Best songs of 2015: Adele, the Weeknd, Chris Stapleton and more
Compiling our list of 2015’s best songs can’t be done without a caveat: We’re only talking about songs from THIS YEAR, people.
Many of the best and most beloved singles from the past 12 months actually dropped in 2014, even if the albums that contain them didn’t drop until this year. And because we try to be sticklers for that sort of thing, that means this list won’t include such fantastic jams as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk, Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen, Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance, Sleater-Kinney’s Bury Our Friends and Wolf Alice’s Moaning Lisa Smile. Sorry, guys. We really did love you this year, too.
So what 2015 songs did make our list? Let’s count down the Top 20 (with a Spotify playlist at the end).
20. John Newman featuring Charlie Wilson, Tiring Game: This sparkling slice of British disco-soul is credited to “John Newman featuring Charlie Wilson,” which is hilarious, since Uncle Charlie absolutely sings laps around his counterpart. If Newman would just get out of the picture and hand the mic off to Wilson, Tiring Game would be higher on this list. As it stands, Wilson’s titanic runs might constitute the male vocal performance of the year.
19. Tori Kelly, Should’ve Been Us: A Grammy nominee for Best New Artist, Kelly has next big thing written all over her, even if her singles haven’t quite exploded like those of Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez. But the singer-songwriter’s spiralling vocal performance in the chorus of this pop/R&B single remains a joy to hear every single time.
18. A$AP Rocky, L$D: A drug-laced album gets a weird and shimmering psychotropic centerpiece, mumble-crooned in the alt-rap style of the moment (see also: Travis Scott’s Antidote, Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen). A dreamy, drugged-out surprise from one of rap's most outside-the-box minds.
17. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Lock All The Doors: If this driving rocker sounds like a classic Oasis song, that’s because it kind of is. Gallagher spent some 20 years perfecting the track, which means that instead of ending up on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, it made it to Gallagher’s second solo album, Chasing Yesterday. Totally worth the wait.
16. Kacey Musgraves, Dime Store Cowgirl: There’s no shortage of adorably clever songs on Musgraves’ second album, Pageant Material. But the rising star’s ode to her small-town roots is about as charming a Nashville single as you’re ever gonna hear. You can take her out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of her.
15. Miguel, Coffee: “Wordplay turns into gunplay / Gunplay turns into pillow talk / Pillow talk turns into sweet dreams / Sweet dreams turn into coffee in the morning.” That’s how R&B star Miguel wins a woman over, with searing, psychosexual singles like this one.
14. X Ambassadors, Renegades: Haters will howl about the fact that this crackling folk-rock rambler was written in part for a Jeep commercial, which should disqualify it from any year-end best-of consideration. That may be. But can you even name the last time a song popped from a commercial to the rock charts to the pop charts? Credit where credit is due: That’s a hell of a feat of pop songcraft. Renegades might be the best ad-inspired single since that time Don Draper wanted to buy the world a Coke.
13. Allison Weiss, Over You: Power-pop songs this lean and catchy are rarely as emotionally honest as Over You. But when Weiss sings about being unable to get over her ex because of all the pictures she keeps seeing online perfectly encapsulates FOMO-induced heartbreak in the age of social media.
12. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, S.O.B.: With singles as fun as this hand-clappy, foot-stompy, horn-blasty ode to the struggles of sobriety, this decade’s infatuation with stylishly suspendered retro-rock might never end. Rateliff’s PG-13 chorus is irresistible, as are live performances that have left late-night hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien with their jaws on the floor.
11. Justin Bieber, What Do You Mean?: The more significant Bieber jam of 2015 was Where Are U Now, a collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo. But his follow-up single stuck the landing with an irresistible tick-tock beat and on-trend trop-house groove. It was somehow Bieber’s first No. 1 single, and the song that ensured him a real shot at legitimate adult superstardom. Don’t screw this up, Biebs.
10. Kristin Diable, Time Will Wait: New Orleans singer-songwriter Kristin Diable starts off moaning a witchy outlaw-folk song, but then the tambourine kicks in, and it explodes into a rollicking, powerful soul jam that sounds like Stevie Nicks on holiday in Muscle Shoals.
9. Florence and the Machine, What Kind of Man: You could put the title track of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful on this list thanks to its epic spiral of horns at the end. But What Kind of Man is the album’s best example of Florence and the Machine’s new infatuation with explosive American soul, an exciting direction that elevated them to festival-headliner status worldwide.
8. Major Lazer, DJ Snake and MO, Lean On: It was the summer of the exhaustingly collaborative hit: Justin Bieber, Skrillex and Diplo’s Where Are U Now; DJ Snake and AlunaGeorge’s You Know You Like It; David Guetta, Afrojack, Nicki Minaj and Bebe Rexha’s Hey Mama. The best of them all was Lean On, which late in the year became Spotify’s most-streamed song of all time. Like a lot of the best summer hits, it doesn’t have much of substance to say. But with a dancehall vibe this good, it doesn’t need to. Blow a kiss, fire a gun, and set this song on repeat.
7. Titus Andronicus, Fired Up: There’s no reason a triple-LP punk rock opera about depression should work. But Titus Andronicus’ The Most Lamentable Tragedy is as majestic as it is messy, and it’s all thanks to searing ongs like Fired Up, tidal wave of guitars, pianos and fist-pumping lyrics as impassioned as T. Rex and early Springsteen.
6. Chris Stapleton, Tennessee Whiskey: Specifically, we're talking about Stapleton’s fiery duet with Justin Timberlake at this year’s Country Music Association Awards. Stapleton’s wins for New Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year helped push his acclaimed album Traveller to the top of the charts. But that indelibly muscular performance of the country classic made famous by George Jones is what catapulted him to Nashville’s A-list.
5. Carly Rae Jepsen, Run Away With You: Emotion is already such a beloved pop album that its legions of fans all have their own individual favorite songs. (Gun to my head, I’ll go with When I Needed You.) But everyone agrees Jepsen’s sax-powered, late-night-drive-along anthem is completely and utterly irresistible. That synth snare that kicks off each chorus is my pick for the percussive note of the year.
4. Kendrick Lamar, Alright: Just watch the videos of #BlackLivesMatter protest crowds spontaneously chanting Alright’s self-empowering chorus “We gon’ be alright! We gon’ be alright!”), and try not to be moved. This righteous, conscious song, 2015’s enduring anthem of racial empowerment and solidarity, may go down as the most important song Pharrell Williams ever produced. And that is saying something.
3. Thundercat, Them Changes: The funk song of the year, if not the decade. Thundercat’s ridonkulous bassline powers this groovy, stanky slice of yacht-rock that shows why he’s going to be an in-demand producer and collaborator for a long time to come.
2. The Weeknd, Can’t Feel My Face: After breaking into the mainstream with Earned It, the Weeknd dropped this roller-rink coke bomb on the world. It’s simple, it’s druggy, it’s a complete and utter Michael Jackson knockoff. But man oh man, does it make you want to dance. Fire emojis all around.
1. Adele, Hello: In time, we may come to recognize When We Were Young as the superior track from Adele’s 25. But here at the end of 2015, that doesn’t matter. Hello was the earth-shattering single we all prayed Adele would bring in her return to the stage, but no one could’ve predicted a song so gigantic, so vulnerable, so utterly Adeleian. These are some of the most honest and upfront lyrics Adele has ever written, delivered in a song that erupts from a whispered piano into a stratospheric crescendo. This song is the reason Adele sold more than 3 million records in 25’s first week, and more than a million in her second – both numbers that will be difficult for any artist to duplicate. Here at the end of 2015, there’s only one way to say goodbye to a heck of a year in pop music. With Hello.
Honorable mention: Rihanna, B---- Better Have My Money; Alessia Cara, Here; Chris Janson, Buy Me a Boat; Natalie Prass, Bird of Prey; Justin Bieber, Skrillex and Diplo; Where Are U Now
-- Jay Cridlin