Okay, just one more list to close out 2016; then it’s on to the new year. I don’t frequent the cinema nearly as much as many bloggers out there, so I rarely feel confident enough to make an end-of-year best-of list when there’s so much I have yet to see. But while a movie could run up to two hours or longer, songs are much faster and easier to digest, and we hear them on the radio or online throughout the year often without even trying.
So here are the musical highlights of the year for me. When I first thought to compile this list, I expected it to look quite different until I found out that many of the best songs I heard this year were actually released in 2015. So I didn’t’ feel I should include favorites like Adele’s “Hello,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Lukas Graham’s “7 Years,” or Mark Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” even though some of them were nominated for Grammies this year. I don’t know all the nomination rules there, but I drew solely from songs released as singles in 2016. My musical tastes may not be everyone’s, since they so clearly diverge from most of the recently announced Grammy nominees. I’m not a fan of rap, hip hop, or much mainstream pop so you won’t find any Twenty One Pilots, Beyoncé, or Drake here.
Several of these were also included in films of the past year so at least there’s the movie connection I always try to work into these lists. I’m sure I’ll hear more winners from last year in the months ahead, but right now, here are my favorite songs of 2016.
- “How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
I still have yet to see Disney’s Moana, but as with Frozen’s “Let It Go,” I got to hear its music even before I watch the film itself. This Golden Globe-nominated tune sung by Auli’i Cravalho as Moana and by Alessia Cara during the end credits is a beautiful ballad of longing for the unknown.
- “Handclap” – Fitz and the Tantrums
I first heard this song when Fitz and the Tantrums appeared on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and while it gets off to a so-so start, it’s pretty darn catchy by the end, even if it’s not quite as good as “The Walker” from their previous album.
- “Make You Mine” – High Valley
While I used to be a more devoted listener, I only listen to country music occasionally these days, and luckily I had the radio on a country channel at the right time to hear the feel-good romance of “Make You Mine.” This may be a cheat since High Valley first released the song in Canada in 2014, but it had its first American release this year.
- “Gunned Down” – Nicco & Solid&Sound
I discovered this obscure electronic tune more or less by accident, as part of a compilation music video, and it stuck in my mind as worthy of much more attention. The more I hear it, the more I like it.
- “Birds” – Coldplay
Again, “Birds” may be from Coldplay’s 2015 album A Head Full of Dreams, but it just barely made the cut by being released on January 2, 2016. It’s less widely played than the singles on the album, but its subdued high-speed energy is infectious, despite the sudden ending.
- “Happy Birthday” – Kygo, featuring John Legend
This might be considered a cooler alternative to the more traditional birthday song. I love the prominent piano riff, and with John Legend’s vocals, it’s an underrated gem of a song.
- “Good Grief” – Bastille
Bastille improved on their earlier hit “Pompeii” with this outstanding single with a much more serious undertone than its catchy tune and risqué video would suggest. And for movie buffs, see if you can identify the movie line embedded in the bridge.
- “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” – Justin Timberlake (from Trolls)
For pop music stations and sales, this was the #1 song of the year. Also nominated for a Grammy and Golden Globe, this upbeat dance hit from DreamWorks’s Trolls sounds a lot like a Michael Jackson song and may be Timberlake’s best work.
- “Something Wild” – Lindsey Stirling, featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (from Pete’s Dragon)
The musical high point for me last year was attending a Lindsey Stirling concert in the summer. Not only did she play all my favorite songs of hers, but included a few from her new album Brave Enough, particularly this Celtic-sounding addition to the soundtrack of Pete’s Dragon.
- “Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street
This also made #3 for my list of 2016 movie scenes. Sing Street was made special by its nostalgic soundtrack of original tunes that actually sounded like they could have been unreleased hits from the 1980s, and “Drive It Like You Stole It” is the best and most toe-tapping of the bunch.
- “Too Much Is Never Enough” – Florence and the Machine
If this song had been in a movie, it would have the Best Song Oscar written all over it. Instead, it was written for the game Final Fantasy XV, as was the song “I Will Be,” and while I’m not a gamer, this song is exceptional. 2016 was the year that introduced me to Florence and the Machine, now one of my favorite bands by their sound alone, and after the fantastic album released in 2015, even the smaller singles from 2016 carry on the uniquely majestic style.
- “Wherever I Go” – OneRepublic
While it hasn’t gotten nearly the airplay of their other hits, “Wherever I Go” is OneRepublic at their catchiest. I may have been a little obsessed with this song after first hearing it on the radio, but I’d say its frenetic, funky rhythm warrants it. I doubt it will win any awards, but I love it nonetheless. This is one song during which I just can’t stay still.
And here are other great songs of 2016, loosely ranked from best to least, ending with four radio hits that aren’t really my cup of tea but there’s something I like about them anyway.
“Riddle of the Model” – Sing Street
“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” – Billy Currington
“Work This Body” – Walk the Moon
“The Arena” and the rest of the Brave Enough album – Lindsey Stirling
“She Sets the City on Fire” – Gavin DeGraw
“Up&Up” and “Hymn for the Weekend” – Coldplay
“Scars” – Tove Lo (from The Divergent Series: Allegiant)
“It’s Nothing” and “Sparkle” – Radwimps (from Your Name.)
“Water under the Bridge” – Adele
“Try Everything” – Sia and Stargate, sung by Shakira (from Zootopia)
“Quicksand” – Feenixpawl with APEK
“In the Blink of an Eye” – Paul McCartney (from Ethel and Ernest)
“My Wonder” – Dan Winter and Ryan T., featuring Damae
“Scars to Your Beautiful” – Alessia Cara
“In the Name of Love” (Syzz remix) – Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha
“Cold Water” – Major Lazer
“Rockabye” – Clean Bandit, featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie
“What About the Love” – Sam Feldt
“Send My Love” – Adele
“Closer” – The Chainsmokers, featuring Halsey
“Treat You Better” – Shawn Mendes
“My House” – Flo Rida
“Starving” – Hailee Steinfeld and Grey, featuring Zedd
What songs did I miss this year? I’m sure there are quite a few so feel free to tell me your favorites!
My VC also suggested I end this music post with a mournful mention of the musical greats lost in 2016 as well. Rest in peace, David Bowie, Maurice White, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Christina Grimmie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and Debbie Reynolds, alongside many others. Let’s remember them at their best, like George Michael in one of my VC’s favorite songs of his.