Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Rock Otaku’s Rockin’ Billboard Chart Watch: The Top 20 Best Hit Rock Songs of 2016

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, and deviants.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream, shout, and let it all out.

Welcome to my Rockin’ Billboard Chart Watch.  Here, I take a break from reviewing classic heavy metal albums, movies, TV, anime, games, and so on to review what is popular in the rock scene according to Billboard.  Back in the late 19th century, the magazine started as a news source for the entertainment industry back in the day (thus, circuses, fairs, and burlesque shows were covered), then, when music became a big business, it started covering music.  Then they started having an album chart, then a singles chart, in the mid-20th century, both of which are still going on to this very day, with changes to accommodate the changes in the landscape of music distribution.  But for the rock stuff, the first chart, which would be known today as the Mainstream Rock chart, debuted on March 21, 1981, with the Alternative Songs chart following suit in 1988, the Adult Alternative chart premiering some time in 2008, then the all-encompassing Hot Rock Songs chart came to fruition in 2009.  Here, I review them all, in order of either mainstream importance, date of creation, or which songs have the most material I can cover each week.

So this week, I finally deliver my belated Best of Rock list for 2016.  As I’ve alluded to with the last two posts in this “series,” rock music had a great year in 2016.  As a result, I was not sure if I should do a Top 10 with over 20 honorable mentions or a Top 20 with at least 10 honorable mentions.  So ultimately I decided to go with the latter.  Reasons include the fact that it took this entry so long to materialize, the great amount of rock songs, released this year, and the fact that of the “big” artists to be hit makers from rock, a few of them released some amazing, relevant music.  And if not, the songs hit hard, rocked out, and had enough energy to keep 2016 from being the absolute worst year ever (unless you were a hardcore liberal in the U.K. or the U.S.A., then it was a contender like 2000).  And this is despite some of the annoying trends in the rock scene continuing to linger like a cockroach (depending on your tastes, you know what I’m talking about).  With the amount of diversity in the rock scene, this initially made this list hard, but I ultimately found the songs I felt like discussing about and considering the best.

The criteria for this list included the following: only songs from the Year End entries of the Hot Rock Song, Rock Airplay, Rock Digital, Rock Streaming, Alternative Songs, Adult Alternative Songs, and Mainstream Rock Songs charts for 2016, so these songs were hits of some kind.  Also, I’m also trying to make sure that these songs were from 2016 and/or a few years back, so there are no genuine classics here.  This should reflect last year entirely, so that you get a sense of what was going on during 2016 on the rock side of things.  There might be a few outliers here, but that’s because they were good, and some of these might not match with your views.  This is my opinion. 

Anyway, let’s rock.

20.       Way Down We Go by Kaleo:
Okay so this is not exactly my favorite song of last year, or even my favorite Kaleo track (I’ll talk about that later), but this was definitely a grower.  What I mean is that it took a while for me to get why this track was so good or why it meant something to people, and it’s a fun little track.  With its soulful vocals from JJ Julius Son right at the beginning alongside a subdued piano, it launches into a dark and heavy ballad that deals with the darker aspects of depression and oppressive feelings.  And it is one surprisingly tough song to get into, due to the darker aspects, but it’s great enough to keep things from getting too sad.  If there’s one of the many songs that reflected how much of a crappy year 2016 was that did not suck, this would be among the better ones.  Not bad from indie blues.

19.       You Don’t Get Me High Anymore by Phantogram:
This is a song that will definitely grow on me.  With its dark tone and dour lyrical focus, this deals with the disinterest the singer has in her significant other, wanting to move on.  And it shows.  While I’m not the person to talk to when it comes to rap and hip hop trends, when it’s good, I’ll notice.  And this is pretty good.  The trip hop production gives this song an edge that includes a great bass line, mystic sound effects, distorted tones, and Sarah Barthel’s subdued, but sexy vocals.  Said edge is very dreamy, like as if it represents the sense of ecstasy that this relationship was originally built on, the crumbling feeling that’s current, and how it is like drug use until you get used to the effects.  That is where I think the song works, using the “love is a drug” metaphor to create an aggressive breakup song that’s more rock than pop, despite the instrumentation.  Hell, it’s so good that Three Days Grace covered it, too bad they made it more suitable for the Hot Topic crowd when it didn’t need to.

18.       Electric Love by BORNS:
Now here’s a song that had to grow on me.  When I first heard it, I thought it was a catchy tune, but not one that would stay on my radar for long.  But then I heard this song, or a remix of it, over and over until I decided to listen to this song’s original mix, specifically for lists like this.  As a result, I thought that this is a much better song than what I thought, and that it deserved more credit.  Of the songs by BORNS that charted this year, this is not just the catchiest, but the best sounding one.  With good production, a good amount of guitar, and strong vocals from singer Garrett Borns (aka. BORNS himself), this song manages to stand up with other poppy rock tunes that came out in the last few years.  All of this managing to set up a strong song about the feelings he has for the girl he’s into.  And yes, I said “he.”  I’m sure that you were caught off guard when you heard his voice, with his high, almost feminine flavor of singing.  I was surprised when I first looked that up when I decided to talk about this song.  And I’m also sure that this is your mental image now that I’ve revealed BORNS’ gender:
"I’m a guy, and so is the singer."
If anyone’s upset about this, and would have preferred BORNS being a girl, then there’s a stall selling torches and pitchforks down the road in alt-right jackass town.
But if there’s any issues I have, it’s more of my musical preferences, which equate loud, shredding guitars and high vocals with epic qualities.  But I do like this song, and I can let myself enter weirder territory.  But the next few songs are more noticeably based on my tastes.  Such as the next track…

17.       Trip Switch by Nothing But Thieves:
As for songs with a rawer attitude that definitely caught my ears after the first listen, this is definitely one of them.  With its fuzzy opening, subdued verses that explode into an intense chorus with the sensual energy to match the funky beats, Nothing But Thieves manage to grab my attention once that kick ass chorus hits.  What I like about this song is the fact that it’s a raw, unfiltered, energetic song with a theme of desire, and I’m not sure why I’m starting to pay more attention to bass lines.  Maybe it’s because I’m becoming a stereotypical mainstream music critic, who will fawn over a track if it has a strong beat or bass line.  I tend to prefer rawer music like how a tiger prefers raw meat.  Plus I like my music like my weapons, heavy and metal.  But this somehow a song both a catchy beat and raw energy, and I dig it.  Plus, the lyrics dealing with the uncertainty of when the power goes down while you’re with another person you’re attracted to include some great lines and one hell of a catchy chorus.  But if this had a guitar solo, this would have been a contender for the Top 10, probably the Top 5, due to I liked this song.  However, there are other songs that hit me strongly from last year.

16.       Bang Bang by Green Day:
Did anyone expect Green Day to write a punk rock song, let alone a ferocious one, at their ages and with their track record?
And this question is for if you’ve heard anything from Uno, Dos, and Tré.
I thought so.
What makes this song even better is the fact that this was written by the band when they realized that the world was going to hell (especially if you’re a liberal), and they decided to write songs about their thoughts at a much faster, more aggressive pace.  Hell, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the band be this angry, ever.  You can say that they were this aggressive on American Idiot, but that was a decade ago, when criticizing the right was taboo.  Here, the band plays a song of revolution so aggressive, so angry, so irritated, and so snide that it could be part of what could be a revival of real punk in the U.S. after things getting too wimpy on the charts, including rock (I blame PC culture and meds).  But that’s not getting into the music, where it’s satisfyingly fast, straightforward, and loaded with great moments in the musical structure.  It has excellent buildup in the beginning that leads to a powerful riff that helps define the song.  The shouts of “Bang Bang” are excellent as well.  And then there’s a bridge that gives off a slower, more exotic vibe that makes it sound as if it came out of some jungle or desert region in lands we deemed loaded with vice, terror, and bad ethics.  It helps elevate the song onto this list.  While I’m not a Green Day fan, I can feel safe in saying that these Southern California punks are back with a vengeance.  Definitely a hit.

15.       America’s Sweetheart by Elle King:
Is it me, or am I actually a fan of what Elle King is doing.  Raw, dirty, sleazy rock, folk, and country with a roots-based backbone that causes her music to hit hard while allowing her vocals to shine.  All involving lyrics dealing with her personality, fame, and notoriety thanks to Rob Schneider being her father instead of…
Obvious joke is obvious.

As a result, this folky country song ends up not just being probably my favorite country song from last year, but one of the most poignant uses of the style.  What I mean is that A) rock n’ roll is as much an attitude and way of life as it is a style of music, and B) my attention to the country scene last year was minimal due to trying to avoid any of the final strands of bro country left stinking things up and turning me into a wimpy SJW (you don’t want that to happen).  But this song surprisingly kicks a lot of ass, and it’s about as much of a gut punch as “Ex’s & Oh’s,” but where that track was more of a playful track built around a power fantasy, this is Elle King declaring herself that she’s not someone to idolize.  The song is built around her bad side, her rebellious side, her “daughter of a hated movie star” side, and so on while telling of her desire of being herself and having fun.  All while telling us that she has no plans on conforming to the stereotype of “America’s Sweetheart.”  It’s all playful irony, and it helps give the song some punch.  Plus the bouncy beat and country instrumentation gives the song a mix of fun and raw that allows for a show-stealing performance from her.  If there’s one desire I have of Elle, it’s to break from the shadow of Happy Madison and burn it to the ground before we get another crappy Netflix movie from them.

14.       Phantom Bride by Deftones:
So I’m probably going to get claims of heresy for this, but there are nu metal bands I like alongside Deftones.
And so it saying Poison, Winger, and Warrant are good to punk fans.
But holy crap these guys kick ass.  It’s as if they took metal and drenched it in shoegaze to create some of the most beautiful but haunting hard rock this side of the globe (anime themes and j-rock definitely count for the other). And this track alongside “Prayers/Triangles” definitely prove that.  Despite that, I can see how fans could be disappointed by this track, as it’s nowhere as aggressive as “My Own Summer” or “Changes” while going entirely for an airy feel.  It’s weird at first, but you’ll get used to it as time goes on and repeated listens kick in.  But what’s weird is that it clicked for me the first few times I’ve listened to it.  It’s beautiful, strange, and filled with some of Stephen Carpenter’s best guitar work to date (with help from Jerry Cantrell), and Chino Moreno manages to showcase his pipes with some of his best melodies to date as well.  Plus the song’s possible meaning is something that is likely to inspire people to break some serious molds.  Gore might be a weird album thanks to first impressions going for shoegaze rather than alternative metal, but it’s definitely worth checking out if songs like this are this good.

13.       Stressed Out by twenty one pilots:
I was about to write off twenty one pilots as a band not for me before this list, but after a while of thought, and a likelihood that there might be some angry TOP fans that want to do this to me after bagging “Heathens”:
This is going to be a running joke, isn’t it?
I decided to give them a shot, and I found this song to speak to me in ways I’ve never thought.  Specifically, this song deals with returning to a simpler way of life, being unable to return to that, and realizing that, ultimately, you have to go out there and be a breadwinner (not the ones you’re thinking of).  With its bleak tone, somber delivery, some of the best vocals I’ve heard from Tyler Joseph, this song is not just a good song, as it might be one of the most important songs to have come out of the year.  It also is a good song to introduce the concept of their album Blurryface as well as the album itself.  While I could go on about the musical performance, the beat is grooving, the synths are nice-sounding but ominous, the drums are decent sounding, and the vocals have great effects reflecting the mood of the song.  While I could write this off, I feel that I actually relate to this song, dealing with the pressures of leaving the simpler life behind and embrace adulthood, but it’s difficult where I am and how I’m handling things, making this song somehow feel much more real to me.  I know some people who find “7 Years” more relatable, but I find that song is ass, and this is one of the true anthems of 2016, sort of.  Not “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber, not “Closer” by The Chainsmokers, and ESPECIALLY NOT “No” by Meghan Traynor.  This and a few other songs on this list represent this crappy year perfectly.  Both for me and for everyone else.

12.       Hardwired by Metallica:
Was this song the best song from Hardwired…To Self Destruct?
Was this song Metallica’s greatest song ever?
But was it a good way to tell metalheads that Metallica was going for a thrash metal direction this time?
But, because “Moth Into Flame,” “Atlas, Rise!,” and especially “Spit Out The Bone” did not make the year-end charts for 2016, that it was a great moment for Metallica in 2016?
That’s because this song actually kicks ass, especially considering what happened this year *cough*”Me Too”*cough*.  It’s a complete ball of rage.  It has excellent buildup at the beginning before hell breaks loose.  The riffs are great.  James Hetfield provides some excellent vocals, despite the profanity.  The drums are surprisingly good, considering the low standard we collectively set Lars’ drumming skills to.  The only true weak point is the short guitar solo, but the band was trying to go for 3 minutes here, so it’s a necessary sacrifice to maintain the punk feel.  As for the lyrics, it’s surprising how deep these simple lyrics can go, considering it’s about the fact that we’re designed to fail at some point, may it be a small failure or something cataclysmic.  It’s a dark song with a sense of relatability in how true the statements made here likely are, and that’s where I feel Metallica succeeds the best, even though they have written much better songs for that album.  But regardless, it’s a great song.

11.       From The Pinnacle To The Pit by Ghost
Obvious joke here:
No seriously, this is terrifying.  Of all the retro-metal metal bands to become international superstars, it’s the one that is completely satanic.  The worst part is that their style is just so groovy that it’s almost hard to not get hooked to their music.  Is as if the band decided to incorporate enough elements of pop music into their sound that their devilish jams end up sticking more in our collective, non-Devil worshiping heads.  There’s a saying about that:
(RIP Ernest Borgeoine)

But if there’s some silver lining to this.  I’m not a fundamentalist Christian (unlike those jackasses in Westboro), so I’m more focused on good music.  And it’s as if Lucifer inspires more good music than bad music (insert crappy Christian rock artist here).  And Ghost are an excellent band in general, and this song is no different.  With the opening bassline that introduces a killer guitar lick and drum performance, this starts strong.  And it gets better, as the song incorporates the melodic vocals of the current Papa Emeritus (the third, I presume) detailing a tale of a person having a great deal of power, ultimately falling from grace.  While this could describe Lucifer, this can also relate to the birth of Papa Emeritus III as the singer of Ghost.
Sorry Ragna.

But don’t let the dark lyrics keep you down.  The music continues to kick ass, being the kind of doomy hard rock that’s only talked about when discussing Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin.  Hell, this evokes those artists better than most mainstream rockers these days.  With groovy riffs, killer guitar solos, and the bass and drums going strong with punches of keyboards at crucial moments for atmosphere, this song rockets up to among my favorite songs of the New Tens.  Now if “Square Hammer” made the year-end charts for 2016, then this list would definitely different. 

10.       The Light by Disturbed:
So here’s a confession that will lead to my doom: I friggin’ love Disturbed.  I don’t care that they’re a product of the nu metal age.  They are a band that started strongly with a distinctive sound to them, then matured into a great band to listen to in general.  A factor in this is how they are able to take very, very dark subject matter (or even stuff that falls under rule of cool) and are able to write catchy, melodic and/or rhythmic hard rock anthems about such elements.  It’s as if they look into darkness to find the light that inspires their ability to hook me in and have me act all moé like this:
wa watashi no naka no subete no aimaina, konran shite iru, watashi wa sore o
tasukeru koto wa dekimasen sa rete imasu.)
So a song like this should feel strange and alien to me, with its more flowery, optimistic, and uplifting tone, but it actually doesn’t.  I actually love this track, and it’s as if David Draiman and Dan Donegan have been spying on me, learning what I was getting into when they were writing their comeback album Immortalized, and they decided to write a song with elements of power metal (a genre I adore too much).  And they manage to keep the happier tone in line with their darker roots, with lyrics dealing with venturing into moments and attitudes that make me sad, angry, terrified, worried, and so on and find the positive aspects that can change my life and make me stronger.  It’s as if they decided to sing songs about the need to improve your life in ways that don’t suck or sound preachy, but their fanbase can relate to.  And when David sings “Sometimes darkness can show you the light,” it’s as if he knows how we struggle, and what causes us pain can lead to the answer that can probably save our lives.  Plus the instrumentation is standard Disturbed, as in it kicks ass, and the mixture of both happier sounds, with the usage of major keys here, allows for a new flavor of Disturbed that I can feel influences people’s will to live.  Plus Kevin Churko manages to provide some excellent production, highlighting the larger than life feel and punch of the band.  While this could have used a guitar solo, there are some great arpeggios from Dan Donegan that keep things from getting stale.  In short, this is a fantastic track with everything working, but there are other songs that I somehow liked more.  Such as…

9.         Reapers by Muse:
Muse above Disturbed?  And they’re only at number 9?
Please don’t tell the space marines about this, please.
Goddammit.  And I just got that scroll.
With a drum beat that kicks this song into overdrive, and a stellar arpeggio at the beginning, it all builds up Matt Bellamy’s emotional vocal delivery, with elements that are standard Muse, with jangly verses that pave way for a crunchy chorus.  Plus that bass fuzz, which adds to the cyberpunk feel of that song is going for.  Said cyberpunk focus deals with the use of drone warfare, and the fear of being spied on by the government before they decide to gun you down from the sky.  With this, they can rule in fear, the fear that you are likely to be killed by something that’s been programmed to terminate life if you step out of line.  All of this driving such fear in the population that it led to an Orange-colored imbecile who spoke in alt-right rhetoric for attention…
What?  I’m speaking about something RATIONAL PEOPLE have realized!
Great, now the space marines are after me.
Et tu, TR-8R?
Before I start exposing political rhetoric that’s likely going to get this blog blacklisted by idiots, let’s get to the angry music.  Alongside the jangly and crunchy riffs, there are enough guitar solos here alongside the arpeggio to make me realize that Matt Bellamy is one of our current guitar heroes.  And as I’ve mentioned, the rhythm section is tight, savage, and punchy, delivering the goods.  As you may have figured out, I’m a fan of progressive rock, and this is quite the standout from what could be a great album, and I can consider myself someone who finds that Muse are back to being great (“Dead Inside” kind of sucked, and you know it). 

But before heresy claims get out of hand, let’s get to the next entry.

8.         Death of a Bachelor by Panic! At The Disco:
Okay, I’m sure you want to do this to me for putting a Panic! Song here after bashing their cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”:
As for the anime reference this time, it ain’t Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
But as far as I can tell, that’s because Brendan Urie is no Freddie Mercury, and that cover shows.  However, from their earlier work, channeling the Rat Pack was something that he’s better off doing.  What I mean is that despite this song having modern pop production, the song’s feel and focus is slightly closer to the works of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., and so on; that sort of mix of jazz and pop that defined the era of crooners with the sophistication to boot.  For why this is on the list, it’s because I have a massive appreciation for that era, specifically from the artists to boot (and why Rod Stewart is completely out of his element in his “Great American Songbook” albums), while preferring artists who manage to do that well.  But this is Panic! At the Disco we’re talking about, and Brendan Urie’s vocal performance is great here on the title track of their new album, both sticking to his familiar range while incorporating the jazzy, swing feel of the Rat Pack era of music to his tone and approach.  But if there’s a bright side here, it’s weird how the pop production, while usually sounding like ass, fits here, as it’s a modern update of classic swing, so it’s not surprising that this song sounds better than most pop music.  Overall, great song with a lot of flair, and definitely better than any of Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook compilations.

No seriously, if between the choices of Death of a Bachelor and any Great American Songbook volume, pick Death of a Bachelor.  It’s a better value anyway.

7.         No Good by Kaleo
It’s weird how my introduction to these Icelanders was “Way Down We Go,” which took a while to grow on me.  However, for this bluesy rocker, it took even less time for me to show massive levels of enjoyment for this track.  With its intense sound, punchy beats, and energetic guitars with licks and solos to boot, bass and drums, we get one hell of a rocker that shows us Americans how it’s done.  Plus with its searing vocals, you get some strong rock n’ roll mastery that helped me realize that “alternative” and “indie” did not necessarily mean hipster-campfire music.  It could mean music with the punch and grit that pop music and even radio rock seems to ignore thanks to the desires of record companies to keep things safe and formulaic for quick returns.  And while this song is nowhere near my favorites of all time, it’s definitely one of my favorite songs that I know to have hit the charts last year.  Overall, this is a fun track that deserves more attention.  More so than anyone else that considers themselves rock when they’re wimpy acoustic campfire music.

6.         Emotionless by Red Sun Rising
We can all agree that post-grunge is done, and any attempts at resuscitating it are completely feeble.  As a result, it’s a lost cause when any of the early millennial butt rock acts try to make a comeback.  But if there’s a silver lining, there are bands like Red Sun Rising to take up the mantle and do what they forgot to do: make socially relevant music with dirt, grit, and catchy melodies all at once.  This is a pure pop grunge tune with themes of isolation, desperation, and stoicism, probably due to the effects of being ostracized from society and becoming destitute.  As a result, you become significantly hardened and have a much darker outlook on life.  That or it’s about dealing with a woman who’s laying down lifeless, and this was all a dream that the singer had.

Here's the link to what I'm talking about:

But for the music, it’s punchy, it’s intense, and starts with acoustics, then it gets progressively heavier and more distorted before the big chorus.  Then it leads into a stellar guitar solo.  But what hooks me in are the strong melodies that definitely stir my emotions.  For a song about the lifeless, emotionless body of the woman of the singer’s dreams, this song is quite emotional.  And before you sling the emo tag at this, let me point out that the biggest rock of this year has a style that is VERY emo.  There’s the difference between Twenty One Pilots and Red Sun Rising.  In short, this is a modern classic, which I hopefully hope is not treated as a “Why didn’t we understand it better?” moment in the long run.

5.         The Devil’s Bleeding Crown by Volbeat:
Whereas “Seal The Deal” rocked earlier entries of this blog, I can safely say that this song is one hell of a ride.  With its rockabilly elements, macho feel, and intense Danish bravado, Volbeat have one hell of a song that manages to evoke “A Warrior’s Call” and “Still Counting” while continuing to provide something fresh and exciting to the rock scene.  The fact that this made the Top 5 based on its execution alone is nothing short of awesome.  Plus, with its mythic lyrics, dealing with concepts of hell, sin, and stealing crowns from good old Beezlebub, it gives the song a sort of dark punch that would also not feel out of place in 70s and 80s metal, even if it’s what would happen if you mixed The Stray Cats and Slayer.  The latter being more apparent as former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano continues his trek with this band, providing a shredding, thrash metal approach to the band’s rockabilly take on heavy metal and hard rock, giving the band more punch than they ever had, and that’s saying something considering how awesome they were beforehand.  Plus the vocals, bass, and drums from Michael Poulsen, Kaspar Boye Larsen, and Jon Larsen are all excellent, top shelf musical ecstasy.  This is just an excellent song, and it deserves the airplay it gets.

4.         Here’s To The Heartache by Nothing More
I’m pretty sure that their anthem-based approach to alternative metal and Luke’s opinion of them are why they’re here alone.  But that’s two reasons why they’re here.  The other reasons include: strong vocals, passionate delivery, stellar instrumentation, pounding drums, a soaring chorus, and some interesting lyrics.  Let me explain.

Whereas most modern alt-metal would rather stick for either masculinity or Hot Topic emo, this fits both categories and provides some interesting music and lyrics.  It’s mid-tempo alternative metal, but it’s played with punch, passion, and intensity that the better bands that play the style have.  The guitars crunch with passion, the bass is thick with passion, and the drums hit hard with passion.  That’s not including some of the most passionate vocals I’ve heard from a band since probably Three Days Grace or Shinedown at their best (two of the better post-grunge bands in my mind).  And the lyrics deal with how relatable heartache can be for all of us, and making a toast to if you’ve ever dealt with a broken heart and lots of tears, which I know would be EVERYONE at some point.  Everything about this song fits that mold, with dark melodies that can be uplifting, and the pained, but powerful vocals from Jonny Hawkins, who is a rock star in the making.  And there’s also a great guitar solo with the right mix of grit, taste, and technique.  This is probably my favorite radio rock song of the year, but three songs top it for this list.

3.         When We Were Young by Adele:
Adele?  Here on a list of the best ROCK song?
I wonder if there are any groups that teach you how to play Warhammer 40k.
But don’t let any heresy accusations fool you into thinking that this song doesn’t deserve to be on here.  One, it made the rock charts due to what’s defined as rock by Billboard (which, at this point, is pretty freaking weird).  Two, it’s about a surge of nostalgia that you feel when a certain someone reenters your life after a long time apart.  Where “Stressed Out” was about trying to cling to nostalgia while dealing with the jump to adulthood, this deals with experiencing nostalgia during your adult life due to certain circumstances, and it brings out a flurry of emotions that range from happy to sad.  But what gives this song the bronze prize is just how beautiful this ballad is, and how Adele sings this song.  She’s arguably at her best here, and she captures how the memories of this person she suddenly sees come in cause her to be happy, sad, scared, and concerned that he might not even remember her when she does.  It’s something that I’m sure can people to outright cry when they put themselves in Adele’s perspective, and it’s a mix of heartwarming, heartbreaking, and just unnerving to deal with what’s going on here.  The production is also flawless, with clarity in the music, excellent use of piano, strings, upright bass, and drums.  Plus Adele sounds great here, giving what probably might he her career-best vocal performance.  It’s a fantastic song through and through, and it deserves the accolades it gets.  But what can top the work of who is arguably the best mainstream performer alive? 

The next two entries are closer to true rock, but as beautiful in its delivery.

2.         The Sound of Silence by Disturbed:
Before we get into the nitty gritty about this song, let me remind you that this is a cover.  Specifically the Simon & Garfunkel classic of the same name, aka that song we recognize from The Graduate.  It was a haunting song about the effects of depression on people, a bleak outlook created from the political upheaval, the conflicts, social injustice, and so on in the 60s that resulted in the hippy movement.  It was a dark moment full of uncertainty that probably ended with Woodstock and the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the original song reflected that well with its somber tone and folky style.  But now that we were in a similar time to 1966, we ended up giving Disturbed their biggest hit of their career, a dark, almost operatic take on the classic hit.

Where there was a folk rock sound to the original to match the sounds of the 60s, Disturbed do not even attempt to give their version their usual musical approach (crunching guitars, monkey chants, tribal drums, and so on), instead going having the song driven by Dan Donegan’s prowess with electronics, symphonic elements, and acoustic guitars to create a symphonic feel.  While there was a sort of depressive “I give up and things are too hard” feel to the original, especially with the vocals, David Draiman decides to increase the intensity in his vocals as the song goes on, starting with a more somber, lower-key croon, then adding more intensity and fire to his vocals, as if he’s trying to break the sadness of the original while ultimately realizing that even he’s too weakened by all the crap in the world today to fight.  This song is driven entirely by David’s performance, and he’s actually a better singer than we give him credit for, with this song proving that in spades.  Plus, I never got the sense that he ever used Auto Tune here, where any other artist would rely on it to be able to sing the melodies of the original, let alone embody the rage 2016 has given us.  This was released on an album from 2015, but it probably predicted how frustrating last year was in a way that’s both beautiful, frustrating, and outright bewildering.  It’s a testament to how timeless the original was that a lower-key, symphonic version would become a smash hit.  And a hit it was.  But if there’s a few minor issues here, it’s probably that David might have over sung this song to maintain his hard rock card, but that’s not a major issue when this song EMBODIES 2016 completely, from its taking of half-century old ideas, a morose worldview, and a desire to rise up and fight all combining into a meaningful cover that allows for us to think about how we ultimately survived such a year while prepping for whatever 2017 brings our way.

But it isn’t Number 1, despite its significance, because this is my list, and social relevance is not how I judge quality.

But before I discuss Number 1, here’s some honorable mentions, without any order:

HM1:   Cirice by Ghost

Yes, I know this song won a Grammy, and it deserves its spot on year-end lists, but the bassline of “From The Pinnacle to the Pit” won me over.  That doesn’t mean this song isn’t great, it really is.  I just didn’t have enough room to put this on here, and I’m sure that most people have already talked about it.

HM2:   Ex’s & Oh’s by Elle King:
I could have put this song on here, but it also was a massive hit in 2015, so it would feel redundant.  Despite that, this song is an outright blast, with great production, a killer guitar performance, and proof that we should pay attention to Elle King for her talent, charisma, and prescience rather than her family.  As for the lyrics, that might be where the song may stumble, but music matter more to me, so I can listen to this song with no guilt, and I find the conceit fun.  Don’t judge me.

HM3:   Hello by Adele:
This song, I’m sure, made a lot of Best of 2015 lists, so that’s why it’s an honorable mention here.  Just because this song is said to be great doesn’t mean it truly great.  But for me, it’s a moving, powerful song about the effects of thinking about a former loved one, and trying to call him from where you are, trying to tell them that you genuinely miss him (that’s from Adele’s perspective, but it might be different for you).  The power of it is why it’s an honorable mention, as well as an excellent cover from Leo Moracchioli here:

HM4:   Lazarus by David Bowie:
Until I made this list I did not actively listen to or seek out this swan song from the late musical icon.  Shame really, as this is a great song to end a career on, with its reflective tone and somber attitude, one that’s as if it comes from a man who knows his life is going to end.  A haunting song that will make you reflect on how strong David Bowie was as a musician, and if I ever redid this list, it’ll make the list definitely, possibly in the Top 5.  Sorry for waiting until a year after his death for discovering Bowie’s final swan song, and I hope to make it up to you all at some point.

HM5:   Mayhem by Halestorm:
It’s obvious by now that Halestorm is here to stay.  With their approach of sexy, sleazy hard rock from the point of view of Lzzy Hale, who’s come out as bi in the past, this band hits hard, provides the thunder that even men can’t seem to reach, and eschews the pointless crap polluting rock radio in favor of lean, mean rock n’ roll.  This is no exception, but the production here, done by someone from the country scene, may be glossy enough to keep this song from making the list.  But still, it’s as furious as Furiosa.

HM6:   Open Your Eyes by Disturbed:
Wait a second, a song that was produced by Kevin Churko, who’s infamous for producing for 5FDP, and that’s about how crap the world is, and it is sung to us directly, as if we’ve been blinded by hypocrisy rather than angry at it with no sense of direction?  Automatically, it washes out the stink of “Wash It All Away” with aplomb.  Plus, the instrumentation, David Draiman’s vocals, and production allows for one savage song with actual direction and a solution to the listener rather than “Look at me be relevant!”

HM7:   Prayers/Triangles by Deftones:
While “Phantom Bride” ultimately made the list, this song is definitely still a standout as well.  This gets the same praises as that song, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

HM8:   Prophets of Rage by Prophets of Rage:
A blast from the past that evokes the best aspects of 90s music and is a provoking and prevalent today as the song’s it evokes from Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.  Even better when they got members of both acts teaming up for this rock monster.  Too bad their political views were ignored in favor of You Know Who’s rhetoric.  Shame, really, but that might mean more of this great collaboration.

HM9:   Somebody Else by The 1975:
Is it me, or is this band’s neo-80s approach appealing to me?  Does anyone know if this is an issue?  I sure don’t.

HM10: Take Me Down by The Pretty Reckless:
While this is nowhere near as aggressive and gritty as their previous songs, it’s still a sleazy affair from the former child star and her band.  At this point, I’ll remember Taylor Momsen for her ability to play kickass rock ‘n’ roll rather than here role as Cindy Lou Who.  Plus, going for an early-70s classic rock sound was an interesting direction for the band, and it showed their ability to reach across directions and sounds in their sonic attack.  Good work, girl.

HM11: Until the World Goes Cold by Trivium:
I’ll have to admit that this is different from what Trivium usually does, but that isn’t a bad thing here.  It’s well played, the guitars crunch well as they do showcase Matt and Corey’s melodic side, the guitar solo is savage, the bass and drums keep the beat steady, and Matt sounds amazing here.  If there’s a reason for this not making the list, it’s nowhere near as good as their Ascendency and Shogun work.

HM12: Victorious by Panic! At the Disco:
Yes, Panic! At The Disco is capable of catchy pop-tinged rock.  And this song is ultimate proof of that.  With its tone and sound reflecting both a sense of gothic fun and victory, Panic! At The Disco (or Brendan Urie, since it’s pretty much a solo project now) come off as, well, victorious on this track.  Well, I seem to have preferred their new pop sound better than Fall Out Boy because at least Brendan is honest about his pop leanings.

1.         Kiss This by The Struts:
Ultimately, when it came to coming up with the list, number 1 came down to one important fact: Why was the rock scene doing so well in 2016?  Was it because of a lack of care in making the pop charts?  Was it due to the political events that occurred this year?  Was it a result of a sense of power and desire to bring change?  And most importantly, what song helped me SURVIVE this stupid year?  The answer was not a dour, depressing song about life being bad, it was a fun, retro throwback, and its intro is a sampled horn line.
When I was hearing this on the radio at first, I thought it was fine, but after learning that this band was considered hard rock (and glam rock), I decided to give this song a few more shots.  The result?  I don’t like this song.  I LOVE IT!  It’s both a new track by itself as well as a strong throwback to the early days of rock when it was more about the punch and sex appeal of the singers, even when they wore drag, than it was about preaching politically correct, social justice nonsense that got so tiring that enough people in key swing states elected an egotistical Oompa Loompa (unfortunately this is true).  If The Struts become superstars, I can see people realizing that rock music can actually be fun and exciting rather than preachy and tiring.  The latter being a thing is why we had so many Christian-leaning butt rock bands coming out, even today, and why it’s as if the rock charts are loaded with PC WGWAGs rather than potential sex gods or charismatic revolutionaries.  This is pure, unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll for a new generation, one that celebrates the past, living in the present, and telling people to make up their damn minds already.  The riffs are tasty, the usage of synths does not detract from the energy, the drums are rollicking, the bass is bouncy, and Luke Spiller is probably the next Justin Hawkins or Eric Nally, a bona fide rock star.  Plus there’s a great guitar solo at the end that works with the final chorus.  If we can’t have Foxy Shazam or The Darkness anymore, then I hope The Struts take the rock crown and hit the top.  I want my diatribe against 5FDP two weeks ago to have more weight.  And hopefully we’ll strut to whatever these British glam rockers come up with next.

So that was my list of the best songs in rock from 2016 with honorable mentions.  If you disagree with ANYTHING I said, feel free to leave in the comments what songs you preferred.  I’d also like to point out that after this, I am dead focused on 2017 for this series, and that I’d focus on 5 charts: Hot Rock Songs, Alternative Songs, Mainstream Rock Songs, and the American and Japanese Hot 100 (yes, I’m planning on doing a “true” hit songs best and worst of for this year).  Sorry this was so late, but I had some things come up over the last few weeks that kept me away, and I’m trying to perfect my schedule.  So keep that in mind.  Plus, I’ll set up how this series will truly work next year.  But don’t let that scare you, things will rock hard here.

Until Next Time, This is The Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and Let’s Hope for a Rockin’ 2017.

All used references are done under the rules of fair use and are owned by their original creators. 

P.S. If this comes before Todd’s best of list, I’ll point that out after I publish this entry.

1 comment:

  1. these bands are powerful! twenty one pilots is my favorite one! essay writing service will help you with your writing school tasks!