2017…where do I even begin? The year started with mourning the loss of a pet, bracing for the incoming President, and a feeling that things were a bit off. In the following months, we bought a house, got adopted by a rescue pup, and still have a feeling that things are a bit off. Thankfully there was great music to help get us through. This is not a definitive list of the best songs of 2017, but they are ten tracks that will forever be associated with the past 12 months in my mind.
Tinashe “Flame” – My love for this song was cemented by the time the chorus played. This is what I want my power ballads to do; show emotion, passion and power. The inability of Tinashe to get a hit beyond her first album is mind-boggling.
Jordan Davis “Singles You Up” – Sam Hunt may have reinforced his title as King of Pop Country in 2017, but “Singles” gives him a run for his money. Shout out to SiriusXM’s The Highway for playing quality country music well before terrestrial radio does.
Drake “Passionfruit” – I won’t lie; I like Drake best when he’s in a more soulful mode, and that normally means he’s singing. The word play is clever, the sample is perfect, and the vibe is chill. I was obsessed for a solid month.
BTS “DNA” – Folks who know me expect some KPOP boybands in the mix, & BTS filled that need in 2017. “Mic Drop” isn’t quite my thing, but “DNA” is exactly what I want from a boyband.
Little Big Town “When Someone Stops Loving You” –Little Big Town is having the same success choosing songs to record that Tim McGraw did in the late 90s. They find material that highlights their strengths rather than chasing trends. Subtly powerful.
Lady Gaga “The Cure” – Yup…I LOVED this song. It’s very of-the-moment, which we’re not used to Gaga delivering. I suspect that fueled some of the online “meh” reactions, but leave it Joanne to deliver an unexpected curveball in between album cycles.
Dua Lipa “New Rules” – Proving that she wasn’t a flash in the pan here in the US with “Blow Your Mind,” Dua came back with the slow-burn single of the year. I’m looking forward to seeing her perform this in February
Charlie Puth “Attention” – I had a tough time with this one because I’m all about “How Long” right now, but “Attention” was stuck in my head for MONTHS. Great lyrical structure paired with smart instrumentation and a hook that just won’t let go.
Kelly Clarkson “Love So Soft” – On first listen, I said “what did I just hear?” But I had to hear it again and again. We’ve always known Kelly as an amazing singer, but this is the first KC ALBUM that I’m raving about from start to finish.
Ashley McBryde “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” – The emotional resonance of this song got me on multiple levels. My 2017 was a year of radical change, and to hear someone capture that moment without needing the specifics was exactly what I needed.
If you follow me at all on social media (@PopMusicNotes to be exact), then you know that 2016 was not a good year in my eyes. Whether it was politics, family losses or idol losses, I didn’t have a great ride last year. Having said that, there still was amazing music that captured my ears and heart. These aren’t the only songs to move me over those 12 months, but they’re the most memorable in retrospect to me.
Ariana Grande – “Into You”
A little bit scandalous, but baby, don’t let them see it
A little less conversation and a little more touch my body
Someone in Ariana’s camp is doing a bang-up job with picking material for her that plays to all aspects of her audience. Whether it was the left-field smolder of “Dangerous Woman,” the duet with attention-grabbing Nicki on “Side to Side,” or the pop perfection of “Into You,” Ariana came back from some poor PR in a strong way. Lyrically “Into You” is okay, but sonically it’s everything I want in a great pop song.
Jon Bellion – “Guillotine”
The secrets you tell me I’ll take to my grave
There’s bones in my closet, but you hang stuff anyway
Jon’s been building a rep in the industry for a few years, but 2016 was the year that the hard work came to fruition. You’re probably hearing “All Time Low” on your radio right now, and that’s a good thing since it’s a stone-cold jam, a major earworm, and a lyrical triumph (“You’re the reason I’m alone and I masturbate”…who else can fit a line like that into a mainstream pop song?). But “Guillotine” was the track that grabbed my ear and caused me to be obsessed for weeks early this summer. The way Bellion puts together a track with crazy disparate parts turns an ordinary cut into a pop music Voltron. “All Time Low” looks like it’s peaking on the pop charts, so here’s hoping “Guillotine” is single number two from Jon’s The Human Condition opus.
Bright Light Bright Light – “Symmetry of Two Hearts”
One kiss and the ice might melt, remember
One word and the world might fall at your feet
Anyone who has read this blog over the years knows that I totally stan for Rod Thomas, aka Bright Light Bright Light. His music consistently comes up in my conversations about year-end favorites, and this year was no exception. Choreography seems like the most mainstream album that BLBL has released, and yet I’ve felt that about each of his previous releases as well. While it’s frustrating to a long-time fan who wants to see Rod conquer the pop charts, I love that he has the freedom to record the material he wants, release it on his own terms, and then promote it in a way that feels authentic and honest to the music. “Symmetry” and the video that accompanies it (plus some brilliant remixes) all embrace that spirit, and I kept this on repeat for months.
The 1975 – “The Sound”
It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me
A sycophantic, prophetic, socratic junkie wannabe
It seems like everyone is offering up The 1975’s “Somebody Else” as their favorite track from I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, but for me “The Sound” was THE sound. Such a catchy hook, and the lyrics are just ambiguous enough that you can read them as being about a superficial lover, an inability to commit, fame, or wanting more from a relationship. Following last year’s “Shut Up and Dance,” this was a tune that demanded you turn up the volume and enjoy it no matter where you were at.
SHINee – “1 of 1”
Neon ‘1 of 1’ girl
Bruno Mars may have come back with a 80s/90s R&B-influenced album, but SHINee got a head start on him with their new-jack jam “1 of 1.” They’ve had a tendency toward 90s pop/R&B (see 2012’s “Sherlock“), and “1 of 1” keeps that streak going. The album of the same name is strong, with other highlights including “Feel Good” and “Don’t Let Me Go.”
Lady Gaga – “Perfect Illusion”
I felt you touchin’ me
High like amphetamine
Maybe you’re just a dream
To those who think that Gaga’s comeback this year was a disappointment, I will suggest that maybe you wanted more of the same from her, and no legitimate artist can keep doing that. For me, Joanna was a welcome departure from gimmicks to a more down to earth production. That’s not to say that Gaga isn’t still out there, but from the first time I heard “Perfect Illusion,” I was smitten by how she pointed her vision in a different direction and still delivered. Pop perfection to my ears.
William Michael Morgan – “Vinyl”
Let the needle drop and play it all night
Might have a little static but it’s all right
Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop our groove, no
2016 was not a great year for Country music and myself. Although Country radio continued its shift away from Bro Country, I didn’t feel like a lot of the music on the radio was very inspiring. And let’s be clear…there’s a difference between mainstream Country and Americana, which should be getting airplay but is relegated to the fringes even though some Americana albums outsell their airplay-ready counterparts. Fortunately, William Michael Morgan was a traditional standout. Mainstream radio played “I Met a Girl,” while The Highway on SiriusXM went with “Vinyl.” The analogy is so simple, but it works.
Empire of the Sun – “High and Low”
Let’s get together and forget all the troubles and just float
I don’t want you to go
I need to be closer to now
Some songs transport you away from your hum drum existence, and Empire of the Sun’s “Walking on a Dream” always did that for me in its multiple runs on my iPod. I don’t have a lot to say about “High and Low” other than that it should have been a hit, but it never quite had the same effect as “Dream.” Hopefully they can recover from Two Vines not making much impact on the charts.
Keith Urban – The Fighter (featuring Carrie Underwood)
To heal all the pain that he put you through
It’s a love like you never knew
Just let me show you
I think a lot of music fans tend to write off Keith Urban at times because he has a tendency to fall into current country pop formulas, but Ripcord is a solid set that relies more on solid songwriting and classic hooks. Such is the case with “The Fighter,” which is reportedly the next single going to Country radio. This was my go-to summer song, and it will probably be a great summer song this coming year as well because it’s guaranteed to go to pop radio once it’s done on the Country charts.
Maggie Rogers – “Alaska”
And I walked off you
And I walked off an old me
Oh me oh my I thought it was a dream
My favorite song of 2016 by a wide margin was “Alaska.” Maggie Rogers came to fame through the now-infamous video where Pharrell was blown away by this song, but Maggie didn’t just rest on that viral clip. The song, the video, the soon-to-arrive EP and national tour…she seized on that first burst of fame and is coming for you in 2017. But for me it’s all about the song: “And I walked off an old me.” As someone who hikes to get away and clear my head, that was my lyric of the year, and the sonic portrait that Rogers created using ambient sounds as well as undeniable hooks drove it home.
I woke up this morning to the news that Giorgio Moroder and Kylie Minogue had finally released the video for “Right Here Right Now.” Unfortunately, Vevo decided that the video wasn’t available in my region, and I was sad. Fortunately, someone came to their senses midday and allowed the rest of the world to witness the hotness that is Kylie. Check out the video that immediately erases almost any memory of the hot mess that was Kylie’s “I Was Gonna Cancel” video.
This track brings up mixed feelings for me, because on one hand, it’s amazing. In fact, it’s better than about three-quarters of Kiss Me Once. On the other hand, it goes back to the same well that Light Years and Fever were dipped in, and while they were amazing records, an artist like Kylie tries to stay diversified in the material she records. Once my internal struggle is over, I want Kylie and Giorgio to record an entire album of material like this mixed into one epic track. Is that so much to ask?
Giorgio’s album is slated for release this spring, and is expected to include tracks with Sia, Matthew Koma, Foxes, and, yes, Britney Spears.
A good chunk of the reason I don’t blog as much is that I don’t come up with fully fleshed-out topics, but that’s a bit of a cop out. So here’s a quick list of what I’m diggin’ currently:
50 Shades of Grey singles – Ellie Goulding is quickly taking over the radio with “Love Me Like You Do,” The Weeknd is looking at what may be his biggest single yet with “Earned It,” and Sia is appropriately dramatic on “Salted Heart.” Even Beyonce’s 2014 version of “Crazy In Love” from the trailer is haunting (and the full-length that’s floating around on everyone’s blog is a cover, not Bey’s). With tracks still to come from the likes of Jessie Ware, Vaults and Danny Elfman, this is shaping up to be an appropriately moody mid-winter treat. (Side note: if you’re not up on Vaults, please catch up. Stellar stuff.)
Olly Murs “Wrapped Up” – I’m such a sucker for this type of track, but there’s no denying that “Wrapped Up” is in the right place at the right time (see what I did there?) to finally give Murs a bona fide hit in the US, even with Travie McCoy back for another round. I even alluded to its potential on my Top Singles of 2014. He’s already scored two top 10 hits in the UK from his latest disc Never Been Better, with second hit “Up” primed to make waves in America with the help of Demi Lovato. With two tracks lined up with what’s going on in the Pop charts right now, Olly may finally get the exposure he deserves. Look for the US release of Never Been Better on March 10th.
Sam Hunt – The past few years have seen multiple attempts to bring a hip-hop vibe to the Country charts with abysmal results, but then Sam Hunt comes along, brings a wide range of influences along with him and nails it. He’s not a rapper, although his spoken delivery at times comes across that way. Some would claim that he’s a pop singer with Country influences, and I would be hard-pressed to argue with them. What I would call him is talented…not only is his Montevallo album one of the genuine breakout Country albums of 2014, at least five singles from the album have charted on the Hot Country Songs chart for multiple weeks, even though only two have been officially released. If I were to make a comparison, I’d say he’s a cross between Ed Sheeran and Keith Urban (whose “Cop Car” Hunt co-wrote). No matter how you classify him, at least for once it sounds genuine. Watch “Take Your Time” cross over to the Pop charts like Lady A’s “Need You Now” did in 3…2…
There was a lot of hoopla earlier this year over the fact that the Billboard Hot 100 saw its 1000th Number One record (Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way), but I have to admit I thought it would just be a passing footnote. Luckily, the folks over at Billboard thought otherwise and are currently marking that milestone with a video a day through the month of December talking to artists and producers about those hits.
Fun fact: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the dynamic duo behind Janet Jackson’s early success, didn’t have much interest in making “When I Think of You” a hit, but Janet’s brothers instantly saw its potential. Check out Jimmy’s description of that conversation below:
Other artists featured so far include Kelly Clarkson, Hanson, BoB and Def Leppard. I’m hoping they are able to hook up some stories going all the way back to the 50s, but it’s still a great concept even with the more contemporary songs they’ve featured so far.
I am a sucker for a lush circa-1970s bassline sample, so it’s no surprise that I was instantly hooked on Estelle’s new jam “Break My Heart,” which features Rick Ross on the rap. It has a Mary J. Blige “My Life” vibe to it which is ALWAYS welcome, and has turned out to be one of my songs for the summer. While Estelle’s vocals might not be everyone’s cup of tea, she always brings the flavor in my book. Check out the beautifully-shot video below…
The long-awaited follow-up CD to 2008’s Shine is All of Me, but we’ve been hearing that since 2009. The best I can find for a release date currently is a Warner Japan release on September 28 through Amazon, which would be about right with a Top 25 single rising at Urban radio currently. Either way, the teasers we’ve heard over the last two years serve as a reminder that All of Me can’t hit the street soon enough. Does it seem possible that Estelle was the subject of one of my first blog posts three years ago?
Music should move you. It may seem like that’s a given, but when you listen to a lot of music, it’s easy to take that fact for granted. I haven’t been MOVED by much lately, so when something has that impact on me, I stop and take notice. Such is the case with “Otis,” sample number one from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s upcoming Watch the Throne, due on August 1st in digital form and August 5th on a physical CD.
It’s not a complex track, but its impact is potent. Otis Redding’s passionate vocals from “Try a Little Tenderness” imbue the cut with enough soul to fill an album, yet “Otis” only lasts 3 minutes. Jay is slick, Yeezy is bragging, and the track sets the tone that all competitors should think twice before attempting to steal the Throne. Every time you think hip-hop has lost its way, a track comes along to say “we honor the past while pushing toward the future.” “Otis” does just that.
I am in a weird place with music at the moment…either a new song is not worth mentioning or it is the best thing ever. There have been a few best songs ever in the past few weeks: Adele’s entire CD 21, “Moment 4 Life” by Nicki Minaj and Drake, and my current obsession “How To Make a Heart” from Bright Light Bright Light. I feel a bit repetitive raving about BLx2, especially since I sang their praises last year on the eve of releasing his first single “Love Part 2.” Until the world becomes hip to this electronic-with-a-soul music, I doubt I’ll shut up.
According to Bright Light Bright Light‘s frontman and sole member Rod Thomas, the video (created by Gavin Leisfield) is one of several videos we will see of songs from BLx2’s upcoming album Make Me Believe In Hope. This album cannot come soon enough, as every morsel released has been just as engaging and awe-inspiring as the last. Rod will be in the US in March, appearing on Sirius/XM OutQ’s “Morning Jolt,” as well as playing a few showcases at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. While I would love to see him live this time around at some small club in Austin, I have a feeling this won’t be the last trip Mr Thomas will make to these shores. To hold you over, the video is available as a free download here.
Hey all…I know the silence has been deafening around here, but I promise you that I haven’t been living the life of luxury these past few weeks. In fact, it’s been a pretty busy time for me writing for about.com. While I do still plan on posting more personal items here, my main gig at the moment is providing content of a more Adult Pop nature. Here are a few of the posts I’ve recently written:
As I joked yesterday, I don’t know where I go but down after interviewing Amy and the ladies of Wilson Phillips, but it has been a blast so far. Hope you all are doing well, and that the holiday season is one for recharging and relaxing. There’s too much hustle and bustle the rest of the year to waste such a great time of the year running yourself ragged. Make sure you check out Paul’s list of new Christmas music, and also take a listen to one of my favorite solo Amy tracks, “Bus Bus.”
For all of you who slept on Melanie Fiona’s first CD The Bridge, shame on you. Sadly, I’m one of you. I came around this summer, but it was too late, and the project is done from a promotion standpoint. One missed opportunity of epic proportions is that “Priceless” was not a worldwide #1 hit. You would think that I wouldn’t want to go that far out on a limb, but it’s the truth. “Priceless” checks all the boxes for a classic soulful pop tune that should be catapulted up pop charts all over the world, but it only saw a limited release and promotion in North America. Enough of my praise, though. Time to put my money where the music is.
With all of the music that’s out there right now, you would think I could let go of an album cut, but this song keeps rising to the surface, begging for attention. Melanie has been keeping busy in advance of her sophomore CD The MF Life dropping in 2011, including an appearance on John Legend and the Roots’ “Wake Up Everybody,” which seems very appropriate. Wake up, everybody. Melanie Fiona is not going anywhere, so you might as well just give in now.