What’s The Best Song Of The Decade?

It’s almost as if everyone is determined to make me feel old.

As if to highlight the fact that in less than 4 months time it will be 10 years since I saw in the year 2000 dancing on Bondi Beach, Absolute Radio are asking their listeners to help choose the Song of the Decade. What scares me almost as much as the fact that it’s now pretty much a decade since the Millennium Bug failed to bite (due to the hard work of a lot of people according to my old colleague Richard) is that I’m really struggling to think of any truly great tunes that will come to sum up the noughties as other songs have for decades past.

The Arctics’ ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’? Good, but I’m not sure it’s really great. ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow? I actually think this might win, but again don’t think it should. To paraphrase John Lennon, it’s not even the best song on that album. Maybe Eamon’s ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’ or Frankee’s equally charming ‘Fuck You Right Back’. No, maybe not.

It’s strange, and slightly damning, as for the last 4 decades I can easily name the best song. Sometimes I struggle to name just one. So whilst I list off the defining tracks of the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s (and for me a Song of the Decade has to really define that moment in time, as well as just being the best song released during that period), why don’t you use the comments to suggest what the best song since 2000 might be.

60s:

Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone: This is, for me, the finest song of a very strong decade by a country mile. It seems to encapsulate all the different cultural strands that converged between the deaths of JFK and his brother Bobby, which are probably the ‘true 60s’: the optimism, cynicism, hope & despair that all came together in a psychedelic sexual explosion. And the infamous ‘Judas’ version from the Manchester Free Trade Hall is probably the greatest live track ever recorded.

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The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows: With the release of a new video game and some remastered albums, it really seems pointless to try and write anything new about The Beatles at the moment. But what I will say is listen to this track that they made after abandoning touring for the studio, then listen to ‘Setting Sun’ by The Chemical Brothers and try to tell me that The Beatles didn’t create techno in 1966 at the same time as writing a soundtrack for the original Summer of Love.

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70s

The Clash – London Calling: Though released in 1980 in the US, a year after its British release, this was very much a product of the 70s. From its denunciation of the sacred cow that was The Beatles (phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust) to its searing social conscience, this was the last gasp of punk before it was swallowed up by Thatcher & spat out as a tourist attraction to rank alongside the Pearly Kings & Queens.

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Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Whilst never a hit on the scale of the disco records that bestrode the 70s like glitter-laden giants, Scott-Heron’s slice of political beat-poetry would prove to be a defining influence on hip-hop, and as such should have its lyrics carved into Mount Rushmore, right alongside Lincoln’s head.

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David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (1999 Digital Remaster): When he created Ziggy Bowie created the first imaginary global rock-star: The Beatles might have dressed up as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but that’s all they did – dress up. Bowie became Stardust, and in the process dived into a narcotic nightmare. And in creating this persona he also created a template that rappers & rockers would follow for the next 3 decades. The fact that he also became the biggest British act after The Beatles, managed to invent glam-rock & inspired the New Romantics is all grist for the mill.

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80s

Stone Roses – I Am The Resurrection: Like ‘London Calling’, ‘I Am The Resurrection’ was released as a decade gasped its dying breath, was very much of its time, yet inspired a generation of bands that came after it. With the blend of Squire’s Hendrix-esque guitar, the hip-hop influenced groove of the rhythm section and Ian’s Mancunian drawl, dripping with arrogance, this track is surely the purest example of a band at their peak, blissfully unaware that they’re about to blow it all.

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Grandmaster Flash – The Message: ‘The Message’, strongly influenced by Scott-Heron, was one of the first great hip-hop tracks and would prove to be one that was hard to top: whilst it wasn’t till the 90s that hip-hop truly ruled the world, this record showed how it might change it. Though the band look like failed auditionees for the Village People, the track, with its minimal, electro-influenced tune, shone a torch on life in America’s ghettoes at the start of the Regan years. And what it showed wasn’t pretty. A million miles from P Diddy & Kanye, but something they should probably listen to a little more often.

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Inner City – Big Fun: Reach for the lasers, I said reach for the ****ing lasers! Somehow, music made by weirdoes in Germany influenced rappers in New York before inspiring producers making music for gay clubs in Chicago from where it touched a generation of young Brits discovering ecstasy in Ibiza. House music was born. And before it spawned bastards like handbag, it was amazing. Probably one of the most influential records of the 20th Century, ‘Big Fun’ is also one of the most, well, fun.

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90s:

Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy: Like so many great records, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ spawned a genre that wasn’t worthy of its name – in this case trip hop. But whilst trip hop was all plodding beats and vague noodlings, Massive Attack created a true soul record: soaring, inspired, epic – ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ still raises the hairs on the back of the neck today, whilst its video is a classic of the genre, shamelessly ripped off by The Verve at the same time as they were ripping off the song.

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Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit: Whilst I’ve come to think that Nirvana are one of the most over-rated bands of the 90s, at the time this sounded like the freshest slice of rock since the Sex Pistols (another over-rated band, more worth talking about than listening to, who have been granted immortality by their singer’s untimely death). By forcing MTV to play indie, or alternative rock as our American cousins would describe it, Nirvana opened the flood-gates for everyone from Green Day to Foo Fighters (yeah, I know) but also, unwittingly, set the scene for Limp Bizkit and a million shite emo bands.

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Dr. Dre – Nothing But A G Thang: Wu Tang Clan’s ’36 Chambers’ may have received more plaudits, whilst Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ may be most commonly suggested as the greatest rap album of the decade, but there’s no doubt that few had as much of an impact as Dre’s ‘Chronic’. Whilst artists & acts from Ice T to Dre’s own NWA could claim to have invented gangsta rap, ‘The Chronic’ was probably the finest example of the genre that has, arguably, shaped hip-hop, and therefore popular music, more than any other over the last 20 years. And in ‘G Thang’ Dre produced probably the best example of the genre; all smooth samples, shocking lyrics and, in Snoop Doggy Dogg (before he ditched the Doggy) the first true rap superstar of the 90s.

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So, the greatest songs of the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s, or at least the ones that, right now, strike me as being the most influential. Let me know yours, as well as your vote for song of the noughties.

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17 comments

  1. Chris Lake

    This is impossible, but based on how I’m feeling today:

    60s
    Good Vibrations – Beach Boys

    70s
    Sound and Vision – David Bowie

    80s
    586 – New Order

    90s
    Refractions in the Plastic Pulse – Stereolab

    00s
    Heartbeats – The Knife

    c.

  2. Sandy Cosser

    My vote for the noughties: Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. The entire album, St Elsewhere, is brilliant, but Crazy is my standout song.

    Alternatively, Good Luck by Basement Jaxx, best feel good song in the world, for me anyway.

  3. Ciaran

    Hmmm, interesting choices guys.

    I have to say that although I ask for the ‘best’ songs, I guess what I’m looking for are songs that somehow also define the time they come from. And I’m not sure anything Stereolab have done will ever do that. The New Order choice though makes me feel that Blue Monday should almost certainly be on the list.

  4. Ciaran

    I should add that I’m going to have to go back & edit the post later as the lack of a Motown track in the 60s is almost as sinful as the exclusion of Prince or Jacko from the 80s.

  5. Matt Bailey

    Can’t Stand Me Now – The Libertines (2004) – combines the same punk ethos that bands like the Sex Pistols, the Smiths and the Stone Roses brought before them, with a decade defining cynicism and world weariness. Whereby the E fuelled late 80s and 90s were filled with an air of optimism, the 00s have been defined by something more sinister and this song encompasses that for me.

  6. Danny Denhard

    So many choices – so many genres…..
    Personal choice, being an 80′s baby and living in a multinational community it would have to be G-funk track, taking me back on my tape walkman.
    Maybe Nuthin But A G Thang or Gin & Juice

  7. Neema

    if you want era defining noughtie tunes:

    Kasabian – Club Foot or LSF (although the new album smashes any they’ve done before)

    Arcade Fire – Wake Up

    Basement Jaxx – Where’s your head at?

    Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire (Milk and Trani and my personal faves)

    Kylie Minogue – Can’t get you out of my head

    MGMT – Time to Pretend

    Vampire Weekend – A Punk

    Rihanna – Umbrella

    Justin Timberlake – Rock Your Body

    I do think that Arctic Monkeys’ I bet that you look good on the dance floor will be the defining track for the type of people who listen to Absolute Radio.

  8. Jon Cook

    Quite a tough call, but this is what I think at the moment:

    80s – Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror
    90s – Baby D – Let me be your fantasy
    00s – Rihanna- Umbrella

  9. Ciaran

    Interesting choices there Neema – I actually thought Jaxx was a 90s tune, so I like that one. I reckon if there’s gonna be a JT track, it has to be Like I Love You…

  10. Ciaran

    Cheers Jon – I’m trying not to criticise music selections, but if we’re looking for songs you love that also define an era, I’m not sure Man In The Mirror would be the one. Thriller maybe? Or Billie Jean?

  11. Kalena

    Agree with Unfinished Symphony (although Teardrop is almost as good). Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel or Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough should’ve featured in your 80′s list

    For 00′s best song my votes are:

    1) Lupe Fiasco – Kick Push
    2) Gnarls Barkley – Crazy (high five Sandy)
    3) Radiohead – Everything in it’s Right Place

  12. graeme

    Couldn’t argue with your 60s suggestions – I’d probably say Tomorrow never Knows as the most influential, as Like a Rolling Stone just defined its era, while Tomorrow Never Knows/Revolver redefined the ambition of popular music

    70s – might not be the best, but ‘Anarchy in the UK’ for me is the most influential tune of any decade. That means Stevie Wonder misses out, and probably have to be something produced by Lee Perry after that

    80s – Blue Monday/Don’t Believe the Hype/Groove is in the Heart

    90s – I’d say I am the Resurrection was a 90s tune, even though it was an 80s release. That, Firestarter, Unfinished Sympathy or Smells like Teen Spirit all contenders, but I’d say Born Slippy summed up music and culture of the mid-90s. I worked in a club when it came out, and it closed the night at indie, techno, hiphop and house nights Wednesday to Saturday. On the Sunday it closed the movie i went to.

    00s – struggling to think of a standout tune – Arctic Monkeys or Strokes for reclaiming guitar music for a generation raised in clubs. Crazy is a good call, or Gorillaz Dirty Harry. I’d go for Arcade Fire ‘Rebellion’ just cos its my favourite.

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  14. Johnny

    Why has no one mentioned the killers? Surely Mr. Brightside is worth a shout. I know for a fact their first album convinced a lot of the people i know to fall in love with bands all over again.

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