Your Source for NPR News & Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Best Songs of 2003

It certainly is the age of the song. The days of the MP3 aren't so different from the days of the 45 rpm. You pay a buck; the quality is good, but not as good as its more expensive counterpart. Back in the days of the 45, you'd stack your faves on a round 45 adapter, best side up, and one by one they would play, the tone arm lifting off the record long enough for the next 45 to magically fall onto the platter and play. You'd hope it wouldn't skip. The days of the 45 or even mix tapes seem antiquated in the age of the iPod and homemade CD's. We've "streamed" our picks for 2003's best songs, so click to listen and hope it doesn't skip!

Download this show in the All Songs Considered podcast.

Sign up for the All Songs Considered newsletter and we'll tell you when new music features are available on the site.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit

The Best Songs of 2003


"The only reason to believe all the hype on this band. It's not post-punk or nuevo-garage or whatever overwrought jargon the band has been labeled with - it's a soulful, bittersweet break-up song."

-- NPR reviewer Mikel Jollett

"Very close to being my album of the year and this song is one of the main reasons. One of the most intense, emotional rock releases in recent memory."

-- KEXP morning DJ John Richards


"It's the song of the summer, only in the fall: ephemeral and catchy, invoking everything good about the Cars, Blondie, and getting lost between bars on a Friday night in New York."

-- NPR reviewer Mikel Jollett


"An absolutely hauntingly beautiful traveling song to play again and again on headphones during rainstorms."

-- NPR reviewer Mikel Jollett


"A glorious rock anthem and it's almost like the band won't let themselves finish it."

-- World Cafe host David Dye

Ashes on the Highway

"This is the sound of a man on fire. Smart, funny and honestly out of his mind; but he comes back long enough to sing about it. One of the best singer/songwriters I've ever heard."

-- All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen

"In a good year for songs about death -- half of Dave Matthews' Some Devil meditates on it -- this dramatic little ode is among the most unusual, wry and haunting at the same time."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Moon

Now It's On

"If you've been in the house too long, staring at the screen, roll down the car windows and sing this song, and sing it loudly. This is why pop music makes great radio."

-- All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen

Who Am I?

"Reed made another brilliant record this year, and few noticed. It wasn't an easy listen. It's not easy to sum up the magic and wonder of life in a 4-minute song. But he did. One day, if you are over 50, you will need this song."

--All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen

I Love You

"Lanois' preternatural gifts as a producer have never been more evident than on this piece. How does he do it? What does he Lanois know that other producers and musicians don't? The remarkable world of sound Lanois creates in this beautiful work of art literally gives me goose bumps."

-- All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton


"From my runner-up for best album of the year: a deeply personal and intimate collection of delicate songs of love, sorrow and remembrance. This song brought tears to my eyes, and that's enough for me. We'll be hearing a lot more from Sufjan Stevens in the coming years."-- All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton

The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

"This cross-state collaboration (through the mail and Internet) between Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello showed what music could be in the 21st century. It's a brilliant marriage of electronica and indie rock. This is the stand-out track."

-- All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton

Happy Valentine's Day

"'Happy Valentine's Day' from Outkast's amazingly all-over-the- place Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has rapper cum-singer Andre 3000 playing a thugged-out Cupid, an idea I really like. 'Now when arrows don't penetrate/Cupid grabs a pistol and shoots straight for your heart.' It's part spoken word, part rap, and part indelible chorus - strange construction, great song."

-- NPR reviewer Will Hermes

Title and Registration

"Singer Ben Gibbard was responsible for two of my fave LPs this year: Give Up by the Postal Service and Transatlaticism by his main group, Death Cab for Cutie. The latter has 'Title and Registration,' the only song I know that finds the depths of heartbreak in a glove compartment."

-- NPR reviewer Will Hermes

Kaze Wo Atsumete

"I think 'Lost in Translation' is one of the year's loveliest films, and music played a huge role in the spell it cast. The entire soundtrack is good, but I especially like 'Kaze Wo Atsumete' by Japan's Happy End. It sounds like something off James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, and while I have no idea what the guy is singing about, it still makes me happy every time I hear it."

-- NPR reviewer Will Hermes

Molly's Chambers

"You can keep the Strokes and even the White Stripes. It's all about Kings of Leon. They take garage rock down south, to the land of the Allman Brothers and Leon Russell. This is a perfect rock song: lean and mean with a killer beat and primal, gut piercing riffs. When I was a kid, I loved punk and garage rock and I used to laugh at people who listened to any song over 3 minutes. Now I love Southern rock more than anything, especially the Allmans. So this song marries my past to my present."

-- NPR reviewer Meredith Ochs

Ain't No Grave

"This is the title track from a tribute album to traditional and public domain songs - great concept, bringing these dusty old songs into the '00s with electric guitar, pedal steel, etc. and young-ish singers. I like Kris Delmhorst's voice a lot. It has a rich, bluesy quality without being too bluesy, and it really carries a melody."

-- NPR reviewer Meredith Ochs

Six O'Clock News

"Edwards is a young Canadian who made a big splash this year. This song opens her debut album, and it paints quite a picture. It's sung from the perspective of a girl who comes home to find her boyfriend - who has apparently committed a crime - holed up with a gun in their apartment, surrounded by police and TV camera crews. As a copy shoots and kills him, she reveals that she's pregnant with his child. When I met Edwards, I asked her what inspired the song. She said she was living in a rural area and just gotten cable, and she'd been watching a lot of CNN. I never watch CNN, but I guess they broadcast a lot of this stuff. The song also has a killer hook and a melody that stays in your head for days."

-- NPR reviewer Meredith Ochs

Scandalous (No. 9)

The dual solo offering of Outkast was a constant presence in the car, right alongside the debut of this extraordinary duo, John Bigham and Christopher Thomas. Starting at the crowded intersection of R&B and hip hop, they gather in elements of the blues and psychedelic rock and Stevie Wonder-ish vocal improvisation, yet never sound pretentious."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Moon

Ringing My Phone

Accompanying the happy, chattering taped voice of his Istanbul tour guide with darting piano trio counterpoint, Jason Moran here creates a new kind of jazz interaction. Simply amazing."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Moon

Everyone Chooses Sides

"It's been seven years since the last Wrens album and it'll be seven more before this song gets out of my head."

-- KEXP morning DJ John Richards

Super Duper Love

The first time I heard the album that this song comes from, I assumed that Joss was most likely a thirtyish black woman from Philadelphia. She's actually a blonde haired sixteen year old white girl from the south of England with a that can only be described as a gift."

-- Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt

"I honestly heard this for the first time not knowing her age or her ethnicity and told the World Cafe staff to book her and that I would strew rose petals up the steps to our studios in front of her. Each 'wait a minute' sucks you in to this perfect arrangement.

-- World Cafe host David Dye


"Jem is somebody whose demos I first heard almost a year ago. She's a star in the making from Wales in the UK with a sound that mixes dreamy vocals with well written songs incorporating beats and samples."

--Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt

Dream Machine

"This song features the folk voice of Sean Hayes over an ambient electronic soundscape."

--Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt


"Tops in singer/songwriter-dom. When you talk with Josh and find out that the night he mentions in this song had more to do with having the car keys for the first time than the girl, it completely takes me back."

-- World Café host David Dye

This Land Is Your Land

"Rubbery notes on guitar by Harrison suggest it's go into be a radical reinterpretation of the Woody Guthrie song, but soon Uri Caine's piano places the rendition in a jazz context, as does David Binney's sax. But the performance ultimately transcends genre: it's just a new way of looking at a familiar tune, a beloved American classic. For me, it became a metaphor for how we have to remember to look at the US with fresh, probing eyes and understand that America is a work in progress, subject to a variety of affectionate interpretations."

-- NPR reviewer Jim Fusilli

Saturday Morning

"A get-up-and-go song told from the point of view of an eight year old eager to start the weekend. It instantly reminds me of how much fun it is to think like a kid. it's one of the high points of a very, very good album by Mark Oliver Everet and the band."

-- NPR reviewer Jim Fusilli

Old Friend

"I love the interplay between Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on this acoustic blues. It's the closing track on a terrific album from a band I'd thought was on life support. Maybe their best studio album in 30 years, thanks to Haynes and Trucks."

-- NPR Reviewer Jim Fusilli

Kongo Sigui

"This track captures the sublime mastery and ease of Djelimady Tounkara's guitar playing in the context of the Rail Band's majestic musical chemistry like nothing else. What I really love is its moody, introspective feeling; African pop doesn't get any more majestic."

-- NPR reviewer Banning Eyre

Issake Shango

"The dance pop music of the Congo is full of formulas, but it didn't become the most popular dance music in Africa by accident. On this song, everything hits home - the singing, the arranging, the instrumental and vocal hooks, the production, and sterling acoustic guitar work to boot. No matter how disillusioned I become with all the posing and recycling in this music, I can put this on and remember all at once why I still love Congolese music so much."

-- NPR reviewer Banning Eyre

Hama More (All My Life)

"This remake of a classic from old Afghanistan radio number spotlights the country's ties with North Indian culture, although the notes say the song is Persian. Whatever its origin, there's something in the lyrical melody, the unusual mode, the complex rhythm -- a slow waltz, but with a rolling, swinging undercurrent -- the searing violin and soaring voice of the revitalized radio diva, Mahwash, that is pure magic. I put this on and melt every time."

-- NPR reviewer Banning Eyre

Knives Out

Performance Today host Fred Child's pick.

Blackberry Winter

"If you think a classically trained singer can't break your heart like your favorite pop songster, take a listen to countertenor David Daniels singing 'Blackberry Winter' with guitarist Craig Ogden. Daniels has become a super-star for good reason. It's more than the sound of his voice. It's the emotion inside the artist. Listen and weep."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Manoff

More to Life

"This is my pancultural hit of the year -- deep structures of layered dance rhythms, perfect complex counterpoint, spiritual message within 'hot' street-dance genre. Big-time modulation at the high point. Traditional Ground Bass structure (not unlike the Baroque period). This is the blending of several cultural strains beyond style and time."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Manoff

Related Stories