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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.

And the primary reason for this? Well, it’s still the first song that I think of when I think of 00s pop music. That could be in large part due to time and circumstance–the amount of radio I was listening to in 2004, how impressionable i was as a music listener at that time in my life, and the number of great personal memories that I have tied in some way, shape or form to the song. But really, it’s that simple. If you asked me to name an 80s song, I’d probably name you “Like a Virgin.” If you asked me to name you a 90s song, I’d name you “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And if you asked me to name an 00s song, I’d name “Yeah!” On a Top 100 list where we did a purposefully shitty job of defining the terms and conditions of placement and ranking, I’d have to say that being the song I still consider most inextricably tied to the decade that berthed it has to be the criteria that supersedes all else.

Oh yeah, and it also happens to be a fantastic song. The reason for that is the most basic of mathematics. If you asked me in 2004 what the most surefire formula was to come up with a great hit single that everyone would be guaranteed to love, this would have been my verbatim answer, with maybe a couple more stammers and backtracks thrown in: “Well, it’d probably be an Usher club jam. With Lil’ Jon producing. Oh, and you’d have to get Ludacris to do a verse somewhere.” That’s the answer, and there’s no alternative–it was the tic-tac-toe of 00s pop music. No other time in music history, before or likely after, did you see three pop superstars at the absolute peaks of their absolute primes getting together to work in perfect harmony. You were no doubt waiting for the basketball analogy, so here it is: It would be like if Orlando swung a trade of their non-Dwight Howard starting lineup for LeBron James, then waited a couple years and picked up Chris Paul in free agency. With that CP3-LBJ-D-12 Big Three–which suddenly makes all other Big Threes in basketball history look like a Fabolous-Trey Songz-Scott Storch hook-up–there’s positively no chance that Orlando wouldn’t own the NBA season, just like there was positively no way that “Yeah!” wasn’t going to own pop music in 2004.

Despite the fact that he would go on to a historic run of chart dominance shortly thereafter, at the time, the weakest link  in the chain was Usher himself. Not that Mr. Raymond’s skills were ever in question–the man never wowed you with his talents, but he could carry an R&B number with the best of them, and had actually been responsible for two of the biggest (and in retrospect, underrated) hits of the decade to that point, with “U Don’t Have to Call” and “U Got it Bad.” But it had been a couple of years since those songs, and with 2002 being the cut-off for the true start of the Naughty Oughties, there was always the slight, slight possibility that Usher was really just a 90s relic that audiences needed a couple years to shake off. With “Yeah!,” though, there was no doubt that Usher’s true reign had only just begun, his range as impressive as ever, his dance moves trasnfixing as always, his ability to pursue and be pursued by shadowy vixen figures in his music videos still unparalleled. (Seriously, no man has ever spent as much of his life tangoing with shadowy vixen figures as the U, for whom the chase is surely more of a thrill than the capture.)

Usher needed the right song, and the right producer to create it, to re-capture the nation’s hearts, though, and that man certainly wasn’t going to be Jermaine Dupri. Lil’ Jon, on the other hand, was just entering into his Do No Wrong period, and in fact would never Do More Right than “Yeah!” itself, a song which probably rivals even his own “Get Low” for his definitive contribution to 00s pop music. The thing that always struck me about the beat to “Yeah!” was the immaculate symmetry of it, between the keyboard riff that basically worked like a perfect musical palindrome, and the whistle hook (Note to pop music producers worldwide: PUT MORE WHISTLE HOOKS IN YOUR SONGS THEY ARE ALWAYS GUARANTEED TO BE THE CATCHIEST THING ON THE RADIO) that always ends up exactly where it begins. It’s one of the simplest beats of the decade (or rather, it would have been if not for that two-year period where the Hip-Hop Producers Union of America apparently decided to put a $20 financial cap on beat construction), but it still sounds like it was created by a crack team of crunk scientists. Not to mention the invaluable contributions Jon made with in the song with his vocal presence, including the song’s early highlight, where hushed female voices give Mr. Raymond the classic “Ush-er, Ush-er, Ush-er, Ush-er” introduction, and apparently feeling a little left out, the chaliced one interjects, “…AND LI’L JON!!!!!

But the song’s not-so-secret secret weapon was the third verse, provided by one Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges. Luda had the magic touch in 2004-’05, a run in which you seemingly couldn’t watch an hour of MTV Jams without catching him on three or four of the videos, and you wished it could’ve been six or seven of the videos instead. His verse in “Yeah!” was one of his all-time greats, and one that I can still rap pretty much word-for-word to this day, filling up the stat sheet with both his traditional cartoonish vocal inflections (“Watch out, my outfit’s RE-DI-CU-LUUUSS!!,” “Won’t stop till I get ’em in they BIRTH-DAY SOOOOOOOT!!“) and classic one-liners (“If you hold the head steady, I’ma milk the cow,” “Ludacris fillin’ cups like Double-D’s”), and even getting in a reference to his buddy’s signature hit (“Bend over to the front, touch your toes”), all in a super-quick 16 bars that feels like even less. Luda also gets the rather prestigious honors of seeing the song and its three stars out, with the unforgettable send-off “Take that, and rewind it back, [artist] got the [contribution] to make your booty go [smack].”

“Yeah!” topped the pop charts for 12 weeks in the summer of 2004, ranking at the end of ’09 as technically the second-biggest hit of the 00s (behind only Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together”–doubt there are too many non-chart nerds out there would be able to guess the answer to that trivia question). Usher would spend 15 more weeks at #1 that year with fellow Confessions smashes “Burn,” “Confessions, Pt. 2” and “My Boo,” combining for a US chart record of 27 weeks on top in the ’04 calendar year, making him the first and only American artist to have actually owned a year of pop music in a semi-literal business sense. He waited a little too long to do the follow-up, and “Love in This Club” was a very disappointing comeback (Usher-Jeezy-Polow Da Don isn’t a bad troika, per se, but comapred to the original, it’s a pretty bad spinoff), so rather than enter putting his name in the discussion for being the biggest pop star since Michael Jackson, Usher proved himself as a considerable talent that was nonetheless at the mercy of his circumstances, and in the long run, somewhat replaceable.

That’s OK by me, though–with the luster starting to come off a little from all three artists moving into the 2010s, “Yeah!” feels more like an 00s song than ever, and even though the song probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves (aggregate review site Acclaimedmusic.net ranks it as the #55 most-acclaimed song of the decade, somehow ranking below Blur’s “Out of Time” and Morrissey’s “First of the Gang to Die”–damn Brits), I’d probably prefer not to hear it so much anymore. I want to be able to hear “Yeah!” at any point in my life and still picture rapping along to the Ludacris verse with one of my friends in their parents’ basement, or hearing it at a bowling alley and freaking some people out by filling in the “NOW LET ME SEE YOU DO THE A! TOWN! STOMMMMMP!!” part from the video at the end. It was a great song from a great year in a great decade for pop music, and if that’s not a good enough reason to put it at the very top of this list, I don’t know what is. Can someone hit me off with an “…And cut!”?

Before I get out of here, though, ten personal favorites I would have loved to have included on our list if I could’ve provided anywhere near the proper historical justificatoin:

10. Life Without Buildings – “The Leanover”
9. Le Knight Club – “Soul Bells”
8. Phoenix – “Love Like a Sunset”
7. The Dismemberment Plan – “Face of the Earth”
6. Badly Drawn Boy – “Once Around the Block”
5. Doves – “Black and White Town”
4. Freeway f/ Jay-Z & Beanie Seigel – “What We Do”
3. The Microphones – “The Moon (Song Islands Version)”
2. Weezer – “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”
1. Capitol K – “Pillow”

And ten songs from 2009 I would’ve considered including if I had heard/appreciated them in time:

10. Black Eyed Peas – “Boom Boom Pow”
9. Ke$ha – “TiK ToK”
8. Pitbull – “I Know You Want Me”
7. Passion Pit – “The Reeling”
6. Lady Antebellum – “Need You Now”
5. Miley Cyrus – “Party in the U.S.A.”
4. Dirty Projectors – “Stillness is the Move”
3. Shakira – “She-Wolf”
2. Drake f/ Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne & Eminem – “Forever”
1. Animal Collective – “My Girls”

I also would have included “Use Somebody” over “Sex on Fire.”

And just because they were mentioned in the comments section for the #2, if I was making the list again today, I absolutely would have included John Mayer’s “No Such Thing” and Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life”–I didn’t appreciate the former until recently, although I’m not sure precisely what my reason for excluding the latter was.

Thanks for reading, everybody. It was your comments and feedback that helped me get through by far the most ambitious undertaking I’ve ever even considered on IITS, and to actually finish on time for once. Happy New Year to all of you, and here’s hoping the pop music of the 2010s bring us as much joy and wonder as the 100 songs we’ve spent the last six months discussing.

(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
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)
18. Interpol – “PDA
17. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body
16. Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles
15. The Clipse – “Grindin‘”
14. Cam’Ron f/ Juelz Santana & Freekey Zeke – “Hey Ma
13. LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge
12. Soulja Boy – “Crank Dat Soulja Boy
11. StainD f/ Fred Dusrt – “Outside
10. Rihanna f/ Jay-Z – “Umbrella
9. Sum 41- “Fat Lip
8. R. Kelly – “Ignition (Remix)
7. Eminem f/ Dido – “Stan
6. Avril Lavigne – “Sk8er Boi
5. Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz f/ The Ying Yang Twins – “Get Low
4. The Rapture – “House of Jealous Lovers
3. Kanye West – “Through the Wire
2. Linkin Park – “In the End
1. Usher f/ Lil’ Jon & Ludacris – “Yeah!”

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

  1. David said

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this! Happy New Year!

  2. Adam said

    i enjoyed this too. congrats.

  3. ZD said

    I never figured I would’ve had to dig 175 tracks into the P2K list to find the #1 cut from the 00’s, so this wasn’t even on the radar. Per usual, erroneously (for me). It’s a worthy selection and certainly fits with the rubric set out from the beginning, however nebulous it is.

    Anyhow, this didn’t turn out to be The Walkmen’s The Rat, Float On (or indeed anything from Modest Mouse — 3rd Planet maybe?), or through some miracle of miracles, something from the New Pornographers. Who really, when you think of it, are the Canadian equivalent of an Usher/Li’l Jon/Luda triumvirate. *cough*

    In conclusion, BRAVO!! Andrew. This was a great deal of fun and a substantially eye/ear-opening experience. Here’s to a great NYE, 2010, and entire next decade of music.

  4. Jason said

    Awesome, awesome work… Pretty sure I read almost all of these, and I’m so glad I didn’t come all this way to see some damn Arcade Fire or what have you at #1.

    I’d give “B.O.B.” the slightest of edges over it, but “Yeah!” should be on anybody’s top 5. That harmonized “Hey!” at 1:43 is one of the best half-seconds of music ever. And as far as radio goes, it was the decade’s most-played non-country song, which has to count for something.

  5. intensities said

    About “Float On”–it’s certainly a very good song, and by most rights it probably should have been on this list somewhere. But one qualifier I tried fairly hard to stick to with this list was that I only wanted to include songs I still at least somewhat enjoyed listening to, and somewhere in between hearing the Kidz Bop cover and playing it on Rock Band for the 73rd time, I lost all joy I once associated with “Float On.” I could’ve included “Third Planet” or “Night on the Sun” or “Ocean Breathes Salty” instead, all of which I still like/love, but it wouldn’t have been right–the Modest Mouse song of the decade was “Float On,” and I just couldn’t include that in good conscience.

    “The Rat” is a great song. You probably could have talked me including it in the 120s or so.

  6. Garret said

    00. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”

  7. Brent said

    Nice to see a Life Without Buildings shout out. Got into them too late to give them their proper due but I think I played Any Other City more than any other album during this past fall which counts for something.

    And as much as I just don’t get the love for “Yeah!” – chalk it up to my allergy to all things Lil’ Jon touches – I can’t deny Luda’s verse is pretty much worth waiting around for. Second only to T.I.’s verse in “My Love” as far as guest raps of the Oughties go.

  8. Nicely done, Andrew.

  9. Garret said

    Wow, I didn’t even see those honorable mentions. “Face of The Earth” might actually be my favorite D-Plan song.

    Did you ever hear the rest of Any Other City? I remember you saying they were a top 10 “band that you’d only heard one song by.”

  10. Could’ve sworn this was gonna be Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” but I’m glad it’s not. That’s the most overrated single of the decade, IMO. Instead, you go with “Yeah,” and I can’t fault you for that. Makes perfect sense.

  11. Well done on finishing a fabulous project. I’m going to miss it, but looking forward to seeing you return to other things in 2010. Happy New Year and carry on my wayward son!

  12. A.J. said

    I didn’t comment much or at all but I enjoyed reading these for the past couple months, so thanks.

  13. MBI said

    Here’s something no one’s mentioned yet:

    “Yeah, yeah, I got so caught up I forgot she told me
    Yeah, yeah, her and my girl used to be the best of homies”

    No one knows these lines, maybe because they’re a bit incomprehensible in the song. Usher just kind of slurs his way through them. Right there, buried very deep beneath Lil Jon’s frighteningly loud synths, is the whole point of this song, and no one knows it’s there.

    I like to think of Lil Jon in this case as the devil on Usher’s shoulder. “Yeah!” isn’t a club song, not a party song, not a sex song; it’s a cheating song, and one with disastrous consequences in the future (if you take it in context with the rest of the Confessions album. The real tragedy appears to be that Usher shouted “Yeah!” when “Yeah!” was not the correct answer, but somehow it seems like the only answer just the same. Lil Jon isn’t whispering temptations in Usher’s ear, he’s drowning out any other option through sheer volume.

  14. Jonathan said

    Great work Andrew, and thanks for devoting all this time to it. I loved every word.

    As far as “Yeah!” follow-ups go, I think I’m the only person in the world who actually enjoys the actual part 2, “Lovers and Friends.”

  15. Erick said

    Hey – just caught up with this and finally finished it. I can honestly say that I read exactly zero other decade round-up lists – I skimmed some, but they were so boring, so predictable, and so lacking in any kind of insightful commentary, I thought, why bother? These are just lists, dutiful chores, they do nothing. This was the only list that I read cover to cover, and it had all the idiosyncrasies and fascinating, sometimes inspiring, occasionally baffling bits and pieces I wanted in a decade-end roundup. Great job.

  16. Aly said

    =]. Maybe you could make a 2010 list.

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