We spend most of our time here talking about albums, and while I love the format of the album, both as a listening experience and a talking point, music exists in the form of songs. An album is a lucky or unlucky collection of tracks, but a great song is a great song regardless of the others that surround it. In that spirit, let's take the opportunity to look back at what were my favorite songs from this year. It's true that most of them come from my favorite albums, but that doesn't mean a few curves can't be thrown in along the way. Let's dive in.
10. Elton John - I've Got 2 Wings
It was a welcome development for Elton John to return to making more up-tempo music again this year, and this is easily the best song from what was a contender for a spot on my list of favorite albums. Telling the story of a guitar-singling evangelist, Elton reminds us that even at this stage in his career, few people have ever been as adept at spinning great melodies.
9. Jimmy Eat World - You Are Free
Jimmy Eat World's best material manages to blend bright optimism with a tinge of darkness. That's what this song does, sounding both like an effervecent pop song of the finest order, but carrying with it a sense of melancholy that keeps it grounded. Simultaneously uplifting and reflective, it's a phenomenal example of how pop music can indeed be more than we often give it credit for.
8. Volbeat - Goodbye Forever
Volbeat is not the same band they once were, but they've finally grown into their new identity. They are essentially a pop version of a metal band now, and this song is the best example of that yet. The hook is the kind of thing a crowd won't be able to help but sing along, and it's that anthemic even before the choir comes in to make the song even more epic after the bridge. If Volbeat can keep doing this, I won't mind that they aren't who they used to be.
7. Nordic Union - Hypocrisy
Nordic Union made the best pop/metal album in the last several years. It's practically flawless, and no song was as infuriatingly propulsive as this one. There's enough heft to the guitars to get you rocking, and then they drop in a chorus that fits Ronnie Atkins' voice like a glove, and makes it hard to fight the urge to sing along.
6. Avantasia - The Haunting
Tobias Sammet has a knack for making the oddest ideas work. Picking out Dee Snider to sing a creepy rock song wouldn't be anyone's first thought, but he turns out to be perfect for it. He nails the weary tone necessary to make the eerie atmosphere work, and Tobi gives him one hell of a hook to sing. It's an overly dramatic piece of cheese, for sure, but it's musical comfort food. It's just so good.
5. Neal Morse Band - Breath Of Angels
Neal Morse has written more than his share of great ballads over the years, and this gets added to that list. As the closer to disc one of a double album, it is the epic finale that actually overshadows the rest of the music to follow, that's how strong it is. Neal's spirituality shines through on these kinds of tracks, giving them a sincerity that extends beyond the already fabulous music. You can feel the song, which is a high compliment indeed.
4. Dilana - Maybe Just A Little
Dilana has been stripping her music down over the last few years, which I entirely support, but it's nice to be reminded every now and again that she's also a superb pop artist. This song is the most upbeat and bouncy she's done in a long while (yes, I know it's not technically new), and it's damn near perfect. It uses the conceit of the lyrics subverting the pop sound, which works once again. But it's the hook that sells the song, combined with Dilana's always remarkable vocals. A true highlight of the year.
3. The Spider Accomplice - Bromelaid
I will use the same example here I did when I reviewed the band's EP; "Bromelaid" sounds like The Smiths, if Morrissey wasn't a morose jerk. This is the alternate universe version of that band, where the jangly guitars are used to make a song that revels in the spirit of fun they call to. VK Lynne's ability to integrate the word 'photosynthesize' into a pop song is commendable, but it's the infectious nature of the song that makes it a winner. It's hard not to feel good listening to this song.
2. Shiverburn - Burned Alive
The best song from the best pop album of the year. Shiverburn is a band I found through happenstance, but I am so glad I did. The entire record is fantastic, but this song in particular is everything I love about what pop music can be. The guitars are not adornments, they are fully rock and roll, with a clear tone and heavy riffs. Then there's Sanne's vocals, which are sweet and sassy, singing a hook that is damn powerful and an anthem in the making. This song should have crossed over to this side of the Atlantic and stormed our charts. It's everything you could want.
1. Zakk Wylde - Lay Me Down
But the best song of the year is this one, which does something better than anything else did this year. It is this song that reminds us that music can be more than a fun diversion from the rest of life, it can be a spiritual experience. This song is a rock and roll hymn, the kind of song that reaches out a hand and reminds us that we're all in this crazy mess together. The Hammond organ is always an easy way to win me over, but it's the mix of plaintive melody and a searing guitar solo that make this a 70s rock version of Hozier's cry, "Take Me To Church", except even better. Maybe it isn't transformative, but it's the most effective emotional punch I heard all year, and the best song of 2016.