Think about popular music around the turn of the millennium, and what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the teen-pop that dominated TRL, or the rap-rock and nu-metal that rose up seemingly in response to it. Maybe it’s the crossover hip-hop and R&B jams that made household names out of Timbaland and The Neptunes, or the four-quadrant country that propelled Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks to diamond-level sales. Maybe it’s Eminem. Maybe it’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
What probably doesn’t come immediately to mind, however, is the music that served as the glue for top 40 radio during this period: accessible, catchy, cleanly produced rock music built on sonic foundations of processed guitars and/or driving piano. This was the dependable, generation-spanning pop-rock that filled in the gaps between some of the meteoric musical moments and careers shooting off around it. We call it Minivan Rock.
Why Minivan Rock? Well, think of it as the Y2K-straddling equivalent to the smooth soft rock that was similarly ubiquitous on radio playlists of the mid-1970s to early ’80s — what’s since come to be known as Yacht Rock. While those Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross hits were ostensibly best enjoyed by the affluent while cruising in their personal vanity vessels on the high seas, by the late ’90s the vehicular status symbol for the suburban had become the minivan. And when the local top 40 or adult top 40 channel was blasting through the car radio, these were the songs most likely to be fun for the whole family. (BuzzFeed wrote about a similar idea in 2017.)
How did we define Minivan Rock? Well, that answer is much more complicated: involving countless microscopically drawn lines of demarcation, and weeks upon weeks of debate about the eligibility of specific artists (and weeks more about specific songs by those specific artists).
Ultimately, the only hard line we drew was that songs for this list had to be released as singles between the years of 1997 — when the final strains of Gen-X grunge had dissolved into something inherently top 40-friendlier — and 2004, after which alt-rock had a radio comeback and Grey’s Anatomy-type piano balladry turned pop-rock into something more dolorous and epic. Beyond that, we looked for a good deal of overlap with the previously mentioned sonic signifiers, but sometimes determining a song’s eligibility was as simple as asking: “Does this song sound like it would soundtrack a turn-of-the-century minivan commercial?”
Before we get started on our top 50, though, a quick note about some songs we didn’t count. First, we tried not to include anything that already has an obvious pre-existing genre or subgenre to call home: songs that could better be described as pop-punk, emo, country, R&B or teen-pop. We also tried not to include songs that didn’t quite rock enough: Sarah McLachlan, Jack Johnson and Norah Jones all had hits that rubbed elbows with these on FM playlists, but they still don’t really fit here. And finally, with a few exceptions, we mostly shied away from expansive songs that felt like they belonged more to the bigger pop universe — like “Smooth,” “One Week” and “You Get What You Give” — though other, smaller-scaled singles by Santana, Barenaked Ladies and New Radicals all appear below.
Still, we’re confident you’ll disagree with some of our picks here, just as no two of our list’s contributors defined Minivan Rock quite the same way. We think that’s part of the fun, and we hope that while you’re debating why Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” wasn’t included while P!nk’s “Just Like a Pill” was, that you take time to revisit both songs (and dozens others here), now decades removed from their endless radio replay. Just as time has lent a fonder perspective to countless Yacht Rock classics that were considered critical poison in their time (and punchline fodder for many years after), we feel like our Minivan Rock top 50 is full of jams deserving of similar reappraisal.
Seat belts on, everybody? OK: Let’s take a drive through the best that the Minivan Rock era had to offer — with an interview of our No. 1 artist and a Spotify playlist of all 50 songs at the bottom of the article.
50. Filter, “Take a Picture” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? Former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Richard Patrick baring his flaws (and more) on a sonically refreshing, albeit controversial, nostalgia trip.
Turn It Up in the Back! The angsty, generation-spanning screed “Hey dad, what do you think about your son now?” resonated with enough people in the front and backseat to reach its No. 12 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. That’ll show him!
Hit the Brakes! In modern times, with everyone taking a picture, the mid-air nudity elegantly detailed in the song’s lyrics would unquestionably have spread across the internet before the plane’s wheels touched the ground. — BRYAN KRESS
49. Dido, “White Flag” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? The weepy, impossibly high-stakes signature song from British singer-songwriter Dido, off her 2003 album Life For Rent, in which she acknowledges that her relationship is falling apart — but professes her undying commitment to it anyway.
Turn It Up in the Back! Dido’s angelic, sweeping, sweet-but-heartbreaking chorus makes this one a karaoke classic.
Two-Play Tuesday: If “White Flag” has got you down, Dido’s blissful 1999 hit “Thank You” — which Eminem of course later interpolated on “Stan” — is always here to remind you “that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.” — TATIANA CIRISANO
48. Santana feat. Chad Kroeger, “Why Don’t You & I” (2003)
What’s That On The Radio? Another pop hit from Carlos Santana, still on the victory lap from his career-reinvigorating blockbuster LP Supernatural with follow-up album Shaman — this time with Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger playing the role of Rob Thomas alongside the Latin rock guitar squeals.
Turn It Up In The Back! During the chorus, Kroeger is at his blustery best when he sings, “So I say, ‘Why don’t you and I hold each other?/ And fly to the moon and straight on to heaven!’” Aside from the curious existential implications — is heaven beyond the moon? — Kroeger is bottling the appeal of Nickelback’s most swaggering hits.
Windows Down: The song’s 4:34 run time is filled out by a sublime post-bridge guitar solo, with Santana hammering down on his frets with the force of a man who knows you’re playing air guitar in the backseat. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
47. Josh Joplin Group, “Camera One” (2001)
What’s That on the Radio? A deceptively dark entry into the minivan genre, where Joplin’s Michael Stipe-ean voice sings about the sadness hiding behind.
Turn It Up in the Back! The shocking swerve in the first verse where the song’s depressed Hollywood golden boy makes his final preparations: “Closed the curtains, unplugged the clock/ Hung his clothes on the shower rod/ But he never got undressed”
Call-In Trivia: The track was produced by Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison, while most of the rest of the album was produced by “Lullaby” balladeer Shawn Mullins. — TODD NATHANSON
46. Five For Fighting, “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? A vulnerable piano-rock killer from the hockey-referencing stage outfit of singer/songwriter Vladimir Jon Ondrasik III, which took on particular resonance after the 9/11 attacks.
Turn It Up in the Back! That “inside of me” repetition at the end of “Looking for special things inside of me” is the stuff early-’00s trailers were made of.
Two-Play Tuesday: Ondrasik hit the top 40 again two years later with “100 Years,” a sentimental ballad whose twinkling riff Chase customers still get stuck in their head with every bank visit. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
45. Gavin DeGraw, “I Don’t Want to Be” (2004)
What’s That On The Radio? The sound of a beanie-wearing 20-something railing against the expectations of modern society, with a surprisingly heavy pop-rock riff and a chorus tailor-made for overcrowded karaoke bars.
Turn It Up in the Back! The key to Gavin DeGraw’s debut solo single and breakthrough hit? A killer stomp-along bridge — “I came from the mountain! The crust of creation!” — that seamlessly segues into a piano-and-vocals take on the chorus, making for a second-half switch-up that keeps the listener engaged throughout the track.
Two-Play Tuesday: “Chariot,” DeGraw’s follow-up to “I Don’t Want To Be,” follows the same winning pop-rock formula and became a top 40 hit in its own right — with a music video directed by Zach Braff, then just a few months removed from his directorial debut, Garden State. — J.L.
44. Hanson, “This Time Around” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? The driving lead single off the “MMMBop”ers’ sophomore studio LP, whose mature songwriting and ’70s-indebted sound made it abundantly clear that the brother trio had no interesting in competing with the TRL set.
Turn It Up in the Back! “And we woooooon’t…. goooooo…. doooooooowwwn.” Gallagher Bros-worthy.
Red Light: A parent label merge and the trio’s own declining sales led to them going indie, starting with their third album (2004’s Underneath) — maintaining a steady fanbase but never impacting top 40 again. — A.U.
43. Sugar Ray, “Falls Apart” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? An oft-pivoting, rock-leaning single from Sugar Ray’s 14:59 that bounces back-and-forth between heavy electric guitar strums and gently-plucking, wistful verses.
Turn It Up in the Back! The chorus-starting “runaway, runaway,” as all the instruments simultaneously reach a sonic high, is all kinds of hands-slapping-on-the-dashboard goodness — even if you struggle to keep up with the layered “wanna hold on to you” in the following line.
Heavy Traffic: “Falls Apart” was the most Minivan Rocking of the three hits on 14:59, but the other two were much bigger on top 40: “Every Morning,” which hit No. 3 on the Hot 100 thanks to its breezy, radio-friendly nature, and “Someday,” a jaunty beach strummer that peaked at No. 7. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
42. Stacie Orrico, “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? A rallying R&B-influenced pop track released by Stacie Orrico, whose music originally fell into the contemporary Christian category, as the second single on her self-titled second album.
Turn It Up in the Back! The moment this chorus hits you better crank the volume — mostly to help cover the various pitches of everyone who can’t help but belt out the pleading lyrics.
Red Light: Orrico’s next album, Beautiful Awakening, faced a series of delays before Virgin finally released it in limited quantities in 2007. It moved further away from the singer’s Christian roots, leaning more into soul and pop, and was the last release of new material from the artist before going on hiatus. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
41. Blessid Union of Souls, “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me For Me)” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? A jolly pop-rock attack on hot-shot male models and movie stars from the Ohio band that proved you didn’t need to be cool to get a lady. Watch out, DiCaprio.
Turn It Up in the Back! Eliot Sloan sings a penultimate, whispered version of the chorus toward the song’s end, encouraging listeners to turn it up — before the band returns for a full-blast rendition that was sure to blow out your speakers and make you spill your Surge.
Hit the Brakes! Some might say that the line “phat like Cindy Crawford” has aged the worst, but really, it was referring to the now-legendary Steve Buscemi as “that guy who played in Fargo/ I think his name is Steve.” Show some respect, Sloan. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
40. Clay Aiken, “Invisible” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? The only real pop radio hit from the American Idol runner-up, with a significantly more propulsive sound and energy than you’d know he was capable of from his adult contemporary-oriented material.
Turn It Up in the Back! If any part of this still tickles the back of your brain a decade and a half later, it’s probably that falsetto note Aiken hits on “I would be the smarrrr-test man” in the chorus.
Hit the Brakes! Yes, the song is rather explicitly a stalker’s fantasy (“If I was invisible/ Then I could just watch you in your room”) — a point driven home by any number of VH1 “Awesomely Bad” song specials in the mid-’00s. — A.U.
39. New Radicals, “Someday We’ll Know” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? The under-appreciated follow-up to the ubiquitous “You Get What You Give,” a stiff on the Hot 100 but a ballad resonant and enduring enough to be covered by both Mandy Moore and Hall & Oates.
Turn It Up in the Back! Hard to resist jumping in a verse early on those “TONIIIIIIGHT!” yelps from lead Radical Gregg Alexander.
Backseat Driver: Aside from securing his own Minivan Rock legacy with New Radicals’ classic lone LP, 1999’s Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, Alexander also co-wrote Santana and Michelle Branch’s Grammy-winning Minivan Rock smash “The Game of Love.” — A.U.
38. Coldplay, “Clocks” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? Simply put, it’s the Coldplay song. Also a model of excellence in how to create the perfect alt-pop hit: overwhelming piano gives way to powerful yet minimalistic lyricism, which then gives way to mesmerizing, boundless wails. And so it repeats.
Turn It Up in the Back! After a quick key change in the bridge, “Clocks” momentarily retreats to its familiar piano before bringing everything together for exactly one minute prior to the outro. Each and every one of those 60 seconds is pure bliss.
Call-In Trivia: “Clocks,” which peaked at No. 29 on the Hot 100, edged out three No. 1 hits to win record of the year at the 2004 Grammys: Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love (ft. JAY-Z),” OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” — J.G.
37. Evan and Jaron, “Crazy For This Girl” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? Twin brothers from Georgia who hit it big with one of the many great crush songs of the Minivan Rock era.
Turn It Up in the Back! The stately piano-and-string intro, lending a touch of class to the genre.
Right Turn on Red: Evan left the band in 2003 to raise his family (among other pursuits), leaving Jaron to start a country project, Jaron and the Long Road to Love — which scored a top 40 Hot 100 crossover hit with “Pray for You,” a sarcastic breakup song for a girl he was less than crazy for. — T.N.
36. 3 Doors Down, “Kryptonite” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio?: The lyrically clean kind of post-grunge jam that your mom would actually let you yell along to in the car — though perhaps with lips pursed in disapproval at all the racket.
Turn It Up in the Back! The poetic(ish) pleading of that chorus (“If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?”) never failed.
Hit the Brakes! As you may recall from January 2017, 3 Doors Down has made some brow-raising life choices in recent years that might make this one a little less cathartic a sing-along than it used to be. — GAB GINSBERG
35. Michelle Branch, “Breathe” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? Michelle Branch’s most underrated single, with an unmissable chorus — though it wound up more popular as a soundtrack for rom-com trailers than on the Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 36.
Turn It Up in the Back! That pregnant pause right before Branch belts out “If I just breeeeeeeathe.”
Call-In Trivia: Branch is married to the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney now, who also co-produced and co-wrote her 2017 album Hopeless Romantic — the singer/songwriter’s first LP since “Breathe” parent album Hotel Paper in 2003. — T.N.
34. Wheatus, “Teenage Dirtbag” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? A bubbly anthem for the underappreciated that speaks to anyone who felt like an outcast at some point in high school (read: everyone), sung by a bucket-hatted troubadour who wants to win over his tube-socked love interest and blast some Iron Maiden together.
Turn It Up in the Back! That sweet section in the third verse when “Noelle” invites Wheatus frontman/songwriter Brendon B. Brown to a Maiden concert? Yeah, that’s Brown himself singing in falsetto — but that doesn’t take away from the song’s cute plot twist: She’s a dirtbag too!
Hit the Brakes! The jarring lyric that starts the second verse — “Her boyfriend’s a d–k/ He brings a gun to school” — is (not surprisingly) edited out of most radio and streaming versions of the song today, given the proliferation of school shootings since the song’s 2000 release. — KATIE ATKINSON
33. Fuel, “Shimmer” (1998)
What’s That on the Radio? An aggressive rocker masquerading as a ballad about an old flame calling the narrator up with her current marital problems, as he’s left wondering whether he’s ready for more heartache.
Turn It Up in the Back! A stripped-down intro with orchestral backing kicks into total post-grunge high gear with “She dreams a champagne dream,” delivered in lead singer Brett Scallions’ Southern snarl.
Two-Play Tuesday: “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” is a ballad from the Harrisburg, PA act that peaked at No. 30 on the Hot 100 in 2000 and details the harrowing battle with cancer undergone by guitarist/songwriter Carl Bell’s grandmother. — SHAMUS CLANCY
32. Barenaked Ladies, “Pinch Me” (2000)
What’s That On The Radio? The “Chickity China, the Chinese chicken” guys singing about a state of ennui amidst modern suburbia, finally grown up — well, sort of, since there’s still a very silly “underwear” joke in here.
Turn It Up In The Back! Following the out-of-nowhere success of “One Week” on their previous album Stunt, Barenaked Ladies tossed out another chorus in which words tumble out of the vocalist’s mouth (this time Ed Robertson instead of Steven Page), resulting in a lot of mumbled rap-alongs and another top 20 Hot 100 hit from the Ontario-based group.
Red Light: “Pinch Me” proved to be Barenaked Ladies’ last big single in the U.S. — although they collected a few more minor hits in their native Canada, have recorded through the past two decades (now sans Page, who left in 2009) and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2018. — J.L.
31. John Mayer, “Clarity” (2004)
What’s That on the Radio? An easy-going symphony of guitar, percussion and horns that served as a sublime single off John Mayer’s sophomore album, 2004’s Heavier Things.
Turn It Up in the Back! The build up of melodic “ooooh-woo-ooooh”s sandwiched between each verse to a finger-snapping trumpet solo, leading into the crescendo and then fading of Mayer’s velvety vocals to close out the track.
Hit the Brakes! “So much wasted in the afternoon/ So much sacred in the month of June/ How ‘bout you?” Like many of Mayer’s lyrics, this one almost goes right over your head because of how smooth his vocal is, but we’re not letting him get away with this non-sequitur — and neither will the man himself, as Mayer has gone on record to wonder, “What the f–k does that mean?” — BECKY KAMINSKY
30. Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris” (1998)
What’s That on the Radio? Only one of the most inescapable songs in the history of FM — a Minivan Rock text too formative to totally ignore here, but a soundtrack ballad so Diane Warren-massive it feels a little weighty for this list just the same.
Turn It Up in the Back! That string-section breakdown. All day every day.
Call-In Trivia: “Iris,” whose title never appears in its lyrics, got its name from an LA Weekly article frontman Johnny Rzeznik read about ’90s singer-songwriter Iris Dement. — A.U.
29. Liz Phair, “Why Can’t I” (2004)
What’s That on the Radio? The indie rock legend behind 1993’s instant-classic Exile in Guyville album taking a hard pivot into Avril Lavigne territory a decade later with her one-and-only top 40 Hot 100 hit: a sweet-sounding love song that’s actually about the moment Phair can finally get down with a guy who’s definitely not her boyfriend.
Turn It Up in the Back! The dreamy, distorted electric-guitar notes that kick off the song are instantly recognizable — and the perfect sonic backdrop for a whimsical, swirling-leaf Central Park photo shoot in the Jennifer Garner/Mark Ruffalo rom-com 13 Going on 30.
Hit the Brakes! There are some surprisingly raunchy lyrics in this seemingly easy-listening tune — from “we’re already wet and we’re gonna go swimming” to the even blunter “we haven’t f–ked yet but my head’s spinning” — so as it turns out, Liz hadn’t fully abandoned the explicit subject matter of her early career. — K.A.
28. Fastball, “Out of My Head” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? An organ-backed, Elvis Costello-channeling, two-and-a-half-minute rock ballad that sees Fastball bassist/songwriter Tony Scalzo regretting that his thoughtless actions spoke louder than his words.
Turn It Up in the Back! It’s a slight lyrical shift, but in the first two choruses, Scalzo says he’s waiting for an “indication” — maybe a nonverbal cue — but then in the final chorus he’s waiting for an “invitation.” (Which is it, man?)
Call-In Trivia: Music fans who didn’t live through the release of this 1999 nugget might know its melody best from Machine Gun Kelly and then-Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello’s top five Hot 100 hit “Bad Things,” which interpolates the song’s chorus. Scalzo praised the “youth-oriented” reinterpretation in a 2017 Billboard interview. — K.A.
27. Jewel, “Standing Still” (2001)
What’s That on the Radio? Lilith Fair headliner Jewel’s most straightforward love song, one that showed her moving past her folky roots and in a more polished direction.
Turn It Up in the Back! Jewel cooing “Do you need me/ Like I need you?” in the pre-chorus.
Right Turn on Red: Jewel decided to take her pop direction even further with her next record, “0304,” which spawned one hit in “Intuition” but left her longtime fans baffled. — T.N.
26. Ashlee Simpson, “Pieces of Me” (2004)
What’s That on the Radio? An emotional debut single bookended by a hypnotizing guitar riff that allowed Ashlee Simpson to shed any sonic comparisons to her older sister, Jessica, thanks to the moodier lyrics and production heard throughout her debut album, Autobiography.
Turn It Up in the Back! There is no better feeling than tossing your head back and screaming “OOOHHH” before softening up again to deliver the next few lines of the chorus.
Windows Down: While the opening riff might immediately make you hit cruise control, it’s the whispered last pre-chorus and the extended delivery of the word “breeeeaath” that perfectly sets up the song’s final set of “OOOHHHs.” If you don’t finish the song with your head tilting out the window, you’re not doing it right. — L.H.
25. Incubus, “Drive” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? Everyone’s favorite space-jammy, hip-hop-influenced nu-metal group being introduced to the masses via an acoustic earworm with an impeccable, enduring chorus.
Turn It Up in the Back! The chorus’ “Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there” is the type of plainspoken assurance that could empower anyone, but it’s made remarkable with frontman Brandon Boyd’s uncanny delivery.
Windows Down: It’s hard not to feel the weight of the driver’s seat and tighten your grip when the disorienting final pre-chorus “hold the wheel and drive” begins to spin out. — B.K.
24. P!nk, “Just Like a Pill” (2002)
What’s That on the Radio? P!nk’s tale of a toxic relationship juxtaposed with drug withdrawal, which builds with classic alt-rock loud-quiet-loud dynamics.
Turn It Up in the Back! “I tried to call the nurse again, but she’s being a little bitch” in the pre-chorus encapsulates the grit in P!nk’s early-2000s run, which separated her from her glossier pop peers.
Two-Play Tuesday: “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” another Hot 100 top ten hit from P!nk’s multi-platinum-certified M!ssundaztood, features an account of total self-loathing and comes equipped with a killer guitar solo. — S.C.
23. Train, “Drops of Jupiter” (2001)
What’s That on the Radio? A piano-driven anthem that ponders the afterlife, a moving tune that helped prove the San Fran pop-rockers weren’t a one-hit wonder after their 1999 breakout “Meet Virginia” — and the song to earn them their only record of the year Grammy nod to date.
Turn It Up in the Back! The post-bridge breakdown repeats the second chorus’ lyrics, but strips away all electric elements, creating an echoing climax that feels like you’re shouting “Did the wind sweep your off your feet?” from rooftops instead of the backseat.
Hit the Brakes! The bridge lists an assortment of things one might miss in the next world — fried chicken, a loyal best friend, a top-notch soy latte — but the combination is so bizarre that it feels more random than poignant. What the heck is a freeze-dried romance anyway? — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
22. Meredith Brooks, “Bitch” (1997)
What’s That on the Radio? A punchy hit from Meredith Brooks — not Alanis Morissette, contrary to some first impressions and Napster labelings — that offered a guitar-heavy safe space for all sides of your personality: bitch, lover, child, mother, sinner, saint.
Turn It Up in the Back! The chorus was infinitely crank-able, but the biggest scream-along moment arrived at the close of the bridge, when Brooks thanked her partner for not trying to rescue her from her bad moods, or rather: “And don’t try to saaaave meeeehh!”
Windows Down: The ooh-oohs that floated in alongside the waka guitar at the end provided the perfect groovy moment for when you and your friends pulled into the parking lot of Lilith Fair, which Brooks played twice. — C.W.
21. Howie Day, “Collide” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? A precursor to the sensitive-men pop-rock movement of the mid-2000s, Howie Day got the jump on Daniel Powter, James Blunt and The Fray with this poetic 2004 sing-along about leaping into a relationship against all reservations.
Turn It Up In The Back! In the decade-and-a-half since it became a top 20 hit for the singer-songwriter, “Collide” has been described in the same way whenever it comes up in conversation: “You know, the ‘Even the best fall down sometiiiiimes’ song.” That signature line that kicks off the hook will outlive us all.
Red Light: “Collide” remains Day’s only Hot 100 hit, and the Maine native has had some alarming run-ins with the law in recent years; his last album, Lanterns, was released in 2015. — J.L.
20. Eagle-Eye Cherry, “Save Tonight” (1997)
What’s That on the Radio? The debut single from the son of jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, half-brother of “Buffalo Stance” singer/rapper Neneh Cherry, and uncle of British pop rookie Mabel, which tells the glass-half-full story of two lovers relishing one last night together before they go their separate ways.
Turn It Up in the Back! In case you forgot when Cherry has to leave, he repeats “tomorrow I’ll be gone” four times toward the end of the song — but then he wraps things up on a more hopeful note by singing the optimistic “save tonight” title line over and over.
Red Light: Aside from “Feels So Right” grazing a couple radio charts in 2001, “Save Tonight” was basically the Sweden-based artist’s U.S. introduction and swan song in one. But he’s fine with his one-hit wonder status, telling GQ that the song “is like having a great piece of real estate. It’s still out there working for me.” — K.A.
19. Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life” (1997)
What’s That on the Radio? A punchy breakout hit that disguised a hapless story of a relationship-ruining drug addiction with an infectious hook and spirited melody, marking an impactful debut from the edgy San Francisco pop-rockers.
Turn It Up in the Back! As soon as the song kicks in with that ultra-catchy “do-do-do, do-do-do-do” refrain, you find yourself reaching for the volume button (and probably singing that riff the rest of the day).
Windows Down: Frontman Stephan Jenkins delivers the last chorus with a whispered tone, creating a serene cruise-worthy moment before you find yourself screaming those final “do-do-dos” to passersby. — T.W.
18. Fountains of Wayne, “Stacy’s Mom” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? Quintessential power pop from alt-rock quartet Fountains of Wayne, dealing with a teen boy’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High-like fantasy about a classmate’s mother.
Turn It Up in the Back! “But since your dad walked out, your mom could use a guy like me” sums up the lust for the (older) girl next door — before that irresistible chorus hits with an intentional guitar ripoff of new wave greats The Cars.
Red Light: A one-hit wonder to most pop listeners, the band carved out a niche for themselves with fans and critics, thanks to a streak of well-received albums in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, before their 2013 breakup and the devastating death earlier this month of bassist/songwriter Adam Schlesinger. — S.C.
17. Jason Mraz, “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” (2003)
What’s That on the Radio? The debut single from singer/songwriter Jason Mraz, which inspired a generation of fedora-wearing dudes to play an acoustic guitar at house parties.
Turn It Up in the Back! The white boy rap-speaking first verse is an immediate draw, as “‘Cause you were born on the Fourth of July, let freedom ring” feels tailor made to be cranked up to 11 on a summertime drive to the beach.
Make and Model: The official music video finds Mraz wearing a sport coat atop a generic football jersey t-shirt while donning a red trucker cap tilted to the side, which feels like a perfect time capsule for VH1’s I Love the 2000s. — S.C.
16. Sheryl Crow, “Soak Up the Sun” (2002)
What’s That on the Radio? Sheryl Crow’s shimmery summer single, a more-polished departure from her rootsy previous hits but still as wordy as ever.
Turn It Up in the Back! The opening line where Sheryl introduces us to her communist friend who holds meetings in his RV too expensive for her to attend.
Call-In Trivia: Liz Phair, just a year out from her own attempt at a pop crossover, provides backing vocals. — T.N.
15. Maroon 5, “This Love” (2004)
What’s That on the Radio? An electric breakup track with an undulating chorus and jagged riff that shot the Adam Levine-fronted, then-five-piece pop-rock group to superstardom.
Turn It Up in the Back! Those who weren’t already jamming to the fiery “This Love” chorus will definitely be wailing along to Levine’s elevated vocals on the bridge — especially as he howls, “Every inch of you/ ‘Cause I know that’s what you want me to do.”
Heavy Traffic: Three other singles from Maroon 5’s dynamic debut set, Songs About Jane, were also top 40 hits: all-out funk-rocker “Harder to Breathe,” jazzy mid-tempo jam “Sunday Morning” and heartfelt ballad “She Will Be Loved.” The lattermost marked the band’s second No. 1 on Billboard‘s Pop Songs radio airplay chart, which they’ve now topped a record-tying 11 times. — T.W.
14. The Calling, “Wherever You Will Go” (2001)
What’s That on the Radio? A somber reminder of the best moments of a marriage for a widow — which songwriter Aaron Kamin considered to be especially prescient after the 9/11 attacks, occurring just a few months after the single’s release.
Turn It Up in the Back! “Then I hope there’s someone out there who can bring me back to you” in the leadup to the first chorus is meant to be screamed as loud as possible by anyone who’s grieving the loss of a loved one.
Windows Down: The early acoustic guitar plucking makes listeners think they’re in store for a middle school social slow dance track. — S.C.
13. Semisonic, “Closing Time” (1998)
What’s That on the Radio? A sweeping rock ballad that accomplishes the ever-challenging feat of making bargoers excited for last call — the ultimate nostalgia-evoking, camaraderie-inducing hit.
Turn It Up in the Back!: Sure, that guitar solo is great, but there’s hardly any option here besides yelling “I know who I want to take me home” as loud as you can, with one hand around your closest friend and a raised drink in the other.
Backseat Driver: Following the Minivan Rock era, Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson returned to the top 40 via hits he co-penned for the Dixie Chicks (“Not Ready to Make Nice”) and Adele (“Someone Like You”). — J.G.
12. Tal Bachman, “She’s So High” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? A glorious crush song from the son of Canadian chart-rock royalty Randy Bachman (The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive), who improbably attains his dream girl in the song’s final verse — a year before Wheatus achieved the same in their crush song.
Turn It Up in the Back! “Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc or Aphrodite.” Lofty comparisons for this girl indeed.
Call-In Trivia: Bachman was raised in the Mormon church but left in 2003, and has been a vocal critic of the Church of Latter Day Saints for years, appearing in both PBS’ The Mormons and Bill Maher’s atheist documentary Religulous. — T.N.
11. Sixpence None the Richer, “Kiss Me” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? A charming ditty from the C.S. Lewis-referencing Christian alt-rock group that simply oozes romance, particularly thanks to an accordion-like instrument called a concertina, as well as heart-melting appearances in late ‘90s cult classics Dawson’s Creek and She’s All That.
Turn It Up in the Back! After the concertina riff follows the second chorus, a roaring guitar solo serves as the song’s bridge, which inspires both an air-guitar rock-out and an impassioned belt-out of the chorus as the song finishes.
Call-In Trivia: Pop-punk band New Found Glory included the song on their 2007 cover album From the Screen to Your Stereo Part II, releasing a make-out-heavy video that featured a cameo from Paramore’s Hayley Williams, who would ultimately marry NFG guitarist Chad Gilbert — though the pair didn’t take part in the kissing scenes. — T.W.
10. Matchbox Twenty, “3AM” (1997)
What’s That on the Radio? An autobiographical track about lead singer Rob Thomas’ mother’s battle with cancer back when he was in his teens, which helped turn Matchbox Twenty into turn-of-the-century stars and powered their 1996 debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, to eight-figure sales.
Turn It Up in the Back! That refrain creeps in, the tempo speeds up and Thomas’ South Carolina-bred drawl drags out “And her voice is straining…” before he lets everyone know what time it is in one of the great ‘90s choruses.
Call-in Trivia: “3AM” was not allowed to chart on the Hot 100 because the single never got a proper physical release in the United States — but it did top Billboard‘s Adult Pop Songs chart for 10 weeks, and hit No. 3 on the all-format Radio Songs listing. — S.C.
9. John Mayer, “No Such Thing” (2002)
What’s That on the Radio?: The charming, gravel-voiced singer-songwriter and one-time Berklee student grabbing his high school diploma and blazing his own trail to No. 13 on the Hot 100.
Turn It Up in the Back! When someone insists “I wanna scream at the top of my lungs” in falsetto, you scream along at the top of your lungs in falsetto.
Windows Down: There’s only about 15 seconds of strumming to take the car out of park and drive before Mayer’s snappy “welcome to the real world” introduction jolts this Room For Squares opener to a start. It’s a road-bound anthem start-to-finish that’s all about going somewhere — just remember to stay inside the lines this time. — B. Kress
8. Vanessa Carlton, “A Thousand Miles” (2002)
What’s That on the Radio? Vanessa Carlton’s 2002 debut single, which was immortalized by the 2004 movie White Chicks — though it went top 10 and landed a whopping three Grammy nominations way before that — and a video where she rides her Yamaha (piano, not motorcycle) from her home garage all the way to downtown New York City.
Turn It Up in the Back! The whole last chorus once the siren effect sounds, starting with “’Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles, if I could…just…see…you.”
Call-In Trivia: Abe Laboriel, Jr., who provides the song’s sneaky funky drum shuffle, has also been Sir Paul McCartney’s touring drummer since 2001. — G.G.
7. Vertical Horizon, “Everything You Want” (1999)
What’s That on the Radio? A desperate pop-rock plea — which took Vertical Horizon to the top of the Hot 100 in 2000 — to a girl who seemingly has the perfect person standing right in front of her (smooth-domed VH frontman/songwriter Matt Scannell), but just isn’t interested.
Turn It Up in the Back! When the song shifts perspectives from the girl (“he’s everything you want”) to Scannell (“I am everything you want!“), it forces listeners to realize that the story has been from his point of view all along.
Two-Play Tuesday: While Vertical Horizon rode the omnipresent “Everything You Want” all the way to No. 1 on the Hot 100, they took another song from that third album of the same name — “You’re a God” — to No. 23 (and the top five of the Adult Pop Songs chart), thanks in part to the heavy rotation of its Tiffani Thiessen-as-misunderstood-beauty-queen music video. — K.A.
6. Third Eye Blind, “Never Let You Go” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? The only Third Eye Blind song that everyone remembers which isn’t found on their self-titled first album — and arguably the group’s least-resistible concoction, thanks to a couple tightly wound guitar riffs and a delectably falsetto’d chorus.
Turn It Up in the Back! Just when you think the song has shown you its full arsenal of pitches, it throws one final curveball with lead singer Stephan Jenkins’ prickly spoken-word outro: “I remember the stupid things, the mood rings/ The bracelets and the beads…”
Windows Down: Only a song whose pop-rock base is this sturdy could support a bridge that switches up the song’s melody, tempo and structure for an unexpected 10-measure cruising interlude, Jenkins moaning, “And all our friends are gone, are gone/ And all the time, moves on, moves on…” — A.U.
5. Michelle Branch, “All You Wanted” (2001)
What’s That on the Radio?: An angsty punk fairytale fit for windows-down speeding (while belting, “I can take you away from here!”) that became Branch’s first and only Hot 100 top 10 single as a lead artist in 2002.
Turn It Up in the Back! The climactic, teary-eyed bridge, in which Branch’s confessional chorus turns into a full-on breakdown. (“All you wanted was somebody who cares/ If you need me, you know I’ll be there!”)
Hit the Brakes! Branch’s slight nasally accent (“eye wanted…to be like you-uh!”) was as trendy in the early 2000s as it is conspicuously dated today. — T.C.
4. Goo Goo Dolls, “Slide” (1998)
What’s That on the Radio? The “Iris” follow-up off Goo Goo Dolls’ blockbuster Dizzy Up the Girl album, whose immaculate production and sing-along chorus hide a dark story of a young couple contemplating an abortion after an unexpected pregnancy.
Turn It Up in the Back! The second verse’s “The priest is on the phone, your father hit the wall, your ma disowned you” is a cathartic glimpse into the world of Catholic guilt.
Windows Down: That smooth intro guitar riff demands to be played at a summer kickback while flipping burgers and dogs on the grill. — S.C.
3. Nine Days, “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” (2000)
What’s That on the Radio? Nine Days’ transcendently basic smash hit, featuring the most shameless rhyme of “girl” and “world” since “Don’t Stop Believin’” — which turned what could have been a mess of clichés into pop/rock gold.
Turn It Up in the Back! The band, unwilling or unable to intensify the final chorus through singing alone, instead inserting a random unexpected pause before the last “girl.”
Red Light: Unimpressed with their album sales, Nine Days’ record label never released the band’s second album. Lead singer John Hampson left music to become a teacher; you can see him performing his hit record in his classroom here. — T.N.
2. Avril Lavigne, “Complicated” (2002)
What’s That on the Radio? A mellow and grungy debut single that introduced Avril Lavigne — a then-rising pop-punk rocker — to the world as an antidote to the then-dominant bubblegum pop, and previewed her first album Let Go.
Turn It Up in the Back! It’s rare that a pre-chorus is just as, if not stronger than, the chorus itself, but as soon as Lavigne sings “somebody” — a single word delivered with such passion — it serves as a sonic Bat-Signal to get ready for what’s to come. The end of the build hits just as hard, with Lavigne turning “tell” into a three-syllable word perfectly suited for wailing.
1. Lifehouse, “Hanging By a Moment” (2000)
What’s That On The Radio? A perfect minivan rock song: Lifehouse encapsulated the sound of turn-of-the-century alternative with a song that frontman Jason Wade wrote in a matter of minutes, the combination of his husky post-grunge voice, an instantly memorable slide guitar riff and a chorus flush with dizzy emotion soundtracking only the best family outings.
Turn It Up In The Back! Notice how the fully produced chorus of “Hanging By a Moment” arrives exactly at the song’s one-minute mark, after Wade introduces a stripped-down version of the hook earlier in the song? That gave you 60 seconds to prepare to crank that dial clockwise.
Call-In Trivia: Following the success of “Hanging By a Moment,” which climbed to No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart, Lifehouse embarked on their first headlining tour in the fall of 2001. Their opening acts? Michelle Branch and The Calling. In our heads, there was only one type of car you in which you could roll up to that tour. — J.L.