Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Favorite Songs of 2016


The year 2016 produced some fantastic albums and songs. Here are my Top 10 favorite songs of the year, presented in random order…except the first one. That is my favorite song of 2016.

“Put Your Money On Me” by The Struts


The Struts put out my favorite album of 2016. They are my favorite new discovery of the year. I listened to this album far and away more than any other album released this year. I first discovered the band via an article in Rolling Stone. The article name dropped “glam rock” and that’s pretty much all I need. I then went to Spotify to give the record a virtual spin. The first three cuts (can’t remember them because I have the free version of Spotify and it shuffled the songs) were great, but “Put Your Money on Me” sold me this album with the first chord. Not kidding. It is the sound of summer, a Mountain Dew commercial, unabashedly fun music, with an infectious chorus. The words, as sung by Freddie Mercury’s musical descendant, Luke Spiller, is all about winning over his girl. That this song includes brass is icing on the cake. The MVP of this song—other than the person playing the tambourine—is guitarist Adam Slack. His ferocious solo grounds this song in the rock world so it’s not always just a shiny pop song. And the song ends with a final chord, not a fadeout. By far my favorite song of 2016. “Uptown Funk” was already my favorite song of the decade. We now have another contender. Video.

“Going All the Way is Just the Start (A song in 6 movements)” by Meat Loaf


This song comes from Meat Loaf’s new album, Braver Than We Are, a collection of songs all written by Jim Steinman, the man behind the songs from Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. To be perfectly honest, this album is a mishmash of styles and influences. Meat’s singing voice is all but shot, but there’s still an earnestness behind it. Much like other long-time singers, Meat singing less powerfully than he used to gives the songs here a unique quality. This song is special as it features both female co-singers from his Bat Out of Hell Days, Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito (vocalists from the studio and live versions "Paradise by the Dashboard Light", respectively). I’m a sucker for Broadway-like rock songs and Meat Loaf is perhaps the best example. This song clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, and it is excellent. The two ladies certainly carry the song, but when they both sing together, it’s magic. To give you an idea of the type of song this is, were this song part of a Broadway play, it closes the show. It builds and builds to a magnificent ending, especially when the counter melody kicks. When I first listened to this album at work, this song captivated me. It made me want to hurry up and finish the record so I could come back to this song. Video.

“Still That Boy From Texas” by Reagan Browne


The discovery of this album, Rhapsodic Roar, is proof that words can still sell albums. I was sitting at a convention in Austin, Texas, and I read a Waterloo Records ad that mentioned Browne’s new album was a great example of melodic rock. I got to the store and listened to a few cuts…and bought the album. He’s new to me, but this is his fourth album. The songs range in heaviness from the opener, “Accelerate to the Straightaways,” to terrific cuts like “The Universe Gives Me What I Want” (my other favorite song) and “Gypsy Woman’s Got the Groove,” featuring Texas guitar wizard, Eric Johnson. “Still That Boy From Texas” is the song I kept returning to. Browne’s powerful, deep baritone voice soars over this song about a guy who longs to be back in Texas even though he’s plying his trade in California. Browne was born and raised in the Texas Hill Country so the song comes from the heart. It’s evident on the song. Here’s a link to his website’s video page where you can listen to the song and hear some other cuts.

“Victorious” by Wolfmother


Sometimes, albums can be sold merely by the cover. Wolfmother’s new album, Victorious, got my attention with a cover that evoked those great painted rock covers from the 1970s. Heck, all their covers have that in common. Well, that’s not all that the band, formed in Australia in 2000, draws from. This entire record is chock full of influences from 70s rock, prog rock, and even metal. It’s a fun listen, especially when  you try and guess the song Wolfmother was listening to when they wrote their songs. When I got/persuaded/trapped her in a car and played the record, she said it was good, but that she liked it better the first time. No matter. The entire record is good, but “Victorious” is my favorite cut. A fast, adrenaline-fueled driving rocker that is best listened to when driving, windows down, and singing along at the top of your lungs. Here is the tripp video.

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake


I can’t say exactly how/when I first heard this delightful pop song, but my son—who discovered music this year—had it on his iPod. He played it more than once and I latched onto it. I don’t have any of Timberlake’s albums, but then again, everything I heard from him I like. He’s immensely talented, and this song is an effervescent slice of pop goodness. The bass line during the break is funky and dirty. This is the aural equivalent of a smile on a summer’s day. And the video is charming as just about anything I saw this year. Video

“Go Big or Go Home” by American Authors


Speaking of my son finding music I like, this is another one. This band takes a slice out of the Mumford and Sons jangling pseudo folk playbook with mandolins spicing up this song. Its all-ensemble sung verses lead into a fist-pumping-in-the-air chorus. This song played a lot in the car in our various commutes so much that I started really to like it. Video

“You Bring the Summer” by The Monkees


Imagine a radar, the old-school kind with the rotating green line that would blip whenever something was within range. Got that? Well, The Monkees was beyond my radar. Frankly, I basically knew who they were…and that was it. Then their new LP, Good Times, dropped this year and this song was the lead single. Talk about starting off the summer of 2016 with a slice of pop goodness. I ended up buying this album and loving it. This cut wraps up what I know of the Monkees and produces a song that at once could have been a hit in 1967 but sounds fresh and modern. The video is out-of-this-world great, made to look like an animated segment from their TV show. I was ThisClose to picking “Me and Magdalena” (an achingly beautiful song) as my favorite song from this album, but “You Bring the Summer” was the tune I listened to most. Video

“Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow” by Michael Buble


Michael Buble is a modern anachronism. He’s got a voice that could have been heard in the 1940s or 1950s but he can write wonderful modern pop songs. Buble’s song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is one of my favorite songs of this decade. He can write a pop song that earworms itself into your brain that you’ll be humming it all day long. To be honest, some of the cuts off this new album, Nobody But Me, tries to replicate the vibe of that song. The title track is the obvious contender. He gives you two versions, one with a rap interlude (yeah, it really works) and the other with a trumpet solo in the same spot. “Someday” is a beautifully infectious duet with Meghan Trainor that is reminiscent of  “Lucky” by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat as mixed by Train. Their harmonies on the chorus nearly got in this list. But it is “Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow” gets the nod. It is the most obvious kin to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in musicality and style. The verbal wordplay, with its rapidly spoken verses, are rap-like, but still musical. The chorus is another aural smile (see a theme of these songs?) that’ll make you tap  your foot, even if you’re at your desk. Video

“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” by Sting


Sting is back with a rock record! That was the headline this year. Yeah, kinda. Sting is a pop star who dabbles in rock (and just about everything else). But this is his first album of new pop/rock music since 2003’s Sacred Love. If there is a theme of this list, it’s that light, poppy music seems to be where my head was this year. By that standard, “One Fine Day” off this new LP would fit on this list. It is right in that poppy groove. Heck, Michael Buble could cover it and you’d never know Sting wrote it. But the lead single, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” gets the nod. This is Sting at his pop/rock best. A tight band, a song that will get your head nodding up and down, and Sting singing about the often melancholy aspects of love. Is he the best one ever for that aspect of love? Video

“I Can’t Give Everything Away” by David Bowie


The elephant in this year’s list is David Bowie. He was one of my four pillars of rock for me. Here is my essay from January about his death. But we’re here to talk about my favorite Bowie song from Backstar, his last album. In the days leading up to the release on 8 January (his birthday), I was so excited. Bowie had recruited saxophonist Danny McCaslin’s jazz ensemble. He was going to make a jazz record! And it is so good. Repeated listenings reveal added layers of emotion and musicality. And then Bowie died two days after the record was released, and Backstair took on a different shade. To be honest, after a certain point, I stopped listening to the album. The emotions were too great. Heck, I even bought the Lazarus soundtrack, with three new Bowie songs, but I haven’t listened to them yet. I’m waiting for 8 January 2017, his 70th birthday, to play them.

Any of the songs from the record could be on this list, but I’m going with the last song. I wrote a review of Blackstar back in March, so I’ll just quote the paragraph about this song. “‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ starts before “Dollar Days” is even over. Bowie’s voice is very “close” in the mix, especially in headphones. It gives the listener the distinct impression that he’s singing directly to each one of us. Which, of course, he is. The harmonica flourishes harken back to 1987’s “Never Let Me Down” while McCaslin’s sax does its own thing, almost as if the song belongs to it and Bowie is merely the guest singer. Death lances through the last words Bowie sang. They sting, but there’s joyous defiance in his voice and delivery. Yes, death will take me, Bowie seems to say, but I still possess the gifts God gave me and I’m going out on the top of my game. Fittingly, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” ends with a guitar flourish that at once would gracefully end a concert but also directly echo the guitar work on “Look Back in Anger” and “Heroes.” Guitar and strings and drums end triumphantly what is effectively David Bowie’s last will and testament.” Video

Honorable Mentions

“Since You Been Gone” by The Heavy. Dirty rock, soulful singing, and in-your-face brass. Right up my alley. Video

“Parasite” by Ace Frehley. The original writer of this KISS classic put his own, modern spin on this song. Heavier than the original and still pile-driving into your head. The solo is a clinic of Ace-isms. Video

“Love Makes the World Go Round” by Santana, featuring Ronald Isley. Santana has always had that great latin/rock vibe. It’s the aural equivalent of smoking a joint, especially in the song “Fillmore East.” This new record reunited the original band, and Ronald Isley sings on a couple of tunes. Having his soulful voice mixed with Santana’s vibe is eclectic, but ultimately rewarding. Video

“Stranger Things” by S U R V I V E. Even though I came of age in the 80s, I don’t always revisit that time in my music, especially the very 80s synths. So imagine my surprise when the TV show “Stranger Things” tapped into that perfect vein of 80s nostalgia not only with the visuals and the story but with the John Carpenter-esque soundtrack. Survive is another new-to-me Texas band (ironically, they were in the same ad that featured Reagan Browne; Thanks Waterloo Music!) that makes synth soundscapes music using old technology. It really shows, and I’ve already bought the soundtrack and Survive’s new LP. Video

Rogue One soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. I’m still processing the new Rogue One soundtrack so I cannot give definitive song yet. Giacchino is an excellent composer, a true heir to John Williams. His music for TV’s Lost, a number of Pixar films, and the new Star Trek movies show his range and ability to create a soundtrack that can be heard on its own as well as in the movie. If the movie Rogue One contained a lot of visual Easter eggs, Giacchino’s score does the same for the music. He interweaves old Williams melodies and instrumentations that hearkens back to the other seven movies. For longtime listeners of the Star Wars soundtracks, Rogue One is great listening experience.

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