The Best Songs of 2004

I swear I’ve never hated doing one of these lists like I do 2004. To the point it took me two weeks to write this. It’s not that I hate the year, one of the happiest moments in my entire life. It’s the music. Like I know 1991 and some of the years in the 80s were bad but I wasn’t there. I was in 2004 and let me tell you I hated it. 2004 began a big looking back year. I was hard into oldies. And it’s weird because the next few years after this? Really good to really great. But this year? Hard. However the rule stands. The good shines amidst the bad.

Honorable Mentions:
Usher- Yeah. The best party song of a decade heavy on them. I dig it.
U2- Vertigo. That was this year? Again, empty pop from U2 never is.
Velvet Revolver- Fall to Pieces. A power ballad from a supergroup that never felt like a real group. I like this song.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Maps. Oh I’m a bad person for not having this on the full list. It’s great.
Collective Soul- Counting the Days. Very narrowly made it on. But one last nod their way. It’s pretty good.

Let’s begin with a rarity. A song by an artist I don’t dislike but loathe. I feel bad about that though. There’s no moral reason I should hate Beyonce Knowles. She’s talented, driven, and has crafted a unique career. And I just reject everything about her. I’m not a fan of her music at all. Still when there’s an exception, I’ll list it.

10 Beyonce- Naughty Girl. I feel like so much of my thoughts on this song are down to that sample from Love to Love You by Donna Summer. It’s a classic sample and using it is kind of a cheat but it works. I think it’s the broad mix of elements at play that truly shine. There’s a strong Arabic influence that pops. The flow of the song is incredible with sweeping vocals that are honestly the best of her career. Truthfully what I connect with is that for once the artifice of Knowles is on the surface and I’m fine with it for once. This isn’t a sincere song. It’s an act. It’s a good act.

I expected 2004 to be the year of the weird indie hit. There are some iconic ones this year. Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is really great. So is Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand. Those are solid songs. That’s still a mood on this list but it’s muted. Let’s look at two in a row that fit this. And we’re leading with fire.

9 The Darkness- I Believe in a Thing Called Love. Justin Hawkins is a rock god like they don’t make anymore. This is a song that utterly loves being insane metal. It’s so tongue in cheek it threatens to poke a hole but it’s ultimately kind of sincere. It’s just a ridiculous love song. Who doesn’t love those? It’s so happy too. In a miserable moment we needed joy. Eventually we went too far. But this is light.

Like I said, there was a sound this year. It was individual but also shared. I feel like part of it was seeing mainstream rock not have the best moment. Previous song aside, conventional arena rock wasn’t huge like it used to be. Sure Green Day had a great year as did Nickelback, but this was the age of rap, namely the dirty south sound. That covered the aggressive macho vibe in music. Softer guys could be heard. Emo was on the rampage this year. I’m not a fan. But I dig this.

8 Modest Mouse- Float On. Honestly I kind of wish this was higher. It’s not because I like the rest of my list more but this is objectively fantastic. Nothing but great hooks. Of course this was a hit because it had to be. The song is fundamentally about rolling with the punches and I get why that was big. It’s a club song for people who prefer IPAs to shots. It feels like it was lab engineered for a college bar. The lyrics are funny, sarcastic as hell. It’s just exactly the right note for the moment. Not really sure why they only had this hit.

Well we are back to Avril Lavigne, now with a full entry. This project really forced me to reevaluate my opinion of her. Because she’s on it more than some acts I love. Like she’s on it more than Keane or The White Stripes. Beck isn’t here except once. Moby isn’t here at all and I love Play! But in the end, she had the tunes.

7 Avril Lavigne- My Happy Ending. I feel like we forget how quickly she moved past the snotty kid style, likely due to her going back to it in 2007. Because a lot of stuff on her second album was like this: immediately growing up. This is a mature, funny song about the collapse of a relationship. Lavigne is laughing at the end of it. The guy wasn’t worth it. It’s a response to Complicated really. And I get why it wasn’t as big. It’s not as much fun to grow up hence the big hit in 2007 I will definitely cover. But maturity worked here.

When it’s all said and done, we should be angry Britney Spears lost control of her life for as long as she did. Just on moral grounds it was wrong. But I also think we should be mad that she never got the chance to figure out who she was as an entertainer. She showed evidence of a rare comic gift but never really got to show it aside from her SNL turns. She was also very good within a narrow range as a performer. Maybe she’ll have a resurgence. She seems impossibly happy at least. Until then, a perfect pop song makes my list.

6 Britney Spears- Toxic. I really could just list this and leave. But no, I need to explain why this is so perfect. It’s a marvel of songwriting. There was a strong, let’s call it non-American influence this year as this samples from an Indian track. It’s something that was in the air and it lands so hard here. It’s also very vintage. You can imagine this coming from Shirley Bassey or Eartha Kitt. Songs about relationships that are bad but addictive are always gold. Spears utterly nails the delivery too. She was rarely as cued into what a song was to be as here. By far her best.

For someone who loves rock music, I am bitter about 2004. I mean 2003 was so good I had to cut songs I loved. But put the greatness of American Idiot to one side along with the few weird indie hits and this is a bad year. If you wanted hard, aggressive rock, you got it with a dose of the most angry, unpleasant attitudes possible. Even Incubus kinda missed me with Megalomaniac. Nickelback and Hoobastank were big. Lots of songs mad at people. Nothing wrong with that but be funny dammit! Like this.

5 Three Days Grace- Just Like You. This is the kind of rock I relate to. It’s a song about telling someone off but in a way that isn’t as whiny as everything was this year. No, this is dripping with sarcasm when it’s not point blank telling the person they’re horrible. It’s strong. And in a year dominated by songs that were so wimpy, I love that we had a song that shredded. This is a song to blast. It still oddly feels of a piece with the year, you can imagine it next to Cold by Crossfade, but it’s just better.

Well you had to see this coming. The collapse of Creed didn’t mean three of the members would stop working together. Instead a new lead singer, the talented Myles Kennedy, took Scott Stapp’s place and a new name was placed. And unshockingly, I dig Alter Bridge. One Day Remains is a fantastic rock album. Here’s my favorite track from it.

4 Alter Bridge- Down to My Last. It’s funny that I got into this band because they rose out of the ashes of a band I liked but my favorite thing about this song is the new guy. Sure, Mark Tremonti is as electric as ever on guitar but Kennedy is the star on the album and especially on this song. This is the same kind of feel good anthem Creed was best at but it’s just a bit stronger for Kennedy having a more beaten down voice. Like he’s not trying to sound like a star. He sells being down but not out so well and belts with the best. I love how blissfully happy this song is. It’s about being at the bottom but not giving up. And it’s a perfect anthem for it. These guys rule. I’ll be back here in 2007.

I shouldn’t be discussing new wave music in 2004. I mean talk about a dead genre. And yet in 2004, there was a song that felt very new wave. Weird lyrics that meant nothing. A spacey, distant sound. Synths. Nothing sounded like this in a year where nothing sounded like anything. And yet this kicked off a solid career for this band. Go figure.

3 The Killers- Somebody Told Me. I would love to analyze why this was a hit. I have no idea though. My best guess is there was a deeply paranoid tone to this song that spoke to people. I remember 2004 and it was a jumpy year. We were angry and moody, which was a prime moment for emo, but we needed something that just sounds lost and freaked out like this. This isn’t about anything on purpose but it’s definitely about being paranoid. It feels wrong and creepy. Nothing sounds like it but 2004 sounds like this to me.

OK, time to examine why Christian Rock is bad. I don’t mean in the easy haha Christian songs are all just love songs about Jesus sense or the it’s bad music sense. Both are usually true but it’s not that simple. Besides I’ve already said dc talk is great and I’ll go to bat for a few other acts. No, the problem with the genre is it’s insular. A lot of Christian Rock is about how religion fuels a person on a daily basis, their personal connection to a deity that others don’t believe exists. That’s really hard to sell. And I’m not against the genre. But either the craft has to blow me away or you need to have a message that works outside the faith. Or both.

2 Switchfoot- Meant to Live. I want to be clear. This is indisputably a Christian song. But it’s dealing with a point that transcends that limitation. This is a song about seeking meaning in an empty world and when I’m trying to put my finger on the pulse of this year, I don’t wonder why this crossed over. It’s a song that speaks to anyone, secular or religious. What is the meaning of life? The title nails what we want to believe is true. There’s a greater purpose to our lives than just wandering. In my case, I’ve found that through my writing and my family. The lyrics to this kill. Also great? Jon Foreman on vocals and guitar. This is another perfect pump you up song. It rarely got better.

OK, let’s do it. This is a weird number one because it’s really representing an album. Trying to find a single representative of American Idiot was so hard I almost left it off the list. Because it is a whole. A glorious whole that needs every piece. But I can whittle them down. The title track? Bit too whiny and has that gross f-word use. which eliminates Holiday too. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a bit too droning even if that’s the point. Wake Me Up When September ends is close. But let’s go with the centerpiece.

1 Green Day- Jesus of Suburbia. A thunderous effort. This is the band in full rock opera mode and pulling it off. This is less a song and more a collection of pieces. It runs an epic 9 minutes. And it’s triumphant. Now look, there’s a full story running through the album and I can’t begin to tell it to you. The key is that this track feels like the catharsis the previous few years had built to. An underwhelming 2000, a devastating 2001, then the war on terror years. This is a tone poem that captures the moment. It feels like 2004 more than anything else could. When you have a repetition of “I don’t care if you don’t care” at the center of your song, you know what you’re saying. And the band has never sounded better which is wild since they topped this list already. American Idiot is a masterpiece, the definitive work of the War on Terror era.

Next time: Take it easy in 2005.

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