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.

4. MOUNTAIN AT MY GATES – Foals *
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.

7. ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME – Coldplay *
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.

14. SAY MY NAME – (IAM)WARFACE
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
24. WHEN WE WERE YOUNG – Adele
25. GENGHIS KHAN – Miike Snow
26. FEEL INVINCIBLE – Skillet
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
35. YOU DON’T GET ME HIGH ANYMORE – Phantogram
36. SORRY – Justin Bieber
37. CHANGES – MUTEMATH
38. COLOR – Finish Ticket
39. HAPPY SONG – Bring Me The Horizon
40. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen
41. CAKE BY THE OCEAN – DNCE
42. HARDWIRED – Metallica
43. PRAYERS/TRIANGLES – Deftones
44. SOMEBODY ELSE – The 1975
45. BAD DECISIONS – Two Door Cinema Club
46. KISS THIS – The Struts
47. 10,000 EMERALD POOLS – BØRNS
48. UNDER THE INFLUENCE – Elle King
49. WELCOME TO YOUR LIFE – Grouplove
50. NIGHTLIGHT – Silversun Pickups
51. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers
52. SURE AND CERTAIN – Jimmy Eat World
53. JUGGERNAUT – Partisan
54. THANK GOD FOR GIRLS – Weezer
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
62. WOMAN, WOMAN – AWOLNATION
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
75. JUST LIKE FIRE – P!nk
76. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake
77. VICTORIOUS – Panic! At the Disco
78. DEVIL’S BLEEDING CROWN – Volbeat
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
89. EVERYTHING IS ALRIGHT – Neil and Adam
90. ASKING FOR IT – Shinedown
91. UNSTEADY – X Ambassadors
92. CLOSER – The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey
93. DREAM STEALING – Paul Iwan
94. DRUG DEALERS AND DJS – Twintwo
95. HAND CLAP – Fitz & the Tantrums
96. RETURN TO THE MOON – El Vy
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

Top 100 Songs of 2015

2015 was another amazing year in music, and saw the release of numerous albums of merit, most notably the incredible Blurryface from twenty øne piløts, How Big How Blue How Beautiful from Florence + the Machine, Beauty Behind the Madness from The Weeknd, Currents from Tame Impala, Wilder Mind from Mumford & Sons, What Went Down from Foals, Sound and Color from Alabama Shakes, To Pimp a Butterfly from Kendrick Lamar, Drones from Muse, Every Open Eye from CHVRCHES, Kintsugi from Death Cab For Cutie, My Love is Cool from Wolf Alice, Caracal from Disclosure, Get to Heaven from Everything Everything and, at the end of the year, Adele’s eagerly awaited and record-setting 25.  One of my personal favorites was No Devotion’s exceptional debut album Permanence, which I previously reviewed in this blog.

One of the biggest hits of the year was the hugely popular “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. The wildly entertaining and oft-imitated video paid homage to masters of funk James Brown, Funkadelic and Prince. Another break-out artist was Elle King, whose “Ex’s and Oh’s” was one of the biggest and most enjoyable songs of the year, and I especially loved “My Type” from Saint Motel, a fun and stylish tune. My pick for best song of 2015 is “Tear in My Heart,” a rousing anthem to the highs and lows of love from my favorite band of the year, twenty øne piløts.

1. TEAR IN MY HEART – twenty øne piløts

2. UPTOWN FUNK! – Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
3. FIRST – Cold War Kids
4. EX’S AND OH’S – Elle King
5. SHUT UP AND DANCE – Walk the Moon
6. RENEGADES – X Ambassadors
7. BELIEVE – Mumford & Sons
8. STRESSED OUT – twenty øne piløts
9. THE LESS I KNOW THE BETTER – Tame Impala
10. CAN’T FEEL MY FACE – The Weeknd
11. DREAMS – Beck
12. MY TYPE – Saint Motel
13. HELLO – Adele
14. LAMPSHADES ON FIRE – Modest Mouse
15. THINKING OUT LOUD – Ed Sheeran
16. HOLLOW MOON (BAD WOLF) – AWOLNATION
17. LONG WAY DOWN – Robert DeLong
18. SHIP TO WRECK – Florence + the Machine
19. DON’T WANNA FIGHT – Alabama Shakes
20. DEAD INSIDE – Muse
21. BLACK SUN – Death Cab For Cutie
22. CRYSTALS – Of Monsters and Men
23. WHAT KIND OF MAN? – Florence + the Machine
24. SOMETHING FROM NOTHING – Foo Fighters
25. S.O.B. – Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
26. ROLLERCOASTER – Bleachers
27. ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME – Coldplay
28. BUDAPEST – George Ezra
29. MOANING LISA SMILE – Wolf Alice
30. NEARLY FORGOT MY BROKEN HEART – Chris Cornell
31. ELECTRIC LOVE – BØRNS
32. CECILIA AND THE SATELLITE – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
33. BLAME IT ON ME – George Ezra
34. WHAT WENT DOWN – Foals
35. I AM – AWOLNATION
36. EARNED IT (FIFTY SHADES OF GREY) – The Weeknd
37. CIGARETTE DAYDREAMS – Cage the Elephant
38. COULD HAVE BEEN ME – The Struts
39. EVERY OTHER FRECKLE – alt-J
40. THE WOLF – Mumford & Sons
41. MESS IS MINE – Vance Joy
42. SEDONA – Houndmouth
43. THE GHOSTS OF BEVERLY DRIVE – Death Cab for Cutie
44. 2 HEADS – Coleman Hell
45. HOLD BACK THE RIVER – James Bay
46. I BET MY LIFE – Imagine Dragons
47. R.I.P. 2 MY YOUTH – The Neighbourhood
48. FIGURE IT OUT – Royal Blood
49. SOMEBODY NEW – Joywave
50. ADDITION – No Devotion
51. MOUNTAIN AT MY GATES – Foals
52. MERCY – Muse
53. KATHLEEN – Catfish & the Bottlemen
54. FAIRLY LOCAL – twenty øne piløts
55. R U MINE? – Arctic Monkeys
56. SOMEONE NEW – Hozier
57. HOTLINE BLING – Drake
58. COLD COLD MAN – Saint Motel
59. THE GROUND WALKS, WITH TIME IN A BOX – Modest Mouse
60. LEAVE A TRACE – CHVRCHES
61. DIFFERENT COLORS – Walk the Moon
62. MOLECULES – Atlas Genius
63. COMING HOME – Leon Bridges
64. FLASHED JUNK MIND – Milky Chance
65. THE WEIGHT OF LOVE – The Black Keys
66. FROM EDEN – Hozier
67. UMA THURMAN – Fall Out Boy
68. WHAT DO YOU MEAN? – Justin Bieber
69. REGRET – Everything Everything
70. SHOTS – Imagine Dragons
71. EVERY BREAKING WAVE – U2
72. COMING FOR YOU – The Offspring
73. SOUND OF CHANGE – Dirty Heads
74. EVERYTHING IS WRONG – Interpol
75. KARMA – Disciples of Babylon
76. DISTANT PAST – Everything Everything
77. DYING TO SHINE – She Pulled the Trigger
78. REALiTi – Grimes
79. WANT TO WANT ME – Jason Derulo
80. CIGARETTES AND SAINTS – The Wonder Years
81. REALLY LOVE – D’Angelo and the Vanguard
82. I LIVED – OneRepublic
83. CIVIL WAR – Ages Apart
84. BEST OF ME – The Awareness
85. PERMANENT SUNLIGHT – No Devotion
86. STYLE – Taylor Swift
87. I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE – Sam Smith
88. FOOL FOR LOVE – Lord Huron
89. WAVES – Mr. Probst
90. KING KUNTA – Kendrick Lamar
91. LITTLE MONSTER – Royal Blood
92. JEALOUS – Nick Jonas
93. BAD BLOOD – Ryan Adams
94. SEE YOU AGAIN – Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
95. OUTTA MY MIND – The ARCS
96. CONGREGATION – Foo Fighters
97. ELASTIC HEART – Sia
98. LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO – Ellie Goulding
99. HALLELUJAH – Panic! At the Disco
100. ABSOLUTION CALLING – Incubus