by Jeff Fiedler
I don’t ordinarily write columns on this website about singles – our podcast and blog are devoted to talking about albums, after all – but, as an added fun bonus to those of you who read my previous two-part column counting down my twenty favorite albums of the year, I thought I’d take a brief moment to count down my forty favorite singles as well. Not many of these songs were terribly big hits, unfortunately – it wasn’t an especially good year to be a Top 40 radio fan, not in the least since a lot of traditionally reliable acts of years past like Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 continue to delve further into heavily processed sounds and are putting out the least artful music of their careers – but that also means that there’s a greater chance you might discover some new favorites by sampling some of these songs if they look unfamiliar to you. Like my favorite albums of the year, there’s a little of everything on here – artists both young and old and spanning every genre from pop, alternative-rock, and R&B to country, dance music, and rap! (In fact, a rap song even topped this list, though we bet it’s one you haven’t heard on the radio – ironic, really, when you consider that the song is completely FCC-compliant and requires no editing whatsoever to be safe for radio play. Go figure.) Anyway, we hope you enjoy reading this piece and perhaps even find something new here you want to add to your own collection!
40. “The Man,” The Killers
39. “That’s What I Like,” Bruno Mars
38. “My Only True Friend,” Gregg Allman
37. “Want You Back,” Haim
36. “Speak to a Girl,” Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
Not as good as McGraw’s own records (for some reason, his duets with his wife never are, although that’s no knock against her – she’s certainly turned in some fine singles of her own over the years, namely “This Kiss” – so much as the material they pick to do together), but of all the duets they’ve ever cut together, this is my favorite yet.
35. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” Spoon
34. “Unforgettable,” Thomas Rhett
33. “Doomsday,” Ryan Adams
32. “Heart Break,” Lady Antebellum
It’s not the best song from their latest album (that honor goes to the non-single “Army”), but this clever bit of songwriting is arguably the best single this country trio has put out since at least 2013’s “Downtown.”
31. “J-Boy,” Phoenix
30. “In My World,” Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie
29. “Slow Hands,” Niall Horan
Like his former bandmate Harry Styles, Horan has taken some real chances in his post-One-Direction path thus far and isn’t afraid to let his classic-rock influences show, and you can practically imagine Don Henley doing this song back in the day. It’s not quite rock, nor is it quite R&B, either, but rather, it’s a very clever fusion of the two into what was arguably the most bluesy tune to be found anywhere on Top 40 stations this year.
28. “Black Rainbows,” Cut Copy
27. “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” Jon Pardi
Taking a page from Thomas Rhett’s playbook and taking a sidestep from such more traditionalist-minded country fare as “Head Over Boots” to cut a gentle galloper with just a hint of a late-‘70s soul/disco vibe to it, it’s easy to question upon first listen why Pardi is going there. But then that gorgeous “where she at, where she at, where she at tonight” coda to the chorus hits, and it’s impossible not to want to sing along to this record. Basically, Pardi’s crafted the perfect Nashville answer to the O’Jays’ “Used to Be My Girl” nearly four full decades later.
26. “How Long,” Charlie Puth
If the first two singles (the other being “Attention”) from his upcoming sophomore outing, Voicenotes, are any indication, Puth has truly grown by leaps and bounds as a songwriter both since his much-maligned debut Nine Track Mind. This very funky and percussive retro-R&B-tinged single could get by on its mere rhythm track alone – whoever came up with the idea to have the chorus of this slinky tune begin with the bass only and bring the other instruments in layer by layer is an absolute genius – but Puth also proves himself here to be a more soulful vocalist than was ever apparent on his earlier, more pop-oriented fare.
25. “High Ticket Attractions,” The New Pornographers
Who said rock was dead? This song rocks harder than just about anything you could find on most self-dubbed “alternative rock” stations this year. If you like your alternative rock to have driving, muscular drums, lots of loud guitars playing power chords, and not a hint of electronica to be found anywhere, you will absolutely salivate over this single.
24. “Slide,” Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos
This deliciously laid-back groove pretty much defines the word “chill.” Few songs from the past ten years make better soundtracks for driving around at sunset with the hood of your car down on a beautiful evening than this song does. Arguably the best single Calvin Harris has ever made by far.
23. “Silver,” Waxahatchee
Aspiring to be something more than just another lo-fi indie outfit, Katie Crutchfield and her band go into a proper studio for the first time and come out of there with the greatest and most fiery-sounding single of their career to date.
22. “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” U2
Its parent album (Songs of Experience) is admittedly a real disappointment, but this might actually be the finest single the band’s put out in over ten years. It’s just too bad the band’s reputation isn’t what it used to be, because had this same song come out in 2000 and been included on All That You Can’t Leave Behind, you’d likely still be hearing it on adult-rock radio stations today alongside other U2 hits like “Beautiful Day” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Instead, this song missed the Hot 100 altogether.
21. “Do You Still Love Me?,” Ryan Adams
20. “Name for You,” The Shins
This song’s parent album (the band’s second for Columbia), Heartworms, may not be anywhere near as good from start to finish as any of their indie releases on Sub Pop, but this might actually be my favorite single James Mercer’s written to date, either for his own band or for Broken Bells, for that matter. If everything else on the album had been as exceptional as this song is, Heartworms could have been a real contender for the title of the year’s best album.
19. “Two Ghosts,” Harry Styles
18. “Feels Like Heaven,” Ariel Pink
If it weren’t for the copyright date on this record, you’d swear this had to be a lost record from the ‘80s. Many artists have tried to recapture the mood and ambience of such well-loved ‘80s alternative acts as the Smiths, the Psychedelic Furs, the Church, and Alphaville, but hardly anyone has quite replicated that sound as perfectly as Ariel Pink does here on this utterly gorgeous and chill-inducing track.
17. “Doom or Destiny,” Blondie feat. Joan Jett
16. “Fool Me Once,” Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
This soulful little country single from one of Willie Nelson’s sons is a revelation. It’s like hearing your favorite George Strait songs put into a blender with your favorite Little Feat songs, with just a little pinch of Willie himself added for good measure (and indeed Lukas sounds eerily just like a young version of his dad when he gets to the line “I might even walk the line”), and you’ve got one truly irresistible concoction.
15. “Another Love Song,” Ne-Yo
A mildly ironic song coming from someone who first stole our hearts by crooning about being “so sick of love songs,” this song got released to almost no fanfare whatsoever and didn’t even so much as reach the Hot 100, but Ne-Yo once again proves here why he is easily one of the finest R&B singer-songwriters of the last two decades.
14. “The Fighter,” Keith Urban feat. Carrie Underwood
This cut sounds like a real train wreck of an idea on paper – take two of country’s biggest stars and bring them together for a full-blown neo-disco single with hardly a trace of twang to be found – but, somehow, Urban and Underwood find a way of making this cut work and gloriously, at that. You’d have to be a real country purist to be able to resist tapping your toes along to this track.
13. “Glitter,” Charly Bliss
12. “Better Man,” Little Big Town
11. “Lottery,” Train
It might be a far cry from the adult-contemporary-rock they do best (“Drops of Jupiter,” “Calling All Angels,” “Meet Virginia”), but this extremely unexpected excursion into Cuban territory (ignore the lyrics, and you can practically imagine the rhythm track of this song’s chorus being played by Desi Arnaz and his orchestra in an episode of I Love Lucy) is simply far too much fun to be dismissed in the same breath as the band’s deservedly-much-maligned “Play That Song.” This is the band’s best single since at least “Hey, Soul Sister,” and no one else on pop radio this year made being in love sound quite as jubilant as these guys do on this cut. Cue Cupid.
10. “Run for Cover,” The Killers
9. “Told You So,” Paramore
8. “Creep City,” Jake Shears
This extremely promising debut solo single from the Scissor Sisters frontman pleasantly hearkens back to the heavily ‘70s-pop-influenced sound of that band’s phenomenal self-titled debut album. If this track is any indication of what Shears’ upcoming full-length solo debut will sound like, it’s a safe bet that Shears will be a fixture on many a best-of list at the end of 2018, mine included.
7. “Happy People,” Little Big Town
6. “I Feel It Coming,” The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk
Arguably the best single The Weeknd has ever made, it’s hard not to be charmed by this single’s old-school-Michael-Jackson vibe. Combine that gently soulful groove with those warm harmonies and the futuristic processed backing vocals from Daft Punk, and you’ve got a cut that would practically fit right at home on Off the Wall.
5. “Failing to See,” Justin Currie
4. “Hard Times,” Paramore
3. “The Punishment of Luxury,” Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark
2. “All the Pretty Girls,” Kenny Chesney
The fourth and final single from Chesney’s latest studio outing, 2016’s Cosmic Hallelujah, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher how this song could have possibly been bypassed for single release as long as it was: it’s not only the most highly infectious song on the album – it’s arguably the catchiest single Chesney’s released in ten years. This song ranks right up there with any of the singles from No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems or The Road and the Radio.
1. “Wild Child,” Lupe Fiasco feat. Jake Torrey
This isn’t merely my favorite single from Lupe Fiasco yet – it’s, without a doubt, my favorite single from any rap artist since Kanye West’s “Power” nearly eight years ago. It’s hard to quite decide what the most fun aspect of this single is – Fiasco’s impressive rapid-fire, Twista-esque delivery of what are some very wordy verses; the sunny-as-a-summer’s-day vibe of the song’s whopper-sized hook; the muscular drum work underpinning this vaguely rock-tinged number; the cool guitar-chord changes in the chorus; or the fact that this easily is the most delightfully family-friendly rap song I’ve heard since the last time Will Smith put out a record (there’s only one solitary instance of profanity – and a very mild one, at that – to be found on this track) – but it’s impossible to listen to this cut without cracking a smile. It didn’t so much as even dent the Hot 100, sadly, but this track really should have at the very least returned Fiasco to the Top 40 after a six-year absence. (Remarkably, his most recent Top 40 pop hit to date is 2011’s “Out of My Head,” which itself only reached #40.)