As I have done the past several years, below I have compiled my annual list of the top 50 songs of 2017. This list is solely a reflection of my personal perspective, and it’s a reflection of the songs that have summed up my year in some way. As is always the case, I have also only included one song per album on this list, so as to spread the wealth and give many different artists the recognition they deserved for their standout tracks this year. I have in the past allowed an artist to make several appearances if they have multiple albums or projects out in a year, but this year only one artist appears twice (once on their own song and once as a featured guest). I hope you enjoy the list I came up with. There is a handy Spotify playlist included again at the bottom of the list, as well as a link to an Apple Music playlist, for those of you who are short on time, but still want to hear what I have chosen. I didn’t want to censure myself or give myself a strict so I figured I’d break it into two posts. Click here for Pt. 2.
Honorable Mentions to get Apple Music to 50 songs: Samantha Crain – “Antiseptic Greeting” and Diet Cig – “Sixteen,” Fire Is Motion – “Yesterday’s Coffee”
Black Thought – Hot 97 Freestyle
I didn’t know where to put this on the list, so I decided to just start with it. This near-10-minute freestyle shows just how much of a savant and wordsmith Black Thought is. There isn’t a single moment in this overwhelming assault that isn’t captivating in its eloquence.
Key Lyrics: “People hated on how sophisticated my taste is / Then I pulled up on these mothafuckas in a spaceship / Panther mind, I’m made of elements you can’t combine / I’m at a level of intelligence you can’t define / Einstein, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Tesla / Recording artist slash psychology professor”
Neil Cicerega – ACVC
I laughed my goddamn ass off the first time I heard this song. I don’t want to spoil the joy for you so I’ll just leave the link here and let you experience it for yourself.
Nilüfer Yanya – Baby Luv
Baby Luv captures with one emotive voice and one persistent guitar strum the masochism and self-immolation of feeling like you’re not actually being heard by your partner. There are moments where the guitar strums seem like they’re about to spiral out of control, but Yanya quickly reins them back in, herself not ready to full let loose the stream of emotions.
The Maine – Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu
2017 was a bizarre year in many respects, but one of the weirdest was that The Maine put out a genuinely great album. This title track was the centerpiece of that album, and the vocal layering of the final chorus will certainly call to mind frequent touring partners Taking Back Sunday, but Black Butterflies is better than anything TBS has put out since at least the Self-Titled. They’re no longer just the band who put out a guilty pleasure Christmas EP and one of the best Punk Goes Pop covers ever (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” ft. Adam Lazarra).
Special Explosion – Fire
While Special Explosion’s late-year album To Infinity failed to live up to the hype generated by the release of this lead single, “Fire” still stands as a testament to the potential of Special Explosion, with some of the tightest harmonies of the year. Some might find the song a bit repetitive, but the way the song stacks layers on top of layers continues to impress me.
Kesha – Praying
Countless words on countless music publications have been written about Kesha’s triumphant comeback single. It’s a marvel that the song is at once so bombastic and yet still understated. It’s spell-binding, it’s honest, it’s vulnerable. There are countless adjectives we could use to describe this marvel of a song and the superstar of an artist that created it, but instead we’ll just say this: Thank you, Kesha, and welcome back.
The Band CAMINO – Heaven
If you missed The 1975’s more upbeat songs on their self-titled debut, and you want another band to try and recreate that style, with infectious melodies and 90% more noodly guitar, you have found your new favorite band in The Band CAMINO. Dumb band name, great songs.
Francis and the Lights – May I Have This Dance (Remix ft. Chance the Rapper)
One of the year’s most thrilling love songs of the year, this remix of Francis and the Light’s track explodes with the joy and light. Much of the dialogue about this song is tied up with the music video, a synchronized dance number ft. Francis and Chance in a monochromatic studio that I was lucky enough to see recreated live this year at Firefly Music Festival, but the song itself stands on its own. It’s certainly Francis’ crowning artistic achievement and him at his most vulnerable.
Electric Guest – Oh Devil
The staccato loop at the heart of “Oh Devil” is one of the most propulsive pieces of music production in recent memory, to the point that when it goes away throughout the song, the song actually seems to lose all momentum and start meandering, but when it’s there it’s ethereal bliss. And I don’t know how many times now I’ve tried and failed miserably to sing along to the breathy falsetto hook.
Dance Gavin Dance – Summertime Gladness
I have absolutely zero clue what the hell Tilian Pearson and Jon Mess are talking about for about 90% of Summertime Gladness’ lyrics (“Fed me skittles on a burial ground / Gave me rabies in the back of my car”???), but I do know that the is the catchiest metalcore song I’ve heard this year, and if you’re not dancing your ass off by the time the saxophone (SAXOPHONE!!!!!????) kicks in for the final chorus you don’t have a soul and I’m sorry.
Silverstein – Mirror Box
Silverstein has aged like a fine wine. While many of their peers in the metalcore genre sound dated in 2017 (see Story of the Year’s disappointing comeback album Wolves for one example) Silverstein just released the best album of their discography nearly twenty years into their illustrious career. This album deep cut from Dead Reflection is my personal favorite vocal performance Shane Told has ever given in his career. There is so much urgency in his voice here.
Adult Mom – Patience
One of the most beautifully understated love songs I’ve ever heard. The premise is so simple: write a song about the little things you love about your partner, the things that shouldn’t matter but somehow get lodged deep in your brain, replaying on repeat when they are away; things like how your partner walks so fast that they accidentally leave you behind when you’re walking or the uncontrollable urge to point out everything you find interesting on a hike. Sometimes it the little things.
The National – Day I Die
There is not a more fitting refrain for a The National song than “The day I die, where will we be.” There’s an existential longing to the band’s music, but it’s a little easier to ignore the dread when there’s a pulsating beat and a chiming guitar line to distract you.
Calvin Harris – Rollin’ (Ft. Future & Khalid)
“Slide” is the song that has gotten more acclaim and publicity from Calvin Harris’ creative left turn album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, but “Rollin’” is the better song in my opinion. The soundtrack to many a late summer night drive, “Rollin’” sits in the groove and gets my head bobbing every time. In a great year for Khalid, this is my favorite of his musical contributions to 2017.
Tash Sultana – Mystik
Tash Sultana is an insanely talented 22-year-old Australian singer-songwriter who creates expansive soundscapes with just a guitar and a loop pedal. She first caught my attention back in April or so with a breathtaking performance at the NPR Tiny Desk Sessions, but this single she released later in the year, “Mystik” is the song that displays her infinite potential. The left-turn the song takes at 3 minutes after a thrilling trumpet solo is remarkable. A debut album is supposedly coming out in April next year, and will be high on my most anticipated list.
HAIM – Want You Back
There are few pop songs as blissfully written as HAIM’s Want You Back. Coming as the second single after the anti-climactic “Right Now,” “Want You Back” is everything we could have expected from the Haim sisters’ follow up to Days Are Gone. Wordy choruses and towering counter-melodies recall the best of Fleetwood Mac.
Vasudeva – Turnstile
This is as much an album achievement award for Vasudeva’s exhilarating sophomore album No Clearance as it is a recognition of how good a standalone song “Turnstile” is. The song stacks layers on top of layers, building to a crescendo that is as danceable as the best club, house, and EDM music, and intricate enough to interest the prog-heads and math-rock types as well. The only instrumental song on this list for a reason (and not just because 2017 was a comparatively weak year for post-rock), “Turnstile” shows why Vasudeva is one of the very best bands coming out of New Jersey right now.
Big Shaq – Man’s Not Hot
There are moments in culture where something so endlessly stupid has no business being good, but nonetheless it is unescapably, mind-blowingly brilliant. This was the kind of dumb brilliance that gave the world Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” Tommy Wiseau’s movie “The Room”, etc. That is the beauty of “Man’s Not Hot,” British comedian Michael Dapaah’s satirization of the rap genre that became an overnight meme sensation. Unlike the aforementioned examples, he’s in on the joke, but even so, the song is satisfying in the same way. Just as it is hilarious to laugh at the ineptitude of Wiseau’s directing or Black’s singing, it is endlessly hilarious to rap along to Big Shaq’s enthusiastic onomatopoeias: “The ting goes skrrrahh/ Pap pap ka ka ka/ Skibiki pap pap/ And a pu pu pudrrrr boom/ Skya/ du du ku ku dun dun/ poom poom.”
Tigers Jaw – Escape Plan
Tigers Jaw have some incredibly tight harmonies. Even when Brianna Collins is buried underneath Ben Walsh’s vocals and low down in the mix, her harmonies tie the song together, especially in the verses. This also happens to be the other singer Ben Walsh’s best vocal performance of his career and the last chorus hits me hard every time. A special shoutout as well to the Collins-lead June which has my favorite lyrics Tigers Jaw has ever written.
Misterwives – Drummer Boy
There are sappy love songs, and then there is “Drummer Boy,” written by Mandy Lee about Misterwives’ drummer/her fiancée Etienne Bowler. There are little things I especially love about this song though, like how the verses break down to basically just Etienne playing and Mandy singing back to him, before the rest of the band kicks back in for the pre-chorus, or how the song builds from one catchy part that could be the pre-chorus, to the actual pre-chorus, to a monstrously catchy chorus, but ultimately, it’s just a feel-good song that makes you believei n the power of love again.
Walk the Moon – Surrender
It can’t all be love songs. Sometimes it’s important to include songs about surrendering to the utterly helpless feelings of grief about the end of a relationship. In Walk The Moon’s U2-meets-Phil Collins show-stopper from What If Nothing, “Surrender,” singer Nic Petricca sings about a life-changing moment in a Nicaraguan forest where he gave in to the crushing vulnerability of post-breakup life.
Portugal the Man – Feel It Still
I read somewhere a descriptor of “Feel It Still” which said that it feels “designed in a lab to be the perfect song for a car commercial.” While I maintain that is still likely Fitz and the Tantrum’s “Handclap,” admittedly “Feel It Still” is not far off. Who could have imagined 10 years that that weird band that didn’t really fit in would one day make a perfect throw-back Motown pop-rock song and explode the airwaves? So what that we may have to suffer through about 10 dozen Jetta commercials with that bassline in them over the next decade? I’m here for it.
Songhoy Blues – Bamako
Malian band Songhoy Blues were the subjects of a gripping documentary I watched this year titled They Will Have to Kill Us First, about keeping the spirit of music alive in a region torn apart by civil conflict and where music was banned under jihadists from the organization MUJAO in the country. The backstory behind this band’s rise and their signing to Atlantic Records is incredible, but it wouldn’t mean as much if they couldn’t write any songs. Bamako disproves that notion by displaying that Songhoy Blues have an instinctive ear for melody.
PVRIS – Anyone Else
It’s time we start reckoning with the fact that PVRIS’s Lynn Gunn is the scene’s best vocalist. Her voice has an insane, throat-ripping intensity at its fiercest, as the climax of “Anyone Else” displays, but she also has impressive control over the lower range of her vocals, and her higher head voice sounds effortlessly smooth. On All We Know of Heaven… PVRIS explore the darkest corners of their sound, and come out of that exploration with some of the most inventive, distinctive sounds the genre has seen in years.
26. DMX – Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
In a time where it was difficult to see the world in a positive light, DMX returned from wherever it is he has been to remind us there is still so much that is good and pure on this planet we call home. The long-awaited studio version of his timeless off-the-cuff rendition of the holiday classic lived up to all the hype that I and no one else placed upon it. It is what a great Christmas song should be: unadulterated joy, a few too many jingle bell sounds, and DMX screaming “Now get it” – you know, all the standard characteristics.