Top 20 Rock Songs of the 2000s

Colossal Riffs, Epic Ballads -- and Guilty Pleasures

The best rock songs of the decade come in many forms. Some have colossal riffs and some are epic ballads, while others are just guilty pleasures you can't get out of your head. But whether it's a band that got its start in the early ’80s or it a younger group that finally found fame in 2009, the top 20 rock songs of the 2000s list has room for artists of all shapes and sizes.

Metallica's contribution to 2000’s ​"Mission: Impossible II" soundtrack was during the lauded metal band’s transition to a more streamlined rock approach. By the end of the decade, James Hetfield and the rest of the guys would return to their head-banging ways with the gargantuan "Death Magnetic," but “I Disappear” stands as a reminder that when Metallica wanted to set its sights on radio hits, it could do it quite well.

As U2 entered its third decade, it was more of a graceful, melodic band than a straight-up rock group. But U2 changed that impression a bit with “Vertigo,” one of its most energetic up-tempo numbers. As always with this quartet, the secret weapon is the Edge’s brilliant guitar work, which ranges from the lethal opening riff to the shimmering, fluid solo.

No song on this list will probably cause as much disagreement as “How You Remind Me.” This Nickelback smash was everywhere in the fall of 2001, and, yes, its success merely paved the way for this mediocre band’s path to superstardom. But as an example of mainstream songwriting chops and flawlessly slick production, “How You Remind Me” is absolutely undeniable. A guilty pleasure, to be sure, but one that has its share of fans.

This Deftones song sounds menacing enough, but what’s even creepier are the lyrics. Frontman Chino Moreno sings in a whisper as he watches his significant other change into a fly. This could all be a metaphor, of course, but how he responds to her metamorphosis is disturbing enough no matter how literally you want to interpret the lyrics.

Utterly unapologetic, Buckcherry had one of its biggest hits by celebrating … uh, attractive women with loose morals who might be slightly unhinged. Stripper-rock existed before “Crazy Bitch,” but this is definitely its high-water mark, for better or worse.

As the ‘00s came to a close, a lot of rap-rock songs from earlier in the decade felt awfully dated. But a notable exception was Linkin Park’s “In the End,” which balanced Mike Shinoda’s rapped verses with Chester Bennington’s sung choruses. Coming on their breakthrough debut album, "Hybrid Theory," “In the End” cemented this band’s status as a commercial force, dominating just about every radio format it came across.

The feisty all-female trio Sleater-Kinney’s best song takes good-natured pot shots at the male-dominated rock genre. With a lively, swinging beat backing her up, singer Corin Tucker is both coy and confrontational, accusing her competition of lacking the danger and sex appeal that once made rock ‘n’ roll great. It should go without saying that “You’re No Rock 'n' Roll Fun” is a lot of fun – and a nice rebuke to a lot of the sexism going on in rock.

You take the lead singer of Soundgarden and put him with the musicians from Rage Against the Machine, and what do you get? A band that sounds like Chris Cornell fronting RATM, of course. Audioslave was a hit-or-miss hybrid, but “Cochise” was definitely a hit. Tom Morello’s booming guitar and Cornell’s stunning voice work in perfect union here, and as a result the song is pure adrenaline.

Dave Grohl may supposedly have been displeased with his band’s 2002 album, "One by One," but this single off of it proved memorable. Starting with a tense, scratchy riff, “All My Life” is all coiled tension until the guitars are finally unleashed. As for the lyrics, they’re some of the most pessimistic of the Foo Fighters’ career – Grohl seems to be searching for something lasting, but everything lets him down. “I’m done/Done/And I’m on to the next one,” he screams near the song’s end, suggesting that he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

Kurt Cobain may have taken his life in 1994, but that didn’t stop one of that decade’s biggest bands from having a huge hit this decade. “You Know You’re Right” was recorded a few months before his death, and the song contains all of Nirvana’s hallmarks – slow verse, loud chorus, powerful melody. When it made its debut on the band’s greatest-hits album in 2002, it was just another sad reminder of what a talented songwriter he was.

One of the decade’s great riffs, “Check My Brain” reanimated ‘90s-style grunge for the new century. At its best, Alice in Chains always sounds like it is up to its neck in misery and sonic muck, and the band’s brilliant comeback in 2009 was guaranteed with this song, which seemed like old times – in a good way.

Incubus had bigger hits in the ‘00s, like the inescapable ballad “Drive,” but “Wish You Were Here” is their most dynamic tune. Frontman Brandon Boyd gets trippy in the lyrics, counting UFOs on the beach while savoring a few moments of unadulterated happiness. But even then, he wishes he had a special someone to share the moment with, which gives the song a bittersweet aftertaste.

When White Stripes leader Jack White announced his Raconteurs side project, the obvious question was, “What will this new band sound like?” This first single provided the answer. Riding a bass line that borrowed from Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” the Raconteurs pile on guitars and keyboards for a track that is more playful than the White Stripes but no less compelling.

Taking a cue from ‘90s groups like Filter, Chevelle makes radio-rock that focuses on metallic, angsty riffs. “Send the Pain Below” leaps out of the speakers from the first moment, and lead singer Pete Loeffler ably articulates the pain of an unequal relationship where you’re doing all the work and the other party is doing all the taking. Ostensibly, it’s a sad song, but the band’s galvanic guitars make it feel very liberating and exciting.​

Seether’s 2007 album ​"Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces" was, as its title suggests, about surviving hard times. This track is its emotional centerpiece – proof that a post-grunge band could on occasion reach the heights of its Seattle predecessors. Sonically, “Rise Above This” is a tense-yet-soaring ride as frontman Shaun Morgan sings about the determination to battle adversity in a way that’s unabashedly inspiring.

A great song that just sounds greater over time, Slipknot’s “Psychosocial” (off of 2008's "All Hope Is Gone") is a thundering blast of alt-metal, brilliantly combining lacerating guitars and a melodic chorus. Slipknot made a career of incorporating freaky masks and shouted vocals for its nightmare-inducing rock. “Psychosocial” is one of those rare instances when the music is as terrifying and anguished as the band’s persona.

Kings of Leon took several years and several albums to catch on with American audiences, but 2008’s "Only by the Night" finally did the trick. “Use Somebody” is the album’s peak, an elegant and soulful mid-tempo song about being separated by geography from the one you love. Vocalist Caleb Followill is perfection at making longing seem sexy and romantic.

For most people, Velvet Revolver’s entire body of work, which only consists of two albums, boils down to this song. In fact, it’s not even the song itself – it’s Slash’s hard-rock guitar brilliance and frontman Scott Weiland’s patented lizard-like charisma that come together so terrifically on “Slither.” This supergroup wasn’t built to last, but this is the highlight of that brief partnership.

One of the decade’s most innovative bands, the White Stripes made their name by stripping rock down to its essence: guitars and drums. So imagine everyone’s surprise when this piece of weird electro-rock came thundering out of this Detroit duo in 2005. “Blue Orchid” is still a very simple song, but the guitar sounds like it’s being played through an amplifier that’s short-circuiting. As for Meg White’s drums, they never let up.

The decade’s best song seems to combine rock music’s past, present and future into one astounding package. The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn draws from the bar-band energy of early Bruce Springsteen, but then he throws in the hipness of modern rock while at the same time adding his own highly literate storytelling style. This may be one of the most euphoric songs ever recorded about the futility of young people’s dreams – or, put another way, it’s a wiser, sadder, funnier “Born to Run” for a new era.