When life is terrible, music is always there as a buoy to hold you up or a companion to understand you. It can provide encouragement, escape, respite, validation, catharsis. And man, we needed it in 2016.
The year’s music, as it always does, took all shapes and sizes. We welcomed back the beloved (Radiohead, Bon Iver), became acquainted with genre-bending stars-in-the-making (Anderson .Paak, Kaytranada), and entrusted indie rock in the hands of promising young storytellers (Car Seat Headrest, Pinegrove). The very top of the rap food chain graced us with new tracks (Kanye West, Drake, Kendrick Lamar), as well as up-and-coming rappers coming to take their throne (Chance the Rapper, Joey Purp, Kamaiyah, YG, Rae Sremmurd). Knowles sisters dazzled (Beyoncé, Solange), pop stars sizzled (Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande), and recluses reemerged (Frank Ocean, The Avalanches). Rock is not dead, whether you want your proof in classic form (Whitney, Steve Gunn, Angel Olsen), pop form (Chairlift, Japanese Breakfast), or rip-roaring riff form (Sheer Mag, Bent Shapes). And iconic, legendary artists bid their last, brilliant farewells (David Bowie, A Tribe Called Quest). Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, these songs from 2016 will probably remind me of pain, but I think those feelings of pain will be accompanied by the good memories that filled the cracks this year.
I hope the songs on this list either made a lasting impact on you this year, or that they will in the coming year as you check them out. I love celebrating good music and sharing in that celebration, so please comment freely about songs you love (or don’t love) and let’s talk about it.
One thing of note: I’ve been doing these ‘Best Songs’ lists for 10 years now. My first installment was in 2006, when the top song went to “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, a choice that I still stand by. So, happy 10th anniversary!
Also, for the second year in a row, my wife Taylor has provided some superb cover art. There are a lot of hidden gems relating to the year in music, so spend some time with it and check it out.
It’s always a constant struggle to keep these lists to 50, so here are 15 songs that barely missed the cut: