It was a banner year for producers. The Neptunes — a major commercial force since Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s “Got Your Money” — helmed more great songs than we could fit on this list. (Shout out to NSYNC‘s “Girlfriend,” an all-time classic boy band single.) Timbaland, Kanye West and Dr. Dre were similarly on fire.
It was also a crucial year for several elite artists: You’ll notice we couldn’t help but include multiple songs from Radiohead, Daft Punk, Destiny’s Child and The Strokes. But there’s something for everyone here — from Southern hip-hop (Mystikal) to indie-rock (Spoon) to prog-metal (Tool).
So raise up, roll out and let us blow your mind. Here are the 50 Best Songs of 2001.
50. No Doubt – “Hella Good”
Though “Hella Good” wasn’t the forever end of No Doubt (the band reunited later in the decade), this pulsating banger was a bittersweet goodbye to the tragic kingdom we’d been living in since the mid-’90s. But what a way to go out! Everything to love about No Doubt seems to coalesce on this Neptunes-blessed sendoff. It has the funky thump of “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Billie Jean.” Its moody electronics make it sound like the evil twin of “Into the Groove.” Gwen Stefani turns up her sex croak to 11 without sacrificing an ounce of badassery. The reality is that these Anaheim ska nerds gave the world so many unfuckwithable classics, “Hella Good” might not even crack their top 10 songs. But in the end, all they asked of us was to “keep on dancing.” – Sarah Grant
49. Maxwell – “Lifetime”
The biggest hit from Maxwell’s first No. 1 album, Now, was the earthy and relatable “Lifetime” — a welcome change for fans and critics who found 1998’s Embrya a little pretentious. Co-written by Sade guitarist Stuart Matthewman, the song has a crisp drum loop with a distinctive snare drum hiccup and a philosophical lyric about taking life one day at a time. “’Lifetime’ is pretty much one of those songs that’s like a crossroads kind of song,” Maxwell said in a 2001 promotional video for the album. “I think it’s about just having faith. I struggled with that, too, because I worried, worried, worried: ‘Will things work; will things work?’ But when you let it go, then it works.” – Al Shipley
48. Eve (feat. Gwen Stefani) – “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”
“Drop your glasses, shake your asses / Face screwed up like you havin’ hot flashes.” I mean, it’s amazing humans continued writing songs at all after opening bars like that. “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” is the OG BFF song that launched a thousand bad bitch anthems like Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s “Somethin’ Bad,” Bey and Jay’s “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde,” Saweetie and Doja Cat’s “Best Friend” — just to name a few. They all borrow Dr. Dre’s slinky, syncopated production and, in their own ways, pay homage to the genius pairing of Eve’s cocky flow and Gwen Stefani’s nasal coo. In every iteration of this song made in the last 20 years, there is always the “Eve” and the “Gwen.” The thing they can’t cop is Eve’s indelible wordplay because, as she sings, that’s hard to find. – S.G.
47. R.E.M. – “Imitation of Life”
The band almost killed off this song for sounding “too R.E.M.” But Reveal needed a rocker — so at the last minute, they swapped in a string section for the sluggish horns of what was called “Fake Trumpet Chorus.” And, thus, “Imitation of Life” was born. Their second single without drummer Bill Berry, “Life” was conceived in 1999, backstage in Denmark. But it swelled into something more ornate, with session players, including Ken Stringfellow on synthesizer, enriching this cynically sweet ode to life’s elusive “sugarcane.” At this pre-9/11 moment, the beginning of R.E.M.’s third act, singer Michael Stipe is 40. When life begins. – Patrick Flanary
46. Stereolab – “Captain Easychord”