Sunday, January 31, 2010

101. Joe Woody – McDonald's Rap (2006)

All through this project, I kept on treating the pop world as if it is as it always was: a world where an artist must find a record company that will peddle their stuff, if they want to be heard by the public. I mentioned cases of artists who managed to circumvent the process and reach the public directly through the web, but they too were signed very fast. But there was another story that was going on, and one of the major events of its second half, at least since youtube was launched in 2005, is that we can all make video clips, and become famous for fifteen minutes. Youtube (and other sites) has a vibrant community with its own stars, and every once in a while some nobody from nowhere uploads a vid that the entire world views and talks about. I could have chosen many examples, but this one is the best.

The story is a classic pop story, of the type Andy Warhol would have loved. Four guys from Fort Wayne, Indiana were bored one evening, so they sat around and composed a hamburger-ordering rap, based on the McDonald's menu. The next step was to go out and try it on the local branch, and film the response. To their delight, the girl taking the order was totally cool and played along, which made the video all the more amusing. Joe Woody, the leading rapper, put the video on his homepage, and someone nicked it and uploaded it on youtube. Soon it had millions of views, and spawned numerous copycats all around the US who tried it on their own, composing raps for other types of junk-food. I doubt they got much to eat (a blessing in itself), but fun was had in abundance. And as for the rap itself, all I can say is: crispy.

100. Snoop Dogg feat. Tanvi Shah - Snoop Dogg Millionaire (2009)

In the course of the decade, UK garage went in two main directions, which became dominant in the decade's second half: one is the frenzied and raucous grime, based on rappers; the other is what is known as dubstep, a mainly instrumental style, which combined the broken beats of two-step garage with the mystical sounds of dub, to create something that uplifts both body and soul. But dubstep remained underground, and did not create any pop stars. So it doesn’t really belong in the theater show that we call naughties pop, and may be waiting for the next decade to take the stage. To put it in our show, we'll have to look at it from hip-hop's perspective, and hip-hop discovered dubstep only in 2009.

After conquering the US, Snoop Dogg evidently decided to expand his empire, and started looking for fresh beats from around the world to rap to. When the successful movie Slumdog Millionaire came out, he naturally had to rapitalize, and pun-jobbed it as 'Snoop Dogg Millionaire'. And since this was an Indian movie, the record needed a touch of India, but Snoop recently featured in the bhangra record (and the Bollywood movie) 'Singh in Kinng', so he had to find something else. The solution was found in 'Eastern Jam', a record by dubstep duo Chase and Status, which contains a female Indian singer who blends in wonderfully with the dubby sounds. Snoop makes the record his own, and also grants greater exposure to the style, which seems to be on the brink of entering the mainstream.

I'm not too smitten by what Snoop is doing here, and he's a bit too brash for my taste. I prefer the original record. But I put it in here as a sign of hope that this heralds a deeper dialogue between American hip-hop and UK garage, which will bare fruit in the coming decade.

99. t.A.T.u – All the Things She Said (2002)

Somehow, there never was a lesbian sex-symbol in pop. There were sexy lesbians, like Joan Jett, but they played down their preferences to appeal to a wider audience. Those who were open about their orientation looked like they were bent on justifying the stereotype of a lesbian as a woman lacking femininity and sexual appeal. The power of pop is in breaking stereotypes, and I'm still waiting for a lesbian who would be brave enough to pose a sexy image, which will star in women's fantasies. And, if she plays it right, in men's fantasies as well.

We needed an import from Russia to cast the first stone. The cute t.A.T.u duo declared that they have the hots for one another, were happy to demonstrate, and hinted that they dig boys too, which made them more interesting to the other gender (actually, it was all a fib – they are not lesbians). Their 2002 breakthrough wrote another chapter in the sexual revolution of the period, a period that saw the liberal mind completely transcend the remnants of past homophobia. But they got tired pretty fast: they weren't exactly sexy, they didn't have an interesting enough personality, and not enough good records. We still await the lesbian that will get it right.

'All the Things She Said' is probably the most memorable gay record of the decade. The heroine is a girl who falls in love with another girl, and has to deal with her confusion, and with the negative reaction of those around her. Trevor Horn, who was responsible for similar records in the past, produced.

98. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Whatever Happened to My Rock'n'roll (Punk Song) (2001)

One of rock'n'roll's starting point was the movie The Wild One, that came out in 1953. Young Marlon Brando, wearing the coolest outfit ever (boots, jeans, T-shirt, black leather coat), leads a biker gang that descend on a small peaceful town and wreaks havoc in it. The bikers call themselves B.R.M.C, and when a local girl asks them for the meaning of the initials, they replay: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The girl then turns to Brando and asks him: "hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" "What d'ya got?" he shoots back, in a quote that became one of the youth slogans of the era.

Rock'n'roll hit shortly after, and for several years it did to American culture what Johnny and his buds did to that small town. By the end of the fifties, the first wave of rock'n'roll subsided, but was not forgotten. There were kids who remained loyal to rock'n'roll, and formed the subculture that was known as "Rockers": bikers who adopted Brando's look, and danced only to the most unruly and rebellious rock'n'roll records. With their records and bikes, the Rockers made a noise that sent chills down the public's spine, and made them feel like they are rocking the foundations of the dominant culture. The Rockers were the ones who kept the flame burning, those who purified rock'n'roll and left only the essence, those who turned it into a religion. And yes, they were the ones who gave us the Beatles, the band that saw to it that it will never be forgotten.

But even if rock'n'roll was not forgotten, it always had to battle for its soul, since humans have the tendency to get used to any type of noise, and even learn to like it. Whenever rock'n'roll started to become acceptable by society at large, it ceased providing its fans with the original experience. But there was always a new generation that came along and created rock'n'roll anew, as a style that once again sounded to previous generations like unmusical noise, and made its fans feel like their soul is surging against the world. In the middle of the seventies, this process generated punk, which regarded rock'n'roll as anti-music, whose essence is eruptive noise. And punk kept recreating itself, through increasingly extreme noise, and for a couple of decades didn't do bad at all.

But in the beginning of the new millennium, there was nowhere left to go. When even your grandfather danced to rock'n'roll, it can no longer be the voice of teen rebellion. And if it isn't rebellious, it loses its breath. This record, by a band that named itself after Brando's gang, presents the problem: the singer tells us that he converted to rock'n'roll, and experienced total spiritual elation, but now can no longer feel the same ecstasy. For me, this is the record that best represents rock'n'roll's current status.

97. Daft Punk – One More Time (2000)

The French never knew how to make pop. Their approach to music is too brainy, and in pop the trick is rather to forget everything you know, and give yourself up to the new experience. In French pop, and that's true throughout the twentieth century and beyond, there is no ecstasy, and therefore it lacks the essence. But the intellectual approach does occasionally produce a different take on the existing pop styles, brings in a touch of class. In the end of the nineties, they gave us French house, which was pretty cool. And the coolest were of course Daft Punk, with their spacesuits and electro-funky sound. In 2000 they hooked up with one of the main phenomena in the pop culture of the last two decades – Japanese manga (comics) and anime (animation) – and created a concept album that was accompanied by an anime movie. It was okay, but a tad pointless, and after that I've had enough of French house. Nevertheless, one more time.

96. Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip - Thou Shalt Always Kill (2007)

Hip-hop ruled my parade, and mostly it was African-American hip-hop. But hip-hop from other cultures also represented, and I showed that it became the language of minorities around the world, the expression of their street-culture and their struggle against the dominant culture. But here's a white British duo, which connected to hip-hop for the purpose of making art. Scroobius Pip, one of those poets who found in hip-hop a channel for self-expression, teamed up in 2006 with DJ Dan Le Sac, and together they created a unique mixture of electronic beats and poetic rap. The rap's flow here is obviously indebted to the classic 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' by street-poet Gil Scott Herron, but it is turned into a lash at today's pop culture, expressing mainly confusion in face of the overload of stimulation in our life. Snappy, nutty, happy, funny.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

95. Eminem – Like Toy Soldiers (2005)

In 2004, Eminem felt that the curtains are about to go down on his inner drama. His first three albums were named after the three main characters in it: the first was called The Marshall Mathers LP, the second The Slim Shady LP, and the third The Eminem Show. The name of the third already hints that we were witnessing a show, and his fourth album from 2004 was named Encore, bringing it to a close. While the first three albums were dominated by the hilarious sociopath Slim Shady, in this album you could sense Shady losing the cynicism and anger that drove him, and becoming a caricature of himself. In the meantime, the characters of Marshall and Eminem grow and mature: in the course of the epic battle against the shady one, they managed to overcome him, and establish themselves as confident, conscientious and moral figures. Eminem displays it in this record, decrying the beef between his protégé 50 Cent and the rapper Ja Rule, and calling for restrain. Ja Rule dissed him as well, and rather viciously, but Eminem sets a personal example and refrains from retorting, to avoid escalation (if Slim Shady was still strong, he would never let that happen). It shows a higher awareness to the dangers of these feuds and an attempt to prevent the recurrence of the 2Pac & Biggy tragedy (and other rappers who fell victim to violence, and appear in the video), and so far, it looks like the efforts bare fruit, and the current hip-hop spars do not result in violence.

But without Shady, Eminem also becomes less interesting, and he knew it. A year later, he released the album Curtain Call, a greatest hits collection. The album ends with a new recording, in which Marshall tells us how his little daughter got him to want to heal their family, and reunite with his ex-wife (yes, the same ex-wife that Slim Shady fantasized about slashing her throat, cutting her up, and some less pleasant things). And so, the show closes with a happy ending. Marshall Mathers did indeed remarry his daughter's mother, and they lived happily ever after…

Well, not quite. Life isn't a show, and does not end when the happy ending arrives. Three months after the wedding, the couple divorced again (although this time, it seems, the relationship remained cordial). Eminem himself went into hibernation, and suffered from the usual problems that plague an artist when his fountains of creativity have run dry. In 2009 he came back with a fresh album, but it's not the same. As the teens open, the naughties' most important artist is looking for a new show.

94. Aaliya – Try Again (2000)

This decade in pop, thank the gods, did not beleaguer us with many tragedies, if we don't count the agonizingly dragging tragedies of Michael Jackson and Phil Spector, which began long before the decade began, peaked during it, and reached their bitter end at its closing. There were other tragedies, but when it comes to losing people we felt had a lot more to give, this was the least heartbreaking decade in the history of pop. Aaliya, who died in a plane-crash at the tender age of twenty-two, was I believe the biggest loss. A talented r'n'b singer, who released a few excellent records in her short life, and was still in ascendance. This lovely record gives us the opportunity to hear how Timabland's production sounds when it is detached from the aggressive rap of Missy Elliott and engages with soft r'n'b, and Aaliya's feathery voice makes it complete. Still pinches your heart.

93. Scarlett Johansson – Falling Down (2008)

The changes in female attitude, dictated by the pop princesses, were visible in the cinema as well. In the years 1997-2003, when pop chicks became evermore funky, the young movie starlets (Liv Tyler, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci, Selma Blair) also displayed a new kind of femininity, strong and kicking ass in action flicks, independent and rebellious in teen dramas, sexually liberated in romantic comedies. In the following years, just like in pop, this attitude deteriorated to the loose and stupid behavior of starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Tara Reid. But there were others, who preserved the good from that wild period but displayed a tamer attitude, like Natalie Portman and Keira Knightly, and above all, Scarlett Johansson. Combining the beauty and glamour of the old screen goddesses, new millennium sexiness, a bright and fetching personality, good taste, and a serious attitude towards the acting profession, Scarlett managed to charm many people in the movie industry, and was offered many diverse and juicy roles to sink her teeth into. Thus, she became the most interesting entertainment figure of the latter half of the decade.

Many of the period's movie-starlets tried to make it as singers as well, and the products they put out were as superficial as their image. When Johansson decided to cross over, it was obvious that we were going to get something else, and I was very curious to hear which direction she will take. Once again, she managed to charm some great people to want to work with her, and got the acclaimed producer Dave Sitek, and none other than David Bowie, who awoke for a moment from his long hibernation to contribute background vocals on a couple of the tracks, including this one. But the album also displayed the problem with smart and serious girls: they can be too smart and serious. Scarlett decided to do an album consisting only of Tom Waits covers, and went with Sitek to strange and foggy directions. It was another testament to her good taste and creativity, and was a worthy homage to Waits (who gave his blessing to the project and was satisfied with the result), but did not give her the opportunity to show other sides of her personality, like the glamour, the sexiness, the humor and other things I like about her. She took an active role in the production, and created interested walls of sound, but too many times she drowned her vocal in them. I was hoping the videos would save the day, but the only video she made is this one, which goes in the other directions and shows her as the everyday person behind the glamour. Clever, you see.

I hope Scarlett keeps singing, and explores other directions. One of her virtues is a will to get better and try new things, so there's hope. When this will happen, it will be possible to go back to her first album and enjoy the good things in it, and there are many. Her vocal has many colors, and her theatrical ability can express itself in Waits' epic songs. She understands and connects to the lyrics, and tries to deliver the emotions while doing it in an original vocal style. You have to listen carefully to get it all behind the misty production, and then you hear someone trying honestly to be an artist. When you look at the vid, you realize how desperately Scarlett wants us to see her as a woman of deep substance, not just amazing outer beauty. When she will succeed in combining her interior and exterior, she'll fully realize her potential.

92. Twista feat. Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – Slow Jamz (2003)

Twista is one of those virtuoso rappers whose flow is so torrential that they leave you razzled-dazzled. But here he pays homage to slow music, or to be more exact, to the slow sensual soul of the seventies, the music that makes your body melt in pleasure. Twista knows that fast-talk may be good for impressing a woman enough to get her back to your apartment, but once she's there, something else is needed to put her in the mood that would get her out of her clothes. So he employs the services of actor Jamie Foxx, who became a successful soul singer after he played Ray Charles and learned to channel his singing, and of Kanye West, who attends to the luscious production. Together they create a record that is at once a paean to those soul greats, to whom we owe so many orgasms, and a very sexy record in its own right.

91. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind (2009)

The last hit of the decade, and what an appropriate finale to a decade whose most defining records were duets between male rappers and female singers. And it is also a celebration of the bigger connectivity between the worlds that once were alien to one another, using New York as a showcase. As Jay-Z's rap moves fluidly between the different parts and facets of the city, it also reminds us of the easier and safer mobility between these areas, no matter which one of them you come from. And, of course, it is yet another great pop record about New York, the city that continues to be the capital of freedom, pluralism and ideas, even at the end of the decade that started with fundamentalists making their best effort to bring it down.

Jay-Z - Empire State Of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys)

Friday, January 29, 2010

90. Beyonce – Work It Out (2002)

One of the places where you can witness the new sexual revolution is the Austin Powers movie trilogy, about the groovy and naughty spy who supposedly embodies the spirit of the sixties. Austin was frozen at the end of that decade, and when he is defrosted in 1997 (in the first movie of the series), he wakes up into a world where sexuality is a lot more inhibited, and finds it hard to cope. This is of course a gross distortion of reality: the sixties were infinitely more inhibited than the nineties, and the myth about them circles around a small group of youngsters who rebelled and went to the other extreme, going completely wild with the sex and drugs. They paid a heavy price for it, but also opened the doors for the rest of us, and by the nineties their influence spread to such an extent that society became a lot more open to sex and drugs, but also more aware of the dangers and therefore more tame and responsible. But the myth remained, and the Austin Powers series used it to blast the remaining inhibitions, to make the world even more shagadelic. While in the first movie the heroine reacts with prudish aversion to Austin's behavior, the second movie (from 1999) already has a leading lady that is as liberated as him, and the third movie from 2002 serves as a platform for the pop princesses to display their minxifulness: Beyonce plays the leading role, and Britney tries to steal the show from her in a charming cameo. But she has no chance, because Beyonce simply shines in her movie debut, and shows real comic talent. That year, I was sure that this girl is going to be one of the greatest ever, in line with Dietrich, Garbo and Monroe. Now I'm not so sure, but the potential is there.

Both Beyonce and Britney used the movie to present their new sexy image, to a crowd that mostly still thought of them as virginal teens. Each also put out a record to match, produced by, who else, the Neptunes. Britney made the horny 'Boys', one of her best records. But Beyonce trumped her once again, with this funky-to-the-bone bomb. In the movie, Austin uses a time machine to go back to the seventies and meets her in the role of Foxy Cleopatra, a combination of Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson and all the sex symbols of seventies blacksploitation movies, mixed together with Patti Labelle, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Gloria Gaynor and all the singing divas of that decade. With the shagadelic afro and the downright funkiness, she proves to be a worthy heir to all of the above, and in this record she purifies their essence to a tune so funky it would make even Frau Farbissina shake her ass.

89. Common feat. Kanye West & the Last Poets – The Corner (2005)

One of hip-hop's starting points were the black street poets, who emerged in the late sixties. Basically they were an offshoot of the merger that the beatniks formed between jazz and poetry, but their music relied heavily on the beat, and sometimes their only accompaniment was tom-toms. The singing was also completely rhythmic, kind of a precursor for rap, but with less flow and more pulsation, emphasizing every syllable. The content of their songs was highly political, and expressed the tumultuous spirit of the time. Contrary to what is claimed by some, hip-hop itself did not emerge out of this style, but from street dance parties, and drew more from reggae and funk. But hip-hop DJs did sometimes play the records of these street poets, and the rappers listened and internalized. When rap turned political at the end of the eighties, it became apparent how much they owe these pioneers.

Common is one of the rappers who came out of this political wave, and he's also very aware of black history, and believes that one of the roles of hip-hop is to educate the youth about it. Here he joins the Last Poets, the greatest street-poet band, to pay respect for the past. Together, they eulogize one of the most important places in the formation of black culture: the corner. The street corners of the ghettos were the places that gave host to the preachers, the street poets, the doo-wop singers, the break-dancers, the rappers and many other elements in this culture, which so affected the lives of all of us. Common's rap moves on several levels, the main one being just a description of the flow of sights and sounds that pass through the corner on any given day, but on other levels there are descriptions that paint the street-corner as a place where ideas meet, converge and go in other directions, and also descriptions that turn the corner into a modern version of the blues singers' fabled crossroads: a place where you must determine the direction your life will take from here on, your fate always riding on your choice. The Last Poets, on their part, focus more on the political significance of these meetings and choices, and remind us how they shaped and advanced black culture in the past. Thus, the record itself becomes a corner, a meeting between two generations of black music, and Kanye West mixes it all together to make sure it works, and even sounds like great pop.

88. Christina Aguilera – Ain't No Other Man (2006)

If it isn't clear already, I adore Christina Aguilera. I love almost everything about her, and one of my favorite traits is her graciousness, which comes through in several records. Already in 1999, still a teen, she released 'What a Girl Wants', in which she thanks her boyfriend for being kind and gentle and promises to reward him for it, and in the video she also does a sexy dance for him. In a period that was still loaded with female pop records that bashed men for their baseness, Christina reminded everyone that along with the stick there should also be a carrot, and the carrot better come with a bunny. This was still just on the level of principle, but in 2006 there was already an actual man to reward – her husband, whom she just wed. This record, the leading single from her new album, was dedicated to him, and what more can a man ask for than to have his desired superstar wife tell the whole world who's the man?

One of Christina biggest challenges came after her 2002 Stripped album, in which she adopted a skanky image. Those who paid attention realized it was about making an artistic statement and breaking stereotypes, but the world at large is obviously too dumb to get it. Most people viewed her as a slut, and the challenge was to change that image. A decade earlier, Madonna solved a similar problem by going in a romantic, and then mystical, directions. Aguilera, on the other hand, turned to the past, and in 2006 took on the image of a sweet forties pinup girl, and cooked up an album the merged contemporary sounds with the jazz and blues of that decade. It was an interesting musical experiment, albeit not very successful – the album didn't manufacture strong hits like its predecessor. But image-wise it was just the right step, and Christina quickly got rid of the cheap reputation that burdened her, and became a model of good taste. I eagerly anticipate her next step, which is coming very soon.

As mentioned, I wasn't very taken by the other stuff she put out in 2006, but this is an excellent record. Jazzy, funky, one of a kind. Do your thing, honey.

87. Ronan Keating feat. Yusuf – Father and Son (2004)

Cat Stevens was one of the voices of my youth, an enchanting singer/songwriter whose records were a spiritual quest in search of the ideal life, and carried messages of peace and universal human harmony. I knew he found the answer in the Muslim religion, stopped making rock and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and for me, Cat Stevens was a voice from the past, someone who died before I got around to listen to him. Islam and pop were completely alien to one another, and the possibility of a connection ever forming between them, or that we will ever hear Stevens singing pop again, seemed like fantasy. From time to time, the media published stories (completely distorted) on Yusuf, which made him seem like a rabid fundamentalist, and he was for me a completely different person than the man I heard in the old albums.

In 2004, I opened the radio in my car and heard a young singer, which I later learned was Ronan Keating, covering Stevens' classic 'Father and Son'. I wasn't very impressed, but I let it play on. And then, an unmistakable voice joined it, a little older and cracked, but still full of soul, still the same soul from back then. I recognized him instantly, and it was like hearing a voice from the beyond coming out of my radio, sending a quiver down my spine that did not subside for several days. The few lines he sang were enough to make me fall in love with him all over again.

Turns out Yusuf never quit singing – he just sang religious songs, shunning the sinful world of pop. But the war that broke out between Islam and the West encouraged him to try and form a bridge between the worlds, and sound a message of peace once again. Somehow, the path his life took brought him to be exactly in the right place at the right time, to make a difference. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center he participated in the concert for New York, and performed his song 'Peace Train' for the first time after more than twenty years. Around that time he announced that there is no contradiction between the religion of Islam and the secular world of pop, and those who think otherwise are wrong. His duet with Keating announced his return to the pop world, and since then he's with us again, writing and performing in his familiar style, which still sound good.

'Father and Son' was one of Stevens' biggest records, a dialogue between the rebellious son who looks for a different existence than what the world has to offer, and the settled-down father who advises him to conform. In the original recording from 1971, Stevens sings both parts, but there's no question he identifies with the son. Here, he takes the role of the father, and this is the role he took in real-life as well, the role of the adult who tries to advise the young, and steer them in more positive directions. In today's Muslim world, such people have a lot of value.

86. Black Eyed Peas – Pump It (2006)

The Black Eyed Peas were the decade's most successful band when it comes to hits (except for Coldplay, who made pretty but formulaic records), and displayed an impressive talent to sample and quote from every possible source, and manufacture something that works. Only it didn't really work for me – many of their records had no real substance for my taste. Nevertheless, every once in a while they hit very close to the mark, like with this record. The sample is of course from Dick Dale's classic 'Misirlou', and it is one of the most energetic and electrifying guitar licks ever made. It is very dangerous to mess with such records, because the inevitable comparisons will usually bury you, but the Peas ride the waves created by Dale, the king of surf guitar, and manage to make a record that almost equals it in ecstasy.

To my ears, this is the last record that is still part of the fun pop of the decade's early years. It came out in the beginning of 2006, the year when the mood changed, and since then, no one has created such vibrations, which make you increase the volume to the max. Like the surfers that inspired this massive guitar riff, I live in anticipation for the next wave.

85. Mylie Cyrus – Fly on the Wall (2008)

The next generation is sharpening its teeth. Mylie Cyrus grew up as a child-star on the Disney channel, the same channel that a decade before sprouted Britney, Xtina and Justin. At age thirteen she was already a big star, and accumulated lots of fans and stage experience, on which she can count when she reaches adulthood. Beyond being a Disney star, Mylie has rock'n'roll in her blood as well: she's the daughter of country-rock star Billy Ray Cyrus, and she's already displaying signs of rebelliousness, and corrupting a new generation of girls. It looks like we're witnessing the birth of the next pop-kitten.

This, to me, is one of the greatest teen-pop records ever. I jogged my memory and couldn't recall a fifteen-year-old girl putting out a record that was so powerful, and frankly it would have been powerful even for a twenty-year-old, loaded with an ass-kicking electro-rock sound and aggressive vocals. The object of her attacks and flirtations is someone who is obsessively stalking her, and you don't need a lot of imagination to ascribe it to the paparazzi, or to the public that follows her life. Mylie is already part of the generation that grew up into this reality of being twenty-four-hours under surveillance, the generation for whom this is second nature, and I'm waiting to see how she works this when she gets older. With such a strong warning shot, I guess we have something to wait for.

84. Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell & Charlie Wilson – Beautiful (2003)

By the end of the nineties, Snoop Dogg looked finished. Gangsta-rap lost its cachet, his collaboration with Dr. Dre fell apart, and his attempts at trying softer directions did not gain the popularity that his gangsta braggadocio brought him. He also had serious trouble with the law, and the feeling was that he was burned out. But then, he hooked up with the sexy and bouncy style of the Neptunes, wrapping his flow perfectly around it, and recreated himself in a cute, romantic and lovable image. His private language is silly as hell, but he manages to make even that sound like the coolest thing in the world. This little sizzle proves that Snoop is still the dopest thing in pop.

83. M.I.A – Paper Planes (2008)

Already an established figure, M.I.A did not forget where she came from. She continued to make politically flavored music, and be the voice of minorities. This record samples the Clash's 'Straight to Hell', which reflected and lambasted the way Westerners regard and treat third-world immigrants, and gives the story from the immigrants' perspective. The Clash tell us that most Westerners would rather see the immigrants go to hell, and get out of their face – Mia replies that they all ready are in hell, having to struggle all day to make a buck in a society that doesn't want them. Lyrically moving, musically hypnotizing, and a surprising hit for the Tamil tigress.

82. DeScribe & Y Love – Change (2009)

One of the decade's most uplifting developments is the rise of Hassidic hip-hop, which comes mainly from the US. While most religious Judaism remains hostile to pop, there are those in it who find in the spirituality of reggae something they can relate to, and express their Jewish soul through contemporary dancehall/reggae. Matisyahu is the biggest star to come out of the scene, and his success is commendable. But it is still hard for me to get excited by his and his peers' music, because I hear nothing new in it. The themes and messages are the same as in Hassidic music – only the style is different.

Y Love, on the other hand, is something else. A black Puerto Rican who was born a Catholic but converted to Judaism and studied in a Jerusalem yeshiva, he blends English, Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic to one seamless fabric, and spreads the words in an amazing flow that makes them all sound like the same language. His music is also very varied, able to collaborate with musicians from all over (especially Jews and Arabs), and his spirituality is a universal spirituality, carrying a message of peace and harmony.

Here he collaborates with DeScribe, a Hassidic rapper from Brooklyn, making his first steps. What I like about DeScribe is his use of auto-tune, because the vocal manipulations of the auto-tune always remind me a little bit of the Jewish trill, and DeScribe does indeed utilize it in his favor. Together, these two mishuginas make a crazy and groovy mix.

81. Prince – Black Sweat (2006)

When you listen to the fantastic pop of the beginning of the decade, to the hungry minimalist funk that dominated it, you realize how much Prince altered our psyche, all the way back in the eighties. We required more than a decade to catch up with him, but eventually it happened. But Prince, during that time, went further and further into funk, and finally went too far. As often happens to great artists, he wanted to merge with the thing he was expressing, he wanted to be the essence of funk. In the middle of the nineties he changed his name to an unnamed symbol, a symbol that unifies the male and female signs, and signifies, as far as I understand, that Prince puts himself at the place where love is unified, before it breaks into the make and female elements. In his private life he drifted more and more into a world of his own, and although he kept on making tons of music, most of it sounded like something that may play well in his mind, but undecipherable to most of us. The content of his records became more mystical and religious, and eventually he turned to abstract jazz to manifest his spirituality. All that made him detached from what was going on in the pop world, and the pointless wars he conducts in recent years against websites that post his photos and vids is a sign of that detachment.

And yet, there are contrasting signs, hints that Prince is aware of the funkiness of contemporary pop, and digs it. To begin with, in 2000 he went back to the name Prince, and it was once again possible to talk about him on the air without having to waste time on thinking how to call him. Secondly, he churns three-minute-records, and the best of them reminds us that this is still funk's prince of princes, and that with all due respect to today's artists, they still have a lot to learn. 'Black Sweat' – what says funk more than that?

80. Macy Gray – Sexual Revolution (2001)

When people talk about the "Sexual Revolution", they mean the period between 1955 (the year the birth-control pill hit the market) and 1969 (Woodstock), when the youth cast away the puritan shackles, and started to regard sex as something done mainly for recreation, not procreation. But a no less powerful revolution happened between the years 1989 (when rave culture crossed over into the mainstream) and 2003 (Paris Hilton's sex tape), a revolution that brought more equality between the sexes, and acknowledged the diversity of human sexuality. The biggest victory for this revolution was that it happened without fanfare, but just slowly entered our minds, until most people today can't remember how different their psyche was just twenty years ago. The only record I know of to actually come out and declare the revolution is this record.

Macy Gray, a singer with a wonderful bluesy voice, broke big in 1999 with the rise of neo-soul. She disappeared all too quickly, but left us with this anthemic record. With enough musical and lyrical elements to connect it to the sixties, it revives the spirit of the original revolution, and also encapsulates the new revolution. Put this capsule under your tongue and suck it slowly – it takes time to get into the groove and take effect.

79. OutKast – Hey Ya! (2003)

In 2003, OutKast seemed set to be the most important band of the decade. The duo kept on with their relentless innovation and experimentation that pushed the boundaries of hip-hop further and further, and at the same time made music that was entertaining and commercial. Unfortunately they kinda scattered about since then (although they didn't break up, and they promise to return), and left the stage to the less talented Black Eyed Peas. Here's a hit from the time when they were on top of the world, and showed that hip-hop, if it so wishes, can sound like sixties rock'n'roll. One of the most fun records of the decade.

78. Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor (2005)

A record that came around in 2005 and brought some more life to the corpse of rock. Energetic garage-rock, agitated and dissatisfied, like in the good old days. The lyrics can be taken as an attack on the dance styles that usurped rock, and many rock fans regard the Arctic Monkeys as the great white hope of bringing back old glories. They can keep hoping – Arctic Monkeys is a very good band, but not groundbreaking. This record is wonderful, and certainly deserved to be named among the best records of the decade, but nothing new.

77. Jay-Z feat. UGK – Big Pimpin' (2000)

In the alternative world created in black ghetto culture, the biggest hero is the pimp. Exploiting the fact that many black women cannot find a better job than prostitution, and the fact that many white men regard the black female as the utmost fantasy, the ghetto pimps form financial empires, and live like kings. For many ghetto kids, the pimp is the best lifestyle you can aspire to. According to the myth, the pimp in the man, so virile that he can make any woman do his will and work for him, thus yanking loads of dough from the Man and living the American dream without bowing to the system. The pimps are also known for their sense of style, for their colorful homes, clothes and cars, and are considered icons of cool. Iceberg Slim, a pimp who talked about his conquests in books and albums from the seventies onwards, became such a street-hero that several rappers named themselves after him. The fact that all of this entailed the exploitation of their black sisters didn't really bothers these guys – the entire African-American culture was plagued with extreme male chauvinism.

We've mentioned the positive changes that happened over the years, and the big change caused by the sexual revolution of the turn of the millennium. This change could be seen in the image of the pimp as well. While nineties gangsta-rap drew mainly from violent gang life, in the naughties it became more sexy, and the pimp played a more central role. And again, the hip-hop artists affected a more elaborate view on this particular lifestyle. In this record there is no double-meaning, and Jay-Z is just pimping it, repeating all the clichés, but the clip shows something else. There are many hot chicks here, to show that Jay-Z is a big pimp, but there is no hint of exploitation: they are just dancing and having fun. The pimp is beginning to be transformed here into someone who uses his legendary virility not to enslave women, but to make them feel good. This was the first time I felt a change in the image of the pimp, and in the following years, some more elements connected to it got sublimated and became more positive. Thus, the TV show Pimp My Ride reshaped cars in the pimp style, and the term "pimping" started to mean: tinker in a colorful way. This process strips the pimp image of its unique traits, and deflates the myth.

It had a negative side as well. As always, most people were unable to discern the moral from the immoral, and the pimp's bigger acceptability caused the immoral sides of his profession to find their way to the screen as well. In the pimped vids of 50 Cent and the likes, there is abuse and exploitation of women. But pop's history shows that there's something good about that as well: when you bring something up from the underground to the light of the Sun, the public's bigger awareness of it makes it discuss it more, and the process eventually cleans it up. The larger public awareness to the pimp will compel street culture to deal with its attitude to women, and I expect to see that in the coming decade.

Anyway, the man who pimped this record is Timbaland, in a brilliant production that samples Arab belly-dance music. And Jay-Z, as always, is right on the money.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

76. Ozzy & Kelly Osbourne – Changes (2003)

One of the most conspicuous phenomena of the decade is the rise of reality TV, which in the middle of the decade threatened to take over completely and kick the more traditional shows off the small screen. Personally, I had enough of reality TV around 2005, and looks like I'm not alone, because it isn't as popular as it was. But some of the shows from the beginning of the decade were classics, and became part of pop culture. Basically, there were two types of reality. There were the survival shows, where contestants were voted for and eliminated by the home audience, and there were shows that documented the private lives of people. And appropriately, the best show of each kind had something to do with rock'n'roll.

The best survival show was of course American Idol, arguably the most successful TV show of all time. Beyond the entertaining concept, which relied mainly on the personality of the judges, there was also the real-life drama of watching youngsters trying to fulfill their dream, and the show produced a number of performers who later went on to pop stardom. The most successful private life show was The Osbournes, which among other things was as funny as any classic family sitcom. The clash between the British working-class family and the lucrative Hollywood neighborhood they moved to; the awesomeness of watching Ozzy Osbourne, heavy-metal's Prince of Darkness, trying to raise a family; the powerful figure of Sharon, the woman behind (and in front of) Ozzy's success, who finally got the recognition she deserves; the rebellious kids, who did everything to be worthy of the family name; and the family pets, who were as wacko as their owners, turned the series into must-see-TV. And there were some serious and painful moments, like Sharon's and the family's fight against her cancer, or Ozzy's and his son Jack's battle with alcoholism – this was true reality, on a level that no other reality show achieved. And if that wasn't enough, then the show had its own American Idol, in the figure of daughter Kelly and her attempt to become a pop star. A lovable, cheeky, big mouthed girl, Kelly added color to the female pop world, and even had a couple of records that weren't bad at all. Here, she joins her dad, and together they remake 'Changes', thirty years after Ozzy sang it with Black Sabbath. In the original record, the singer is talking about a woman who was his love for many years, until he went through a change and decided to leave her, but now goes through another change and feels sorry and miserable for letting her go. The remake manages, in a rather clever way, to change very little of the lyrics, and still turn the record to a duet between a father and his daughter, in which the father understands that his little girl has grown up and he must let her spread her wings and fly away, and tries to come to terms with the change. Good record, and what makes it even better is that we know it represents reality.

75. Wiley – Wot Do U Call it? (2004)

In this record, British rapper Wiley is rejecting all labels floating around for his style, dissing UK garage and two-step and stressing what makes him distinct from them. This is a typical statement for many musicians, who refuse to be categorized and restricted by the confines of a certain style – music, they feel, should be completely free. However, music is also a way to define oneself, and when a certain new musical sensibility is found, and produces enough records that manifest it, it inevitably gets labeled. Wiley wants to be outside of every category, but this is one of the records that define grime.

74. Kanye West – Through the Wire (2003)

We've talked about some of the great producers that worked in hip-hop in the beginning of the decade and infused it with power that conquered the world, but there is one more big name that I did not mention, and that's Kanye West, who shot to fame mainly due to his work with Jay-Z. His unique style, relying mainly on sped-up samples that create a hysterical sound effect, brought him great success, which made him think of a career as a front-man. But a serious car accident in 2002 left his face smashed and in need of reconstruction, and his jaw had to be reattached with wire. Kanye thought that his career was done and his life would never go back to what it was, but the traumatic event, eventually, turned out to be the incident responsible for the successful launching of his solo career, since it inspired this record, the record that instantly made him a star.

The production here is of course West's, and it is very typical, sampling Chaka Khan's 'Through the Fire' in double-speed. "Through the fire" means going through something that makes you stronger, and Kanye changes it to "through the wire", indicating the mouth-wires he has to sing through. But his accident was of course a "through the fire" experience as well, and Kanye dramatizes it is a way that is partly amusing, partly serious, partly scary. After such a strong opening, the horizons were opened, and in the lean years of the decade's second half, Kanye was one of the only rappers who continued to make hip-hop that was both commercial and substantial, and rightfully became a big star. Most of his records don't do it for me, but some of them were good, and this one is fantastic.

73. David Bowie – Sunday (2002)

I spoke of the new wave rockers, and how they conducted themselves in this decade. I also discussed the old rockers who died during the decade. But I've yet to mention the old rockers who are still with us, still recording. They are now fated to contend with the world that they created: they are the ones who, back in the sixties, asserted that it is the youth who determines the values of pop culture, thus also directing the course of the human spirit. And so, as they now reach old age, their voice is no longer heard on the hit parade, and their music is played on the radio. Only their fans keep the flame going and keep on listening, and they in turn inform them of the questions arising from life in their advanced age, and offer answers. Every rock fan has at least one aging rocker who remains part of their life, who they still follow.

For me, it is David Bowie, the man who helped me develop my philosophy of existence, the man whose records helped me through rough times, the man whose art opened endless horizons for me, the man who sold me the world. But in the beginning of this decade I was somewhat detached from his art. In the nineties, after the commercialization of the eighties, he went back to making exceptional and groundbreaking music, but it lacked the penetrating emotion which the seventies records always had. I retained my loyalty to seventies Bowie, and kept an eye on what contemporary Bowie was doing, but my attention went more towards younger artists. When I bought his album Heathen in 2002, I didn't know what to expect, and I didn't expect much. I put the CD in the player and pushed Play, and 15 seconds into the opening track 'Sunday', he had me all the way back.

Bowie says he cried when he wrote this song. Fifty-five years old, the thought of death started to enter the mind of the man whose art was always connected to the here and now. The result was this album, which deals with the deepest questions that always troubled humankind, and stubbornly does so from the point of view of a heathen, of a man who refuses to accept any doctrine that offers consolation, but looks reality in the eyes and knows that no one can provide the final answers. It is a highly spiritual album, a sense of religious splendor resting upon it, and we here echoes of angel-singing throughout, but without any confidence that there are indeed angels that watch over us. And Bowie's voice, the voice that somehow lost some of the soul and feeling and pain over the years, gets all its depth and sonority back, flowering in an emotional range even greater than before. To most of his fans, this album is on the same level of his more famous masterpieces, and almost every track from it is considered a Bowie classic. I could choose at least seven of them, but 'Sunday' for me is above all, since it is the one that hit me first. The heart of Bowie's art has always been his struggling with the changes that we go through in our lives, and asking how we can control them to achieve happiness. Here, he talks about a total spiritual change, a metaphysical transfiguration. Again, it isn't clear is he's talking about transformation from human to angel, or about some spiritual changes that happens in your life, and it doesn't matter. The experience, anyway, is beyond words.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

72. Fischerspooner – Emerge (2000)

In the end of the nineties emerged electroclash, a style that came out of electronic dance and was influenced by the artistic pretensions of the electronic new-romantic bands of the end of the seventies. But the new-romantics belonged to the rock world, where the electric guitar was the sound of the human spirit, and their use of synthesizers expressed emotional coldness, alienation and loss of humanity. Electroclash, on the other hand, arrived way after electronic music became the voice of the human spirit, and for youngsters today the old new-romantic records sound different than they did at the time – now they sound like the roots on today's spirituality. It was therefore logical to go back to the style and carry on in a new direction, using today's perspective. Furthermore, electronic dance reached a point where it was time to take a step back, and instead of records that would make you dance yourself to oblivion, make pieces of self-reflection. Electroclash was therefore of its time, and I saw it as an interesting and meaningful development.

But I didn't hear any truly interesting statement coming out of it. Perhaps I missed it, but everything I encountered sounded arty-farty and devoid of true substance. Electroclash made a lot of noise among the critics, but didn't really capture the wider audience. Looking back, its main significance now looks to be that it was one of the steps towards today's electro. This is one of the only electroclash records that had any real power.

71. Lady Gaga – Paparazzi (2009)

After 2006, there was a vacuum in female pop. Britney went into a tailspin, Kylie was slowly recovering from breast-cancer treatment, Christina took time out for pregnancy, Beyonce couldn't really regenerate the thrill of her first album. Trying to fill the void were Gwen Stefani, Fergie and Pink, who made playful and eclectic white pop, but failed to offer anything truly new; Rihana, r'n'b's new star, which made updated but uninspired music; and Katy Perry, a cheeky young Californian girl who infused some humor and surrealism, but musically didn't offer anything too special. Female pop needs a revolution to take it in a new direction, and that should come from a new generation, which hasn't fully arrived yet. In the meantime, the woman who managed to inject a big dose of fun into it is Lady Gaga, who broke in 2008 and takes a cabaret approach to contemporary pop. Gaga plays the pop game and crafts hit records, but she does it in a theatrical and ironic way, which exposes its dark and grotesque sides as well. With bizarre outfits, surreal videos and provocative behavior, and with catchy electro-based music, she's the most interesting star of the last two years of the decade.

Here, she deals with one of the most repulsive side effects of the glamour world. In his movie La Dolce Vita from 1960, Federico Fellini shows how the culture of the old world succumbs to pop culture, through the eyes of an Italian journalist who runs around Rome to report on the shallow lives of the glitterati, accompanied by a nosy photographer called Paparazzo, who is constantly trying to get their photos. Fellini couldn't have known that he just coined a new term for pop culture's use, and that his Paparazzo would multiply and become numerous paparazzi, who satisfy the public's unquenchable thirst for any piece of info about its stars. And in our age, we have all become paparazzi, walking around with cameras in our pockets, and belonging to a web that allows us to show our photos all over the world. Furthermore, we have become used to being constantly under the surveillance of cameras, with any of our deeds liable to be caught and uploaded on the web. This reality will only become more pervasive in years to come, and today's pop stars are preparing us for it. Britney Spears was the one who developed the deepest relationship with her paparazzi tails, a relationship which found its way into her songs as well, but it was an unhealthy relationship that only aided her deterioration. Lady Gaga penetrates this sickness and presents it to our judgment, in abstract words that string together all the phenomena related to it: voyeurism, obsession, identification with someone else to the point of self-annulment, lust for fame. When she sings about the love between her and her "papa-paparazzi", we get an uncanny, and probably intentional, sense of incest. The video does the job as well, exposing the twisted relationship between the press, the public and the star. Welcome to cabaret.

70. Missy Elliott – Work It (2002)

In 2002, on Doctor's orders, Missy had to start a slimming diet, and give up her special look. When this record came out, it sounded like the music went on a diet as well, removing the fat and leaving only the funky skeleton. So? Did it make it any less brilliant? Not while Timbaland has anything to say about it.

What can I say about this record? That it is almost as good as 'Get Ur Freak On', that it is 100% pure unadulterated funk, that I would have placed him a lot higher if I didn't want to represent Missy in the bottom part of the chart as well. So here are Timbaland and Missy, to shake the bottom part.

69. Mary J. Blige & U2 – One (2006)

Like every culture that offers a new way to deal with reality, rock started out as a mixture of high morality and immorality. Its rebelliousness was driven by insights that were more enlightened and progressive of those of the dominant culture, but also led to a collapse of values that bred bad deeds. In time, its internal discourse managed to resolve these problems, and establish itself on the basis of its original intuitions, as a style that brings enlightenment and morality to the world. This is one of the reasons why it is so boring today, but there's no need to mope – that's the nature of progress. The rockers had to adjust and find their place in the new order of things, and U2 took it upon themselves to be rock's ambassadors, those who take all the values and insights that rock brought to the world and spread them further, using their power as rock stars to make our world better. It is a little self-righteous and annoying, and I used not to like it, but in time I came to the realization that someone had to do it, and they are just the guys for the job. And now, when the pop world is ruled by other styles that are still torn with moral dilemmas, the can serve as guides to them. 'One', their ballad of human fraternity, was one of the strong anthems of the nineties, and when the need arose to update it for the young generation, there was none fitter than Mary J. Blige to do it. The un-disappointing summit between the biggest rock band in the world and the biggest r&b diva was born on stage, when U2 invited Blige to perform the song with them, and it felt so good that they decided to go into the studio and record it. The outcome, born out of the duet between the soulful voices of Mary and Bono, is better to my ears even than the classic original.

68. Lil' Jon – Get Crunk (2004)

Hip-hop was born in New York, and that's where all its big stars came from until the end of the eighties, when California started to challenge its dominance. In the nineties, the hip-hop world was a battle between the East Coast (more serious, artistic and political) and the West Coast (gangsters, bitches and hedonism). Meanwhile, the South established itself and started to challenge them both, with hip-hop that was more danceable, dealt mainly with sex and used lyrics that were even racier. Out of this scene came crunk, a style based on dancehall-like beats, music made mainly with synthesizers, and rap made mainly of exulted shouts. The term "crunk" is a combination of crazy and drunk, and was originally used mainly to describe the feeling of mixing alcohol and weed, and the music gives more or less the same feeling. This style reached the peak of its popularity in the middle of the decade, and raised southern hip-hop to the stature of a serious contender to the crown, to the chagrin of many in the hip-hop community, who regarded crunk as a loud and tasteless debasement of the art-form. The jury is still out.

Crunk intrigued me as another case of merger between hip-hop and dance, but no record I've heard really did it to me, until this one. Lil' Jon is the High Priest of crunk, and this anthemic record makes it somewhat more understandable to me. The heavy synth has a mind-numbing effect, the drum machine enhances the disorientation, and the shouts drown you in the experience. In this mental state, the flow of the rap sounds exactly right, and the rest fits in as well. Give me more records like that, and I too will get crunked.

67. Morrissey – First of the Gang to Die (2004)

Punk, which emerged in the mid-seventies, and the new wave, indie and alternative that sprang out of its loins, have all gone against the "classic rock" of the sixties and seventies, claiming that it sold its soul. One of the things they reacted against was the phenomenon of stars and idols, and punk musicians aspired to always remain part of the community which they grew out of, not above it. In the eighties and nineties, a lot of them succumbed to the temptations of stardom once they became famous, but in the naughties, when rock became just a musical genre, those who survived fell back into the fold, shedding all traces of star dust. The only rocker from the generations that came after punk who is still regarded as a rock god, and acts accordingly, is Bono. In a way this is a victory to the ideology of punk, but as I already stated, something very important was lost in the process: rockers no longer offer distinct identities, alternative lifestyles. The rock world, which once was an expression of plurality, diversity and originality, became homogenous and boring.

The exception is Morrissey. Even in his advanced age, he did not lose the ability to generate strong identification in some people, and sharp antagonism in others. Even in his heyday back in the eighties he was always the anti-star, the sensitive rocker who sings his pains in a heartfelt way, and he remained true to his way even in the nineties, when he became a target for the critics. In the end, he managed not only to keep his fan base, but also to find new crowds, such as Latin-Americans who like his underdog stance, or sensitive emo kids, or those nostalgic for the eighties. His shows are a religious experience, in which he gives himself completely to the loving crowd, who reacts with total devotion.

I'm one of those who can take Morrissey only in small doses. But sometimes, a small dose of Morrissey makes my day. Some of the records he released this decade are as good as his Smiths material. This one is my favorite.

Monday, January 25, 2010

66. 50 Cent – In Da Club (2002)

Having conquered the hip-hop world, Eminem turned to the next challenge: production. Like his mentor Dr. Dre, Eminem wanted to find new talents and nurture them, and with 50 Cent he found gold. For one thing, he was sexy, and drove the girls wild. But he had something which captured the minds of the boys as well: while previous gansta-rappers were mainly artists who drew from the world of ghetto gangs into their art, he actually came from that world. So there was something more authentic about him, and that authenticity captured the minds of many youngsters who grabbed his records like hot buns. My reaction, on the other hand, was: so what?

I see nothing thrilling about 50 Cent. He looks like a caricature, a Mickey Mouse version of a gangsta and a pimp, glorifying a lifestyle that has nothing heroic about it. Other gangsta-rappers have also glamorized this lifestyle, but the good ones always showed the other side of the coin as well. It's hard to expect someone who's actually named after a coin to see the other side of himself, and Fifty's music is even flatter and cheaper that his name. The content of his records is silly, the lyrics lack any inspiration, and his flow is lame. Dre and Eminem's production helps a lot, but doesn't salvage the situation.

This is actually an excellent party record, mainly due to the production. For the rest of his records, I wouldn't give you even five cent.

65. Kylie Minogue – Spinning Around (2000)

Oh, how happy this video made me when it came out. Throughout the nineties I had a thing for Kylie, the funkiest, foxiest, jolliest, sweetest, funniest chick around, but I was frustrated by everything she put out. Instead of bringing her delightful personality into music and films, she seemed bent on making things of "quality", which neutered her funkiness. She had some good output here and there, but none of it showed the Kylie I knew from interviews. And then, in 2000, she hooked up with disco, and finally found the beat that brought out her cheerful essence to life.

What is the secret of this beat? Let's go backwards again. In the middle of the sixties, the dominating styles were rock'n'roll and soul, and they relied on the backbeat: the second, fourth, sixth and eighth beat in every bar. This creates a propulsive feeling that pushes forward, and these styles make you feel like your soul erupts out of your body and breaks free into the outer world. But funk, which was born right then, moved the emphasis to the first beat, and treated all the instruments as percussive: the guitars are pinched, the brass and the singing come out in short sharp outbursts. This creates a feeling that all the energy remains in the body and explodes inside, resulting in an inner razzmatazz that makes you want to dance. That brought a change in the attitude towards sexuality as well: in rock'n'roll, sexuality is eruptive, something that bursts out of your loins and drives you to conquer an outer subject of desire; in funk, sexuality is first of all something that flows within you and fills your being with pleasure, and the funk/soul of the seventies produced lots of sensual records. For those who grew up on rock (which was most white kids in the seventies), funk sounded like something that leaves you rooted in one place, and was very hard to comprehend. But the gays did get it. The gay culture in the seventies revolved around their secluded discotheques, where they created a world of their own. And since what brought them together was their sexual identity, sex was a big part of that culture, and the preferred music was naturally the most sensual music around: funky soul records. In time, this culture affected record making as well, toning down the polyrhythmic nature of funk and adding the technology of the discotheque, but maintaining the steady beat and the funky sensuality. By the middle of the seventies, it was possible to define a new style: disco.

To rock fans, disco was a complete travesty, and sounded to them like soulless, robotic music. Not to mention its campy elements, which disgusted the homophobic psyche that was still very prevalent at the time. Following disco's big break in the late seventies, it was viciously oppressed by the rock establishment, and in the eighties it was sent back underground, where it spawned the electronic dance revolution, and returned triumphant in the nineties. But even the dominant culture of the eighties took some things from gay culture - for instance, it was the gays who began the fad of going to gyms to build up your body, and in the eighties it became popular with the masses as well. During that decade it was mainly the shaped male body that got the attention, but in the nineties the focus shifted towards the female body, and the ones who led the way were the supermodels. The supermodels were the biggest pop icons of the nineties not just because they were a new level of cool, women who didn't even have to open their mouths but could make the whole world fall at their feet with just one glance, but also because they shaped their bodies to perfection, and proudly displayed it. By the end of the decade, they influenced women from other fields. Kylie, who was always a scrawny girl, suddenly reemerged here with a knockout body, stuffed into the hottest hotpants ever, and with her singing and dancing, and the funky personality that bursts out of every smile and look, she elevated the hotness bar to a new level.

The record itself was a little weak, but it didn't matter. Kylie finally found herself, and from here on the sky was the limit. Later on she became more interesting musically, and lived up to my expectations of her. Her movie career is still a disappointment, but who cares – there's always video.

64. Busta Rhymes feat. Pharell – Light Your Ass on Fire (2003)

The quality by which rappers are judged is what is known as their "flow" – the way they phrase the words within the bars and thus affect shifts in the rhythm of the rap, creating a feeling of a stream that in some places is gushing and in other places slow. Every rapper has their own distinct flow, and every hip-hop fan has rappers whose flows delight him more than others. For me, the flow I most enjoy streaming with comes from Busta Rhymes, especially when he collaborates with the Neptunes, who always make him less aggressive and more funky. He had many good records along the decade, and I chose the one that deals with the body part most identified with the funk: the pelvis, or, to be more specific, the ass.

To understand why the booty is so important, we must once again go backwards. Naturally, music is something that moves the entire human existence, feet, gut, heart and mind. But European "high" culture emasculated music, and repressed the beat. This is because Western thinking created a split between "body" and "soul", and rather than treating them as one unit, regarded them as separate worlds, and asserted that the soul should escape the body. Therefore, European music is designed to make you forget your body, and moves the soul alone. Dancing, in this culture, was demoted to a function serving other activities, such as courting, and its dance music does not generate ecstasy, but is very inhibited. In the dances of European "high" culture, the body remains stiff, and only the legs move, obeying a predetermined set of steps.

In African culture, on the other hand, dancing animates your entire being. African music is polyrhythmic, and the rhythms take hold of your being and make all parts of body and soul move freely. When the Africans were brought to America as slaves, they were forbidden to play their own music, and compelled to play the European music of their masters. But they always played it in ways that preserved some of their sensibilities, and when slavery was abolished, African-American musicians started to develop styles based on these sensibilities, and slowly created a new black consciousness. You can actually describe the history of twentieth century black pop as a gradual breaking away from the shackles of emasculating European consciousness, and a return to a more African perception of music. Full release was obtained with sixties funk, which put the emphasis back on rhythm, and produced polyrhythmic records that rattled all parts of your being. Funk also taught us how to dance in the correct way again, where the pelvis, the center of your body, moves freely, and makes the rest of your body move as well. "Free your mind and your ass will follow, the kingdom of heaven is within", preached Funkadelic, the premier prophets of funk: when we free our mind from the inhibitions planted by European culture, and move our pelvis freely, the stiffness in our body dissolves, and then we realize that the key to paradise is not in some distant place in the sky, but lies within our bodies, a-posteriorily part of us, and ecstatic dance turns the lock.

The demand to move your ass is therefore featured in many funk records, and naturally, it is usually directed towards women, mingled with sexual desire for that part. When it is done in a distasteful way it is offensive, and too many records made in the last couple of decades are just insulting and pointless. But if it is done with humor, and sits on a good funky beat, it enlivens body and soul. Humor is something Busta Rhymes has in abundance, and funky beats are the Neptunes' expertise, so the meeting between them has to result in something good. From the moment the records starts with the "boom, boom, bababoomboom boom", we get the mental image of a voluptuous woman moving her juicy booty as she walks, and all Busta has to do is provide the details. And, as usual, he delivers.

63. Eminem – The Real Slim Shady (2000)

In his first album from 1999, Eminem sparked the big bang, presenting the first white star to express his teen rebellion through hip-hop (ok, there were the Beastie Boys in the eighties, but they were relatively marginal). A year later, Slim Shady assesses the situation, in his disgusting and amusing way. As he bashes other forms of white pop – boy bands, pop princesses, metal – he observes that white youth no longer flocks after them, but rather wants to imitate him. And hindsight shows that he was right: the boy bands disappeared almost completely, metal fell from grace, and even the pop princesses increasingly turned to hip-hop. But, he says, there is only one Slim Shady, and none of those imitators will ever be able to match. And here, too, he was correct: ten years later, no white rapper has achieved star status. I suppose it will happen eventually, but when Eminem enters the closing verse, firing the intricately interwoven rhymes in Vulcan speed, it's hard to imagine anyone who will ever be able to top him.

62. Arcade Fire – Wake Up (2005)

By the middle of the decade, it was painfully obvious that rock has gone out of the business of changing the world. Young rock musicians no longer attempt to create themselves in a unique identity, no longer challenge the existing order, no longer try to produce hits that would shake the globe. They, and their disciples, regard rock as "serious" and "quality" music, stay away from the charts, and are busy regurgitating rock's glorious past, innovating only within its boundaries. Indie, that independent record industry which sprung in the seventies in an attempt to bypass the established industry and create art for the sake of art, has grown to such an extent that it can provide rock artist with a rather comfortable existence, enabling them to create without external pressures. The result is that the indie bands are siphoned in the confines of the indie world, and don't try to transcend it and struggle in a world where other rules apply, a world that would require of them to show true originality, ingenuity and rebelliousness. All they have left to offer is to play rock a bit differently, and write interesting songs.

Among the new indie bands, Arcade Fire is arguably the best. On the basis of drums and guitars they add a lot of acoustic instruments, creating complex records with intriguing sound textures. Music with a lot of "quality" (in other words, boring), but cute.