As the decade draws to a close, there is no shortage of “Best Of” lists out there, whether it’s for the best albums or best songs of the decade. You can check them out or you can just listen to me when I tell you that everyone either has one of the Kendrick Lamar albums, one of the Frank Ocean albums, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West at the top.
In case you were wondering, no one has shown any love for Weezer’s album of covers.
As for songs, Weezer gets criminally ignored yet again. Instead, voters are split between tracks by Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Solange, Frank Ocean, and Robyn.
Let’s all just agree to disagree, shall we?
I personally think Sturgill Simpson had the best album of the 2010s and that “Formation” by Beyoncé was the best song. I didn’t have to think too hard about it either. Those seem like logical choices.
However, music is subjective, so I’m not even sure why we’re messing around with “Best Of” lists but that’s just me.
Instead, I’m in the awards business, kids—specifically, I’m in the business of handing out some awards to music folks who excelled in one area or another during this past decade.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Best Song to Sing-Along To: “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker
I feel comfortable saying that whether you dig country music or not, you can get down with singing along to Darius Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel.” An exception might be those people who are, like, really into death metal and that’s okay.
Yet I bet even deep down, those folks could easily find themselves loudly singing this tune in the car or in the shower or while doing whatever it is death metalheads do in their free time.
“Wagon Wheel” has a kind of interesting backstory to it.
Bob Dylan originally recorded the tune—albeit a rough, unfinished version—during sessions for the soundtrack to the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Fast forward a couple decades and Critter Fuqua of Old Crow Medicine Show discovered a bootleg of those sessions and soon started playing it with the dudes he’d find himself in a band with. They’d eventually released their version of the track in 2004.
Then, in 2013, the song was a last-minute addition to Rucker’s True Believers album, where it hit Number One on the Billboard Country Songs chart and number 15 on the Hot 100.
Have I been humming the song the entire time I wrote this part?
You bet your ass I have.
Best Thing to Come From Seven Months of Work: “Uptown Funk”
It took about an entire NHL season for Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars to write the song that will most likely be played at weddings for the next forty years.
I guess that makes it worth it.
Mars and Ronson had worked together on Mars’ 2012 album Unorthodox Jukebox and had such a swell time they decided to do it again. “Uptown Funk” started out as something Mars and his band kicked around while on tour and had found it interesting enough that when it came to getting back in the studio, Mars wanted to make something of it.
Apparently, that was much easier said than done.
The pair worked on the song in studios in Los Angeles, London, Memphis, Toronto, Vancouver, and New York, constantly tweaking it and adding and subtracting parts. The line “don’t believe me, just watch” was lifted from a Trinidad James song and horns were added courtesy of members of the Dap-Kings and Antibalas, who had worked with Ronson before.
“Uptown Funk” went on to break records, get nominated for awards, win said awards, and rejuvenate Mars’ career.
But again, seven months.
Good God. Way to persevere guys.
Best Creative Left Turn: Childish Gambino “This Is America”
Donald Glover had proven he meant business and could take on weighty issues mainly through his show Atlanta. Yet when it came to his music career, it seemed as if he was operating on another level and felt like he was content to take on social issues as Glover as opposed to Childish Gambino.
However, that all changed when he dropped the video for “This Is America” on a Saturday night at the beginning of May in 2018.
He performed the song on Saturday Night Live, and by the next morning, the video was all anyone was talking about. Its imagery and symbols were dissected and discussed endlessly and there was no shortage of videos out there breaking down what the whole thing meant.
If you’re wondering if his pants mean anything, YouTube has you covered.
The song went on to win four Grammys, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year, making Gambino the first rapper to take home those awards.
As a musician, this was a leap. Gambino had already started to change up his sound on his 2016 record Awaken, My Love!, but not like he did with “This Is America.” If anything, from a style standpoint, the music felt like a throwback for him. However, as time went on, the music became an afterthought as the song’s lyrics and videos stole the show.
“This Is America” was supposed to be included on a new album, but that album has yet to be released and the songs that dropped after it lacked the gravitas that the song had and continues to have.
It makes you wonder if “This Is America” signified a change in direction for the rapper or instead demonstrated a brief fusion of creativity.
Either way, I’m glad it happened. The video is mesmerizing and the song has yet to get old.
Best Rihanna Guest Feature: “This Is What You Came For” Calvin Harris
Rihanna released four albums this decade, with the most recent being Anti in 2016. However, some of her most memorable work came when she swung by to hop on someone else’s song.
Rihanna appeared on tracks by Drake, Coldplay, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and DJ Khaled. In 2015, she teamed up with West and Paul McCartney for “fourfiveseconds,” a song that could have taken home this award if not for her work with Calvin Harris.
Harris and Rihanna worked together on two notable occasions this decade, and in both cases, they produced monsters.
First, there was 2011’s “We Found Love,” and while that song would be a winner in most cases, it’s a runner-up here because “This Is What You Came For” takes this award home.
Released at the end of April in 2016, the song itself was quickly eclipsed by a dust-up involving Harris and Taylor Swift, who co-wrote the tune when the two were together. But alas, we eventually moved on, and once the kicked-up dust had settled, we were able to enjoy a top-five jam of the summer of 2016 in peace.
Best Rock Song By The Person You Least Expected: “Kiwi” by Harry Styles
Harry Styles was the dude from One Direction. He also dated Taylor Swift.
Those are about the only things I knew about him.
In 2017, he released his self-titled solo album and I still remained at arm’s length of the young man. The album’s lead single, “Sign of the Times,” was fine, but not enough to lure me in. I was fully prepared to continue living my life minus the presence of Harry Styles.
Then I heard “Kiwi” and my opinion of young Styles quickly changed.
“Kiwi” is 70s glam rock excellence at it’s finest, and to this day, it has been a song I continue to listen to and listen to loudly because listening to it at anything resembling a reasonable volume is doing the song a disservice.
“Kiwi” rocks, plain and simple. Don’t get caught up with the idea that it’s Harry Styles and in turn miss out on a true burner of a rock song.
Best Source of Fatherly Advice: Sturgill Simpson
Fathers give advice. That’s what they do whether you want to hear it or not. Once you become a father, you too get to give advice. It’s the circle of life.
For his 2016 album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson crafted an entire LP around the concept of a sailor stationed overseas sending letters home to his wife and son. A veteran of the Navy himself, Simpson was also influenced by a letter his grandfather once wrote his grandmother.
The album, which was Simpson’s third, is short, sweet, and beautiful, complete with sounds that bounce back and forth between traditional country, southern soul, rock, and gospel. It took home the Grammy for Best Country Album at the 2017 awards, where it was also a nominee for Album of the Year.
Yet what keeps the album going are the lyrics, which (true to Simpson’s intent) revolve around life lessons based down from a father to his son.
From “Call to Arms”:
“Turn off the TV/Turn off the news/There’s nothing to see here/They’re serving the blues/Bullshit on my TV/Bullshit on my radio/Hollywood telling me how to be me/The bullshit’s got to go”
From “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”:
“One day you wake up/And this life will be over/Every party must break up/For burdens to shoulder/We’re dying to live/Living to die/No matter what you believe/And all of us cry/For the ones we must leave”
However, the album’s high watermark is “Keep It Between the Lines,” which is required listening for any new father.
The song is full of solid advice, whether it pertains to keeping good care of your car, staying out of trouble, or just trying to live a good, honest life.
The song also ends with perhaps the most “Dad” advice there is: “Do as I say/Don’t do as I’ve done/It don’t have to be/Like a father, like his son.”
I may have already said that to my daughter on more than a few occasions.
Best Use of Couples Therapy: The Carters
If you only observed their marriage through the lens of the internet and tabloids, it seemed as if Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marriage was damn near perfect. From that vantage point, relationships like Chris Pratt and Anna Faris’, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s, and Pete Davidson and whoever he is with now looked pretty good too.
The lesson here is that we don’t know a damn thing from that vantage point.
From about 2016 to 2018, things actually looked pretty rocky for the Carters.
First, there was the business in the elevator followed by the rumors about why there was the business in the elevator. Then, Beyoncé dropped Lemonade and rumors started to swirl that Jay cheated on Bey. This was followed by Jay-Z’s soul-bearing apology project, and by June 2018, things seemed to be turning around as they embarked on their On the Run II tour,.
Maybe it was just for show but it was a damn good show. So, like, whatever, right?
Two weeks into the tour, they solidified their position as music’s ultimate power couple with EVERYTHING IS LOVE. The album was a direct result of their attempts to get their marriage back on track, as Jay told The New York Times, “We were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.”
Well, it was either that or take tennis lessons. I find what they chose to do significantly more beneficial (with no disrespect to tennis lessons).
Best Way to Make Me Like Justin Bieber: Have Him Work With Diplo
I’m a grown man, so no, I was never much of a fan of Justin Bieber. I dismissed him. I ignored him. I made jokes about him.
However, then homeboy started working with Diplo and that all changed.
First Bieber did a track with Jack Ü, the DJ duo of Skrillex and Diplo.
“Where Are Ü Now” was originally a ballad that Bieber had been working on called “The Most.” However, ballads are boring, and while I don’t know if that’s what Bieber was thinking at the time, he was definitely thinking something because instead of pushing ahead and keeping the song as it was, he sent the track over to Skrillex and Diplo.
The result was “Where Are Ü Now,” which is most definitely better than another Bieber ballad.
About a year later, Bieber and Diplo worked together again, this time with the latter’s Major Lazor crew.
“Cold Water,” which was co-written by Ed Sheeran, was released right smack in the middle of the summer of 2016 and became an instant summer jam contender.
However, it eventually lost out to Drake and Rihanna’s “Work” and Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s “This Is What You Came For,” further proving the point that if Rihanna is dropping something in the summer, the odds are incredibly high that it’ll be the song of the season.
Best Album to Listen to Extremely Loudly: Japandroids’ Celebration Rock
Japandroids made some noise with their debut album, Post Nothing, which was released in 2009, but with their second album, 2012’s Celebration Rock, the Canadian duo made a lot of noise. They shattered the walls, cracked windows, and ruptured the eardrums.
After releasing their first album, the band toured almost non-stop, and when it came time to record a follow-up, they wanted to bring some of the enthusiasm and energy from all of those live shows into the studio with them. That sounds great in theory, but if you talk to the hordes of jam bands that have tried to do just that with little to no success, it’s easier said than done.
Yet the band kind of pulled it off.
In the studio, they ditched overdubs and backing tracks and instead were left to their own devices, those being thrashing drums and a screaming guitar. The eight songs that make up the album are largely uptempo, fast, reckless, and full of life.
Something the band had noticed at shows was how much fun it was to have the audiences sing along with choruses, so they purposely included choruses that crowds would feast on.
And they did.
Oh yes, they did.