50 Greatest Songs of 2017

As much as I love music lists, I often find year-end catalogs, particularly ones ranking songs rather than albums, to be quite weak. There is a tendency to focus on hits or to only include one song per artist. Not only is this disrespectful to artists beyond the Top 40 who may have had killer years, it creates lists that are very inaccurate and fail to please everyone. This list sets out to right those two wrongs. From the 50+ albums that I listened to last year, only 21 different artists appear on this list of the 50 Greatest Songs of the Year, and while this may not please individuals who didn’t like the albums that I did, it’s much more faithful to my own critical opinion than simply ranking the best song from the 50 best albums would. With that, I hope you can appreciate these choices based on the merit of the songs, rather than the number of times you see a particular artist. I had a lot of fun making it, and I’m very pleased to share with you my list of the 50 Greatest songs of 2017.

HM. “Introduce Yerself” – Gord Downie

Writer: Gord Downie
Producer: Kevin Drew
Introduce Yerself is a lengthy goodbye from Gord Downie, the former frontman for Canadian band The Tragically Hip. While this band is virtually unknown in America, to our neighbors in the North, Downie’s passing was treated with the reverence that Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney’s eventual demise will be here in the states. While I wasn’t familiar with Downie or The Tragically Hip before this farewell, few songs this year touched me as much as “Introduce Yerself” did; the earnesty and the grace with which Downie left our world was truly beautiful and even if “Introduce Yerself” isn’t necessarily the greatest musical achievement of the year, I had to list it as an honorable mention simply because of the emotional mark it left on me.
Appears On: Introduce Yerself

50. “Fake Happy” – Paramore

Writers: Hayley Williams and Taylor York
Producers: Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Taylor York
Hayley Williams wrote “Fake Happy” with producer Taylor York as a way to decry the “phoniness” that so many of us are forced to engage in regularly throughout our lives. Though it lyrically falls in line with much of Paramore’s previous work, musically it’s an exemplification of the much more pop-oriented sound that the band embraced with After Laughter. It towers over everything on Lorde’s critically beloved album and gives all but the best Taylor Swift songs a run for their money.
Appears On: After Laughter

49. “Tupelo” – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Writer: Jason Isbell
Producer: Dave Cobb
This southern-tinged soft Rocker is a beautiful callback to the best work from Eric Clapton and even Bob Dylan circa Street-Legal. Elsewhere on The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell vows to change the way that famous city makes music. If this is the direction they’re going, I couldn’t be more on board.
Appears On: The Nashville Sound

48. “Delicate” – Taylor Swift

Writers: Taylor Swift, Max Martin and Shellback
Producers: Max Martin and Shellback
“Delicate” was a brilliant inclusion on reputation because it takes Swift’s newfound “bad rep” in a new direction. It was deft of Swift to save it for the album itself rather than giving it away as a single; it hits harder as a surprising moment of calm and tenderness in the midst of Swift’s darkest material to date. And most importantly, it provides a sweet Max Martin-produced groovy undercurrent that stands out as damn near the best overall package on reputation.
Appears On: reputation

47. “Campaigner” – Neil Young

Writer: Neil Young
Producers: Neil Young, David Briggs and John Hanlon
Hitchhiker is one of Neil Young’s more interesting releases this decade thanks to its ’70s roots; the entirely acoustic album was recorded in one August night in 1976 with its contents released in different forms over the course of Young’s career since that point. Though “Campaigner” saw a release earlier this decade on Young’s plugged-in and amped up Le Noise, this decidedly stripped down original presents a more tortured side of a corrupt politician rather than its previously released brother.
Appears On: Hitchhiker

46. “Don’t Delete the Kisses” – Wolf Alice

Writers: Ellen Rowsell, Jonathan Oddie, Joel Amey and Theodore Ellis
Producer: Justin Meldal-Johnsen
I was first introduced to Wolf Alice with “Bros” from their 2015 debut My Love is Cool, but “Don’t Delete the Kisses” absolutely blows that one out of the water with its peaking wall-of-sound chorus and driving bass-driven rhythm section. Wolf Alice as a band checks off a lot of my favorite boxes for indie dream pop and “Don’t Delete the Kisses” owns it with its innocently lovestruck lyricism and Ellen Rowsell’s silky sweet delivery. “I kind of wanted to make one of those head out the window on a long drive tunes,” she told Beats 1 upon its release. Mission accomplished.
Appears On: Visions of a Life

45. “Smell the Roses” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
Unsurprisingly, the Proggiest, most Pink Floyd-esque song on Roger Waters’ brilliant Is This the Life We Really Want? was chosen as the lead single. Featuring, ambient sound effects, long instrumental breaks, and an underlying funk-based groove, “Smell the Roses” easily could’ve been an outtake from The Wall; it’s a part of Waters’ psyche even as he pushed ever forward with his most brilliant record to date.
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?\

44. “Total Entertainment Forever” – Father John Misty

Writer: Josh Tillman
Producers: Jonathan Wilson and Josh Tillman
While Taylor Swift had a great year on her own merit, the pop star was also mentioned as the object in a (yet another) piece of sexual fantasy (albeit a much less infamous one than Kanye West’s “Famous”) in the opening notes of this mind-bending dystopian prediction of the future from Father John Misty. “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift,” Misty sighs plainly as if even that would grow tiresome after a while. Hard to believe, but Tillman’s gloomy outlook on the state of America’s virtual addiction is a dire prophecy that may well come true.
Appears On: Pure Comedy

43. “Sign of the Times” – Harry Styles

Writers: Harry Styles, Jeff Bhasker, Mitch Rowland, Ryan Nasci, Alex Saliban and Tyler Johnson
Producer: Jeff Bhasker, Alex Saliban and Tyler Johnson
To be honest, I wasn’t especially blown away by Harry Styles’ spotty solo debut last year as a whole, but there was no denying this power ballad for the ages that he smartly used as his lead single. It may have taken a herculean effort to get a song this grandiose out of Styles (five additional writers), but the result was nothing short of stunning. A “Purple Rain” for a new generation “Sign of the Times” is already becoming an anthem of sort for our country’s trying political landscape.
Appears On: Harry Styles

42. “The Little Things That Give You Away” – U2

Writers: U2
Producers: Andy Barlow and Jolyon Thomas
Though “American Soul” was (sort of) unveiled earlier this year as a part of Kendrick Lamar’s “XXX” (which just missed making this list), it wasn’t the first song U2 revealed from Songs of Experience. Dating back to 2014 (when it was originally called “The Morning After Innocence”) Bono has been talking about what may be his most soul-bearing track on the LP. First played during the band’s Joshua Tree anniversary tour earlier this year (and later on Jimmy Kimmel Live!), “The Little Things That Give You Away” finds Bono asking his younger self for guidance, deepening the link between 2014’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
Appears On: Songs of Experience

41. “Getaway Car” – Taylor Swift

Writers: Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff
Producers: Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff
Though reputation, Taylor Swift’s most recent batch of power pop anthems, while not quite at the level of 1989, it is nonetheless a standout release for 2017 and easily my vote for the best straight-up pop record of the year. “Getaway Car,” which finds Swift and producer Jack Antonoff conflating a crime spree with a doomed romance is Swift’s best work on the LP. That chorus, filled with more defiance than regret, is everything you want in a great lovestricken pop song.
Appears On: reputation

40. “Comin Home” – Brandon Scoggins

Writer: Brandon Scoggins
Producer: Brandon Scoggins
“Comin Home” is actually a song that appears on my brother’s debut LP Sociology, an instrumental guitar album that he spliced together through multiple recordings from his cell phone. Though he’s a great guitarist, he didn’t come up with any names for his songs, so I named them myself based on how they made me feel and the natural lyricism he created through his playing. While slightly mournful, the joyful energy this song provides made me think about how I used to feel growing up in my hometown of Leonard, Texas where we had a great white house at the end of Thomas Street. Growing up in a small town in the South could’ve sucked if we’d let it. But we didn’t. And as a part of my life for the vast majority of my 23 years, I look back on my time there fondly.
Appears On: Sociology

39. “The Imperial Suite” – Michael Giacchino

Writer: Michael Giacchino
Producer: Michael Giacchino
This Imperial Theme may not be as worldly famous as the one John Williams penned for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, but I actually find this to be the stronger of the two. It takes the overall mood of Imperial authority from Williams’ original, but rather than use motif’s from Williams’ score, Giacchino boldly chose to create his own. Played during the introduction of the Death Star, the centerpiece for the entire film, this piece provides a brilliant moment for a truly fantastic film.
Appears On: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2016)

38. “Separate Ways” – Brandon Scoggins

Writer: Brandon Scoggins
Producer: Brandon Scoggins
One of the more emotionally gripping songs on Brandon’s Sociology LP, I named this recording “Separate Ways” as it reminds me of two people who love each other being forced to separate due to situations beyond their control. Mournful, yet determined in its final moments with a coda echoing “November Rain,” Brandon explores a number of different tones through his Gibson Les Paul. Each one hits the mark.
Appears On: Sociology

37. “FEEL.” – Kendrick Lamar

Writers: Kendrick Duckworth and Mark Spears
Producers: Sounwave
I was in the darkest place I’ve been since my freshman year of college when DAMN. hit me like a freight train in the first half of 2017. “FEEL.” in particular seemed to manifest the loneliness I was feeling during my several month long job search. Sounwave’s production is bare on this track, creating an almost Carole King-esque isolative effect on Kendrick Lamar’s freeform verses on loneliness and frustration.
Appears On: DAMN.

36. “Guilty Party” – The National

Writers: Matt Berninger, Carin Besser, Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner
Producers: Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Berninger and Peter Katis
The National frontman Matt Berninger wrote the lyrics to this heart-wrenching breakup song with his wife Carin Bessner, who helped him imagine a fictional dissolution of their marriage for the song. “It was a way for us to tiptoe into dark territory without actually having to talk about those things,” he later said about the track. Autobiographical or not, Berninger’s understated vocal delivery and the Dessner brothers’ stirring piano-led chord progression make this the clear standout from the rock-solid Sleep Well Beast.
Appears On: Sleep Well Beast

35. “Happy Birthday, Johnny” – St. Vincent

Writers: Annie Clark and Jack Antonoff
Producers: Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent
“New York” was by far the most popular song from St. Vincent’s landmark release last year, but for those that took the time to listen to the whole LP, “Happy Birthday, Johnny” is the clear standout. One of the most beautiful, yet hauntingly heartbreaking songs of the year, “Johnny” stopped me dead in my tracks the first time I heard it. On a pop album filled with lighter moments, this sparse piano-led track is all the more effective.
Appears On: MASSEDUCTION

34. “Sociology” – Brandon Scoggins

Writer: Brandon Scoggins
Producer: Brandon Scoggins
The name of the album and title track for Brandon’s debut LP came about as he, my grandma and I sat around talking in her living room in Terrell, Texas. She was always interested in Sociology as I was after minoring in it in college. It’s essentially the study of unseen forces in society and how they impact us, or a more scientific term for the kinds of things that music explores. In other words, it’s the perfect title for an album with great instrumentals that make you think.
Appears On: Sociology

33. “Bird in a Gale” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
The lack of respect that Roger Waters’ unbelievable Is This the Life We Really Want? has garnered is absolutely criminal; it’s not only the greatest protest album I’ve heard, it may be the greatest album of all time period. As a whole, the record is a scathing protest and “Bird in a Gale” is no outlier. As the song reaches its righteous climax, Waters screams “The boy is drowning in the sea,” an explicit reference reference to the young Turkish boy Alan Kurdi who tragically drowned at sea in 2015.
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?

 

32. “On the Waterfront” – Leon Russell

Leon Russell was a national treasure. It’s a shame that so few people knew it. His posthumous musical goodbye to his few faithful fans was as touching a departure as I’ve ever heard but unlike many musical farewells from beyond the grave, On the Waterfront had incredible depth and production value from an artist that never got the admiration he deserved. Particularly, this sweeping title track is as visually stimulating as it is aurally featuring a full orchestra, driving piano, and Russell’s withered voice delivering a final classic before riding off into the sunset.
Appears On: On the Waterfront

 

31. “GOD.” – Kendrick Lamar

Writers: Kendrick Duckworth, Ricci Riera, Mark Spears, Dacoury Natche, Daniel Tannenbaum, Ronald LaTour and Anthony Tiffith
Producer: Riera, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Bekon, Cardo and Tiffith
One of the more clever songs on DAMN., “GOD.” finds Kendrick simultaneously mocking the popular rap tropes of the day (“flex on swole like a-ha!” he can barely yell without breaking into laughter during the chorus) while also proclaiming himself Hip-Hop’s resident deity. And considering he is essentially making a Drake song (who’s supposed to be one of if not his biggest competition) look foolish and yet simultaneously better than anything in Drake’s catalog, it’s hard to argue the point.
Appears On: DAMN.

30. “Everything Now” – Arcade Fire

Writers: Will Butler, Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Jeremy Gara, Tim Kingsbury and Richard Reed Parry
Producers: Arcade Fire, Thomas Bangalter and Steve Mackey
Longtime Arcade Fire fans were split on the poppy direction the band went this year with Everything Now. Even so, the groovy title track was shockingly the band’s first song to top a Billboard Chart (the US Alternative Songs chart, to be precise). It moved me like few songs did this year; even if the record of the same name is a little spotty, “Everything Now” is one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs ever.
Appears On: Everything Now

29. “Man of War” – Radiohead

Writers: Radiohead
Producers: Nigel Godrich and Radiohead
“Man of War’s” long history dates back to 1995 when it had the working title “Big Boots.” The song was written as a sort of homage to James Bond movie themes; Yorke told NME it was “pretty much the opposite to everything we’re writing.” Radiohead initially considered “Man of War” to be the B-side for “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” from The Bends, but decided against it. The song was passed over again for 1997’s legendary OK Computer, and again for the 1998 film The Avengers’ soundtrack. After two decades removed from its initial inception, Radiohead submitted a reworked version for Spectre, the James Bond movie from 2015, but the song was rejected because it wasn’t written originally for the film and would’ve thus been ineligible to receive a Grammy nomination. Finally, “Man of War” was one of three unreleased songs included on this year’s OK Computer re-release OKNOTOK.
Appears On: OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017

28. “American Soul” – U2

Writers: U2
Producers: Jacknife Lee, Jolyon Thomas and Declan Gaffney
There are bands who fail to evolve with the times, retreading the same ground with each album and watering down original flashes of brilliance with tired retreads of old material. And then there is U2, a band that refuses to go gentle in the dying light. Songs of Experience may not have been free, but it packed a punch worthy of its price tag like few albums this year did. “American Soul” is its crowning moment, and also perhaps the most interesting release U2 has ever employed. Lending a line from the song to Kendrick Lamar for “XXX.” only to release the full thing over half a year later was not only ballsy, it was a moment of pure exhilaration and appreciation for fans who follow music from across the spectrum.
Appears On: Songs of Experience

27. “Mary” – Big Thief

Capacity was one of the most gripping albums of 2017, not because it was instantly satisfying but because, for an indie album, it was so varied that there was legitimate anticipation between songs much like there is each time you turn the page when reading the climax of a great story. Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker can get down and dirty with the best of them, but give her a piano track and a sentimental memory of a friend and she can deliver one hell of a ballad.
Appears On: Capacity

26. “Plimsoll Punks” – Alvvays

Writers: Alvvays
Producers: Alec O’Hanley and John Congleton
While Alvvays are far from punks, “Plimsoll Punks” is probably their hardest song to date featuring driving guitar chords behind Rankin’s syncopated delivery that sounds exactly like one of my favorite bands of all time evolving to the next level.
Appears On: Antisocialites

25. “Shark Smile” – Big Thief

Writer: Adrianne Lenker
Producer: Andrew Sarlo
This groovy standout from Big Thief’s excellent LP Capacity is a heart-wrenching tale of a car wreck involving two lovers where only one walks away and the other wishes it could’ve been her. Shakesperian in scope yet understated in practice, “Shark Smile” is easily among the best songs of 2017.
Appears On: Capacity

24. “Saved by a Waif” – Alvvays

Writers: Alvvays
Producers: Alec O’Hanley and John Congleton
Leave it to Molly Rankin and company to make something as mundane as a haircut sound like a life-altering event. “Saved by a Waif” ups the intensity not through the lyrics but rather through the instrumentation itself becoming one of Alvvays most productively interesting songs on record and certainly among the best cuts from Antisocialites.
Appears On: Antisocialites

23. “how do you sleep?” – LCD Soundsystem

Writers: James Murphy, Al Doyle, Pat Mahoney and Gavin Russom
Producer: James Murphy
It was all hands on deck to write and record perhaps the most epic song James Murphy has ever produced (and that’s saying something) and the results were breathtaking. “how do you sleep?” starts off as a slow-burning visual fantasy, but builds into a tidal wave of sound featuring multi-layered synth production and a level of previously untapped raw emotion. It’s nothing short of brilliant.
Appears On: american dream

22. “Here Without You” – Leon Russell

Released: Sept. 22, 2017
It seems like nobody heard Leon Russell’s fantastic, emotionally charged posthumous farewell this year. Here’s your second chance. “Here Without You” would be a fantastic heartbroken ballad in any era, but following Leon Russell’s death, and a decade-spanning career of criminally underrated music, it approaches legendary status.
Appears On: On a Distant Shore

21. “Pure Comedy” – Father John Misty

Writer: Josh Tillman
Producers: Jonathan Wilson and Josh Tillman
This epic, remorseless takedown of the human existence was one of the first songs I heard in 2017, kicking off one of the worst years for humans (in America, at least) in recent history with a finger-pointing bang. Father John comes off like a doomsday Elton John, a brilliant pianist and over-the-top vocalist still capable of restraint preaching matter-of-factly about the coming human-aided apocalypse. The best we can hope for is that he’s wrong.
Appears On: Pure Comedy

20. “LOVE.” – Kendrick Lamar and Zacari

Writers: Kendrick Duckworth, Zacari Pacaldo, Teddy Walton, Mark Spears, Greg Kurstin and Anthony Tiffith
Producers: DJ Dahi, Sounwave and Kurstin Tiffith
On an album of violence and heartbreak, “LOVE.” was Kendrick Lamar’s beautiful calm in the storm. Perhaps the most touching Hip-Hop love song ever (if you can even call it that; Zacari Pacaldo, who supplied the song’s hook, contends that its the birth of a new genre altogether), “LOVE.” plays as the antithesis to its predecessor “LUST.”, a fascinating bi-polar take on modern American relationships.
Appears On: DAMN.

19. “Just Leaves and Grass” – Leon Russell

An unbelievably dense recording from an aging artist with one last classic left in him, “Just Leaves and Grass” is a truly epic piece of music featuring an all-female choir, an entire backing orchestra, and some of the most driving piano leads I’ve ever heard. It also contains probably Leon Russell’s greatest vocals on record, one last guttural dissertation before passing gracefully into darkness.
Appears On: On a Distant Shore

18. “In Undertow” – Alvvays

Writers: Alvvays
Producers: Alec O’Hanley and John Congleton
While Taylor Swift chose to save her best songs for the album release, Alvvays made the ballsy choice of leading with the choice cut both on the album and as the lead single. I’ll never forget discovering “In Undertow,” the first song released by my favorite band of the decade since their debut three years prior, and the feeling of joy and excitement it immediately evoked. There were technically better songs released this year, but no song excited me more than “In Undertow.”
Appears On: Antisocialites

17. “The Memo” – Father John Misty

Released: Jan. 23, 2017
Writer: Josh Tillman
“The Memo” continues Father John Misty’s sermon against humanity with even tighter melodies, impressive ivory sketches, and an even wider hit list from unending war to citizen surveillance to crappy music in the American Top 40. In 2017 we were guilty of all three.
Appears On: Pure Comedy

 

16. “Broken Bones” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
While Is This the Life We Really Want? contained more explosive protests, “Broken Bones” hit harder by pulling away the studio fire in favor of a peaceful defiance. It favors a soft “Wish You Were Here” quality at the outset before sweeping into a gale of lush strings and a soaring vocal from Roger Waters who, at 74, has only increased his legendary status as one of Rock’s all-time great singers.
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?

15. “The Strangest Thing” – The War on Drugs

Writer: Adam Granduciel
Producer: Adam Granduciel
I was intrigued by Adam Granduciel’s fourth album as a part of The War on Drugs, but it wasn’t until “The Strangest Thing” that I fully bought in, particularly as the song reaches a synth-fueled climax just before the three-minute mark. And from there, the song still has at least that much to go before culminating in the ultimate Bob Dylan shoutout (“Yeah, Like a Rolling Stone!” Granduciel exclaims repeatedly in the outro). It took balls, but this masterpiece lives up to its source material.
Appears On: A Deeper Understanding

14. “call the police” – LCD Soundsystem

Writers: Al Doyle and James Murphy
Producer: James Murphy
With a single blast of emotional protest, James Murphy kicked off LCD Soundsystem’s studio return with a hell of a bang. Mixing a driving, almost joyful production with a scathing criticism of the American culture war with no side safe from Murphy’s wild accusatory rapid fire, “call the police” summed up 2017 in a way few songs did.
Appears On: american dream

13. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
This apocalyptic love song starts off innocently enough “She may have been the most beautiful girl in the world” Waters whispers with an earnesty only a statesman like himself could muster. But the song takes a dire turn with the follow-up “her life snuffed out like a bulldozer crushing a pearl.” What follows is a sobering expose on the horrors (and reality) of modern drone warfare where civilian casualties are suddenly an acceptable collateral. If you don’t get goosebumps (at least) as the song reaches its heart-wrenching finale minute, check your pulse.
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?

12. “Layla in Ivory” – Brandon Scoggins

Writers: Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon and Brandon Scoggins
Producer: Brandon Scoggins
Few would deny that Derek and The Dominos’ classic “Layla” is one of the greatest songs of all time, but as gripping as the original is, it’s also reached that “Stairway to Heaven” status of being overplayed. But Brandon’s greatest accomplishment on his debut this year is this absolutely stirring original major key piano piece that breaks out into Clapton’s gorgeous Layla coda at its emotional peak. I’m a sucker for piano music as it is, and this re-imagining of a legendary standard has quickly become a contender for my favorite one ever.
Appears On: Sociology

11. “Picture That” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
There have been many great protest anthems throughout musical history. “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine and “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley come to mind as two of the best. But “Picture That” deserves to stand in that lexicon of greatness for not-only pushing a big middle-finger into Donald Trump’s face (it doesn’t get any blunter than “Picture a leader with no fucking brains”) but also challenging listeners to picture those most devastated by his disastrous presidency (soldiers, innocent families, humanity itself) and, most notably, American hypocrisy (Follow Miss Universe catching some rays/Wish You Were Here in Guantanamo Bay).
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?

10. “LUST.” – Kendrick Lamar

Writers: Kendrick Duckworth, Dacoury Natche, Mark Spears, Chester Hansen, Alexander Sowinski, Matthew Tavares and Leland Whitty
Producers: DJ Dahi, Sounwave and BadBadNotGood
Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant DAMN. is a masterclass in contradiction, but no dichotomy hit me quite like the one between “LOVE.” and “LUST.”, the two sister tracks from deep in Kendrick’s psyche. While “LOVE.” is a gorgeous song celebrating the fruits of monogamous relationships, “LUST.” is its evil twin, a sober repentance from Lamar who strives for spiritual greatness but inevitably falls victim to the sins of the Rock n’ Roll lifestyle that comes with being one of the premier artists in the world.
Appears On: DAMN.

9. “The Last Refugee” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
This soft piano-led glimpse of the first day after a nuclear apocalypse builds to a brilliant crescendo as Roger Waters mourns the death of the last survivor. Though Waters’ line about the last refugee washing up on the sea may be yet another specific reference to the tragedy of young Alan Kurdi who washed up drowned on a Turkish beach in 2015, his relatable descriptions of “brown eyes” and “a shy smile” further drives home the poignant question: what if it was your child? Or even worse, what if you could have prevented it?
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want

8. “Is This the Life We Really Want?” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
If “The Last Refugee” was a somber eulogy for the death of sensibility in America, Is This the Life We Really Want‘s epic title track is the rallying cry for the resistance. Starting with one of Trump’s many delusional, half-witted exchanges with American media following his unfortunate election at the close of 2016, this is Waters attacking the heart of the darkness that pervades our modern world with a razor’s edge and a fine-toothed comb. It’s also a reminder that if we continue to allow the elites to divide us, there is no hope for justice.
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?

7. “In Chains” – The War on Drugs

Writer: Adam Granduciel
Producer: Adam Granduciel
There are a ton of songs that can make you fall in love or experience the devastation of heartbreak, but few can capture both extremes. “In Chains” is one of those songs. With a driving progression reminiscent of Wolf Alice’s “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” Granduciel ups the intensity significantly with an unbelievable wall-of-sound of synths as the song reaches its apex. Either you think lines like “There’s a girl out there with silence in her eyes” are genius or overblown. I side with the former.
Appears On: A Deeper Understanding

6. “Creature Comfort” – Arcade Fire

Writers: Win Butler, Will Butler, Regine Chassagne, Jeremy Gara, Tim Kingsbury, Richard Reed Parry
Producers: Arcade Fire, Geoff Barrow and Steve Mackey
Most of my favorite songs of 2017 favored over-the-top bombast to subtle dichotomies. “Creature Comfort” was the pinnacle of both. Featuring a driving synth beat, the catchiest riffing the Butlers have ever touched, and a sing-a-long chorus from what sounds like the most joyful and annoying cheerleading squad ever, “Creature Comfort” is at its core an extremely somber song that dives to the heart of depression and even suicide in America. It’s a very strange combination that left me speechless at the outset and has only grown in my mind since.
Appears On: Everything Now

5. “Lift” – Radiohead

Writers: Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Phil Selway and Thom Yorke
Producers: Nigel Godrich and Radiohead
“Lift” is one of the greatest songs Radiohead has ever written and likely would’ve been the favorite track off of their cornerstone LP OK Computer… if it had appeared on the album at all. Though the song was written during the OK Computer sessions and the band knew it had commercial appeal, they intentionally chose to leave it off of the album to avoid a rehash of what had happened with “Creep” and “Fake Plastic Trees” before it. Guitarist Ed O’Brien was particularly vocal about his displeasure for the song, calling it a “bogshite B-side” that Radiohead was “very happy to leave off the album.” Circulated as a bootleg around the OK Computer timeframe (Radiohead performed it regularly on Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill tour), it became a fan favorite despite the band’s best efforts to kill it and, in 2015, Jonny Greenwood suggested they revive it for OK Computer’s 20th anniversary collection OKNOTOK. OK Computer is one of my favorite albums of all time as it stands, but had they chosen to replace a song like “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” “Electioneering,” or “The Tourist,” with “Lift,” it would have been even further up the list of the best album’s ever made.
Appears On: OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017

4. “american dream” – LCD Soundystem

Writer: James Murphy
Producer: James Murphy
On the surface, “american dream” is the most depressing song of 2017 not written by Roger Waters. It tells a vibrant story of a middle-aged man waking up from a one-night stand, taking acid, and contemplating the meaning of life and whether he wants to continue living it. It sounds like the kind of thing that could put a suicidal individual over the edge, but as someone who has struggled with depression, I can tell you that the underlying musicality, Murphy’s addressing of the listener specifically (he refers to “you” throughout), and the chorus repeating “that’s ok” actually creates a surprisingly positive and inclusively relatable atmosphere that helps more than it hurts. It’s a parable and a sermon about how bad days and sad feelings don’t have to be the end of it all and that you can find content in even the darkest hour if you know where to look.
Appears On: american dream

3. “Your Father Would’ve Been Proud” – Michael Giacchino

Writer: Michael Giacchino
Producer: Michael Giacchino
The Star Wars franchise has many emotional moments with stirring scores to accompany them, but the series’ peak both visually and musically is the emotionally heart-wrenching and frankly shocking ending of Rogue One. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but suffice to say it’s unlike anything you’ll see in any other film in the series. Currently the only “spin-off” Star Wars movie since Disney’s acquisition of the franchise, Rogue One and Giacchino’s fantastic score are outliers and, in my view, appeal to a wider demographic than ever before.
Appears On: Rogue One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2016)

 

2. “Deja Vu” – Roger Waters

Writer: Roger Waters
Producer: Nigel Godrich
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting going into Roger Waters’ masterpiece, but I do know that all of my pre-conceptions were absolutely shattered by this biting critique of Christianity that brilliantly kicks off a poignant album of protest. Though the stirring string-laden score and chord progression can appeal to anyone, as someone who has seen lives destroyed by fanatical religion I relate to the song in an extremely powerful way that is on a level almost no other song has reached. The sound of the bomb dropping at the 2:15 mark isn’t just Waters and Godrich audiovisualizing the violence, it’s also the sound of Waters, a legend in his own time, breaking through to an even higher plane of musical ascendence. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.
Appears On: Is This the Life we Really Want?

1. “Wait for Her” (Medley) – Roger Waters

Writers: Roger Waters and Mahmoud Darwish
Producer: Nigel Godrich
It’s amazing that on an album filled with some of the greatest protest music of all time, Roger Water’s greatest achievement on Is This the Life We Really Want? is this tender love song that is based on a translation of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “Lesson from the Kama Sutra (Wait for Her).” But the song doesn’t end with Darwish’s poem; Waters continues the sentimentality into a three-part trifecta of stirring beauty, heartbreak and acceptance with “Oceans Apart” and then “Part of Me Died” to conclude his masterwork with a reminder that no fight is worth fighting unless we remember what we’re fighting for. The three-part medley is currently the only song other than Bruce Springsteen’s “New York City Serenade” that I have given a rating higher than five stars. It’s worthy of every bit of that level of praise.
Appears On: Is This the Life We Really Want?

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