Let’s start with this: this list is not a “best songs of the year” list. This list is more specific than that. This list is about reactions, specifically one reaction, and the songs that incited that reaction the best in 2018.
The reaction in question is “Hey Oh.” You know what I’m talking about.
Very aroused indeed.
I started doing a version of this list in 2013 and when I did, I broke down a Hey Oh! song as such:
“It’s a song that when it came on incited an unsolicited, deep from the belly & soul Ron Burgandy quality Hey Oh! – as in, Hey oh! That’s a damn good song. You might not have said it out loud, but you definitely thought it. You turned the volume up, you danced, you pressed repeat and yelled to no one in particular- DJ ONE MORE TIME.” – me, 2013
Of course there are different variations of a Hey Oh! song. There are enthusiastic Hey Oh! songs, pleasantly surprised Hey Oh! songs, slow burn Hey Oh! songs for those songs that sneak attack you and contemplative Hey Oh! songs for those tunes that leave you silently nodding in agreement among others.
Beyond those distinctions, the songs are broke down into categories.
- Old Standbys Showing That They’ve Still Got It
Songs by some of my favorite bands and musicians that prove that they haven’t lost a step
- Let’s See What You’ve Got The Second Time Around
Songs by bands who came out swinging with solid debuts and were able to follow it up with killer sophomore releases
- And Who Might You Be?
Songs by new bands and musicians who broke onto the scene in 2018
- Enough People Talk, I Listen
Songs that have been talked about on the Internet, on the radio, on the Twitter, on the whatever, and as a result, songs I found myself listening to
All right. Let’s do this. Here’s a playlist of this year’s list.
Old Standbys Showing That They’ve Still Got It
“This Is America” Childish Gambino
The song of the year as far as I’m concerned; it dropped on a Saturday night and by Sunday morning, it was all Twitter could talk about, thanks in no small part to the video, which demanded you watch it at least twice when you first saw it. Both the song and the video are not just astonishing works of art, but endlessly interesting and thought-provoking. The song works on levels as well. On one level, it’s just a damn good song. On the other level is the door that leads to the various pointed jabs and shots Gambino is taking at America. When Trump was elected, one of the few pros I could find was the prospect of the flood of protest music that his presidency would undoubtedly inspire. The dam has started to break on that front as 2018 has gone on, but “This Is America” was the first sign of light that emerged.
“Pray For Me” The Weeknd/Kendrick Lamar
It’s like a math equation. The soaring vocals of The Weekend + the impassioned rapping of Kendrick Lamar x production that sounds like robots engaged in hand to hand combat and the end result is “Pray For Me.”
“Reborn” KIDS SEE GHOSTS
The Kanye/Kid Cudi collaboration was good. Just good. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible. In 2018 we will gladly take “good.” If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that beggars can’t be choosers.
“All My Friends” The Revivalists
After breaking through with their last album, Men Amongst Mountains, I was super interested to see how the New Orleans band would follow it up. You blow up and the future can get tricky; multiple paths present themselves. Do you stay the course, do you change things up a little bit or do you just get all sorts of weird and see what happens? The Revivalists mainly stayed the course, which is good because I like their course. “All My Friends” has some flavor to it, as well as a solid groove. It’s not rocket science and that’s okay. Sometimes we just want something we can bob our heads too.
“Sit Next to Me” Foster the People
As summer neared the finish line, I asked some people whose opinions matter to me what their song of the summer was. The answers were predictable, but they made sense. And while I generally agreed with what they all said, “Sit Next to Me” not being included dogged me. Why? Because throughout the summer of 2018 that song seemed to be everywhere, much like “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man had been the summer before. “Sit Next to Me” was played on multiple radio stations, as well as in bars, restaurants and clubs. Other songs could probably rightfully claim Song of the Summer for 2018, but “Sit Next to Me” might have the strongest staying power. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still listening to it by the time next summer rolls around.
“God’s Plan” Drake
My relationship with Drake is complicated, but man, this song is unrelenting. One day this year I got in my car, turned on the radio and it was playing. When I got back in my car less than hour later, it was playing again. On the same radio station. It would be crazier if that didn’t go on to happen at least a handful more times in the following months. At first, I wasn’t on board. But damn that Drake and his persistence. Dude got me eventually.
“APESHIT” The Carters
This was my choice for Song of the Summer, mainly because I couldn’t get enough of it. I like that it makes me want to flip a table over and cause a ruckus, two things I just don’t do nearly enough of anymore.
“Humility” Gorillaz w/ George Benson
I also had this song in the running for Song of the Summer if for no other reason than that it simply sounded like summer.
Weezer also released two original songs this year, making it kind of a bummer that their best 2018 offering was a cover. But it’s a really good cover. So you know, they got that going for them, which is nice.
“Loading Zones” Kurt Vile
Vile’s 2018 album Bottle It In snuck up on me and for that I apologize. I was all about Vile a few years ago when he released Walkin On A Pretty Daze and in the years since had gone back to him from time to time. But for the most part, I had kind of started to move on. “Loading Zones” brought me right back into his warm embrace though, as I hadn’t even realized how much I had missed Vile’s signature sound: the mostly monotone vocals, the guitar lines that sound like a nice drive down a country highway on a sunny day with the rhythm section behind the wheel, getting us where we need to go. I appreciate that Vile can both sound the same in every song, yet different enough in each one to keep things fresh. Also, the video for “Loading Zone” is my favorite video of the year, which is a claim that I feel that anyone who has lived in Philly for any length of time would both understand and agree with.
“Vive l’acadie” The Mallet Brothers Band
The Mallet Brothers Band are an alt-country, roots rock band of ramblers from the great state of Maine and this summer they released their sixth album, which was a tribute to their French-Canadian roots. Call me old fashioned, but I like the occasional song that makes me want to sit round a fire and sing along too. On a related note, earlier this year the band went on tour with Phish’s Jon Fishman, who manned a second drum kit for them. If that’s the kind of thing that gets your attention, you can check out a video of their show in Brooklyn here.
“Yikes” Kanye West
Yandhi probably won’t be out this year, but we did get ye, as well as a whole slew of regrettable Kanye moments that we’d all be happy to forget. Your stance on Kanye is probably a confusing one and I get that. I’m generally cool with his early stuff and comfortable with leaving it at that. But I did dig this track. I think the production does it for me, how it’s haunting and relatively simple.
“Let’s Go (The Royal We)” Run The Jewels
Siri: what does menacing sound like?
“Be a Giver, Man” Live
2018 has been such a bananas year that Live drops a new tune and you realize that you had know idea how much you kind of liked Live and had forgotten how much you really liked Live back in the day. This song is straight rock ‘n roll. Live are older gentlemen now and could be forgiven for going soft in their return. But nope. The guitars are loud, the drums are hammering and Ed Kowalczyk’s voice sounds as solid and arena-ready as it did back in the 1990’s.
“Every Step That I Take” Tom Morello ft. Portugal. The Man
It doesn’t matter how many times I look at the song title, I always initially think it’s a Police cover. It’s not though. I can 100% guarantee that. It is however one of the stronger songs from Morello’s solo album, The Atlas Underground.
“Simplify” Young the Giant
Young the Giant just keep producing good music. Album after album, the stuff they are putting out just keeps getting better. I don’t know why these guys aren’t bigger. Oh yeah, it’s because no one really listens to rock anymore. Ah, whatever! They should. Young the Giant’s sound is tailor-made for the big rooms out there. Maybe this summer they start to get their name in bigger fonts on festival posters. They’ve played them all. It’s time they start getting some of that main stage treatment.
“All The Stars” Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA
I mean really, it is unbelievable to me that Black Panther came out in 2018. It feels so much longer than that. Confusion about the passage of time aside, this tune provided an interesting glimpse at what a more mainstream Kendrick Lamar could look like and how it’s not all that bad. This is a pretty straight forward pop song, but it still has the gravitas of a Kendrick Lamar song. As someone who is very eager to see what the future has in store for Kendrick, this song is an interesting wrinkle.
“Nice For What” Drake
Another Drake song and for good reason: this song is wonderful. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
“Blow That Smoke” Major Lazer ft. Tove Lo
I think that if Major Lazer were to drop a handful of songs every year, especially in these trying times, we’d be a lot better off. When I’m president, that’s going to be on the to-do list. That and making it easier to cancel airplane tickets. Because dude, why is that so hard? You can cancel anything in life except your flight reservation. It boggles my mind.
Let’s See What You’ve Got The Second Time Around
“Stir Fry” Migos
Culture II isn’t Migos’ second album and I’m sure that people were hip to these dudes before “Bad and Boujee” came out. I however, am not one of those people. “Bad and Boujee” was my introduction to Migos, so therefore, this is the second time around for them in my eyes. Good news dudes, you nailed the audition! I’m going to be honest, I love “Stir Fry.” I love the beat, I love walking around butchering the words of the chorus. Conversely, I do not love all the solo albums that they are putting out, if only because it makes me nervous about the future of Migos. Stay together, Migos. For me. Please. It’ll be the last time I ask anything of you. Promise.
“Tints” Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar
I was very excited for .Paak’s follow-up to Malibu and no disrespect meant to “Bubblin,” which came out first, but “Tints” is a better song. It’s also really swell of him to give up and coming rapper Kendrick Lamar a shot. These kids are going places. You can put money on it.
“You Worry Me” Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
It does not feel like NR & NS have only been around for two albums, but it’s true. Well, mostly true. In between their two studio albums is an EP of odds and ends and a live album that is definitely worth checking out. But, technicality speaking, this is only their second go around. Part of the confusion here could stem from the fact that the members of the band all look like they’ve done some living (i.e. they look older) and that skews things. But hey, either way, the band is throw back in the best possible way, teaming up Rateliff’s gruff, yet soulful voice with Muscle Shoals-like southern soul. I don’t have exact numbers, but “You Worry Me” might have been one of the best re-listenable songs of the year. I’ll get back to you on that one.
“Girlfriend” Anderson East
I love the horns that open this song. Everything after is fine. But the horns; they get me from the jump.
“Keep Your Head” KONGOS
I’m pretty sure KONGOS are the only representatives from South Africa on this list. Did you know that? Did you know that KONGOS are from South Africa? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably didn’t. It’s okay. That’s what nerds like me are for. And what KONGOS are for is thumping, percussion-driven tunes like this one off of their upcoming album.
“2young” Stop Light Observations
I didn’t expect this from these guys. Their last album, 2016’s TOOGOODOO, which I’m assuming means something, didn’t have anything that sounded like this tune. That’s not meant to be a dig or anything. I liked that album, hence why I was on the look out for new material from the band. But yeah, this one caught me by surprise. I spend a lot of time trying to think about what it sounds like, what it reminds me of, and so far I’ve come up empty. Oh well. It’s good. That’s enough for me.
“Outside!” Vince Staples
On paper this isn’t Staples’ second time around, but I’m kind of lumping in his previous work into one time around, thus making his 2018 output a second time around. His surprise 2018 album FM! was probably one of my favorite albums of the year and one of the few examples of an album that I actually wish was longer.
“Bad Bad News” Leon Bridges
When Bridges first appeared back in 2015, his soulful, old school style was toeing a very fine line. There was no denying his talent, but the idea of him being a one trick pony and novelty act was looming. It would then be up to his follow up album to sway the jury. “Bad Bad News” was enough of a big swing to prove he was legit, but not such a swing where he seemed to be punching above his weight.
“Shame” Elle King
Elle King falls into the same category as Bridges and like Bridges, she upped the ante just enough to let everyone know she’s the real deal. I love her voice. It sounds like whiskey tastes – delicious.
“Young Criminals” Armies
Laid back, hearkening back to the good old days tunes can be dicey. Armies make it work, as a piano leads the way, holding down the fort behind singers Anna Lombard and Dave Gutter’s while surrounded by gospel samples and a no frills back beat.
“Opps” Vince Staples with Yugen Blakrok)
STAND BACK FOR MUSIC TAILOR-MADE FOR A CAR CHASE FILMED IN SLO-MOTION.
And Who Might You Be?
“Nobody Speak/Bullet in the Head” Brass Against
Brass Against, a small army of lads and lasses from the friendly confines of New York City, spent most of the past year systematically dropping videos of horn-powered covers of Rage Against the Machine, Pantera, Tool, Audioslave and more. I thoroughly enjoyed every single one, but this mash-up of “Nobody Speak” by Run The Jewels and “Bullet in the Head” by Rage might be the current clubhouse leader for me.
I got turned onto BRONCHO for a pretty simple and straight forward reason. I liked their name. I thought it looked cool; thought it was fun to say. I feel like if you asked me how I was doing and I replied “Broncho, bub,” you would pick up what I was putting down. So the fact that a band with such a fun band name was really good was a complete bonus. In the business we call it a twofer, but if we were so inclined, we’d say it was “totally broncho.”
- “Nice for What” Drake
It’s Drake, obvi I picked a Drake song. It was fun, it came out and immediately became many women’s SONG! The video featured some of my most FAVORITE ladies in pop culture currently- Yara Shahidi, Tracee Ellis Ross Issa Rae, Rashida Jones. And its always fun when Drake talks about how much he likes women..specifically women Drake isn’t dating and probably never will be able to because he is too mopey and in his head. Drake should go on The Bachelor- I would love that! He would be a perfect candidate for it…he would definitely over analyze everything and tell more than one woman he loved he. And he would CRY multiple times!
- “thank U, next” Ariana Grande
Thank you Ariana Grande for another Bop this year! This song is catchy and is a “nice” break-up song. Ari is really coming into her own and ever since she started working with Pharrell, I think she is doing even more as a pop-star. Also the video is a tribute to some of the best romantic comedies and I am here for it!
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before soundtrack
One of the coolest jobs in existence (IMHO) has to be creating/curating soundtracks for a movie or TV show! My FAVORITE movie this year was the Netflix romcom To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and the soundtrack did NOT disappoint. Every song is perfectly placed in the movie. When I listen to the soundtrack, it brings me back to how good the movie made me feel and how much romantic comedies mean to me. The soundtrack features some cool “indie” artists and its like a small version of a Spotify “Discover” playlist! Also EVERYONE needs to watch this movie!!
- “Sicko Mode” Travis Scott
Its like three songs in one. The beat is sick (lol sicko!). Drake is on it which means its obvi going to get more play. Travis Scott is talented and I actually enjoyed the entire album. He is working with interesting sounds and is a part of this group of rappers that are literally looking to have a mosh pit at EVERY show. Also Kylie Jenner and Baby Stormi. And he has a rollercoaster as a set piece!
- “In My Blood” Shawn Mendes
Last summer the only album I listened to was Harry Styles. This summer wasn’t much different, but add in a healthy dose of the Shawn Mendes album. I love Shawn Mendes. He is a cute little pop god! I think he has talent and is def going to keep rising. “In My Blood” was the first single from the new album and its another fun sing-a-long song that you can belt out in the car…but with a message about anxiety.
And now, back to the list.
Enough People Talk, I Listen
“thank u, next” Ariana Grande
Come on. It’s Ariana’s world right now. We’re all just living in it.
“Screwed” Janelle Monae ft. Zoe Kravitz
Let’s clarify this one. I knew about Janelle Monae and I was a casual fan of hers. However, when her new album came out, I gave it a quick pass but didn’t think much of it. But as my wife will attest, I’m very susceptible to the opinions of others. So when I started hearing so many positive things about Monae’s 2018 album Dirty Computer, I decided to give it another run, this time paying more attention to it. Overall, I enjoyed the album, but this track jumped out to me.
“Love It If We Made It” The 1975
I tried listening to their new album. I tried twice. It wouldn’t take. However, this song was the lone survivor.
“Bulletproof Baby” The Struts
Glam rock. 2018. Why the hell not?
“When The Curtain Falls” Greta Van Fleet
Hear me out here. Yes, they sound like Led Zeppelin. They sound a lot like Led Zeppelin. However, they are actually pretty good at sounding like Led Zeppelin. Pretty spot on actually. So, with that being said, in the absence of anything new from Led Zeppelin and popping an asterisk on anything Greta Van Fleet releases, you could maybe, just maybe, talk yourself into letting Greta Van Fleet fill the void left in your life by any new music from Led Zeppelin. Maybe. No promises.
“Money” Cardi B
“I Like It” was in the running, but “Money” came out and the pure ferocity of it won me over. Cardi B raps with the vengeance of someone tracking down the person who let their dog poop in their front yard and didn’t pick it up and I love every minute of it.
The music on this track sounds like a cousin of classic Tribe Called Quest tracks. That’s enough for me.
“Better Now” Post Malone
I don’t know what to make of Mr. Malone and likely never will. But you hear a song enough times and there’s a good chance it’ll grow on you. Headed into 2019 I’d probably be fine never hearing it again. But looking back at 2018, specifically the summer months, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to knock the popularity of this tune and it’s place in the story of this year.
And if you’re so inclined…