The Best Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2016
And now we wrap up my 5 annual radio format lists, having done rap, pop, R&B and country. Billboard published a compulsory "is rock dead?" thinkpiece in their year end issue, so you can go there if that's what you wanna read about. Me, I'm just gonna talk about some songs. Here's the previous lists for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and the Spotify playlist for this year.
1. Bastille - "Good Grief"
#2 Alternative Songs, #4 Rock Airplay
Mortality cast a long shadow over popular music in 2016, and "Good Grief" was the year's most perversely upbeat song about mourning, with a killer bassline and carpe diem pep talks sampled from Kelly Le Brock in Weird Science. To me, a big reason to turn on the radio every day is to unexpectedly fall in love with a song by an artist I thought I hated, and Bastille was a great example of that.
2. Bishop Briggs - "River"
#3 Alternative Songs, #5 Rock Airplay
Bishop Briggs had a song in an Acura ad over 6 months before Island Records released her first single or even acknowledged that they had signed her, and I did some sleuthing and speculating about her 'industry plant' status. But I wouldn't have even bothered to look into that stuff if her songs didn't grab me immediately.
3. Foals - "Mountain At My Gates"
#1 Alternative Songs, #4 Rock Airplay
All of the top 4 songs on this list are by artists from the U.K., and my taste in modern rock doesn't really tend to skew too Anglophile, so I wonder if there's something to that. Maybe the greater commercial relevance of rock bands in England leads to more artists making memorable alt rock singles over there? In any event, I'd never heard Foals before but this song was one of the few really hard rocking guitar driven tracks on the radio this year that stuck with me.
4. The 1975 - "Somebody Else"
#17 Alternative Songs, #24 Rock Airplay
The 1975 broke America, with their fantastic 2nd album debuting at #1 this year, but they did that more or less without the help of radio. But just in the past few weeks they've gotten their biggest hit on U.S. rock radio, over 9 months after the record's release, with one of the gorgeous seething synth pop masterpieces buried in the album's second half.
5. Phantogram - "You Don't Get Me High Anymore"
#6 Alternative Songs, #9 Rock Airplay
"Fall In Love" is still their masterpiece, but this song really had legs, that little eerie prechorus section really is the perfect thing to balance out the hard charging buzzsaw synth of the rest of the song.
6. X-Ambassadors - "Unsteady"
#4 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay, #20 Hot 100
Rap is the genre where major acts most frequently get away with selling the public on their soundalike buddies, but there's a bit of a tradition in modern rock, given that Nickelback begat Theory Of A Deadman and Incubus begat Hoobastank. And I initially dismissed Imagine Dragons labelmates X-Ambassadors as Imagine Dragons 2 given their bland and ubiquitous debut single "Renegades." But I really started to warm up to them after the follow up single revealed a frontman who can really really sing and a good use of Alex Da Kid's thumping, bombastic production.
7. Kings Of Leon - "Waste A Moment"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Rock Airplay
Kings Of Leon were never, ever a good band but they had a genuine moment of huge stardom some years back, and this song is a catchy little comeback after their last album only got a single to #9 on the alt rock chart. Plus, I swear Caleb Followill is doing a little of a Juvenile "Ha" flow on the verses.
8. AWOLNATION - "Woman Woman"
#7 Alternative Songs, #13 Rock Airplay
AWOLNATION, whose biggest radio hit "Sail" got a chart boost from a viral video, had another song go viral with a Vine meme this year. But that song, the title track from 2015's Run, never took off at radio, which was fine by me, since I much preferred the 3rd radio single
9. Vance Joy - "Fire And The Flood"
#4 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay
I initially didn't care much for any of Vance Joy's follow ups to "Riptide," which didn't seem to have that song's forward momentum or deadpan sense of humor. But a couple months ago, I drove my dad across the country to move to Wisconsin, and when I parted ways with him after a physically and emotionally draining week and got in the rental car to drive to the airport, "Fire And The Flood" was the first song I heard, and it really hit me hard in that moment, so I have this whole personal connection to it now.
10. Metallica - "Hardwired"
#13 Rock Airplay
This year Metallica made a spirited attempt at the hoary old Return To Form Album That People Who Only Like The Early Stuff Will Dig, and it was certainly their best work since their defining artistic statement, LULU with Lou Reed. But as someone who doesn't actually like '80s Metallica more than The Black Album, I liked the concise little 3 minute single and thought the 77 minute album was way too much.
12. Twenty One Pilots - "Ride"
#1 Alternative Songs, #2 Rock Airplay, #5 Hot 100
Twenty One Pilots have emerged as pretty much the biggest new rock band of the year, possibly of the decade, with three songs in the top five of the Hot 100 in the space of a few months. Of course, the biggest of those songs basically sounds like emo Eminem so it's not like they're really a 'rock' band all of the time anyway. I don't like "Ride" as much as "Tear In My Heart" (the only Blurryface single that wasn't a gigantic crossover hit), but it's the song that seems to pack the most of what this band does well into one song, without letting the shitty rapping get in the way too much.
12. Bear Hands - "2AM"
#12 Alternative Songs, #20 Rock Airplay
A chorus that nods to both the Velvet Underground and "How I Met Your Mother" is one of the more oddly charming moments from this former Brooklyn buzz band that stopped getting reviewed by Pitchfork once they started charting singles.
13. Kaleo - "Way Down We Go"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Rock Airplay
The blues has been teaching Europeans to sing with American accents for decades, and this Icelandic band had me fooled pretty good, never would've guessed where they're from.
14. The Lumineers - "Ophelia"
#1 Alternative Songs, #2 Rock Airplay, #66 Hot 100
"Ophelia" is, according to Billboard's year end stats, the most played alt rock radio hit of all of 2016, and yet I'm not sure I actually heard it on the radio once. I had to pull it up on Spotify because my local station, DC101, which played the hell out of "Ho Hey," never touched it. And it's a nice little track, definitely not what I expected from them.
#5 Alternative Songs, #7 Rock Airplay, #63 Hot 100
My wife mostly listens to NPR and rock stations, so this is the one singles list I do every year where I kind of weigh my family's opinions on what songs to consider. And she really likes this song, way more than I do, to the point where it started to grow on me, and our older son has sung along to it too.
16. Miike Snow - "Genghis Khan"
#6 Alternative Songs, #12 Rock Airplay
The Swedish production duo Bloodshy & Avant, best known for "Toxic" by Britney Spears, still have a foot in the pop world -- one of them co-wrote this year's minor David Guetta hit "Bang My Head." But lately they've been more notable as two thirds of the indie pop trio Miike Snow, who scored their biggest hit on American rock radio this year.
17. Weezer - "Thank God For Girls"
#11 Alternative Songs, #15 Rock Airplay
I never liked Weezer enough in the '90s to actually have much of a reaction to their violently inconsistent career since then, but they occasionally make a single that really sticks in my head, and this is one of them, much to my surprise since Rivers Cuomo really goes out on a limb with some ridiculous lyrics in this one.
18. Coldplay - "Adventure Of A Lifetime"
#1 Alternative Songs, #2 Rock Airplay, #13 Hot 100
Coldplay played the Super Bowl this year on the heels of a pretty lackluster album that attempted to pivot from their earnest '80s U2 image into some kind of danceable '90s U2 makeover that engaged more with contemporary pop. I didn't think much of the rest of their Achtung Maybe, but this song was fine.
19. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Dark Necessities"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Rock Airplay, #67 Hot 100
Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton became an extremely famous and revered beatmaker despite the fact that his drums usually sound as flimsy as cardboard boxes, and he's continued to fail upward into producing one of the biggest rock bands in the world despite having no idea how to record drums. I genuinely cringe when I hear poor Chad Smith's set sound like it was recorded with an arbitrarily placed mic in a basement on the opening of this song. But once the track settles in, it's pretty pleasantly subtle for a later RHCP jam, and features some of Flea's best work in recent memory.
20. Empire Of The Sun - "Walking On A Dream"
#3 Alternative Songs, #5 Rock Airplay, #65 Hot 100
Empire Of The Sun released a new album this year, and its lead single got to a respectable #14 on the Alternative Songs chart. But by far their biggest American hit of 2016 was actually their 2008 debut single "Walking On A Dream," a song that had charted all over the world before but finally got played on U.S. radio after appearing in a Honda Civic commercial, because it always comes back to the cultural currency of car ads.
The 10 Worst Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2016:
1. The Strumbellas - "Spirits"
2. Blink-182 - "Bored To Death"
3. Judah & The Lion - "Take It All Back"
4. The Disturbed - "The Sound Of Silence"
5. Twenty One Pilots - "Heathens"
6. Beck - "Wow"
7. Green Day - "Bang Bang"
8. Imagine Dragons - "Roots"
9. Cold War Kids - "First"
10. Panic! At The Disco - "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time"