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The 50 Most Important Recordings Of The Decade: C-J

All Songs Considered's list of the 50 most important recordings of the decade continues, from Kelly Clarkson through Jay-Z.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Breakaway [Bonus CD]

Say what you will about American Idol; its impact on the pop-music landscape is unmistakable. Even as the music business shrinks, the show has spawned tens of millions in album sales and directly launched massively successful careers in country (Carrie Underwood), R&B (Jennifer Hudson) and rock (Chris Daughtry). All of which might have been thwarted early on had the show's first winner, Kelly Clarkson, not become a massive pop star -- her success, remember, was hardly a foregone conclusion at the time. Clarkson didn't just sell a lot of records; she also sold a lot of good records, and 2004's Breakaway shows her at her spiky, poppy best. She managed to overcome the stigma of American Idol and even the laughable movie spin-off From Justin to Kelly, and wrote a workable playbook for seemingly disposable pop stars who want to stick around longer than anyone expects. -- Stephen Thompson

A Rush of Blood to the Head

Before it became fashionable to bash Coldplay as a stand-in for all that is stately and milquetoast in pop music, the band made a couple of enormously successful, culturally ubiquitous and extremely well-received records. From 2002, A Rush of Blood to the Head was shaping up to be an undisputed classic at the time -- it's as artistically ambitious as it is catchy, which is saying a lot -- yet it's lost much of its critical cachet since then. Still, it's impossible to ignore its reverberations in the successful likes of Keane, Snow Patrol and other likeminded bands that ruled the charts in the '00s, and presumably beyond. For an album so widely heralded in 2002, it feels funny to say that A Rush of Blood to the Head is underrated; today, it's underrated. -- Stephen Thompson

Grey Album

The Grey Album, from 2004, isn't the first record to fuse two unlikely recordings into a seamless mashup. But Danger Mouse's inventive underground mixture of Jay-Z's The Black Album and The Beatles' White Album was a watershed moment in many ways: It forced a litigious record industry to fight copyright wars on yet another front; it kicked off Danger Mouse's incredibly influential career as a producer, conspirator and all-around raconteur; and it still serves as a tidy symbol of the way hip-hop is bleeding into rock 'n' roll in unexpected and exciting ways. -- Stephen Thompson


It's possible to quantify popular music's influence by charting the number of times a song has been played over bittersweet montage sequences on TV dramas -- which, for the '00s, means The O.C., Six Feet Under, One Tree Hill, et al. If any song in the '00s was played in that context more than Jimmy Eat World's "Hear You Me" (a.k.a. "May Angels Lead You In"), it had to be Death Cab for Cutie's "Transatlanticism," in which six words -- "I need you so much closer" -- perfectly capture a sense of romantic longing in the face of distance. The album of the same name does, too, in an unbroken string of sweet, infectious, artful, graceful songs. Transatlanticism made stars of the brainy and unassuming band that spawned it, and its subsequent records haven't disappointed, either. -- Stephen Thompson

The Crane Wife

The Crane Wife could have easily failed. In 2006, at the heart of an era driven by great singles and downloads, it was meant to be heard as a full-length album with a complex story to tell. In a time when independent bands were doing better than ever, The Decemberists had just signed to a major label, so there could have been backlash from fans. And, in a world of short songs and short attention spans, the group mined the fields of English folk and progressive rock (sometimes in the same song) to create 12-minute folk-prog operas. It was a bold move that challenged fans -- and succeeded, because the songs were intriguing, the story was fascinating, and each listen had something new to say. It was the perfect argument for making albums and not just songs. -- Bob Boilen

Marshall Mathers LP

Drop the needle anywhere on 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP, and you'll likely to land someplace powerfully intense and imaginative. Though Eminem's multiple personalities -- each with its own persecution complex! -- can become tiresome conceits, every couplet comes with deliriously inspired wordplay, delivered in choppy, perpetually destabilized cadences that also manage to sound musically provocative. -- Tom Moon

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

In the follow-up to the lushly arranged critical favorite The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips went even grander in scale in 2002, composing the post-apocalyptic concept album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Amidst soaring guitars, synth-driven soundscapes and thunderous drums, singer Wayne Coyne contemplates cosmic existentialism, loneliness and despair in uncertain times. Yoshimi revels in joyful exuberance and unmistakable positivity: "Do You Realize??" functions as the band's unofficial theme song -- and Oklahoma's official state rock song -- telling us that "life goes fast" and encouraging everyone to stop and appreciate all the little things. -- Mike Katzif

La Pasión Segun San Marcos (Saint Mark's Passion)

This 2001 breakthrough recording put Osvaldo Golijov on the map; today, he's widely recognized as one of the world's most important contemporary composers. The Passion According to St. Mark is crossover music at its most freewheeling and meaningful. An Argentine Jew, Golijov here writes music about the Christian story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The music is by turns a classical Passion (following in the footsteps of Bach) and cross-cultural fiesta; it incorporates traditional Western choral singing with Afro-Cuban beats, tango and Brazilian capoeira. This piece turns the traditional Passion on its head and gives it a spin or two. -- Tom Huizenga

American Idiot

Who would have predicted that the band behind an album called Dookie would return a decade later with a provocative examination of an America bloated by greed, junk food and prescription medications? American Idiot was released in 2004, and its title alone said a lot about the band's view of America's status in the world. On the surface, at least, it's a concept record that tells the story of "Jesus of Suburbia," an American everyman oblivious to his self-destructive life. Regardless of its intentions, American Idiot remains one of the decade's fiercest and most ambitious rock records. -- Robin Hilton

Our Endless Numbered Days

Iron & Wine's Sam Beam is an artist, a painter, a filmmaker and a musician whose early work helped signal a move toward intimate home recordings in the new century. Though 2004's Our Endless Numbered Days wasn't a home recording, it carries the same spirit of songs that go from his heart to listeners' ears. A lot of guys with beards made music in the early 21st century, and it's fair to say that a common thread connects the way their music manages to sound both rustic and sensitive. But there's darkness to this music, too, as Beam conflates love and death in the devastating "Naked As We Came." -- Bob Boilen

The Blueprint

The Blueprint is arguably Jay-Z's best work, musically and lyrically. But the odds were stacked against him at the time: He was awaiting two criminal trials at the time of its official release... on Sept. 11, 2001. The album looked back to a more soulful, sample-based sound in an era dominated by a synth-intensive production style. The Blueprint changed the landscape in that sense, but it also made household names out of its producers: Just Blaze, as well as a kid from Chicago by the name of Kanye West. -- Robert Carter, aka DJ Cuzzin B

We haven't be able to secure permission from the label to play this song.

Hear "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" by Jay-Z via YouTube