80. NIVEA – ‘Don’t Mess With The Radio’: I don’t drive and Isabel does so in-car-entertainment power struggles as a relationship metaphor is something I can guiltily get behind (i.e. I tend to hog the tape player). It helps that the count-up hook is as charming as hopscotch. The backing – blushing 80s beeps and chimes – is like a shyer, sugary Neptunes.
79. RDB – ‘Thenoo Thakiya’: Flicks and slides between battering MC-jungle and a more thoughtful breaks track – a slight, poignant piano figure and stretched Punjabi vocals float through the mix too. Like Shy FX and T-Power’s junglepop, this is simple but effective – the first drum’n’bass track to trigger my reflexes for a long while.
78. DANIEL BEDINGFIELD – ‘Inflate My Ego’: The marvelous Mr Bedingfield on his best foam-flecked form. Bedingfield is a singular and significant talent – a classic English pop individualist who just happens to be using the most up-to-date sonic toolkit, and so touches a massive audience where potential peers moulder in bedsits. Here a fuzzed-out ‘Peter Gunn’ sample dramatizes yet another snarling re-run of Bedingfield’s central dilemma – what’s a boy to do when success doesn’t bring you love? The caustic switchbacks between popstar self-worship and romantic abjection might remind you of Robbie, but Bedingfield always sounds cheaper, hungrier, more doubting and more sympathetic.
77. MADONNA – ‘Die Another Day’: We used to have a pinball table called Pinbot in the Queens College game room – it was decorated with a sexy robot woman and the idea was to wake her with your magnificent ball skills. ‘I…can SPEAK!’ she would say in breathy tungsten tones, ‘I…can SEE!’. ‘I…can FEEL!’. If you got an extra special jackpot the robot woman would get down off the pinball table and sing this song while vogueing but I was never that good. NB it is better when making a Bond theme to make a great record which doesn’t sound like a Bond theme than to make a shit record that does – would Elton John really prefer Garbage?
76. MISSY ELLIOT feat LUDACRIS – ‘Gossip Folks’: The mushed-up pig latin whispers are more than just a perfect fit with the hunched-up elbow-swinging beat – they perfectly illustrate why even in its staler patches Under Construction is such an entertaining album. Missy’s wordsounds, especially chewed up or mispronounced or oddly emphasized wordsounds, carry the album’s message more than any of its lyrics. That message? Hip-hop is our playground – let’s cut the crap and play!
75. JONI – ‘Yearned Ways’: Number One in a parallel world where Daft Punk were joking, Joni’s electroglide cover of U2’s ‘New Years Day’ is a total goof but still can’t quite help but affect me. Maybe this is because Bono’s a better melodist than I’d like to think, but just as likely it’s because I was 8 in 1981 and this kind of wide-eyed synthwash kitsch is always going to sound touching. That’s the Boards Of Canada way to win a listener’s heart: readers a little older than me can mentally substitute any given track from Geogaddi for this. Younger readers have no such excuse.
74. PINK – ‘Get The Party Started’: The chunka-chunka beat is Status Quo rewritten by Mirwais! Linda Perry’s finest hour. Pink’s, too, which is saying a lot more. No part of this record sounds natural, except the whole.
73. SAINT ETIENNE – ‘Soft Like Me’: Finisterre is a series of snapshots building into an unsettling, provocative whole. None of the pictures amount to much on their own except for this, which sees MC Wildflower join what might as well be Belle And Sebastian to make the wimpiest Brit-rap record I’ve ever heard. It’s adorable! Sarah Cracknell’s chorus is perhaps a marzipan layer too far but sweet teeth should still investigate.
72. MIS-TEEQ – ‘Roll On (Remix)’: I had to put a Mis-Teeq record in this list because their Glastonbury performance was so brilliant (‘Who here has got a tent?’) and luckily this could have pushed in on merit anyhow. The Rishi Rich remix is two fine songs for the price of one – the original’s slinky London R’n’B suddenly twisting into a Timbaland-influenced bumper. I bought this single the week I moved back to the capital – another reason for fondness.
71. LAMBCHOP – ‘The Daily Growl’: Lambchop’s Is A Woman is a record I’ve never failed to love after five songs and never failed to turn off before ten – there’s no night late enough for a full serving of its dissipated ambient-country driftings. In smaller doses it’s an absolute tonic: twinkling lite-jazz instrumentation to lull you, a sudden sardonic line or neat melodic turn to tweak you back into paying attention. ‘Thought – an underrated skill’ sings Kurt Wagner on this entirely representative track.
70. BOOT CAMP CLIK – ‘And So…’: A little pass-the-microcosm of hip-hop – bragging, fatalism, blood-curdling threats, and a loping, easy beat. Also a rare acknowledgement and diss of backpacker hip-hop – makes sense that the anonymous fringes of the mainstream have most to fear from the likes of Buck 65, though. But even if Anticon somehow wiped out all these minor players, that thoughtful, soulful sample means ‘And So…’ would endure.
69. ELEPHANT MAN – ‘The Bombing’: Jamaica is close enough to America to catch some of the flavour of its war fever, and far enough away to view it with a kind of giddy relish. And in any case, reggae has rarely passed up an opportunity for apocalypse talk. So dancehall’s 9/11 tunes often rang truest – Elephant Man’s news bulletin has fear, fire, brimstone and a kind of guilty awe; Bush vs Bin Laden as a kind of clash between gangsters. The hookless chanting is a turn-off at first, but repeated listenings lend it force. ‘Looks like World War Three gonna happen!’.
68. STICKY feat TUBBY T – ‘Tales From The Hood’: Tubby T’s voice is comically agonized throughout this excellent slice of conscious garage: he throws his stresses in unfamiliar places and wrings his consonants like hands (and check the profound shudder in his voice on the word ‘fiend’). Occasionally a chorus of giggling demons attends his warnings. Sticky’s inventiveness is the kind you hardly notice – the best kind – because you’re too caught up in the urgent groove. Suddenly his bassline manipulations stick out and you marvel at yourself for missing them.
67. AMERIE – ‘Why Don’t We Fall In Love?’: Tension – that striking three-note figure running through the song, waiting for a resolution continually deferred. Calm – Amerie’s slight, soft voice, which always sounds like it’s denying or at least ignoring its audience, singing only to itself. There are always a thousand good reasons not to fall in love – the song may present it as a done deal but the way Amerie sings lets us know she’ll decide in her time, not ours.
66. EKITI SON – ‘Gemini Disco’: A skeleton of rhythm – less even, a blueprint – but try and stop yourself moving. A real find by gabba.net, this – gaps and particle trails suggest 2-Step in 4-D but our ears pick up only an abstraction. Taunting and haunting.
65. SUGABABES – ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’: After trundling through Acton the Oxford Tube generally picks up speed on the Hammersmith Flyover, swooping down upon Shepherd’s Bush with a Londoner’s returning glee. Once, in early Autumn, this track was playing: it sounded, and I felt, as invincible as the city. Most Sugababes tracks these days have just as strong a chorus, but those kind of convergences of place, self and music always deserve recognition. Surly and coldly fashionable, the Sugababes are after all a very London band.
64. WIRE – ‘Germ Ship’: More terror-pop. The components of this particular bacillum are little more than a hissed title and a drilled beat, but the bass-borne infection rate is unpleasantly high.
63. EMINEM – ‘Lose Yourself’: Hard to think of a hip-hop track which is as unflinchingly confessional about rap failure – the dry mouth, the blank mind, the turned back, the shame. Or as clear-sighted about the consequences of success. In context, the most immediate thing about ‘Lose Yourself’ – its punchy go-for-it chorus – sounds desperate, even poignant. How much of this is ëfor real’ is less relevant than ever – Eminem’s an actor now, after all.
62. FALLACY AND FUSION – ‘The Groundbreaker’: Tantalisingly close to crossover status – its beautifully bombastic riff was all over TV but rarely credited – you probably know ‘The Groundbreaker’ even if you think you don’t. You mightn’t recognize the messily enthusiastic rap, but the hook is once-heard, never-forgotten. As close as UK Hip-Hop came this year to the US-led mainstream style, and for once I’m wondering what Ludacris or Busta might do with this beat. More successful it might be – more likeable? Doubt it.
61. GRUNGERMAN – ‘Die Bittere Rauch’: Goth-haus, imperious and nebulous. A clinging, freezing fog rolls and shifts, letting you glimpse the outlines of vast ruins, within which toil the machineries of judgement. You hear their implacable rhythms, and far away you also hear a woman’s voice. A seraph perhaps, she is reading in a language you do not know from the book of the dead.