The National Mix: The Hits (and misses) of 2004
Each week we ask our writers to submit two songs for a given theme. This week, in honor of the tenth anniversary of College Dropout, we had our writers reflect on two songs that either have turned or will turn ten in 2014.
2004 was a weird year for music. Britney was getting married and then annulled within 55 hours, only to get married to K-Fed later that year. DMB was dumping metric tons of poop onto innocent riverboat passengers in Chicago. Ashlee Simpson got caught lip-synching on SNL. And don’t even get us started about the wardrobe malfunction.
But through it all, in spite of it all, or perhaps because of it all, some really great music was released ten years ago, including Kanye’s genre-altering debut College Dropout. So let’s take a moment of remembrance to honor ‘Ye before we turn our attention to celebrating other songs from 2014 that are either about to turn ten or already have this year.
If You Were Born Today, by Jimmy Eat World, from Christmas EP
It’s pretty rare that something so horrific happens that the entire world implicitly agrees to — and succeeds in — effectively erasing it from the annals of history. Jimmy Eat World’s Christmas EP is one of those things. With absolutely no affection for the song itself and a heart full of pure Schadenfreude, I take this opportunity to remind you all that yes, Jimmy Eat World did, in real life, release a Christmas EP, and that we all have to live in a world where that kind of thing happened.
“Ordinary People,” by John Legend, from Get Lifted
To me, this song will never get old. For starters, John Legend is amazing. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t agree. He’s one of very few musicians I can think of that has some appeal to almost everyone, but still sticks closely to his guns in terms of style. I love “Ordinary People” not just because it’s one of his best and most successful songs, but because the song portrays a chilling complexity to love and relationships, which most songs fail to do. Also, the music video for this song includes weird bits and pieces of a little domestic dispute, which is a lot more endearing than when Eminem and Rihanna did it.
“Yeah!” by Usher, from Confessions
As my colleague Peter K. has noted, 2004 was a golden year for mainstream rap with Lil Jon screaming over it. It’s amazing how good this Crunk&B interstellar smash-hit still sounds today while blasted over a sweaty dance floor. So thanks, Usher, for giving 13-year-old me the mistaken impression that every club in America is filled with lasers and beautiful people performing your choreography and Chingy. And thanks for giving America the best dance song our generation may ever produce.
“Miracle Drug,” by U2, from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
With the possible exception of Five for Fighting’s “100 Years,” I don’t think any other song captures the experience of adolescent flirting with romance in suburban America quite like “Miracle Drug.” When my kids ask me in the future what it was like to go through middle school as a seventh or eighth grader in the Chicagoland area (which dear God let’s hope for their sake they never do), I think I’ll just play them this song from an album I think every poor pubescent of my generation either limewired or was given by their grandparents. I remember putting the song on mix CDs and thinking it demonstrated my insightful contemporary musical tastes. I also remember pining after crush after crush and thinking about how cool it would be to have the power to go inside somebody’s head and figure out whether they liked me or not. As I’ve noted, I wasn’t that cool of a kid in middle school.
“F**k It (I Don’t Want You Back),” by Eamon, from I Don’t Want You Back
The sweetest heartbreak song, right up until it isn’t. Saddest/funniest moment: Eamon, lamenting his ex’s relationship with her new boyfriend, exclaims “You even gave him head!”
“Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” by Jet, from Get Born
Remember when being in an iPod commercial could launch a band’s career? That historical era is happily over, leaving us to get our fix of crappy pop rock when we’re too lazy to skip a song on Pandora.
If we’re talking about 2004 in music, we probably ought to say a few words about the iPod. While the device’s first model was released in 2001, 2004 was the first year that people I knew, namely upper-middle-class tweens, started getting iPods. This period of late middle school was also around the time that kids had, and recognized, status symbols. Having an iPod and a cell phone by 8th grade came with a lot of cache. And having a Zune, as my friend Greg did, made you an object of ridicule. So Jet not only wrote a song with the deadly combination of crapiness and catchiness, but also sold their music to be used to foster budding commodity fetishism among preteens. Those dicks.
PS: I just found out that the album this is off of, Get Born, was named for The Bourne Identity. My distaste is confirmed.
“Neighborhood #3” by Arcade Fire, from Funeral
The greatness of Arcade Fire’s first album is undeniable, and while everyone may have their favorite track, Neighborhood #3 is far and away the song that has stuck with me the longest. Encapsulating perfectly the mix of joy and terror involved with growing up, you can already hear themes that would come to fruition in their 2010 release, The Suburbs. Bursting from the start with excitement and a little bit of darkness, the non-stop high-energy of ‘Neighborhood #3’ makes this perfect song to listen to if you’re angry, happy, need to dance, or just want to listen to a great song.
“Rebel, Rebel “ by Seu Jorge from, The Life Aquatic Soundtrack
2004 was a year that brought us some pretty solid movie soundtracks. One of the more influential soundtracks that year was from the Zach Braff flick Garden State, and no matter your thoughts on the film, I think the way music was used was fairly unique for its time–and certainly did some big things for The Shins. But I’m going to give Garden State second place in the 2004 movie soundtrack ranking, and instead go with the music of Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic, which features a Brazilian singer, Seu Jorge, covering the songs of David Bowie. The music really sets the tone for this perfectly odd film and Jorge gives a new perspective on Bowie classics. If I had to pick one song from the soundtrack, I would go with ‘Rebel, Rebel.’
“Burn” by Usher, from Confessions
I’m submitting two challenges to you, the reader. I first challenge you to find someone who cannot sing at LEAST the chorus of this song by heart. I then challenge you to play this at a social gathering/on a bus full of college students/anywhere and NOT have the entire room/bus drop whatever they’re doing and start belting this out at full volume. But in all seriousness, this song, to me, is the one Usher song that everyone can agree on. It’s so catchy, so relatable, so SOULFUL. It’s a classic tune of our generation, I truly believe that. I CAN’T, however, believe it’s 10 years old. That’s not real.
“Leave (Get Out)” by JoJo, from JoJo
But now let’s talk about the downside of music in the early 2000s, cause as much great music as there was, there was also the rise of the (albeit brief) careers of people like JoJo. At one point, she was pretty famous. Probably a household name. And then, BAM. Gone. But it isn’t even like she disappeared in a “Oh YEAH! I remember JoJo! Her one song was my JAM” kind of way. She disappeared in a “Wait, who? JoJo? No, I have never heard that name” kind of way. And I guess I always wondered why that happened. But it really wasn’t isolated to just JoJo. Remember Ashanti? B2K? To a lesser extent Missy Elliott? You’d be surprised how many people just don’t.
“BM J.R.” by Lil Wayne, from Tha Carter
“Sweet potato-ass nigga you lemon meringue, apple custard, cherry jelly, don’t make me get the biscuit busta”
Lil Wayne produces just a stupid amount of music. At this point he’s been so ubiquitous in rap that it’s easy to forget that there was a time when Lil Wayne wasn’t a household name, but I’d argue that 2004 was when Lil Wayne began to make his march to “superstar” status. With the release of Tha Carter in 2004 Lil Wayne first gave us a glimpse of the bizarre, weird, syrup-infused super rapper we would come to know. BM J.R. isn’t his best known song off Tha Carter, but I think it gave us the best preview of the irreverent and unpredictable style that would come to characterize Weezy.
“Dirt Off Your Shoulder” by Jay-Z, from The Black Album
Trying to stretch out the cocoa, like a wrestler, yessir
Jay-Z is a professional braggart, and I think just about everyone. As a star that literally clawed their way up from the streets with a mix of raw intellect, drive, and creative talent it’s hard to not buy into his intense, musical gloating. Jay-Z’s literal and social capital has only increased since 2004, but even back in the early days of Lost he was solidifying his status as the King of New York (sorry Nas). This pimp-hygiene anthem is a deserved staple of parties and pump-up playlists.
Ed. note: While The Black Album was technically released in 2003, the single “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” wasn’t released until 2004, the same year the song took over Jock Jamz everywhere. Also, for the purposes of this article, we’re considering that Jay-Z’s collaboration with Linkin Park never existed.
“Pieces of Me,” by Ashlee Simpson, from Autobiography
Using the bit of fame she gained from being featured on MTV’s hit show Newlyweds…You don’t remember Newlyweds? It starred Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. What do you mean “who’s Jessica Simpson?” She’s married to Tony Romo. You know, Tony Romo. The quarterback of the most disgusting NFL franchise in existence. No, not the Browns. Or the Raiders. ANYHOW, using the fame she gained from being featured on that show, Ashlee Simpson managed to scrounge up the support to release her album Autobiography, featuring the single “Pieces of Me.” Then that single blew up.
During 2004, “Pieces of Me” managed to reach the top 10 on both the Billboard Top 100 and the UK Singles Chart. With its meaningless lyrics and barely-there instrumentation, the song was perfect for airwaves that had come to be dominated by the likes of Ryan Cabrera and Good Charlotte. This then led to the lip-synch seen ’round the world, which promptly awoke the public to Simpson’s lack of, well, any discernible talent.
So why is it important to think about Ashlee Simpson and “Pieces of Me,” a song I’ve hardly spent a second discussing?
I’d like to think “Pieces of Me” is a great reminder of what happens to bad music trends. You may hate whatever is popular on the radio right now. You might hate all popular music. However, you can take solace in the fact that many of those songs will likely just disappear into the abyss of Wikipedia until someone rediscovers them for some article. So thank you Ashlee Simpson. Thank you for reminding us how unimportant you, and those like you, are.
“Goodies,” by Ciara feat. Petey Pablo, from Goodies
Perhaps the best song about virginity released in 2004, “Goodies” is a cultural touchstone. This song was the world’s introduction to Ciara, and the world’s introduction/salutation to Petey Pablo (who apparently still makes music somewhere for his 7 fans). With an infectious rhythm perfect for middle school grind-trains, this song took over the summer of 2004 – and ten years later it hasn’t aged a bit. In fact, if you listen close enough, you can hear the “cool” abstinence lecturing his students about keeping their virginity “in a jar” as “Goodies” plays in the background.
“Mr. Brightside,” by The Killers, from Hot Fuss
“Knuckles,” by The Hold Steady, from Almost Killed Me
“On the Way Down,” by Ryan Cabrera, from Take it All Away
“Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show, from O.C.M.S.
“Float On,” by Modest Mouse, from Good News For People Who Love Bad News
“Raid,” by Madvillain, from Madvillainy
“10 AM Automatic” by The Black Keys, from Rubber Factory
Ruben Studdard ‘Sorry for 2004’