TOP 10: Songs of 2004

April 12, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

Full disclosure: when we began work on Season 9 of our podcast, we fully intended to do an episode devoted to the Best Song of 2004. Looking back at songs from 20 years ago worked great for Season 7’s Best Song of 2003. But when we looked at what came out in 2004…we bailed. And instead focused on the best songs from 30 years ago, hence our Best Song of 1994 episode, which you can listen to now.

The truth is, 2004 absolutely sucked for music. Have you looked at the Billboard Top 100 for that year? HAGSVILLE. Bland. Forgettable. Actual cringe. Some of the biggest hits were holdovers from 2003 – in some cases, even earlier than that! – and there’s a reason for that. The songs of 2004 were not it.

Because we could not do a Top 32, or even a Top 16, of 2004 songs for our debates, we instead opted for a Top 10 list. The fact that Ashlee Simpson is on this list should tell you everything about this dreadful year in music. Read on for our rankings.


Best Song of 1994

Best Song of 2003

Best Song of 1999

Best Song of 1985

Best One-Hit Wonder of the 90s/00s

Honorable Mention: “Yeah” by Usher

If anyone won music in 2004, it was Usher. He had a slew of hits off of his Confessions album. The Top 100 for 2004 was littered with them, and none were bigger than the absolute smash “Yeah!” (For the record, “Burn,” “My Boo,” “Confessions Part II,” and “Caught Up” were all released that year.) It’s no coincidence that Usher was the halftime act at the 2024 Super Bowl, to honor his musical achievement 20 years later. So why isn’t he included in this list properly? First, because he had so many hits in 2004, he kind of dilutes the power of any one song. And second…I don’t really care for Usher’s music. I respect it artistically, but it does very little for me personally. So, hooray for you, Usher. But it’s not for me.

10. “Pieces of Me” by Ashlee Simpson

How bad was music in 2004? Jessica Simpson’s less-talented little sister could still score a major pop smash. Jesus lord. In fairness, “Pieces of Me” is catchy. Ashlee differentiated herself from her sister by embracing the Hot Topic aesthetic to Jessica’s Kohl’s. The song, and arguably Ashlee, are perhaps best remembered from her legendary “Saturday Night Live” disaster from October 2004, when she ran off stage after it became clear that she was fully lipsynching to her own song. Career self-immolation, baby.

9. “Tipsy” by J-Kwon

R&B/hip-hop was arguably the dominant musical “flavor” of 2004, and while J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” may not be one of the most well-known songs from the year, I think it is one of the best. This was, in truth, the first-ever single I purchased on iTunes, after it was a track used on “So You Think You Can Dance?” There’s 2004 music in a sentence for you. It’s a crazy catchy track!

8. “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys

Giving us another side of R&B, Alicia Keys started 2004 by releasing this gorgeous ballad off her 2003 album, The Diary of Alicia Keys. I was today years old when I learned that the inspiration for the song was the tragic 2001 death of Aaliyah, and the September 11 attacks – basically, the uselessness of material things in the face of the impermanence of life. Lovely. It remains my personal favorite Alicia Keys song.

7. “Take Your Mama” by Scissor Sisters

The first original hit by the Scissor Sisters (“Comfortably Numb” was a cover), “Take Your Mama” was a delightfully offbeat entry for 2004. The overtly LGBTQ-oriented band would go on to produce four wonderful albums over the following decade before calling it quits, and more than a decade later we STILL miss them. Scissor Sisters reunion tour WHEN?!

6. “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand

A searing rock track that was on the playlist for every fashion show of 2004. Glasbow band Franz Ferdinand came out swinging with this single. It would take another five years before the band scored a second ubiquitous hit, 2009’s “No You Girls.” But “Take Me Out” remains one of the all-time great struttin’-that-ass songs, and we remain here for it.

Top 10 Lists

5. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers

The first single for The Killers was a revelation. Bombastic, urgent, and packed with pathos, it was a terrific introduction to the album Hot Fuss, which actually came out in 2003 — but which didn’t PEAK on the charts until 2005, after “Mr. Brightside” was re-released to get it more attention. Again: that’s how bad 2004 was for music. It remains The Killers’ most popular single by a wide mile, largely because the group’s subsequent albums jettisoned the slick, aggressive rock sound people loved and instead ventured into navel-gazing alt-rock nobody asked for. But at least we have one great Killers album.

4. “What You Waiting For?” by Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani’s long-awaited debut single as a solo artist did not disappoint. The song itself speaks to Stefani’s hesitation to launch her own project apart from No Doubt. The anxiety is understandable, but this hit – and the album it launched, Love Angel Music Baby – ultimately cemented Gwen as one of the most successful solo musicians to come out of a band in years. She’s gone on to have a great solo career, and this song remains an absolute banger.

3. “This Love” by Maroon 5

Technically “This Love” was released in 2002, as part of Maroon 5’s breakout album, Songs About Jane. But that album was a sleeper, gaining traction through 2003, and this song was released as a single in January 2004. It became the band’s second smash hit, after “Harder to Breathe.” The band went on to have a string of hits and is one of the defining rock acts of the Aughts.

2. “Toxic” by Britney Spears

Listen. I’m gay. “Toxic” was always going to be toward the top of this list. It’s the first Britney song to enter the Billboard Top 10 since “Oops…I Did It Again” (that’s legit shocking!), and 20 years later it remains as fierce as ever. It’s a thrilling, sexy pop single that features all of Britney’s talents in full effect. Take a sip from that devil cup, girl.

1. “Hey Ya!” by Outkast

Absolute fire. That’s the best way to describe this unbelievably catchy song, written by Andre 3000, and initially released in October 2003 (which is why it also made our Best Song of 2003 episode!). It would go on to top the charts in December of that year, and hold the pole position through February 2004, and continued to be highly popular for much of the beginning of that (cursed) year. “Hey Ya!” has earned a slew of accolades from music press, and became the first song to hit 1 million downloads on iTunes. Given the mega-trends of the music industry, that achievement alone should cement it as song of the year.

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