My apologies to anyone who’s been waiting with bated breath for me to wrap up this series – 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 ’90s. Since then I’ve faced the same trepidation I had last year while surveying the Worst Number One Songs of the ’00s – 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 “nut up or shut up,” so here we are.

Fortunately, I’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, I’ll conclude with a list of some other #2s from the decade.

11. “Work It,” Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. I don’t particularly care for this track, but there are a couple reasons why it’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 “Work It” to the strip-club hip-hop soul that’s become so prevalent lately. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily … though when even Jordin Sparks is singing about “the club,” maybe the moment is over, huh? Anyway, the other key accomplishment of “Work It” was its 10-week stay at #2 — tied with Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” (which we celebrated here) for the longest runner-up run in chart history. And here’s where we’ve gotta give Missy her props, because she’s got the stones to admit that only reaching #2 with her biggest hit kinda sucked. “I just wanted to die those ten weeks,” she said of being blocked by Eminem’s smash “Lose Yourself” through the winter of ’03. “I mean, it wasn’t cool.”

10. (tie) “Apologize,” Timbaland with OneRepublic ; “This Ain’t a Scene, It’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 I’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 – depending on how you feel about the crunchy guitars on your standard Kelly Clarkson or Pink single – 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 … there’s nothing much to see here. (Except to wonder why Timbaland makes himself look so ridiculous in the following video — as if his oversold “hey, heys” from the control room were actually being caught by the mics in the studio.)

9. “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna. The Barbadian spitfire’s first big hit was the dancehall (and aerobics-studio) jam of summer ’05, though it became one of four songs left in the dust by Mariah Carey’s comeback smash “We Belong Together.” Interestingly, another of those four was Mariah’s own follow-up hit, “Shake It Off,” which became only the second single in history to be blocked by another track from the same artist. The first was “Twist and Shout,” which got stuck behind “Can’t Buy Me Love” during the initial wave of Beatlemania. At least the Fabs have an excuse for getting in their own way, as “Twist and Shout” was released on the Vee-Jay label – it was among the early-Beatles songs Capitol Records had rejected when it didn’t believe the group would be successful in the U.S. The phenomenon repeated itself once more in 2006 – sorta – when Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape,” featuring Akon, was blocked by Akon’s own “Don’t Matter.” As for “Pon de Replay,” it was the track from Rihanna’s initial four-song demo that grabbed the ear of then-Def Jam honcho Jay-Z, and the rest is history … including the unfortunate incident you’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 don’t care what you think – these smashes by America’s sweethearts are my daughter Catie’s favorite songs of the year, and I’ve had them drilled into my skull to the point where I can think of little else. Besides, they’re both nice little tunes, and they’ve both sparked nice little controversies. Everybody knows what happened to poor Taylor at the VMAs, and then there’s the small matter of Miley’s supposed “pole dancing” at the Teen Choice Awards. If you’re like me, you’ve never actually seen what the fuss was all about, so check out the fan video below (I couldn’t find an “official” video anywhere on the Net).

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All I can say is, anybody who can get Bill O’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 “girl songs” at full blast as long as you want; please, though, just wait a few more years before you discover this. (Fun facts: “You Belong with Me” and “Party in the USA” are two of four songs whose artists never quite got to toast “mazel tov” thanks to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”; the others were “Run This Town” by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Taylor’s tormentor, and “Watcha Say” by Jason DeRulo. All five songs continue to sit in Billboard’s Top 10. “I Gotta Feeling” 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 Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow,” giving them the longest stretch at #1 of any act in history.) Anyway, here’s the sweet-as-sugar video for “You Belong with Me,” the Best Female Video of the year. (Suck it, Kanye!)

7. “Complicated,” Avril Lavigne. It’s hard to believe Avril’s debut single didn’t top the Hot 100 – though it’s even harder to believe that its follow-up, “Sk8er Boi,” only made it to #10. “Complicated” 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 – Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” Speaking of crapping, “Complicated” inspired one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s best parodies in years, a song that was my son Jacob’s favorite for entirely too long a while. Al never made a video for it, but fortunately somebody else did … using Legos.

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6. (tie) “Forever” and “With You,” Chris Brown. Like millions of other folks, I used to love Chris Brown’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 … but, man, these tracks are just killer, aren’t they? “With You” bears too close a resemblance to Beyonce’s smash “Irreplaceable” – 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? (“With You” also has the distinction of being the only song featuring the word “boo” that I can bear to sit through.) Then there’s “Forever,” which started as a Doublemint gum jingle – a fact that completely escaped my TiVo-enhanced, commercial-free existence at the time, leaving me to wonder why he kept singing, “Double your pleasure, double your fun” — and ended up a YouTube phenomenon for reasons having nothing to do with Brown himself. If you haven’t seen the video in question – or the wedding episode of The Office – here’s your chance to get with the program. Before getting to Brown’s awesome original clip, it’s worth noting that after climbing into the number 2 slot behind Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” “Forever” was leapfrogged by … Rihanna’s “Disturbia.”

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, here’s the seventh – though its chord progression more properly belongs in a treatise on rock hits of the ’90s, along with the rest of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” That fact wasn’t lost on mash-up master Party Ben, who blended the two songs (along with Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Travis’ “Writing to Reach You”) on “Boulevard of Broken Songs,” a centerpiece of his internet-only American Edit album. Beyond that, Green Day’s hit was easily the biggest of their career, and spent four months atop both Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. (Unbelievably, “American Idiot” had peaked at a paltry #61 on the Hot 100.) “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” 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 song’s video, meanwhile, cleaned up at the MTV awards in ’05, taking six moon men including Video of the Year. Suck it again, Kanye! (He was nominated for “Jesus Walks.”)

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4. “Heartless,” Kanye West. Yeah, yeah, I know … You can trash Kanye’s arrogance and poor timing all you want, but you can’t deny the skillz. He samples the Alan Parsons Project here, for crying out loud! Like the next song featured in this column, “Heartless” has been covered to great effect by white acts a couple times already, in ways that don’t at all resemble Pat Boone-style abominations. Its video, with rotoscoped animation (and the Jetsons too!), is pretty kick-ass as well – though not good enough to score any nominations at this year’s MTV awards, much less any trophies. And the single got stuck at #2 last winter behind Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” which went on to win Video of the Year. Suck it, Kanye!

3. “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley. What makes me crazy is that this song didn’t reach #1. And what were the earth-shattering singles that blocked it from the top of the chart during the summer of ’06? Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” (not terrible, but come on) and Fergie’s … fricking … “London Bridge.” (What’s “going down” is Western civilization.) Well, whatever – those two songs are pretty much forgotten already, while “Crazy” will live on in a million cover versions as well as the Gnarls’ already-classic original. (Of course, “original” is a relative term – the bassline is ripped off from a spaghetti-Western soundtrack tune called “Nel Cimitero di Tucson.” ) Seriously, though, has any song since “Yesterday” 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 there’s this guy with a theremin.

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2. “Since U Been Gone,” Kelly Clarkson. Most of my Popdose colleagues rate “Crazy” above “Since U Been Gone” – I know this for a fact, and so will the rest of you in about a month – but, to me, Clarkson’s was the decade’s perfect pop single. (OK, not quite perfect – maybe she could have constrained the banshee wailing on the bridge – 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 Cent’s inane, sexed-up “Candy Shop” – which had already thrown up a roadblock for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” 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 argument’s sake, here are some other #2 hits of the decade, along with the songs that held them back from the pinnacle: “Breathe,” Faith Hill (Santana’s “Maria Maria”); “Survivor,” Destiny’s Child (Janet Jackson’s “All for You”); “Hit ’Em Up Style,” Blu Cantrell (Usher’s “U Remind Me”); “Without Me,” Eminem (Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”); “Beautiful,” Christina Aguilera (B2K & P Diddy’s “Bump, Bump, Bump”); “Flying Without Wings,” Ruben Studdard (Clay Aiken’s “This Is the Night”); “Right Thurr,” Chingy (Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”); “Turn Me On,” Norah Jones (Outkast’s “Hey Ya”); “Don’t Cha,” Pussycat Dolls (Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together”); “Fergalicious,” Fergie (Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”); “The Sweet Escape,” Gwen Stefani featuring Akon (Akon’s own “Don’t Matter”); and “Because of You,” Ne-Yo (Maroon 5’s “Makes Me Wonder”).

I’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 Head’s “Treat Her Right” or the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Goin’ Billy,” anybody? Anybody?