Remembering: 2003

It’s time for a franchise reboot. Our Remembering series is back – but this time, we’re not just taking on classic songs.

James Spearing and Fran Slater swapped playlists full of their favourite music from 18 years ago. This is how they remembered the sounds of 2003.

James: 2003. This is the soundtrack of a Stella drinking 17 year old who spent a lot of time playing guitar in his bedroom. It was the first year I went to a full weekend festival – Reading of course, because that’s where everyone from school went. Some of it is embarrassing (Muse, The Darkness) now, some I still appreciate even if it doesn’t get played much, and some is there simply because it was big at the time. There’s more crossover in our lists than I think I anticipated. Never had you down as a White Stripes fan. Glad Snow Patrol isn’t in my list though!

Fran: Ha. Yeah. I’ll start with Snow Patrol in that case, I suppose. 

But yeah, I was mad on that first Snow Patrol album. And to be honest, it was one of the pleasant surprises when I went to put this playlist together. I think they get a bit of a harsh time really, they made pretty decent pop songs and he has a good voice. I actually think they stand up okay. And I’d much rather have them on my list than the fucking Darkness – how dare you make me listen to that song?

I’m gonna address something that I found really interesting straight away. Meg White is the only woman (that I’m aware of) on either of ours. We’re we just massive misogynists in 2003? Or does this say something about how the music industry has changed?

James: Not sure of the answer to that but a good point. With guitar bands and hip hop dominating our lists then I think it’s partly a symptom of that – both male dominated genres. But maybe something about the industry and nature of music at the time, plus teenage musical tribalism. 

Looking back, The Darkness was destined to be a short lived novelty. It was ridiculous and we knew it but it was ridiculous fun too.

You’re right Snow Patrol made big tunes that everyone loved (except me). What’s your rationale for Athlete though?

Fran: I don’t think I need rationale, other than that Vehicles And Animals was a genuinely great album. It was one that I hadn’t heard in years but did actually enjoy when I went back to it for this article. And I’m not going to defend Athlete against someone who is still calling The Darkness fun. There was never a single moment in which they were anything other than terrible.

Which brings me to Muse, too. But the less said about them the better.

It’s interesting, though – we notoriously disagree on a lot of music, as well as finding things that we both really love at times too.

I feel like if we’d been friends back in 2003 we’d have had very similar conversations, even if both our music tastes have totally changed over time.

Muse, The Rapture, The Strokes, and The Darkness were all poison to my ears back then. But we both picked ‘Hey Ya’ and The White Stripes…

James: I’m saying The Darkness was fun back then, I don’t listen to it now. The Rapture I didn’t love immediately, but later ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ became one of my all time favourite songs. But anyway you’re right, we’ve got slagging each other off out the way so let’s move on to similarities.

When Elephant was released it was my peak NME reading phase so it seemed to be massive at the time. I listened to it a lot. I almost picked ‘The Hardest Button to Button’, but went with ‘Ball and Biscuit’ because it was something I liked to play guitar along with. What did you make of Elephant then and now?

And Outkast. Well ‘Hey Ya’ is arguably the song of the year, whatever your prevailing tastes. Everyone enjoyed it and got up to do the ‘shake it like a Polaroid picture’ dance move. Song of the year for you too?

Fran: I loved Elephant. I was working away with my dad in 2003 and this album was pretty much the soundtrack to our drives. It was the hardest album for me to pick one track from on this list, as I really wanted to include ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ and ‘I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart.’

Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I listened to it but I did really enjoy revisiting. I also don’t agree that it’s outside of my wheelhouse – it’s lyrically intelligent, largely quite energetic. It gels quite well with a lot of what I like these days.

I wouldn’t say ‘Hey Ya’ was my favourite of the year, no. I was actually a bit disappointed with Outkast’s change of pace and that was the closest to not making my final list. 

‘Frontin’ by Pharrell was probably my tune of the year at the time. God, I was obsessed. Was that, or any of the other hip-hop tracks, on your radar back then?

James: I don’t think I was really aware of Outkast at all before that. But ‘Hey Ya’, ‘Frontin’ and 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ were the soundtrack to many an 18th birthday party around that time so will always remind me of that era. And Eminem was massive of course.

My own musical choices in 2003 are partly responsible for the hip-hop shaped gap in my listening that I am still working on filling today. This again goes back to the same state of music and tribalism that I mentioned earlier. 

Fran: I find this thing about tribalism really interesting. I do think I largely avoided that, which might be why I put together a list that includes both 50 Cent and Snow Patrol.

You talk about the fact that you didn’t listen to hip-hop back then being largely responsible for your struggles with hip-hop today. Do you think there is anything else on your 2003 list that was instrumental in forming your current tastes?

James: Maybe tribalism is the wrong word. The one thing I did do along with many male friends was learn to play guitar and this would have been a big influence at the time. This isn’t something that has carried on to this day though. Yes I still play guitar but guitar bands are no longer my go-to music. The Rapture is the one I’d choose that is closest to what I would pick today, and maybe Outkast – interestingly for the opposite reason to why you liked them before ‘Hey Ya’ came out.

What about you? Which one is the most like 2003 Fran and which one song is 2021 Fran?

The other thing I want to ask you about is Audiobullys. I feel like I know the name but have never heard anything by them. How did this song come into your life?

Fran: Okay. A few things to say there, so prepare for a long response.

Firstly, you ask a tough question. I think the initial thing I took from this exercise is that 2003 was actually a bit of a streaming trash pile when it came to music. While I was able to string together a ten song playlist, there were no albums that year that I would consider all time greats. And there were no artists that I discovered that I went on to love forever. 

My favourite album from that year is Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief, but that isn’t even in my top five Radiohead albums. But yeah, the track that would be most 2021 Fran would have to be ‘There, There’. They are still my favourite band and it’s a cracking single. I also have to thank this song for pulling me back into Radiohead, as I had originally been one of those fans who fell off when they stopped being a rock band (I am no longer that, though. Thank God.)

As for the most 2003 me song, I’d probably go ‘Got Some Teeth’ by Obie Trice. Hip-hop was still my main thing at the time, and I have to admit that I would listen to literally anything that Dre or Eminem were involved with. I was a full on fanboy. How much did you hate that track?

As for Audio Bullys, I have some really clear memories of listening to this album with my sister and brother in law while getting a little wasted. It’s a really nostalgic song for me. I can’t say for sure if they introduced me to it or the other way round, but we listened a hell of a lot. Not sure how it stands up now, though. What did you think?

And what about you? Any of your list that brings up any particularly strong memories?

James: Agree that 2003 wasn’t a great year. When I was making the playlist and thinking back, so many things I looked up were released in either 2002 or 2004. It’s not as bad as you say it was though. Kings of Leon arriving was exciting although I definitely didn’t love them forever.

The Obie Trice song hasn’t aged well. It’s more annoying now than it was at the time. It sounds like a novelty song. 50 Cent stands up ok by comparison. Audiobullys I find hard to take seriously. They’d probably be massive YouTube stars if they did something like it today though.

Best album for me would be a toss up between Elephant and Youth and Young Manhood.  

I should also mention the other most 2003 song which isn’t on either of our lists but it is on an album we both picked from – ‘Seven Nation Army’. I distinctly remember hearing it for the first time on the radio in the school minibus on the way back from a Geography trip.

How about the songs we’ve not mentioned so far? Stereophonics is the only one from your list I think. I liked a few Stereophonics songs here and there but never really got into them. The song you chose doesn’t hold any memories for me.

What do you think of my Elbow, Turin Brakes and Hot Hot Heat picks? I expect you find ‘Bandages’ irritating.

Fran: Yeah, Kings Of Leon arriving was definitely exciting. I originally had one of their songs on my list, but when I thought about it I don’t think I actually listened to them at the time so I moved it to my list of things I have discovered since. 

And yeah, you’re right about ‘Seven Nation Army’ – in all honesty, that was never anything close to my favourite song on Elephant. And it also got totally ruined by being overplayed and becoming an anthem on the football terraces. ‘The Hardest Button To Button’ is infinitely better.

As to the three songs you asked about – yeah, ‘Bandages’ does my head in. I had never actually heard of Hot Hot Heat before and it sounds like their music is as bad as their name. I’ve never been able to get my head around Turin Brakes either – extremely irritating voice – it seems you liked quite whiny men in 2003.

When it comes to Elbow, my relationship is a little more complicated. I don’t think I’d even heard of them at the time of ‘Grace Under Pressure’ and didn’t discover them until The Seldom Seen Kid, which I loved. I also loved the two albums that followed, but have really soured over them since – they are very melodramatic at times, and ‘Grace Under Pressure’ seems like an early example of that to me. I liked it at some point, I don’t anymore.

‘Holy Roller Novocaine’ would be my favourite song from your list, I reckon. 

James: All the whiny men except their king, Thom Yorke…

Fran: And with your comment there, you show why I shouldn’t even be talking to you about music in the first place. Thom has the best voice in music and half of the acts on your list would kill to be him. Dirty little Muse fan. 

James: Good talking to you Snow Patrol boy.

Fran: Go easy mate. I thought you believed in a thing called love. 

Words by James Spearing and Fran Slater.

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