Best tunes of 2000: #11 U2 “Beautiful day”

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I’ve gone back and forth on U2 over the years. I’ve liked certain songs and not others. I’ve bought albums and then, given them away because I never listened to them. It’s likely because for many years their music was inescapable, played on every radio station and their videos on heavy rotation on MuchMusic. And then of course, there’s the larger than life personas of the four band members, especially that of their frontman. I suppose I’ve suffered from U2 exhaustion for a number of years.

So why is “Beautiful day”, the first single off U2’s tenth studio album, “All that you can’t leave behind”, at the number eleven spot on my Best of 2000 list?

I place the blame squarely on my wife, Victoria.

It was because of her that I saw them live in 2005. It was then that Bono famously agreed to bring U2 to Ottawa to play Scotiabank Place at the behest of then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, as a favour between friends. Victoria, who had already seen them live twice, convinced me that I should at the very least see them perform once in my lifetime, so I duly queued up for tickets online and scored some decent seats. As it turned out, I really enjoyed U2’s set. Maybe it was the lack of expected theatrics or maybe I got caught up in the passion of the fans who surrounded me, but it was some magical and I found new respect for the Irish quartet.

It was also because of Victoria that this particular song stuck out for me among the best when I was compiling the list of my favourite tunes of 2000. I think it was because it found a place on many of the mixed CDs I made for her, or for others on behalf of her, over the years that I cultivated a fondness for “Beautiful day”. I say “think” now because she had me doubting myself when I asked her for her thoughts on the song for this post and she replied that it wasn’t one of her favourites. Her very next words were to compare it with the Levellers song of the same name, which to my mind is the only real point of comparison.

I was beginning to consider abandoning ship and taking a different tack but then, I played it for her. And I saw that smile.

“It is driving fast with the windows down, the stereo blaring and the wind in your face. Being in love and not caring about anything else.” (And I’m paraphrasing here because I’m writing this a few days after the conversation but I think and hope I am getting it right.) “It has that intro that makes you want to jump up and dance. But Bono doesn’t give it to you. He’s singing at his own pace, like he’s moving slowly along to a different beat as the world is crashing and racing around him.”

A good description, I thought. But she didn’t really need to say all that because that smile of remembering said enough for me.

So turn it up and enjoy. No matter the weather, it’s Saturday. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #12 Radiohead “Optimistic”

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April 12, 1998. A date I will always remember for two reasons. First, it was the first and last time I ever worked on an Easter Sunday and second, it was the first and only time I ever saw Radiohead perform live. I remember it being a very quiet shift at the tool rental store at which I worked at the time, serving only a few customers, receiving more calls from other, busier store locations than actual customers, which all made for a very long wait before the show. It’s funny now remembering how much I was looking forward to it that day, considering the only reason I was going was that I loved the opening act and my friend Terry had an extra ticket. Björk was originally supposed to co-headline the show with Radiohead at the stop at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto but she had to cancel just prior to tickets going on sale and the vacant opening slot was filled by Spiritualized, who already had this job for the other stops along the tour.

It’s a point of fact that I had already seen Spiritualized at a small club called Guvernment the previous fall on their own headline tour in support of “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”, a show that I loved and will always remember for many reasons (but that’s a story for another time). And so, I jumped at the chance at seeing them again; Radiohead, for me, was just a bonus. As it would turn out, Spiritualized were phenomenal, doing an admirable job of filling a half-empty arena with their space rock noise, but Radiohead was the revelation. I don’t know what their live show is like these days but in 1998, it was electric and made me an even bigger fan of their music than I already was.

I mention this concert in connection to “Optimistic”, a track that appears on “Kid A”, an album that would come out two years later, because of a (likely unfounded) theory I later developed that it was this tour with Spiritualized that changed everything for Radiohead. When “Kid A” came out, I think a lot of people didn’t know what to think of it. Prior to this album, Radiohead was an excellent guitar rock band and though “OK computer” really pushed the proverbial envelope, it could be considered almost pedestrian when set beside “Kid A”. To me, it sounded like Thom Yorke had spent a load of time with Spiritualized’s evil genius, Jason Pierce, adopted his love of droning rock, free jazz, and experimental noise and leapt off the high diving board without a life jacket. The funny thing is that though I love Spiritualized and everything they produce, “Kid A” and pretty much every Radiohead album that came afterward have never really done anything for me.

Until recently, that is.

(And before I go further, I just want to say that I am not one of those people that slammed “Kid A”, only to much later proclaim it the album of the year. I’ve never hated Radiohead’s later works. I’ve just always preferred albums two and three.)

This week, while listening to “Kid A” in preparation for writing this post, I feel like I heard something there that I hadn’t heard before. “Optimistic”, in particular, got me going with its thrumming and aggressive guitars and pounding drums. These two forces create a palpable tension while Thom Yorke pleads and wrangles with his listeners come along with him for the ride. I listened to it over and over again, each time turning it up louder, the increasing volume making things even more clear. And while I’m not sure I’m sure I’m quite ready to retroactively crown “Kid A” album of the decade or move “Optimistic” further up this list, I think I might be ready to give post-“OK computer” Radiohead another chance.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #13 Oasis “Go let it out”

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When you get as big as fast Oasis did, there’s bound to be a modicum of backlash, especially from the tastemaker set. We saw a similar phenomenon with Coldplay and more recently, with Mumford and Sons but in the case of Oasis, they didn’t really do themselves any favours. The Gallagher brothers’ constant squabbling was much publicized in the music press, as were their outspokenness and snarky potshots at other bands. It’s like they couldn’t keep their mouths shut and it only got worse as their egos grew. This attitude also found its way into the studio with them. You only have to listen to the all the bombast and navel-gazing on “Be here now” for a point of reference.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Oasis. Noel Gallagher is as great a songwriter as he is at repurposing hooks and melodies and Liam’s looks and attitude (when held in check) made him an all-star frontman. Their first two albums were brilliant rock and roll records but when it came to the third, I thought it all just way too much. Then, when “Standing on the shoulders of giants” was released in 2000, I didn’t even bother. I mean, just think about what that title means. I only finally listened to their fourth album in full close to a decade after it was released, just after the Gallagher brothers and the new look Oasis lured me back into the fold with albums five (“Heathen chemistry”) and six (“Don’t believe the truth”).

That doesn’t mean I never once heard “Go let it out” in the intervening months and years. How could I not? It was all over the radio, at the least it was on the only radio station I could stomach at the time: Toronto’s EDGE 102.1. My initial response was ambivalence. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it enough to make me want to check out the album. It has turned out to be a grower though and nowadays, it ranks up there with some of my favourite Oasis singles. It’s got that cracking drum sample that loops through the entire tune and due to the departure of both Bonehead and Guigsy, Noel does double duty here, providing both the muscular rhythm guitar and the fuzzy bass. Liam, meanwhile, is very present and provides his usual edge, a raw and raspy performance.

“Go let it out” is as stadium-friendly and anthemic as their other work during this period, yet it also feels somewhat restrained, at least as restrained as these guys could ever get (it’s almost two minutes shorter than the average song on “Be here now”). And yes, it has that raise your fist and pump it in the air kind of climax. Pure Oasis.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.