100 Best Songs of 2017

2017 was an especially emotional year in music, due to the tragic suicides of two of rock’s most important and beloved artists: Chris Cornell, front man of Soundgarden and Audioslave, as well as a successful solo artist, and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. I, along with millions of their collective fans, are still heartbroken over their untimely deaths. Other notable passings include the legendary Chuck BerryFats Domino, Al Jarreau, Gregg Allman, J. Geils, Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, Malcolm Young, Prodigy, David Cassidy, Della Reese, Mel Tillis and Keely Smith.

As with every year, a number of new or breakthrough artists emerged on the music scene, and two of my favorites were Greta Van Fleet and Liverpool, UK foursome Wide Eyed Boy. Other good ones who finally had huge breakout hits include Portugal. The Man, Highly Suspect, Sir Sly, MISSIO and Mondo Cozmo to name but a few. There were a great many albums released, and there was no way I could listen to them all, but I sure gave it my best! A few standouts for me were A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs, Hot Thoughts by Spoon, Villains by Queens of the Stone Age, LA DIVINE by Cold War Kids, Sacred Hearts Club by Foster the People, The Rise and Fall of Babylon by Disciples of Babylon, and Into the Back Room by Oli Barton & the Movement. I also recognize the artistic and cultural significance of Kendrick Lamar’s highly-acclaimed DAMN..

My music tastes, while eclectic, lean toward Alternative Rock, Hard Rock, Folk-Rock, Punk, R&B and Pop-Rock, so my Top 100 song choices generally reflect those genres. Followers of my blog know I publish a Weekly Top 20, and how songs ranked on those weekly lists, as well as how long they spent in the top 20, generally helps determine their year-end ranking. I invariably come across some great songs late in the year that I somehow missed earlier, and thus never appeared on my Weekly Top 20, so I’ve included those. There were so many fantastic songs in 2017, and it frustrated me to have to cut my favorites down to only 100. All the songs on this list could easily be in the top 40.

Some of the year’s most popular hits – the ubiquitous “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, et. al., the horrific “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B, or many of the other shitty rap, hip hop, pop and bro country songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart – will not be found on my list.

Many bloggers and critics list songs in the year they were released, while Billboard and other charts generally place them in the year they were ‘hits,’ which is what I prefer. Most of the songs on this list were released in 2017, however, a number of them were released in 2016, and Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met” is from 2015, but didn’t chart until 2017. Because there are always a few songs that overlap from one year to the next, I always wrestle with how to rank them, as well as whether to list them in only one year or two. It seems the fairest thing to do is include those songs on lists for both years if they spent enough time on the charts in each year, although it can diminish their ranking on each list. For example, The Weeknd’s “Starboy” spent the last two weeks of 2016 and the first week of 2017 at #1, so how to rank it on each list is a dilemma, and I’m seldom pleased with the outcome. The songs in this Top 100 that also appeared on the list for 2016 are indicated with an *

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough, so let’s get to the songs already!

1. FEEL IT STILL – Portugal. The Man
“Feel It Still” is one of those songs that virtually everyone loves, thanks to an irresistibly catchy retro dance beat and deep bass line, that awesome little guitar riff, and lead singer John Gourley’s delightful falsetto. It’s a short track, only 2 minutes and 43 seconds long, but was a massive hit for Portugal. The Man, spending an astonishing 18 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, as well as many weeks at #1 on the Adult Alternative and Adult Pop charts.  The band, now based in Portland, Oregon (they refer to themselves as ‘Lords of Portland’) is originally from Wasilla, Alaska. They released a number of albums since forming in 2004, but “Feel It Still,” from their album Woodstock, was their breakthrough single. It’s a fantastic song and an instant classic.

2. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect
I fucking love this song! “My Name is Human” features some of the best guitar work of any song on this list (after Metallica’s “Atlas, Rise!”). The heavy, gravelly bass riff at the opening sends shivers down my spine, then spooky guitars, percussion and otherworldly synths enter along with Johnny Stevens’ intense, breathtaking vocals that go from seductive to wailing, adding goosebumps to the ones already covering my body. The track is perfection from start to finish. It was released in September 2016 in advance of release of their superb album The Boy Who Died Wolf, and debuted on my Weekly Top 20 at the end of November, but peaked at #1 in late January-early February, so lands on my Top 100 of 2017. The song’s brilliant video showing a human being built by robots and then given finishing touches by Stevens is a little creepy, yet stylish and riveting.

3. THE MAN – The Killers
I’m a huge fan of The Killers, so was thrilled when they released “The Man,” in advance of their first studio album in over five years Wonderful, Wonderful. Though it received mixed reviews from critics and bloggers, I love it, and it spent five weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 20. I love how the song winds up at the beginning, then explodes into a pounding dance beat courtesy of Ronnie Vannucci’s power drums. Throw in a sturdy bass line, sweeping synths and Brandon Flowers’ soaring tenor vocals, and you’ve got a fun, exhilarating track. I also love when Flowers pays homage to David Bowie late in the song with the line “headed for the hall of…FAME!” The fantastically entertaining video shows Flowers playing several different characters who are full of themselves, all thinking they’re ‘the man’.

From their critically acclaimed seventh studio album Sleep Well Beast, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is a gorgeous song by The National. The piano and gnarly guitar riffs, accompanied by an urgent drumbeat, are captivating, and when combined with singer Matt Berninger’s stunning, heartfelt baritone vocals, The National deliver a truly phenomenal track.

5. HUMAN – Rag’n’Bone Man
A magnificent, powerfully moving song with a gospel feel, “Human” was a huge, breakout hit for UK singer/songwriter Rag’n’Bone Man (born Rory Charles Graham). The song was released in July 2016, but didn’t chart in the U.S. until early 2017. It reached #1 in many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Poland and Slovakia, as well as the Billboard Alternative and Adult Alternative charts. (Shockingly, it peaked at only #74 on the Billboard Hot 100 – a chart that’s been taken over by mostly hip-hop, country and bad pop, and thus now irrelevant to me.)

6. HIGHWAY TUNE – Greta Van Fleet
Greta Van Fleet literally blast through the speakers like an atom bomb with “Highway Tune.” ‘Wow, just wow!’ was my – and apparently everyone else’s – reaction upon first hearing this explosive head-banger from the young Michigan foursome. The band consists of the three Kiszka brothers Josh, Jake and Sam (Josh and Jake are twins), and drummer Danny Wagner, all of whom are in their late teens or early twenties. Despite their youth, these guys are highly skilled musicians, and lead vocalist Josh – a diminutive guy with a gargantuan bluesy voice – sounds disarmingly like an early Robert Plant. These guys are destined for greatness! Take a listen:

7.  HIGH – Sir Sly
There are a lot of humans and ‘H’ songs in my top 10, and another is the exuberant “High” by L.A. band Sir Sly. Led by a dominant buzzing bass line, the track lives up to its title, bopping along with a snappy dance beat and a cascade of jangly guitars. I love this gem, and the delightfully trippy video is my absolute favorite of 2017. How can anyone not like this band and song after watching them dancing about like marionettes channeling Cirque du Soleil! It’s all so deliriously upbeat, leaving us feeling – well, ‘high’.

8. SO TIED UP – Cold War Kids featuring Bishop Briggs
Cold War Kids are another one of my favorite bands, and Bishop Briggs is pretty awesome too, with a distinctive, powerhouse voice. So, combining her passionate vocals with those of Cold War Kids lead singer Nathan Willett results in auditory fireworks to match the biting lyrics about a destructive co-dependent relationship you can’t escape. I loved this hard-hitting song at first listen and never tired of hearing it.

9. HOLDING ON – The War on Drugs
I fell in love with the music of The War on Drugs a few years ago after I heard their mesmerizing song “Red Eyes.” So it was natural that I’d love their gorgeous epic track “Holding On” from their outstanding album A Deeper Understanding. Having six band members, including two guitarists, two keyboardists – one of whom also plays sax, a bassist and a drummer, gives their music a lush, full sound. The piano, guitar and synths on “Holding On” are stunning, and singer Adam Granduciel’s sublime vocals bear a striking resemblance to Bob Dylan.

10. SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles
Since the breakup of One Direction, each of the individual members have released their own material, some of it fairly respectable. But to me, the greatest single by far has been “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles. The deeply moving anthem aims straight for the heartstrings, and blew me away the moment I first heard it. The song gives ample proof of Styles’ singing talent, and how much he’s grown as an artist, both vocally and stylistically. The song starts off with a somber piano movement then, with tremendous emotion in his voice, Harry begins to sing “Just stop you’re crying, it’s a sign of the times. Welcome to the final show. Hope you’re wearing your best clothes.” He may be admonishing us to not cry, but boy it’s hard not to! His voice rises to a tender falsetto before the song bursts open with sweeping orchestration. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Harry explained that “Sign of the Times” is from the point of view of a mother giving birth to a child, but there’s a complication whereby the child is fine, but she’s not going to make it. “The mother has five minutes to tell the child, Go forth and conquer.

I really thought that given the immense popularity of One Direction and each of the individual members, this song would spend many weeks at #1, but I was wrong. It debuted on the Hot 100 Chart at #4, then quickly dropped off, which shocked and disappointed me. I guess it just didn’t click with very many of the young teens whose tastes dominate the charts, and seem to prefer bad pop and hip hop over quality songs with thoughtful lyrics.

11. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers
13. LOVING YOU IS SO EASY – Wide Eyed Boy
14. SHINE – Mondo Cozmo
15. LOVE ON THE BRAIN – Rihanna
16. ON HOLD – The xx
17. WOLVES – Wide Eyed Boy
18. HOT THOUGHTS – Spoon
19. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars *
20. SIT NEXT TO ME – Foster the People
21. UNFORGETTABLE – French Montana ft. Swae Lee
22. RUN – Foo Fighters
23. THE NIGHT WE MET – Lord Huron
24. BELIEVER – Imagine Dragons
26. WITHOUT YOU – Disciples of Babylon
27. THE WAY YOU USED TO DO – Queens of the Stone Age
28. ATLAS, RISE! – Metallica
30. HEAVYDIRTYSOUL – twenty øne piløts
31. LOVE IS MYSTICAL – Cold War Kids
32. EVERYTHING NOW – Arcade Fire
33. STARBOY – The Weeknd, Daft Punk * (#17 song of 2016)
34. SUIT AND JACKET – Judah & the Lion
35. DOING IT FOR THE MONEY – Foster the People
36. LITTLE ONE – Highly Suspect
37. SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran
41. BLAME – Bastille
44. J-BOY – Phoenix
45. DON’T TAKE THE MONEY – Bleachers
46. I LOVE YOU BUT I’M LOST – Tears For Fears
47. GREEN LIGHT – Lorde
48. HOW DID YOU LOVE – Shinedown
49. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5 ft. Kendrick Lamar
50. SOMETHING JUST LIKE THIS – The Chainsmokers, Coldplay
52. WALK ON WATER – 30 Seconds to Mars
53. MONSTER – Starset
54. RUST TO GOLD – Council
55. I NEED A LIGHT – Run With It
56. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd w/Gucci Mane
57. TAKE IT ALL BACK – Judah & the Lion
58. COLD COLD COLD – Cage the Elephant
59. IN COLD BLOOD – alt-J
61. WISH I KNEW YOU – The Revivalists *
62. LIGHTS OUT – Royal Blood
63. 7 – Catfish and the Bottlemen
64. KINKY – Oli Barton & the Movement
66. ONE OF US – New Politics
67. REDBONE – Childish Gambino
68. UP ALL NIGHT – Beck
69. SILENT SUN – Morning Fuzz
70. NO ROOTS – Alice Merton
71. BEFORE THE END – Fiction Peaks
72. NO SLEEP – Vox Eagle
73. LAY ME DOWN – Candid
74. CALIFORNIA DREAMING – Hollywood Undead
75. REVEREND – Kings of Leon
76. DIG DOWN – Muse
78. SHINE ON ME – Dan Auerbach
79. COLD LITTLE HEART – Michael Kiwanuka
81. WHO’S GONNA SAVE US NOW – Crystal Cities
82. XXX. FEAT. U2 – Kendrick Lamar ft. U2
83. GIVE ME REASON TO DIE – Dyslexic Postcards
84. SONG #3 – Stone Sour
85. JUDAS – Fozzy
86. THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars
87. NOT JUST YOU – The Puss Puss Band
88. IT’S A TRIP! – Joywave
89. WHAT ABOUT US – P!nk
90. COME OVER – Vox Eagle
92. LAY IT ON ME – Vance Joy
93. THE VIOLENCE – Rise Against
94. THUNDER – Imagine Dragons
95. GOSPEL – Raker
96. SIK’ HELLISH US – Cold Revive
97. SMOKE AND MIRRORS – Morosity
98. I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd, Daft Punk
99. SWEET DISASTER – Dreamers
100. THE ONE I WANT – The Trims

Top 20 Songs for August 13-19, 2017

1. CAN I SIT NEXT TO YOU – Spoon (2)
3. HIGH – Sir Sly (3)
4. THE MAN – The Killers (4)
5. FEELS LIKE SUMMER – Weezer (6)
6. RUN – Foo Fighters (7)
7. FEEL IT STILL – Portugal. The Man (5)
8. EVERYTHING NOW – Arcade Fire (8)
9. THE WAY YOU USED TO DO – Queens of the Stone Age (11)
10. DOING IT FOR THE MONEY – Foster the People (9)
11. LIGHTS OUT – Royal Blood (12)
12. SILENT SUN – Morning Fuzz (10)
13. ONE OF US – New Politics (14)
14. HOLDING ON – The War on Drugs (16)
15. SONG #3 – Stone Sour (17)
16. J-BOY – Phoenix (13)
17. DON’T TAKE THE MONEY – Bleachers (15)
18. DIG DOWN – Muse (18)
19. THE NIGHT WE MET – Lord Huron (19)
20. COLD LITTLE HEART – Michael Kiwanuka (20)

Ten Huge Hits I Hate

Whatever our own individual tastes in music, everyone dislikes or viscerally hates certain music for our own particular – or peculiar – reasons. When songs or artists we despise are immensely popular, it can sometimes be isolating; others may think or even say out loud “are you serious?!” when discovering we hate a song or artist they love. As an example, I love Coldplay and most of their music output, but know some people who just don’t care for them or even hate their music. While I can understand some not finding Coldplay their ‘cup of tea,’ I cannot for the life of me understand how someone could ‘hate’ their music. But at the end of the day, how each of us hears music and makes a determination as to whether we like it or not is really quite subjective.

That being said, there are a number of songs that I hate, and many of them were massive hits, which makes them all the more loathsome to me. In thinking about why I hate those songs, it mostly comes down to the fact that they sound very displeasing to my ears. Some of my most hated songs are downright painful to listen to. I usually try to keep an open mind about music, and realize I’m judging it through my own biases and idiosyncracies, but I like what I like, and dislike what I dislike, just like all my kind readers. Though it was a major challenge, given the number of hit songs I find repulsive, I’ve chosen ten that were #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, many are from the 1970s, an otherwise incredible decade for music.

1.  YOU’RE HAVING MY BABY – Paul Anka (1974)
Quite possibly one of most insipid songs ever recorded, this stinker from Paul Anka is so bad it’s – well, bad! The music is the worst kind of boring milquetoast that was popular in the early to mid 1970s, and the lyrics would be laughable if they weren’t so bizarre. Among other things, they touch on the fact his woman could have chosen to abort her unborn baby, but didn’t. The dumbest line is “You’re having my baby. What a lovely way of saying how much you love me.” Anka started out in the late 1950s with a string of really good pop hits, but he hit bottom with this one. Nevertheless, it was one of his biggest hits, spending 3 weeks at #1 and offering proof that, sometimes, majority should not rule.

2. CONVOY – C.W. McCall (1976)
Oh man, how I hate this song! Hated it the first time I heard it back in 1976, and I hate it to this day. It was recorded at the height of CB radio popularity. The insipid chorus is so unbelievably bad that it sounds like a parody. If you’ve never heard it, take a listen and you’ll see what I mean. Ugh!

3. ONE BAD APPLE – The Osmonds (1971)
One of the biggest regrets of my life was the time I said to my younger sister while watching the Osmond Brothers perform on the Andy Williams show as a dumb kid: “They’re good, and should record some songs.” What the fuck was I thinking?! They did record some songs – lots of them – and they all stank! “One Bad Apple” was the biggest and worst of them all. This performance of the song is especially painful to watch and listen to, especially Donny Osmond’s horrific screeching and their embarrassing dance moves. They were a pathetic white-bread version of the infinitely more talented Jackson 5.

4. RING MY BELL – Anita Ward (1979)
I was a big fan of disco in the late 70s, but I always loathed “Ring My Bell.” Though it has a catchy beat, Anita Ward’s awful baby-like falsetto vocals were like nails on a chalkboard for me. And that annoying “boo” sound that continues unabated throughout the song drove me nearly to madness.

5. THE NIGHT CHICAGO DIED – Paper Lace (1974)
How can a song be this awful? Everything about “The Night Chicago Died” is terrible: lyrics, melody, music, and vocals. The ending chorus “Na na na Na na na Na na na na na” is positively sickening. This piece of crap immediately preceded “You’re Having My Baby” at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1974. What a shitty month for music that was! Thankfully, Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff” shot those two turds from the top spot!

6. LOW – Flo Rida featuring T. Pain (2008)
Just a really stupid song with stupid lyrics and a prominent stupid clap machine setting the boring, mind-numbing beat. What makes it particularly hateful for me is that it was the #1 song of 2008. What the hell?

7. JOY TO THE WORLD – Three Dog Night (1971)
Three Dog Night was one of my favorite bands of the late 60s and early 70s, and I loved many of their songs, especially “One,” the gorgeous “Easy to Be Hard,” “Eli’s Coming” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” But I despise “Joy to the World,” which was far and away their biggest hit. I realize it’s one of those songs that nearly everybody LOVES, probably because it’s just so darn catchy, but it annoys the living shit out of me. If I never hear it again for the rest of my life, it would be a very good thing.

8. DARK HORSE – Katy Perry featuring Juicy J (2014)
I like Katy Perry well enough, and really do like a few of her hits, including “Teenage Dream,” “Firework,” “Wide Awake” and “Roar.” But oh how I hate “Dark Horse.” The lyrics are ridiculous, and Juicy J’s parts of the track are terrible, serving only to inject some street cred like some other white pop artists have done by adding a rap element to their songs (see Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift). But what really sets me off about this song is Juicy J’s line: “She’ll eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer.” That is so offensive and tacky, especially to relatives of Dahmer’s victims. Few seemed to mind, though, as it spent four weeks at #1. The YouTube video, which I’ll admit is visually stunning, has been streamed nearly 2 billion times!

9. Anything from Milli Vanilli (1989)
Beginning in the summer of 1989, two German guys named Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, who went by the artistic name Milli Vanilli, had a string of forgettable #1 hits: “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” and “Blame it on the Rain.” I didn’t care for any of them, and was honestly perplexed as to why they were so popular. Needless to say, I felt vindicated when it was later revealed that Morvan and Pilatus had not sung any of the songs, and were stripped of their Grammy award.

10. AMERICAN PIE – Don McLean (1972)
“American Pie” was one of the most popular songs of the 1970s, so as with all big hits, it was played to death on the radio. To make matters worse, it was so damned long, clocking in at over 8 1/2 minutes, and seemed to go on forever. I liked it OK at first, but after a few months of non-stop airplay (back in the day when hearing songs on the radio was our main form of listening to music besides playing them on our stereos), I came to loathe it. As soon as I’d hear “Long, long time ago…” my finger pressed the station selection button on the car radio quicker than a pitcher’s fastball. If I were the DJ of my own radio station, “American Pie” – along with all the other songs on this list – would not be allowed in the building.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Imma Be – Black-Eyed Peas
Fergalicious – Fergie
Bills, Bills, Bills – Destiny’s Child
Bad Blood – Neil Sedaka & Elton John
Go Away Little Girl – Donnie Osmond
The Streak – Ray Stevens (yet another dreadful song from 1974)
I Am Woman – Helen Reddy
Crank That (Soulja Boy) – Soulja Boy Tell’em
I’m Real – Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule
Bad & Boujee – Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert

Ten Greatest Rock Songs: The 1960s

I’ve been thinking about the greatest rock songs of all time, and there are likely well over a thousand worthy candidates spanning a period of more than 50 years. I’m certain you could gather 100 people in a room and no two of them would agree on which songs are the greatest. I started to compile a list of what I thought were the best ten or twenty, but it was just too difficult. So, I decided to break it up into the ten best for each decade, and will be posting a series of lists over the next few months.

I’m starting with the 1960s, the decade that hard rock as we know it came into being. Among other things, it was the use of the amplified electric guitar that ushered in a new, heavier sound than had ever existed previously. Just as the rock’n’roll of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley & the Comets thrilled young people in the mid to late 50s, the new hard rock music excited them to no end while driving their parents crazy in the mid to late 60s. As a kid, I remember my mother, who liked softer acts like the Mamas & Papas, Beatles and The Supremes, yelling “turn that shit off” when a Stones or Led Zeppelin song played.

After a lot of careful consideration, here are my picks for the ten greatest rock songs of the 1960s. Naturally, the Rolling Stones are prominently featured, as they were without question the greatest rock band of the 60s, and one of the greatest of all time.

10.  JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH – Rolling Stones (1968)
The hard-driving “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is among my favorite Rolling Stones songs. It’s also the most frequently played song at their concerts.  As with so many of their songs, Keith Richards’ guitar work is fucking incredible. Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in a 1995 interview that the song emerged “out of all the acid of Their Satanic Majesties Request. It’s about having a hard time and getting out.” And in a 1968 interview, Brian Jones described it as a return to their “funky, essential essence” following the psychedelia of Satanic Majesties. As for the song’s title, Richards said that he and Jagger were inspired while staying at his country house, where they were awakened one morning by the sound of Richards’ gardener Jack Dyer working outside. When Jagger asked what the noise was, Richards said: “Oh, that’s Jack – that’s jumpin’ Jack.” The song and lyrics evolved from there.

9.  WHITE RABBIT – Jefferson Airplane (1967)
One of my favorite songs of all time, “White Rabbit” was written by Grace Slick while she was with the band The Great Society. After they broke up in 1966, she joined Jefferson Airplane to replace their departed female singer, Signe Anderson. The first album Slick recorded with Jefferson Airplane was their incredible opus work Surrealistic Pillow – in my opinion one of the greatest albums ever recorded – and Slick provided two songs, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.”

She has stated the song was a slap to parents who read their children novels like Alice and Wonderland, then wonder why their children later used drugs. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, she mentioned that besides Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was “the bolero used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1960 album Sketches of Spain,” which was itself inspired by the famous classical composition “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. It’s the buildup to the crescendo that makes both “Bolero” and “White Rabbit” so wonderful. Here’s a great live performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

8.  MY GENERATION – The Who (1965)
“My Generation” is one of the most popular and signature songs from The Who, and is their highest charting song in the UK though, shockingly, it only peaked at #74 in the U.S. The song is an anthem of youthful rebellion, with one of the most quoted lines in rock history: “I hope I die before I get old.” It’s also considered a precursor of the punk rock movement that would emerge roughly ten years later. It’s been said that Pete Townshend was inspired to write the song after the Queen Mother allegedly had his 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through London’s Belgravia neighborhood.

7.  WHOLE LOTTA LOVE – Led Zeppelin (1969)
The first time I heard “Whole Lotta Love” I was blown away. I was very young and, while I found it too hard and even repellent at the time, I was also intrigued by Led Zeppelin’s aggressive and relentlessly heavy take-no-prisoners sound and Robert Plant’s fierce, high-pitched vocals. Eventually, I came to love it and now appreciate its status as a revolutionary song in the history of hard rock. There’s no denying that the cacophanous mix of intense guitar riffs, crushing bass, tons of wild reverb and Plant’s screams and moans all working together create one of the most complex and exhilarating rock songs ever. If all that weren’t enough, the racy lyrics pushed the envelope beyond anything even the Stones or the Doors had put out: “I’m gonna give you every inch of my love.

6. I PUT A SPELL ON YOU – Creedence Clearwater Revivial (1968)
An important and now classic song in rock and roll, “I Put a Spell On You” was originally written and recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956, and has been covered by a number of artists over the past six decades. But in my opinion, the version recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968 stands above the rest. It’s truly an epic recording that was under appreciated at the time, not to mention the band’s greatest song. Their powerful bluesy rendition, with its fierce, wailing guitar riffs and hammering drums is jaw-droppingly magnificent. John Fogerty’s impassioned screaming vocals bring goosebumps every time I hear the song.

5.  CROSSROADS (Live at Winterland) – Cream (1968)
The definitive version of “Crossroads” is the recording from Cream’s legendary concert in 1968 at Winterland in San Francisco. Eric Clapton’s guitar riffs and Jack Bruce’s bass are so drop-dead phenomenal that they bring chills to my bones and tears to my eyes. And Ginger Baker pounds his drums like his life depended on it. Rock just doesn’t get any better than this! I’m going to paraphrase WestLAGuy, who created a pretty decent video mash-up of the audio from that concert with footage from their farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall (but has unfortunately been removed from YouTube). His discussion of Cream and the song is so good I cannot say it any better.

At the zenith of Cream’s tenure, you would see painted on walls around London ‘Clapton is God’, and this track is a good an example of why people felt that way. For me, the graffiti should have noted three deities, because on their respective instruments, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were just as unique as Clapton. Eric came from a blues background (John Mayall and the Yardbirds); Baker and Bruce may have had some experience with the style, but certainly both were excellent jazz musicians. Clapton was right [up] there, as well. Cream never played a song the same way twice. This version of the Robert Johnson song, “Crossroads” is a perfect example of three great players making music at that moment.

4.  (I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION – Rolling Stones (1965)
One of the Stones’ biggest hits, and their first #1 charting single in the U.S., “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is a brilliant hard rock tirade about rampant commercialism, the stress of touring and sexual frustration. Keith Richards’ three-note guitar riff overlying a crushing bass line makes for an intense powerhouse of a song. In the UK, the song was initially played only on pirate radio stations because its lyrics were considered too suggestive, though it eventually received widespread airplay and reached #1 there.  This electrifying performance took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in February 2006, when all the band members were in their early 60s.

3.  ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER – Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
Jimi Hendrix is widely considered the greatest guitarist of all time. In fact, in a panel assembled by Rolling Stone magazine in late 2015 of many of the greatest living guitarists – including Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore and Joe Perry – Jimi Hendrix came out on top (you can read the article here). In his tribute, Tom Morello wrote of Hendrix: “[He} exploded our idea of what rock music could be. He manipulated the guitar, the whammy bar, the studio and the stage. His playing was effortless. There’s not one minute of his recorded career that feels like he’s working hard at it – it feels like it’s all flowing through him. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicings that don’t appear in any music book. His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil.

The song was written by Bob Dylan, who recorded it in 1967, but Hendrix’s cover is the most iconic. In a 1995 interview with the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinal, Dylan described his reaction to hearing Hendrix’s version: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I liked Hendrix’s [recording] and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way. Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him…

“All Along the Watchtower” was a groundbreaking song in late 1968 for all the above-stated reasons. Hendrix’ guitar riffs are beyond amazing, creating an aural orgasm of otherworldly psychedelia. It was a great tragedy he died at such a young age, denying us all the opportunity to hear more incredible music from him.

2.  GIMME SHELTER – Rolling Stones (1969)
Though not a big hit for the Stones, the powerful “Gimme Shelter” is one of their signature songs that some critics consider their best work. I certainly do. Written by Jagger and Richards at the height of the Vietnam War, the song speaks to the social upheaval and violence of the time. “That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really,” Jagger said in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone. “It’s apocalypse.” Richards later said that his guitar fell apart on the last take, “as if by design.” Ironically, the song was released just days after a man was murdered at the Altamont Music Festival, which was headlined by the Stones.

The intro, strummed on an electric-acoustic guitar, conjures up feelings of impending menace before Jagger’s harmonica enters the scene. Guest singer Merry Clayton’s powerful wailing vocals do chilling justice to the searing lyrics as she screams: “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away.” Clayton, who was pregnant at the time, was summoned from her bed by producer Jack Nitzsche for a last-minute recording session. Shortly after returning home she suffered a miscarriage, which she attributed to her exertion during recording.

1.  LIGHT MY FIRE (extended version) – The Doors (1967)
I’ll admit up-front that it might be debatable whether “Light My Fire” is the greatest rock song of the 1960s, however, the extended seven-minute album version is unquestionably a rock masterpiece. It is that epic long version that I believe is the greatest rock song – and my personal favorite – of the decade. In fact, it ranks #2 among my all-time favorite songs (“Stairway to Heaven” being #1). One of the things that makes the song so uniquely compelling is Ray Manzarek’s skillful use of the Vox Continental organ to create the incredible signature sound that continues unabated throughout the entire seven-minute track. For the recording, session musician Larry Knechtel played a Fender Precision Bass guitar to double the keyboard bass line (Wikipedia). The song was written by Robby Krieger, whose guitar solo during the instrumental break is spectacular, and Jim Morrison’s seductive and soaring vocals are positively electrifying.

Interesting bit of trivia: “Light My Fire” was performed live by the Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 17, 1967. The Doors were asked by producer Bob Precht to change the line “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, as the sponsors were uncomfortable with the possible reference to drug-taking (back in those days nearly everything was either taboo or illegal). The band agreed and did a rehearsal using the amended lyrics, “girl, we couldn’t get much better.” During the live performance, however, Morrison sang the original lyric. Ed Sullivan was furious and did not shake Morrison’s hand as he left the stage, and they were never invited back.

Honorable Mentions:
I could just as easily have included any one of these fantastic songs:

Paint It, Black – Rolling Stones
Sympathy For the Devil – Rolling Stones
Honky Tonk Women – Rolling Stones
Gimme Some Lovin’ – Spencer Davis Group
House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix Experience
Break On Through (To the Other Side) – The Doors
Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
I Can See For Miles – The Who
Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf
Piece of my Heart – Big Brother and the Holding Company

What are your favorites? Did I miss any great ones?

Top Ten Best Protest Songs

sGiven the current political upheaval in the U.S., much of Europe and elsewhere in the world, I’ve been thinking about protest songs and the impact they’ve had on spurring conversation and action. There are so many great ones that it was difficult to choose only ten, but I’ve whittled them down to what I think are the ten best protest songs. Many were inspired by either the Vietnam War or racism.

1.  WHAT’S GOING ON – Marvin Gaye (1971)
One of the most beautiful and compelling songs of protest ever recorded, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a masterpiece. Recorded in 1971 as one of many tracks for his brilliant album of the same name, the song was originally inspired by a police brutality incident during an anti-war protest in Berkeley, California’s People’s Park, witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Motown group The Four Tops. Gaye had likewise been inspired by events such as the 1965 Watts riots and Vietnam War, which made him question how he could keep writing and singing love songs when the world seemed to be exploding around him. The song was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye, and produced by Gaye after Motown exec Berry Gordy was set against recording such a song (and album). Rolling Stone named “What’s Going On” the fourth-greatest song of all time. Sadly, most of the issues Gaye sang about are still thorny in 2017.

2. MASTERS OF WAR – Bob Dylan (1962)
The week Bob Dylan arrived in New York City, Dwight Eisenhower, in his final address as President, warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” His words were largely ignored, and just two years later the world was on the verge of nuclear war, while the arms industry was making a fortune and spreading money all over Washington. The situation enraged Dylan, and he funneled this anger into writing “Masters of War.” The lyrics are searing: “I hope you die and your death will come soon. / I’ll follow your casket in the pale afternoon and I’ll watch while you’re lowered to your death bed and I’ll stand over your grave ’til I’m sure that you’re dead.” The song has been covered by scores of musicians, including the Staples Singers, Ed Sheeran and Pearl Jam in this chilling version.

3.  WAR – Edwin Starr (1970)
The defiant anti-Vietnam War anthem “War” was written by legendary Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (who penned numerous hits for the Temptations, Four Tops, and Undisputed Truth, among others). It was initially recorded by the Temptations for inclusion on their album Psychedelic Shack but, fearful of alienating their fan base, both the Temptations and Motown executives decided against releasing their version as a single. Motown contract singer Edwin Starr volunteered to record the song, and man did he deliver, his fierce vocals spitting and screaming the scathing lyrics. The music is downright brutal, with raging guitars, savage percussion and screaming brass that match the ferocity of Starr’s vocals. It went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later covered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bruce Springsteen and, more recently, Black Stone Cherry.

4.  HOLIDAY – Green Day (2005)
From Green Day’s brilliant album American Idiot, “Holiday” is a true protest anthem, inspired by the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. Billie Joe Armstrong emphatically rails against the neo-conservatives who pushed for war and their strategy of pitting one group against another. According to Armstrong, the chorus’s refrain – “This is our lives on holiday” – was intended to reflect the average American’s ambivalence on the issues of the day.

5.  OHIO – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
In May 1970, students at Kent State University in Ohio were demonstrating against the Vietnam War when the Ohio National Guard attempted to disperse the crowd. Ultimately, four unarmed students were shot to death and nine others injured, resulting in outrage throughout the nation. A few days afterward, Neil Young saw the now Pulitzer-Prize winning photo of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of college student Jeffrey Miller. Young was so infuriated that he immediately wrote the song “Ohio” and convinced his fellow band members to record the song with him. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming / We’re finally on our own / This summer I hear the drumming / Four dead in Ohio.” Interesting bit of trivia: future Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde was then a student at Kent State and witnessed the event.

6. STRANGE FRUIT – Billie Holiday (1939)
Perhaps the most haunting protest song of them all, “Strange Fruit” was first written as a poem, then later set to music, by teacher Abel Meeropol in 1937. It protested American racism and the lynching of African Americans, and ‘strange fruit’ is a metaphor for lynching victims hanging from trees. The most iconic recording of the song was by Billie Holiday, but deeply moving versions have also been recorded by Nina Simone, Diana Ross, Jill Scott and Annie Lennox. Simone called it “the ugliest song she had ever heard.”

7.  BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – Bob Dylan (1962)
Though not originally intended to be a protest song, Bob Dylan’s classic “Blowin’ in the Wind” quickly took on powerful meaning for many people in the ways it spoke to the issues of war, peace and civil rights. Dylan recorded it in 1962 for inclusion on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but it was the beautiful cover version by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1963 that made it famous, becoming a #1 hit.

8. AMERICAN IDIOT – Green Day (2005)
Another hard-hitting protest song from Green Day, “American Idiot” was inspired by the American public’s patriotic support of the Bush Administration’s war against Iraq. Band frontman Billie Joe Armstrong believed that mass media orchestrated paranoia and idiocy among the public. Citing cable news coverage of the Iraq War, Armstrong recalled, “They had all these Geraldo-like journalists in the tanks with the soldiers, getting the play-by-play.” He wrote the song after hearing the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “That’s How I Like It” on his car radio. “It was like, ‘I’m proud to be a redneck’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, why would you be proud of something like that?’ This is exactly what I’m against.”

9.  FIGHT THE POWER – Public Enemy (1989)
“Fight the Power” by hip hop/rap group Public Enemy was written for the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing. The song is a scathing attack on racism and classism, incorporating various samples and references to African-American culture, including civil rights, black church services and the music of James Brown. The website NME observed that “the brilliance of ‘Fight The Power’ is that it recognizes that cultural imperialism can be just as repressive a force as more obvious forms of state authority. Everyone knows about the Elvis lyric – but only Chuck D could tease out the unsettling racial stereotypes reinforced by Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’.”

10.  EVE OF DESTRUCTION – Barry McGuire (1965)
“Eve of Destruction” was written by singer/songwriter P.F. Sloan in 1964, when the Vietnam war was still in its infancy, but the Cuban Missile Crisis was a very recent memory and there was widespread fear of nuclear war. The lyrics also address civil rights injustice. Sloan initially presented the song to the Byrds, who rejected it. It was subsequently recorded by the Turtles, Jan and Dean and the Grass Roots, but the version that became most famous was by Barry McGuire. His recording was a rough demo not intended for release, but it somehow got leaked to a DJ who began playing it, and it quickly became a huge hit, going all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

Honorable Mentions:
Fuck tha Police – N.W.A.
Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival
We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger
Sun City – Artists United Against Apartheid
A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
The Blacker the Berry – Kendrick Lamar
Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye
Sign O the Times – Prince
I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag – Country Joe & the Fish
The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan
Hurricane – Bob Dylan
War Pigs – Black Sabbath
For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
Mississippi Goddam – Nina Simone
Zombie – The Cranberries
Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown
S.O.S. – The HØnest Man
Revolution – The Beatles
Divisive – Calling All Astronauts

Top 100 Songs of 2016

2016 was a year of music highs and lows. Lots of excellent music was released, yet the year also saw an unusually high number of untimely and significant losses of legendary musicians – most notably David Bowie, Prince, Natalie Cole (on New Year’s Eve), Glenn Frey, Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Bobby Vee, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, George Michael on Christmas Day and, most tragically, the entire promising young band Viola Beach.

There were a lot of great albums, but I’ve honestly heard only a fraction of the hundreds released in 2016. My personal favorites are the gorgeous albums by Radiohead (A Moon Shaped Pool),  The 1975 (I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It), David Bowie (Blackstar) and Matto Rules (What Comes Around, which I reviewed previously on this blog). A few other highlights were the eagerly anticipated albums from Green Day, Metallica, Kings of Leon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, A Tribe Called Quest and Bon Iver.

Now I unveil my 100 Best Songs of 2016. These are my favorite songs of the year, and I’m confident everyone seeing this list will disapprove of some of my selections, and that’s fine. Music is very subjective and what sounds good to me may not sound good to someone else, and vice versa. My favorite genres are alternative and hard rock, so my list reflects that. However, I never expected that a Justin Bieber song would end up in my top 40 -lol. There were hundreds of songs that I really liked, so picking only 100 was difficult. Some songs on this list were released in 2015 (and “Walking on a Dream” from Empire of the Sun was released in 2009, but didn’t get airplay in the U.S. until seven years later), but they were “hits” or appeared on my Weekly Top 20 in 2016. A few songs overlapped both 2015 and 2016, and are therefore in my Top 100 for both years. Those songs are marked with an *.

1. STRESSED OUT – twenty øne piløts *
2016 was clearly the year of twenty øne piløts, as the duo saw their fame skyrocket with their enormously successful Emotional Roadshow World Tour and the immense popularity of their magnificent album Blurryface. I think they’re one of the best bands to emerge in many years, with a totally original sound that is like no other act around today. Their song “Tear In My Heart” was my #1 song of 2015, and their follow-up single “Stressed Out” is my #1 song of 2016 – and one of my favorite songs of the past 10 years. It’s a brilliant song about facing the burdens of responsibility of adulthood while longing for the simplicity of one’s childhood: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our mama sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” I also think it’s a particularly appropriate song to top the list, as 2016 was certainly a stressful year on many levels. “Stressed Out” was #8 on my Top 100 for 2015, but it had such staying power that it ends up at #1 for 2016. twenty øne piløts have three songs in my top 10, a feat accomplished by only two other artists: the Beatles in 1964 and Foster the People in 2011.

2. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been making music for 30 years, and have had scores of hits. But “Dark Necessities” is their greatest song yet and a masterpiece in my opinion. The complex music and meaningful lyrics show a real maturation of their sound, which is totally appropriate for a band whose members are now in their late 40s to early 50s. Without question one of the best songs of 2016.

3. RIDE – twenty øne piløts
The exhilarating “Ride” was the fourth track from Blurryface released as a single, and is further proof of the high caliber of the songs on the album. Literally every track could be a hit song. The song’s lyrics speak to uncertainties and anxieties over the meaning of life. Tyler Joseph fervently sings “I’ve been thinking too much, help me.

Let me just state up front that UK band Foals is awesome and I passionately love their unique sound. “Mountain At My Gates” is a gorgeous anthem about overcoming life’s obstacles. Lead vocalist Yannis Philippakis has an amazing and immediately identifiable singing style that smolders, wails and soars. The powerful song builds to a climactic flourish that gives me chills every time.

5. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead
The release of Radiohead’s amazing album A Moon Shaped Pool was one of the music highlights of 2016. The brilliant single “Burn the Witch” has dark lyrics, hauntingly sung by Thom Yorke’s beautiful falsetto, and set to a gorgeous arrangement by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and lush strings performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. The clever, stop-action animation video, directed by Chris Hopewell, pays homage to the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man.

6. BANG BANG – Green Day
Green Day proved their staying power with the release of their 12th studio album Revolution Radio, 26 years after their first album 39/Smooth in 1990. The album’s hard-driving first single “Bang Bang” stays true to the band’s penchant for topical themes, with lyrics that speak to America’s culture of gun violence and mass shootings in an era of narcissistic social media. The song’s high points are the furious guitar riffs and Tré Cool’s awesome drum solos.

Coldplay pulled out all the stops with their joyously upbeat “Adventure of a Lifetime.” Jonny Buckland’s gorgeous swirling guitars, Will Champion’s spot-on drums and Chris Martin’s signature soaring vocals make for a truly great song. Guy Berryman’s strong bass gives the feel of a heart beating and the mandolin at song’s end is stunning. The whimsical video has the bandmembers as gorillas cavorting about in the jungle.

8. LIFE ITSELF – Glass Animals
“Life Itself” is one of the most interesting and musically complex songs on this list and I adore it. Glass Animals employs all kinds of instruments, from harps and tom toms to tambourines, piano and unusual guitar synths to create an exceptionally strong track. Lead singer Dave Bayley’s vocals are hypnotic and mesmerizing, and the lyrics about being a millennial slacker are superb: “I can’t get a job, so I live with my mom. I take her money but not quite enough. I sit in the car, and I listen to static. She said I look fat, but I look fantastic.

9. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts
The brilliant “Heathens” was recorded for the Suicide Squad film soundtrack. The dark song has a haunting arrangement set to a slow hip hop beat. Mournful piano, rough scratching sounds, Tyler Joseph’s monotone vocals, and a mysterious disembodied voice chanting “watch it” contrast with the sweeping orchestration, creating a menacing sense of danger.

10. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant
Another one of my favorite bands, Cage the Elephant returned at the end of 2015 with their album Tell Me I’m Pretty. Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, the album really shows his strong influence. “Trouble” was the second single to be released (after the uneven “Mess Around”) and it’s absolutely brilliant. The song features beautiful piano, xylophone and guitar instrumentation, accompanied by Matt Shultz’s incredibly beguiling vocals. The song’s video was shot at Joshua Tree National Park, which is near my home and one of the most popular places to make music videos.

11. THE SOUND OF SILENCE – Disturbed
When I first heard Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence” I thought meh. I gave it another listen and thought “well this is actually good.” By my third listen, I was totally blown away by the song’s magnificence. It’s hard to believe anyone could do a respectable cover of this iconic Simon & Garfunkel song, but David Draiman and his band accomplished the feat and then some. Wow, just wow!

12. ALL WE EVER KNEW – The Head and the Heart
“All We Ever Knew” is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt songs on my list, which seems quite appropriate given the band’s name. The beautiful melody, instrumentals and vocals belie the bittersweet lyrics about a broken relationship that cannot be fixed.

13. WASTE A MOMENT – Kings of Leon
Kings of Leon came roaring back with their gorgeous anthem “Waste A Moment.” The song features Caleb Followill’s signature soaring vocals and the band’s lusty guitars.

I was literally blown over the first moment I heard this incredibly powerful hard rock song by the appropriately-named UK band (IAM)WARFACE. It was like being hit by an atomic blast, and I never tired of hearing this gem!

15. ONE DANCE – Drake, Kyla, WizKid
Drake hit the mark with this simple but oh so awesome hip hop dance song. He had assistance by the sultry vocalist Kyla and rapper WizKid. The song spent many weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

16. TRIP SWITCH – Nothing But Thieves
“Trip Switch” by UK band Nothing But Thieves is an incredibly catchy song with outstanding instrumentation. Lead singer Conor Mason’s distinctly seductive vocals are mesmerizing.

17. STARBOY – The Weeknd
“Starboy” is a beautiful, rather mysterious song from the amazingly talented The Weeknd. His slightly falsetto vocals are really captivating in this song.

18. SPIRITS – The Strumbellas
I seem to love gorgeous anthems, because “Spirits” by Canadian band The Strumbellas is certainly that. Everything about this song is perfect – orchestration and arrangement, instrumentals, lyrics and the band’s beautiful harmonizing vocals, led by lead singer Simon Ward.

19. PRETTY PIMPIN – Kurt Vile
I really love this quirky song. Great lyrics and guitar, plus Kurt Vile’s wonderful vocals.

20. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo
This hauntingly beautiful song by Icelandic rock/blues band Kaleo is from their second studio album A/B, and one of the most compelling singles of 2016. The bluesy melody is almost funereal, but in a torch song kind of way, with a strong drumbeat that propels the song forward. The guitars and piano are gorgeous, and JJ Julius Son’s raw, impassioned vocals bring chills.

21. OPHELIA – The Lumineers
22. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182
23. 7 YEARS – Lukas Graham
25. GENGHIS KHAN – Miike Snow
27. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars
28. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company
29. HELLO – Adele *
30. CHEAP THRILLS – Sia featuring Sean Paul
31. GOOD GRIEF – Bastille
32. HYMN FOR THE WEEKEND – Coldplay featuring Beyoncé
33. SEND MY LOVE (To Your New Lover) – Adele
34. WALKING ON A DREAM – Empire of the Sun
36. SORRY – Justin Bieber
38. COLOR – Finish Ticket
39. HAPPY SONG – Bring Me The Horizon
40. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen
42. HARDWIRED – Metallica
44. SOMEBODY ELSE – The 1975
45. BAD DECISIONS – Two Door Cinema Club
46. KISS THIS – The Struts
49. WELCOME TO YOUR LIFE – Grouplove
50. NIGHTLIGHT – Silversun Pickups
51. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers
52. SURE AND CERTAIN – Jimmy Eat World
53. JUGGERNAUT – Partisan
55. MESS AROUND – Cage the Elephant
56. SMOOTH SAILIN’ – Leon Bridges
57. I TOOK A PILL IN IBIZA – Mike Posner
58. TONIGHT – Matto Rules
59. FIRE – Barns Courtney
60. DESTRUCTION – Joywave
61. RIVER – Bishop Briggs
63. LET IT GO – James Bay
64. WAKE UP CALL – Nothing But Thieves
65. LOVE YOURSELF – Justin Bieber
66. SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN – Young the Giant
67. REAPERS – Muse
68. BAD REPUTATION – Adelitas Way
69. MAGNETS – Disclosure featuring Lorde
70. WISH I KNEW YOU – The Revivalists
71. LOVE ME – The 1975
72. DARK OLD HOUSES – Chris Watkins & Drunk Poets
73. CLOSE – Nick Jonas & Tove Lo
74. DANG! – Mac Miller featuring Anderson .Paak
76. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake
77. VICTORIOUS – Panic! At the Disco
79. STARS – Wons Phreely + the Horses
80. THE POP KIDS – The Pet Shop Boys
81. THE SHAKES THAT YOU MAKE – Dyslexic Postcards
82. AWAKE – Acrylic
83. WOW – Beck
84. THE SOUND – The 1975
85. YOUR SATURDAY NIGHT – Bryan Howell & the Standalones
86. BELONG – Shelita Burke
87. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden
88. RED SUN – Whale House
90. ASKING FOR IT – Shinedown
91. UNSTEADY – X Ambassadors
92. CLOSER – The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey
93. DREAM STEALING – Paul Iwan
95. HAND CLAP – Fitz & the Tantrums
97. FIRE AND THE FLOOD – Vance Joy
98. AIN’T NO MAN – The Avett Brothers
99. BRAZIL – Declan McKenna
100. DON’T THREATEN ME WITH A GOOD TIME – Panic! At the Disco

“Magic” Songs

While driving to an appointment this morning, I heard the Cars song “Magic” on the radio, and started thinking of all the hit songs either titled Magic or having the word in their title. So, without further ado, here are the memorable hit songs from 1960 to the present with ‘magic’ in their title.

1.  MAGIC – Pilot (1975)
The first hit song simply titled “Magic,” this fun, upbeat pop-rock tune by one-hit wonder Scottish band Pilot was produced by Alan Parsons of the Alan Parsons Project (who themselves had a string of hits from 1976-84). It was a big hit, reaching #5 and spending 12 weeks on the Billboard Top 40.

2. MAGIC – Olivia Newton-John (1980)
The biggest “magic” hit of them all, Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” spent 4 weeks at #1 and 16 weeks on the Billboard Top 40. This really terrific song was featured in the really terrible musical Xanadu which, in addition to Newton-John, also starred Gene Kelly. The song was written by John Farrar who, along with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, also wrote the lyrics and music for the film soundtrack. Though the film was a flop, the soundtrack album was hugely successful, spawning several other hits for Newton-John and ELO (whose career was nearly wrecked by their involvement with the film).

3. MAGIC – The Cars (1984)
The second single from their phenomenal album Heartbeat City, The Cars’ “Magic” is an awesome pop-rock song – but then I’m biased, as I pretty much love all their songs. It was a modest hit, spending 11 weeks on the Billboard Top 40 and peaking at #12.

4. MAGIC – Robin Thicke (2008)
This “Magic” by American R&B singer Robin Thicke is from his third studio album Something Else. The song was written by him along with his then wife Paula Patton and James Gass.  It reached #2 on both the Billboard Adult R&B and Dance Club Charts, and #6 on the R&B/Hip Hop Chart, but only #59 on the Hot 100.

5. MAGIC – Coldplay (2014)
Another great “magic” song, this one by Coldplay was the first single from their rather experimental album Ghost Stories. It was a departure from their usual music style, and received critical acclaim, though some complained that it sounded too much like the Muse song “Madness,” with its similar chord progression and climactic flourish. The song peaked at #14 on the Billboard Top 40 and #1 on the Adult Alternative Chart. There’s no denying that the song’s video is absolutely brilliant. Chris Martin plays both the good and bad guys, and Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi plays the beautiful magician.

6. THIS MAGIC MOMENT – Drifters (1960); Jay & the Americans (1969)
This song was composed by lyricist Doc Pomus and pianist Mort Shuman, and was a modest hit first for Ben E. King and the Drifters, who took it to #16 in 1960. Jay & the Americans recorded another version of the song in 1968, and it reached #6 in March 1969, and spent 10 weeks in the Top 40.

7. PUFF, THE MAGIC DRAGON – Peter, Paul & Mary (1963)
This sweet, poignant song was written by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow of the folk band Peter, Paul & Mary, and was based on an earlier poem by Lipton. The song was a big hit, peaking at #2 and spending 11 weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

8. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? – The Lovin’ Spoonful (1965)
The Lovin’ Spoonful were one of the most successful American pop-rock bands of the mid 60s and their catchy, upbeat song “Do You Believe in Magic? was their first chart hit, peaking at #9 and spending eight weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

9. MAGIC CARPET RIDE – Steppenwolf (1968)
From the legendary hard rock band Steppenwolf, this amazing song was so representative of the psychedelic influence in a lot of rock songs during the period from 1966-69. It was a huge hit, reaching #3 and spending 13 weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

10. MAGIC BUS – The Who (1968)
This great classic from The Who was written by Pete Townshend in 1965 while they were recording My Generation, but the song was not recorded by the band until 1968. Although they were one of the biggest bands in the world from the late 60s through the early 80s, selling millions of albums and selling out hundreds of concerts, they had relatively few big “hits” on the Billboard Hot 100 (which was also true for many other rock bands). “Magic Bus” peaked at #25 and spent only six weeks in the Top 40.

11. BLACK MAGIC WOMAN – Santana (1970)
Undoubtedly one of the best of the “magic” songs, “Black Magic Woman” is a rock classic from the legendary guitarist Carlos Santana and his band. The guitar riffs in this song are incredible. It was hugely popular, peaking at #4 and spending 12 weeks in the Top 40.

12. MAGIC MAN – Heart (1976)
The second single from Heart’s brilliant debut album Dreamboat Annie, “Magic Man” was their first Top 10 hit, peaking at #9. Ann Wilson said it was about her then boyfriend Michael Fisher, who was the band manager and several years older than her. The song’s unique sound was produced by the use of a Minimoog synthesizer.

13. COULD IT BE MAGIC – Barry Manilow (1975); Donna Summer (1976)
“Could It Be Magic” was  written by lyricist Adrienne Anderson and pianist Barry Manilow. The melody was based on Frederic Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor. Initially released in 1971, it was later re-recorded, and released as a single in 1975. It was Manilow’s third charting single, peaking at #6 and spending 13 weeks on the Billboard Top 40. Disco diva Donna Summer recorded another version of the song for her album A Love Trilogy, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Dance Chart, but only at #52 on the Hot 100.

14. STRANGE MAGIC – Electric Light Orchestra (1976)
British symphonic rock band Electric Light Orchestra was immensely popular and successful, with twenty Top 40 singles during the years 1975-86.  From their fifth studio album Face the Music, the beautiful track “Strange Magic” was their third charting single, peaking at #14 and spending nine weeks in the Top 40.

15. YOU MADE ME BELIEVE IN MAGIC – Bay City Rollers (1977)
This song was the fifth charting single from the Scottish pop band Bay City Rollers, and the only song of theirs that I could ever tolerate. It peaked at #10 and spent 12 weeks in the Billboard Top 40.

16. IF IT’S MAGIC – Stevie Wonder (1977)
One of Stevie Wonder’s most beautiful songs, “If It’s Magic” is from his magnificent opus album Songs In The Key Of Life. This song never charted, but I included it on this list because it’s such a wonderful track.

One of the best of many awesome songs from The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is from their fantastic fourth album Ghost in the Machine. This song was unique in that it includes the piano as an instrument, uncommon for most Police songs. It was a big hit, peaking at #3 and spending 15 weeks in the Top 40.

18. YOU CAN DO MAGIC – America (1982)
This really lovely pop-rock song by America was released ten years after their massively successful debut single “A Horse With No Name,” an indication of their staying power. “You Can Do Magic” was their seventh Top 10 single, peaking at #8 and spending 15 weeks in the Top 40.

19. MAGIC STICK – Lil’ Kim & 50 Cent (2003)
“Magic Stick,” by hip hop artist Lil’ Kim, is from her third studio album La Bella Mafia. The song features fellow American rapper 50 Cent and was produced by Carlos “Fantom of the Beat” Evans. Despite not having a physical release or music video, the song was a huge hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

20. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (2016)
The most recent “magic” song on this list – and currently at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of the date of this post – the wonderfully funky and upbeat “24K Magic” looks to be another smash hit for R&B singer Bruno Mars.

Let me know what you think of these songs, or if I left out any other “magic” hit songs.

Ten Best James Bond Theme Songs

There have been 24 films about the dashing British secret service agent James Bond, beginning with Dr. No in 1962, up to the most recent film Spectre, released in 2015.  It has been a long-established tradition for each film to have a theme song. Over those 53 years, some are impressive tracks that have stood the test of time, while others were quickly forgotten. Here are my picks for the ten best Bond theme songs:

10. LICENSE TO KILL – Gladys Knight (License to Kill – 1989)

Initially, Eric Clapton and Vic Flick (who played the guitar riff in the original “James Bond Theme”) were asked to write and perform the theme song for License To Kill.  It was to be an updated version of the original theme, but that project fell apart, and this song, performed by Gladys Knight, was chosen instead.  It was composed by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff, and based on the “horn line” from Goldfinger, which required royalty payments to the original writers.  I love Gladys Knight’s voice, and think it’s a pretty good song that well complements the film.

9. GOLDENEYE – Tina Turner (GoldenEye – 1995)

“GoldenEye” was written specifically for Tina Turner by Bono and the Edge of U2 after they learned that she had been invited to sing the theme to the Bond film of the same name. Like many of the other women who sang Bond themes, Turner’s strong, sensuous vocals were perfectly suited for the genre.

8. NOBODY DOES IT BETTER – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977)

I really love this song, which is why I’ve ranked it higher than it probably should be. It’s a great song, but it just doesn’t evoke the sense of mystery and danger we expect from Bond movie themes, and is better suited for a romantic comedy. Written by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager, the song is one of the more pop-oriented, radio friendly Bond themes, and it was a huge hit for Carly Simon.

7. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH – Garbage (The World Is Not Enough – 1999)

Written by composer David Arnold and lyricist Don Black, “The World Is Not Enough” was performed by the alternative rock group Garbage, with sensuous sweeping vocals by lead singer Shirley Manson. Regarding the choice of Garbage to record the song, Arnold stated “Part of the reason I thought Garbage would be such a good idea is that I think Shirley Manson is someone who could easily inhabit Bond’s world.” (Wikipedia)

6. SKYFALL – Adele (Skyfall – 2012)

After the massive success of “Rolling in the Deep” in 2011, Adele seemed the perfect choice by Sony Pictures President of Music Lia Vollack to record the theme for Skyfall. She thought Adele’s voice had a “soulful, haunting, evocative quality” that would bring back the “classic Shirley Bassey feel” of several earlier Bond themes, so she suggested to the film’s producers that Adele be asked to write and record the theme song. After reading and falling in love with the script for Skyfall, Adele agreed to write a song, with assistance from Paul Epworth, her producer and co-writer for her smash album 21. The result was a tremendously powerful track that captured the Bond vibe that Vollack had envisioned, even incorporating the 007 theme.  It was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2013.

5. LIVE AND LET DIE – Paul McCartney & Wings (Live and Let Die – 1973)

Film producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli invited Paul McCartney to write the title theme for Live and Let Die, but wanted it to be sung by Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston. McCartney told them he would only allow it to be used in the film if performed by his band Wings. “Live and Let Die” captures the menacing danger of the film, and was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

4. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice – 1967)

One of the most gorgeous Bond themes, “You Only Live Twice” was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The song features lush, soaring orchestration and lovely vocals by Nancy Sinatra. Barry initially wanted the song to be performed by Aretha Franklin, while Cubby Broccoli wanted Frank Sinatra to sing it. Frank recommended his daughter Nancy instead, and the rest is history.

3.  A VIEW TO A KILL – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill – 1985)

John Barry teamed up with Duran Duran in the writing of the excellent “A View to a Kill.” Another dramatic song, it perfectly complements the perilous espionage-filled world of James Bond. Duran Duran were chosen to do the song after bassist John Taylor, a lifelong Bond fan, approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and rather pointedly asked “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” (By the mid-80’s, Bond themes had become pretty stale and boring.) Obviously a good sport, Mr. Broccoli subsequently introduced the band to John Barry, resulting in this awesome collaboration. A huge hit, it’s the only Bond theme to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

2. JAMES BOND 007 THEME – John Barry & Orchestra (Dr. No – 1962)

The original – and classic – Bond theme, and the basis for many subsequent Bond themes, has been the subject of much squabbling over songwriting credit. Monty Norman has been credited with writing it, and received hundred of thousands of dollars in royalties, despite the fact that for Dr. No, the tune was arranged by John Barry, who claims he actually wrote it.  (Barry would go on to compose the scores of another 10 Bond films.)  Courts have ruled twice that the theme was written by Monty Norman.

1.  GOLDFINGER – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger – 1964)

The most iconic Bond theme, “Goldfinger” is the gold-standard of them all (no pun intended). This masterpiece was composed by John Barry, with lyrics written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.  The song opens with piercing horns, followed by Shirley Bassey’s powerful, dramatic vocals that propel “Goldfinger” into the sonic stratosphere, guaranteed to raise goosebumps every time.  Unbelievably, the song was almost taken out of the film because producer Harry Saltzman hated it, saying, “That’s the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard in my life”. (Wikipedia) Thankfully, he reconsidered.

A final note about Bond themes. The alternative rock band Radiohead were asked to write a song for the film Spectre, but it was rejected by the film’s producers in favor of the song “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith.  They considered “Spectre” too “dark.” The band was rather stoic about it, and decided to release the song themselves (it appears on their phenomenal latest album A Moon Shaped Pool).  Many critics and fans agree that “Spectre” is superior to Sam Smith’s song, despite the fact “Writing’s On the Wall” went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song.  I think it’s gorgeous and a perfect Bond theme that would have placed in my top 10.

10 Best “Bite Me” Songs

A while back, a friend who knows I’m a music junkie asked me for a list of songs for a “Bite Me” mix she was putting together on her iPod. Naturally, I was thrilled by the challenge!  After much thought, here are my picks for the Top 10 “You hurt me, you’re a jerk and I hate you” – in other words – “Bite Me” songs.

10. GIVES YOU HELL – All-American Rejects


8. FUCK YOU – Cee Lo Green



5.  BEFORE HE CHEATS – Carrie Underwood

4. YOU’RE NO GOOD – Linda Ronstadt

3. I WILL SURVIVE – Gloria Gaynor


1. YOU OUGHTA KNOW – Alanis Morissette

Honorable Mentions:

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Go Your Own Way -Fleetwood Mac
You’re Breaking My Heart – Nilsson
So What – P!nk
What Goes Around (Comes Around) – Justin Timberlake
Since You Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
What Doesn’t Kill (Makes You Stronger) – Kelly Clarkson

Let me know what you think, or if you have any others to add.