Sunday, January 17, 2016

Top Five Songs of 2015

Well, this is a first for me. This year I'm writing up top five lists for more than just videogames! We're starting off with the top five songs of the year!
In the following lists, I'll be covering my top five favorite hit songs of 2015, my top five best songs that saw a release in 2015, as well as my top five worst songs of the year. I separated my "best" lists since the releases list features a lot of songs that never even cracked Billboard's Hot 100, while my worst release list would be completely identical to my worst hits list of the year. There are a few repeats on the best list, but it's nowhere near as identical as the worst lists are. Let's start out with the best hits of the year, shall we?

#5: The Hanging Tree by James Newton Howard and Jennifer Lawrence
After I finished the rest of this list, I was wondering if I really wanted to put this song here. In the end, I couldn't really think of any other song that hit it on the Hot 100 that I thought Deserved to be here. One Direction had a good showing this year, but I didn't like Drag Me Down enough to put it on this list. If it wasn't for the fact that the top twenty this year was filled mostly with either middle of the road blandness or overrated garbage, this probably wouldn't be here. Yes, Adele had her new album this year, yeah The Weeknd had some good tracks, One Direction had a good showing this year, and Justin Bieber wasn't the worst thing in the world for once, but I wasn't terribly moved by any of those songs. And unfortunately, I don't listen to a lot of hit songs, I mostly stick to music from artists I like. In the end, I felt more comfortable putting The Hanging Tree from Mockingjay Part 1 on this list than any of them, mostly because I feel it represents something we need to see more out of movies. Decent soundtrack singles. It's a good song, and while I keep hemming and hawing over what to put in this slot, I've got to make my mind up eventually, and this is as good a song as any to put here.
#4: Immortals by Fall Out Boy
I was able to populate the other four slots on this list easily, but it took me a while to find a fifth song I thought was good enough to be on this list. Hanging Tree was originally at #4 until I realized this song managed to stick around the Hot 100 into January. If you remember my review of Big Hero 6, you'd know that I loved that movie. And if you remember my review of Selma, you know how much I liked this song. As you can probably tell by the single cover, this was the theme-song for the aforementioned animated Marvel superhero film. It's just a shame that it didn't win "Best Original Song" because this was oh so much better than Glory was.  Fall Out Boy's music tends to go back and forth in quality, but they're never making anything as bad as what's on my "Worst" list. And Immortals isn't bad, it's good. Very good. Go listen to it, this is a song you need in your life. Or maybe you don't

#3: Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding
This is probably the only good thing to come out of Fifty Shades of Grey. As a book, it's cool to read in funny voices. As a movie, I don't even know. Maybe you could get some fun out of watching it with Rifftrax playing in the background. Other than that, nothing right? Well, at least we got an elegant piece of music out of this terrible piece of pop-culture phenomena. I have a general rule that if something gets into the top ten, I listen to it, and that's how I found out about this song. Ellie Goulding has made some incredibly good music in her career and this song is no exception. It's classy, and it's pleasant to listen to. Just a shame that it's associated with such a stupid franchise. It doesn't take a professional critic to tell you what's wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey, but it doesn't take one to tell you that this song is good, either.

#2: Nothing Without Love by Nate Ruess
For the uninitiated, Nate Ruess is the lead-singer for renowned indie-rock/pop group fun. No, you didn't read that wrong, the band's name is officially stylized as lowercase "fun" with a period at the end. fun. has been on hiatus since February of 2015 while its members do their own things. Nate Ruess released his first solo album midway through 2015 with four singles leading up to it, the first of which was this song. fun. hasn't tried to hide the fact that they take a lot of influence from the works of Queen, going so far as to perform with them at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. This influence especially shows itself in this song, and it's great to see that this album was doing pretty well, peaking at #7 on the Hot 200. This song peaked at #77 on the Hot 100, which is unfortunate, since this is an amazing song. And the music-video is a work of at in and of itself. If this is the closest thing we're getting to Queen on the pop-charts, I say we embrace it. Besides, it's good in its own right, and if Freddy Mercury was still alive, this would be a great companion piece to whatever Queen would be making now. Always nice to keep the club crap and R&B pop off the charts.

#1: Uptown Funk! by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
Todd In The Shadows named Uptown Funk! the best hit song of 2014. That's kind of funny, since it didn't even crack the Hot 100 of 2014, but has become the biggest song of 2015. Let's just reiterate what I hope everyone has been saying about this song since its release; Uptown Funk is awesome. If you haven't listened to it, go to YouTube and watch the music-video. The video is just as good as the song. Bruno's vocals are great and Mark's music rocks. Uptown Funk is easily the best hit song of 2014 and 2015 alike. We need more music like this on the radio, but considering what bumped Uptown Funk off the #1 spot, I'm not too enthused about the future of popular music. If we can get even one more song like this every year to #1, maybe we could change things on the pop-charts for the better.

Now we come to the worst hits and releases of the year. Like I said before, I've combined these two lists because they were literally identical to each other. Hell, I only know about a lot of bad songs because they become hits. Before we begin though, I'll throw out a few honorable mentions. Girl Crush by Little Big Town almost made it onto the list because of the fake controversy, and the sampled chord-progression and melody, but in the end it was just too bland to care about. Only by Young Money is a good choice for incredibly irritating, but I don't think anyone actually cared enough about that song for it to stick around. There were plenty of other bad songs this year too, but the ones I put here are all incredibly popular, and all irritate me in some specific way. So, here we go with the worst hits/releases of 2015:
#5: All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor
Am I the only one who's completely irritated by the term "booty?" It's incredibly childish, incredibly silly, and it diminishes whatever the person is trying to say because of the aforementioned childishness. No, I didn't put All About That Bass on this list solely because Trainor says "booty" but that's part of it. The main reason is that I despise the retro doo-wop style the song is made in. And because Trainor is essentially the discount dollar-store knockoff of Adele, without any of the songwriting or vocal talent that makes Adele good. Meghan Trainor has essentially produced a doo-wop, passive-aggressive version of Nikki Minaj's Anaconda, minus the Sir Mix-a-lot sample. I didn't like Anaconda as it was, but to essentially remake it with an irritating fifties aesthetic lacking anything even remotely resembling bass is almost as bad. Not as bad though, because at least Trainor didn't ruin a hip-hop classic by sticking an unrelated sample into her chorus.

#4: Hotline Bling by Drake
Where to begin with this song?
The chorus is utter nonsense, the melody sounds like it was sampled from the Wii Shop Channel, and Drake sounds like he was sick when he recorded this. Then again, he sounds like he's sick on most of his recent output, so that's not really a step-down for him, just a step to the side. Drake also sounds incredibly bored on this song, almost as if he didn't care about what he was singing/rapping in the slightest. Then again, he admitted himself that he was trying to engineer a #1 hit, so maybe he didn't
The fact that Drake was "disappointed" that Hotline Bling only made it to #2 on the Hot 100 would be bad enough if this was a good song, but it's made even worse by the fact that this song is just boring to listen to. This might have been higher on the list if not for the next item on the list.

#3: The Hills by The Weeknd
I don't think there was ever a more unpleasant song on the radio this year. I don't see how it's even possible to make a song this incredibly dreary and discomforting all in one. The Weeknd's voice is still utterly as irritating as ever, but the rest of the song is just uncomfortable to listen to. Then again, unless we're talking about "Can't Feel My Face", that's indicative of the rest of his work. God only knows why a guy who makes these dreary, irritating tunes has more than just one hit, much less holding the top three spots on the Hot 100 simultaneously. This is a song about having a drunken affair with a girl that The Weeknd put in the "friendzone" and it sounds about as appealing as staying up for three days straight, downing a handful of Benadryl, hopping yourself up on Mountain Dew, and then trying to play a horror game while also attempting to perform sexually. What I'm trying to say is the scenario presented doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. The Weeknd strikes me as a guy who writes a lot about getting high on weird drugs and trying to get with the girls, which isn't something I listen to music for. If I want to do that, I'll just stay up for days on end during the summer and try to play Dungeons and Dragons.

#2: Watch Me by Silento
There might be more about The Hills which turns me off of it, but Watch Me (Whip/Nae-Nae) is just so god-damn irritating. Silento is essentially the new Soulja Boy, but without the overt awfulness. Silento just sings about copying other peoples dance-moves and is incredibly irritating about it. Whenever I hear this song, it takes me about two days of listening to good music before I can get the stupid lyrics out of my head.
What's odd is that this song is apparently five years old! Wikipedia says that it was recorded in 2010, but wasn't released until 2015 after Silento signed his record deal. Just goes to show that this song should have stayed wherever it was rather than becoming a hit. How the hell did this become a hit? There's already plenty of songs like it out there that do exactly what this song does. Screw this song, and let's just forget Silento even exists so we don't end up with another Justin Bieber situation, shall we?
#1: See You Again by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth
I know I'm gonna tick off a lot of people by putting this song on the list, but the hell with it. I cannot stand this song. If you remember my little rant on Glory at the end of my Selma review, you've already seen some of my opinion on this song, but it's time to lay out all of my issues with this song right now.
Wiz Khalifa's verses do not belong in the same song with Charlie Puth's chorus. It goes from Puth's heartfelt piano work and vocals to Khalifa's soulless machined attempt at the blues. For a sad song, the entire first verse is way too up-beat, and the tone conflicts with itself. Plus, Wiz spends most of the song rapping about Brian O'Conner, the character Paul Walker played instead of the man himself.
Let's contrast this with "Who Wants to Live Forever," a song written entirely by Brian May for the Highlander soundtrack. Dr. May might not have been writing about the characters in Highlander when he wrote that, but it still applied, because it was a song about outliving your loved-ones, which was how it was used. In doing so, he and the other members of Queen created an emotional interaction between the music and the movie. Plus, the themes of the song applied to the scene they used it in.
This is directly opposed to what See You Again does. The song was meant to eulogize the actor, not the character, and while Khalifa kind of gets in a few good lines about sorrow and death, most of his verses seem like he watched the movies and didn't do any research into the man. That's the problem, Khalifa doesn't seem to have any kind of emotional connection to either the departure of the character, or the death of the man. This brings us back to Who Wants to Live Forever". When writing that song, Brian May was mourning the recent death of a friend, and he poured his emotions into the lyrics of the song. This is relevant because that's exactly what happened to Charlie Puth. A friend of his had died in an accident like the one that killed Paul Walker, and he became emotionally involved with the creation of the song. It was only after Universal picked up his submission that it became the poorly composited machined mess we see today. It's a shame that Puth is relegated to a "featuring" credit, because he is carrying this song all on his own. This might have been the #3 song of 2015, but I have a feeling that if Wiz Khalifa hadn't been dragging this track down, it would have unseated Uptown Funk by a wide margin.
All of the other songs in this top five I put here because there was something about the music itself that I didn't like, and while this song has a lot of deal-breaking issues, I hate what it represents more than I hate the song itself. It's a soulless, designed-by-committee hit that tugs just enough at the heartstrings of the buying public to make them feel sad enough to buy it as a tribute to Paul Walker, while also tapping into crossover appeal from Wiz Khalifa's fanbase. Either because they didn't think people would buy a song by an unknown like Puth or because they wanted to make more money. No matter what, it disgusts me that this kind of thing happens at all, and that's why See You Again from Furious 7 is my worst song of 2015.

Now that I've lost a lot of readers from that last paragraph about one of the most popular songs of 2015, it's time to dig into the final category of the year, my picks for best releases of the year. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of some of these, since Uptown Funk and Immortals weren't released in 2015.
Honorable mentions would be  Can't Feel My Face by The Weeknd, Nothing Without Love and Great Big Storm by Nate Ruess, Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding, and The Rebellion by Bentley Jones, in about that order. I suppose this has become a top ten releases of the year list at this point. Anyways, let's dig in!
#5: Spinning Wheel by Takeuchi Ryōma, Inaba Yū, and Kotono Taiko
For the uninitiated, this is a battle song from Kamen Rider Drive. It was introduced towards the end of the series, and plays whenever Drive, Mach and Chaser battle together. The song is performed as a trio piece by the three male leads of the show, and that lends a certain credibility to the lyrics, since it's essentially written from the perspectives of the characters.
Kamen Rider Drive has an amazing soundtrack overall, mostly because they didn't shy away from mixing moving and epic orchestra pieces with kick-ass rock and roll battle music. SURPRISE DRIVE is my favorite out of the battle music from the show, but the long version of the song falls down a bit due to some awkward lyricism. Spinning Wheel on the other hand manages to keep a decent lyrical flow going. Plus it has an awesome chorus.
#4: Star Wars - Duel of The Fates Meets Metal by 331Erock
Eric Calderone, AKA 331Erock is one of the premier heavy-metal guitarists on the internet. His covers are great, and his original songs are amazing. Sometimes he even puts out a cover that's even better than the original. And by sometimes, I mean pretty much all of the time.
Duel of the Fates by John Williams is a legendary piece of music from the Star Wars prequels, and it seriously helped to jazz up some of the dumber fights in those movies. Eric has done the impossible and made it even better than it was before. Or maybe it's not impossible, since he does this all the time.
Personally, I would love to see Duel of the Fates show up in Episode VIII at the end during a duel between Kylo and Rey. Know what would make that even better? If this version of the song played instead. It would be awesome to see a heavy-metal tune make it into Star Wars. Might be wishful thinking on my part, but we've got two years until the movie comes out, maybe we could get a petition together for it. Or not. Who knows. Please, internet. Make this happen!
#3: The World by PelleK
I could have populated this entire list with PelleK songs easily. He's a great artist, and he's always making good music, be it original tracks or covers, but I figured it was a good idea to give other artists a chance, so I restricted myself to a single PelleK cover. Coincidentally, it's the theme-song to one of the greatest shows of all time. PelleK is an artist who can make the bad songs good, the good songs great, and the great songs godlike, and that's what he's done here. PelleK works on his covers with his bandmate, Gisha Djordjevic. On this track, Gisha played the lead guitar and the drums, with PelleK playing the piano and bass while also providing the vocals on the song. PelleK has a four octave range, and an astounding singing voice, which he always brings across in his music. Gisha is sometimes a little too loose with the guitars, which occasionally detracts from the quality of the songs, and PelleK is occasionally a little (and I do mean little, he's never had a bad vocal performance) bit off with the vocals, but the two of them are at their best I've ever seen them on this song. The production is incredibly tight, PelleK's Japanese vocals are great, and Gisha's guitars are the best they've ever been. Considering that, plus the fact that The World is a great song overall makes for an absolutely incredible piece of music.
#2: Devil's Cry (Shall Never Surrender) by Bentley Jones
I am eternally grateful to Sega for Sonic The Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 and PS3, which introduced me to a lot of great musicians. I don't care if people dislike the game, you cannot dislike the soundtrack. Speaking of hard to dislike, there's Bentley Jones. If you're not a fan of Sonic The Hedgehog, you've probably never heard of him, which is a shame, since he's amazing. He started out making a lot more techno-oriented music with some heavy T-Pain style auto-tune, but he's gradually transitioned towards a less complicated, more unplugged sound. The original Devil's Cry (Shall Never Surrender) was a demo he released about six years ago. It's sort of a cover of the theme-song of Devil May Cry 4, and sort of a completely new song with a borrowed chorus. No matter how you look at it, it was a good song. Then back in 2014, Bentley released his new album, Defying Gravity, which featured a finished version of Devil's Cry. Considering it came out on an album from 2014, one would wonder why it's at the top of a list of songs from 2015. See, Devil's Cry saw a release on Bentley's YouTube channel this year, and YouTube is really the only platform that matters for music these days. Plus I'm trying to make up for the fact that I didn't put it on my best list back in 2014. Because in case you haven't listened to it, this song is absolutely chilling in how good it is. If you thought the 2010 version of the song was as good as it got, then you're going to be pleasantly surprised, to say the very least. It's just amazing how much pure awesome can be packed into one song. This song is just pure epicness distilled into a single piece of music.
#1: See You Again by Charlie Puth
Before you ask, this song wasn't actually on the album to the left, but it's the closest I could get. While Wiz Khalifa stuck around on the top of the pop-charts sucking the soul out of good music, Charlie Puth released his original demo version on Soundcloud. Not that anyone can prove that anymore, because he appears to have deleted it off his page. That's a shame, because this song is brilliant. It's touching, it's emotional, it's elegant. It's everything Wiz Khalifa's insipid remix wasn't. This song actually made me cry, and I'm not usually one to cry at music.
I don't know if Puth used any kind of vocal-enhancing software, but it might as well be an unplugged version compared to the version Wiz Khalifa put out. It's breathtaking to hear the original vocal track without the hip-hop beat or all the post-hoc editing. See You Again by Charlie Puth is a good song, and it deserved to hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 instead of that insipid, watered-down remix the studio put out.

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