Decades is a recurring feature that turns back the clock to critical anniversaries of albums, songs, and films. This month, we dial it back to the top 50 songs of 2007.
Ten years is enough time for a song to infiltrate the consciousness of music fans and for us to really evaluate what that song means to us. Though 2007 was dominated by indie rock albums, the songs that stand out were so much more ambitious than the groups making them initially came across. Maybe that’s why the years following 2007 would find some of these indie acts like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, LCD Soundsystem, and The National becoming rock and roll luminaries, while other artists like Rihanna, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, and Kanye West saw some of their best-known material surface in that year.
How far did the ripples spread? Well, if you said LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” became an anthem of a generation, you wouldn’t be wrong. Alt radio found a few of its staples in songs like “Kids”, “The Pretender”, and “Dashboard”, while Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was a pop breakthrough that would turn the rising star into a household name. Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” was an electronic game-changer that helped usher in the age of rave music hitting the big stages at festivals. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is as likely to be heard at a sports event as on the radio, while songs like Spoon’s “The Underdog”, The National’s “Fake Empire”, and Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” increased their exposure through widespread television syncs. These weren’t just songs that bounded leaps ahead of their artists’ previous work. They are songs that have become cultural moments.
The following are 50 of the best from a particularly strong year, songs that might make you feel old and will definitely make you wonder whether music has (and can) reach these heights again.
50. Queens of the Stone Age – “Sick, Sick, Sick”
After the surprise mainstream success of single “No One Knows”, Queens of the Stone Age could’ve gone the route of Fall Out Boy and become reliable purveyors of pop rock. Not to say that what Fall Out Boy does is easy — just that frontman Josh Homme had shown the kind of knack for melody that buys a guy a vacation home on the ocean and a boat to get around. QOTSA could’ve gone in that direction, instead of doing what they did, which was leaning into the weird. Lullabies to Paralyze was full of droning, riff-heavy rock songs, and Era Vulgaris sounds like a bit of every era, including the future. But one of the best songs off it, “Sick, Sick, Sick”, is a full-throated throwback to thrash that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Metallica concert. The jittery drums, the relentless guitars, and the screams of “Sick!” are a sonic shot of adrenaline. It’s a chug-a-shaken-can-of-Red Bull kind of experience. –Wren Graves
49. Blonde Redhead – “23”
Shoegaze, alt rock, and trip-hop never really died; they just threaded themselves together into the skeletal serenity of Blonde Redhead’s “23”. Kazu Makino’s wordless vocal harmonies dominate the track almost as much as her nearly-in-the-red leads, slipping by sweetly at the back of the rushed rhythm like a beautiful landscape smeared through the car window. Like many of the best songs on this list, “23” got placement in a piece of crossover pop culture, namely an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and though it’s perhaps a little more esoteric than that might suggest, the song carries an easily digested yet thrumming, anxious energy. “23 seconds, all things we love will die/ 23 magic, if you can change your life,” Makino cries out, controlled yet pushed as far as that control will allow, as she and the Pace brothers build an equally tight yet constantly pushing backbone. Makino’s voice, too, has a chill to it (think Massive Attack and the like), yet an undeniable urgency as well. Much like the four-legged classic beauty on the cover, the song is entrancing and stunning, yet there’s something not quite right — and you’ll need to keep staring, dissecting, analyzing to find an answer. –Lior Phillips
48. Shout Out Louds – “Impossible”
Our Ill Wills
Ten years later, Shout Out Louds are barely a blip on the musical radar. But on their Björn Yttling-produced second album, the band laid out a successful blueprint of lovelorn, wistful indie pop that catapulted the Swedish group to big festival stages. Our Ill Wills contains three Cure-esque home runs (honorable mention to “You Are Dreaming” and “Tonight I’m Gonna Leave It”, the latter of which I literally thought was a Cure song for several years), and best is the sprawling “Impossible”. Running nearly seven minutes, the track doesn’t attempt to be more than a romantic pop song about heartbreak and healing. It’s just a supersized portion, complete with orchestral swells and a bridge diversion so effective that the listener nearly forgets where the song had been until the chorus comes swirling back. The song’s inherent sadness is culled by frontman Adam Olenius and tempered by his wise sense of perspective. “Stay out of love until you’re ready,” he warns, his own longing songwriting standing as a lighthouse to guide others through the storm. –Philip Cosores
47. Chromeo – “Fancy Footwork”
The only thing Chromeo ever needs to worry about is whether or not their fans are having fun. That’s sort of their wheelhouse, and they do that by mining the same ’80s rhythms that once soundtracked your parents’ Friday nights with China white. But fiddling around with 808s and tossing in a little synth is any fool’s game. What separates the Canadian duo from the million other retro-gazing acts doing the same thing is their knack for melody and emotion. Their songs are often ludicrous, but they tug at your heart like the ending to a really good John Hughes movie. “Fancy Footwork” bottles that feeling by framing Dave 1 as a benevolent mentor who raises a troubled teen’s sprits with a dance lesson to win over the girl: “But if you let her see that fancy footwork/ Show her that you’re not that shy/ Let her see that fancy footwork/ Show her you’re that type of guy.” Sigh, where’s Anthony Michael Hall when you need him? –Michael Roffman
46. The New Pornographers – “Challengers”
The title track from Challengers is as much of the backstory of how AC Newman met his wife as we get on the record, though the relationship is an overarching presence. During this duet between Neko Case and Newman in which Case is in the forefront, Newman’s songwriting is at its most poetic. At that point, The New Pornographers were not known for restraint, but “Challengers” is subtle and delicate, as close to Case’s solo work as the band had ever recorded. The details of meeting and connecting with someone new while both are involved with others feel real because they were. Instead of acting on their passions, they maintain contact and wait for each other to become available. It’s romantic in a way that is mature and almost old-fashioned, but with the knowledge that the pair wind up getting married, it’s sweet in the way most love songs aren’t. Case and Newman manage to turn the characters’ romantic chemistry into a musical one, giving Newman’s tale the treatment it deserves. –Philip Cosores
45. Los Campesinos! – “You! Me! Dancing!”
Sticking Fingers into Sockets
“If there’s one thing I could never confess/ It’s that I can’t dance a single step,” sings Gareth David in the pre-chorus of the euphoric “You! Me! Dancing!”. He is, of course, using one of the song’s key moments to confess just that, but before he has time to feel self-aware the song explodes around him with chants of “It’s you! It’s me! And there’s dancing!” One could search high and low across the vast universe of post-2000s indie rock and not find a more singularly endearing moment.
A Welsh group weaned on North American indie classics, Los Campesinos! took all the sloppy, meandering cues from bands like Pavement and Built to Spill but injected their end product with pop rocks and caffeine, proving once and for all that, in indie rock, cool doesn’t have to mean aloof. This band’s version of cool is letting it all loose and reveling in the messy majesty of life, and the sprawling, six-minute “You! Me! Dancing!” still never fails to elicit a smile or a shake of the hips. –Collin Brennan
44. Jay Reatard – “Let It All Go”
Jay Reatard’s “Let It All Go” might be the only song on this list that never found its way onto a proper album, being featured instead on a split single with Boston Chinks and, later, on Reatard’s Singles 06-07 compilation. All the same, the tune lives on as a prime example of the singer at the peak of his chaotic, whimsical powers. A swirling guitar riff gives way to the four-word chorus of “Now I need you,” each repetition sounding more desperate than the last. And then — all of a sudden — we’re back at square one, Reatard pulling himself away from the brink as if finally realizing that punk, even at its lowest and most dejected, should never take itself too seriously. –Collin Brennan
43. Grinderman – “No Pussy Blues”
Time makes quite the difference. Considering his recent elegiac, heartfelt turn with Skeleton Tree, the idea of Nick Cave jamming out on his guitar, sticking his tongue firmly in his cheek, and singing about how he wasn’t able to get any seems almost absurd. But that’s exactly the story of the second single from his raw-edged alt rock outfit Grinderman, “No Pussy Blues”, a not-super-subtle blend of blues, rock, wah pedal, and lyrics about the dog-toting starlet who doesn’t dig Cave’s appearance, no matter how much poetry he reads her. But then at the time Cave’s rough side was more prominent, and Grinderman explored that aggressive garage side even further, this track emblematic of the id-driven energy that the project explored, as well as the smirking knowledge of just how over-the-top and silly it all was. The only thing as connected to this song as Cave’s then-still-not-fashionable moustache was the knowing wink that surely came with it. –Lior Phillips
42. M.I.A. – “Boyz”
Sure, Kala, M.I.A.’s sophomore studio album, eventually spawned the massive “Paper Planes” (released as a single in 2008), but the previously released “Boyz” immediately captured Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s complex identity politics and musical tradition experimentation long before that massive crossover hook. As a preview of Kala, it rode a simple percussive loop and celebratory horn samples, M.I.A. spitting deceptively simple lines about “no money boys.” It plays for the dance floor, but its questions about “how many start a war” belie the potential violence innate at the other side of the coin from the Carribbean “duppa bounce.” Tamil drums fuse with Jamaican touchstones, M.I.A. continuing to push at the rules of geography, culture, and space-time, fusing overlooked communities into a song at once undeniable and unflinching. –Lior Phillips
41. Nine Inch Nails – “Survivalism”
Trent Reznor was on a roll in the mid-aughts. 2005’s With Teeth introduced a poppy side to Nine Inch Nails, one that connected to a new generation of fans ready for an all-out industrial dance party. Naturally, he obliged, and even when he returned to the dark side with 2007’s Year Zero, he wisely kept the balloons at his side. Remember, though, these were the waning days of the Bush administration, and youngsters were obsessed with revolution rock (see: Green Day, My Chemical Romance), which is why a rousing anthem like “Survivalism” easily swept them off their feet. It helped, of course, that it was part of a larger political concept album and that Reznor was teasing fans with then-unprecedented viral marketing — from mysterious phone numbers off tour shirts to hidden USB sticks at shows — but really, the song’s a tropical storm and one of the last times the muscular frontman sounded edgy, sexy, and downright prescient. –Michael Roffman
40. Rilo Kiley – “Silver Lining”
Under the Blacklight
It’s easy to forget that when Under the Blacklight first slid out from under the covers and into the world, many fans felt cheated. This wasn’t Rilo Kiley, this was pop. Gasp. A decade later, “Silver Lining” feels like a harbinger of songs to come (though sadly not from this band, may it rest in peace). Jenny Lewis’ track is a slow, smooth song with an alt-country center buried way, way beneath all the glittering pop sheen. It’s such a pleasure on the ears — Lewis’ voice is, as ever, a lovely thing — that the bitter taste of the lyrics can be overlooked. How can a phrase like “I never felt so wicked/ As when I willed our love to die” possibly exist in a song so sweet? Fans may have thought this marked the end of Rilo Kiley, and to be fair, they were right, but my god, what a curtain call.–Allison Shoemaker
39. Modest Mouse – “Dashboard”
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
When Modest Mouse scored a massive alt radio smash in 2004 with “Float On”, it was such a surprising moment for the indie rock graduates that replicating seemed impossible. But, with “Dashboard” as the first single from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (and later with “Lampshades on Fire” from Strangers to Ourselves), the Washington natives proved a penchant for penning alternative hits without losing the quirky, singular sound they were known for. The story goes that “Dashboard” stemmed from the first jam session between Mouse leader Isaac Brock and Smiths legend Johnny Marr, who joined the band for the record. Brock improvised the melody and lyrics on the spot, blowing Marr’s mind by how naturally the songwriting occurred. On record, it’s a propulsive number, employing horns, strings, and unexpected flashy production that made use of the band’s major-label budget. But the heart of the song is how unhinged Brock gets without losing the song’s central hook. Like the song’s most memorable lyric, their radio sensibility could withstand even the most intense of blazes. –Philip Cosores
38. Animal Collective – “Fireworks”
Never quite as explosive as its name would suggest, Animal Collective’s “Fireworks” is a shuffling psych-pop poem that captures the feeling of listlessness without ever sounding, well, listless. Stuffed to the brim with metaphors about recapturing a lost paradise of the mind, the song’s seven minutes almost seem too short to contain a stream-of-consciousness narrative gently eased along by a swirling rhythm. Some bands (and critics, for that matter) mistake “long” for “important,” but “Fireworks” is that rare example of an extended pop song that feels perfectly edited. “And I can’t lift you up, my mind is tired/ It’s family beaches that I desire,” goes the chorus, condensing that familiar mixture of heartbreak and exhaustion into a couplet that kills every time. “Fireworks” may never offer that one huge bang, but it dazzles all the same. –Collin Brennan
37. Okkervil River – “Unless It’s Kicks”
The Stage Names
The Stage Names is full of big moments from Okkervil River. Opener “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe” takes a cinematic look (complete with plenty of projectionist imagery) at lyrical storytelling while closer “John Allyn Smith Sails” drops in an album-ending sing-along of “Sloop John B”. But it’s the record’s second song, “Unless It’s Kicks”, that Will Sheff turns into the biggest anthem of his career. Building upon a muscular guitar riff and a stomp-along rhythm, Sheff allows himself the opportunity to wail into the microphone with steadily building gumption. When Sheff sings “some rock ‘n’ roll fan” with a snarl in his throat, it’s the work of a longtime songwriting master realizing he is also a captivating frontman. And this self-awareness carries the track into satisfying climax of rare proportions, with Sheff reaching and hitting the high notes, sticking the landing on his most acrobatic vocals. The song would go on to be a frequent set closer for the band for the next decade, something that anyone could have predicted upon listening to the song for the first time. –Philip Cosores
36. Wilco – “Impossible Germany”
Sky Blue Sky
The best song on Wilco’s underrated Sky Blue Sky deals with the “fundamental problem” of distance and disconnect between lovers. It’s never clear if Jeff Tweedy is referring to actual, physical locations when he sings of “Impossible Germany/ Unlikely Japan,” but that level of ambiguity helps to drive the song into more contemplative territory. In this sense, it’s one of the most lyrically accomplished songs of his long career, both reflecting and echoing the notion that two sides in a relationship might see a problem in fundamentally different (and possibly irreconcilable) ways. Also worthy of a shout-out here is the tasteful, gorgeous guitar work of Wilco newcomer Nels Cline, whose solo dominates a full half of the song’s six-minute runtime but certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. –Collin Brennan