Published on December 30th, 2017 | by Andy Sedlak
The 17 Best Songs of 2017
Let the debate begin.
That’s the point of year-end lists, correct? I say certain songs are — unequivocally — the best of the year. And you take issue with it. Round and round.
My pick for last year’s “best song” came from the Hamilton Mixtape (“My Shot [Rise Up Remix]” by The Roots featuring Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz & Nate Ruess). Two years ago, the track I picked was “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges.
I thought both selections crystallized their own year in music. You did not. And your emails made that clear.
So let’s get on with the show, shall we? Maybe this will be the year we end up on the same page. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that we can reasonably come together and find the middle ground.
Or was that a dream I had?
Here are my picks for the 17 best tracks of 2017.
#17: “Framed” by Eminem
Much of 2017’s Revival was quite reflective but the psychopathic rhymes Eminem is infamous for came out in “Framed.” It’s another dismemberment tale — the sludgy loop from longtime Dr. Dre associate Fredwreck feels borderline hallucinogenic — and begins with a body in the trunk. Is it Ivanka Trump? Could be. Em doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Only that he’s “pretty sure” he’s been framed.
#16: “Kill Jay Z” by Jay-Z
“Let’s keep it real, Jay-Z,” the rapper says to himself near the beginning of the song. And, boy, he does. “This ‘fuck everybody’ attitude ain’t natural,” he says, running through real-life examples of when his ego served him wrong. He ends the track by saying farewell to his own legend: “Bye, Jay-Z.”
#15: “Havana” by Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug
Cabello literally conquered the world in 2017. “Havana” became a Top 10 hit in 12 countries, reaching No. 1 in half of them. In hindsight, it makes good sense. With so many trap beats populating radio, Cabello decided to let her song breathe, mixing pop production with traditional Cuban rhythms. And I would guess that all the immigrant shaming in 2017 made “Havana” feel even more exotic to listeners’ ears.
#14: “Broken Halos” by Chris Stapleton
Stapleton’s cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” ushered him into the spotlight in 2015, but he returned this year with a song of his own that proudly stands next to the cover he’s best known for. “Broken Halos” is a masterpiece — back-road gospel with no hint of new-school gimmickry. Many country stars are inspired by gospel music. Their reedy voices, however, don’t do the material justice. Stapleton’s talent allows him to effortlessly reach down deep. It’s a beautiful skill. God-given, if you will.
#13: “Element” by Kendrick Lamar
Rumored to be a diss to Drake and Big Sean, “Element” is nothing but the best rapper in the world making it all look too easy. There are weightier moments on DAMN., but this was Lamar’s victory lap.
#12: “Do I Have to Talk You Into It?” by Spoon
Love the attitude. Rock gets itself in trouble when it becomes too controlled. Spoon, after kicking around for years on the Indie circuit, knows when to bring out the brass.
#11: “Nothing Left for You” by Sam Smith
This is a screw-up’s lament — a song you sing when the walls are crumbling. You’re in a mess, baby. And there’s no easy way out.
#10: “The Man” by The Killers
Laughing all the way to the bank, The Killers basically rewrite Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time,” and prove (once again) they’re cooler than they’re given credit for.
#9: “Bad Liar” by Selena Gomez
No other pop star does so much with so little. Gomez keeps her arrangements sparse and rarely feels the need to go full Mariah. While other artists strain to hit the High C, she puts out deceivingly simple songs with more than a hint of humor. The old adage is “Go where they’re not.” She gets it.
#8: “The Great Debate” by Randy Newman
No one else does what Randy Newman does. Period.
#7: “Green Light” by Lorde
That piano gets me every time…
#6: “Keep the Devil Off” by Big K.R.I.T.
The sound of an old tent-revival meeting with punches that could only be thrown in the era of Trump.
#5: “What About Us” by Pink
Who knew Pink had this kind of staying power? She’s past her “Raise Your Glass” phase once and for all, and seems relieved to open up. You’re hearing an artist exposing layers many of us never knew she had.
#4: “Trouble Maker” by LANco
The year’s best hell raising anthem came by way of country’s brightest up and comers. Amid roadhouse guitars and deliberately sloppy drumming, vocalist Brandon Lancaster describes the Barbie of the bar. “She’s a hip shaker, heart breaker, trouble maker,” he sings. This, of course, sets up the payoff line: “I’ll take her.”
#3: “Cast the First Stone” by Corrosion of Conformity
#2: “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles
The most reassuring rock track of the year came from a 23-year-old former boy-band phenomenon. Forget about his past (that was so 2016). Styles brought attitude, wit and the sly power of observance to his self-titled solo LP. He wraps all of those things into an anthem that never feels forced. It’s a lesson that even the masters (ahem, U2) could learn from.
#1: “The Storm (BET Awards Freestyle)” by Eminem
When President Trump cryptically told reporters in October that they were seeing the “calm before the storm” during a photo session with military personnel, it crossed a line for Eminem. Just four days later, he unleashed a brutal freestyle that — pardon the pun — trumped any diss track that would follow on his Revival LP. It’s the angriest thing Em has done in years. The video shows him pacing back and forth in an empty parking garage — a perfect backdrop for the majority of the country’s attitude. Em’s flustered voice echoes off the concrete — and in our psyches. Plus, it reintroduced the mainstream world to the art of the freestyle itself. The video has 42 million views on YouTube. When was the last time a rap — especially one with no beat — reached that kind of audience?
That was 2017, folks. Onto the next one.