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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?

Of course, that wasn’t the only dagger that Linkin Park left in the Heart of Rock and Roll with “In the End.” They called their first album Hybrid Theory, and though the title smacks of pretension, that was kind of the deal with LP–they synthesized rock, hip-hop and electronica better than any other mainstream band ever had, and better than all but a few bands of any stripe ever managed. Interestingly, “In the End” was one of two legitimately gigantic rock crossover hits to crash the top of the charts in late 2001 / early ’02, with the other being Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me.” While neither was particularly warmly received by critics, nobody really lambasted Linkin Park the way they did Nickelback, who were well on their way to being the most reviled mainstream rock outfit of the new millennium. The reasons for this were many–the band’s semi-latent misogyny, lead singer Chad Kroeger’s fourth-generation post-grunge wurble, and the fact that the song certainly wasn’t worth hearing a hundred times over the course of half a year all among them. But more than anyone realized at the time or would probably admit now, I think Linkin Park played a large part in that too. While “How You Remind Me” could just as easily have been created by dozens of different popular bands at dozens of points throughout rock history, while whether you liked them or not, Linkin Park were a strictly 21st-century development. The reason people were able to spot Nickelback for being the musical cretins they were because they had songs like “In the End” to compare them to.

Though there are six members in the band, Linkin Park is first and foremost a creative love triangle between its three principals–singer Chester Bennington, rapper Mike Shinoda, and DJ Joseph Hahn. The masterful interaction between the three is what makes their best songs so transfixing, and what always put them at least one and usually several more cuts above their peers. Bennington was the perfect mouthpiece for the band, a singer who was capable of capturing teen angst at both its whiniest (one could probably write a somewhat fascinating essay on the way the word “you” was transformed to the cutting, accusatory “yewwwwww” over the course of rock in the Naughty Aughties) and it’s most raging (the man perfected the shriek-growl like no other before or sense, the primary reason why I will likely never attempt to do “Faint” karaoke). In addition to that, he also had the ideal look to be the genre’s leading spokesmen, that of a Science Olympiad geek who got introduced to hard drugs and suddenly lost interest in everything–like DJ Qualls crossed with Jesse from Breaking Bad. Hell, his name was Chester Bennington. Chester fucking Bennington. There was no other era where this man could have even vaguely resembled a rock star, but in 2001, Chessie was repping for the untold millions, and his yelp of trying so hard and falling so far was one of a rare, rare few that you actually had to take sort of seriously.

Just as important to the band, though, was Shinoda. Being a white rapper in a nu-metal band is never the surest avenue to street cred, and when your solo breakthrough turns out to be one of the worst singles of the decade (Yeah, I bet you haven’t thought about “Where’d You Go” in years, have you? Sorry to dig up old wounds), it’s not exactly helping matters. But I believe this to this day: Mike Shinoda was one hell of an MC. The first time I really realized this was when watching the live performance DVD that came with Collision Course, their mashup album with Jay-Z. By all rights, Shinoda should’ve appeared absolutely schooled by Jigga, but watching him follow a couple of Jay’z numbers with the first verse to “In the End,” with complete confidence and total control over the audience, I think even Jay had to kinda step back and say “Huh, damn.” And the real brilliance of “In the End” is the way Shinoda’s verses twist around Bennington’s backing sighs, then seamlessly give way to his full-on wails for the chorus. It’s unusual to see a band utilize two separate frontmen the way Linkin Park did, but that’s because it’s significantly more unusual to see a band be able to juggle two frontmen in such a way that it really sounds like two distinct voices stemming from the same train of thought, a conscious and subconscious interplay that is significantly more layered and complex than LP were ever properly given credit for.

And tying it all together was the DJ Hahn, who together with producer Don Gilmore gave the band some of the most gorgeous soundscapes to work with that could be found in all of 00s pop music. The screeching violin hook throughout “Faint,” the percolating drum-and-bass beat propelling “Breaking the Habit,” the piercing, Depeche Mode-like keyboard pattern to begin “Crawling”–I don’t know how much of it was explicitly Hahn’s doing, but he’s the one playing the parts on his MIDI sampler live, so I can only assume he gets much of the credit. You’d hear a lot of people in the first half of the 2000s talk about hearing a Linkin Park jam on the radio, getting really into it for the first ten seconds, and then checking out once the guitar part kicked in and they realized it was an LP song. They may have varied in quality somewhat, but two things were always certain with Linkin singles in the 00s: The intro would be awesome, and the band would sound fantastic, easily the most immaculately-produced rock act since nine inch nails. It was an advantage that rap-rock predecessors like Limp Bizkit and KoRn never had, and one of the primary reasons why LP were the first band able to really bring the genre to the pop charts.

In terms of production, “In the End” is undoubtedly the band’s masterpiece. If the defining rock instrument of the 00s would turn out to be the piano–thanks again, VH1–then I suppose it’s only fair that its defining rock hit should be book-ended by some ivory tickling as well, a pattern so solemn and devastating that it’s more immediately reminiscent of The Smiths’ “Asleep” than of LP’s mookier peers. But it’s not just the hook, or the beat that marks the brilliance of “In the End.” Linkin Park always sounded like the first true band of the digital age (with the possible exception of Orgy, to be fair), and Hahn frequently made a point to play with that perception throughout their singles. My favorite moment in “In the End” is still on the second verse, during the “In spite of the way you were mocking me / Acting like I was part of your property” couplet, where Shinoda’s voice glitches somewhat on the word “property.” It’s a little flourish which doesn’t really distract from the song, but still snaps you to attention a little, with that subtle reinforcement of the song’s theme of a life falling apart by knowingly reducing Shinoda to a bit music file just a step away from complete malfunction. It’s a defining moment for rock music in the mp3 age.

Somewhat ironically for a song of its title and theme, “In the End” was the song that jump-started Linkin Park to superstardom, and helped make Hybrid Theory the first and last diamond-selling rock album of new material of the 00s (and in all likelihood, the last one ever). They stayed with their winning formula throughout 2003’s Meteora, until taking a somewhat unexpected turn towards arena rock with 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, where the great majority of the songs featured little notable hip-hop or electronic influence and no rapping whatsoever from Shinoda. It should have been the end of the band, but as it turned out, in addition to being nifty producers, LP were pretty fine songwriters as well. The best evidence of this was the uber-anthemic hit “Shadow of the Day,” probably my favorite song of theirs behind “In the End,” and easily the best U2 song of the decade (although really, U2 didn’t put up all that much of a fight for the honors). The band’s continued success proves to me, in a somewhat validating way, that even though early-00s nu-metal was the zeitgeist that brought them to generational prominence, they were simply a good enough band that they would have been huge in any era.

Though it’s perhaps unlikely to expect Linkin Park to continue to extend their massive popularity all the way through the 2010s, I am holding off hope that their career kind of follows a similar arc to Pearl Jam’s–that once they stop being includable in the Biggest Band in the World discussion, they’ll settle down a little in ambition and release a pretty good album every couple of years, touring relentlessly trying some new things here and there, but generally staying within their well-established identity and keeping their fans happy. Personally, I can’t wait to see them live in 2025, when I finally know enough of their singles to justify the expenditure. We’ll be in our 30s and 40s, and the band will be nearing their 50s (and looking it), but they’ll hold the mic to the crowd leading into the “I tried…sooo…HAAA-AARRD!!!!” part and it’ll be 2001 again for all of us, with Linkin Park burying rock’s past and pointing the way to a brighter, if superficially darker, tomorrow. Even if Nickelback is still playing one arena over, as big and reactionary as ever.

(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”

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

  1. ZD said

    Oh yeah, these guys. They faded pretty quickly from the front of my mind in about ’03 or so, so I wasn’t counting on seeing them up here. Then again, the one remaining song on my list of possibles may frankly not even be in your Top 200, given that LP came at me so out of the blue. But…nawwww, there’s no way you’d leave this one off the list. Don’t let me down. No, not the 311 song.

    Btw, LP performing at the VMA’s back in the day with the X-ecutioners was realllllly awesome. I’ll not even bother with the HTML tags — no font can do justice to the “shut up” montage starting at around 2:30.

    Lastly — if the world is going to be subjected to the insipid (YMMV) dreck like Kenji, the least we can do is acknowledge that Mike Shinoda isn’t a particularly “white” rapper after all. Which, from the proverbial melting-pot perspective, is fantastic. IMHO.

    N/B: Some friends of mine are from Agoura Hills and I guess know Jason Shinoda…

  2. MBI said

    Well, that leaves only one thing the #1 song could possibly be, and it is in fact what I had myself called the #1 song of the decade just shortly before you started this project. Good on you, Andrew.

    Notable omissions from Andrew’s list:
    John Mayer
    Pink
    Kid Rock
    Shakira
    The Dixie Chicks
    Float On (unforgivable — and you put you “Do You Want To” in the top 50??)
    Bring Me to Life (ditto)
    Christina Aguilera
    Ne-Yo
    Rise Against
    The Hold Steady
    The Black Eyed Peas (I think they deserved a mention as a group, not just as a vehicle for Fergie)
    Michelle Branch

  3. For the record: I think that entire Fort Minor album is pretty damn good. Even “Kenji,” even “Where’d You Go.” Everyone involved in that project did a number on it (the Thought verse, how about that?) and it’s got some tremendous beats, even if they are more distilled awesome (and occasionally GarageBand-looping) than inventive exploration.

  4. Brent said

    I’d have called this for #1 if we were taking bets on it, especially over what it obviously is gonna be now (unless “Bring Me to Life” makes a surprise usurping, in which case HELL YES!)

  5. Dylan said

    Weird, I thought this one was already on the list somewhere. You seem to have a thing for semi-unlikely #2 singles. :-X

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