Published on December 31st, 2016 | by Andy Sedlak
16 songs that defined 2016
This year was crystalized by the unexpected. And I’m not just talking about you-know-who.
It began with David Bowie’s death (he had cancer?!) and concluded with George Michael’s demise (he gave how much to charity?!).
In between, Beyonce seemingly threw her own husband under the bus while Paul Simon marked an unexpected comeback with Stranger to Stranger. Chance the Rapper used SNL as a vehicle to testify to Jesus. Kanye eliminated the middle man and testified to The Donald himself.
What a year, indeed.
But read between the (head)lines and there’s a case to be made for the music of 2016. Maybe we can chalk it up to a loss of innocence, as the tread on the American consciousness wore thin as the year wound to a close.
Consider these songs a collective prologue to stranger days that are surely ahead.
“80s Mercedes” — Maren Morris
Whether she’s reacting to a former flame or the most recent CNN alert, Maren Morris gave us an escapist anthem where identity is realized through tradition. When she sings the Benz is a “classic in any decade,” she’s talking about more than a car.
“Sorry” — Beyonce
Anger simmers as defiance rises to the surface. The song first feels chiefly personal, but consider how it’s mood also captures the frustration of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Dark Necessities” — Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Chili Peppers switched producers for the first time since the late 1980s and with Danger Mouse in the director’s chair the band sounded sleeker than ever. The album itself is a deep dive that pays off with repeated listens. The band trusts its fans … in spite of attention spans in the streaming era.
“Souvenirs” — Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf put legal issues aside and reunited with famed Bat Out of Hell composer Jim Steinman. The results are beautifully strange. Steinman, who also penned Bat Out of Hell’s famous sequel, first wrote this demented opus back in the early 1970s. You’ll notice lines that show up elsewhere on the first Bat album.
“East Coast Girl” — Butch Walker
Raw and unadorned, Walker’s characters have been around enough to become acquainted with life’s loose ends. There’s an uncomfortable rage that still burns inside them, and many of us will recognize it.
“Love on the Brain” — Rihanna
Rihanna has never sounded so straight-up soulful, proving she’s the millennial queen … no matter which hat she’s wearing.
“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” — Sting
Sting’s return to rock. With its simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus format, he makes straightforwardness seem novel.
“I Forgive It All” — Mudcrutch
Tom Petty reunited with his original band and released an album full of compelling narratives. This Wildflowers-esque ballad is one example. It’s a reflective song that draws on the resolution one only finds toward the end of his rope.
“Summer Friends” — Chance the Rapper
A vivid depiction of Chance’s childhood in Chicago. This year the city of Chicago snagged headline after headline due to its increasing homicide rate, making “Summer Friends” all too timely.
“Girl Next Door” — Brandy Clark
“If you want the girl next door … then go next door.” The humorously sly sentiment was an all-too-easy layup in a year where pop stars labored to show how dedicated they were to the feminist cause.
“Daylight” — Yelawolf
Eminem’s protege illustrates what a dependency on alcohol does to a person. The mindset, the high, the aftermath. It’s all here.
“No More Interviews” — Big Sean
Big Sean spent most of the previous year in the spotlight … and was disappointed by what he found.
“Die A Happy Man” — by Thomas Rhett
In a year like 2016, it was amazing how far a simple love song could go.
“Starboy” — The Weeknd
Another song about the horrors of being a mainstream douchebag. It will be played in Kroger stores for years to come, which is a cruel irony.
“Spit Out the Bone” — Metallica
There’s nothing measured about seven-minute “Spit Out the Bone.” This is the same relentless journey Metallica pursued on its early records. What makes it so special is that the band isn’t retracing old footprints to get to its destination.
“My Shot (Rise Up Remix)” — The Roots feat. Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz & Nate Ruess
This track sums up the Hamilton Mixtape better than any other. It’s about taking a stand in the midst of broad systemic entanglements. In more ways than one, it was the recording that defined 2016.