The 250 Best Singles of the ’00s [and More!]

If ever an epoch demanded an onslaught of lists, it was this, the Decade of Too Many Damn Lists. And since list-making without ground rules is less like playing tennis without a net and more like cheating at solitaire, please excuse this extended bought of throat-clearing, score-settling, hair-splitting and maybe just a little procrastination before we get to the main event.

250

As in 25 x 10, songs and years respectively, with an equal number from each year, rather than 250 from the decade as a whole–a minor hat-tip to my belief that even the crappiest year gives up twenty-five memorable tunes. (True, it often doesn’t feel that way at the time. Repetition, hype, payola, American Idol — collar whatever villain may be your favorite, but don’t ignore how nostalgia trims away the forgotten flab.) I’ll post singles and explanatory blurbs day-by-day, chronologically (more on this later), Monday to Friday, all 2010 long.

Best

Radical subjectivity can be a cozy dodge in dogmatic days, but you don’t have to be some gangsta neo-Kantian to reject “That’s just your opinion” as a bit, well, anti-intellectual, not to mention d-u-l-l. These 250 songs aren’t just “my favorites”–they function according to a pop aesthetic that I hope my commentary fleshes out over the year. I haven’t spiked the list with daring surprises (though a few snuck in); hopefully, I can tell you why, and not just that, the familiar names are good. (Crit, like just about every nook in our culture, could use a lot more “why.”) Maybe I can’t prove these songs are the best, but I can “prove” it, if you get me.

Singles

No such things exist anymore, I know. But “tracks” or “cuts” or “songs” or whatnot all feel like unsatisfactory sidesteps around using the simple, time-honored “single” to describe the discretely consumable recording with its mushrooming public life–the format, in other words, that mattered more than ever this decade. So “singles” it is. After all, tweens raised on push-button phones still refer to “dial-up,” right? Then again, I’ve been known to refer to set of digital files as a “record,” so maybe you’d just better run along now and let grampa doze a spell.

The ’00s

Decades are arbitrary clumps of days that we trounce into faux coherence after the fact, and one big reason I’m arranging this list chronologically is that I hope to largely avoid all-encapsulating generalizations about the past ten years. Maybe it’s a postmodern inevitability that our decades will each collapse into single-dimensional simulacra of themselves, but that’s no reason to abandon historical context without a tussle.

Not that pop chronology can be achieved without some sleight of hand. I rely, as much as possible, on U.S. release dates, with a few U.K. dates slipping though. Those dates can be sketchy, sometimes weirdly post-dating the date of Billboard chart entry, but after some experimentation, this system proved simpler and more accurate than basing a song’s “moment” on some element of chart activity. (Nitpicky as all hell, I know–once this list is in full swing, my methodology shouldn’t matter much, except that maybe a single typically identified with one year winds up belonging to another on my charts.)

[More!]

“More” is albums. Technological developments have rendered my listening habits peculiar, if not déclassé, if not suspect, if not rockist, but however “people really experience music” today, sometimes songs just don’t ring as true when they’re severed and abstracted from the single-artist disc they first called home, and to list these as the best “singles” (“tracks,” “songs,” etc.–see above) is a fib. Twenty-five albums a year, with five posted a week, in ascending order of preference rather than chronologically, along with irrefutable capsule arguments for their greatness. And I think that’s it. Oh, yeah–no jazz, because I really only started orienting myself to contemporary stuff mid-decade or so.

See ya Monday…

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