Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #24. “And Spaceships, They Won’t Understand…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 3, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

In October 2001, I was old enough that I had started to read Pitchfork, but not quite old enough to have a good understanding of the concept of pre-release hype. So when the site gave The Strokes’ Is This It? a 9.1 rating with a review that basically came to the conclusion of “this album isn’t going to change the world like everybody thinks, but it’s a damn fine rock record,” my reaction was actually “Wow, this album was suppposed to change the world?” This was the first I’d heard not only of The Strokes, but the entire New York neo-garage scene, and the supposedly burgeoning New Rock Revolution, a term that I don’t think actually came into vogue until a few months and mediocre Hives singles later. My mind had been blown for the first time that decade by Radiohead’s Kid A, but that album didn’t feel like it was part of anything bigger than itself. If there really was some sort of revolution on the horizon, I was pretty damn excited to get in–for the first time in my conscious music-listening career–on the ground floor of it.

Of course, Pitchfork was basically right, a fact that became abundantly clear from the first time I actually heard The Strokes. I saw the video for “Last Nite” on late-night TV, and after I got over my shock and excitement over seeing these supposed underground superstars being featured in such a mainstream institution, I was somewhat underwhelmed at the song itself. I didn’t dislike it or anything, I just really didn’t get what all the hype was about–it was a pretty standard rock song, one which I felt I’d heard in parts in about a dozen other songs before. (Never mind that if a Pitchfork review hadn’t told me that there was such hype to begin with, I just would have been relieved it was anything but a Nickelback or Creed video). It wasn’t until a friend of mine actually brought over Is This It? to listen to, and I got to hear in its proper context–as the ‘Fork had said itself, just a collection of great, great rock songs–that I actually noticed what a kickin’ tune “Last Nite” actually was. (And in the meantime, I learned a valuable lesson about judging albums based on misconceptions that other people told me that I should have).

“Last Nite” is almost instantly irresistible, simply be the virtue of the fact that it plays off of two of the greatest motifs of the last 50 years of pop music–the “You Can’t Hurry Love” bass line, and the “American Girl” drumbeat. They’re sort of hard to describe without a mind, but you can trust me that you know both, and you’ve heard them in dozens of songs over the course of pop history (the latter can be heard in variations in songs like The Cure’s “Close to Me” and Escape Club’s “Wild West,” while the former is in everything from Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and Wham!s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”). The “American Girl” beat is even augmented by the song’s intro, which introduces an instrument at a time and reaches a sort of early climax before the lyrics even begin, just like “Girl” did. Using these two highly time-honored musical conceits, “Last Nite” automatically places itself in a proud rock / pop tradition, and you’d have to be instantly smitten with a song that used such a combination.

Besides that, as already noted, there’s really not all that much to the song. The lyrics are mostly negligible–I’ve never given them more then a second’s thought, though I’d assume that they probably have something to do with a one-night stand, as 95% of Strokes songs appear to be about the actions leading up to, partaking in, and quickly departing from one-night stands. (Though I’m not exactly sure how, if at all, the line “Spaceships, they won’t understand” would fit into that). But it was breezy, it was fun, and singer Julian Casablancas had the most ably sleazy and fun-to-imitate drawl of any rock band in ages. It was the kind of rock / pop song that was appealing in such a basic, musically fundamental way that although you never really got an urge to listen to it, its presence not only never became tiresome, but was never less than completely welcome. If you put “Last Nite” on in a bar–the ideal setting for the overwhelming majority of Strokes songs anyway–in any point over the last five years, it would’ve brought a smile to my face, which is less than easy to do for a song that I’ve heard as many times as I’ve heard that one.

If there was anything new or revolutionary about The Strokes, it was entirely a matter of attitude. I mentioned Creed and Nickelback earlier in the post, and while they were hardly the only two popular rock bands in late 2001 (and Creed might have even been in between albums at that point, if I remember correctly), from someone who wasn’t listening to much mainstream radio at the time, it felt like that was all that was on the radio. (Well, them and Blink-182, who I would eventually realize wasn’t such a bad thing, but had little taste for at the time). The Strokes were different just because they felt grungy and unpretentious, they wrote simple songs that weren’t overbearing, and they made almost laughably straightforward clips like the one for “Last Night,” a live clip where the only action to speak of were the random insertion of clips of a world map and a tic-tac-toe board, the chain reaction of falling microphones caused by Fabrizio Moretti drumming on one stand during a fill, and Casablancas drunkenly stumbling into his bandmates while they try to conceal their irritation with his buffoonery. (Needless to say, the “Last Night” clip was one of the decade’s instant classics).

The Strokes made some albums after Is This It?, for which Real Fans will try to make arguments about in some way being progressions from their debut, while the rest of us find one or two semi-notable songs, get the rest confused with each other, and become progressively less excited with each new release. Meanwhile, after a fun nine months in the spotlight (and a semi-notable Battle of the Bands at the 2002 VMAs), the New Rock Revolution the Strokes supposedly helped spearhead died out without ever reaching anywhere near the influence of the post-Nirvana boom, as some critics predicted (I quickly also learned to take everything UK pubs like Q and NME said about new bands with several grains of salt). You could say The Strokes’ career was ultimately something of a disappointment, but if so, that’s the fault of anyone who tried to cast them as anything more than a refreshing change of pace for modern rock, not theirs. I shed no tears for The Strokes’ career–just doing what they did, they were still one of the key bands of the decade–and ultimately, I quote Ryan Schrieber from that damn P-Fork review:  “The Strokes are not deities. Nor are they “brilliant,” “awe-inspiring,” or “genius.” They’re a rock band, plain and simple. And if you go into this [band/song/]album expecting nothing more than that, you’ll probably be pretty pleased.”

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night”

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli”

5 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #24. “And Spaceships, They Won’t Understand…””

  1. freddie said

    dont for get this song too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCHOTEvtIcU

  2. MBI said

    I like this song, but since I hadn’t seen it by #50, I had just assumed I wouldn’t see it all, and I find its high placement kind of suspect. It’s a good song… but, I just don’t know who can find it in them to care. The Strokes have always been stigmatized by their overblown advance hype, but it’s not just that I only find them pretty-okay-most-of-the-time, it’s that I can’t imagine anyone else thinking anything other than that either.

  3. billy said

    1,000 or words or so seems like overkill to essentially just bitchslap Room On Fire.

    • DeVille said

      Word, I can’t believe somebody would so readily lump Room on Fire, which is more or less a carbon copy of Is This It and includes nearly as many classic tunes, with that forgettable third record. I always thought they should have named the second album “This Is It” and just stopped there.

  4. Steen said

    This should be higher on the list.

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