The Best Songs of 2001

2001! How would I describe my taste this year? Pretty bad. This was basically a holding pattern year until I got into comics. I mean I had The New Jedi Order but that wasn’t great until Star by Star at year’s end. Otherwise way too much Christian fiction because small library. The movies? Delete Lord of the Rings, Vanilla Sky, Monsters Inc, and the masterpiece AI and I was in hell. So when I say music mattered this year, it mattered so badly.

And it was backing a fantastic year! When I talk about 2001, I glow. I won a few journalism competitions. School was great. I wrote probably my only truly good screenplay this year (and for years was ashamed of it weirdly.) I wrote a novella. I was living right! This was the soundtrack.

As for was it good music, look nu-metal was fully a thing. And it’s clear on this list that it was. Honestly, I like a lot of the big music this year. The last gasps of the boy bands are this year and I liked what I heard. There’s some nice country crossover here. Rap/R&B is vintage. This is rock heavy but pop isn’t off the list at all.

Honorable Mentions:
Poe- Hey Pretty. This one hurt to lose on the full list. This is such a perfect song in the seductive mode I love so much. It’s hard not to love just how much it gets under your skin.
Alien Ant Farm- Movies. Hot take: This is so much better than Smooth Criminal. It’s a fiery rock song from a band that could kick ass. It’s sneering in the way this stuff can be.
Nelly Furtado- Turn Off The Light. This is so much better than I’m Like A Bird and I loved that. This just sounds cool.
Coldplay- Yellow. Consider this an affectionate nod but not there yet. I like this song. It’s nice and spare. But knowing what’s coming soon makes it minor.
Blink 182- Stay Together For The Kids. Another hard cut. By far the best Blink 182 song. It’s blunt stuff. That chorus soars.

I didn’t plan my 10 spot to be my whiny song spot but it is. Seriously, everything after this is so much happier. But let’s acknowledge a legend. Chester Bennington didn’t flail in his career but he deserved more respect. He wrote songs about the hell of mental illness. I can relate to that. He fought a war with his brain and through his art he made some progress though it was a war he was fated to lose. And in 2001, he wrote an all time great.

10 Linkin Park- In The End. What a sad song this is. A song about the futility of trusting someone who lets you down. It’s a rare song about failure. This is the anthem to blast when you try your hardest and it’s for nothing. And it’s just one of a kind. Mike Shinoda drives this song with his verses while Bennington kills with the choruses. This really gets to what a breakdown feels like in the most honest way. And that sound is pure 2001 but it holds up.

Hey remember how I said the grunge gods were done after 1995? Yeah that’s wrong. In fact they’ll keep mattering to this day. I mean the drummer for Nirvana is the definition of a rock god still. Well in 2001, one of the bands had an utterly kickass song. I’m happy to put it on the list.

9 Stone Temple Pilots- Days of the Week. Ah it’s nice to come back to STP. They threw heat with this song. It’s a simple song ostensibly about a woman but given Scott Weiland’s famed drug issues, which sadly took him down, it could easily be a drug song. The key is this song has one hell of a contrast between a very bubbly melody and a very dark set of lyrics. And it’s so effective. It makes the song a dark joke in the spirit of the classic STP songs. And seriously this song could so easily play along their hits because it’s as good as them. It’s utter heat from a band still capable of kicking ass.

I hit another debate moment. I consider this song a 2000 song but it was the biggest song of 2001, which is bizarre to me when I get to what it is. The thing is I consider it a 2000 song because I instantly loved it on release. But it was the biggest song of this year. Fine. It’s a 2001 song. And it’s great.

8 Lifehouse- Hanging By A Moment. How is this modest little song the biggest song of any year? It’s a slight song about how great it feels to be in love from a modest though incredibly successful group with an underloved output. (We’ll be back next year.) I ponder how it could be so big but honestly I get it. This song makes you feel incredibly happy. It’s an adrenaline rush capturing what love should feel like. There’s nothing bitter or cynical about it. And 2001 was a cynical year. I think this hit this big just as a mood changer. It’s effective.

I want to be clear about something. I know why people hate a lot of groups I like. I’m not bothered by people hating Creed. I like Nickelback. And yes I like 311. I like them enough to have them on multiple lists! I like them enough to have album tracks I like. And I love this song .

7 311- You Wouldn’t Believe. Can’t go wrong with a song about a broken man struggling with being such. There’s not much here but that’s fine because it’s funny and a great song to play loud. Sincerity was flooding into rock and this feels like a last bit of 90s irony. It’s from a distance. It’s a pep talk. And it’s effective. We’ve all been down. It’s nice to be reminded that happens to everyone. We’re not bad people for it. And honestly beneath the jokes there is some sincerity. That’s what gives it weight.

So there was no way I wasn’t getting to Disturbed. I really do like a lot of their work. I’ve loved their covers. Sure I can say I find some of David Draiman’s opinions annoying. But this is about the music. And it kills.

6 Disturbed- Voices. This is such a classic metal song. What is it about? Nothing. It’s just a horror song in the grand tradition of heavy metal and it rules. This feels like the soundtrack to any classic horror movie. It’s very ridiculous and fun in that way. There’s some epic shredding and Draiman plays up the silliness. This is the kind of metal I adore. It’s just a fun song.

Why didn’t Michelle Branch do better? I’ve wondered this for a long time. Not that she was a failure. She had a nice string of hits off her first album and her Santana collaboration was a hit. But she should have lasted longer. It feels like with her second album, she tried to play the PR game and it wasn’t for her. She had a very organic sound and the Maxim scene would never fit her. She deserved better.

5 Michelle Branch- Everywhere. This is the kind of perfect pop song I love. In fact when it got the Pop Goes Punk treatment from Yellowcard they basically covered it straight. There’s nothing to improve here. It’s just a tight song about being infatuated with someone who may not even know you’re alive. There’s a nice rock edge to it that gives it a punch. It’s written from a clear teenage perspective, and indeed Branch was 15 when she wrote it. While it’s been polished by the producer, you can’t miss the authenticity of it. This has been called the wellspring of what came next and maybe that’s why Branch would only have this moment. This started something big in pop.

I’ve noted I hate U2 in political mode. So, you’re probably assuming from that statement that All That You Can’t Leave Behind, their much-celebrated return to their core rock sound, is my favorite era of the band. And yes of course it is. There’s not one less than great single off this album. And even so picking a best song is easy.

4 U2- Beautiful Day. I feel like a big theme of this era is simple. The 90s went obtuse a lot with lots of metaphors. Not here. This is blunt. It’s a pep talk to yourself. Life is hard. Be happy with what you have. It’s joy in audio form. Just sheer bliss that does exactly what it promises. You listen to it and get lost in the mood. The thing is there’s lots of songs like this. This shouldn’t be radically different from those. But the sheer craft from the band takes an ok song at Fight Song level and makes it sing. The Edge really kills on the guitar here. This is probably the best thing the band ever did.

I’ve kept the discussion of who I was in 2001 mostly off this list because there’s not much to say. I was happy. Things were good. I think that’s reflected in the songs I like. But I was kind of lonely. I didn’t have a huge peer group. So a song about wanting to talk about that joy has to hit me hard. And there was one.

3 Incubus- Wish You Were Here. Usually that statement connotes missing someone, a sad mournful one. I love that it’s the opposite here. The song is about a perfect moment and wishing you could share it. The last word is what matters. So much of my art has been trying to express those moments. And as with Stellar, the mood is unrelentingly happy. You feel that electric joy of this specific moment. It’s just so comforting and happy. And look, this came out in August 2001. I have to acknowledge we were weeks from the national mood darkening. This was a comfort song then. I’m glad I had it.

OK, again I’m looking at Creed. It’s funny how things fell apart for the band at the exact moment they’d finally cracked the code. My Own Prison is a great rock album if incredibly right wing in places but with Human Clay the band discovered they were great at a poppier sound and it came against some shockingly atonal rock that sounds like garbage. With Weathered, they leaned into the pop and put out a blast of a lighter album that holds up. And within two years they were done aside from Full Circle which screams contractual obligation and is so much worse than Human Clay. Well, thanks for the memories.

2 Creed- My Sacrifice. After All For Love in 1993, this is the most pathetically obvious attempt at recreating another song I’ll ever cover. This is Higher except as a love song. And you know what? It works. It’s the formula knocked out perfectly. The band actually broke their back trying to repeat Higher on that album and at least once more succeeded but it was a 2002 single so next year/week I’ll talk about it. This is pure soaring guitars and Scott Stapp going into orbit he’s so over the top. And it works. Being shot in the head is subtler than this song but I don’t care. I love it. It makes me happy. It’s trying to be Higher and it might just be better.

Let me talk about a song I think is ok. I’m not the biggest fan of Tal Bachman’s She’s So High and it’s because it’s trying to be over the top in love and it’s not. Bachman can’t hit the highs it demands. He’s only an ok singer and lyrically the song keeps settling at a 6/10 vs the 15/10 it needs. It’s held back. You can’t do this genre of song this way. All or nothing. Here’s all.

1 Andreas Johnson- Glorious. I won’t have a more obscure number one in this entire project. This barely scraped the adult top 40 in the US though it was bigger in Europe where it was an ad staple. It deserved way better. This is an over the top love song done perfectly. It’s pure synth sweeps for the coolest sound of the year. Nothing else on the radio resembled this remotely. Johnson isn’t any great vocalist but he’s a smart enough writer to let the lyrics cover that while the production kills. This is what an all consuming love should feel like. It’s downright cosmic and ethereal. One of the best songs of the decade. Worth throwing on.

Next time, we sputter just slightly in 2002.

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