Let's get this out of the way: There's no Despacito.
A lot of people loved Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber's hit bilingual single. But in compiling my list of the best songs of 2017, I skipped the biggest of them all, the one that broke numerous chart and streaming records. Sorry, but it just didn't do it for me.
Beyond Despacito, though, narrowing down my list to a Top 10 was tough. So tough I expanded it to 25. Then I expanded it again to 40. Hey, if it was good enough for Casey Kasem, it's good enough for me.
As always, I stuck to one song per artist, which made it tough to choose hits from artists like Kendrick Lamar and Lorde, but opened up the playing field for everyone else. And I stuck to songs released within the calendar year, which means some 2017 hits released in 2016 weren't eligible. Apologies to Migos' Bad and Boujee, Childish Gambino's Redbone, Run the Jewels' Talk to Me, Bruno Mars' That's What I Like, Brothers Osborne's It Ain't My Fault and K. Flay's Blood in the Cut, among others.
Without further ado, here's my Top 40 for 2017. Want to listen along? Click here for a Spotify playlist:
40. Linkin Park, One More Light: People forget this, but a lot of fans derided Linkin Park's seventh album One More Light as too poppy when it dropped in May. Two months later, Chester Bennington's suicide turned the subdued title track into an anthem of grief. "Who cares if one more light goes out?" Bennington sang. Linkin Park's fans certainly did.
39. Gorillaz featuring Jehnny Beth, We Got the Power: Damon Albarn leaned heavily into hip hop on Gorillaz's album Humanz, but this clashing, punkish anthem of rebellion with Savages singer Jehnny Beth was hard to forget. Maybe that's because Albarn recruited Noel Gallagher to sing backup vocals. Blur and Oasis on the same track! England in 1997 is flipping its collective crown.
38. Liam Gallagher, Wall of Glass: Speaking of Oasis, how great were the concurrent fall press tours for the new albums by Noel and Liam Gallagher? Both were good, but Liam's solo debut effort was better, harkening back to Oasis's glory days with songs like the sneering, squealing Wall of Glass.
37. Carly Pearce, Every Little Thing: The country singer's breakthrough single was a heartfelt ballad washed in reverb that makes it sound like it really was recorded in a totally empty house. Fitting, given the song's aching lyrics about loss and yearning. "I remember every little thing / The high, the hurt, the shine, the sting / every little thing."
36. Arcade Fire, Creature Comfort: Many wrote off Arcade Fire's Everything Now due to the kinda-sorta obnoxious way it was marketed. But the album's actually much better than that. This throbbing disco nightmare about fame and instant gratification will ricochet around your skull for days if you let it.
35. Halsey featuring Lauren Jauregui, Strangers: The San Junipero of 2017 pop, this love song between two bisexual women races through your earbuds and into your bedsheets with the steamy pulse and synthesizers of a vintage video game soundtrack.
34. XXXTentacion, Jocelyn Flores: XXXTentacion's abhorrent criminal history, which includes charges of domestic battery of his pregnant girlfriend, almost wholly obscures the promise he showed on his strangely compelling debut album 17 — particularly on Jocelyn Flores, a dreamy, hallucinatory tribute to a friend who committed suicide. His career as one of the leading figures of the trendy "emo rap" movement might be over before it started; he's currently facing some 15 felony charges related to violence and witness tampering. Jocelyn Flores stands as evidence of the potential that may go unfulfilled.
33. Post Malone featuring Quavo, Congratulations: Rockstar may have taken Post Malone to the top of the charts, but the singer-rapper's triumphant summer single, Congratulations — featurning Quavo from the omnipresent Migos — is better. How many victory celebrations do you think this song will score going forward?
32. Drake, Passionfruit: Another year, another totally overstuffed album from Canada's top hip-hop export. But at least More Life gave the world Passionfruit, a hazy, tropical house number that will go down as one of the 6 God's more underrated party jams. At nearly five minutes, it's overlong, but who cares? That just means more time by the pool.
31. Thundercat featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, Show You the Way: It's one thing to ape Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on a slice of easy-breezy yacht rock funk. It's another entirely to recruit them both to actually sing on the track, as bassist-producer Thundercat did on Show You The Way. Pop another wine cooler and get lost in the sea mist and sweat.
3o. Taylor Swift, New Year's Day: Dammit, Taylor. For 14 songs, Reputation felt forgettable, big but empty pop that felt forced and beneath you. Then you had to close with one of the most earnest, intimate, evocative love songs you've ever written. "I want your midnights, but I'll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year's Day." There's just no quitting you, is there?
29. Spoon, Can I Sit Next To You: Spoon's Hot Thoughts bristles with tension and passion throughout. This jittery slab of post-electro-punk pumps it straight into your veins, along with a heavy dose of old-school breaks. Someone send this song back to the Bronx, circa 1978, and watch the DJs work their magic.
28. The Go! Team, Semicircle Song: You know those wonderful viral videos of Jimmy Fallon and the Roots playing pop hits on classroom instruments? This is basically that – only the British indie-pop collective used an actual marching band and vocals from a bunch of giddy Detroit teenagers, who pause midway through to introduce themselves with their astrological signs. Pure joy.
27. Francis and the Lights featuring Chance the Rapper, May I Have This Dance (Remix): Admittedly, I slept on Francis and the Lights' May I Have This Dance, a Peter Gabriel-inspired indie-pop love song, last fall. But it doesn't matter, because this remix tops it anyway. Chance's heartfelt verse, inspired by his young daughter, transforms it into the perfect wedding-dance song of 2017, one that should have a long shelf life.
26. Sigrid, Don't Kill My Vibe: It wasn't an American hit, but sonically speaking, this Swedish singer's debut single, a defiant anthem of youth and rebellion, is bigger than just about any other pop single this year. You can practically hear an arena stomping to their feet to scream along.
25. The Chainsmokers, Paris: Look: I get that you don't like seeing the Chainsmokers here. No one wants to admit the Chainsmokers can write hooks for days. But from late 2016 to mid-2017, hardly anyone did it better. So I'm riding hard with Paris, fluffy and faux-nostalgic as it is, because the song bursts with heart like a stellar pop song should. Hate 'em all you like, but if they go down, we both go down together.
24. Phoenix, Ti Amo: This throbbing, quadrilingual come-on about dancing to the Buzzcocks and sipping Prosecco blends French house and post-punk to deliriously sexy effect. It's all about 1:11 to 1:23, a 12-second build that sounds as if you're pushing from the velvet rope outside an Italian disco straight onto the center of the dance floor.
23. Julien Baker, Sour Breath: Even by Baker's harrowing standards, this slow-burning love/hate song to an alcoholic is an absolutely devastating gut punch. Cause of death: Baker, at the end, meeting her fury and frustration head-on, screaming, "The harder I swim, the faster I sink!"
22. Ryan Adams, Anything I Say To You Now: I was struggling to pick which of Adams' shimmering '80s jukebox homages to include here. But then my Spotify "2017 Wrapped" list did it for me, informing me that Anything I Say To You Now was my most-streamed track of the year. I have no good reason to dispute this.
21. St. Vincent, Los Ageless: "How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too?" is one of the great lyrics about obsessive love and the wrenching frustration of watching it burn. It's feral and phenomenal.
20. SZA, Prom: In the context of her great album Ctrl, Prom is a palate-cleanser, a dreamy pop breeze that gusts in like fresh air from an open bedroom window. But its ethereal melody won't blow away from your mind anytime soon.
19. Jessie Reyez, Gatekeeper: It's hard to imagine a more of-the-moment song than Gatekeeper, the Colombian-Canadian hip-hop singer's visceral condemnation of the male producers and executives who threaten to hold her back unless she submits to their advances. "Thirty million people want a shot / how much would it take for you to spread your legs apart?" Are you listening, men of Hollywood?
18. Katy Perry featuring Skip Marley, Chained to the Rhythm: Perry's Witness more or less flopped, which erased the high hopes we all had for the album when Perry dropped Chained to the Rhythm just before this year's Grammys. But its hypnotic beat and French house synthesizers still make us dance-dance-dance to the distortion. Turn it up, keep it on repeat, indeed.
17. Father John Misty, Leaving LA: Father John Misty invites comparisons to the greats; Leaving LA, his 13-minute, eight-verse song about Los Angeles and his own art feels like his stab at an American Pie or a Hallelujah. It's ambitious, but also tender and thoughtful and, in typical Father John Misty fashion, totally self-aware: "Just what we need / another white guy in 2017 / who takes himself so goddamn seriously."
16. Will Hoge, Thoughts & Prayers: Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson may get all the headlines, but Will Hoge is staking his claim as the most vengeful protest singer on country music's fringes. This flaming screed against the NRA and their political enablers lambasts the empty "thoughts and prayers" that follow every mass shooting. Just wait and see what happens, he roars, when all those thoughtful, prayerful politicians try to enter the pearly gates.
15. Midland, Drinkin' Problem: Like a lot of country songs, this one mythologizes the art of drowning one's sorrows in amber. But few are such note-perfect odes to Georges Strait and Jones. Hands down, this was the dive bar jukebox jam of the year.
14. Haim, Little of Your Love: The Sisters Haim whoop and hup and harmonize with dizzying glee across this fun, free-spirited romp through the late '80s. For all the comparisons they get to Wilson Philips, the truth is this one sounds most like Springsteen at his happiest.
13. Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos, Slide: Slide doesn't bother with the euphoric EDM charge of Harris's many monstrous hits, the hazy intimacy of Ocean's slow jams or the omnipresent trap leanings of Migos's many features. Instead it shows what all three could do if they committed to making a properly funky pop song. The result is more than worth it.
12. Lil Uzi Vert, XO TOUR Llif3: Anxiety and self-loathing never felt as at home on a club-rattling hip-hop track as they do on XO TOUR Llif3, Uzi's dissection of a relationship beset by addition and depression. Uzi somehow avoided the "emo rap" tag in 2017, and yet this song may be the nascent genre's crowning moment.
11. Lorde, Supercut: You know how you only remember the good parts of bad relationships? Lorde, all of 20 when Melodrama was released, captured that sensation of lived-in lamentation perfectly on Supercut. "In my head, I do everything right," she sings. But in reality, it's never that easy, is it?
10. Ed Sheeran, Shape of You: It's still hard to fathom how Shape of You wasn't nominated for Song and Record of the Year at this year's Grammys. Forget Despacito — this was truly the inescapable pop jam of the year, the song you heard in every conceivable setting, and somehow it's managed not to overstay its sexy welcome.
9. Kesha, Praying: After years of legal entanglement with her producer (and alleged abuser) Dr. Luke, Kesha finally obtained a measure of independence with her album Rainbow, featuring this searing, soaring kiss-off to an unnamed tormenter. In a year in which abused women spoke up en masse, the refrain "I hope you're somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing" still elicits chills.
8. Sampha, (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano: Dab away tears as you listen to the British R&B singer pine for a more innocent time, when he could bare his soul in the comfrt of his family's living room. "No one knows me like the piano in my mother's home," he sings. Sob.
7. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Break First: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were put on this earth to sing love ballads to one another. The pristinely produced Break First is an all-timer, by turns sensual and explosive, with nontraditional country chord progressions and escalating choruses that crescendo to an explosive finale. It's hard to think of anyone else who could pull it off as authentically as Nashville's premiere power couple.
6. Carly Rae Jepsen, Cut to the Feeling: At some point, doesn't the well have to run dry? Won't Carly Rae Jepsen eventually run out of sugar-coated '80s pop homages to drive into our hearts and minds? As long as she keeps dropping singles as effervescent and joyful as Cut to the Feeling, let's hope that day never comes.
5. Japandroids, No Known Drink or Drug: This glorious blast of Detroit punk and street poetry about "a whirlwind of a woman and a famous feeling" and "making moments into memories" cements the Vancouver rock duo as spiritual heirs to Bruce, Iggy and the Ramones. You don't need to start every day by blasting this song at full volume in your car, but it definitely helps.
4. Cardi B, Bodak Yellow: An atom bomb of pure confidence, this year's track you could spin in any room and watch every woman under 35 rocket to her feet and start dancing. Cardi's not the most technically proficient rapper, but you could power a steamroller with her voice. She doesn't need to dance — or spit lickety-split rhymes — for your approval.
3. Portugal. The Man, Feel It Still: Raise your hand if you thought the year's biggest pop-rock crossover would come from these Alaska-bred prog-rock weirdballs. But eight albums in, the group came up with Feel It Still, an actual three-minute retro-pop song that's sly, ominous and impossible to erase from your brain.
2. Kendrick Lamar, DNA.: HUMBLE. was huge. DNA. is better. A visceral defense of his art and personality against talking-head critics like Geraldo Rivera, it's layered atop one — actually make that two — of Mike Will Made It's most explosive beats. The song's breathless, minute-long, flame-throwing second half is one of the best verses of Lamar's nearly unparalleled career.
1. Logic featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid, 1-800-273-8255: This past year was a dumpster fire. We can all agree on that, right?
But in the music world, there was at least one inarguable bright spot: A song that saved actual human lives.
Ever since Logic dropped 1-800-273-8255, calls to that number — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — have skyrocketed, preventing an untold number of unnecessary deaths. The timing was right for a song that faced the self-destructive instincts of impressionable teens head-on, especially as self-harm kept surfacing across pop culture — in songs (Lil Uzi Vert's XO TOUR Llif3, XXXTentacion's Joceyln Flores), on TV (Netflix's 13 Reasons Why) and in the headlines (the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington).
When you think about it, a rap song about teenage suicide — a glorified PSA, really — should have flopped. But 1-800-273-8255 actually moves and skips like the hit it became. That Logic recruited Cara and Khalid, uniquely post-millennial voices in their own right, to sing verses is important — it signifies that all outsiders can find company in this world, no matter how unlikely it can seem. It was a remarkable achievement in message music, and for that reason, I'm calling it my song of the year.
Who can relate?
Click here for a Spotify playlist featuring all of these songs.
— Jay Cridlin