Top 45 Singles of 2017

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Posted January 6, 2018 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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“Sit Next to Me”
Foster the People
(Columbia)
from the album Sacred Hearts Club

 

A glowing midtempo gem hyped with ethereal synths and Bobby Brown “Roni” soul, Foster the People’s “Sit Next to Me” should’ve cut a fast lane for lead vocalist Mark Foster into mainstream radio. It’s a far cry from their knockout indie hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” but one that expands their catalog with color and much needed texture. If blessed with the type of marketing push that Maroon 5 usually gets, it would’ve been a total game changer for the indie pop-rock band.


“That’s What I Like”
Bruno Mars
(Atlantic)
from the album 24K Magic

 

Bruno Mars, still in 24K Magic pimp mode, scores with this club banger, a distant cousin to the urban contemporary riffs of Blackstreet and Mint Condition synths. It’s one of the better moments off of his 2016 album, and thankfully it was released to the masses in single form. Yes, there was no of shaking it, even if you weren’t on the R&B dial. Even with its kiddy display of opulence (“Cool jewelry shining so bright/Strawberry champagne on ice”), it made us all feel a little more gangsta in broad daylight.


“Believer”
Imagine Dragons
(Interscope/KIDinaKORNER)
from the album Evolve

 

Possibly the biggest rock knockout of 2017, Imagine Dragons spins up a midtempo hurricane with mile-long arms of booming bass, hand claps, Twista-flaring rap moments and “We Will Rock You” machoism. Designed by hitmaking pop duo Mattman & Robin, “Believer” — co-authored by the band, mostly inspired by Dan Reynolds’ tough moment with his health and anxiety issues — feels like a survivor’s anthem fit for a rock star.


“Want You Back”
Haim
(Polydor)
from the album Something to Tell You

 

If Florence + the Machine went further pop, “Want You Back” might be the end result. HAIM’s crafty Fleetwood Mac-ness comes in solid here, but picks up with a jubilant ‘80’s groove airbrushed with mellow synths and solid drum programming.


“Passionfruit”
Drake
(OVO Sound/Cash Money/Young Money)
from the album More Life

 

After a chilled sixty-second prelude blessed with a lounge disco rift and a spliced spoken sample taken from a DJ Moodymann live set, the “Hotline Bling” star chimes in with an eased Frank Ocean-esque baritone on something that sounds like an otherworldly Prince vault track. It’s not as hooky as his bigger hits, but the event is a cozy lavalamp blessing that leaves him sounding like the Roy Ayers of hip-hop.


“Disco Tits”
Tove Lo
(Republic)
from the album Blue Lips

 

The “Habits (Stay High)” is still “high as fuck” on this naughty piece of new-gen Vanity 6 disco (“I’m fully charged, nipples are hard/Ready to go”). Produced by The Struts, “Disco Tits” is a bit of a departure from the barrage of trippy midtempo sounds offered on her debut LP, Queen of the Clouds. Now she’s aiming to become a queen on the acid-heavy dance floor.


“Castle on the Hill”
Ed Sheeran
(Asylum/Atlantic)
from the album ÷

 

With a driving tempo and an endless supply of KOL guitar, “Castle on the Hill” is Ed Sheeran’s best shot at arena rock. There are gorgeous strings, warm melodic breezes, blessed nostalgia (from “Tiny Dancer” to having “my first kiss on a Friday night”) and, of course, Sheeran’s rapturous belting on the memorable chorus.


“Lights Down Low”
MAX
(DCD2)
from the album Hell’s Kitchen Angel

 

There’s some familiarity with Ed Sheeran’s Marvin Gaye-sounding “Thinking Out Loud” in the acoustic guitar opening, but rising pop singer-songwriter MAX breaks out with Bruno Mars crooning and a set of sensual lyrics that’ll put Usher’s “Nice & Slow” on a medical ventilator (“Can I stop the flow of time?/Can I swim in your divine?”).


“Cut to the Feeling”
Carly Rae Jepsen
(604/School Boy/Interscope)
from the album Emotion: Side B+

 

There’s so much to celebrate on this motion picture entry (Ballernia or Leap! in the US). It opens with that brief trickling-up magical sound on “Lucky Star” and drops into percussion-heavy verses hyped with party handclaps. But it then cuts into that contagious pop used on Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” Suddenly, Carly Rae Jepsen’s joyful pipes are totally enamored by a bubbly, blissful package. Even though the darker, grown-up Carly Rae on Emotion is music to our ears, the whole performance on this smart piece of bubblegum pop is perfect enough to appease her “Call Me Maybe” followers.


“Too Good at Goodbyes”
Sam Smith
(Capitol)
from the album The Thrill of It All

 

Now an official giant in the soulful ballad order, Sam Smith gives us more of that silky romance that prevailed in “I’m Not the Only One” and “Stay With Me.” This time, he’s detailing the inner strength of departing a volatile relationship (“But every time you hurt me, the less that I cry / And every time you leave me, the quicker these tears dry”). A choir created by Smith’s own backing vocals lifts up the chorus, while his secret weapon, the sweeping falsetto, gives the song a type of sacred hymn credence.


“Symphony”
Clean Bandit feat. Zara Larsson
(Atlantic/Epic)
from the album So Good

 

“And now your song is on repeat/And I’m dancing’ on to your heartbeat,” Zara Larsson’s gorgeous youthful pipes utters before a striking string-and-synth build-up. It’s destined to turn into a Robyn “Dancing On My Own” once the interest reaches maturity.


“The Cure”
Lady Gaga
(Strealine/Interscope)
non-album single

 

After the country pop-meets-singer/songwriter detour of Joanne, Lady Gaga cloaked herself with possibly her finest radio-ready single since “Applause.” It sounds nothing like the old or new Gaga, since it drips with Taylor Swift pop and Clean Bandit swag.  But it proved to be an earworm of deliciousness anyhow.


“Feels”
Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean
(Sony)
from the album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

 

Taking riffs from Maroon 5’s “If I Never See Your Face” and Blondie’s “The Tide Is High,” Calvin Harris’s funky jam finds Pharrell Williams suiting up as a 21st century R&B hookman and a surprising Katy Perry providing pop life to the catchy cool chorus. Definitely the underdog summer jam of the year.


“Woman”
Kesha feat. the Dap-Kings
(Kemosabe/RCA)
from the album Rainbow

 

For over a decade, the Dap Kings have been that de facto secret ingredient in pop music to create that perfect retro-fitted Motown ode (see works by Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars), or have partially inspired others to follow suit. Now on Kesha’s highly-anticipated return to the studio, after the court feuding with past producer Dr. Luke, the famed Daptone band spills their soulful vibes over a bad-ass female-empowering anthem fit for Wonder Woman (“Don’t buy me a drink, I make my money/Don’t touch my weave, don’t call me honey/’Cause I run my shit”). Aside from the adult language, Kesha is now doing grown-folks music that supersedes her Coke-heavy synthpop era. It’ll probably rise up to become the R-E-S-P-E-C-T for female millennials.


“American Dream”
LCD Soundsystem
(DFA/Columbia)
from the album American Dream

 

This spaced out, cathartic six-minute ballad spills the beans on America’s dependencies on lust, drugs or anything that could be surmised as being uncontrollably addictive. It’s an honest, poetic portrait of these dreadful plunges and one that James Murphy’s approaches without sounding like a judgmental saint (“But that’s okay”). As the song pulsates forward with its eerie suspended synths and doo-wop movements, Murphy shows off a type of nervousness that tugs at the human heart (“It’s a drug of the heart and you can’t stop the shaking/’Cause the body wants what it’s terrible at taking”).

 


“Shape of You”
Ed Sheeran
(Asylum/Atlantic)
from the album ÷

 

It’s hard to shake off the seductive reggaeton swag of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” It’s a bit minimalistic, even structurally repetitive, but Sheeran’s sexy lyrics (“I’m in love with the shape of you/We push and pull like a magnet do”) and last-minute Color Me Badd crooning sends the song into an exotic Marvin Gaye tailspin.


“Sign of the Times”
Harry Styles
(Erskine/Columbia)
from the album Harry Styles

 

After a piano opening that walks in tempo with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” One Direction alum Harry Styles sends his vocal into falsetto orbit across an arrangement nestling in grandiose Pink Floyd rock. Before the song ends, a full reveal with “ahhs” from a heavenly choir, “Purple Rain” drama and Styles belting out “we got to get away” gives us a finish of a lifetime.


“Bodak Yellow”
Cardi B
(Atlantic)
non-album single

 

This club anthem breathes like Silento’s overplayed “Whip Nae Nae,” but that didn’t stop us from wearing it out. “Bodak Yellow,” with its booming bass, some fancy snare hi-hats and paranoiac instrumentation provided by Kansas City producer J. White Did It, bears more substance, aggression and character. In her biggest charting and best-selling single to date, Bronx rapper Cardi B is announcing her liberation from the stripper life and makes her money evolve around her. She brags about her sudden rise of fame (“I’m the hottest in the street, know you prolly heard of me”). And once the second verse drops, she spits out some of the funkiest shade-slanging lyrics in pop. This was truly a personal record for the rising rap star, but for some reason it became quickly relatable. In a year when it became the norm to defect from toxic creatures, especially in this murky political climate, it felt good to hear Cardi’s street wisdom shining through: “If I see you and I don’t speak/That means I don’t fuck with you.”


“1-800-273-8255”
Logic feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid
(Visionary/Def Jam)
from the album Everybody

 

Using the actual phone number of a suicide prevention hotline, singer/rapper Logic creates a stunning rap ballad that opens up about insecurity, depression and loneliness, but eventually finds resolve in fighting onward, thanks to Alessia Cara’s heroic exchange and Logic’s sudden epiphany (“I want you to be alive/You don’t gotta die now lemme tell you why”). After a gospel-powered ad-lib shoots through the speakers at the end, Khalid finishes this emotional masterpiece with a vocal that sounds like a tearful sigh of relief. It carries the same type of angelic rescue of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love,” but focuses it on suicide. For its depth of missionary work alone, it deserves the Grammy for Song of the Year.


“Feel It Still”
Portugal. The Man
(Atlantic)
from the album Woodstock

 

Sounding like Janelle Monae has been dropped in Motown gold (yup, Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman is evidently there), “Feel It Still” is a dashing uptempo workout that felt so left-field for the psychedelic rock band. If given the chance to audition for Berry Gordy, they would’ve swiftly landed a contract. So far, even with being directed to adult alternative radio, it’s already become their biggest hit. It even shot to number four on the pop charts, something totally uncanny for a rock band of their caliber in 2017. To best explain this phenomenon, just look deep inside the lyrics. “I’m a rebel just for kicks, now/I been feeling it since 1966,” John Gourley, the frontman of the Alaska-based band, gloats on its hip-shakin’ chorus.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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