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Archive for December, 2009

10 Years, 100 Songs: #1. “Take That, And Rewind it Back…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 30, 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.

I’ll be honest–I don’t really blame you if you’re a little disappointed here. I had a little trouble believing it myself when we were creating the final countdown from the shortlist, got down to #1 and found “Yeah!” there staring back at us. It just didn’t really feel like a slam dunk choice for the #1. It wasn’t the best single, it wasn’t the most influential single, and it wasn’t the most popular single, though it was pretty damn close on that last front. And I’d understand if you read through the last 99 (199 if you count the short write-ups) entries and expected something a little grander, something sweeping and undeniable, something simply more than Usher, Lil’ Jon and Ludacris. But all I can really say in our defense is that when I looked back over the rest of the top ten, weighing the pros and cons of every choice, “Yeah!” was the only one that made any sort of sense to me to rest at pole position. It is, for better or worse, my choice for the single of the decade.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #2. “There’s Only One Thing You Should Know…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 30, 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.

Listen to the song once and it becomes absolutely clear that it was meant as the eulogy for something. I’d argue that that something was rock music–or at least, rock how we once knew it. I’ve touched on this before in previous entries, but the main significance of nu-metal’s boom in popularity and influence around the turn of the millennium was one one of a shift in general self-esteem. So much of the music’s history had been about projecting strength, about sticking up to the man, about creating a revolution, that to see it become a music whose most successful artists were constantly professing their weakness, cowering before their own insurmountable issues, and basically just looking for a place to run and hide…it’s hard to imagine that this is what Elvis and Chuck Berry had in mind, exactly. “In the end, it doesn’t even matter.” If rock is dead, that looks like a pretty good epitaph for the gravestone, doesn’t it?

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #3. “In the Blink of a Eye, His Whole Life Changed…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 28, 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.

Imagine if sometime around the beginning of the decade, someone told you that the biggest controversy of pop music in the year 2009–an incident that so dominated the public conversation in the weeks that followed that even the president offered a (semi-unwitting) sound byte about it–was caused by something a rapper did at an awards show. What would you have guessed that he had done? You’d probably think it was some kind of beef with another rapper, with a situation that escalated into violence–something like what happened at the 2000 Source Awards. If not that, maybe you’d think it was a rapper who rushed the stage to make some inflammatory remarks after losing an award, like what Ol’ Dirty Bastard did at the 1998 Grammy Awards. I’m not sure how long it would have taken you to guessed “interrupted an award being handed out to protest the objective injustice of one of the nominees getting snubbed,” but I’m guessing it probably wouldn’t have made the Family Feud board. Then again, back then, no one could ever have predicted Kanye West.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #4. “SHAKE DOWWWWWWWWWN”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 26, 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.

One thing I can absolutely say about “House of Jealous Lovers”–for no other song this decade did I spend more time and airspace writing about. By far. I’m not even sure what the #2 is, but it’s no contest. In fact, when I recently submitted a singles list for an upcoming Stylus reunion decade-end countdown (that’s right, call your friends/newspaper/congressman, we’re getting the band back together), the only request I made when the editors were handing out blurb assignemnts was “Not ‘House of Jealous Lovers’.” After approaching the song from just about every angle possible, in short blurs and extended essays, there just really wasn’t anything more for me to say about the song that I hadn’t already said. Yet, here we are: The #4 single of the decade, when I have a nice little streak of 1500+-word essays going. Gotta say something, right? So, here goes nothing.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #5. “Done Came to the Club ‘Bout Fifty-‘leven Times….”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 24, 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.

Interestingly, often the best way to tell when a song is truly paradigm-shifting is that it sounds fucking horrible on first listen. That was my experience when it game to “Get Low,” anyway. The first time I listened to it, I could barely make it through the whole thing–I might even have turned it off in the middle, I’m not sure. It sounded brash, grimey, menacing, incomprehensible and sonically assaultive. A few months later, I still agreed with all of those descriptors, except that I would then have intended all of them as compliments. Today the greatness and importance of “Get Low” can almost be considered as a given–it just took a fair bit of acclimating to, because it sounded pretty much nothing like anything that had been popular in hip-hop leading up to that point. Hell, listen to JD and Ludacris’s “Welcome to Atlanta”–released in 2002–and imagine how vastly different it would sound if it would have been recorded just a year later. The landscape of 00s hip-hop was altered irrevocably in 2003, and it was all thanks to Lil’ Jon.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #6. “Can I Make it Any More Obvious?…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 22, 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.

At the outset of the Naughty Oughties, “teen pop” was a term that still had a fairly standardized definition and sound. Generally, it meant one of two things–cleanly-cropped boy bands like Backstreet Boys or N Sync, or demure female starlets like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Moving into the new millennium, and even as the crux of its signature artists looked to age into their 20s (if they weren’t there already), it seemed like they were going to continue to be the standard-bearers for years to come. But as Backstreet mania started to fade, N Sync got a little weirder, Britney started to question her public image and Christina took firm control of hers, a void emerged for a new vixen to come and take the reins for the remainder of the decade. A 17-year-old pop-punk pixie from Ontario, Canada emerged, and with the help of a hit-wrecking production team, she proved to be more than up to the task.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #7. “Dear, Mr. ‘I’m Too Good to Call or Write My Fans'”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 21, 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.

There were a lot of great pop stars in the Naughty Oughties, but only two of them were truly inimitable. One is still to come on this list, and the other was Eminem. At his peak, a mixture of Marilyn Manson, Kurt Cobain, Axl Rose and Tupac Shakur–and a match in talent to any, either in terms of artistic ability or cultural galvanization–Eminem came on like a force of nature at the turn of the millennium, absolutely unparalleled in his commandeering of the musical conversation. If one measures rock stardom by the ability to terrify the parents of America, then Eminem was perhaps the last true rock star this country will ever see–it’s hard to imagine any single artist being able to push so many of the country’s buttons again, while remaining a musically compelling enough figure that the controversy never quite overwhelmed the actual production. For a five year period from early 1999 to the end of 2003, Slim Shady in pop music was like Shaq in the NBA, just bulldozing over everything and anyone in his path. Then, almost overnight, he lost his fastball (sorry for the mixed-sports-metaphor, but “lost his jumper” just didn’t have the same ring), and never scaled anywhere near the same heights again. But for that half a decade, Em not only seemed like the artist of the decade, but putting himself in the running for the status of an all-time great.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #8. “Now Usually I Don’t Do This, But, Uh…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 18, 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.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can pay to R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” is simply including it on this list over all the other R. Kelly contributions to Naughty Oughties pop culture that would’ve easily come to define the career of a lesser artist. I mean, come on–who else this decade had half as many indelible moments as Kells? Be they sublime (“Step in the Name of Love,” “I’m a Flirt,” “Feelin’ on Your Booty”), ridiculous (“Same Girl,” “Real Talk,” “U Saved Me”) or sublimely ridiculous (“Supaman High,” “World’s Greatest,” “In the Kitchen,” and of course, the entire “Trapped in the Closet” saga), it’s hard to think of another artist who left a more singular thumbprint on the 00s than R. Kelly–a feat made all the more impressive due to it being the second straight decade that such a claim could (arguably) be made for The R. Yet all of it–every single second of inexplicably great and inexplicably inexplicable music–is still brought to its knees by “Ignition (Remix).”

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #9. “Doctor Said My Mom Should Have Had an Abortion…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 16, 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.

I’m not sure what exactly punk rock was supposed to look like in the Naughty Oughties, but most authoritative sources seemed to agree on one key concept: It should have had absolutely nothing to do with malls. Nothing in this world, it appears, is as truly un-punk as a conglomerate of department stores, food courts and electronics chains you thought folded 15 years ago. Consequently, any music made by young people that sounded like its creators might own more than one article of clothing or piece of general paraphernalia from Hot Topic was thus branded as “Mall Punk,” the sole province of little girls and the socially retarded. Much of the most popular pop-punk of the decade was at one time or another branded with this appellation, a tag that few would escape from under to reach any kind of artistic credibility. Many of them–New Found Glory, SR-71, Simple Plan–might not have necessarily deserved to. But one that actually did was Sum 41.

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #10. “Stacked Chips for the Rainy Day…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 15, 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.

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the career trajectory of Rihanna in the Naughty Oughties was a singular one, and something of a sight to behold. Imagine if Eddy Grant had gone on to have such a fabulous pop career in the last eight years of the 80s that not only was “Electric Avenue” not seen as his only hit, but it wasn’t even one of the songs we really best associated with him. That was Rihanna this decade, whose now-forgotten 2005 single “Pon De Replay”–a dancehall smash kept from topping the charts only by Mariah Carey’s season-long reign at #1–seemed for all the world like it would be her only hit. Then the next summer, she came out with “S.O.S.,” a slippery Soft Cell-aping number that presaged the stomp-pop that would dominate the Top 40 for the next couple years, but it still seemed like it could have been something of a fluke–a two-hit wonder, like Inner Circle or Sophie B. Hawkins. Then “Umbrella” hit, and the fact became undeniable: Rihanna was here to stay, as one of the biggest stars of the decade.

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