My apologies to anyone whoâ€™s been waiting with bated breath for me to wrap up this series â€“ is there any such person out there? I left off in early August, with my review of songs that failed to wriggle their way past Mariah Carey and/or Boyz II Men to reach the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100 during the â€™90s. Since then Iâ€™ve faced the same trepidation I had last year while surveying the Worst Number One Songs of the â€™00s â€“ namely, the fact that I feel less than eminently qualified to pass judgment on the Auto-Tune Era. Finally, though, as Woody Harrelson puts it so eloquently in Zombieland, I decided it was time to â€œnut up or shut up,â€ so here we are.
Fortunately, Iâ€™ve got the artist kicking off our countdown to push me forward, and remind me why I took up this six-part (so far) endeavor in the first place. As always, Iâ€™ll conclude with a list of some other #2s from the decade.
11. “Work It,” Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. I donâ€™t particularly care for this track, but there are a couple reasons why itâ€™s a perfect launching pad for this column. For one, it represents a key step in the evolution of hip-hop toward raunchy themes and racy lyrics. Because Missy was as nasty as the boyz of her era, she absolved the trend of any misogynist stigma, and it was a quick step from â€œWork Itâ€ to the strip-club hip-hop soul thatâ€™s become so prevalent lately. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that, necessarily … though when even Jordin Sparks is singing about â€œthe club,â€ maybe the moment is over, huh? Anyway, the other key accomplishment of â€œWork Itâ€ was its 10-week stay at #2 — tied with Foreignerâ€™s â€œWaiting for a Girl Like Youâ€ (which we celebrated here) for the longest runner-up run in chart history. And hereâ€™s where weâ€™ve gotta give Missy her props, because sheâ€™s got the stones to admit that only reaching #2 with her biggest hit kinda sucked. â€œI just wanted to die those ten weeks,â€ she said of being blocked by Eminemâ€™s smash â€œLose Yourselfâ€ through the winter of â€™03. â€œI mean, it wasn’t cool.â€
10. (tie) “Apologize,” Timbaland with OneRepublic ; “This Ainâ€™t a Scene, Itâ€™s an Arms Race,” Fall Out Boy; “The Reason,” Hoobastank; “In the End,” Linkin Park; “Hanging by a Moment,” Lifehouse; “Photograph,” Nickelback. Here, in descending order of quality (as far as Iâ€™m concerned), are six of the seven biggest rock-based hits to cross over to the pop chart this decade without making it all the way to the top. So why have I lumped all these songs together here? Well, considering that you can count the #1 hits that have emerged from the rock idiom since 2002 on the fingers on one hand â€“ depending on how you feel about the crunchy guitars on your standard Kelly Clarkson or Pink single â€“ it just makes sense to confine these singles to their own little ghetto. So, take a quick peek over the wall and then move on â€¦ thereâ€™s nothing much to see here. (Except to wonder why Timbaland makes himself look so ridiculous in the following video — as if his oversold â€œhey, heysâ€ from the control room were actually being caught by the mics in the studio.)
9. “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna. The Barbadian spitfireâ€™s first big hit was the dancehall (and aerobics-studio) jam of summer â€™05, though it became one of four songs left in the dust by Mariah Careyâ€™s comeback smash â€œWe Belong Together.â€ Interestingly, another of those four was Mariahâ€™s own follow-up hit, â€œShake It Off,â€ which became only the second single in history to be blocked by another track from the same artist. The first was â€œTwist and Shout,â€ which got stuck behind â€œCanâ€™t Buy Me Loveâ€ during the initial wave of Beatlemania. At least the Fabs have an excuse for getting in their own way, as â€œTwist and Shoutâ€ was released on the Vee-Jay label â€“ it was among the early-Beatles songs Capitol Records had rejected when it didnâ€™t believe the group would be successful in the U.S. The phenomenon repeated itself once more in 2006 â€“ sorta â€“ when Gwen Stefaniâ€™s â€œThe Sweet Escape,â€ featuring Akon, was blocked by Akonâ€™s own â€œDonâ€™t Matter.â€ As for â€œPon de Replay,â€ it was the track from Rihannaâ€™s initial four-song demo that grabbed the ear of then-Def Jam honcho Jay-Z, and the rest is history â€¦ including the unfortunate incident youâ€™ll be thinking about while you read my #6 listing below.
8. (tie) “You Belong with Me,” Taylor Swift, and “Party in the USA,” Miley Cyrus. Look, I donâ€™t care what you think â€“ these smashes by Americaâ€™s sweethearts are my daughter Catieâ€™s favorite songs of the year, and Iâ€™ve had them drilled into my skull to the point where I can think of little else. Besides, theyâ€™re both nice little tunes, and theyâ€™ve both sparked nice little controversies. Everybody knows what happened to poor Taylor at the VMAs, and then thereâ€™s the small matter of Mileyâ€™s supposed â€œpole dancingâ€ at the Teen Choice Awards. If youâ€™re like me, youâ€™ve never actually seen what the fuss was all about, so check out the fan video below (I couldn’t find an â€œofficialâ€ video anywhere on the Net).
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All I can say is, anybody who can get Bill Oâ€™Reilly to embarrass himself prattling on about teenagers and values, just because she did a couple of knee bends while standing atop an ice cream cart, is OK by me. So Catie, you can keep watching clips of your â€œgirl songsâ€ at full blast as long as you want; please, though, just wait a few more years before you discover this. (Fun facts: â€œYou Belong with Meâ€ and â€œParty in the USAâ€ are two of four songs whose artists never quite got to toast â€œmazel tovâ€ thanks to the Black Eyed Peasâ€™ â€œI Gotta Feelingâ€; the others were â€œRun This Townâ€ by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Taylorâ€™s tormentor, and â€œWatcha Sayâ€ by Jason DeRulo. All five songs continue to sit in Billboardâ€™s Top 10. â€œI Gotta Feelingâ€ is tied as the second-longest-running #1 hit in history; even more impressive, its 14-week run at the top immediately followed a 12-week run by the Peasâ€™ â€œBoom Boom Pow,â€ giving them the longest stretch at #1 of any act in history.) Anyway, hereâ€™s the sweet-as-sugar video for â€œYou Belong with Me,â€ the Best Female Video of the year. (Suck it, Kanye!)
7. “Complicated,” Avril Lavigne. Itâ€™s hard to believe Avrilâ€™s debut single didnâ€™t top the Hot 100 â€“ though itâ€™s even harder to believe that its follow-up, â€œSk8er Boi,â€ only made it to #10. â€œComplicatedâ€ was ubiquitous on at least a half-dozen radio formats during the summer of 2002, from Mainstream Top 40 to Hot Adult Contemporary, but crapped out at #2 on the big chart behind a track that dominated several other formats â€“ Nellyâ€™s â€œHot in Herre.â€ Speaking of crapping, â€œComplicatedâ€ inspired one of â€œWeird Alâ€ Yankovicâ€™s best parodies in years, a song that was my son Jacobâ€™s favorite for entirely too long a while. Al never made a video for it, but fortunately somebody else did â€¦ using Legos.
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6. (tie) â€œForeverâ€ and â€œWith You,” Chris Brown. Like millions of other folks, I used to love Chris Brownâ€™s music without a guilty conscience; now, like most of those same millions, I still love the music but feel all torn up about it. I feel especially awful about putting Brown ahead of Rihanna on this list â€¦ but, man, these tracks are just killer, arenâ€™t they? â€œWith Youâ€ bears too close a resemblance to Beyonceâ€™s smash â€œIrreplaceableâ€ â€“ though Brown completely got away with it, in no small part because both songs were written and produced by the Stargate crew. Besides, how could anybody complain about hearing those acoustic guitars on two R&B hits in one year? (â€œWith Youâ€ also has the distinction of being the only song featuring the word â€œbooâ€ that I can bear to sit through.) Then thereâ€™s â€œForever,â€ which started as a Doublemint gum jingle â€“ a fact that completely escaped my TiVo-enhanced, commercial-free existence at the time, leaving me to wonder why he kept singing, â€œDouble your pleasure, double your funâ€ — and ended up a YouTube phenomenon for reasons having nothing to do with Brown himself. If you havenâ€™t seen the video in question â€“ or the wedding episode of The Office â€“ hereâ€™s your chance to get with the program. Before getting to Brownâ€™s awesome original clip, itâ€™s worth noting that after climbing into the number 2 slot behind Katy Perryâ€™s â€œI Kissed a Girl,â€ â€œForeverâ€ was leapfrogged by â€¦ Rihannaâ€™s â€œDisturbia.â€
5. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Green Day. Back at #9 I listed six rock-based hits to peak in the runner-up slot during the decade. Well, hereâ€™s the seventh â€“ though its chord progression more properly belongs in a treatise on rock hits of the â€™90s, along with the rest of Oasisâ€™ â€œWonderwall.â€ That fact wasnâ€™t lost on mash-up master Party Ben, who blended the two songs (along with Aerosmithâ€™s â€œDream Onâ€ and Travisâ€™ â€œWriting to Reach Youâ€) on â€œBoulevard of Broken Songs,â€ a centerpiece of his internet-only American Edit album. Beyond that, Green Dayâ€™s hit was easily the biggest of their career, and spent four months atop both Billboardâ€™s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. (Unbelievably, â€œAmerican Idiotâ€ had peaked at a paltry #61 on the Hot 100.) â€œBoulevard of Broken Dreamsâ€ was named Record of the Year at the 2006 Grammys, in a vote that was widely considered a corrective measure for American Idiot failing to win Album of the Year the year before. The songâ€™s video, meanwhile, cleaned up at the MTV awards in â€™05, taking six moon men including Video of the Year. Suck it again, Kanye! (He was nominated for â€œJesus Walks.â€)
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4. “Heartless,” Kanye West. Yeah, yeah, I know … You can trash Kanyeâ€™s arrogance and poor timing all you want, but you canâ€™t deny the skillz. He samples the Alan Parsons Project here, for crying out loud! Like the next song featured in this column, â€œHeartlessâ€ has been covered to great effect by white acts a couple times already, in ways that donâ€™t at all resemble Pat Boone-style abominations. Its video, with rotoscoped animation (and the Jetsons too!), is pretty kick-ass as well â€“ though not good enough to score any nominations at this yearâ€™s MTV awards, much less any trophies. And the single got stuck at #2 last winter behind Beyonceâ€™s â€œSingle Ladies,â€ which went on to win Video of the Year. Suck it, Kanye!
3. “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley. What makes me crazy is that this song didnâ€™t reach #1. And what were the earth-shattering singles that blocked it from the top of the chart during the summer of â€™06? Nelly Furtadoâ€™s â€œPromiscuousâ€ (not terrible, but come on) and Fergieâ€™s â€¦ fricking â€¦ â€œLondon Bridge.â€ (Whatâ€™s â€œgoing downâ€ is Western civilization.) Well, whatever â€“ those two songs are pretty much forgotten already, while â€œCrazyâ€ will live on in a million cover versions as well as the Gnarlsâ€™ already-classic original. (Of course, â€œoriginalâ€ is a relative term â€“ the bassline is ripped off from a spaghetti-Western soundtrack tune called â€œNel Cimitero di Tucson.â€ ) Seriously, though, has any song since â€œYesterdayâ€ sparked the flood of covers that this song has? The Raconteurs, Paolo Nutini and the Twilight Singers have rocked it up; Ray LaMontagne, Shawn Colvin, Brandi Carlile and Furtado herself have slowed it down. Of Montreal, Mates of State and Butch Walker have put indie spins on it, and then thereâ€™s this guy with a theremin.
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2. “Since U Been Gone,” Kelly Clarkson. Most of my Popdose colleagues rate â€œCrazyâ€ above â€œSince U Been Goneâ€ â€“ I know this for a fact, and so will the rest of you in about a month â€“ but, to me, Clarksonâ€™s was the decadeâ€™s perfect pop single. (OK, not quite perfect â€“ maybe she could have constrained the banshee wailing on the bridge â€“ but still…) It spent nine months in the Top 40, five in the Top 10, but stalled at #2 in the spring of 2005 behind 50 Centâ€™s inane, sexed-up â€œCandy Shopâ€ â€“ which had already thrown up a roadblock for â€œBoulevard of Broken Dreamsâ€ a couple weeks earlier. Five years later, though, Clarkson and Green Day continue to ride high on the charts, while 50 Cent has pushed back the release of his new album at least half a dozen times. Suck it, Fiddy!
Once more, for argumentâ€™s sake, here are some other #2 hits of the decade, along with the songs that held them back from the pinnacle: â€œBreathe,â€ Faith Hill (Santanaâ€™s â€œMaria Mariaâ€); â€œSurvivor,â€ Destinyâ€™s Child (Janet Jacksonâ€™s â€œAll for Youâ€); â€œHit â€™Em Up Style,â€ Blu Cantrell (Usherâ€™s â€œU Remind Meâ€); â€œWithout Me,â€ Eminem (Nellyâ€™s â€œHot in Herreâ€); â€œBeautiful,â€ Christina Aguilera (B2K & P Diddyâ€™s â€œBump, Bump, Bumpâ€); â€œFlying Without Wings,â€ Ruben Studdard (Clay Aikenâ€™s â€œThis Is the Nightâ€); â€œRight Thurr,â€ Chingy (Beyonceâ€™s â€œCrazy in Loveâ€); â€œTurn Me On,â€ Norah Jones (Outkastâ€™s â€œHey Yaâ€); â€œDonâ€™t Cha,â€ Pussycat Dolls (Mariah Careyâ€™s â€œWe Belong Togetherâ€); â€œFergalicious,â€ Fergie (Beyonceâ€™s â€œIrreplaceableâ€); â€œThe Sweet Escape,â€ Gwen Stefani featuring Akon (Akonâ€™s own â€œDonâ€™t Matterâ€); and â€œBecause of You,â€ Ne-Yo (Maroon 5â€™s â€œMakes Me Wonderâ€).
Iâ€™ll wrap up this series in a few weeks with a rundown of #2 hits from throughout the rock era that may as well have peaked at #99, for all we remember about them. Roy Headâ€™s â€œTreat Her Rightâ€ or the Poppy Familyâ€™s â€œWhich Way You Goinâ€™ Billy,â€ anybody? Anybody?