While albums made a strong comeback amidst worries that singles would make full bodies of work irrelevant in coming years, many artists still delivered with reflective, personal or insanely catching tracks that took over radio airplay and playlists. From speaking out against systemic racism to offering a final good-bye before a shocking death, here are the best songs of 2016, as voted on by our readers.
As he is wont to do, Beck decided to do a massive sonic shift for the follow-up to his Grammy Award-winning, folk-y and subdued 2014 LP Morning Phase. The glitchy pop-rap ditty "Wow" was the second single from the still as-yet-untitled 10th studio album. The beat zooms with a subtle dropping bass that hangs low below his return to the slacker rap that made songs like "Loser" such tongue-twisting ear worms.
Very few people can effectively do what Beyoncé did with "Formation": She dropped a politically charged anthem one day before performing at the Super Bowl and had the world almost universally fall in love with the track in time for her appearance at one of the biggest televised events. The song was just the beginning and previewed her strongest album yet, Lemonade, and a full year of genre-breaking, powerful messages from the year's biggest artists.
Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers addressed police brutality inflicted on African-Americans in their searching, reflective "What It Means" off their fall album American Band. The song had originally been written a few years back following the murder of Trayvon Martin.
After the immense breakthrough success of their 2015 album Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots kept up the momentum with the rap-rock tune "Heathens," which appeared on the Suicide Squad soundtrack. The tune also marks a move towards even more anthemic, grandiose tracks that match up with the incredible success they've seen in recent years.
After three years away, Green Day returned with the gut-punching, raucous "Bang Bang," the lead single off their recent album Revolution Radio. Written from the perspective of a mass shooter, the band gets back to their punk roots and politically charged later years as they address American gun culture with passion and aggression.
Off the thrash metal band's 2015 album Repentless, single "Pride in Prejudice" was released this year as the final installment of a trio of visuals that tell a sinister and often gory story. The song is an unrelenting assault of guitar and drums with Slayer as brazen and heavy as they always have been.
"Burn the Witch" was the first taste of Radiohead's semi-surprise 2016 album, A Moon Shaped Pool. The track was a product of nearly two decades of work, having been first created during sessions for 2000s Kid A.
Bowie said good-bye with his haunting, excellent final album Blackstar, and its single "Lazarus" is the most bone-chilling of them all. Released as his final single, the melancholic jazz-rock tune opens with the ominous line "Look up here, I'm in heaven." In the video, he performs blindfolded in a hospital bed before retreating to a dark wardrobe and drawing the Tree of Life.
Off Good Times!, the Monkees' first album in 20 years, "Me and Magdalena" is a gentle, folk-y ballad that lets Mickey Dolenz and Michael Nesmith's tender harmonies shine. Ben Gibbard wrote the track, and the album itself features writing contributions from artists like Rivers Cuomo, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Noel Gallagher and more.
Experimental and ominous, "Blackstar" is the cryptic lead single from Bowie's final album of the same name. The song is fragmented and creepy, setting the dark tone for an album seen as his final good-bye before his sudden death two days after its release.