Top 45 Singles of 2017

Posted January 6, 2018 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

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2017’s best songs: Cardi B’s money move, a totally left-field Motown ode, Ed Sheeran’s mighty dominance and a plethora of electropop shine through

2017 wasn’t exactly a great year to be all that excited about. The gloom and doom of modern politics and an out-of-control Trump administration just left us all on pause and almost feeling hopeless, at times. But that didn’t stop the arrival of some very good songs to come our way. Of course, how we gauge a hit is now totally in the hands of the Spotify/YouTube social media generation, where they now dictate as to what the hit is going to be. Radio giants no longer control the dials. It’s now up to the music buyers and streamers as to what’s gonna rise to the top.

Let it be said that not everything that’s a hit is a great song. And so you’re not going to see the more obvious choices here, or even the summer anthems that no one could avoid (Luis Fonzi & Justin Bieber’s overplayed “Despacito” and Demi Lovato’s cheap catchphrase ringer “Sorry Not Sorry”). And yes, there’s a solid explanation as to why certain songs didn’t make the cut (that rebuttal is forthcoming). But this list, a treasure trove full of in-your-face hip-hop (Cardi B), lots of buzzy synth dance and a bundle of Ed Sheeran selections, will stand tall as some of the best singles released of 2017. So cheers to the New Year, and enjoy the good songs that 2017 brought us.

If you are subscribed to Spotify, feel free to hit the spotify-logo player to listen to each of the featured selections.

Calvin Harris  feat. Frank Ocean and Migos
from the album Funk Wav Bounces Volume 1


A sleepy Frank Ocean luckily inherits the vocal parts on this hotter than July ‘80’s post-disco gem. This method doesn’t always translate into delicious eargasms for Ocean or for those trying to emulate this new talk-sing vocal style. But EDM pro Calvin Harris discovers that it works well here, where it can soak on these pool party grooves. Then Atlanta rap trio Migos jumps in towards the end, pouring extra charcoal lighter fluid on the grill. It’s perfect for the hazy, lazy days of summer.


“Up All Night”
from the album Colors


Not as distinctive as 2016’s “Dreams,” but Beck’s funky “Up All Night” feels like a Chic-led reprise of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Fight the Feeling.” Beck’s psychedelic-honed vocals are also a perfect addition on this fun ride.

“What Lovers Do”
Maroon 5 feat. SZA
from the album Red Pill Blues


Undress “Misery” and drop it in some fun Chic disco, you’ll easily get “What Lovers Do.” Adam Levine and guest star SZA trade verses and the occasional ad-libs as the band pulls off their funkiest uptempo jam since…you guessed it…“Misery” (and the shamefully-forgotten “Give a Little More”).

“Hard Times”
(Fueled By Ramen)
from the album After Laughter


As if the Strokes marinated with Blondie disco, “Hard Times” seems like a head nod to their familiar punky RIOT days. But they aren’t exactly letting go of their percolating latter-day rock-pop formula, and thanks to Hayley Williams’s transcendent vocals, they’re making good use of this new phase.


“Galway Girl”
Ed Sheeran
from the album ÷


Ed Sheeran isn’t afraid to touch musical styles. Here on “Galway Girl,” he squeezes Irish traditional music, even memories of Ireland scenery, into Nashville youngster pop and contemporary R&B. Sheeran pulls it off with grace by injecting a smitten diary entry into an earworm that compliments everything else surrounding the hearty content on ÷ (Divide).


Julia Michaels
from the album Nervous System


Overwhelmed with a drippy minimalist production, Julia Michaels shined through with an icy, Ariana Grande-esque performance on this Benny Blanco/Stargate-powered track. And with her “ah-ah-ah” chants in the background and finger-popping action, it bears a strange resemblance to Art of Noise’s ‘80’s underground classic “Moments in Love.”

“Something Just Like This”
The Chainsmokers feat. Coldplay
from the album Kaleidscope EP and Memories…Do Not Open


On the eve of what is still being rumored to be Coldplay’s last hurrah in music, the atmospheric tenor of frontman Chris Martin breathes heavily into this Chainsmokers’ synth-dub summery jam. It sounds like the arena-rock of U2 has been injected into a glowing vat of feelgood EDM.

Zedd and Alessia Cara
(Interscope/Def Jam)
from the album Stay +


Stay Zedd

The force behind 2012’s mammoth “Clarity” pulls out this blazing electropop rouser and leaves Alessia Cara (the voice behind the Isaac Hayes-sampled “Here”) with her first major dancefloor filler. Zedd’s punchy effects, particularly with his vocoder-imitated vocals on the second halves of the chorus, elevate the replay value.

“You Don’t Know Me”
Jax Jones feat. Raye
non-album single


With a slip of Crystal Waters throwback house and a pinch of Rihanna sultriness, emerging UK singer Raye pulls off quick-witted shade (“See you iPhone camera flashin’/Please step back, it’s my style you’re crampin’”) in this snappy rejection letter dressed around the synth bass melodies of M.A.N.D.Y vs. Booka Shade’s “Body Language.”


“One Foot”
Walk the Moon
from the album What If Nothing


WALK THE MOON swallows an OneRepublic pill, plus that echo-y “hey” chant from the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” and a little tribal swag, and give us this synth-rock adventure. While their bigger hit “Shut Up and Dance” points to rollicking ‘90’s uptempo rock, this one shoots them a little forward a few steps.


from the album Rainbow


In what felt like a bloody open letter to Dr. Luke, Kesha drops pounds of emotion into “Praying.” It’s a fierce Aretha-styled ballad, showcasing an elevated depth of vocal performance from the “Tik Tok” singer. Once she enters the song’s climatic vortex, her pipes hits a Mariah-type of high note — the highest she’s ever done in her entire catalog.

“New Rules”
Dua Lipa
(Warner Bros.)
from the album Dua Lipa


Remember when Rihanna was the queen of tropical synthpop? Ah, Dua Lipa is here to fill the void. The burgeoning singer can be heard on “New Rules,” giving us entrancing vocals on a palette of paradise house and a survivor’s guide to dealing with bad ex’s.

“Dancing Is the Best Revenge”
from the album Shake the Shudder


The funk disco vibes of !!!’s “Dancing Is the Best Revenge” sounds like LCD Soundsystem merging with The Time (or Vanity 6, due to the pitched-up vocals of Nic Offer). And with its dark lyrical undertones (“And if you got no effort divin’/Trust makes someone blindin’”) and paranoiac hints (“I don’t still get scared, that’s why I’m still here”), it’s apparent that the West Coast dance-punk band has now crafted a slamming clubby ode to New Yorkers’ dance underground, even if the majority of the disco palaces have long been shuttered.

“Swish Swish”
Katy Perry
from the album Witness


The last couple of stages in Katy Perry’s recent metamorphosis has been leaning hard on urban club beats and edgy dance, so the arrival of ‘90’s house beats of Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” was bound to happen. We just didn’t expect her to call completely CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters on us. The gays absolutely loved it, especially the catty “swish swish bish” chants, which made it a signature driver on the dance floor. For the masses, Nicki Minaj’s rap deposit left us all gagging.


“There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”
Shawn Mendes
from the album Illuminate


With a gutsy country-rock edge and a little slice of vocal grit on the catchy, wordy hook, “There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back,” a bonus track on the deluxe edition of Illuminate, abounds as Shawn Mendes’s most danceable workout. It’s also the catchiest. More of this, please.

“Our Love (You Can Get)”
from the album Shake the Shudder


With pouncing house beats, “Our Love (You Can Get)” plays like a euphoric ‘90’s summertime dance jam. !!! inserts grungy Right Too Fred-esque vocals at the top of the verses, but segues into stirring duets with Lea Lea and Meah Pace. By the time the sing-a-long chorus hits, they’ve pulled off a Robin S’s “Show Me Love” for our generation.

Kendrick Lamar
(Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
from the album Damn


This shady clapback (possibly aimed at Big Sean) is so savage and beastly that it should come with its own referee, but the below-the-belt shots coming from uber rap king Kendrick Lamar are punctuated with subwoofer shakes and a haunting piano line reminiscent of ‘80’s horror cinema. It’s good enough to warrant an impromptu wobble ‘n swerve fest.

“No Promises”
Cheat Codes feat. Demi Lovato
(Parlophone/Warner Bros.)
non-album single


The Mariah Carey-Mimi era-sounding “Sorry Not Sorry” may have been her greatest moment on the charts, but the Cheat Codes-powered “No Promises” is simply more charming and effective in its performance. Its disco-peppered beats and airy EDM soundwaves, along with Lovato’s duet with Cheat Codes’s Trevor Dahl, gives us that next level to Chainsmokers’s “Closer.”

“Bad Liar”
Selena Gomez
non-album single


Cooing like a tranquil Alanis Morissette over a trippy reinvent of the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and a Talking Heads bassline (“Psycho Killer”), Selena Gomez returns to the sexy of “Good for You” and “Hands to Myself” but reverses the message (“I’m trying, trying…not to think about you”). Quite frankly, her Playboy come hither approach to pop music is her greatest claim to fame. Gomez knows her strengths and is playing them like a character “on fire” in NBA Jam.

“The Weekend”
(Top Dawg/RCA)
from the album Ctrl


After a fuzzy thirty-second instrumental prelude, “The Weekend” shows off a Quiet Storm gloss akin back to the Keith Sweat-SWV golden era of contemporary R&B. Even if it conjures the man-stealing philosophies prevalent in old school moralless soul standards (Shirley Brown’s “Woman to Woman” and Barbara Mason’s “She’s Got Papers” come to mind), it’s totally hyper sexy and gives aid to our salacious porn-like fantasies.

“Green Light”
(Universal New Zealand)
from the album Melodrama


With a rock-embellished vocal, the “Royals” singer steps up to an electro-pop adventure that chronicles Coldplay surrounded by midnight dance-pop magic. It’s also a realistic breakup anthem, one that highlights the vulnerability one during the tremors from an intense love affair: “’Cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go/I’m waiting for that green light, I want it.” After sometime away from the charts, Lorde has pulled off an unexpected return to the front, picking up where she left and adding more notches to her belt.

“Run for Cover”
The Killers
from the album Wonderful Wonderful


Hearkening back to their ballistic high-adrenaline rock, The Killers cranks up a thunderous “Run for Cover.” It’s fueled with “Mr. Brightside” nitro, but also dashes forward with a mesh of Bruce Springsteen heartland rock and futuristic New Wave. Most importantly, Brandon Flowers raises a chilling (and at times, snarky) SOS for battered women trying to escape domestic abuse: “What are you waiting for, a kiss or an apology?/You think by now you’d have an A in toxicology.”

“Everything Now”
Arcade Fire
from the album Everything Now


With a dash of ABBA “Dancing Queen,” eclectic indie rock band Arcade Fire modulates a size up on their dancey charm with “Everything Now.” After playing with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on 2013’s “Reflektor,” it seems like they’ve bitten deep into the disco bug and can’t shake it lose. It helps to have Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter on deck.

“Pretty Girl” (Cheat Code x Cade Remix)
Maggie Lindermann feat. Cheat Codes
non-album single


Other than the similarities the chorus has with George Michael’s “Faith,” the bubbly synths from LA DJ trio Cheat Codes and Maggie Lindermann’s kid-pop vocals prove to a happy marriage on this important made-for-radio remix. It’s cute bubblegum (lolli)pop in an EDM universe, but deep beneath the lyrics is a universal message that also stands out. For the social star, she lays some on-time knowledge on her Instagram stalkers: “Sometimes it’s hard for me to show that I’m more than just a rumor or a song on your computer/There’s more to me than people know.”

Charlie Puth
from the album Voicenotes


One of the biggest musical surprises came from Charlie Puth, a YouTube discovery who fell too easily into the singer-songwriter pop galaxy after the successes of his Wiz Khalifa collab (“See You Again”), “One Call Away” and the Ed Sheeran-sounding “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” With “Attention,” he dances upon rhythms saturated in Nick Jonas R&B and sleek funk. If Puth could only pull off some lightning moves, he may give Justin Timberlake a run for his money.

NEXT: #20-1

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J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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