These year-end lists get harder to pull off when the number of children in your household doubles. I considered just posting an unadorned list of my favorite songs of the year, but I love music too much and want other people to love it too much to not at least write about the some of the best tracks. So here it is – my 50 favorite songs of the year, with some more detail provided for the top 20. You’re welcome.
Before we get to the 50 best, here are links to various playlist options, followed by 15 honorable mentions that just missed the cut.
MJ Lenderman: “You Are Every Girl to Me”
The National ft. Bon Iver: “Weird Goodbyes”
Pharrell Williams ft. 21 Savage & Tyler, the Creator: “Cash In Cash Out”
Death Cab for Cutie: “I Don’t Know How I Survive”
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist ft. Action Bronson: “Daddy Kane”
Soccer Mommy: “Shotgun”
Steve Lacy ft. Fousheé: “Sunshine”
Danger Mouse & Black Thought: “Violas & Lupitas”
Nilüfer Yanya: “the dealer”
Vince Staples: “ROSE STREET”
DJ Premier ft. Remy Ma & Rapsody: “Remy Rap”
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: “Dive Deep”
Chance the Rapper ft. Joey Bada$$: “The Highs & The Lows”
DJ Python & Ela Minus: “Pájaros en Verano”
Junk Drawer: “Railroad King”
“BREAK MY SOUL”
“Like the Thunder”
Danger Mouse & Black Thought
“Because (ft. Joey Bada$$, Russ, and Dylan Cartlidge)”
“Be Careful With Yourself”
“Jesus On a Wire”
“Whatever Fits Together”
“Feel it All the Time”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Spitting Off the Edge of the World (ft. Perfume Genius)”
Red Hot Chili Peppers
“United in Grief”
“Tastes Just Like it Costs”
“Beg for You (ft. Rina Sawayama)”
“It’s Only Dancin'”
Danger Mouse & Black Thought
“Aquamarine (ft. Michael Kiwanuka)”
“A Job Worth Something”
“2012 (ft. Day Wave)”
Florence + the Machine
“Search and Destroy”
Carly Rae Jepsen
“There’d Better Be a Mirrorball”
“All the Good Times”
Dusty Springfield lives on in the form of Angel Olsen on “All the Good Times.” Every element of the track feels inspired, from the horn blasts to the organ, from the drum fills to the light glockenspiel arpeggios, from the harmonies to the slide guitar. Olsen’s assured vocal presence brings a world-weary gravitas to the country soul song, making it sound every bit like a 50-year-old classic.
“Free in the Knowledge”
The Smile is basically Radiohead in everything but name. Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead’s two most prolific and integral members, formed their side project with jazz drummer Tom Skinner, creating an album that could very easily slot into Radiohead’s catalog. “Free in the Knowledge” is a classic Thom Yorke-fronted ballad, complete with crystalline production and a pristine melody.
I hope that people like my dad and uncle find their way to this song. It’s an immensely catchy, bouncy slice of disco-funk, in the vein of the best Michael Jackson songs. We have the country of Sweden to thank for “Sacrifice,” its razor-sharp synth-heavy production helmed by both the pop-producer extraordinaire Max Martin and the foundational EDM trio Swedish House Mafia.
“Geronimo” is truly unique. The music builds on itself and gradually ramps up the intensity, in a manner that feels both unsettling and affirming at the same time. I didn’t notice until later that this incongruity is only confirmed by the lyrics – the singer sounds hopeless, telling us, “Nobody goes anywhere, really / Dressed up just to go in thе dirt,” but later on, shares that he’s “on the verge of something divine that’s gonna keep me in line.” The best music artfully conveys the complexity of the author’s feelings and tone through its sound – “Geronimo” succeeds in spades.
“Jackie Down the Line”
Throw ‘70s post-punk and ‘90s alt-rock into a pot with a dash of The Smiths and you’ve got “Jackie Down the Line.” It’s a seething, heaving track with ringing guitars, persistent momentum, and a brooding energy.
Talky British post-punk has entered a renaissance lately, possibly reaching a point of over-saturation, but Yard Act’s “100% Endurance” endeared itself to me. The genre is often filled with cynical humor, which I generally enjoy – I let out a chuckle at the part in “100% Endurance” that goes “Everything has already happened, time is an illusion / It’s hippy bulls**t but it’s true.” But the song is also genuinely heartwarming, imploring us to still enjoy life even when it seems meaningless.
“Ojitos Lindos (ft. Bomba Estéreo)”
The most streamed artist on both Spotify and Apple Music in 2022 wasn’t Taylor Swift, Drake, or BTS. It was Bad Bunny. In case you blinked and missed it, the Puerto Rican rapper and singer has become the biggest artist on Earth, and he has the tunes to back it up. His album Un Verano Sin Ti dominated 2022, stacked with hit after hit. My favorite of them was “Ojitos Lindos,” a refreshing summer breeze of a song
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t forge a deep connection with Beyoncé’s world-conquering 2022 album RENAISSANCE that matched the fervor of the album’s popular and critical acclaim, but I fully blame myself. People who adore the album talk about the songs feeling great in a club or at a party – I’m a parent of two young kids, so that’s not really where I’m frequenting these days. It makes sense that RENAISSANCE would sound amazing in that context, rather than at my computer while I work. But one song in particular made a mark on me, even at my computer: “VIRGO’S GROOVE.” “Groove” is right – I’ve never heard a song groove so well, and the production sounds immaculate.
Wilco are in their fourth decade of existence, showing that they can still release excellent material. “Hints” is an understated song, built around an acoustic guitar and soft, brushed drums, featuring one of Jeff Tweedy’s best melodies and lyrics, especially the timely line, “There is no middle when the other side would rather kill than compromise.” At the end of the chorus, when he sings “keep your hand in mine,” you can feel the sun peaking through the clouds of doubt.
I’ve long thought of Spoon as the best current continuation of the Rolling Stones’ spirit (Mick and Keith would kill on Spoon’s “Rent I Pay”), but “Wild” might be their most Stones-y song to date. The most obvious Stones callback are those resolving “Sympathy for the Devil” piano chords in the triumphant chorus. The effortlessly cool strut that only a select few bands can pull off, anchored by the funky bass line, only solidify the similarity.
“Tonight (ft. Ezra Koenig)”
If a fizzy soda was a song, it would be “Tonight.” Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig hops on to duet with Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars, throwing it back to their late-2000s heyday when they were on top of the indie rock world. The tight-knit guitars, synths, and harmonies are like pop rocks for the ears.
Sometimes songs are indelibly tied to the region they came from, even without obvious signifiers. “Almost Automatic” relies on electric guitar, bass, and drums, just like almost every rock song in existence, but you can just hear the humidity and feel the twilight glow that only comes from the middle of America. The group sounds young but world-weary at the same time, like a bar band at 2:00 AM playing for a small but grateful crowd.
I have no doubt that Alex G could write chart-topping hits in his sleep if he wanted. His songwriting chops are that good. But instead, he decides to imbue his songs with oddities and little bits of weirdness that ultimately make his already expertly crafted songs even more interesting. “Runner” is extremely catchy like a sweet ‘90s rock balad, but the way he processes the vocals on “I have done a couple bad things,” followed by the mini-scream, reminds you that he’s not going to stop being a weirdo.
There are a lot of friends in my life who would love this song, and Joan Shelley’s music as a whole, so consider this my direct invitation to anyone who loves women-fronted folk to please give this a listen. The warmth emanating from “Home” is palpable. It’s the kind of warmth that feels hard-won, formed from traversing the ups and downs of a close relationship with someone.
The centerpiece of “Bad Love” is Emily Kempf’s urgent, full-bodied yowl, as powerful and impressive as any of the celebrated rock-and-roll voices throughout the past. Her passionate, stuttering vocals bring a late-’70s punk energy to the propulsive, 2000s-style indie surf-rock lying underneath.
“This is Why”
Paramore has historically existed outside of my lane of music tastes, but the band’s recent pivot to intricate indie rock has commanded my attention. “This is Why” is a dance-punk banger with impressive guitar-bass-drum interplay that reminds me of Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem, Bloc Party, and Franz Ferdinand all in one. It features an epic, sing-along chorus, as well as one of the best opening lyrics of all time – “If you have an opinion, maybe you should shove it.”
Steve Lacy had long established himself as a talented musical collaborator, lending his guitar-playing, singing, writing, and production work to his own R&B group, The Internet, as well as to artists like Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Vampire Weekend, Kali Uchis, Mac Miller, and more. But in 2022, he broke out as a solo artist, rising to the top of the charts and giving us the unlikeliest Number One hit of the year in “Bad Habit.” It somehow sounds like both Prince and 2000s-era pop punk, two styles that lend themselves well to Lacy’s pleading with a love interest.
“Is it required for you to have a Spoon song in your top 3 every year?” That’s what my wife said to me a few days ago as I played my tentative top 10 songs for her. I promise it’s not required, but if the two-decade-old Austin band keeps making music that hits me right in my soul, passing through every pleasure center along the way, then they’ll have to keep placing high on my lists.
“My Babe” does the cinematic, slow-building, “stare out into the horizon and contemplate your life” thing that is like catnip to me. It starts out as a warm piano and acoustic guitar ballad, but halfway through, singer Britt Daniel’s gin-soaked snarl appears as the music gets more triumphant. Some shimmering U2-esque guitars come in for the last 30 seconds, the finishing touch on the slow buildup. But where U2 would have broken out into a cathartic release of tension, Spoon pulls the plug, letting the instruments ring out their final chords and making the listener beg for more.
I realize I’m biased, but to me, Spoon is what music should sound like. As a good friend once said, “Just because I’m biased, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
“After the Earthquake”
“After the Earthquake” examines the impending end of a relationship that is happening in tandem with a car crash in the wake of an earthquake. There are a lot of moving pieces weaving in and out of the tight-knit, 3-minute song, but Alvvays, well, always remain in control (unlike the couple at the heart of the song). The Toronto quintet masterfully introduces or takes away guitar lines and background vocals at the just the right moments, ensuring that every verse and chorus hits with maximum impact within the song’s thick atmosphere.
The jangly, R.E.M.-style guitar kicks the song off, disappears as the first verse starts, and then comes roaring back in midway through that first verse, knocking me into a permanent state of motion. By the time the second verse hits, my heart has officially dropped into my stomach. The song is a thrill from beginning to end.
By now, the Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye) has reached his fully refined state, making his start over a decade ago with trippy, alternative R&B, turning to full-blown Max Martin-style pop, and then perfecting an amalgamation of the two styles, resulting in a version of pop that drips with both hedonism and nihilism. “Gasoline,” the highlight from the Weeknd’s newest hit album, Dawn FM, carries the torch that Tesfaye’s massive 2020 hit “Blinding Lights” passed to it, pummeling you with dark but very gratifying hooks.
On “Gasoline,” Tesfaye employs the services of Daniel Lopatin on production, who splits time between fronting a highly experimental electronic project called Oneohtrix Point Never and producing for the likes of Charli XCX and Soccer Mommy. His influence is palpable, from the stuttering, jittery sound effects to the manipulated, droid-like vocals. The Weeknd can sometimes dip too far into Michael Jackson pastiche on some of his songs, but “Gasoline” pushes further and weirder than any of Jackson’s songs. It’s like “Thriller” on steroids.
Billboard Magazine had the audacity to rank “Gasoline” as the worst track on Dawn FM, saying the Weeknd sounds “out of his element;” the song, “discordant.” I hadn’t realized that the song’s quality was controversial. Yes, “Gasoline” is weird, but it’s also more than that. “Gasoline” is the most forward-thinking pop song I’ve heard in a while, pushing boundaries while still being as catchy as humanly possible.