”
75. BEHIND THESE HAZEL EYES – Kelly Clarkson
The second single from Clarkson’s album “Breakaway,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes” is an uptempo pop rock song that incorporates guitars with driving beats and anthemic choruses. The semi-autobiographical song lyrics tell of Clarkson’s broken relationship with her ex-boyfriend.
74. LITTLE WONDERS – Rob Thomas
A really beautiful and highly underrated song, “Little Wonders” was recorded by Rob Thomas for Disney’s animated feature Meet the Robinsons. The song was not a big commercial hit, but with its poetic lyrics, beautiful melody and Thomas’s heartfelt vocals, it’s one of the best songs of 2007.
73. SPEED OF SOUND – Coldplay
“Speed of Sound” was written by all members of Coldplay for their third studio album, X&Y. Built around a piano riff, the song builds into a huge, synthesizer-heavy chorus that’s a signature Coldplay sound. Chris Martin stated that the song was influenced by English art rock singer Kate Bush, as the song’s drum beat is similar to Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill.”
72. PARDON ME – Incubus
“Pardon Me,” from 2000, was the first song from Incubus to receive considerable airplay. Lead singer Brandon Boyd says he was inspired to write the song after making a connection between images of spontaneous combustion in a magazine and “some turmoil in his life, both good and bad”, namely coming back from a tour to find out that his girlfriend of 7 years had been cheating on him, and that both his grandmother and a close friend had died. He came up with the lyric “Pardon me while I burst into flames,” and based the song around that theme.(Wikipedia) Musically, the song combines fast-paced verses with prominent DJ scratching and a hard-rocking mid-tempo chorus.
71. JUST DANCE – Lady Gaga featuring Colby O’Donis
The first single released by Lady Gaga, “Just Dance” was a hugely successful song that made her an instant star. The single is among the best-selling of all time, with over 10 million copies sold. About the song, Lady Gaga has stated “I was very hung-over. I wrote the song in about 10 minutes with [producer] RedOne.” Later, she reflected on the song by saying, “That record saved my life. I was in such a dark space in New York. I was so depressed, always in a bar. I got on a plane to LA to do my music and was given one shot to write the song that would change my life and I did. I never went back. I left behind my boyfriend, my apartment. I still haven’t been back. My mother went in and cleared it for me.”(Wikipedia) The rest, as they say, is history.
70. NO ONE – Alicia Keys
Another sublime, emotionally charged love song, “No One” is Alicia Keys’ biggest hit to date, selling more than 6 million copies worldwide. The song was #1 on multiple Billboard charts and was ranked #6 on the Billboard Top 100 Songs of the 2000s.
69. PERFECT SITUATION – Weezer
The third song from Weezer on this list, “Perfect Situation” is from their fifth album Make Believe. Accompanied by awesome guitar riffs, the song lyrics address the singer’s difficulty with romantic relationships, wondering if he’ll ever find a real and lasting love. I especially love the lines “What’s the deal with my brain? Why am I so obviously insane? In a perfect situation I let love down the drain. There’s the pitch, slow and straight. All I have to do is swing and I’m the hero, but I’m the zero.” It’s a feeling a lot of young guys can certainly identify with.
68. WELCOME TO THE BLACK PARADE – My Chemical Romance
The first single from their third studio album The Black Parade, “Welcome to the Black Parade” is monumental in scope, and the biggest and most popular hit for My Chemical Romance. The charismatic lead singer Gerard Way’s impassioned vocals are a perfect match for the power and complexity of the music, making for an exhilarating track. The outstanding and visually captivating video for the single was directed by Samuel Bayer, known for his work with Nirvana and Green Day.
67. FLOAT ON – Modest Mouse
“Float On” by long-time indie rock band Modest Mouse, is a delightfully upbeat song with a terrific bass line and some really outstanding guitar riffs. When asked about the song in an interview with entertainment website The A.V. Club, lead singer Issac Brock said that he consciously intended to write something that felt more positive than some of his previous work: “I was just kind of fed up with how bad shit had been going, and how dark everything was, with bad news coming from everywhere. Our president George W. Bush is just a fucking daily dose of bad news! Then you’ve got the well-intentioned scientists telling us that everything is fucked. I just want to feel good for a day.”
66. BRAND NEW DAY – Sting
“Brand New Day” by Sting is an uplifting, optimistic pop-rock anthem about not giving up on love. The most striking aspect of the song’s music is the beautiful harmonica performance by Stevie Wonder. Sting commented that “‘Brand New Day’ captured the spirit of optimism that is so important to me, and if you can think of a more hopeful manifestation of joy than Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, then be my guest.”
65. DANI CALIFORNIA – Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Dani California,” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ninth album Stadium Arcadium, tells the story of Dani, a poor, young Southern girl who moved to California, became a mother and lived a hard, fast, unsettled life before being killed in the Badlands while en route to Minnesota. Lead singer/songwriter Anthony Kiedis has commented that the character of Dani is a composite of all the women with whom he’s had relationships. The brilliant and hilarious video for the song has the band on-stage performing a chronology of the evolution of rock music, with each of them wearing a variety of outfits representing important characters in the evolution of rock such as Elvis Presley, Prince, John Lennon, Elton John, Kiss and Curt Cobain, among others.
64. SEVEN NATION ARMY – The White Stripes
“Seven Nation Army,” by the alternative rock duo The White Stripes, is best known for its signature underlying guitar riff. Although it sounds like a bass guitar (an instrument the group had never previously used), the sound is actually created by running Jack White’s semi-acoustic, 1950s-style Kay Hollowbody guitar through a DigiTech Whammy pedal set down an octave. The song title is what White called the Salvation Army as a child.(Wikipedia) “Seven Nation Army” has become an anthem used widely at sporting events all over the world, as well as political protests.
63. KIDS – MGMT
The amazing “Kids,” from electronic/synthpop band MGMT, certainly has one of the most unique sounds of any song on this list. The lyrics tell of life lessons to a child, set to a driving drumbeat and rich synth orchestration. The audio video is linked here, rather than the extremely dark video made for the song.
62. FEEL GOOD INC. – Gorillaz
“Feel Good Inc.” is a hugely popular and celebratory alternative hip hop song by the English virtual band Gorillaz, with rapping by the rap/hip-hop group De La Soul. Gorillaz was created by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, and consists of four fictional animated members: 2D (lead vocals, keyboard), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar, keyboard, and backing vocals) and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion).
61. SUDDENLY I SEE – KT Tunstall
“Suddenly I See,” by Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall, is a bouyant tribute to “female power.” Tunstall explained in an interview that she was inspired by the photograph of Patti Smith on the cover of her groundbreaking album Horses, realizing that she wanted a career in music like Smith. Commenting on the song’s later use in The Devil Wears Prada, Tunstall said: “I didn’t realize the lyrics could perfectly fit a chick flick, and it could sound like I was singing about wanting to be a fucking model!” (Wikipedia)
60. WHO KNEW – P!nk
Perhaps the most poignant of all of P!nk’s hit songs, “Who Knew” is based on her personal experience with friends who died of drug overdoses. She’s been honest about her own past drug abuse, and has stated that the song is basically about the loss of friendship.
59. MAKES ME WONDER – Maroon 5
According to Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, “Makes Me Wonder” was originally written as a love song about a failed relationship that went horribly wrong. But when he revisited it years later while recording their second album It Wont Be Soon Before Long, he decided to use the song to express his frustration at the state of politics in the U.S. and its role in the Iraq war. Not wanting to come off as – in his words “a preachy arse” – Levine chose to simply allude to it, adding the line “Give me something to believe in/Because I don’t believe in you anymore,” which became the refrain to the chorus.(Wikipedia) The song has a catchy, funky R&B vibe that propelled it to #1 on several charts.
58. LOVE REMAINS THE SAME – Gavin Rossdale
A beautiful and poignant ballad from Gavin Rossdale, “Love Remains the Same” was a major departure from the heavier alternative rock music he made previously as frontman for the band Bush. The song addresses the oft-covered theme of sadness and regret over a failed relationship.
57. ISLAND IN THE SUN – Weezer
“Island in the Sun,” by the alternative rock band Weezer, is from the band’s 2001 self-titled album Weezer. The song was not originally planned to be on the album, but producer Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) who produced the album fought for its inclusion. It’s mellower than most of Weezer’s others, with less angst, and just a really nice feel-good track about escaping life’s cares with the one you love. It still has some great guitar riffs, and the sweet video, produced by Spike Jonz, has the band members cavorting with animals at an animal sanctuary.
56. HEY THERE DELILAH – Plain White T’s
“Hey There Delilah” is a gentle ballad written and sung by Tom Higgenson, frontman of the band Plain White T’s. The song was recorded acoustically with minimal guitar and strings that makes it feel more raw and sincere. It was a huge hit in the U.S. and Europe in 2007, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Pop Charts, and was nominated for two Grammys. Higgenson took the real Delilah to the Grammy Award show in 2008 (as his guest, as they were not in a relationship).(Wikipedia)
55. DIG – Incubus
The second song from Incubus’ sixth album Light Grenades, “Dig” is a an outstanding alternative rock song with intricate guitar, percussion and piano, accompanied by Brandon Boyd’s soaring impassioned vocals. The song’s lyrics address the ups and downs of love and friendship, and forgiving the transgressions that result from our weaknesses and remembering the things that drew us together to begin with.
54. EVERYTHING YOU WANT – Vertical Horizon
Vertical Horizon’s “Everything You Want” is a really fine pop-friendly alternative rock song about unrequited love, written by lead vocalist Matt Scannell from personal experience. “I was in love with this girl, but she kept turning to everyone except me for love and acceptance, and I wanted so much to help her. I wanted to be the one to give her everything she wanted, but I couldn’t. She just couldn’t accept it from me, and it was that pain that led me to creating the song.” (Wikipedia) The song reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Top 40 Charts.
53. THE GAME OF LOVE – Santana featuring Michelle Branch
A delightfully catchy song with a Latin beat, “The Game of Love” is a wonderful collaboration by rock guitar legend Carlos Santana and singer Michelle Branch. Nothing deep or terribly meaningful here, just a great song about love that makes you feel happy – and want to dance!
52. MR. BRIGHTSIDE – The Killers
“Mr. Brightside” was the first single released by the Killers, though it did not become a hit until its re-release a year later, in 2004. Written by band members Brandon Flowers and Dave Keuning, the upbeat anthem of keeping a stiff upper lip while feeling jealous and insecure over a cheating girlfriend is a rousing piece of ear candy.
51. BEAUTIFUL – Christina Aguilera
“Beautiful” was written and produced by Linda Perry, who initially wanted to record the song herself, then have it recorded by P!nk. After hearing it sung by Christina Aguilera, however, the decision was made to have her record it (which unfortunately caused a feud between P!nk and Perry/Aguilera).(Wikipedia) The song is an uplifting pop ballad about self-esteem and insecurity, set to gentle instrumentation incorporating piano, bass guitar, violin, cello, keyboards and drum. “Beautiful” has been widely embraced as an anthem by the LGBT community for its message of self-empowerment and inner beauty.
50. FALLIN’ – Alicia Keys
A beautiful R&B song with a gospel feel, “Fallin'” was written by the equally beautiful and talented Alicia Keys for her debut album Songs in A Minor. When asked about the song’s lyrics, Keys told Billboard, [The song] is about the ins and outs of a relationship. Sometimes, you’re completely head-over-heels in love with someone, and sometimes you can’t stand that person.” The song samples the James Brown hit, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
49. HEY YA! – Outkast
“Hey Ya!” is an incredibly entertaining and hugely popular funk rock song written and produced by André 3000 for his 2003 album The Love Below, part of the hip hop duo OutKast’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The song received enormous praise from music critics, and won a Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
48. BLEEDING LOVE – Leona Lewis
A massive worldwide hit, “Bleeding Love” reached #1 in 35 countries and was the biggest-selling song of 2008. The song was originally co-written by singer/songwriter Jesse McCartney and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder for McCartney’s upcoming album, but his record label didn’t like the song. Tedder believed the song had huge potential and, after hearing Leona Lewis’ powerful vocals in a video, he was convinced the song was perfect for her and rearranged the song and changed the key to suit her voice. He then pitched the song to X Factor co-producer Simon Cowell, and the rest is history.
47. EMPIRE STATE OF MIND – Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
“Empire State of Mind” is a magnificent ode to New York City by rapper Jay-Z, with soaring vocals from Alicia Keys that bring chills on top of more chills. The lyrics were originally written by Brooklyn natives Angela Hunte and Jane’t “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepic, who were feeling homesick while on an overseas trip.(Wikipedia) Jay-Z adapted the song for Alicia Keys and himself, sampling the melody from the 1970 song “Love on a Two-Way Street” by the R&B group The Moments.
46. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE – The Fray
Another extremely moving soft rock ballad that also gained popularity after being featured on Grey’s Anatomy is “How to Save a Life” by The Fray. According to lead singer Isaac Slade in an interview with Sauce.com, the song was influenced by his experience while working as a mentor at a camp for troubled teens: “One of the youngsters I was paired up with…was just 17 and had all these problems. And no one could write a manual on how to save him.” “How to Save a Life” was a big hit, spending 58 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
45. NO ONE KNOWS – Queens of the Stone Age
According to Queens of the Stone Age lead singer Josh Homme, “No One Knows” was written more than five years prior to it being recorded for their third album Songs for the Deaf. With its outstanding guitar riff and punchy drumbeats played by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, the awesome song is their biggest hit, and one of the most successful of 2003.
44. CHASING CARS – Snow Patrol
“Chasing Cars” is a beautifully moving love ballad by British alternative rock band Snow Patrol. Lead singer Gary Lightbody has said that it was the “purest love song” he’s ever written. He sings a fairly plain melody over sparse guitars, with a dramatic ever-building crescendo. The song was the most widely played song of the decade in the UK, according to UK-based music licensing company Phonographic Performance Limited, and became popular in the US after being featured in the second season finale of the TV series Grey’s Anatomy.
43. AMERICAN IDIOT – Green Day
The fourth single from the album American Idiot on this list, “American Idiot” is another hard-driving protest song inspired by the American public’s patriotic support of the Bush Administration’s war against Iraq. Band frontman Billie Joe Armstrong believed that mass media orchestrated paranoia and idiocy among the public. Citing cable news coverage of the Iraq War, Billie Joe Armstrong recalled, “They had all these Geraldo-like journalists in the tanks with the soldiers, getting the play-by-play.” He wrote the song after hearing the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “That’s How I Like It” on his car radio. “It was like, ‘I’m proud to be a redneck’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, why would you be proud of something like that?’ This is exactly what I’m against.“(Wikipedia)
42. LOVE SONG – Sara Bareilles
“Love Song” was the first hit for the very talented Sara Bareilles, who wrote it out of frustration when her label kept turning down her previous songs, wanting safe, “radio-friendly” songs. Well, she exceeded their expectations, as “Long Song” ended up being the #1 Adult Pop and Contemporary Song and the #7 Hot 100 Song for 2008. The song opens with a strong piano melody that continues with added guitar and percussion, accompanied by Bareilles’ commandingly beautiful vocals.
41. WITHOUT ME – Eminem
Eminem’s “Without Me” is a brilliant autobiographical hip hop song from his fourth album The Eminem Show. The lyrics comically refer to his cultural influence on the rap/hip hop music scene, and mocks several of his critics, including then-Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, the FCC, Chris Kirkpatrick, the band Limp Bizkit and singer Moby, as well as Prince’s changing his name to a symbol. He also mentions the comparisons of him to Elvis Presley as a white man succeeding commercially in a predominantly black art form, and attacks his mother Debbie Mathers for the lawsuit she filed for the lyrics of his debut single “My Name Is”. I think the hilarious video is among the best ever produced for a song.
40. HANGING BY A MOMENT – Lifehouse
“Hanging by a Moment” is a terrific post-grunge/alternative rock song from the hugely successful band Lifehouse. Lead singer and guitarist Jason Wade reportedly composed the song in about five minutes, not thinking it would become a big hit. A huge crossover hit, it reached #1 on the Billboard Alternative and Adult Pop Charts, and was the #1 song of 2001 on the Hot 100 Chart.
39. WAKE ME UP WHEN SEPTEMBER ENDS – Green Day
Another outstanding single from American Idiot, this powerfully moving song was written by Billie Joe Armstrong to convey feelings of loss for his father, who died of cancer when Armstrong was young. For the video, the song was used to symbolize the loss of soldiers deployed in the Iraq War, and in yet another independently made video, the song was used by a blogger to symbolize the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.(Wikipedia)
38. PARALYZER – Finger Eleven
A rather satirical and hard-driven alternative rock song, “Paralyzer” is about a guy, in a singles bar that he despises, eyeing a girl he finds attractive but who will never be interested in him. The lyrics describe a scenario that many of us have faced: “I hold on so nervously to me and my drink. I wish it was cooling me. But so far has not been good, it’s been shitty, and I feel awkward as I should. This club has got to be the most pretentious thing since I thought you and me. Well, I am imagining a dark lit place, or your place or my place.” I love it!
37. BEVERLY HILLS – Weezer
Weezer is one of most unique and quirky bands in the history of rock music, with a legion of passionate fans who have either loved or hated their various music offerings over the 20-plus years of the band’s existence. Band frontman Rivers Cuomo has penned numerous songs that are often based on a recurring theme of nerdy guys wanting to be cool or trying to get the girl. “Beverly Hills,” about wanting to be rich and famous but knowing it’ll never happen, is Weezer’s most popular song, though not with many die-hard fans who thought it was too commercial – meaning Weezer had “sold out.” Be that as it may, it’s still a pretty great song, with hilarious lyrics and a wildly entertaining video.
36. SHATTERED (TURN THE CAR AROUND) – O.A.R.
“Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” by O.A.R. (short for Of A Revolution) is an emotionally charged rock song about being unable to get out of a dysfunctional relationship that continues to draw you back in. The song features a simple opening piano riff that is repeated throughout the song, with stronger piano, guitar and drum at intervals that coincide with impassioned vocals by lead singer Marc Roberge.
35. THIS LOVE – Maroon 5
The second single from Maroon 5’s critically acclaimed debut album Songs About Jane, “This Love” was inspired by lead singer Adam Levine’s difficult break-up with his girlfriend. Levine has also stated that the lyrics are very erotic. The song opens with a piano-led strut which is followed by synth percussion and repeating guitar.
34. CRAZY IN LOVE – Beyonce featuring Jay-Z
“Crazy in Love” is an exuberant R&B/pop love song which incorporates elements of 1970s-style funk and soul, and 90s hip-hop. The song’s horn-driven hook samples The Chi-Lites’ 1970 song “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So).” The lyrics describe a romantic obsession that causes one to act out of character. “Crazy in Love” has sold more than 2,000,000 copies in the United States and 8,500,000 worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time worldwide.(Wikipedia)
33. SEXYBACK – Justin Timberlake featuring Timbaland
The first single from FutureSex/LoveSounds, “SexyBack” was a major departure for Justin Timberlake from his previous music. He wanted to make a totally unique record, and did he ever! In the song, his voice is distorted to the point where it’s unrecognizable, with muffled vocals set to a pounding beat box sound. Timbaland acts as narrator with his backup vocals propelling the song forward. As explained by song mixer Jimmy Douglass, “the first thing you hear is ‘I’m bringing sexy back’, and after that you don’t care or don’t notice that there is no hook.”
32. WHAT ABOUT NOW – Daughtry
A beautiful and moving ballad of love and hope, “What About Now” is passionately sung by American Idol season five finalist Chris Daughtry and his band of the same name. The seventh single off the band’s debut album Daughtry, the song was written by Ben Moody, David Hodges (both former members of Evanescence), and Josh Hartzler, who is married to Amy Lee, the lead singer of Evanescence. It is one of only two tracks on the album not at least co-written by Chris Daughtry.
31. I GOTTA FEELING – Black-Eyed Peas
I’m not a big fan of the Black-Eyed Peas, but I can’t help but love “I Gotta Feeling,” as it’s just so much fun and impossible to dislike. It was a massive worldwide hit, reaching #1 in numerous countries, and spent 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009. It has sold nearly 9 million downloads in the U.S., making it the highest selling digital single ever.(Billboard)
30. THE MIDDLE – Jimmy Eat World
The band Jimmy Eat World wrote “The Middle” after being dropped by Capitol Records when their first few albums failed to sell. Feeling they were going nowhere, they found inspiration to pen the lyrics “Don’t write yourself off yet, it’s only in your head you feel left out, and looked down on. Just try your best, try everything you can, and don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.” Being thought of as a dorky, unpopular kid in middle and high school, the song really hit home with me. It also happens to have an catchy melody and some really fine guitar riffs.
29. WHEREVER YOU WILL GO – The Calling
A gorgeous rock ballad, The Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” is about the difficulty of continuing on with one’s life after losing a loved one. Written by band member Aaron Kamin, who was inspired by the death of his cousin, the song is beautifully sung by band front man Alex Band. The song was #1 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 Chart for an amazing 23 weeks, and was named the #1 song of the entire decade on the same chart.
28. HYSTERIA – Muse
According to Muse lead singer Matt Bellamy, “Hysteria” is about wanting something or someone so out of reach that it becomes an obsession that takes over. The song features a dramatic and intricate bass line, which was voted the sixth best bass line of all time by MusicRadar. I love this electrifying live performance at their triumphant 2013 concert at Rome Olympic Stadium, where they literally work everyone into a frenzy of hysteria! It really showcases the mind-blowing guitar playing skills of Bellamy and bassist Chris Wolstenholme.
27. SINGLE LADIES (PUT A RING ON IT) – Beyonce
Beyonce’s massive hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” is an upbeat dance-pop/R&B song from her third album I Am…Sasha Fierce. She stated that although “Single Ladies” is a “playful uptempo song, it addresses an issue that women experience every day” – i.e. the unwillingness of men to propose marriage. In the song, Beyonce channels her more aggressive and sensual alter-ego Sasha Fierce. The hugely popular and often imitated video produced for the song was filmed in black and white against a blank backdrop. Beyonce was inspired by an old video of a Bob Fosse dance number with his then-wife Gwen Verdon and two other dancers. She wanted the video for “Single Ladies” to be minimal, with fairly simple choreography, in order to shine the spotlight on the song itself.(Wikipedia)
26. BLURRY – Puddle of Mudd
“Blurry,” by the post-grunge/alternative rock band Puddle of Mudd, is the band’s best known song and biggest hit, spending nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and reaching #5 on the Hot 100. The poignant song is about a break-up and the resulting pain and loss, and was primarily written about how lead singer Wes Scantlin missed his real-life son after the break-up, and his heartfelt vocals powerfully convey those feelings. Guitar One magazine named band member Doug Ardito’s guitar harmonic riff as one of its “Top Ten Riffs of the Decade,” and the way Scantlin’s vocals build in emotional intensity makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up straight.
25. USE SOMEBODY – Kings of Leon
“Use Somebody” is a gorgeous rock song, with lusty vocals by lead singer Caleb Followill, set to blustery guitars and soaring choruses. One cannot listen to this song without having a strong emotional reaction. A big crossover hit for the Kings of Leon, the song reached #1 on several different formats, including the Alternative and Adult Top 40 Charts, and was Awarded a Grammy for 2009 Record of the Year.
24. FAMILY AFFAIR – Mary J. Blige
“Family Affair” is a sexy and funky R&B/hip hop song about setting aside the drama and troubles of everyday life and just letting loose and having a good time. Flawlessly produced by Dr. Dre, it’s Mary J. Blige’s biggest hit.
23. SO WHAT – P!nk
P!nk’s defiant, over the top “bite me” anthem of independence, “So What” is my favorite of her many hits. It’s a totally fun and thrilling ride from start to finish, and the video’s a blast.
22. DRIVE – Incubus
The second of six songs from Incubus on this list, “Drive” is generally considered their biggest commercial hit. Lead singer Brandon Boyd said the song is about allowing fear to rule your life and decision-making, and imagining what it would be like to instead take control and “drive” your life in the direction you want to go.(Wikipedia) The song’s superb arrangement is more relaxed and acoustic than their usual alternative metal/funk style.
21. NEW DIVIDE – Linkin Park
Linkin Park unleash their sonic weaponry for their anthemic rock song “New Divide.” Written for the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it’s one of their most critically acclaimed and successful hits. It spent 12 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, and was a huge hit worldwide. The song storms out of the gate and instantly grabs hold and won’t let go. With its thunderous guitar, strong synth arrangement, Rob Bourdon’s speaker-blowing drums and and Chester Bennington’s imploring vocals, “New Divide” is one of the most exhilarating rock songs ever.
20. TALK – Coldplay
According to Contactmusic.com, Chris Martin wrote to the German electronic music band Kraftwerk for permission to use the main riff from their 1981 song “Computer Love” as the basis for “Talk.” It was also one of the most difficult songs that Coldplay ever recorded, taking them many months to get it to the point where they were happy with it. The end result is a gorgeous pop/rock song with soaring melodies and compelling lyrics, not to mention the thunderous guitar riff in the bridge.
19. SAY IT RIGHT – Nelly Furtado
A sultry track with an otherworldly feel, “Say it Right” was written by Nelly Furtado, Timbaland and Nate “Danja” Hills. Furtado said it was inspired by the “spooky, keyboard driven pop sound” of the Eurythmics, who she admired. The brilliant song was produced by Timbaland and is essentially an R&B song with a techno vibe. It was a massive hit in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and deservedly so.
18. KRYPTONITE – 3 Doors Down
Everything about “Kryptonite” is just about perfect – lyrics, melody, music production, and Brad Arnold’s vocals. Arnold stated that he wrote the song in math class when he was only 15, and that the lyrics are basically about being there for someone through the good times and bad. I think they’re pretty powerful when combined with the phenomenal music arrangement.
17. NO SUCH THING – John Mayer
The first in what would be a long string of hits for talented singer-songwriter and guitarist John Mayer, “No Such Thing” was popular in the summer of 2002 when I had a milestone high school reunion and, as a result, this song had special meaning for me. I so identified with the lyrics “I never lived the dreams of the prom kings and the drama queens. I’d like to think the best of me is still hiding up my sleeve.”
16. HOLIDAY – Green Day
The third song from the brilliant American Idiot, “Holiday” is a true protest anthem, inspired by the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. To a powerful driving beat, Billie Joe Armstrong emphatically rails against the neo-conservatives who pushed for war and their strategy of pitting one group against another. According to Armstrong, the chorus’s refrain – “This is our lives on holiday”— was intended to reflect the average American’s ambivalence on the issues of the day. Musically and lyrically, it’s undeniably one of the best songs of the decade.
15. BREAKAWAY – Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson’s best song in my opinion, “Breakaway” is about longing to go out in the world and make it on your own, yet feeling bittersweet over the loved ones left behind. Not necessarily deep or original lyrics here, but a well-crafted song, nevertheless, by the most successful and one of the most talented American Idol winners, as proven by her commanding vocals. I fell in love with this song when I heard it featured at the end of an episode of the phenomenal HBO series Six Feet Under.
14. THE REASON – Hoobastank
“The Reason,” by the oddly-named band Hoobastank, is an emotional plea for forgiveness. The song opens with a simple piano movement and drumbeat followed by wobbly, dramatic guitar riffs and percussion that slowly builds in intensity as lead singer Douglas Robb plaintively sings of his shortcomings and failures, promising to be a better person. It’s a theme that’s been covered a hundred times in song, but still feels honest and genuine here.
13. WHAT GOES AROUND…COMES AROUND – Justin Timberlake
The third single from Justin Timberlake’s massive hit album FutureSex/LoveSounds, ‘What Goes Around…Comes Around” is a real tour-de-force. Produced by Timbaland, the song begins with a brief harmony line of two bağlamas, an Anatolian folk instrument. The beat then changes to a more uptempo version of the same melody with added percussion, and Timbaland providing backing vocals. Rolling Stone called the song “a soaring ballad featuring Timberlake’s falsetto, with verses and choruses that pile on top of one another with dizzying effect.” About.com reviewer Bill Lamb said it was “one of the most gorgeous pop melodies of the year,” also complimenting the string-based arrangement of the song. Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly called it “superior.” I think so too.
12. SOMEBODY TOLD ME – The Killers
I LOVE this song! From the first guitar licks, “Somebody Told Me’ blasts through the speakers with furious guitar, hammering drums, and Brandon Flowers’ soaring, urgent vocals. The song has one of the best lyric phrases ever – “Somebody told me, you had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend, that I had in February of last year.” With its exuberant driving beat, great lyrics, Flowers’ vocals and an incredible arrangement, you’ve got all the ingredients for a superb tune.
11. THE SCIENTIST – Coldplay
The third of six Coldplay songs on this list, “The Scientist” is also from the album A Rush of Blood to the Head and one of their most beautiful and popular songs. It opens with a simple piano movement, then layers of drum, guitar and violin are gradually added to build emotional depth. Chris Martin sings of the pain and difficulty of maintaining a relationship, and the wish to be able to start all over to make things right.
10. IN THE END – Linkin Park
From their debut album Hybrid Theory, “In the End” is often considered Linkin Park’s signature song. Dealing with betrayal and loss, the magnificent song features incredible contrasting music and vocals that reach epic heights. Musically, the track contains scratching throughout, and begins with a rather mournful piano movement, then abruptly shifts to strong percussion, guitar and vocals, finishing with a repeat of the piano riff. The juxtaposition of lead singer Chester Bennington’s impassioned vocals and Mike Shinoda’s formidable rapping also creates dramatic tension that makes your heart race and brings chills. The dramatic video is every bit as intense as the song, which is now all the more compelling and heartbreaking after Bennington’s tragic suicide.
9. UPRISING – Muse
From the Brit-Rock band Muse’s epic album The Resistance, “Uprising” spent an astonishing 17 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, from September 2009 through January 2010. A defiant clarion call to rise up against government and corporate mind-control and conspiracy, set to Muse’s signature grandiose orchestration, the song is absolutely brilliant.
8. APOLOGIZE – OneRepublic
I like this original recording of “Apologize” better than the later remix by music producer Timbaland. With his beautiful voice and piano performance, OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder sings of betrayal and disappointment from a relationship gone bad. The gorgeous song is emotionally powerful without being mawkish.
7. THE PRETENDER – Foo Fighters
A friend called “The Pretender” one of the best rock songs ever, and I have to agree. Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters achieve perfection in this anthemic song of feeling “fucked over” by the system (according to comments made by Grohl). The song starts with a simple guitar introduction, then shifts to a dramatic hard rock sound, interrupted by breakdowns and escalations in the bridge, including a repeat of the intro, finally ending with Grohl’s signature impassioned screams that leave you emotionally drained.
6. LOVE HURTS – Incubus
My favorite song from Incubus, arguably one of the greatest bands of the 2000’s, “Love Hurts” is also one of the most powerfully beautiful rock songs ever. Brandon Boyd’s strong, heartfelt vocals express the struggle of “finding love and having it be pure and not tainted by our misperceptions, misconceptions and expectations” (in his words). I especially love the lyrics: “I only want the truth, so tonight we drink to youth/ Don’t wanna lose what I had as a boy./ Love sings when it transcends the bad things. Have a heart and try me, ‘cause without love I won’t survive.”
5. BENT – matchbox twenty
“Bent” is a spectacular song, and my favorite of matchbox twenty’s many hits. Band front man Rob Thomas fervently sings of the difficulties of being in a relationship and feeling beaten down, accompanied by a complex musical arrangement that makes for an exciting and compelling rock song. Beginning with a discordant guitar solo with percussion, the music abruptly transitions to a ballad-like interlude with really lovely guitar and violin, then segues to a dramatic guitar flourish, finishing with a reprise of the opening drumbeat.
4. VIVA LA VIDA – Coldplay
From the first violin strokes, “Viva La Vida” (Spanish for “long live life,” taken from a Frida Kahlo painting) gradually builds in intensity with magnificent, sweeping orchestration and vocals. The song is from Coldplay’s fourth album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Using monarchy, military and religious metaphors, Chris Martin sings of disillusionment with the institutions of government and religion, and the loss of youth, power and fame. This is Coldplay’s biggest hit to date, and was awarded a Grammy for 2008 Song of the Year.
3. BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS – Green Day
From Green Day’s brilliant opus album American Idiot, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was described by band frontman Billy Joe Armstrong as a kind of morning after hangover to “Holiday.” He wrote it to describe the feelings of loneliness he sometimes felt during his time living in New York. The amazing musical arrangement with scratchy guitars set to a constant beat, combined with Armstrong’s distinctive vocals, create a strong sense of isolation and disillusionment. It was awarded a Grammy for 2005 Record of the Year.
2. LOSE YOURSELF – Eminem
“Lose Yourself,” Eminem’s epic song about giving everything you’ve got and overcoming life’s obstacles in order to escape a dreary existence and make it in the rap music business, is his finest work and quite possibly the greatest rap song of all time. The lyrics are among the best ever written, and Eminem’s vocals are aggressive yet heartfelt. The song won an Oscar for Best Song from the film “8 Mile.”
1. CLOCKS – Coldplay
My favorite song of the decade, “Clocks” absolutely blew me away the first time I heard it. The magnificent song, from Coldplay’s second album A Rush of Blood to the Head, features a simple but incredibly beautiful repeating piano melody with the perfect amount of percussion and bass guitar. Add Chris Martin’s emphatic vocals and the song gives me chills every time. Jon Wiederhorn of MTV News wrote that in the song’s lyrics, Martin addresses the helplessness of being in a dysfunctional relationship he doesn’t necessarily want to escape. “Clocks” was awarded a Grammy for 2003 Record of the Year.