The 50 ________ Songs of 2015, Pt. 2

[Note: The first part of this 2-part piece was published on Friday, 12/10/15 and can be read here:]

Let's recap:

I went through the first 25 songs on Rolling Stone's 50 Best Songs of 2015 list -- the back half, as it were -- yesterday. I watched and/or listened to each of the provided videos, and in most cases I tried to just listen to the song and not let the video influence me [in case of Rihanna, break glass]. What I found is that I liked more of the songs than I expected. Here's the tally:

Total number of songs so far: 25
Songs I have heard before: 5, with 3 maybes.
Songs that I own already: 3
Loved: 5 | Liked: 10 | Hated: 0 | Meh: 10
Songs that I plan to purchase: 8 definitely; 4 maybes.

Surprise of surprises... I ended up liking way more of the first 25 songs than I thought that I would. And the five songs that I profess to love were not necessarily the five that I had heard before. And liking/loving 60% of the music opened the door to the possibility of expanding my collection in the near future. The biggest surprise is that I didn't hate anything outright (but don't worry, something or two is bound to come up in the other half of the list). There were a full ten songs that I didn't care for, but I didn't really despise any of them either. And now I have heard full songs by Drake and Selena Gomez and lived to tell the tale. (Just don't ask me to talk about the Selena Gomez video; I just got out of therapy.)

Now, on to the other half of the list and we shall see how things progress...


Rik's Take on Rolling Stone's 50 Best Songs of 2015, Pt. 2
#25 - Dawes, "All Your Favorite Bands"
Heard of the artist? Oh, sure.
Own any of their music? I am shocked to not find anything in my collection.
Heard this song? No.
Would you purchase this song? Most certainly.

This is the sort of song the Eagles would do if the Eagles weren't a bunch of assholes and could wish well on anyone else besides themselves. An extremely pleasing song with just the right touch of sincerity and wistfulness rare qualities these days. The closing line on the chorus (containing the song's title) is richly satisfying. I would almost like to hear Roger McGuinn, John Fogerty, Mike Nesmith, and Tom Petty team up Traveling Wilburys-style to do a cover of this.

#24 - Chvrches, "Leave a Trace"
Heard of the artist? Sadly, no.
Own any of their music? Surprisingly, no.
Heard this song? In my dreams.
Would you purchase this song? Seems a fair bet.

Just a terrific electro-pop sound. It shimmers and glistens, and Lauren Mayberry's vocals propel everything forward with an urgency that doesn't allow you to relax. A trio that I want to investigate further. I am actually rather surprised they are new to me. You'd think I would have heard them on a CMJ sampler at some point.

#23 - Beck, "Dreams"
Heard of the artist? Of course.
Own any of his music? All of it. Including this single.
Heard this song? Yes.
Would you purchase this song? Too late!

Dreamy disco, but with a more muscular edge. After a Morning Phase, a party seems to have gotten underway at Beck's house. As long as I can listen to it from an adjoining room by myself, I want to be at that party. I already have the single, but good for Rolling Stone in selecting it for this list. That Beck guy never gets any attention. Well, since the last Grammys.

#22 - Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, "Sunday Candy"
Heard of the artist? Never Trumpet. But I learned about Chance the Rapper last week.
Own any of their music? Nope trumpet.
Heard this song? Nope trumpet.
Would you purchase this song? Not sure if I would listen to it more than a couple of times. I mainly love that it exists. May buy it just to support it.

I think the word for this song (and the accompanying video) is "charming". I really only heard about Chance the Rapper last week when he was blasting Spike Lee for his new film Chi-raq in misrepresenting Chicago's South Side. Never been there (which was Chance's assertion regarding Spike), so I'm not going to weigh in on this or on whether grandmothers are really doing their job in Chicago, considering how violent it has become. But we are talking about the music here, and this is my first experience hearing anything involving Chance. He certainly loves his grandma, and  I must say this is a fun song about a grandma that just wants everything in the world to be the best for her kids. Setting aside the video rule I sort of established, the school play style used to sell the song works very well. It almost makes you wish for a full musical with this song as a centerpiece. A song where the perversity and jadedness generally ascribed to the hiphop genre goes away completely, and where sincerity and love reign. And speaking as a jaded pervert, quite refreshing.

#21 - Alessia Cara, "Here"
Heard of the artist? No.
Own any of her music? No.
Heard this song? No.
Would you purchase this song? Flat out... yes.

Stunned. Loved it. I hate parties too, as you may have gathered from my Beck statement. You know that room off to the side where only two people are sitting talking? I'm in that room. Apparently Alessia is hanging out there too. A hypnotic song with a trippy dreamscape and some hip hop stylings that speak to me for once. As I said... stunned. This is pretty cool.

#20 - Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"
Heard of the artist? Boy howdy!
Own any of their music? Most certainly.
Heard this song? Already own it.
Would you purchase this song? See above statement.

Already a big fan of Brittany Howard and her band. The lady is amazing (and I hate using that word). But that's is exactly what she is. Voice, guitar, songwriting... really want to see them live.

#19 - Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, "S.O.B."
Heard of the artist? Sad that I haven't.
Own any of their music? No.
Heard this song? No.
Would you purchase this song? I believe that I might.

With a video mostly populated by bearded weirds, all concerns regarding extreme hipsterism overtaking the world are set aside once the thundering chorus strikes up in S.O.B. "Son of a bitch, give me a drink! / One more night escaping me / Son of a bitch, If I can't get clean / I'm gonna drink my life away!" It's like a Murder City Devils song, but with a horn section and gospel backing vocals replacing the shredding punk guitars. Giving in to depravity has never sounded so fun.

#18 - Lana Del Rey, "High by the Beach"
Heard of the artist? We're on the same planet, aren't we? We aren't?
Own any of her music? Just a pair of remixed singles.
Heard this song? No, and I am a bit surprised.
Would you purchase this song? Probably not, but I will watch the video again.

Speaking of hipsterism, I am never sure how I am supposed to be feel about Lana. I think she and her voice are both attractive, but they both come off just a bit too glossy. Too much of a put on is just too much of a turn off for me. But she is everywhere that I turn around, even one of pals' Facebook posts when he worked the lights at one of her shows, which is why I am surprised that I haven't heard this song before. I didn't really like it all that much, probably because the chorus doesn't appeal to this straight shooter who thinks getting "high by the beach" is getting a Frisbee stuck atop the lifeguard tower. I understand the sentiment though, and I suppose that the next time I run away to the beach to wash the world from my brain (it happens once in a while), this song may pop more for me.

#17 - Tame Impala, "Let It Happen"
Heard of the artist? Yeah. Bored now.
Own any of their music? No. Still bored, then and now.
Heard this song? No. We don't go to the same parties.
Would you purchase this song? Unlikely. Even less than unlikely.

This does nothing for me. Is the Gregorian chanting thing back suddenly?

#16 - Madonna, "Ghosttown"
Heard of the artist? Isn't she God by now?
Own any of her music? The requisite singles collections (that I have never listened to); no albums though.
Heard this song? No.
Would you purchase this song? Not bad, but probably not until The Immaculate Collection XIV comes out.

Madonna is still breathing? Even after she had that stupid grill in her mouth? Not bad Madonna, but not great either. And I am disappointed she wasn't remaking the spooky ska classic by the Specials. Now that would have been strange and honestly fascinating to hear. As it is, strictly MOR.

#15 - Grimes, "Flesh without Blood"
Heard of the artist? Yes.
Own any of their music? Not yet.
Heard this song? No.
Would you purchase this song? There is a probability that something of hers will catch with me, and then this song may get sucked into that vortex.

Claire Boucher is kind of interesting, and by interesting, I mean weird. I've seen her videos before, but not the one for this song, and she somewhat gives truth to Let's Go to the Mall from How I Met Your Mother. But she is also pretty good. I have a feeling that one day she may put out something that will make the entire world, including yours truly, go bonkers. Staying tuned... 

#14 - The Arcs, "Stay in My Corner"
Heard of the artist? Yes.
Own any of their music? Just Dan Auerbach's Black Keys stuff.
Heard this song? Yes
Would you purchase this song? Very likely. I am a completist.

I love me some Dan Auerbach, but when these guys (his side project from the Black Keys) played this song on Late Night with Stephen Colbert a bit ago, I picked up immediately on the Jealous Guy near-rip. It's a lovely song, and goes a different direction than Lennon, but I can't get past that it reminds me of another song with which I have close identification. (Not for the subject matter, but for the proximity to Lennon's death.) I will end up owning this anyway because of Auerbach and because I want to hear the rest of the album.

#13 - Bully, "Trying"
Heard of the artist? No.
Own any of their music? No. I'm scared of bullies.
Heard this song? No. Quit making me punch myself with my own fist.
Would you purchase this song? Jee-zus! Enough already. Yes, yes... (Is she gone yet?) No.

This is OK. I like tough girl rock, but this doesn't come off hard enough for me. The song is catchy, but I doubt that I would listen to it much were I to buy it. Only if I put it in a mix.

#12 - Foals, "What Went Down"
Heard of the artist? Yes, but barely.
Own any of their music? One song from 2007.
Heard this song? No.
Would you purchase this song? Most likely that will be what goes down.

Wheelhouse met. Target acquired. Pretty certain I should have paid more attention to these guys before this.

#11 - The Weeknd, "The Hills"
Heard of the artist? This guy again?
Own any of his music? No.
Heard this song? Yes.
Would you purchase this song? I only download when it's half past five. The Weeknd should understand that I don't want a real relationship.

"I only love it when you touch me, not feel me / When I'm fucked up, that's the real me" The guy in this song is a pain in the ass, and if it really represents Abel in his real life, that is sad. What a shitty relationship the couple in this oozingly creepy song have. (Love the slasher movie aesthetic.) Fairly fascinating that this went to #1; what does that say about the audience. I'm not putting the song down; I actually think it's decent. But it makes me ponder why a lyrical stance like this is appealing or even acceptable to so many.

#10 - Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber, "Where Are Ü Now"
Heard of the artist? The main people involved? All three.
Own any of their music? Of course not.
Heard this song? I thought I must have, but it is not recognizable.
Would you purchase this song? Of course not.

From Rolling Stone's description about this song being "one of the year's most instantly indelible sounds," I figured I must have heard this at some point in my travels. But no, nothing seems familiar here. This does break my run of never having heard a track featuring Justin Bieber all the way through (as it was with Selena Gomez), and like with her, it wasn't painful. The music reminds me somewhat of Peter Gabriel's polyrhythmic experiments, and the sound of Bieber's voice after they have run it through a mangle and squeezed every drop out of it is intriguing. But do I need to hear it again. Not likely.

#9 - Tobias Jesso Jr., "How Could You Babe"
Heard of the artist? No.
Own any of his music? Not yet.
Heard this song? Just now.
Would you purchase this song? More investigation needed.

I'm a huge Nilsson fan, and damn if this kid doesn't seem like the second coming. I don't think that Jesso's voice is as strong as Schmilsson's, nor do I think this song is anywhere near the Nilsson level -- it sounds like a nice try though -- but the comparisons are undeniable. Gotta keep my eye on this kid.

#8 - Future, "Fuck Up Some Commas"
Heard of the artist? No.
Own any of his music? No.
Heard this song? Sadly, yes.
Would you purchase this song? I would purchase his record company to put it out of business.

Just some of the stupidest crap I have ever heard. Can Rhino put out an updated World's Worst Records comp? Speaking as an English wonk, I got really excited when I saw commas in the title, like when Vampire Weekend did Oxford Comma. No such luck for me here; this is strictly about the Benjamins. Money, money, and more money... what some people will buy to allow the sorely untalented an unwarranted success. This is deeply painful.

#7 - Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta"
Heard of the artist? Of course.
Own any of his music? Nope.
Heard this song? Nope.
Would you purchase this song? There are scenarios where it could happen.

I take most rapper boasts to be farts in the wind. They make a strong statement, but then mercifully dissipate as quick as they came in. Its why the genre has no play with me, as I just see the worst of it as a lot of childish young men making the noise that childish young men do. I yelled a lot and did dumb things at their age too. (And at my current age.) The best of it though... it hurts a little to admit it, but I liked this song. Not to the point where I am ready to add this to my library, but I am not against hearing it again. The lyrics are agile and playful and sharp, with pointed barbs landing hits on his detractors. It almost feels like he is shadowboxing as he sings. Can he back it up? I don't really care. My only dip into Kendrick's world is when I duck into a song like this. Done right, such a side trip can be exhilarating.

#6 - Adele, "Hello"
Heard of the artist? Doesn't she run the world, like, right now?
Own any of her music? One song off a podcast.
Heard this song? Is the world flat?
Would you purchase this song? Don't need to. We will hear it everywhere forever.

How much pressure is there on guys who sleep with Adele, knowing full well she is probably eventually going to write an entire album about how upset she is over breaking up with you or over not breaking with you? It's like Taylor Swift, but on a more mature level (Adele is only two years only than Taylor, but they are worlds apart). And also because Adele seems to be able to maintain an actual relationship with a human being. Adele's music is not my bag -- this song doesn't stick with me -- but that doesn't mean that I write her sound off at all. I have admitted to my wife that I found some of Adele's songs stuck in my head for days after I have heard them on the radio, and that's not bad. There is considerable craft at hand, and her voice is a wonder. But overall it is not what I am looking for in music. And I never have to make any effort to hear her music anywhere, because it has become the very essence of our age it seems. At some point, Hello may get stuck in my head the same as some of her other songs, and I will know that I am full of crap.

#5 - Jamie xx feat. Young Thug, Popcaan, "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)"
Heard of the artist? None of the lot.
Own any of their music? Ha ha! Very droll...
Heard this song? The Persuasions sampled used in it, yes. But not this song.
Would you purchase this song? Not a chance. What stupid lyrics.

I know that I am being Captain Literal here, Young Thug, but if it is true that "I'ma ride in that pussy like a stroller," then I don't think good times are in store for you. What a stupid, stupid song, and I must take issue with the Rolling Stone writer(s) for calling this "2015's sunniest summer jam". For a magazine that prides itself on its longtime liberal stance to look past the issue of the highly misogynistic lyrics in songs like this (and some others on this list) is hypocritical to a massive degree. I don't see how this is in any way sunny. The girls must remain bitches and hos, and are ready for sex but only whenever the man wants it. "I wanna control you like it's voodoo." Good times, but mostly for the boys, I guess he means.

#4 - Courtney Barnett, "Pedestrian at Best"
Heard of the artist? I should have... I own two of her songs, but I ignored them.
Own any of her music? Two songs, including this one, off of KCRW's podcast.
Heard this song? Ignored it until now. Very mad about it.
Would you purchase this song? Obviously own it. But now I am definitely going to check out an album.

Dammit, I have owned this song for a year and never listened to it before. And I also own one of her other songs and never listened to it either. When Pedestrian at Best starts out, I first thought of an Australian Joan Jett, but when her speed-talking vocals chime in, I thought Dylan. Four lines in though, it hit me: Art Brut. Not the art movement, but the band, with lead singer Eddie Argos reeling off his dissatisfaction with everything in the world in a very undecorated style. This is really sardonic and witty and a blast of fun. One of the best songs on this list, probably in my top two. 

#3 - Drake, "Hotline Bling"
Heard of the artist? Even if I hadn't, he was further up on this list.
Own any of his music? Still not a chance.
Heard this song? Yes.
Would you purchase this song? Don't need to. Part of the basic culture now.

For a song with one tiny hook, it goes on about twice as long as it needs to, but Hotline Bling is not bad. Drake's dance moves in the video are kind of dumb (and much talked about), and I really wish he had worked in some of the low-hanging finger pointing at the floor that Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd did in their wild and crazy Festrunk Brothers days. If you are already going to catch a load of crap for your dancing, why not make it intentionally funny?

#2 - Fetty Wap, "Trap Queen"
Heard of the artist? Hard not to...
Own any of his music? Not a ghostly chance in hell.
Heard this song? Heard of it, yes, but heard it until now? No.
Would you purchase this song? Catchy, but not my thing. No repeats.

While this song plays, your body tells you it likes it, but once it ends, that hook that was driving your impulses evaporates. I was hoping the lyrics had more heft to them, but once Fetty establishes his love of drugs, Lamborghinis, strip clubs, and his bitch, it's just more money obsession. The last thing I would ever do is take a shower with money, because that stuff is filthy. I get money, you ain't gonna see it. A dumb fantasy that is probably more true to life than most, and that bothers me. I really was hoping for more from this song after hearing so many references to it nearly everywhere, even games shows and news programs.

#1 - The Weeknd, "Can't Feel My Face"
Heard of the artist? Third time's a charm... I must know his name by now.
Own any of their music? Still no.
Heard this song? Posilutely absotively.
Would you purchase this song? A mild possibility.

Is it too late to say that I am sensing a trend with this list? The Weeknd's third title on the list, and of course I have heard this one, even if I didn't hear him play it live on TV at least twice this year. I know that when I can't feel my face, it's because I have eaten wheat. It doesn't matter who I am with at the time. I don't think that's what is going on here. Superbly catchy, and the Michael Jackson comparisons are apt. This has that kind of excitement we all had early on with Michael. Setting himself on fire (but with CGI instead of real flame, smartly) probably ties it all together.


So, where does that leave us? Here's the final tally for the whole list, with the numbers for Pt. 2 combined with the numbers at the top of this article:

Total number of songs so far: 50
Songs I have heard before: 13, with 3 maybes.
Songs that I own already: 6
Loved: 10 | Liked: 18 | Hated: 2 | Meh: 20
Songs that I plan to purchase: 14 definitely; 8 maybes.

I find it quite intriguing that it took until the top ten on a list that Rolling Stone defines as the Best 50 of the year (in ascending order of quality) to find two songs that really pissed me off to no end. And also that I liked or loved over half of the list. I expected the "Meh" responses to be even higher, but it was pleasant to see that I still find hope on the pop charts, even if most of the ones I did like fall closer to the genres of post-punk, roots rock, and power pop that I prefer.

And as in the first part, I powered my way through an artist of whom I had never before sat down to sit to one of their songs -- Justin Bieber -- and wasn't repulsed by the experience. I still found the song to be "meh" in the end, but found good moments in it. This experience reminds me of the motto that I swear by when indulging in cinema -- "I will see any movie once" -- in order to give myself critical access and therefore credibility, is one that I should remember to practice with music as well. Sure, I may have over 100,000 songs in my personal collection, but there is always room for more sound. And you can't find more sound unless you try it for yourself.



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