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Sean's Favourite Songs of 2003
1.11.2004 by Sean

Albums are not songs. Albums aren't three minutes long, they're not usually verse-chorus-verse, they're strung-out and epic. Consequently, the best LPs may not provide the finest songs; the finest songs need not be located on the best LPs.

In contrast to my favourite albums from last year, these are my favourite single tracks from 2003 - the ones that provided me the fullest experience from start to finish. They are all worth hearing, and most are worth hearing over and over again (in certain cases, your radio may be able to help). Even if your first instinct is one of outright dimissal, put your preconceptions on hold, really listen, and maybe even let some fun back into your heart. There's nothing to hate, here, and a whole lot to love. When it comes to singles, 2003 was glorious.

top 30 songs of 2003

01. "Hey Ya!" (Outkast)
For the focused, fantastic eclecticism - the acoustic guitar, the squelch-synths, the handclaps; for the carnival confletti flutter of the vocal play; for the cool celebration of "hey yaaaa"; for the lyrical whimsy/genius, the lending of sugar and shaking of polaroids. I am just being honest: this is one of the few songs on thist list that will become a classic, a keystone, a standard to be recycled for jazz piano and, indeed, philharmonic orchestra. When Dre coos that last, He-Man villain "you know what to doooo," and the saints come marching back in, I want to throw my hands in the air and laugh a big, shiny, whitebright smile.

02. "Crazy in Love" (Beyonce ft. Jay-Z)
Those horns are relentless, they're unstoppable, they're a hurtling freight-train down the middle of the Grand Canyon: they're love. There are gold balloons in the cars, dancing girls in the locomotive, and yes, there's a big ole' caboose. Beyonce's voice is like rippling milk and honey, and while I couldn't care less what Jay-Z has to say here, he's soon finished and the horns are back, brassy and unapologetic, huge.

03. "Bad Day" (REM)
R.E.M.'s best song ever? Could be. Despite the regal company on their Best Of, "Bad Day"'s not out of place: it's rollicking, complete, catchy as hell. There's whimsy alongside frustration, the razzledazzle of electric guitars with something very important to do, and the lyrics have the same trundling glitter that made "End of the World" so very huge. This song heartbeats so strong I can imagine it fuelling an army of robots - of kind, picnicking robots, who whip up strawberry cream and eat it on bagels. It's a battery.

04. "She Moves She" (Four Tet)
The gilded tickle of a mandolin, the ringing of bells, a drumbeat for slow-motion dancing. There's a pop melody there, too: the crunch of electric guitar, the frustrated alt.rock noise. And yet that pop song has been cut apart, split up, strung out across beautiful organic sounds, like lanterns on Four Tet's silver clothesline.

05. "There There" (Radiohead)
A song for goblin armies, for terrifying sunrises, for sitting alone in your room and quicklyslowly falling apart. It's the most awesome assault I've ever experienced - the drums pound and pound, I said they POUND, the guitars thrash free of their chains, and as Thom Yorke's voice coasts over it all, it feels like maybe he's got the gall to stay alive, to make it through, to dance through the apocalypse with the buildings collapsing around him, to fly out free and live. To live.

06. "A Day In Tracy's Life" (Soundhog/The Beatles/Mogwai/Kid Loco)
One of the very finest mash-ups ever produced, this is moody and rainy and full of strange pre-dawn insight. It's for coming down or flaring up, for melting. John and Paul, over the electric lull of 90s guitar. And its a free download.

07. "Ignition (Remix)" (R. Kelly)
Forget everything you know about R. Kelly, and about Canadian winters, and just stretch back into this late summer sweatdrop. It's hot.

08. "Good Woman" (Cat Power)
Chan Marshall's raw, feedbacking guitar, the weary saw of a fiddle, her sad chant. With the help of mister Eddie Vedder (!), she comes this close to the sublime.

09. "In Da Club" (50 Cent)
Just try to withstand the ever-advancing trudge of Dre's beat, here: go on, I dare you. 50 Cent's lyrics aren't the most incisive, but the lazy enunciation is like a smudged inkstain, mysterious, either the stamp of a charmer or of a thug.

10. "All the Things She Said" / "Not Gonna Get Us" (t.A.T.u.)
These tracks are two sides of the same coin, sparkling glittering full-speed sprinting rock songs. Anyone could be singing, really, but t.A.T.u. show so much enthusiasm, so much irony-stripped committment that as the bassline synths sweep like blades through dark water, as the guitars churn, one can't help but imagine the pair of russian schoolgirls running down the rainsplashed downtown streets, screaming.

11. "Yeah [Stupid Version]" (LCD Soundsystem)
The song is almost ten minutes long and the bulk of the lyrics are "yeah" and "hey." But the shifting dance freakout of the song is amazing - it's undead and outta control, like a flashing shag earthquake that comes apart under your feet. whoa!

12. "The Lemon of Pink, pt. 1" (The Books)
This deserves to be here because it's astonishingly composed, careful and subtle and brilliant: snipped-up acoustic guitars drift over one-another, flitter in through the veil of consciousness, and then Anne Doerner's bluesy voice, out of the dream.

13. "Such Great Heights" (Iron & Wine)
Iron & Wine covers the Postal Service with so much acheing sincerity, so much affection, that the song becomes superstaurated: moonbeam soft, oh-so-kind, high on love.

14. "80s Rockstar" (The Weekend)
The rockingest possible paean to a washed-up 80s star. Electric guitars leap offa synthblast waves - it's high-volume hairspray pop-punk, with a girl who sings like crazy!

15. "Flint" (Sufjan Stevens)
The piano melody is like a music-hall ditty on valium, Stevens' voice a lulling invitation into nothingness, into death. Suicide is painless.

16. "Blackest Coat" (Okkervil River)
It takes a while to get there, but when it does, this is the blinding sound of a star being lit.

17. "Hurt" (Johnny Cash)
It's a ringing, echoing, poignant self-assertion, a swan-song and a eulogy. The best thing Trent Reznor's ever contributed to.

18. "Matinee" (Damien Jurado)
Candy-corn and a dusty acoustic strum: the happiest quiet clearsky song of the year.

19. "Seas Too Far to Reach" (Okkervil River)
Reassuring as the hand of an old friend, the nighttime drive up the hill: a mandolin-kissed song of homecoming and love.

20. "Nowhere [full version]" (Bubba Sparxxx)
Track down the full 6:20 version of this song and revel in the sad, aria-stroked beats; Bubba's humble determination; Kiley Dean's silken voice. The most beautiful hip-hop cut of the year. "Cry me a river."

21. "Clark Gable" (Postal Service)
Like I said, I love how this is a thunderstorm that's not, a booming electropo rainshower below blue skies - earnest romantic nonsense that you can dance to.

22. "Throwaway Style" (Exploding Hearts)
If someone nailed the Strokes' eyes open, turned their amps up, and brainwashed them with a 24/7 bombardment of the Zombies and the Dirtbombs, this might be the result.

23. "Wake Up" (Missy Elliot ft. Jay-Z)
Missy's alive and spitting, and the echoes tumble down around Timbaland's "subterranean sonar production". "Conscious" hip-hop that doesn't mind chrome.

24. "United States of Whatever" (Liam Lynch)
A Gen-X anthem that's too perfect for it to ever take off: spitfire vocals over baggy garage rock, a bristling feedback-drenched hook, and a hilarious introduction to Zapho, Kiki and that darn Officer Leroy.

25. "My Name is Hov" (Jay-Z)
It's got the hiss of vinyl, piano and organ to root its genius, and Jigga leaping down from the roof, hands aflame: "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on; I'm complex."

26. "Step Into My Office Baby" (Belle and Sebastian)
The zingingest, wowee-zowee track that Belle & Sebastian have ever recorded; thumping chamber pop with a catchy chorus, a box of wonders full of horns, flute, strings, choir, guitar and, indeed, drums.

27. "Communication" (The Cardigans)
The sugar-sweet creators of "Love Fool" turn out the finest pop-country tune of 2003 - their reincarnation is most surprising for how exceptionally wonderful it is. There's a slight, human creak to the cream of Nina Persson's voice, and it makes me feel um, good.

28. "Seven Nation Army" (The White Stripes)
For the bassline if nothing else, and the neverending stomp of drums. Holla! Meg and Jack are not Led Zeppelin, but I don't much mind if they pretend to be.

29. "Move Your Feet" (Junior Senior)
Because it makes me want to boogie, it makes me want to sing and wiggle and bounce around. It makes me want to headbang like a pineapple, to be a pixellated squirrel in the best video of the year.

30. "The Shredder" (Little Wings)
It's as lazy as the green that fades in at springtime: a surfer's guitar strum, a skateboarder's tale, handclaps and the shuffle of drums.

Runners-up: "Happy Valentine's Day" (Outkast), "Jogi" (Panjabi MC), "Stacy's Mom" (Fountains of Wayne), "We Suck Young Blood" (Radiohead), "Cinnamon" (Long Winters), "Sunshine" (Josh Rouse), "Sea Ghost" (The Unicorns), "Love Hater" (Outkast), "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" (Jet). "Losing My Edge" (LCD Soundsystem), "Monster Zero" (King Geedorah), "Happy" (The Wrens).

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