Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1988

100. “Prove Your Love” – Taylor Dayne: We’re starting off a new year with one of the big names of the late 80s/early 90s pop scene! One thing that first comes out at me is how huge this song is, both in Dayne’s vocals and the glitzy, nightclub-ready production. There’s even a guitar solo! Unfortunately, none of this ever really gels together into a cohesive, truly distinct and memorable end product. The melody is a bit stiff, especially in the chorus where it matters most, and not even an ending key change could elevate this into anything resembling greatness. Still, it ain’t bad.

99. “Wait” – White Lion: This song is problematic from the very first line: “I never had a chance to love you / Now I only want to say I love you one more time”. Yikes. It does get a little better as it goes… but honestly, not by too much. There’s some nice guitar strewn here and there and the overall structure piques my interest pretty well for a power ballad. Nonetheless, these lyrics are pretty insufferable and whiny. It’s clear that this guy has no intention on leaving his ex alone, and it shines through in these lyrics crystal clear (“Wait, just a moment and tell me why / ‘Cause I can show you lovin’ that you won’t deny”, “So if you go away, I know that I will follow”, “Wait, wait, I never wanna be without you”). I’ve certainly heard worse power ballads, but there’s sadly not much I can enjoy about this particular one.

98. “Nothin’ but a Good time” – Poison: Welcome back, Poison! Although I’ve already reviewed “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, I do believe this is the first time I’ve encountered Poison for the Hot 100 challenge. Though in that review I somehow never even mentioned this song, which was the band’s biggest hit before their chart-topper. This is also the definitive sound of Poison and other hair metal bands of their ilk: big guitars, shouty melodies, lyrics about excess and hedonism… did I mention the big guitars? While I’m generally pretty lukewarm on Poison as a whole, to me this is one of their more charming cuts – the melodies in the verses and chorus are catchy as hell and I love the way Bret Michaels sings “same ol’, same ol'” in the pre-chorus. Still, this is a pretty big, stupid song about partying way too much (“They say I spend my money on women and wine / But I couldn’t tell you where I spent last night”) and the ankle-deep pretense gets old pretty quickly. Nonetheless, this is one of the most 1988 songs I think I’ve ever heard.

97. “Just Like Paradise” – David Lee Roth: In case you haven’t noticed… yep, we’re in the hair metal part of the decade. David Lee Roth, in particular, is one of the genre’s poster boys, particularly for his embrace of the more hedonistic parts of the culture. While his “California Girls” cover was just atrocious, this is much better – those guitars shimmer along quite nicely, and while his personality is a bit more toned-down here, this actually works to the track’s benefit. The end result is a pretty decent party rock track that celebrates the decadence of the era in huge sincerity. I still can’t say I’m big on Diamond Dave, but this is an improvement!

96. “Valerie” – Steve Winwood: And now for a different brand of 80s bigness. I’ve listened to a few of Steve Winwood’s hits along this challenge, but somehow this is the only one to have left a notable impression on me so far. He’s definitely talented, but his songs tend to consist of a bunch of great elements combined with some ill-fitted ones that bring the whole thing down (“Higher Love” immediately comes to mind). With this one, though, it all seems to come together. This one leans way more on the synths, but with enough breathing room to let these poetic lyrics really shine (“So cool, she was like jazz on a summer’s day”). And once that soaring chorus comes in, it all just falls into place. Even the bloated synths that I detested so much in the intro to “The Finer Things” seems to have found their place in the brief chorus before the final verse/chorus – now I love them. Like most Steve Winwood songs, I have trouble trying to find the words to critique this one… but it just seems to all fit together for me. I dunno; I dig it.

95. “Never Tear Us Apart” – INXS: Although 1986 introduced us to Australian band INXS, it wasn’t until 1988 did they actually explode onto the mainstream. It’s amazing to me that this song is their lowest ranked on the year-end list, considering that it’s one of my favorite songs of the entire decade. The strings at the intro – and running throughout – are absolutely gorgeous, offering an immediate sense of emotional depth to the romantic sensibilities of the tune. Sure, these lyrics come off a bit clunky (“Don’t have to tell you, I love your precious heart”), but Michael Hutchence had always been one hell of a frontman and he plays these lines off well. The pause after the titular line in the chorus, followed by that reluctant guitar riff, is such an ingenious moment and it cuts so deep every single time. And then there’s the sax solo… my god, I have no words. In a decade so overblown with saxophone, this is one of the instrument’s great moments. This is just a gorgeous song that also subtly carries on the edge with which this band is so synonymous. I love it so much.

94. “I Found Someone” – Cher: This song was originally recorded by Laura Branigan, following the string of successful singles she attained in the first half of the decade. It became a bigger success, though, when Cher covered it in connection with her comeback to the mainstream this same year. Once more thing: this song was written and produced by none other than Michael Bolton. Certainly a shape of things to come… Seriously though, this isn’t quite as bad as that would predict. The bloated AOR production is a bit much, sure, but it matches the power of Cher’s voice. She surprisingly sounds totally in her element here, even if the song itself is a bit of a borefest. Anyway, this is fine – I can’t hate it.

93. “I Still Believe” – Brenda K. Starr: So, this song starts off on the right foot. The slow tempo is delicately accompanied by some sparkly synths that set the mood alright, and Starr herself has a nice voice. Somewhere around the middle point, though, it starts to go off the rails a bit. The melody switch-up is unexpected and clumsily tacked-on, and the saxophone here is basically the polar opposite of the “Never Tear Us Apart” sax, in terms of its contributions to the songs as a whole. After a while, it peters out and ends pretty weakly. It’s a shame, too, cause there was some real potential for this to be something special. As it stands, though, it’s another 80s pop ballad to add to the pile.

92. “Cherry Bomb” – John Cougar Mellencamp: This song isn’t bad, but I also can’t help while listening to it that we’ve already tread these grounds many, many times before. I’m sure separated from the rest of Mellencamp’s work, this is a perfectly fine song, but in context it feels somewhat like a cheap rehash of stuff like “Small Town”, “Pink Houses”, and “Jack & Diane”. Still, the female vocals are a nice inclusion to the mix and make this one come off a tad more soulful than the rest. Yeah, as much as it seems I’m griping on it, I really don’t mind it all too much. It’s fine.

91. “Kissing a Fool” – George Michael: George Michael really can do no wrong, huh? This was yet another big year for him, and we’ll delve into some of his bigger hits later on. As for now, though… well, this song is pretty remarkable. With its minimal instrumentation and jazzy tone, this really is unlike anything else we’ve seen from him, within or without Wham!. It’s a bit of a heartbreak ballad, though stripped-down just enough to get an up-close-and-personal display of these emotions on play. It’s smoky and sensual, but not nearly as performative as, say, “I Want Your Sex”. Comparisons to Sinatra are inevitable, but I doubt that even Sinatra would have loosened up and let it out the way that Michael does during the crescendos in this tune (especially at the final third). It’s just remarkable that such a risk had been taken at such a high point in Michael’s career, and I will always respect him for that.

90. “Can’t Stay Away From You” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine: There’s something kind of unsettling about this song – maybe it’s the combination of the slightly off-kilter, uncanny instrumentation, coupled with Gloria Estefan earnestly singing, “I can’t stay away from you”… Anyway, this song mostly sounds like a whole lot of nothing to me, covered in a healthy amount of Latin-sounding synth work and other typical adult contemporary inflections. The chorus is kind of nice but… yeah, that’s about it.

89. “One Moment in Time” – Whitney Houston: Yeah… this feels like a blueprint for all of those bloated songs that future winners of singing game shows like American Idol would release as singles. You know, like “A Moment Like This” and such. Just because this one came earlier doesn’t mean it’s any less pointless, though. This song was commissioned to Whitney as the theme song for that year’s Olympics games, and boy does it come off that way. As beautifully as she (always) sings, her heart is so noticeably not in this one. The structure is painfully stiff and there’s not a single line here that has a lick of any deeper meaning other than some fake, generic inspirational crap. The production is also abysmal, with the limp horns in the final third being the final nail in the coffin. I’ll take nearly anything else by Whitney over this dreck.

88. “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do?” – Steve Winwood: Alright, I guess we’re back to Steve Winwod songs doing nothing for me on a deeper level. The synth washes are as prominent as ever here, although the more nocturnal element of their sound offers a great complement to the lyrical themes of nighttime. This seems like an attempt for Winwood to take on a more sensual sound, similar to Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings”, and while I can’t say it was a total failure, it probably could have used a little something extra to bring it over the edge. Still, I’m fine with Winwood giving us another plainly decent single – if nothing else, we’ll always have “Valerie”.

87. “Nite and Day” – Al B. Sure!: As New Jack Swing continues to rear its head as the 80s comes to a close, this song is a shining beacon in the swiftly changing field of popular R&B. That introductory synth riff sounds both like something that could’ve come from a horror soundtrack, and also the sexiest thing ever. The musicianship on this tune is frankly pretty remarkable, with a combination of soulful sounds with sharp edges that, nonetheless, create a pretty quintessential bedroom jam. I’m not sure I’m completely on board with Al’s prominent falsetto and some of these lyrics are a bit corny (“Believe me when I say that I do care / I’d like to run my fingers through your hair”), but boy does he sell his confidence well. Yeah, this is pretty damn groovy!

86. “I Don’t Want to Live Without You” – Foreigner: Whoa, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Foreigner here. Specifically, we haven’t seen the band pop up on these year-end charts since 1985 (the year of their juggernaut “I Want to Know What Love Is”), though lead singer Lou Gramm’s solo effort appeared on the 1987 list. There’s not too much to say about this one, though – it sounds like a limper version of their previous hit ballads, especially “Waiting For a Girl Like You”. Gramm sounds completely unenthused and these signature synths are as weak as they’ve ever been. It’s not even compellingly awful, though – just sort of useless. Let’s move on.

85. “I Hate Myself For Loving You” – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: We haven’t seen Joan Jett around these parts since the first half of the decade, but lo and behold – here she is! This is far more on the glam rock side of things than “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Crimson and Clover” – in fact, it sounds a hell of a lot like the group’s own cover of Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me?”. No complaints at all on that front, though, as the fierce, stomp-along rhythm is warmly welcome around these parts. Jett’s personality shines here as brightly as ever and electric guitars really bite. It’s probably the weakest of the Blackhearts songs I’ve come across here so far, but it’s still a guaranteed good time nonetheless.

84. “We’ll Be Together” – Sting: Well, yikes. This is certainly a change from what I’ve heard from Sting up until now – although I wouldn’t immediately write him off for trying something different. So I gave it a few listens… and yeah, it’s pretty much a basic overblown, overproduced product of the 80s in the vein of Peter Gabriel or Steve Winwood. It’s got everything from Casio keyboards, to dramatic vocal sampling, to out-of-place gospel singers… I’m surprised I didn’t hear a saxophone somewhere in the mix! Truth be told, it’s not all too bad of a listen when it comes down to it, even though it does wear out its welcome around the halfway point. I don’t fault Sting for trying something new at this point in his career, but there’s been so many similar singles released at this point, it’s clear that this decade is beginning to really tire itself out.

83. “Don’t Shed a Tear” – Paul Carrack: Here’s a weird one. Musically, this song is sharp, polished, and catchy, with some cool synth-laden guitar riffs and a huge, layered chorus that makes the clumsy verses totally worth sitting through. But those verses, though: “Cab fare to nowhere is what you are / A white line to an exit sign is what you are”. You couldn’t write a clumsier, more nonsensical line if you tried, I think. Anyway, Carrack has a great voice and this is pretty damn perfect pop-rock structuring. So, I’ll stop complaining.

82. “When It’s Love” – Van Halen: I’m actually a tad disappointed that the Van Halen single “Dreams” wasn’t too big of a hit on the pop charts – specifically, so I could be writing about that one right now and telling y’all how great it is (it’s great!). But back to the actual list as it stands, now. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I tend to prefer the Van Hagar era of this band more than the stage antics of David Lee Roth. The inclusion of synths alongside their guitars may seem sacrilegious to some of the hardcore fans, but I’ve never minded it much. Here, they try their hand at a standard by-the-numbers power ballad – and do so pretty well. The keyboard washes at the start set the mood terrifically and the more harder edges of the guitars later balance everything out pretty well. These lyrics aren’t the best (“How does it feel when it’s love? / It’s just something you feel together”) and Hagar definitely strains to hit those high notes (the way he sings “You can feeeel it” after the guitar solo – yeesh), but the melody is so sweet and the sincerity in which it’s all performed is just so damn endearing. Yeah, this is mighty solid for sure.

81. “Piano in the Dark” – Brenda Russell ft. Joe Esposito: Brenda Russell basically came totally out of nowhere with this song, but I’m sure as hell glad she did. Her vocals are outstanding here, and while the production has only slightly a bit more of a pulse than other lovesick R&B ballads of the time, this slightly upturned tempo makes a whole lot of difference. The chorus here is particularly well-crafted and it’s no wonder it’s been sampled to hell and back in recent years. Under anyone else’s watch, this might have flown just under the radar, but the command Russell has over the track is incredibly crucial to helping it shine as much as it does. Great, great song.

80. “Always on My Mind” – Pet Shop Boys: This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled across the Pet Shop Boys here – I wrote in length about their classic chart-topper “West End Girls”, and revisited this same song during my overview of the top 100 songs of 1986. Interestingly enough, this particular cover was only released as a single after it was well-received on a program commemorating the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. But of course, I tend to mostly associate this song with Willie Nelson, and while I’m not sure this recording exactly starts toe-to-toe with Nelson’s version, what the Pet Shop Boys do with the tune is incredibly impressive. It almost makes no sense at all to turn this into a nightclub-ready synthpop track, but the end result is just so spirited and wonderful, it just totally works. The synth touches added after each time “You were always on my mind” is sung is just too brilliant for words. I love this so much.

79. “Don’t Be Cruel” – Bobby Brown: Contrary to what the title may suggest, this is not a cover of a Elvis Presley song. What this is, however, is one of the clearest examples of New Jack Swing we’ve had on the charts thus far, with the prominent hip hop beat, punchy percussion, and melodramatic keys – the 90s are underway! Anyway, Bobby Brown is a pretty big figure in this realm of R&B, and though I haven’t listened to much from him this is probably among the weaker of his material. The rhythm is pretty groovy, but the melody is a tad limp and the lyrics are a bit too “Nice Guy” for my liking. Take it or leave it, I say.

78. “The Valley Road” – Bruce Hornby and the Range: Alright, I see much like some of the other rock fellows on this list, Bruce Hornsby has also decided to embrace the synth sound more. Not complaining! This different sound allows for a more looser, approachable expression of emotion in the mix, while also continuing on the wavelength of Springsteen-esque Americana touches in the music and lyrics. The pianos at the outro are particularly lovely and Hornsby sounds great throughout. While I still largely prefer the more organic, jazzy sounds of “Mandolin Rain”, this ain’t half bad either.

77. “Electric Blue” – Icehouse: Yet another one of these bands and songs I’ve never really heard of prior to this list. Anyway, this has a pretty nice bass-driven tune. The melody and lyrics in the chorus are subtly pretty well-crafted (“I just freeze every time you see through me / And it’s all over you, electric blue”) – it helps that this was cowritten by John Oates, who is no stranger to catchy beats and lovestruck melodies. Besides that, though, there’s really nothing else worth digging into any deeper here. The guitars and synths do their job, but never really anything more – even the saxophone solo seems pretty obligatory and not a whole lot of fun. Nonetheless, I don’t mind this much… yeah, it’s okay.

76. “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman: Okay, obviously, this is one is just plain fantastic. That quiet guitar in the first couple verses which explodes in power during that soaring chorus. Those introspective lyrics (“You got a fast car, but is it fast enough so we can fly away?”). Chapman’s lilting vocals that seems to braid alongside every word she sings, squeezing out every ounce of meaning onto those iconic guitar chords. It’s actually pretty incredible that a song this painfully honest and stripped-down was released amidst the exuberance that was the 80s and became a top ten hit. There’s not too much I can say about this one that hasn’t already been written, but I will say that if you somehow have never listened to “Fast Car”, it’s probably the one song on this whole damn list I would urge anyone to listen to as soon as possible. So yeah, go do that.

75. “Pink Cadillac” – Natalie Cole: Much like Aretha Franklin back in ’85, the next R&B diva to get an 80s makeover is Natalie Cole, who had not had a major pop hit in ten years. Unfortunately, the treatment she and her producers had given this song – originally by Bruce Springsteen – is far less graceful than Franklin’s. The synthesizers are tacky and annoying and the whole track seems overproduced as all hell. Moreover, it’s so obvious that Cole is just not obvious with this kind of material; her flat, pedestrian delivery does no favors to the sexually suggestive material. Even her high notes just sound so uninspired and dull. I feel bad panning a Natalie Cole track, considering that she usually has a pretty good track record… but nah, this is trash.

74. “I Want Her” – Keith Sweat: Time for some more fresh, funky New Jack Swing from one of the big names of the movement. Much like with “Don’t Be Cruel”, the production here is dynamic and hard-hitting, certainly demonstrating some of the best beats that the genre could produce. I’m not totally sure how I feel about Keith Sweat’s nasally vocal, but I can say that he certainly doesn’t sound like anyone else out there, which is totally a plus. There isn’t much that sets this song totally apart, but the falsetto-sung iterations of “I want her” in the hook contains universes. Yeah, this kind of kicks ass!

73. “Say You Will” – Foreigner: Alright, well at least this is a whole lot better than “I Don’t Want to Live Without You”. Save for the more sluggish pace, added synths, and more downbeat vocal delivery from Lou Gramm, one might easily confuse this for an earlier cut from Foreigner. These lyrics also put up much less of a fight, with cliches amuck and a little too much repetition of the titular phrase – still, I can’t resist siding with those electric guitars that scream to be played loud in a full stadium. Yeah, this is nowhere near their golden era of “Hot Blooded” or “Double Vision”, but I also might hesitate before reaching for the dial on this one.

72. “Everything Your Heart Desires” – Daryl Hall & John Oates: Okay, I can’t hide it anymore – I am truly sick and tired of encountering Hall & Oates on these lists. They had their time and place and a good chunk of their hits were actually quite good. At this point, though, they’ve approached their fourteenth year scoring hits, and it’s very clear that they’ve run their course. Now, I actually sort of dig the cold synths that shimmer in and out throughout the song… but literally nothing else in this song even remotely comes across as interesting to me. The vocals are super basic, as are the lyrics, and the melody is far from memorable. Yeah, this is a big ol’ nothing of a song; in one ear and out the other. Seeya, guys.

71. “Candle in the Wind” – Elton John: So, it’s a little bit awkward talking about this song considering what a wild ride it has had in terms of its place in mainstream media. Back when this song was initially released as a single from John’s 1974 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, it missed the US – unlike the UK, we got “Bennie and the Jets” instead. Over ten years later, a stripped-down version of this song was performed live in Australia, with backup only by some mild keyboard washes and John’s own piano accompaniment. This was the version that became a top ten hit this year. And obviously another version would get released and become a chart-topping smash another decade later… but I’ll talk about that when I get to it. As for this version, it’s pretty notable for transforming a pretty standard 70s rock tune into a heartfelt piano ballad, which is how most people tend to think of this song these days. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics feel just as timeless and the minimalist nature of the tune helps to highlight the emotional resonance of these lyrics. Once again, this song did go to number-one, so once I jump back on that challenge I’ll eventually cover this song. For now, though… yeah, this is sweet.

70. “Don’t Be Cruel” – Cheap Trick: Okay, now this one is a cover of an Elvis song! And a pretty cut-and-paste kind of cover, too. Contrary to the power pop that they demonstrated in a couple of their earlier songs (notably “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me”), these guys go for straight rockabilly this time, a lá Stray Cats. It’s got some fun “bop, bop”s in the chorus, and some brief, fun-sounding harmonizing later on… but other than that, it’s a pretty standard cover of this tune. The part where they rise up an octave comes off pretty clumsy, but other than that… it’s fine. Nothing extraordinary like they’ve released before, but I’ll take it.

69. “One Good Woman” – Peter Cetera: Oh great, more Peter Cetera. Seriously, his voice has become like nails on chalkboard at this point. On top of that, these lyrics are just a playbook on what not to do. Lines like, “You bring out the best in me with love and understanding / Anytime I need some understanding you are always there” are especially corny, as is the chorus which rhymes “fire” with “higher” – ugh. Yeah, there’s nothing here that’s particularly notable either. Just your standard adult contemporary pop-rock garbage. Boooring.

68. “Rocket 2 U” – The Jets: I’m… actually a little bit speechless over the fact that The Jets actually managed a sizable number of hits these past three years. I always assumed they were a one-hit wonder and nothing more! Anyway, like all their other songs, this one is painfully middling. The vocals in the verses are a little more interesting, but it’s not like there’s much substance to really tease out. It’s the same basic, edgeless freestyle pop that these folks have been churning out time and time again. It’s certainly not bad, but boy do I have no desire to revisit this.

67. “If It Isn’t Love” – New Edition: Wherein New Edition attempts to mature up their sound a bit with some help from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (who have worked wonders on Janet!). The result? Not too shabby! This is certainly more on the seedy, sensual side of things, compared to the bubblegum R&B of their earlier hits. There’s definitely a bit of the other Jackson sound going on here, which should have a negative effect on their distinctness, but it somehow works in their favor. The lyrics in the hook aren’t the most clever (“If it isn’t love, why does it hurt so bad? /  Make me feel so sad inside?”), but there’s enough of a certain appeal there to not be totally ruined. Altogether, it was a good move for these guys to move into the New Jack Swing way of things – even if it’s clunky here and there, it’s still pretty damn catchy.

66. “Catch Me (I’m Falling)” – Pretty Poison: This is yet another one of those freestyle tracks for which I have to thank my mom for introducing me. Listening to it in a non-“cruising around in her car’s passenger seat” context reveals some pretty interesting qualities. For one, the epic introduction with the strings and isolated vocals are completely pushed aside for some pretty standard dance-pop production and never really brought back, which just kind of amuses me. This tune is just hook layered upon hook, which is totally perfect for and endless late night out. The melody in the pre-chorus is especially otherworldly (“I am descending from heaven above…”), as is the brief, fleeting outro (“Ooooh, I’m falling”). I’m not too crazy about the cluttered sampling thrown in here and there, and, yeah, these lyrics are pretty damn vapid and repetitive. So while the genre as a whole doesn’t really wow me quite so much, especially after I hold it up to a magnifying glass… there’s something about this one that has be thirsting for more. Yeah, fuck it, this is great dance music.

65. “New Sensation” – INXS: Contrary to the drifting ballad that is “Never Tear Us Apart”, this is the sound that really put INXS on the map. That vibrant guitar riff just swims in and around everything else so effortlessly, it honestly just makes the whole damn song. The formatting of this tune has always felt so weird to me, and then I realized this could be blamed by the extra measure (or two?) added to the ending of each verse, making the song as a whole feel relatively formless. Coupled with some of these abstract lines (“Sleep baby sleep, now that the night is over / And the sun comes like a god into our room”), there’s an almost beat poetry-like feeling to this whole thing, certainly more than some of their other singles. Anyway, this is a pretty standard INXS goodness, complete with high-flying lyricism and an expected Kirk Pengilly sax solo. Not among my very favorite from the band, but a solid record nonetheless.

64. “Perfect World” – Huey Lewis and the News: Yeah, 1988 seems to be the point where many of the signature acts from the early parts of the 80s have all completely washed-up by now. Not that I was that big of a fan of Huey Lewis and the News in the first place, but this song just reeks of desperation and an utter lack of ideas. The off-kilter guitar rhythm is theoretically cool and anticipates a ska sound above it all, but there’s literally nothing else that pushes this idea forward. The chorus is especially limp (“Ain’t no livin’ in a perfect world / But we’ll keep on dreamin’ of livin’ in a perfect world”) and while the backup horns suggest some kind of bombast, Huey Lewis just sounds tired and totally out of ideas. Yeah, I’ll leave this one in the dust.

63. “Mercedes Boy” – Pebbles: Jody Watley was probably the first of the assortment of female R&B artists in the vein of Janet Jackson coming out of the woodwork to try to snag a hit. While there’s certainly plenty of potential for greatness to be seen in some of these women (including Jody Watley), I have a feeling that there will also be others who just don’ quite measure up. In this case, I think Pebbles is much more suited for her bigger single “Girlfriend” than something like this. The production is smooth and punchy enough, but there’s not enough substance in the hook and lyrics to really make it pop. Nonetheless, the interpolation between those cool synths and Rodgers-esque guitar grooves make this into a solid little bit of R&B-pop. Pebbles herself is kind of a non-presence, but that might be beside the point anyway.

62. “1-2-3” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine: Yet another danceable, Latin-infused dance-pop tune from Miami Sound Machine. The melody in the verses are particularly strong and the bass licks are pretty groovy., The song’s true failings, however, are in that chorus, which starts off pretty strong (“1-2-3-4, come on baby, say you love me”), but then delve into plain silliness the longer it goes on (“8-9-10-11, I’m just gonna keep on counting”). It’s a cute idea for a song on paper, but in execution all it’s really got is the stiff dance rhythm to keep it going. Sometimes that’s all you need, though!

61. “Dirty Diana” – Michael Jackson: And now for the first number-one single we’ve approached from this year – and lo and behold, it’s one I’ve already written about at length! In the larger context, this is one of the weaker singles from Michael Jackson I’ve come across so . far (second only to those Paul McCartney duets). With its cold production and undertones of misogyny, not even those slick guitar sounds can make me love this one. Oh well.

60. “Girlfriend” – Pebbles: Welcome back, Pebbles! As I noted above, this is definitely the stronger song of Pebbles’s two major hits from this year. The combination of sharp percussion and slinkier violin chords in the background make for a pretty unique, enjoyable groove overall. As expected, Pebbles isn’t the greatest vocalist here, but her dynamism more than makes up for it, as does that pretty hard-hitting chorus (“Girlfriend, how could you let him treat you so bad?”). There’s some other notable little quirks, such as the dog bark sample right after the line, “He’s just a canine runnnin’ ’round in heat”, and the slightly more intense, forcefully spoken bridge (“To believe or not to believe, that is the question…”). Overall, it can be silly at points but is generally a pretty damn solid radio-friendly pop tune. I wouldn’t have minded this being on constant overplay back in the day.

59. “I Want to Be Your Man” – Roger Troutman: In order to understand this song, it’s best to first familiarize yourself with Zapp, a band formed in part by Roger Troutman and his brother Larry. With Roger’s prominent usage of the talk box, the band was one of the more distinct-sounding R&B groups to come from the late 70s and maintain popularity throughout the 80s. Just take a listen to their R&B hits “More Bounce to the Ounce”, “Doo Wa Ditty”, “I Can Make You Dance”, and “Computer Love”, the latter of which is a slower ballad that is the closest predecessor to “I Want to Be Your Man”. With Roger’s own solo career, however, he opts for a more romantic vibe, with the talk-box vocals playing only sporadically alongside his natural vocals (as well as some backup woman singers). The end result is a pretty simple little love song that, strangely enough, feels almost too futuristic and computerized to have any genuine human appeal. But hell, it works! The glistening nocturnal synths and seductive sound results in one smooth little ballad that is just as suited for a middle school dance floor as it is for a nighttime drive through the city. Dammit, this rules.

58. “Sign Your Name” – Sananda Maitreya: And here’s yet another name I’ve seen around in passing, yet never found the will to check out until this moment. Sananda Maitreya (formerly Terence Trent D’Arby) seems to be an extension of those jazzy smooth soul types like Sade that seemed to be all the rage in the mid-/late 80s. He obviously has a great voice and the song itself is pretty sophisticated and lovely (well, save for the “baby/lady” rhyme scheme in the chorus). I want to write this off as just another one of those R&B fellows to find success, but it’s very clear that there’s more going on here. Gone are the days of trite, ankle-deep emotional sentiments of Lionel Richie – when Maitreya sings lines like, “I’d rather be in hell with you, baby, than in cool heaven”, there’s a palpable layer of insidiousness with the romanticism. And honestly, I totally dig it. Yeah, this guy’s going places for sure.

57. “I Get Weak” – Belinda Carlisle: What a career Belinda Carlilse has had. After playing with legendary, brief-lived band Germs for a stint, she moved on to the legendary Go-Go’s for only a slightly longer stint. Although “Mad About You” wasn’t too strong of a breakout solo single – in my opinion – this song demonstrates what had probably been missing the entire time. Following the footsteps of Steve Nicks’s post-Fleetwood career,  Carlisle more solidly embraces the pop hooks and glimmery production in which her strengths truly lie. This song really isn’t too much more than a simple love song (“Can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t eat, can’t sleep / Oh, I’m in love; oh, I’m in deep”), but the honesty of Carlisle’s performance of Diane Warren’s solid lyricism really makes the whole track shine. In particular, the melody in the chorus is rightfully soaring and lovely, as is her occasional hearty cries of, “I get weak!”. Yeah, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I find this one really, really cute and I love it.

56. “Desire” – U2: U2’s two big singles from the previous year – “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – dealt with big emotions, textured production, and beautiful existentialist lyrics. Here… well, it’s a little more on the pop side of things for sure, but they don’t completely fumble the attempt! This is helped by their prominent usage of the Bo Diddly beat, tweaked to their own benefit. It does that corny thing where love and drugs become metaphors for each other (“I’m like the needle, needle and spoon”), but no one really listens to this song for the lyrics anyway. Bono still emits his big emotional performance like no other, the Edge’s guitar licks kick ass, and the ending harmonica bit is a nice touch. It’s a bit of a step down, but I’ll take it.

55. “Don’t You Want Me” – Jody Watley: Much like Watley’s previous hit “Looking For a New Love”, the thumping beat, sly synths, and sharp percussion add a nice, punchy sound to this entire track. The melody is really nice, with the verses and chorus melding into each other effortlessly. Watley isn’t quite as strong here, and I would blame the song’s insistence to have her play more of a Madonna-like pop diva over the fierce personality she emitted so well in “Looking”. Still, I would be lying if I said this wasn’t exactly the type of song I’d be dancing along to in my bedroom.

54. “Out of the Blue” – Debbie Gibson: Debbie Gibson’s breakthrough hit “Only in My Dreams” relied on its huge, irresistibly catchy melody to make up for any of its other shortcomings – and succeeded. How about “Out of the Blue”? Well… yeah, the melody is so much weaker here, and while certain parts of the chorus really stick, others feel so awkwardly forced in. The production is some pretty standard studio pop fare, and the mixing truly reveals just how weak of a singer Gibson is. She definitely seems more suited for the bubblegum of “Dreams” than this more mature, midtempo number. Yeah, it’s just pretty mediocre overall.

53. “Tell It to My Heart” – Taylor Dayne: This is the second of three Taylor Dayne songs on this year’s chart, as well as being her debut breakthrough hit! This one in particular really demonstrates the particular strength Dayne has that similar freestyle singers tend to lack: her voice! Yep,  Dayne is genuinely a good singer, and unlike with the stiffness of “Prove Your Love”, the melody here is loose enough for her to express herself well. In particular, the pre-chorus really rocks (“Take me I’m yours, into your arms…”), and I love the way she sings “I can feel my body rock” in the chorus. Overall, it’s glitzy, energetic, and though pretty ankle-deep, still a load of fun nonetheless.

52. “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” – Information Society: Oh boy, now this is gooood. Blending together the British extravagance of early 80s New Wave with this even newer wave of bass-driven, sample-ridden electronic music up and coming at the late end of the decade… and we have this, the biggest hit from Information Society. I couldn’t really care less about the true meaning of this song – it just sounds so, so good. The electro-beats are groovy, the melody is slick as sin, and the chorus just makes me want to get up and dance. And who doesn’t love a good Mr. Spock sample?

51. “Make It Real” – The Jets: From one Minneapolis group to another. And here we go again with these Jets… although this seems to be the very last time they ever made the US top 40, so there’s that. Honestly, the second I heard that pre-programmed Casio keyboard beat, my interest dropped. With that opening line (“Tonight it’s been a year we met each other here”), it plummeted even further. As bland as their music always tended to be, this is even worse with its presumption that this group is at all fit for a tender ballad. These vocals are embarrassingly insipid and the song as a whole is just dullsville. I was never hot on the group before, but this may actually be their first genuinely bad single. Shame that this is how we’d say goodbye to them.

50. “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” – Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield: And here we go with another Pet Shop Boys track! I sure do love these guys – though I wouldn’t have ever in a million years suggested that they’d sound just as good alongside Dusty Springfield, if not for this song. There are so many good parts to this song: the main melody in the verses (“How am I gonna get through?”), the spoken parts that reminisce “West End Girls” (“I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers), and at last – Dusty! With that lovely chorus that sounds completely lifted from another song entirely, yet totally fits with the unique mood and tone of this very song. Behind all this is some wonderful synth production, with some clashing metal sounds, glimmery keys, and weighty horns that only add layers atop this wonderful atmosphere. It’s a skillfully layered song itself, highlighting the numerous veneers of emotion that often comes with heartbreak and confusion. Basically, this song totally fucking rocks.

49. “The Loco-Motion” – Kylie Minogue: Hah. So, by now Kylie Minogue has become a pretty well-established pop vocalist in her own right, with a collection of truly fantastic songs under her belt. This, however, was her debut single, and we’ve got no benefit of hindsight in 1988. Therefore, I don’t feel bad when I say that this is a bit of a mess – it’s Hi-NRG, which basically guarantees that it’ll be at least a little bit overproduced, but the vocal repetition is a bit much and stretches out the song far more than is necessary or even wanted. The one huge positive quality it holds, though, is that Minogue herself commands the track very well, despite not having the greatest voice. Then again, it is pretty hard to make a melody as infectious as “The Loco-Motion” sound particularly bad.

48. “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” – Chicago: Chicago really has been hanging around in these year-end charts for way, way, way too long at this point… so excuse me if I’m not the most tolerant of yet another one of their lame power ballads tainting this list yet again. Okay, positives: Peter Cetera isn’t here! And this singer actually isn’t quite so bad. And honestly, the melody in the chorus ain’t too bad either – it carries a good amount on its shoulders and the song as a whole chugs along pretty decently. Though, I’ll give much of the credit to songwriter Diane Warren, since this type of emotional ballad is her bread and butter. Overall… yeah, it’s okay. Not great, maybe not even good… but I’ll tolerate it for now.

47. “Should’ve Known Better” – Richard Marx: Why did Richard Marx have to make the transition to ballads?? This song demonstrates that he is perfectly suited for these types of uptempo AOR jams. Okay, it sounds like something that Kenny Loggins would’ve probably nailed a few years earlier, but this is totally fine and that chorus especially kicks. Even the backing keyboards and guitars are nice… okay, nothing about this is particularly exceptional, for sure, but this type of moody, rambunctious pop-rock is what I love the 80s for. This is a jam!

46. “Devil Inside” – INXS: Welcome back again, INXS. This song is one that I always get confused with “New Sensation” for some reason. They don’t sound all that similar – the guitar riff in this one is certainly weightier. For the most part, though, this one edges out slightly above the latter. I just really dig Hutchence’s more seductive, slinkier vocals and the way the drums kick in about halfway through each verse is really some kind of genius. Overall, though, I mostly see this as a pretty damn solid rock radio tune… but not really too much more than that.

45. “Monkey” – George Michael: And now for the second number-one single to come across our radar from 1988 – and boy, is this perplexing. The mixing throughout out the song is just not enjoyable, with the vocals totally warbled and washed-out and the frequent phasing effect every four beats quickly wearing out its welcome. And that’s not even getting to these plainly awkward lyrics: “Why can’t you set your monkey free?… Do you love your monkey or do you love me?”. There’s probably some context upon writing this song that makes it sound less awful – but removed from context, this is just weird. At least Michael gives a good vocal performance… but still, I do not like this.

44. “Together Forever” – Rick Astley: And yet another chart-topper. I’ll leave the reviews for these number-one singles rather short, since I plan on writing more about them later. This is obviously not the most popular Rick Astley single, but I wouldn’t mind at all if it was. The synths are kitchy, yet inviting, and the huge chorus is like a large embrace of 80s cheesy goodness. Okay, this is basically “Never Gonna Give You Up, Pt. 2” – but I like that song, so I like this one as well.

43. “I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That” – Elton John: Although Elton John’s singles in the 80s have been mixed affairs, they’ve certainly been getting strong as of late and I’d deem him a pretty successful artist throughout the decade. This is yet another example of such, with John taking on a more defiant position alongside heavy drums, keyboard washes, and a dominant keyboard. John, of course, sounds great and these lyrics by Bernie Taupin fit the bill pretty well: “I don’t wanna go on with you like that / Don’t wanna be a feather in your cap”. While it does drag on a bit too long, I would only imagine it’s all the more fun seeing this played live. Overall, it’s rather nice to see him handling these uptempo numbers so confidently and solidly. With a title that jumbled, it certainly exceeded my expectations!

42. “Kokomo” – The Beach Boys: Here’s a big one, folks. Once again, since this one topped the Hot 100, I’ll talk more about it later. But I will say this: this is essentially “Margaritaville” is it was played straight, without a single drop of irony. It’s not as bad as the haters make it out to be, but I think the Beach Boys obvious skill at harmony and melody are deceptive in that sense. I’ll be hesitating every time I press play on this one… but I also remain pretty squarely in the middle.

41. “Bad Medicine” – Bon Jovi: Another chart-topper, so I’ll keep it short – and thank goodness. This one is a genuinely bad rehash of Bon Jovi’s other big singles like “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer”, but somehow so much dumber. The guitars seem to thud around with no personality, and every line is screamed with only an inkling of a melody carrying it along. It’s big and mindless and goes on for way too long. I’m so, so sick and tired of Jon Bon Jovi.

40. “She’s Like the Wind” – Patrick Swayze ft. Wendy Fraser: And now for one of my biggest guilty pleasures ever. “She’s Like the Wind” was one of the three big singles recorded for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and it might very well be the best of the three. Swayze doesn’t have the best voice, sure, but he definitely sounds convincing and the emotional resonance of the lyrics (“She leads me through moonlight, only to burn me with the sun”) makes up for any of the song’s other shortcomings. The cheesy, obligatory nature of the saxophone is balanced out by the utter coolness of that electric guitar and the strong contributions from Wendy Fraser. It’s a good song, dammit!

39. “Red Red Wine” – UB40: I’ve known this song for years, but have somehow just found out that it was originally written by none other than Neil Diamond! That must be why I’ve never really minded this song: the lyrics are brilliantly weepy and the melody just begs to be sung along to. It goes off the rails a bit with the awkwardly shoved-in rap verse, but ultimately it only adds to its weird charm overall. I’ll write more about this later (it topped the pop charts!), but if UB40 ever had a shining moment, this is probably it.

38. “Make Me Lose Control” – Eric Carmen: Although it took over a decade for Eric Carmen to experience a Hot 100 comeback, he finally did in 1988… though after this, he never had another major it. It’s a shame, considering that this isn’t nearly as bad as “All BY Myself” over a decade earlier. This song is relaxingly nostalgic, at least in the verses, where the piano chords call back to the Drifters and the melody harks back to “Hang On Sloopy”. The chorus, though, is relatively limp, as if Carmen wasn’t sure where to take the sound and resorted instead to some pretty standard, generic, sing-along AOR chorus. Yeah, this ain’t awful, but I would sure hesitate before calling it any good. Oh well – it’s not like Carmen really left much of an impression on me in the first place…

37. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – Bobby McFerrin: Yet another chart-topper – there were a whole lot of those this year! This one is distinct for being the first a capella tune to accomplish this feat. Did it deserve it? Well, I do love the (obviously) happy-go-lucky nature of this whole tune, and the “oooh-oooh”s that make up the chorus are pretty damn infectious. On the downside, these lyrics are pretty lacking and the song as a whole goes on for longer than it really needs to. Still, it’s clear that McFerrin ha some pretty solid musicianship and it shines here and there. It’s fine.

36. “The Way You Make Me Feel” – Michael Jackson: Yeah, the singles from Bad have proven to be a bit hit-or-miss for me (not unlike the singles from Thriller, though!). This one has a pretty steady groove and melodies kick pretty well, especially at the slight key change during the second half of each verse. Jackson also gives a pretty solid performance… but still, this has never been among my favorite of his singles. It went to number-one, though, so I’m obviously in the minority here. Still a good poppy R&B song, though!

35. “A Hazy Shade of Winter” – The Bangles: I still remember that feeling of utter shock the first time I gave Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends a spin and was greeted to the original stripped-down version of this song. Honestly, I think being aware of this song’s origins only makes the decision to pump up the guitars and production all the more genius. I’ve never really loved The Bangles the way that I’ve loved, for example, The Go-Go’s, but I’ll be darned if this isn’t the absolute best thing they’ve ever done. Those guitars are so lush and the textured production from Rick Rubin add another layer of eeriness to Paul Simon’s lyrics. Now this is how you craft a cover song of a well-known song in a way that transcends the generation gap. This is just so enjoyable and the ladies sing it so well. Yeah, good shit.

34. “Angel” – Aerosmith: Wherein Aerosmith finally drinks the Kool-Aid and takes the whole pumped-up cheesy power ballad route. Honestly, it might be because I listened to this a lot when I was younger, but this really isn’t all that bad. Joe Perry’s guitars are still pretty respectable, given the shift in expectations. Steven Tyler’s vocals have long approached hammy levels by this point, and this is especially evident at his vocal acrobatics with the line, “Loneliness took me for a ride”. Still, given the circumstances, this could have been a whole lot worse. It is pretty fascinating, though, that this essentially lies out the blueprint for what would essentially be “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” ten years later. For now, though, I’ll take this.

33. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” – Whitney Houston: This was Whitney Houston’s seventh consecutive number-one single, a record that continues to stand to this very day. As with “One Moment in Time”, this song does hit all the right emotional beats and is sung competently by the talented Houston. Also like “One Moment”, though, it is far less impactful than it thinks it is. But unlike “One Moment”, this is slightly elevated by some of its lyrics, which have the tendency to tug at the heartstrings just slightly. More later, though.

32. “Foolish Beat” – Debbie Gibson: A chart-topper entirely written, performed, and produced by a seventeen-year-old? With this context, this is an absurdly fantastic slice of heartbreak pop, a sort of offspring of Madonna’s “Live to Tell”. Removed from this context… yeah, it’s still pretty good, but nothing bound to change the world. Debbie Gibson gets more and more interesting with each subsequent single, though.

31. “Endless Summer Nights” – Richard Marx: Wherein Richard Marx attempts to be Bryan Adams for a song. Honestly, this is probably the weakest song I’ve heard of his thus far. The melody doesn’t seem to reach any sense of cohesion, except in the chorus where there are some slight tropical undertones… or something. Marx is a total non-presence, and the “woah-oh” he emits before each chorus is so hilariously weak each and every time. Yeah, there’s nothing here that really gives any bite or makes its presence particularly worthwhile. Oh look, a saxophone solo – what a surprise.

30. “Love Bites” – Def Leppard: And now for Def Leppard’s only number-one single. It’s actually kind of shocking that we haven’t come across more of them in these charts, given how huge they were throughout the decade. This is yet another one of those pumped-up heartbreak ballads, though some of the neat production elements and performances by the band members give this a bit more grit than we are used to seeing from songs of this type. This has got some cool guitars, and I like when the lead vocalist goes, “Ooooh, babe”. Yup.

29. “A Groovy kind of Love” – Phil Collins: At this point I should probably mention one distinction 1988 has from most other chart years: it ties with 1989 with the second-most number-one singles attained in a single chart year, with 32 (1974 and 1975 are tied at #1)! Which explains why so many of these huge (or huge-at-the-time) hits are popping up on this list. This particular chart-topper has Phil Collins covering an old Mindbenders tune as a slowed-down ballad. For the most part, Collins seems to be on autopilot here – the song itself remains pretty unchanged, except for everything slowed down a few notches. Nothing too interesting going on with the instrumentation either… yeah, I’ll pass on this one.

28. “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)” – Samantha Fox: Every clever, sharp musical innovation Samantha Fox accomplished with “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)” seems to have been thrown out of the window at this point. There are several bad decisions thrown into this track, not the least of which being the sloppy, reckless production and Fox’s stiff, uninspired rap breaks. Despite the presumptions that the title would bring, there’s nothing particularly enticing or dangerous about this track – it’s just a bunch of 1988-era sounds thrown together on a dance-pop with a slight semblance of a rhythm. It’s not awful despite all of this, but I know she’s capable of much better.

27. “Father Figure” – George Michael: George Michael’s career has already taken a number of twists and turns (and we haven’t even reached his big 1988 single), but this may be one of the more interesting of his tracks thus far. Amidst a breathy delivery and instrumentation that lies dangerously close to muzak, he somehow squeezes a truly emotionally resonant, beautiful bit of pop goodness. For once, someone actually makes a clever, not-too-cliched used of the gospel choir in their production. Since this hit number-one, I’ll obviously talk more about it some other time – but this is real, real good.

26. “Shattered Dreams” – Johnny Hates Jazz: “Johnny Hates Jazz”, eh? Interesting bad name… I guess. Anyway, this sounds a bit like the British New Wave/sophisti-pop boom of the early 80s revitalized for the later parts of the decade. It’s poppy, upbeat, and enjoyable, with a polished edge that places it a cut above the rest of the trashy dance-pop devoid of meaning, which seems to be everywhere at this time. Does it do anything particularly exceptional to guarantee it a spot in the general consciousness beyond their silly name and this fun tune? Nah, not at all. Still, I wouldn’t be at all upset over having to listen to it – it’s nice!

25. “Hungry Eyes” – Eric Carmen: And now for Eric Carmen’s other huge hit from 1988. The best memory I have connected with this song is the one time I sang it as a duet on karaoke with no idea how the melody goes, outside of the title phrase. Once I finally watched Dirty Dancing and heard it in connection to the film, I realized I wasn’t all too far off. It’s still pretty awesome that they got the guy who whined along to “All By Myself” and managed to churn out this pretty passable pop-rock ditty. As passable as it is, though, it is also terribly generic – typical verse-chorus-verse structure, twinkly synths, saxophone. It’s all there and nothing innovative is done with any of it. Yeah, I can see myself getting awfully sick of this after a few dozen listens. It’s totally inoffensive, though.

24. “Hold On to the Nights” – Richard Marx: And here it is: the moment where Richard Marx officially changed his lane to performing treacly, sleepy ballads for the rest of his goddamn career. This one actually isn’t quite so bad, though. The keys here are pretty intense and Marx’s vocal delivery spars along with them pretty successfully. Still, lines like “Hold onto the nights, hold onto the memories” demonstrate that this lies on the less fun side of Air Supply. Still, it’s got a good buildup and in the tiers of piano ballads, this one isn’t quite as bad as they’re prone to get.

23. “Simply Irresistible” – Robert Palmer: I’ve somehow just realized – I’m very, very familiar with this song’s iconic music video, yet don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to this song in whole until this very writing. Upon listening to it, though, I might be mistaken. It’s hard to tell, though, given that the song doesn’t really go through movements, but rather keeps up the same jacked-up, guitar-and-synth-filled vibes from start to finish. This song makes me feel like I have a short attention span, with the variety of hooks and sound effects being thrown right and left. If there’s one thing this song doesn’t have, it’s nuance. It’s a huge, stupid rock song with little by way of a melody and nothing but those chugging guitars to provide any semblance of a backbone. I guess this is the mindless rock ‘n’ roll portion of Robert Palmer’s career – hey, I’m not exactly complaining.

22. “Shake Your Love” – Debbie Gibson: Somehow, this is the highest ranking of Debbie Gibson’s singles, despite it not being the one that topped the charts. Meh – I don’t make the charts; I only review them. So, the hook in the chorus here is Gibson’s catchiest since “Only in My Dreams” – makes sense, since this was the immediate follow-up to “Dreams”. The groove has some mild Latin undertones, and I suspect that The Miami Sound Machine influenced this track at least slightly. Unlike “Dreams”, though, the verses here are much less stable and seem to be ready to topple over at any second. I mean, it’s not like this chorus is any more intelligent, but at least her personality shines a bit more at these parts. Still, once that bridge pops in with an alphabet soup of post-production electropop tricks… I’m basically already done with the song. Still, it’s cute.

21. “Man in the Mirror” – Michael Jackson: Alright, as I type this paragraph, I’m just off the heels of watching the first part of Finding Neverland… so excuse me if it seems I’m not that enthralled on doing a close read of this guy’s music, especially something as personal as this. Quincy Jones’s production as as smooth as ever, though Jackson has had better vocal performances for sure and this does go on for a tad longer than it needs to. I was never super duper fond of this single, really. Bleh, I’ve gotta move on. Sorry.

20. “I’ll Always Love You” – Taylor Dayne: Top twenty of the year, woohoo! At this point, I’ll report on how this year did with women representation. Overall, there were thirty-two tracks that were credited to at least one woman, while twenty-four of these were credited to solo female performers or all-woman groups. There have certainly been worse years, but the fact that the previous year had been much better has me anxious for what the very end of this decade and the start of the next will bring. Anyway, let’s go back to the song of the moment. This is a change of pace for Taylor Dayne, as the more slow, soulful ballad allows her to really show off her strong vocal ability. There are more than a few clumsy lines here, with “You have won my heart and my soul with your sweet, sexy ways” being particularly groan-inducing. While Dayne’s vocals could use a bit more control, she doesn’t do too bad here. It’s a low-tempo, lovey dovey AC ballad with an Obligatory Saxophone Solo that doesn’t bore me to tears. That alone is quite the accomplishment!

19. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard: The sleaziest of trashy strip club anthems, for sure. It was only a matter of time before the 80s hedonism would catch up to Def Leppard and they would transition from standard arena jams to a sex-starved party anthem. Let’s be real – the whole existence of the song hinges on the fact that the band needed a good high-rotation radio single and little else. Still, there’s some potentially great one-liners here (“Take a bottle, shake it up; break the bubble, break it up”), but this is hindered by Joe Elliott’s truly atrocious vocal delivery. Just the way he says, “Red light, yellow light, green light, go” is just so, so bad. The guitars could potentially be cool, if not for the slab of reverb piled on top of every note played. The chorus basically sums it all up – it’s huge, dumb, meaningless, and destined to be a stupid party staple for years to come. Gross.

18. “Wild, Wild West” – The Escape Club: Here’s another song I already wrote about! Yeah, pretty much everything I’ve stated in the review holds true upon this relisten. I dig the frantic, political energy of this tune, including the gunshot soundbite and other weird noises that pop in and out. One aspect of the song that stands out the most this time is the indispensably punk-rock quality of lead vocalist/guitarist Trevor Steel, who is just on fire from start to finish here. Yeah, this is still mighty good. “Headin’ for the 90s, livin’ in the 80s”…

17. “Is This Love” – Whitesnake: It’s a tad interesting that many of the top five hits that just barely missed the top spot are seeming to find their way in the top twenty, while most of the chart-toppers for this year are far behind us. Anyway, this is Whitesnake’s obligatory attempt at a power ballad, which made it to #2. The lush, slow synth-accompanied sound which we tasted at the start of “Here I Go Again” is back here… only it’s basically the entire song. I’m not gonna lie, for what this is, it’s pretty dang strong. David Coverdale is a good singer and doesn’t try to show his higher register much, making the emotional resonance hit more. There’s a guitar solo before the final chorus that is actually kind of lovely and while the song as a whole doesn’t add anything new to the style, it remains pretty pleasant for its whole runtime. Yeah, for this not being my favorite genre by any means, I’m totally digging this.

16. “Seasons Change” – Exposé: It’s interesting that so many of these freestyle and Hi-NRG artists are finding their biggest hits with doing these slower, romantic ballads. I guess this is a sort of predecessor to the 90s adult contemporary boom, which I’m real excited for, oh boy. Anyway, this is definitely the least interesting of Exposé’s singles I’ve come across thus far. The “I want you/I need you” bits are a nice touch to the chorus, but other than that there’s nothing here that sets it apart from the hundred other songs that sound just like. The ladies have really toned their voices – and by extension, their personalities – down. The final chorus key change is also… just awkward. Is there a saxophone solo here? I’ll give you one guess…

15. “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” – Billy Ocean: Okay, I stand corrected: artists are either going the ballad route to gain their biggest hit, or they’re completely abandoning any sense of dignity and embracing the Big, Trashy 80s Sound wholeheartedly. Billy Ocean never interested me much in the first place, but this is just trying way, way to hard to attain a mindless, catchy radio staple. The song as a whole just comes off as a huge joke… and the lyrics are creepy as all hell. More on this one later – yikes.

14. “The Flame” – Cheap Trick: Hooray, Cheap Trick gained a number-one single! With a ballad, of course. Honestly, it may because I loved this song as a youngster and thus have a special fondness for it, but I find this to be in the top tier of 80s power ballads. Robin Zander’s singing is just so powerful and impactful, and that chorus is perfect for full arenas in the nighttime. The delicate bits of keyboard in the chorus just make this song, honestly. I’ll gush about it some other time… but this is seriously quite lovely.

13. “Anything For You” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine: With yet another artist’s first-time chart-topping ballad, this continues to prove my theory. But then again… I feel like this is basically just “Can’t Stay Away From You”, with weepy keyboards overpowering the acoustic guitar. The tonal format of this song is a total mess – I don’t know what mood I’m supposed to be in while listening to it. Estefan sounds fine, but the rest… ugh. More later.

12. “Wishing Well” – Sananda Maitreya: Okay, this is strange. I got so used to the textured, soulful groove of “Sign Your Name”, it didn’t even occur to me that this guy had the capability to churn out a more electronic funk-inspired piece. But here we are! It’s hard not to see the Michael Jackson influence laid in this DNA, but these lyrics are far more poetic in its origins, I feel (“Erotic images float through my head / I want to be your midnight rambler”). I do like that keyboard riff in the chorus as well, even if it does wear out its welcome quickly. Anyway, this song is good!

11. “One More Try” – George Michael: Eh, sure, why not have another George Michael single in the mix? This one is certainly one of the most adult contemporary-sounding singles he’s out out up until this point, which its sluggish tempo serving as a backbone to the droning keyboard washes and Michael’s soulful-as-sin vocals. It’s one of the weakest singles I’ve heard from him thus far… but it still went to number-one (for three weeks!), so I suppose that’s gotta count for something.

10. “Roll With It” – Steve Winwood: Top ten, woohoo! And to start off, one of the more blatant examples of big pop-rock musicians trying on the blues and R&B shoes to get a smash hit. Seriously, this song is technically well-made, but feels too tightened-up and polished to get any similar vibes attained by, say, Junior Walker and the All Stars. It’s all in good fun, but I can’t find it in me to love this one, really.

9. “Hands to Heaven” – Breathe: One thing that never fails to fascinate me with making these lists (especially as they reach closer to present-day) is the number of tracks that make it all the way up to the higher rungs of these lists, despite them having little to no cultural relevance today. For example, this song – which I’ve never heard of before writing this post. Listening to it now, though, I guess I can understand how this group hit it big this year, with the widespread infatuation at the time with slow, dreamy ballads. Besides that, though, there’s really nothing else of note here: the lead vocalists aren’t very good, the production is dense but empty, and the lyrics are just as vapid (“Tonight, I need your sweet caress / Hold me in the darkness”). Also: “I can’t believe this pain, it’s driving me insane” – ugh. Yeah, while I don’t exactly dislike this, it also is probably the most nothing of a song out of any track on this whole list. Shame, shame.

8. “Could’ve Been” – Tiffany: Tiffany follows up her successful uptempo dance-pop number with a synthpop ballad… and it peaks at number-one. Shocking! Honestly, this isn’t too bad of a ballad, though it comes off a bit undercooked and obligatory. As in, a slower song was only a natural progression, so who the hell cares what it’s about? But she sure sings the hell out of it – and that’s after I’ve heard about a dozen of these treacly ballads at this point. She’s cute and plays up the drama angle of this tune rather well – and I guess that’s all that really matters, at the end of the day.

7. “Heaven is a Place on Earth” – Belinda Carlisle: And here it is – the song that skyrocketed Belinda Carlisle to superstardom. It seems that for the most part the verses are supported by that earworm of a chorus, but even with that kept in mind, Carlisle sings the hell out of them all. The standard pop-rock production is super solid and the key change at the final chorus really sells it all. I can’t wait to write 1,000+ words on this bombastic chart-topper.

6. “So Emotional” – Whitney Houston: This is a more uptempo Whitney Houston song, so naturally this would be not as good as her ballads, right? Well, given that Houston’s ballads this year have been underwhelming, this is a huge breath of fresh air. The production is very 80s, but throws in a wrench every now and then to spark a little fresh personality in the mix. Houston sounds wonderful, as always, but even more when emitting that catchy-as-hell chorus, probably one of the best she’s ever done. It’s basically a reworking of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, but somehow ever-so-slightly better.

5. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses: Aaaand here’s another song that is basically impossible for me to separate from my own childhood-era appreciation. Honestly, it’s some kind of goddamn miracle that a song this honest could come right out of a band like GnR… but it did. And it’s actually pretty damn beautiful, warts and all. The hugest wart, of course, is Axl’s siren of a voice, but I’m willing to deal with it if only for Slash’s terrific guitarwork and… well, damn near everything else. I’ll gush more about this later, but jesus is this a near-perfect little rock gem.

4. “Never Gonna Give You Up” – Rick Astley: Haha, this song. I’m trying to place myself in a 1988 headspace while listening to this space – in an era where it’s still shocking that that voice came out of that man, and where the synthwork doesn’t quite so smothers in five pounds of 80s cheese. With lyrics like these, though, I can’t imagine that it wasn’t already accepted by all that this was a total cornball of a song… which is what makes it so wonderful. Blah, I’m thinking too much into this.  I’m a fan of this awkward honesty and the mindless catchiness of this song as a whole. Rickrolling is overrated.

3. “Got My Mind Set on You” – George Harrison: And out of nowhere, George Harrison has entered the chat! Co-produced by Jeff Lynne, it’s obvious that this isn’t nearly as intricate and experimental as other works from Harrison (or any of the other ex-Beatles). But I think those who point this out as somehow to this song’s disadvantage are boring and useless. This is some real fun, polished, good ol’ classic rock ‘n’ roll, and I won’t fret at this having topped the pop charts. It’s good!!

2. “Need You Tonight” – INXS: Here we go – this big INXS song, and the only one to ever top the Hot 100. And yeah, this one is pretty damn sexy. That guitar riff that bangs along through the entirety of the track is an aphrodisiac in itself, as is the mere presence of Michael Hutchence on this track (may he rest in peace). With its lingering aura of menacing sexuality alongside its electronic rock beat, this feels a lot the final gasps of the New Wave movement in the pop charts – and boy, what a gasp it is. There’s just so much to love about this one.

1. “Faith” – George Michael: And here we are now: the single biggest hit of the entire year of 1988. And of course it’s gotta be George Michael, the man of the year. This song is intensely catchy from the very first guitar strums, and even more so once Michael’s vocal hook comes in (“Well, I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body…”). This song somehow combines romance, lust, and longing alongside a Bo Diddly guitar rhythm and a pretty basic pop song format. And he somehow got all of this to the top position of the Hot 100… and in a year where there was a new number-one single seemingly every week, “Faith” stayed there for four weeks. 1988 sure was weird – but I kind of loved it, too.

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Lyzette’s 25 Best Albums of 2018

As per my originally intended schedule for this list season, I intended on having my list of the Best Non-Hit Singles of 2018 out as of a couple weeks ago. Turns out real life had different plans for me – not the least of which being an actual Christmas holiday sneaking up on me this winter. Additionally, I’ve been teaching myself how to use Final Cut Pro, doing some street photography here and there, and catching up on some books, film, and TV… so all that’s been eating up a ton of my time!

At last, though, I’ve finally been able to sit down and write out a post. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, though, this is not for my Best Non-Hit Singles of 2018 – that one is still going to take a little more time (there were a lot of good songs last year!). Instead, I bring you my favorite albums of the year! I’ve been really excited to formulate this list all year long; so excited, in fact, that I even went out of my way to compile a list of favorite albums from the first half of 2018. Unlike in previous years, I was actually able to keep up with the seemingly never-ending queue of new albums that were being pumped out all year long. Now that I’m completely caught up, this list is probably as accurate as I could make it (for the time being, anyway).

Instead of following along with last year’s list of 50 albums, I decided to narrow this down to only 25, in an attempt to streamline it to only the best of the best. The only rule I have for this list is that albums must have had been released at some point during the 2018 calendar year. The only order this list will be in is alphabetical – I just wouldn’t be satisfied with any kind of ranking I give these albums! But there is one album I love quite a bit more than the others, which I will make clear later down the line. While there are a lot of obvious picks here, I hope that there’s also enough out-of-the-blue stuff to keep things interesting! First, though, some honorable mentions.

  • Little Dark Age – MGMT: It’s still pretty remarkable to me that MGMT have somehow remained relevant in 2018! Anyway, this pretty damn solid through an through, with “Me and Michael” and the title track being some of my favorite cuts of the whole year. It just barely missed the cut for this list, honestly.
  • In a Poem Unlimited – U.S. Girls: Believe me when I say that I was devastated that this could not make the final cut. This record is spacey and psychedelic as all hell, but also pretty fierce, edgy, and even catchy at points. Certainly one of the most unique-sounding pop albums out there.
  • Musas Vol. 2 – Natalia Lafourcade: I listened to this album while sunbathing during a pretty warm day, and it honestly might just be the best way to listen to it. These soothing Spanish instrumentals paired with Lafourcade’s vocals are just plain exquisite. She gives one of the finest renditions of “La llorona” I’ve ever heard.
  • Die Lit – Playboi Carti: This has got to be one of the most replayable albums to come out this whole year. I love the way Carti subverts the cloud rap genre, helped in no small part by producer Pi’erre Bourne, who is already doing huge things. Sometimes we just need a fun, mindless party record, and this one passes with flying colors.
  • Miserable Miracles – Pinkshinyultrablast: I’ve totally dug everything I’ve listened to from this shoegaze band and this is no exception. It’s dense, buzzy, poppy, atmospheric, and oh so magical. Check it out!
  • Hell-On – Neko Case: Neko Case is a total class act, now and forever. This record in particular is as defined by its lush, jagged instrumentals as it is by Case’s melodic vocal delivery and exquisite songwriting. It’s not my favorite of her albums – but it’s still real damn good.
  • Bloom – Troye Sivan: One of the most blissfully gay albums of the whole year; the title track is a godsend for sure. Sivan has been doing such amazing things lately and I’m excited to see what else he’ll bring us in the future.
  • Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 – Kim Petras: Halloween-themed things are totally my bag – I had a whole Halloween TV party last year! And Kim Petras’s little record was the soundtrack for my whole October. Girl’s doing amazing things!
  • Honey – Robyn: Definitely one hell of a comeback album. I love records that just make me feel good while I listen to them, and this one fits the bill. It’s just the right blend of retro, lively, and sexy – a great party album, for sure!
  • Loner – Caroline Rose: Perhaps one of the most overlooked albums of the whole year. There are so many varying styles of the “indie rock” brand here, it’s practically mind-boggling. “Money” is especially a simple, fun little jam.
  • Caution – Mariah Carey: Are you kidding me?? If this album came from anyone else, it would possibly be the finest piece of work in their repertoire. Since it’s Mariah, though, it’s just another truly top-tier album to add to the pile. I’ll be spinning “GTFO” until the day I die.

Whew… honestly, this isn’t even the extent of the honorable mentions I wanna place here. But I’ve already gone on for too long without even embarking on the actual list… so here we go. These are my BEST ALBUMS FROM 2018!

Dead Magic by Anna von Hausswolff

Kicking things off with one of the most unusual entries of the bunch. But believe me when I say that this album totally blew me away from the get-go, even if I am relatively unversed in Neoclassical Darkwave. Von Hausswolff’s brooding compositions have the depth and timbre of funeral dirges, while her voice seems to have come from a different sphere entirely. It’s got just the right air of cryptic spookiness to make something this calculating remain intriguing from start to finish. Overall, it’s the perfect kind of album to accompany a long, melancholic walk late into the night.

Best tracks: “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”, “Ugly and Vengeful”

7 by Beach House

I’ve been a fan of Beach House since discovering Devotion way back in my early college days, and it always astounds me how they seem to only top themselves with each subsequent album they’ve released since. While their last couple albums had found them in a sort of creative slump, 7 succeeded at breathing new life into the band with the combination of sharper sonic edges and dense, shoegaze-esque textures from song to song. The end result is a sort of mini masterpiece; a collection of absolutely lovely, immersive tunes; a comforting experience that lingers long after it has ended.

Best tracks: “Dark Spring”, “Lemon Glow”, “Dive”, “Black Car”

Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 by Black Thought

Like last year, I will also be including EPs here – and deservedly so, since there were a number of really solid shorter records this past year. Regrettably, I still have yet to listen to Streams of Thought, Vol. 2, but this EP on its own pretty much blew me away. While Black Thought’s bars are undoubtedly great, he is complemented by some truly wicked production from 9th Wonder. Solid, heavy beats, clever, fire bars, and great guest vocalists – can’t really ask for much more from a good rap album, to be honest.

Best tracks: “Twofifteen”, “Dostoyevsky”

Negro Swan by Blood Orange

I must admit that I wasn’t completely won over by Blood Orange with Freetown Sound, my first venture into his work. With this one, though, I finally get it. I fully dig this record’s sleek, urban atmosphere that leans more on the minimalist side of things, elevating some of the more subtle vocal and production elements the color the narrative. There are a number of really strong melodies here, but the instrumentals are also so, so impressive at moments. This results in a lovely, dreamy album that, nonetheless, is tightly produced enough to not overstay its welcome. It’s also so damn empowering, and I sure as hell needed that in 2018. I could listen to this one twenty more times.

Best tracks: “Orlando”, “Jewelry”, “Charcoal Baby”, “Chewing Gum”, “Runnin'”

By the Way, I Forgive You by Brandi Carlile

Leave it to Brandi Carlile to forever remain successful at tugging at the most delicate of my heartstrings. She certainly has one of the all-time best voices in modern-day Americana, and it’s demonstrated time and time again through the length of this album. While there are songs here that have the tendency to not hit as hard as I would like to, it’s more than made up for by the effortless power of some of the more compelling tracks. But through it all, Carlile’s commanding voice remains front-and-center and refuses to falter for even one second. That, more than anything, makes this one of the more engrossing listens of the year.

Best tracks: “The Joke”, “The Mother”, “Fulton County Jane Doe” “Party of One”

Everything is Love by The Carters

Yeah, I won’t win any cool points for this one, but I don’t care. This is, hands-down, my most replayed album of the whole year, and is it really hard to see why? The songs are catchy and confident, the length is a breeze, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z have the most infectious chemistry. But yeah, Bey is definitely the ringleader here, with a personality that effortlessly shines track after track. In particular, I find myself quoting “Nice” very often (“Fuck youuu…”), though that’s certainly not the only one. This was my wind-down album of the year, and I have no shame at all for loving it as much as I do.

Best tracks: “Apeshit”, “Boss”, “Nice”, “Lovehappy”

Chris by Christine and the Queens

I listened to a lot of great pop albums throughout 2018 and I would be remiss to not save a spot on this list for Chris. Essentially every song on here is dance floor-ready, with some like “Girlfriend” being delightfully, surprisingly subversive along the way. Chris has got a great voice, with a vibrant personality to match, and the 80s synth backup driving the album is absolutely to die for. It’s one of the most confident, effortlessly sexy albums of the whole year, and it deserves a hell of a lot more love.

Best tracks: “Girlfriend”, “Doesn’t Matter”, “5 Dollars”, “Goya Soda”, “Whats-her-face”

May Your Kindness Remain by Courtney Marie Andrews

Boy oh boy, this album completely staggered me. I’ve seen Courtney Marie Andrews’s name floating around for a while now, but I somehow never listened to any of her work until this year. Her voice is intensely emotional, though skillfully restrained where it matters. Her songwriting is rich in palpable imagery, which guides the emotional swell of so many of these delicate melodies. In an age where the country music scene feels increasingly shallow (and male-dominated), it’s nice to be reminded that such solid, beautiful country music like this still exists.

Best tracks: “Lift the Lonely From My Heart”, “Rough Around the Edges”, “Took You Up”, “Long Road Back to You”

High As Hope by Florence + the Machine

With the exception of their blip of mainstream success around the turn of the decade, I’ve never paid much attention to Florence + the Machine, though I’ve certainly always admired Florence Welch’s powerful vocals. With High As Hope, demonstrations of this come in spades, accompanied by some impassioned, poetic lyricism. While the band has been accused of hardly straying for their typical sound, I think here their keyboard-driven style here has proven to be some of their most impassioned, impersonal work. Looks like I gotta pay closer attention to the group in the future.

Best tracks: “Hunger”, “Big God”, “Patricia”, “100 Years”

Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along

Hop Along, on the other hand, is a band that has never failed to impress me with each record they release. Frances Quinlan has one of the best voices in rock music right now, and she continues her songwriting craft rather successfully with this new record. I just love how each track seems to consist of a variety of unique instrumentals that intertwine with each other so seamlessly, making for a rather vibrant, playful album. This somehow remains the case for even the more downbeat songs! This album further demonstrates all the amazing things this band is doing, and I can’t wait for their upcoming output.

Best tracks: “Somewhere a Judge”, “How You Got Your Limp”, “Look of Love”, “Prior Things”

Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES

This one came completely out of nowhere for me, but I’m so glad it did. Fiercely political and cleverly hilarious, this is totally the record we need right now. It’s just as much a record for today’s current social climate as it is a universally just-plain-pissed-off hardcore punk cut. These instrumentals attracted me on a totally visceral level – I just couldn’t help but bounce along to so many of these tracks. Moreover, these are some of the more enthralling lyrics I’ve encountered all year. There weren’t many other albums this year that were as much of a punch in the gut as this was, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Best tracks: “I’m Scum”, “Danny Nedelko”, “Love Song”, “Samaritans”

Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

And here we are – my favorite album of this whole year. Even before I watched the visual accompaniment to this album (which is also spectacular), I felt like I was taken on a sort of kaleidoscopic journey from the very first listen. Each song seems to possess its own personality, almost its own world entirely. And through it all, Janelle Monáe herself wears her heart on her sleeve and plays ringleader with such exquisite brilliance. And yes, this album is very, very gay – so obviously I was bound to love it! I’ve listened to individual tracks countless times and the album itself in full about ten times – it’s just plain addicting and one of the most fun albums of the entire year. How this isn’t universally recognized as one of the best of the decade is beyond me.

Best tracks: “Crazy, Classic, Life”, “Screwed”, “Django Jane”, “Pynk”, “Make Me Feel”, “Americans”

Everything’s Fine by Jean Grae x Quelle Chris

The very first track of this album introduces us to a stressed dude “flying high on every drug imaginable”, a depressed Fine Arts academic with twenty cats, and a non-human entity from the future all uttering this album’s titular phrase… you could only imagine where it goes from here. This album is a creative, kooky definer of the times, built around the fact that, indeed, everything is not fine. The married couple at the heart of this record have such impeccable chemistry, the likes of which I haven’t seen elsewhere this year (no, not even the Carters could match them). This is one hell of an important album and I’m sure it’ll be rightfully recognized as such in due time.

Best tracks: “House Call”, “Gold Purple Orange”, “Peacock”, “Breakfast of Champions”

Phantom Thread OST by Jonny Greenwood

This one came to me really early in the year and quickly earned a permanent slot in the year-end list eventually to come. I guess maybe my love for its connecting film (and anything P.T. Anderson, really) might’ve influenced my raves on this one, but also it’s genuinely pretty great for what it is. These strings are almost unbearably melodramatic, often melancholic, though there’s enough variance in the minor lyrical details of each track to keep it interesting from start to finish. It’s really no surprise how this one became my most-played reading soundtrack of the year. Jonny Greenwood is an absolute treasure.

Best tracks: “Phantom Thread I”, “The Hem”, “Alma”, “That’s As May Be”, “House of Woodcock”

Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

If 2018 will only be remembered for me as the year I discovered Kacey Musgraves, then it was a good year indeed. Alongside richly produced instrumentals, Musgraves shares her unique blending of moment-to-moment observations on life, love, and family. She consistently does an incredible job at staying true to country roots while upturning many of its archaic, traditional values altogether. “High Horse” alone is an excellent example of this, as well as my most-replayed tune of the whole year. I’ll admit time and time again that the country music scene is in a crisis, but it must not be all bad if Musgraves is still around.

Best tracks: “Slow Burn”, “Butterflies”, “Happy & Sad”, “Wonder Woman”, “High Horse”

Isolation by Kali Uchis

In the mess of mediocre R&B albums that have been carelessly flung out these past few years, Kali Uchi’s debut album shines like a gem. Her hooks are sensual and Uchis herself has enough Latin-infused swagger to give this record a glimmering personality. I love the Spanish-language songs the best, but there are others here that seem to completely obliterate the boundaries of Latin R&B completely. It’s tempting to lump her into any number of R&B/pop divas that have broken out recently, but best believe that she’s different. There’s so much potential here for something truly amazing in the future, and I can’t wait for that.

Best tracks: “Miami”, “Tyrant”, “Nuestro Planeta”, ” In My Dreams”, “After the Storm”

Time ‘n’ Place by Kero Kero Bonito

While being pretty impressed by Kero Kero Bonito’s spritely debut from 2016, their follow-up EP TOTEP was slightly less than impressive. This album, though, completely shattered any expectations I had for them. Influenced as much by electropop as by noise rock, the eccentric clashing of styles here is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While certain parts of this work as a perfect little pop record, other parts make sure the listener is always kept on their toes at every turn. All this is led by Sarah Bonito as a strong, essential backbone for the group’s ever-evolving style. Really interesting stuff here, for sure.

Best tracks: “Time Today”, “Only Acting”, “Make Believe”, “Dear Future Self”, “Swimming”

I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma

Following a trend with this year, it seems, Let’s Eat Grandma (hilarious name, by the way) ended up being among my most cherished discoveries of the year. While the art pop elements of this album are surely pronounced, the duo is not reluctant to insert some more sugary elements into their compositions. Alongside some intentional moments of discord here and there are some lush, layered, and truly gorgeous instances that help define the album into something very special. This all cumulates into one hell of a closer – but you gotta get through the rest of the meat first! Trust me, it’ll all be very worthwhile.

Best tracks: “Hot Pink”, “Falling Into Me”, “Snakes & Ladders”, “Donnie Darko”

Bon voyage by Melody’s Echo Chamber

In 2017, Melody Prochet suffered an undisclosed (as far as I know) accident that left her in the hospital for several months and possibly at the brink of death. She used music to aid in her healing process, and while everyone heals in their own ways, it’s pretty admirable how this album replaces the inevitable depression and melancholy of such a situation with something much warmer and unexpectedly quirky. The instrumentals here are vibrant and even a bit weird, though she makes it work in spite of its unpredictable nature. It’s definitely one of the coolest psychedelic albums of the year, and a great example of how one strong musician refused to let tragedy completely define her art.

Best tracks: “Cross My Heart”, “Desert Horse”, “Visions of Someone Special, On a Wall of Reflections”

Be the Cowboy by Mitski

Mitski’s name has only grown larger since the passing of time since her highly acclaimed Puberty 2 album, and Be the Cowboy showcases her work at the height of her powers (so far). Through a delicate melding of distinctive styles, her emotions range from textured romance, to bitter frustration, to deep, painful sadness. And it’s all through her impressive knack at simplistic lyricism that nonetheless have the potential to break hearts and cause tears to fall. This record comes and goes like a powerful gust of wind, but I could really stand for it to be twice as long. Mitski is one hell of a talent and deserves every bit of love she’s been getting.

Best tracks: “Geyser”, “Lonesome Love”, “Nobody”, “Pink in the Night”, “Two Slow Dancers”

Wide Awaaaaake! by Parquet Courts

Never thought I would highly praise a post-punk album from this the year of our lord 2018, but here we are. This is one of the straight-up grooviest album of the whole year, in the sense that the prominent guitar and bass lines deliver groove after delicious groove from track to bombastic track. From its retro sound (with production helmed by Danger Mouse) to the often politically-charged lyricism, this album proves that the vibrancy and energy of 80s punk still lives on in this very different world. Just a perfectly solid album, really.

Best tracks: “Total Football”, “Before the Water Gets Too High”, “Freebird II”, “Wide Awake”

I’ll Tell You What! by RP Boo

RP Boo is apparently a major creative force behind the subgenre of house music known as footwork – I didn’t know this before listening to this record, but his dominance on the style is all over this album. Throughout the album,  the numerous vocal samples all fold upon each other again and again, alongside extensive drum fills and snares. Although the result is an abstract, formless tapestry, each and every track seems to successfully tell its own story nonetheless. This is just one cool-ass record overall, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Best tracks: “No Body”, “Back from the Future”, “At War”, “U-Don’t No”

Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet

I don’t often place a lot of jazz records on these types of lists – the entire genre is a major blind spot, I’m afraid – but I could not avoid giving this one a mention. This is some of the best percussion I’ve heard all year; those drums just do not let up! Just as notable as the drums, though, are those impassioned layers of horns, from the lively saxophones to the deep, throbbing tubas. It brings to mind Fela Kuti and his protest symphonies that seem to be endless. A similar energy is captured here – heaven knows we need a record like this to breathe some life back into the earth.

Best tracks: “My Queen is Ada Eastman”, “My Queen is Harriet Tubman”, “My Queen is Angela Davis”, “My Queen is Doreen Lawrence”

Oil of Every Pearl Un-Insides by SOPHIE

2018 was a huge year for bubblegum bass artist SOPHIE, who had been making her name known steadily over the course of the decade. Her debut album works as not only as an introduction to her work, but as a maturation of such. While many of these tracks consist of the same aggressive, mechanical structure that she has been synonymous for, there are also a number of softer, more delicate lyrical tunes here. The result is probably the most futuristic-sounding record of this entire year. It will be really interesting to see how this album holds up with the passing of time, but for now it’s delightfully unlike anything else here.

Best tracks: “It’s Okay to Cry”, “Ponyboy”, “Faceshopping”, “Whole New World/Pretend World”

A Laughing Death in Meatspace by Tropical Fuck Storm

What better way to end this list than with the strangest band/album name pairing on this entire list?? I had no idea what to expect here, and after listening I’m still not entirely sure how to parse this record. These some elements of traditional blues here, but it’s all shrouded by a thick, raw cloud of experimental garage punk – akin to the White Stripes or Black Keys, but much more grungier and dissonant. Of course, there is some structure to the chaos though; in particular, these guitars and bass are so, so good. Pair that with some catchy melodies and politically-charged lyrics, and we’ve got quite a strong record that, quite frankly, needs so much more attention than its name might invite.

Best tracks: “Antimatter Animals”, “The Future of History”, “Soft Power”, “A Laughing Death in Meatspace”

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Lyzette’s 15 Best Hit Singles of 2018

And another one. Now that I’ve gotten my Worst Hit Singles of 2018 out of the way, it’s time to finally dwell more on the positive side of things. After all, there is a reason why I avidly follow each week of the Hot 100 so closely week after week – I genuinely enjoy pop music, and today’s pop music is no exception. Yet even though this past year was full of genuine groans and eye-rolls over what the American public had decided to make popular, not all of it was really all that terrible. In any case, I find that I generally enjoy writing more about the stuff I liked and loved than the music I despised – it’s always nice to look back and reflect on the music that helped me go on day after day, even during the darkest of times.

And yes, there was actually good music this year! Both within and away from the pop charts – although, today we’ll be talking about the former (the latter will come later). As I stated in my previous post, I want to put greater emphasis on the songs that stuck around the top 40 for at least two weeks. Also they must have not been qualified for the 2017 list, blah blah blah.

Okay, you already know the drill. These are my BEST HIT SINGLES FROM 2018!

15) “Barbie Tingz” by Nicki Minaj

Following similarly ranked picks on my Worst list, this single only spent a single week in the top 40, so I’ll put it at the bottom here. While I’ve always been a supporter of Nicki Minaj, I’ve had a love-hat relationship with her fairly recently. Still, there’s no denying that her two big solo singles this year, “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li”, are total bangers. Generally speaking, this one rises slightly above the other and is the one I would bump more regularly. I love the old-school beat and Minaj sounds as confident as ever here. Sure, there are some weak lines here and there, but that’s basically par for the course when dealing with Nicki Minaj. What really matters is that this is a fun, upbeat bit of boastful hip-hop that proves that, even in her more wary times, Nicki can still put out one hell of a bop.

14) “Lemon” by N*E*R*D ft. Rihanna

Yeah, technically this would’ve been a late-2017 hit, but it really started to get a boost in the early parts of 2018. While I’m suspicious that the Drake remix is mainly responsible for this, the original mix is the one I love the most. Pharrell Williams’s production is as poppin’ as ever, with elements of New Orleans bounce thrown into the mix for added party textures. But really, the true star of the show here is Rihanna, who spits enough solid bars to make me convinced that she could put out one hell of a rap album. I still give it a spin from time to time and many of its lyrics have entered my daily lexicon, including, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, my friends” and “Count the muthafuckin’ digits”. In a better world, this would have been a top ten smash hit hit – nonetheless, it’s pretty nice seeing N*E*R*D in the Hot 100 in 2018.

13) “APESHIT” by The Carters

Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s collaborative album Everything is Love was released completely out of nowhere and, for me at least, remains one of the most replayable records to come out of the entire year. One of the highlights is, undoubtedly, “Apeshit”, a track pretty much dominated by the Queen Bey herself. Supported by some ominous trap production and backup from Quavo and Offset from Migos, she doesn’t exactly spit the most cutting-edge, unique bars, but boy does she have every right to brag as much as she does. Oh yeah, and there’s a Jay-Z verse in here too, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from him as well. They’ve both got such great chemistry throughout the course of the album, and this is a good example of such. It may not be my favorite of the Everything is Love tracks, but I am glad it became as big of a hit as it was.

12) “Stir Fry” by Migos

And speaking of Migos. Although Culture II wasn’t nearly as solid of an album as its predecessor, there was still a good deal of solid tracks in the mix… at over an hour and forty minutes in length, I sure would hope so. “Stir Fry” was one of the most interesting, unique singles to come out of the album rollout, with glimmery production from Pharrell Williams (I swear, it was a total coincidence that I ranked three Williams tracks right next to each other). While the discography of Migos tends to consist of song after song that sound ridiculously identical from one another, “Stir Fry” gives us its own blend of shinier, bouncy beats alongside the trio’s typical trap sound. The personalities of the two are also positively vibrant, with their standard flows and ad-libs weaving around each other swiftly and energetically. There’s even a melody of sorts hiding around in here! Sure, this might be the most accessible song that the group have done up ’til this point, but the polished edge sure does wonders for them.

11) “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa

Calvin Harris has been on his A-game lately, particularly since the release of last year’s Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, which garnered him a number of impressively catchy retro bangers. Since his “Promises” with Sam Smith didn’t make as much of a mark on the Hot 100 as I would’ve hoped (it would have definitely made top five for me!!), this will have to do. Don’t get me wrong, though – this song kicks ass. Taking influence from 90s house music, the nostalgic vibes are still on full force here with the mixing that incorporates piano chords, horns, and other groovy, summery sonic effects. Guest vocalist Dua Lipa has been killin’ it lately as well, and her involvement on this track is indispensable. The way she sings, “Something in you lit up heaven in me” is one of my favorite line deliveries of the year, and the end result is something of a toned-down version of Harris’s 2016 hit with Rihanna “This Is What You Came For”. In other words, it’s pure dance floor bliss.

10) “Nice For What” by Drake

I doubt anyone else had a bigger year in music than Drake – which is insane, considering I thought he was totally off the map after 2017’s More Life failed to impress much. While “God’s Plan” was admittedly a grower and had some strong qualities of its own, I never really cared too much about it, other than it coming off as just another song to add to Drake’s brag-rap repertoire. But then “Nice For What” rolled around, and I found myself actually kind of excited for what else he had to offer. The Lauryn Hill sample works better than it has any right to, and its affectionate shoulder-rubs with its bounce style sets it apart from anything else on air – certainly admirable in this age of pop radio.. Is this Female Empowerment™ for the sake of catering to Drake’s audience of young women in order to attempt a second number-one hit? Probably – it sure did succeed at this. Nonetheless, when he says lines like “Workin’ hard, girl, everything paid for” and “You know dark days, you know hard times”… I feel it deep inside. Try as I might to fight it, I can’t ignore when a song makes me feel this good.

9) “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA

When “All the Stars” was released right at the start of the year – alongside Kendrick Lamar’s announcement of his involvement in the Black Panther soundtrack – listeners reacted with discontent and anticipatory skepticism. I must admit, I was in that crowd as well. After all, this is far more polished and conservative than anything else that either of these two artists had put out up until this point. After a few listens, though (as well as the added context of the aforementioned film and my favorite music video of the year), I finally got it. It’s less of a display of the artists’ lyrical talents, but sets itself to be more of a mood setter, a stance typical of soundtrack tunes. But even if this is relatively toned-down, it’s still got the thumping rhythm of its production, the depth of its sonic textures, and the vocal soarings of SZA, who sounds so beautiful and seems to carry the entire song on her back. Lamar, moreover, works as ringleader to the project – it’s not as rough and raw as we’re used to from him, but it doesn’t need to be. Once the end credits of Black Panther rolled around, I finally felt this overwhelming wave of emotion that I knew this song had the potential to grant me – and it continues to do so with every play since.

8) “King’s Dead” by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake

And now for another cut from the Black Panther soundtrack. When it comes to this song in particular, there seems to be two different camps of listeners: those who think that Future’s verse is unlistenable trash, and those who admire its ambition. If you’ve heard the song, you know exactly which part I’m referring to. Honestly, though, this song is on this list almost entirely due to the sheer magnitude and force of Lamar’s outro verse – it’s basically everything that critics complained wasn’t present in “All the Stars” and thus gave some hope for the remainder of the project. It demonstrates Lamar’s penchant for raw, unbridled bars that seem to go for miles and really helps the whole track end on a bang. But even outside of this section, this is just a really good posse record. I’ve gone out and listened to some more of Jay Rock’s stuff – maybe I’m wrong, but nothing else I’ve found seems to come even a little bit close to the confident, cool flow he spits here. I suspect that the chemistry between the performers plus the production might help heightened the performance in some way. And as for that Future verse? It’s some of the most fun I’ve had with any music all year round. “La-di-da-di-da”

7) “Psycho” by Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – but I think I get it now. Well, at least with this song anyway. It seems like the theme for pop music in 2018 concerns songs that gradually grow on me with multiple listens over a significant amount of time. For “Psycho” in particular, I never thought much of it until I listened to it during my walk home late at night when a lot of its nocturnal textures really came into view. “Psycho” might not be the best name for it, actually, since the song is pretty damn chill, barely straying from its casual melody from start to finish. There are some pretty subtle-but-strange quirks thrown in here and there, such as the background siren effect almost unnoticeable, but impossible to ignore once you do, and an allusion to Bozo the Clown in the chorus (does anyone in 2018 understand that reference?). Both Post and Ty Dolla emit their general style of boasting about how much money, jewelry, and cars they own, and its basically what one would expect from the rap scene of 2018. Something about this just seems a bit more humanly positive and affirming than other low-energy songs like “Sad!” or even Malone’s own “I Fall Apart” – it comes in lines like Malone’s, “My money thick, won’t ever fold” and Ty Dolla $ign’s sung, “Girl, you look beautiful tonight”. Overall, not too bad coming from the “White Iverson” guy.

6) “Powerglide” by Rae Sremmurd ft. Juicy J

I’ve been a Rae Sremmurd apologist for quite a while now – basically since I discovered both SremmLife and SremmLife 2 sometime in 2016. While I do agree that the duo have yet to make anything else quite as good as “Black Beatles”, I also don’t think they’re nearly as bad as so many make them out to be. Which is why it was so painful to watch the abysmal failure that was SR3MM, their third album that was basically doomed to fail from its trash pile of a marketing strategy alone. While I’m yet unsure if Rae Sremmurd will bounce back from this (at the very least, Swae Lee has got a bright future), “Powerglide” remains a bright spot in this episode. The production from Mike WiLL Made-It is immediately intense from the get-go and doesn’t let go for a second. And yes, it’s true that the beat and chorus heavily sample Three 6 Mafia’s “Side 2 Side”, but differences are absolutely crucial to making this more melodic and party-ready for a more modern age. Swae Lee’s hook is one of the most immediately catchiest of the entire year and I’ve been singing it from the very first listen. Typical of Rae Sremmurd tunes, there are a few pretty weak lines here – I still don’t know what “unintentional flexing” means. Additionally, I’m no big fan of the guest verse from Three 6’s Juicy J, which takes the carefree party vibes of the previous lines and make it explicitly misogynistic. Still, the good parts of this song make it one hell of a banger, so I’m all the more willing to tolerate its minor imperfections. These boys always know how to have a good time.

You know the drill now. Here are the honorable mentions that just missed the cut for this list.

  • “Finesse (Remix)” by Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B: The first thirty seconds of this remix was one of my favorite musical moments of the first half of the year. The early 90s feel is awesome, sure, but it was also our first taste of Cardi’s terrific, playful personality on a major hit single. If we had more of that through the actual track, this would have probably made the list.
  • “Marry Me” by Thomas Rhett: It’s kind of wild that this is from the same guy who gave us the atrocity of “Life Changes”. Sure, this reeks with a whole bunch of whinery about being friendzoned, but it’s also remarkably sincere for what it is. It’s just a nice bit of storytelling through song, which doesn’t come around these parts very often.
  • “Ric Flair Drip” by Offset and Metro Boomin: Pretty typical trap rap, lyrically, but I also find the dense bass and the chorus quite a lot of fun. These bars are good, too. Like I said before, Offset is a great performer when he isn’t too busy being homophobic!
  • “Mine” by Bazzi: Yeah, that “hit it from the back” line just about disqualifies it from the list. Everything else about it is pretty standard teenage lovey-dovey stuff that I actually find pretty sweet and endearing. The spacey, understated production is neat too, though I wish the whole thing were a little longer.
  • “I Like It” by Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin: That Pete Rodriguez sample is instantly legendary and Cardi sounds like she’s having a damn good time. I could do without the other two featured artists, but it’s a small price to pay for a totally solid party track.
  • “Chun-Li” by Nicki Minaj: The second of Nicki’s two big solo hits this year. The beat punches a little hard here, but the lines are clumsier – also, I don’t completely buy the whole half-baked Chun-Li comparison. Still, I enjoy jamming out to it now and then.
  • “Candy Paint” by Post Malone: Probably the most solid of Post Malone tracks I’ve heard thus far – it’s kept off the list by only barely making a blip on the pop charts. The production is sparkly and gorgeous and the melody is just so charming. I would best describe it as a sunnier-sounding “Psycho”. I really wish this were a bigger hit over a bunch of his other songs.
  • “In My Feelings” by Drake: Okay, I admit, I fell hard for this track upon the release of Scorpion, all the way to the song’s multi-week run at number-one. While it doesn’t hold up quite as well to numerous plays as “Nice For What” and others, the bounce influence works surprisingly well… and yeah, that hook is one hell of an earworm.
  • “High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco: If only the production on this track weren’t so overblown and messy (especially at that dreadful final chorus), this would have surely made my top. Nonetheless, fourteen-year-old me is happy to see that Brendon Urie still has a place in the 2018 music scene – although this being P!ATD’s biggest hit ever is questionable.
  • “Speechless” by Dan + Shay: This song dethroned “Meant To Be”‘s 50-week run at the top of the country charts and that alone earns it all of my respect. Besides this, though, it’s a lovely, simple little country song in days were ones like these seem few and far between.
  • “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee: Even before I watched the new Spider-Man film, I had this song on repeat for a little while. It’s just adorable and so damn sing-along-able. Gosh, I never thought I would have so many Post Malone songs in a Best list…

Okay, and now onward with my TOP FIVE HIT SINGLES OF THE YEAR.

5) “Never Be the Same” by Camila Cabello

Last year, I didn’t have any time at all to make my list of top hit singles for 2017 – but if I had, I assure you Camila Cabello’s “Havana” (featuring Young Thug) would have been quite near the top, if not the number-one choice. It’s a sensual combination of modern pop-R&B and Latin pop inflections, driven by a feisty piano and mild trap elements that give it a personable edge and make it one of the most enticing singles of its year. What impressed me the most, though, is the degree of agency it gave its lead performer. As a member of Fifth Harmony, Cabello hardly impressed me; moreover, her solo efforts (as featured artist on Shawn Mendes’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bad Things”, as well as her first true solo effort “Crying in the Club”) reinforced my intuition as her being just another flash-in-the-pan pop performer. “Havana” gave me hope, though – this young woman has the potential to really do some truly incredible things, given the degree of space she has to really flex her skills.

I’ll admit that “Never Be the Same” isn’t exactly perfect. The lyrics are a tad iffy and Cabello’s voice on the chorus and especially her falsetto on the pre-chorus is… divisive. Nonetheless, the positive qualities of this song have a tendency to pile atop each other, resulting in a blissful bombast of pop goodness. Take the very beginning of the track – via production courtesy of Frank Dukes, we are treated to a dreamy toy-piano-like synth line straight out of Brian Eno’s playbook (no joke!). Camila continues in this deep, husky vocal delivery that perfectly complements its lyrics about love as a serotonin addiction (“Something must’ve gone wrong in my brain / Got your chemicals all in my veins / Feeling all the highs, feel all the pain”). The delivery of the “nicotine, heroin, morphine” line in the pre-chorus, has its haters, but I think it’s a perfect setup for what’s to come next: a chorus of full, unrestrained, helplessly hooked pleasure. In all ways that “Havana” was juvenile and playful, this song is earnest and sultry, which is probably the best logical step for Cabello to take in her career. This has be super stoked to see what else she has up her sleeve.

4) “Boo’d Up” by Ella Mai

Outside of the trap and the mumble rap scenes, there are very few new artists that broke into the top 40 this year – and of those, there are even fewer that seem all that promising, with the potential for interesting, cutting edge stuff in future years. Maybe I’ll be eating my words later, but I really don’t find myself particularly excited for whatever output Bazzi, Anne-Marie, Normani, or Lauv may give us in the next year or the year after that. Enter Ella Mai, an English R&B performer signed by DJ Mustard’s label who seemingly fell from the heavens to offer us the gift of actually interesting, lovely pop ballads! I really can’t tell you what 2000s-era dream cloud Ella Mai derived from, but I’m totally grateful they gave her to us.

This song is also produced by DJ Mustard, and if you know anything about the quality of Mustard’s songs, this should come nothing less than a shock to you. Just as a brief example, he also helped to give us “Freaky Friday” (read about that on my Worst Hit Singles of 2018 list!), which comes across as a super basic backing for any run-of-the-mill Chris Brown failure. A failure, though, this song is not. The backing instrumental is lush and lovely, with small accents of piano and pulsing R&B beats circulating throughout the swaying midtempo rhythm. Ella Mai herself also has a wonderful voice, reminiscent of the crisp cadences of R&B lady-crooners from the 90s and aughts, such as Aaliyah, Alicia Keys, and Ashanti. It’s a pretty little song about being in love and lyrically there’s not much else going on with it (“Feeling like I’m touching the ceiling / When I’m with you, I can’t breathe / Boy, you do something to me”). The highlight for me, though, comes with her iterations of the titular phrase in connection to her heartbeat: “Listen my to heart go ba-dum, boo’d up / Biddy-da-dum, boo’d up”. Clever bits of wordplay like these don’t find their way onto pop radio very often, and it makes for one hell of a hook. While even the best of pop music finds itself suffering from overplay, I’ve yet to grown even a little bit tired of this song – the delicate nature of its instrumental and vocalist seem to only grow better with time. It’s a rare bit of sophistication that is sorely needed in trying musical times like these.

3) “Pray For Me” by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar

And now for the final of the Black Panther soundtrack singles to find its way on the list. Upon the surprise release of “HUMBLE.” last year and its subsequent debut at number-one on the Hot 100, Kendrick Lamar seemed to instantly become the name of the hour and has continued to have a very prominent, successful year throughout 2018. Not too bad for someone who has been steadily rising from his underground reputation for the past few years. Similarly in the latter parts of 2015, The Weeknd found himself moving above the underground R&B scene and into the throws of superstardom after he accomplished back-to-back chart-topping singles with “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”. While he has made some questionable musical choices since then (see “Party Monster” on my Worst Hit Singles of 2016), his influence on the surround R&B culture is unmistakable. It’s only a matter of time that these two unstoppable forces would at least consider collaborating on the track that would combine their lyrical and stylistic abilities into something truly awesome.

The rhythm of “Pray For Me” could probably best be described as “tribal”, fitting in with the thematic nature of the film from whence this comes. Abel gets the first verse here, and boy does he sound terrific – making it all the more infuriating that he squanders his talents with inane shit like My Dear Melancholy,. It’s also just pretty incredible how a line like, “Who’s gon’ save me from myself when this life is all I know?” is something that is as fiercely connected to the content of Black Panther as it is to the cult of personality that is The Weeknd himself. While Lamar’s single verse is, like in “All the Stars”, a sort of watered-down version of what we get from him in his solo efforts, the intensity of his delivery is still ever-present, working incredibly well in this much more polished, radio-friendly production. Said production by Frank Dukes is punchy, driven, and impassioned without taking things too over the top. It’s just a very well-crafted, introspective little track; maybe it isn’t the conventional choice for a top-three pick in a list like this, but it certainly hasn’t overstayed its welcome for me.

2) “Be Careful” by Cardi B

Three out of the top five of my Best Hit Singles produced by Frank Dukes? Don’t mind if I do. Throughout 2018, Cardi B has proved that her potential for greatness extends far and beyond what she gave us in “Bodak Yellow”. From spunky party anthems like “I Like It” to more hard-hitting flex tracks like “Bartier Cardi”, her music alone gives listeners some sense of her palpable personality she freely displays on social media, earning her recognition in the first place. Yet even before the release of her acclaimed debut album Invasion of Privacy, Cardi released a song that would shine a light on some more vulnerable edges of her personality that had never before been revealed. This was further elevated with her performance of this song on SNL, which revealed her pregnancy to the world and further emphasized the weight and importance of the lyrics she vocalizes.

“Be Careful” was released after months of speculation and rumors regarding infidelity on the part of Offset, whom Cardi was engaged to at the time (they have since parted ways). Cardi herself has said that this song wasn’t aimed at Offset directly, but is rather a culmination of emotions she had felt from being wronged in the past. In any case, this song is one hell of a scathing indictment. Through two verses and a couple choruses, she absolutely pours her heart out in what could possibly be one of the most intimate diss tracks in recent years. For many who have ever been cheated on, lines like “You still stutter after certain questions / You still keep in contact with certain exes” are all too familiar. While the whole song remains pretty low-key yet terribly true in their sentiments, I mostly love the lines, “Between a rock and a hard place, the mud and the dirt / It’s gonna hurt me to hate you, but lovin’ you’s worse”. It probably best puts into words the struggle in trying to make it work with someone you love who also hurts you so fucking much. Keeping with the 2000s nostalgia that this year seems infatuated with, these hard-hitting lyrics are brilliantly balanced by a light, airy backing instrumental that also sounds oddly off-kilter, much like a beautiful relationship gone off the rails. Overall, this is probably my pick for the most matured and probably best song that Cardi B has given us so far. In general, we just need more songs where rap goddesses lay off one on their man who’d done them wrong.

1) “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande

Nine of my top fifteen hit singles feature women vocalists. Four out of the top five are solo woman performers. This wasn’t exactly intentional, but would you have expected anything less from me? Anyway, I gleefully settled with Ariana Grande for the number-one spot this year. Previously, I named “Into You” as my second-favorite hit single of 2016 – although if I went by this year’s rules for that year, it would have easily topped that list. I still think “Into You” is one of her strongest songs ever, even over this song, yet there were so much fewer bright spots throughout 2018, making this song all the more important to brightening my day in the darkest of times. Grande herself wrote this song from her own place of darkness after a particularly difficult 2017 – though it’s no news that the months surrounding the release of her newest album Sweetener would be accompanied with its own share of stresses and tragedies. She succinctly referenced her particularly tough 2018 with a tweet later this year: “remember when i was like hey i have no tears left to cry and the universe was like HAAAAAAAAA bitch u thought”.

Anyway, I knew from the first listen that this would be somewhere up in the higher rungs of my Best of 2018 list. Producer Max Martin is an absolute master with creating wonderfully layered, fun pop masterpieces, and this is yet another example of his craft. The trance-like opener anticipates a moody, somewhat operatic tune – that is, until Grande guides the tempo into a double-time speed (“I’m pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up / I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up”), leading to a more upbeat dance-pop vibe that takes over the remainder of the track. Evidently, this seems to parallel the road from deep, dreary depression into happier times, a narrative seemingly told through this dense sonic energy alone. Grande, as always, sounds absolutely beautiful, with vocal tones that perfectly fit the uptempo, danceable qualities of this song, while carrying its own undertones of pain and growth.

Of course, the journey away from a densely depressive episode isn’t quite as easy as a “happy-sad” dichotomy, outlined by the way notes of sadness and despair are lightly peppered into some lines in the verses (“Comin’ out, even when it’s rainin’ down”). Overall, though, this song is mainly about the challenge it takes to overcome oppressive times of trauma and depression – sometimes, you simply just have to will yourself to believe that you haven’t got a single tear left and that it’s time to move on. In dark times like these when getting out of bed and leaving the house seems like a task in and of itself, this song feels like a perfect motivator to get up, leave all your troubles behind, and just dance. Throughout 2018, this has been the soundtrack to the days where dancing is within my realm of possibility – and then just like that, things suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable.

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Lyzette’s 15 Worst Hit Singles of 2018

Here we go, folks! Year-end list season has officially begun, and as I stated in my schedule for list season, this one is first. Posting my list of the worst songs of the year just always made sense to me, since I’m free to just forget they ever existed the second I click ‘publish’!

Enough has been said about the real-life atrocities and bleak darkness of 2018 for me to dwell on those parts of the year – here, I’ll only be talking about the pop music of the year. I’ve got to be honest, though. I’ve been avidly keeping up with the Hot 100 since the tail end of 2015 and while that isn’t really that long at all, it’s enough for me to know that this is the least interested I have ever been in a chart year. I want to be clear with what I mean by that – for the past four years, I’ve been progressively working my way through the top 100 songs of every year since 1957, when the Hot 100 began. I recently wrapped up my overview of 1987, so now I’ve got 30 years of charts under my belt. Out of all thirty of these chart years, with the addition of the four chart years between 2015-2018… I felt like I was wasting my time with this year’s pop songs more often than any other year I’ve covered.

Now there have certainly been worse years, that’s for sure. But with this year in particular, I felt like nothing I listened to was contributing anything new or interesting that didn’t already exist in some form. Continuing from 2017, rap still dominates, with trap and mumble rap being the most prominent this year – but while there were a decent number of songs that were legitimately enjoyable, most of it was just a grimy cloud of drug abuse and gun violence. Pop music is still rearing its head here and there, but the age of the pop star has shifted into non-recognizability and the production of these songs tends to be just plain bad. Rock music has suffered an even poorer fate, with only a couple of bands crossing over into the pop charts and only with messy, blown-out instrumentals and a lack of the energy these bands possessed in the 2000s. The worst songs of the year, though, all had one thing in common: they added absolutely nothing new to conversation and only work to fill up sonic space in uniquely obnoxious ways.

I’ll get more into it down below! Just like last year’s list and the best and worst lists of 2016, songs are only eligible for this list if they peaked within the top 40 and would not have qualified for the 2017 list. For this year, though, I’ll introduce a new rule: songs that have been in the top 40 for at least two weeks will be given priority over all others. 2018 gave us a whole bunch of album bombs and many of these non-singles tracks ranked pretty high on the chart before plummeting the following week. To talk in length about more than a couple of these tracks would just be a waste of time on my part and relatively uninteresting on readers’ parts. After all, it’s far more interesting to gripe about the bonafide, unarguable hits!

And with that, I won’t any more time… on with my WORST HIT SINGLES FROM 2018!

15) “Dame Tu Cosita” by El Chombo

My apologies for leading off this list with some particularly nightmare-inducing single cover imagery. Make no mistake, though, this song isn’t ranked at the bottom because it’s the least bad of any of these. On the contrary, I feel that it’s the least song-like of any of these entries… if that makes any sense. The lone fact that the guy behind “Chacarron Macarron” achieved a Hot 100 hit leaves me pretty dumbfounded overall. And yes, I know that a viral meme is really all to blame for this becoming at all relevant – with this overwhelmingly mindless repetition and unpleasant raunchiness. The sonic equivalent to getting a dentist drill right through the eardrum.


14) “End Game” by Taylor Swift ft. Ed Sheeran and Future

Yeah, the bottom rung of this list is basically a glorified version of the dishonorable mentions. Taylor Swift’s album Reputation is mostly a 2017 release, but January ’18 saw this song nested in the top 40 for a few weeks so I think it’s worth a mention here. While so many ragged on “Look What You Made Me Do” a year ago, I think this song is the real stinker of the album. I’m actually not that opposed to this production – a little bit Swifty pop, a little bit trap – and Future actually makes his short presence worthwhile. Swift and Sheeran, though, are so completely out of their element, it’s laughable. Not to mention the, “Big reputation, big reputation” line, which sounds embarrassingly forced. I suspect that most have forgotten about this cut by now – all the better.

13) “Everyday” by Logic and Marshmello

So, this song only spent a single week in the top 40, but clung around the bottom half of the list to qualify it as a minor hit for rapper Logic and EDM producer Marshmello. While I’ve in the past spewed some vitriol for Logic’s hit last year “1-800-273-8255” (my #2 worst song of last year), I’m actually not totally opposed to Logic as a performer. He tends to have some pretty corny songs here and there, but he also possesses the talent and ability to throw out some pretty cool lines every so often. This, however, is not the song for that. Let’s just take a look at the chorus: “I work hard every mother fuckin’ day / I work hard, I work hard… Today is my day, it’s my day, and no matter what they say / It’s my day, la-la-la-la-la-la”. Yeah, you can probably see what the problem is. While this is my main qualm with the song, he’s clearly just phoning in the rest of the tune lyrically. Marshmello’s backup adds some interesting atmosphere, but it’s useless with no adequate substance to back it up. Best to leave this one behind.

 

12) “RAP DEVIL” by Machine Gun Kelly

Alright, now here we go with the actual hits. And here we got one of the many diss tracks that blew up through the year, this one from Machine Gun Kelly aimed at veteran rapper Eminem. Essentially, while there is some potential here for something truly biting, MGK instead settles for some pretty limp insults. In the chorus, he remarks on his “sweatsuits and corny hats”, and later on he throws punches on such biting subject matter as his choice of reading material (“All you do is read the dictionary and stay inside”) and his height (“How could I even look up to you? You ain’t as tall as me / Five eight and I’m six four”). While there are some creative references to some of Eminem’s past work, these lines are still just as corny as all the rest. Even though I’m not nearly as fond of Em’s response track “Killshot” as everyone else seemed to be (he’s still bad…), at least it effectively elevated the beef while marking Mathers as the clear winner. This, though, is just pointless.

11) “FRIENDS” by Marshmello and Anne-Marie

And now for the second of two Marshmello entries. If I could appreciate this song for one aspect, it’s the fact that the verses possess a fair bit of a punch to its attitude, which is something that can’t be said for the majority of the entries here. Even its pre-chorus ain’t all bad – even if the line, “Don’t look at me with that look in your eye” is just lazy songwriting. Where it all falls apart is in the chorus, which is more mellow and downbeat than this song needs. We could use Demi Lovato’s 2017 hit “Sorry Not Sorry” as a counterexample – yeah, I know it was my #20 worst hit of the year, but at least the buildup to the chorus is delicious and well-rewarded! It also doesn’t help that Anne-Marie just isn’t a good enough of a singer to make these lines really kick. Marshmello’s contribution, as in “Everyday”, is just fine – well, except for that weird G-Funk bit before the final chorus, which just feels forced and awkward. Anyway, this is just a limp, faceless kind of song that really could have been something more… but alas.

10) “Te Bote (Remix)” by Nio García, Darell, and Casper Mágico ft. Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, and Ozuna

I always feel a little bit bad ragging on non-English tunes, because I know deep inside that part of my dislike for it has to do with my not being fluent in its language and therefore at least a little bit being lost in translation. I have to say, though, that this might have been the very worst reggaeton hit of the year – I could not stand it. I guess having Ozuna sing the main hook wasn’t a good idea, as his voice is easily the most insufferable in the entire gaggle of vocalists featured here. I have no idea how Ozuna has become one of the biggest names in the whole scene, as his voice has never not just been absolutely grating. Bad Bunny, Darell, and Casper Mágico all seem to blend into one another in equally drowsy, absolutely dull flows. Nio García just leaves no impression at all, and while Nicky Jam is easily the best one here, at this point I’m just far too tired to even give much of a damn about his performance. Because this song does, in fact, run for nearly seven minutes. All while mindlessly repeating the same basic, tedious melody again and again, with no variation or switch-up whatsoever – though there is plenty of toxic masculinity to go around, if we’re being honest. This sucks.

9) “Get Along” by Kenny Chesney

Yep… just like my past couple of year-end lists, there will be country music on here. I feel like maybe I’m a bit unfairly biased against the genre, but really it’s only because the state of country is currently at a slump and has been for a while. They aren’t always so obviously bad, though – take this song from country vet Kenny Chesney, for example. The guitar twang is pleasant and the chorus has a casual melody with lyrics about tolerance. That’s not bad, right? Well, this is a country song, so of course there’s got to be some kind of “turn the other cheek” connotation, which does not work in today’s world. The fact that the chorus also co-opts Rodney King’s famous quote (“Can’t we all get along?”) for its own means leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The final nail in the coffin for me, though, was the sexist second verse that comes utterly out of nowhere: “Saw a model on a billboard, 1-800-get to know me / Wondered was she Photoshopped or were her eyes really that lonely?”. I wonder why so many made a fuss about the similar line in Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” (and reasonably so), yet no criticism of this particular line seems to exist. Not all country music is bad, sure, but this tune and its success doesn’t give me much hope for the immediate future.

8) “Meant To Be” by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

And now, inexplicably, the longest running number-one single on the country charts – of all time! II really can’t decide what I hate the most about this song. Is it the basic-ass trap beat undercutting everything? Is it the lame-ass introductory verse (“Baby, lay on back and relax / Kick your pretty feet up on my dash”)? Is it the utterly slapdash nature of that annoyingly repetitive chorus? Is it the way that one guy sings, “Whoa, hold up, girl”? Is it that total joke of a bridge (“Maybe we do, maybe we don’t / Maybe we will, maybe we won’t”)? I’m sure it’s a little bit of everything all at once. I already knew that FGL were bad, but I’m mostly disappointed at the downfall of Bebe Rexha here. Her chorus in G-Eazy’s “Me, Myself, & I” was easily a high point in late 2015/early 2016 pop music, while this one here is just so grating. I’m sure I probably shouldn’t complain that this song runs at under three minutes and thus is here and gone before I know it – considering that it’s a bad song, that should actually work in its favor. But I think its short length only further emphasizes how little effort they placed in cranking this one out.

7) “Life Changes” by Thomas Rhett

And the third and final country song of the list. I had a hard time deciding whether this one or “Get Along” should be ranked higher – but then I decided that the absolute smugness represented in this song’s lyrics made it the worst by a full head and shoulders. It’s even more painful considering that Thomas Rhett also had a hit this year with a song that’s made my shortlist for the best of 2018 (watch out for that one soon!). Anyway, I guess I’m just slightly irritated with songs that brag about making the big time with little to no effort placed in getting there. Sure, hedonism in pop lyrics is a thing, but here Rhett talks about going to college and composing a “notebook full of bad songs” – and poof! Just like that, he’s famous. This same air of nonchalance happens when he describes his wife getting that “blue check mark by her Instagram” and their adopting a child from Uganda, only to have one more on the way. And in between these verses is that just-as-insufferable chorus: “Ain’t it funny how life changes? / You wake up, ain’t nothing the same”. Yes, it’s breezy and catchy, and I’m probably just in the wrong for despising it as I am for hating the similarly breezy, catchy “Simple”. But I guess I don’t need to hear about how great Thomas Rhett’s life is – with him being one of the biggest names in Nashville in recent years, it’s nothing I’m not already well aware of.

6) “Taste” by Tyga ft. Offset

Lately there seems to be this unsettling trend of folks forgetting that Tyga is just as bad of a rapper as he is an awful person. To be fair, though, the utter unpleasantness of this song isn’t completely Tyga’s fault alone. The song was produced by D.A. Doman, who previously produced Chris Brown’s atrocious “Privacy” and, later, “ZEZE” by Kodak Black, Travis Scott, and Offset (which would have probably made this list if it had been released earlier). And yes, Doman also produced “Swish”, which is such a lazy carbon copy of this tune – just listen to it yourself. But let’s get to “Taste” itself! First of all, its main sample loop feels so lazily pasted on and gets old incredibly fast – which is too bad, considering that it goes on and on with absolutely no variation. And these lyrics! Amongst a barrage of typical flexing, Tyga claims that he’ll “stick to your bitch like a spray tan”, while she “sucks [him] like a fuckin’ Hi-C”. Yep, all the same sickening sexism clothed in eye-roll-inducing metaphors. Offset is on here too, which is fine – I generally like him when he isn’t being a homophobic mess! His verse is okay, but it’s clear that he’s phoning it in, chiming in with his signature flow while also getting on Tyga’s level with the line, “Like the way she suck it, suck it like a Jolly”. And I get it – this all has to do with “taste” and it’s multiple definitions. I’ve always just been pretty unfazed by Tyga’s attitude and personality in tunes like “Rack City” and “Make It Nasty” – this is just another one to add to the dull, lifeless pile.

Once again, before we move on to the top five, here’s a short list of dishonorable mentions that I felt deserved to be alluded to, before I presumably leave them behind forever:

  • “Filthy” by Justin Timberlake: I feel like everyone at this point is content to just pretend like JT’s whole Man of the Woods shtick didn’t happen. But boy do I remember it, especially the wretched taste in my mouth I had upon the first and subsequent listens of the lead single, “Filthy”. From the messy production to the annoying lyrics, this is certainly a low point for the pop idol.
  • “The Middle” by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey: A good chunk of the pop music from 2018 fits in this irritatingly middle ground (no pun intended) of “bad, but too soulless to give much of a damn about”. While basically following the cookie-cutter formula of Zedd’s “Stay” from the previous year, “The Middle” has a tendency to just go in one ear and out the other, with no big fuss in either direction. It’s a shame that Maren Morris’s career seems to be content on treading this path, considering how promising it started out being.
  • “Wait” by Maroon 5: I actually enjoyed this for the first couple of listens. And then that chorus went from kind of cute to just maddening in its repetition. The song is in the same brand of mindless fluff that Maroon 5’s been churning out the past couple years. More on that later…
  • “Call Out My Name” by The Weeknd: Wherein The Weeknd croons and whines his way through heartbreak in typical melodramatic Weeknd fashion. There’s seriously nothing here that hasn’t already been iterated in a number of songs from the guy, and the bitterness spewed here doesn’t make for a pleasant listen whatsoever.
  • “Esskeetit” by Lil Pump: Lil Pump is often named among one of the “good” mumble rappers, namely for the nonsensical, tongue-in-cheek style he often employs. While I can see the appeal in something as ridiculous as “Gucci Gang”, for example, I just can’t here. The production is grating as hell, and the lyrical repetition, while sarcastic to the core, just doesn’t have enough substance behind it to make it worthwhile. Regrettably, it’s beat is too sluggish to make it even slightly worthwhile!
  • “Yes Indeed” by Lil Baby and Drake: Drake’s had his fingers in a lot of pies these last couple of years, and while I’ve never held nearly the same amount of vitriol that others seem to have for him, his single verse on this up-and-coming rapper’s breakthrough single is about as phoned in as I’ve ever heard him. Literally not a single line sticks out, whereas Baby’s rhymes stick out for all the wrong reasons. I don’t want to get too into it here, but the “Wah wah wah” line just about sums it up.
  • “Yikes” by Kanye West: “Yikes” just about sums up this whole year for Kanye West… honestly, while Ye is the most underwhelmed I’ve ever been about any of his albums, it’s less bad than it is just plain forgettable and throwaway. Still, the Russell Simmons line in this one is worth keeping in mind – just another major failure on West’s part.
  • “Simple” by Florida Georgia Line: This one almost made this list… and then at the last minute, I decided I couldn’t really justify in words why I hate it. It’s as down-to-earth as FGL have ever been, the guitars are pleasant, there’s a cute message behind it… but still. Every time it gets stuck in my head (which is quite often, by the way), I just feel miserable. It’s grating in ways that I can’t quite put to words – so I won’t. I’ll admit I’m probably incorrect in this judgment… but it doesn’t feel like I am.
  • “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes: I’m so ridiculously on the fence about this song. For one thing, the on-the-fly freestyle quality of its production really shows, and not in a good way. These lyrics are awful, Wes can’t hold a note, and the repetition of its droning hook really grates after just a few seconds. But then there’s that midway breakdown (you know the one) that almost makes it all worthwhile… until that also gets just as annoying. It’s not as terrible as they say, but it’s also not as good.
  • “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran: It’s true that this was my least favorite hit single from 2017, though I’d confess that much of it was due to the sheer overplay around Christmastime. It’s too bad, then, because the song continued to chart until it finally fell off in October, a good chunk of its run spent in and around the top twenty. Maybe I was a bit too hard on it initially, but I still find it insufferably dull and insipid. I hope Sheeran doesn’t continue to create a career out of wedding ballads – he’s far too talented for that.

And now time for the BOTTOM FIVE OF THE YEAR! (And trust me – these are all real doozies)

5) “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

While Maroon 5 have been on pretty unsteady ground since they’ve become huge the past few years, it seems that they’ve been particularly bland since about 2016. While “Animals” was at least an interesting kind of bad, it takes me a couple seconds to even decipher the differences between “Don’t Wanna Know”, “Cold”, “What Lovers Do”, and “Wait”. None of these songs add anything new to the conversation, except in the sense that they’ve broadened the dimensions of boredom I can feel while listening to a Maroon 5 song. They’ve never been a great band, sure, but it’s more and more felt like their work is devolving into a characterless, droning sludge with a “Pop Music of the Late 2010s” sticker pasted on it.

And then there’s “Girls Like You”, the song that feels like their magnum opus of sonic monotony. The fact that the introductory guitar is quickly drowned out to the back of the mix only a few seconds into the song should warn listeners what is to come next. And then that first couple lines of the first verse, sung flatly by Adam Levine: “Spent 24 hours, I need more with you / You spent the weekend getting even, woo-ooh”. There’s so little effort made here at lyrical development, it’s almost comical. And then there’s that dreadful earworm of a chorus: “‘Girls like you run ’round with guys like me ’til sundown / When I come through, I need a girl like you, yeah yeah”. That first line alone is as useful of a statement as, “these shoes go with those pants”. In general, though, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to feel from this. Should I feel empowered? Happy? Bittersweet? I feel none of the above. Never mind that they brought in the usually great Cardi B in to do basically her equivalent of Offset’s verse in “Taste”, yet somehow more forgettable. The fact that this went to number-one for seven weeks only proves that a huge amount of people confuse flavorless universality for something more meaningful. This will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

4) “Sad!” by XXXTentacion

I would like to start this off by saying that my criticisms for this track (and X’s music in general) have nothing to do with the audience who have found their own meaning in his music, especially with helping come to terms with their own feelings of depression and sadness. I am in no position to claim that a person is wrong for leaning toward a piece of media that helped give them a reason to live. Music is especially a great catalyst for this change, and often in ways that we ourselves can’t really quite put into words. It’s one huge reason why I love music so much, and no one is a lesser person for their unique ways of healing through material that just so happens to be problematic.

Thus, I am speaking completely as an outsider to this specific situation when I say that this is a truly dreadful song. And yes, I am speaking primarily of that one line in the hook (“Suicide if you ever try to let go”), but also so much more. See, this song claims to come from a place of heartbreak and melancholy, thus the artist’s repetition of, “I’m sad and low, yeah / I’m sad, I know, yeah”. But that’s not all that’s going on here. Just about everyone knows by now that XXXTentacion very likely assaulted his then-girlfriend, who is the subject of this song. When I wrote about “Look At Me!” as my #10 worst hit song of 2017, I noted that often life imitates art in these ways – a violent, abusive person made this song that glorifies such graphic violence. But there are other ways that one can be violent that do not involve guns and fists. I can personally state that the numerous times that ex-lovers have threatened suicide if I had ever left their side have traumatized me deeply, and it’s taken years for me to overcome this. While there’s only a single other verse in “Sad!”, the lyrical content only highlights the back-and-forth nature of his words: “I gave her everything; she took my heart and left me lonely… I love when you’re around, but I fuckin’ hate when you leave”. By framing the tattered relationship around his hurt feelings and her wrongdoing, it neglects the cycle of abuse that undoubtedly influenced much of his sentiments. It really speaks volumes about how much we as a culture praise the anti-hero that a track as harmful as this became such an unstoppable chart-topper. God help us.

3) “Broken” by lovelytheband

And now for my choice of hit single that I hate and will likely miss the year-end lists of most other pop critics out there. Seriously, if there’s any accolade that I could pin onto 2018 – as far as pop music is concerned – I would title it the Year of the Banal. While songs like “Outside Today”, “Whatever It Takes”, “Lucid Dreams”, “I’m Upset”, “I Like Me Better”, “No Brainer”, “I’m a Mess”, and “Mo Bamba” all missed the final cut upon making this list, I could see eye-to-eye with someone’s reasoning behind adding any of these to their own personal ‘Worst of 2018’ list. What these songs have in common, at least for me, is that in the dozens of times each have passed through my eardrums… I’ve felt nothing. I get no sense of glee, sadness, anger, frustration, or chill from either of these. They all feel devoid of the bl0od, sweat, and tears that have helped compose all the good (and even some of the bad) songs of the past. They all feel pumped out of some music-making machine and not actually written by real-life human beings with experiences and emotions. The act of listening to these songs, then, are nothing less than a miserable experience altogether.

“Broken” also falls into this category for me, but somehow it’s so much worse. I think it’s that main synth riff that drives this song along – the one that is often accused of mimicking a similar riff in MGMT’s “Kids”, a much better song. It’s a masquerade of liveliness in a song where no such thing actually exists. Besides this, though, the whole production of this song feels like it’s unpleasantly drifting underwater, including the nasally vocals of Mr. Anonymous-Lead-Singer. Sure, every year has gotta have its own fluke indie hit but this feels like a total downgrade, with its lyrics about two “broken” people who find each other amidst the monotonous, fake culture around them (“These aren’t my people, these aren’t my friends”). This is a message I can get across, sure, but there’s simply not enough of a drive here to feel at all compelled by the substance at all. The melody in the verses are limp as hell while the chorus sounds only slightly more song-like than a mere chant. The bridge is where it really falls apart, though, where some truly ugly phasing effects are brought in to accompany the insipid junior existentialism (“Life is not a love song that we like / We’re all broken pieces floating by”). I probably wouldn’t hate this song as much if it felt like the folks behind it tried even a little bit to make it shine more than the standard empty gloss of pop radio… but there’s just nothing here to grasp at. It really gives me no hope for next year’s fluke indie hit – and the year after that, etc.

2) “Fefe” by 6ix9ine ft. Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz

Last year, I stated that 2017 was the year that we allowed a child molester to enter the top 20 of the country’s pop charts. Frustratingly, a handful of other songs from 6ix9ine have stumbled their way onto the Hot 100 this past year. This includes three songs in the top 40 – including this one, which peaked at #3. Really, I could probably just include 6ix9ine’s entire presence on the Hot 100 as the true receiver of this penultimate spot. Every week I look forward to listening to the latest update on the chart, but lately the lingering presence of the New York rapper has been a huge sore spot. I’ve never enjoyed a single song he’s put out, and seeing that he somehow manages to cross over into the pop charts despite the reprehensible nature of his music and self… well, it depresses me.

Honestly, though, “Fefe” took me off guard the very first time I listened to it. While earlier singles like “Gummo”, “Kooda”, and “Keke” demonstrated his distinct scream-rap style that, nonetheless, remained unchanged record after record, this one was very different. While we get a taste of this vocal style at the intro (“It’s fuckin’ Treyway!”), the verses here are softer and more melodic than what we’re used to. Well, I guess it’s melodic for 6ix9ine, as they mainly just consist of the same singular note spoke-sung throughout the entire song. Lyrically, there’s nothing new here – just the same ol’ empty flexing that we’ve been used to from this guy so far, including a line where he names his sex partner the titular “Fefe” (Google it if you don’t know what it is) and an endless barrage of references to gun violence. There’s an “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” line in the bridge that I’m almost positive this song was built entirely around – hence the monotone speak-singing. This whole song feels like a sick experiment in just how little effort one could put into making a song that will, inexplicably, become a smash on the pop charts.

Of course, the surprise guest on here is another huge reason this had enough clout to become a hit. I generally love Nicki Minaj on principle, but boy, she sure was messy this past year. And one of her many big missteps was, yes, offering a guest verse on a song for a truly reprehensible human being. Though her contribution isn’t particularly bad, in the sense that it’s an autopilot version of her brand of sexual bragging and is, thus, mildly passable as opposed to horrendous (like the rest of the song). But goodness, is it disappointing to see her stoop so low. Although I must give the majority of the blame to 6ix9ine himself. By watering his sound down to something somewhat resembling the mush of formless trap that has been invading the airwaves the past couple years, more and more people are starting to feel like it’s actually fine to support this guy, despite all that he most definitely has done. That might be the most detestable thing about this song overall.

1) “Freaky Friday” by Lil Dicky ft. Chris Brown

I knew this song was going to top this list from the very first time I listened to it. And yes, in a way, this sounds pretty unfair to Lil Dicky, Chris Brown, and producer DJ Mustard, as this song had come out in March, far before the vast majority of the year’s biggest hits had even been released. Nonetheless, I was so appalled by how tasteless and unfunny seemingly every single line was – and yes, the tastelessness is something that I have grown to just accept from Chris Brown, especially after the atrocities that were the Heartbreak on a Full Moon singles. Up until this point, while I would’ve never called myself a fan of Lil Dicky, at the very least I could appreciate the unique perspective that this white, Jewish rapper-comedian had brought to the table. By pairing up with Chris Brown of all people, he seems to be content with shooting himself in the foot.

And it’s not just the fact that he and Chris Brown paired up for a recorded duet. See, this is a novelty track and the entire concept is that Chris Brown and Lil Dicky have mysteriously switched bodies and, thus, identities and realities. It’s like the classic film of the song’s namesake, with the added dimension that now Dicky’s getting a taste of Brown’s fame and fortune, while Brown is enjoying anonymity for a change. I’ve gotta be honest, though – it’s almost solely through that very first verse that this song made its way all the way up here (well, not solely… but we’ll get to those other lines later). Dicky wakes up in Brown’s body and realizes that he can dance, is friends with famous people, and can get any woman he wants. But most importantly – it takes up the entire latter half of the verse, after all – he can finally say the N-word in public. While it is Brown who literally does the singing at this part, listeners are implored to assume that Dicky is singing these parts, making it a truly awkward, nonsensical wish fulfillment fantasy of some kind – it might be the single most reprehensible aspect of this song.

But trust me, there’s so much more to hate about it. Such as Dicky’s character celebrating that he’s now “light-skinned black”, Brown’s character feeling relieved that he can finally let go of his “controversial past”, and plenty of dick jokes galore. All of this is set atop DJ Mustard’s production, which is essentially the most DJ Mustard-y beat imaginable – if you weren’t paying attention, you’d probably just assume this was another basic, run-of-the-mill Chris Brown song (and I wouldn’t blame you). While the joke as a whole is pretty bad, it goes completely off the rails by the end, where Dicky is then inexplicably transported into Ed Sheeran’s body… and then DJ Khaled’s body. Finally, he somehow ends up in Kendall Jenner, immediately declaring “I got a vagina” and his intent to “explore that” – which is an absolute breach of consent and essentially sexual assault. It is this last part that, fittingly, is the final nail in this goddamn coffin – joking about rape and sexual assault is the oldest, dirtiest trick in the book. This song and its subsequent success on the charts has made me certain that we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Let’s make it a goal to be a bit more conscious of what we willingly put in our eardrums through 2019. As for this song, though… fuck it. It’s easily the worst of this year – I’m glad I trusted my initial gut reaction.

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Stuck on You” (1960) by Elvis Presley

It’s a bit funny that out of all the chart-topping singles that I could have landed on that would’ve been this challenge‘s introduction to the King himself (he has eighteen!), the very first one ended up being one of his least popular. Not “Heartbreak Hotel”, or “All Shook Up”, or “Jailhouse Rock”, or “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” – “Stuck On You”‘s the one! It’s sort of like how the first song that I covered from Michael Jackson was not “Billie Jean” but “Ben”, or how I covered “Don’t Forget About Us” before “Vision of Love”, “Emotions”, “We Belong Together”, or any of the better-known Mariah Carey number-ones. I guess these things are just bound to happen when I let a randomizer guide my way through this project!

In comparison to many of the aforementioned singles above, this particular song is usually considered a relatively less well-known record than some others from Elvis Presley. The most notable fact about this one is that it was the first single Presley released after his two-year leave to the US Army. Thus, it could be argued that much of the cause for this hitting the top of the Hot 100 is Presley’s wave of devoted fans’ anticipation over at last receiving a new song after two years of waiting. Then again, they didn’t really do much waiting after all, given that Presley’s label RCA heavily prepared for his enlisting by recording a bunch of records to be released during his time away from the studio. In fact, ten of these singles would become top 40 hits of their own, including the chart-topper “A Big Hunk o’ Love”. Nonetheless, there was still enough hype backing this single to top the Hot 100 for four weeks, ending the nine-week run of Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place“. It was Presley’s thirteenth number-one single overall, his first of the 60s, and eventually would become the ninth most popular song of the year.

However, comparing this song to his material from the few years leading up to it makes clear the ways in which this song sticks out. In particular, this song sees Presley using more of his lower bass vocal register, as opposed to his higher, raspier quality demonstrated in early rockabilly-style hits like “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and “Hard Headed Woman”. Of course, Presley had famously made a name for himself with his unique singing style that balances these lower and higher registers – just take a listen to other songs like “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Love Me Tender”, and “All Shook Up”. The difference with “Stuck On You”, though, is that this bass register sounds much stronger than these earlier hits. While Presley often sounded a bit shaky when reaching these really low parts, he sounds much more comfortable here. This is helped by the much more polished production, elevated by simple instrumentals and catchy backup vocals from the Jordanaires.

Not all of it is strong, though – the lyrics in particular drag this song down in a huge way. A declaration of love to his betrothed, Presley begins the first verse: “You can shake an apple off an apple tree / Shake-a, shake-a, sugar, but you’ll never shake me”. I get the point being made here, but the “shake-a, shake-a” part definitely feels like filler that doesn’t need to be there at all. The second verse continues with, “Gonna run my fingers through your long, black hair / Squeeze you tighter than a grizzly bear”, which an even stranger comparison considering that grizzly bears aren’t particularly known for their hugs. And the inanity of this statement is really about as interesting as this song gets – the bulk of the lyrics really just consist of Presley-style wordless vocalizations (“Uh-huh-huh, yes siree, uh-huh-huh”). The hook is fine and good – “I’m gonna stick like glue, because I’m stuck on you” – but it just makes for a combination of words and phrases that really have nothing at all to do with each other. This sloppiness in songwriting ranks this among Presley’s most forgettable fare.

But then we get to the bridge and… oh, dear. This is a big reason why I can’t get into a bunch of these love songs from the era, with their antiquated tendencies to treat women like their lovers’ possessions. Here he states, “Hide in the kitchen, hide in the hall / Ain’t gonna do you no good at all / ‘Cause once I catch you and the kissin’ starts / A team of wild horses couldn’t tear us apart”. Ignoring the perplexing situation that might require one to resort to “wild horses”, it’s worth considering why this poor woman would be hiding from this guy in the first place. Additionally, I’m then forced to assume that the “kissin'” here is completely one-sided… and buddy, that’s sexual assault.

Nonetheless, I can’t really get too angry with this song. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of his least remembered hit singles, so history has been deservedly neglectful toward it save for Elvis fans themselves. It’s really not hard to see why – there is hardly anything to grab onto as far as a hook or melody is concerned and the songwriting is just dreadful. Presley sounds better than ever here, sure, but he would more successfully execute this timbre with later hits like “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, “Devil in Disguise”, and (my personal favorite Presley chart-topper) “Suspicious Minds”. Anyway, this guy’s career is one of the most gargantuan to ever exist – though the concentration on his music tended to peter out through the rest of the decade, he still topped the Hot 100 five more times. There’s a whole lot more to discuss when it comes to Elvis Presley – let’s consider this one more of an awkward introduction than anything else.

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