Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016 - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

Rob Sheffield’s Top 25 Songs of 2016

Beyoncé’s ultimate kiss-off, Rae Sremmurd’s sublime Beatles ode and other standout tracks from the year that was

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Rob Sheffield counts down his 25 favorite songs of 2016.

Josh Brasted/WireImage/Getty, Jimmy King, Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty

Nobody likes you when you're 2016, as Blink-182 might have put it. But this lemon of a year had a bounty of great songs. These are my 25 favorites of 2016 (though some gems are over on my albums list, to avoid duplicating all the same artists). Including, but not limited to: hits, obscurities, guitar monsters, pop twirlers, rap Beatlemaniacs, soul shakers, punk blurts, and karaoke room-clearers. And the Monkees, obviously.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

T. Rexstasy, “Gap Yr Boiz”

Hyper-verbal rock & roll goddesses, in just one of the highlights from their excellent Jurassic Punk cassette. They share a tragic tale of all the dreadlocked bongo-playing loser dudes they've dated, including the type who leave to work on eco-friendly kale farms: "He dug my heart out with a spade and then he dragged me through the dirt/I hope he's found enlightenment in his designer yurt." You probably think this song is about you.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Brian Rasic/WireImage/Getty


Chance the Rapper, “Same Drugs”

"You were always perfect and I was only practice" is a tiny little heartbreaker of a line, but it pushes this piano loop to gargantuan emotional levels

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Kevin Winter/Getty


Britney Spears, “Private Show”

This sorely underappreciated single might seem like a dippy song about humping a stripper pole, but it's so much more – it's Britney's Black Mirror, maybe also her Westworld. She thinks she's sharing an intimate lapdance moment with her guy, begging him to close the curtains – until she notices there's an audience eyeballing her. For Britney, that's life as she knows it. (Brit's exegesis: "'Private Show' is inevitably a sexy song and it promotes feeling sexy and girls feeling alive and I think that's fun for girls.") The fact that the single really was a private show – i.e. nobody bought it or even noticed it came out – just adds to the mise en scene.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Young M.A., “Ooouuu”

An out-and-proud lesbian MC from Brooklyn scores a Top Ten smash about being a bully and a boss, smoking loud, respecting the bro code and asking why your girl keeps sexting her. Bow down!

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Florist, “Cool and Refreshing”

A sad indie girl tells the story of her life, which amounts to "I'm trying to be fine but I lied." There's something piercing in Emily Sprague's flat voice as she says, "Think of me by the creek in cut-off jeans, holding on to something that has meaning to me." The guitar goes for that Nico Chelsea Girls sound. A song that tries hard to be petite and eloquent and delicate, but ends up making a mess of itself, which is why I relate.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Lil Uzi Vert, “Erase Your Social”

The Philly rap challenger offers a thug's guide to social media – he'll go prowling for groupies on Instagram, but Snapchat? Never that: "I think it's too personal/That's what I got Twitter for."

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

The Rolling Stones, “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”

England's Newest Hitmakers should treat themselves to a three-day full-immersion blues-covers shindig every year from now on – for Mick Jagger, this may be the most fun Mr. I'm the Bleeding Volcano has allowed himself to have in public since he went forehead-to-forehead with Bowie in the "Dancing in the Streets" video, while Charlie Watts lets it bleed.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “Work From Home”

If you are ever unlucky enough to get trapped in a karaoke bar when I grab hold of this song, you will definitely wish you were work-work-working from home, and so will the bartender. Apologies in advance.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Maren Morris, “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry”

The Texas gal blew up into one of 2016's brightest Nashville upstarts, with a foul-mouthed chant for all the country girls at the bar who get so cry they can't stop drunking

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

DNCE, “Cake by the Ocean”

My favorite scene in the Mike Love autobiography is when he goes deep on his creative process during the composition of "California Girls." "So I wrote, 'The East Coast girls are cool.' No. 'The East Coast girls are sharp.' Not quite. Then: 'Well, East Coast girls are hip.'" Eureka! I think DNCE put similar cerebral ministrations into this beach-blanket hit, where the Joest of Bros writes a song that's basically a Weird Al parody of itself.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Maxwell, “1990x”

When the going gets weird, the weird go Nineties. Slow-jam perfection, so saturated in old-school R&B it should have a line about a two-way pager.

Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2016

Leonard Cohen, “Treaty”

The late, great Merle Haggard had a provocative line a few years ago about surviving into old age. "It's kind of like finding out there's time on the show and you've played your best songs," he told Rolling Stone's Jason Fine. "God was kind. But now he expects some work out of it." Leonard Cohen also got assigned extra work in his final years, and he made the most of it, closing his encore with the magnificent "Treaty." The chorus recycles a melodic hook from one of his most famous ballads, "Anthem," as he sings, "We sold our souls for love but now we're free." There's a poignant urgency in that moment – the man was in a hurry to finish the damn song. So he got it done. One of his best. And by the time he died in November, the song was out there in the world, where it belongs.

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.