Rob Sheffield’s Top 25 Songs of 2015
What an absurdly abundant year for songs, from all over the map. These are my 25 favorites of 2015 (though some gems are over on my albums list, to avoid duplicating all the same artists). Including but not limited to: hits, obscurities, pop bangers, guitar monsters, rap anthems, drunk-dial slow jams, punk ragers and karaoke room-clearers. And David Bowie, obviously.
1. Drake, “Hotline Bling”
A break-up song in the classic Paul McCartney “you stay home, she goes out” mode. Apparently nobody on earth has more fun than a girl who’s just stopped banging Drake — in fact, the Drakean FOMO seems tragically justified, since ever since he left the city, the entire population of Toronto is having one big champagne orgy on the floor to toast him not being there. Lucky girl. Lucky city. Sad little Drizzy, though that Seventies beatbox sample — from Miami, of all places — will keep him warm tonight. Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together?” sounded so DIY and low-tech in its time, yet it became the heartbeat of 2015. (I learned that song from Sade’s version — God, I’d love to hear her sing “Hotline Bling.”) You could hear this as a perfect example of how pop works as a time-travel machine — or you could just hear it as a hit that kept giving up fresh surprises all year long, definitely including Aubrey Graham’s dance moves.
2. Ought, “Beautiful Blue Sky”
The year’s most dependable “today sucked until I put this song on” song — one that can catch you in a bleak moment and remind you it’s not over yet. The Montreal postpunk kids lock into a staccato guitar groove and stretch it into a beautiful long marquee moon of a thing. (Especially live — the Paris 9/18 version is my go-to.) Tim Darcey starts out sneering easy-target buzzwords (“Warplane! Condo!”) and then the kind of phony cliches people say in cartoons (“Fancy seeing you here! Beautiful weather today!”) then his own awkward confessions: “I am no longer afraid to dance tonight, because that’s all that I have left.” The longer the band beats up on the groove, the more brave and gauche it sounds, with a touch of electric piano to cushion the guitar slashes. It has the emotional reach of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” except without the friends.
3. Alessia Cara, “Here”
My new life coach Alessia Cara showed up at your party just to make you have the same terrible time she’s having. One of the things that keeps me obsessive about pop is how crazy things happen every year that never happened before, like this: an unknown YouTube teen from Toronto flukes into a glorious trip-hop buzzkill of a Top Ten smash, proclaiming herself the resident “antisocial pessimist.” It’s the same party Lita Ford hated in “Kiss Me Deadly,” the same party Paul Westerberg hated in “Color Me Impressed,” the same party John Lennon hated in “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” the same party Morrissey would have ruined if anyone had been foolish enough to invite him. It’s the party where rock & roll malcontents have prided themselves on having a flamboyantly miserable time since the days of the late great Lesley Gore. I love every second of this, especially “I don’t dance, don’t aaaask.” Stand firm in your refusal to have fun, Alessia. Adulthood is long and crowded.