I had dinner with my friend, Raman, the other night, telling him that I was trying to assemble a Song of the Decade list. He told me that it was internally flawed because it’s much too difficult to select one song for ten years and that I was better off attempting to choose a song for a year or album for a decade. Interesting, but I remained undeterred. I think it’s possible. The most recent decade was the most elusive for me. That’s appropriate, given that there was never even any consensus on what the decade was even called.
Were the ’00s the Zeroes? The Double-Zeroes? The Naughts? The Aughts? I just called them “today,” based on mix stations’ telling us they were playing “the best of the ’80s, ’90s, and today.”
- 1950s: “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets
- 1960s: “Revolution” by The Beatles
- 1970s: “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
- 1980s: “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson (Runner-Up: “Material Girl” by Madonna)
- 1990s: “Mo Money Mo Problems” by Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy and Ma$e
- 2000s: “Hey Ya!” by Outkast
The way I always try to think of topics like this is explaining things to cavemen or aliens. If aliens landed and they asked us to tell us what a time period was like, I’d turn on those songs.
Another approach is to consider the biggest trends to occur. In the ’50s, no doubt it was the birth of rock ‘n roll. The Haley track is widely regarded to be the first song of this era. As John Lennon said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” Well, before 1955, rock simply was not.
The ’60s were marked by upheaval, riots, and counterculture. Lennon wrote “Revolution” in response to “what’s going on” – if I may allude to the Marvin Gaye song by employing the erroneous tense. The Rolling Stones penned “Street Fighting Man.” Both bands were huge but Beatlemania was no doubt the music story of the decade. Their first Ed Sullivan appearance in February 1964 happened only three months after the first Kennedy assassination – and America needed the boost.
The ’70s went in several directions, including the birth of punk and funk and the meteoric rise and subsequent plunge of disco. But it was dominated by classic rock bands. No one was larger than Zep. And likely no ballad will ever top that one. “Stairway” also placed Zep fans in the paradoxical position of admitting it’s the best song of all time but not Zeppelin’s best song.
1980 was a pivotal year for America for myriad reasons. And this is truly when it seemed that genres of music were sprouting up everywhere. Classic rock continued, but gave way to modern rock (“alternative”) with the advent of groups such as R.E.M., U2, Depeche Mode, and The Cure. Hip-hop was dawning. Synth pop was rising in popularity. Though its roots dated back to the late ’60s and its moniker derived from Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and its lyric, “heavy metal thunder,” heavy metal took off. It was “Morning in America,” according to President Ronald Reagan, in a decade marked by hope, optimism, and most of all excess. “Material Girl” by Madonna encapsulated this mood. But the crown must go to the self-declared King of Pop. Arguably the greatest dance song ever, “Billie Jean” is Michael Jackson’s best. And pop music in its current form had not existed until MJ.
I know that most critics would say “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the definitive song of the 1990s. The reason I am selecting the rap track is two-fold:
- Grunge was huge. But Biggie was correct in stating, “You never thought hip-hop would take it this far.” I remember arguing with my friend, John, in high school about whether rap was a fad. He used to liken it to disco, predicting it would pass. And I feared it might. But as it turned out, hip-hop was the dominant force in the last decade of the millennium.
- “Spirit” is too pessimistic to describe the ’90s. They mirrored the Eisenhower ’50s – “peace, progress, and prosperity.” These were good times. And while “Mo Money” celebrated this, it also cautioned what happens when you have too much – almost a harbinger of sorts (not to be confused with “Harvester of Sorrow.” -that was the ’80s.)
When it came to picking one for this last decade, I drew a blank until I recalled that I myself had said a long time ago that it was probably “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. And lo and behold, a Google search directed me to a post on a site called Starpulse. (I actually liked its definition of greatness enough to comment on my own blog post about Defining Greatness.)
Its justifications for its top ten were solid. And even if you disagree with the order, it’s likely that one of these is the answer. (The only one I’d say they’re missing is “In da Club” by 50 Cent. That was a gargantuan hit.) And I’m listing them counting UP for two reasons:
- It’s neater and cleaner for me to make a list on my blog this way.
- The decade ended two years ago. I don’t need to treat this with suspense.
So, here’s Starpulse’s list:
- “Hey Ya!” by Outkast
- “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse
- “Lose Yourself” by Eminem
- “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day
- “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake
- “Umbrella” by Rihanna feat. Jay-Z
- “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce feat. Jay-Z
- “Ms. Jackson” by Outkast
- “Not Ready to Make Nice” by The Dixie Chicks
- “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyonce
That reminded me of my original statement. I’d put “SexyBack” third and “Lose Yourself” second. But “Hey Ya!” wins. And if that list was too poppy for you, remember it is referred to as “Pop Culture.”
Guess if I had gone with “Ms. Jackson,” it would’ve been “Mom Culture.”