The 50 Best Songs of 2017

Here are the tunes that made us laugh, cry, rage, relax and generally feel better about ourselves.

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The 50 Best Songs of 2017

When the Paste Music staff convened at the end of 2016 to choose our 50 favorite songs of that year, it felt like the world was coming to an end. Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen had left us. Mass shootings were plaguing the country. A dim-witted steak salesman was about to become the 45th presidenbrt. And, perhaps most devastating of all, Brangelina was kaput. How would we survive another year? What would surviving even look like? Turning as we always do to music, we found ways to cope in 2017 both by turning inward and turning outward with our favorite songs. Some artists, like Hurray for the Riff Raff, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Sallie Ford and Sheer Mag, took shots at the resurgent patriarchy, whether by stoking public outrage or inviting us into their personal pain and redemption. Others, like Jay Som, Thundercat and Kevin Morby, fixed their gaze on the quiet pleasures and absurdities of everyday life, finding the sweet spot between the mundane and the sublime. That was the balance that kept us sane in 2017, even as we lost some more of our lodestars—Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell, Gregg Allman, Fats Domino and Tom Petty to name a few. Here are the 50 songs that made us laugh, cry, rage, relax and generally feel better about ourselves in a year we feel fortunate to have outlasted.

50. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Pa’lante”
Meaning “onward, forward,” “Pa’lante” is a rallying cry, starting off simply with Hurray for the Riff Raff frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra singing, “Oh I just want to go to work and get back home and be something.” As her voice gets stronger, the anger and passion more obvious, she continues, “Colonized and hypnotized, be something.” She’s speaking about the Puerto Rican experience in America (and “Pa’lante” includes a powerful sample of Pedro Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary”), but in today’s political climate, it’s a fitting anthem for anyone marginalized. In the song’s final minutes, Segarra erupts and declares, “From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, pa’lante.” —Bonnie Stiernberg

Read Paste’s review of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Navigator

49. Feist, “Pleasure”
Leslie Feist’s comeback single “Pleasure,” the title track from her 2017 album, is dark and nervy and minimalist in a way the Broken Social Scene member’s previous work isn’t. When she yelps, “It’s my pleasure” over a grimy guitar riff meant for the Mississippi Delta, there’s no sense there is actually any pleasure. It’s the sound of a heady kind of fury, but also the sound of someone shaking off the rust after six years away and rocking out. And honestly, the pleasure is all ours. —Jared McNett

Read Paste’s review of Feist’s Pleasure

48. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/Odaigahara”
Robin Pecknold’s touching ode to his relationship with childhood friend and fellow Fleet Fox Skye Skjelset touches on all of Fleet Foxes’ hallmarks in an updated fashion after the six years since Helplessness Blues. The band is, in every sense, out of the woods, and Pecknold’s pent-up creativity and emotion bursts across the nearly 9-minute song. In particular, “Third of May” boasts some of his strongest lyrics to date. He describes a fraught friendship with lines like, “If I lead you through the fury will you call to me? / And is all that I might owe you carved on ivory?” Carter Shelter

Read Paste’s interview with Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold

47. Colter Wall, “Thirteen Silver Dollars”
Hailing from Swift Current, Saskatchewan (official motto: “Where life makes sense”), 22-year-old Colter Wall has a voice as deep as the river that runs through the prairie town. But life rarely makes sense for the protagonists scattered through his debut album, who try to drink and gamble their way toward some kind of larger purpose. With a few plucked strings and the richest bass since Johnny Cash, Wall tells the story of a guy who wakes up in the snow and has an unfortunate talk with a Mounty. But it’s OK: He’s still got his health, his Stetson and a bottle of wine to get him through. —Matthew Oshinsky

Watch Colter Wall perform live at Paste Studio

46. Cloud Nothings, “Enter Entirely”
With this year’s Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings leader Dylan Baldi didn’t quite reach the peaks of his previous two records, 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else, owing in part to a more polished, less frenetic sound. But he did hit a few home runs on the album, and “Enter Entirely,” a brooding rocker with an instantly enthralling guitar riff that erupts into a ripping chorus, is one of them. Gritting his teeth through frustration and loneliness, Baldi repeats “moving on but I still feel it / You’re just a light in me now.” —Matthew Oshinsky

Read Paste’s 2017 interview with Cloud Nothings

45. RaeLynn, “Love Triangle”
The genius of referring to a child of divorce as one corner of a love triangle is cool enough. But what makes this song from emerging country artist RaeLynn truly ache are the details with which she fills the verses—waiting for dad on the front porch, the stilted conversations over dinner, the hurt of not seeing your father for another two weeks. Wisely, this young Texan delivers all these lines with restraint and tenderness; she knows all these feelings all too well. The centerpiece WildHorse, of one of the year’s best country albums, “Love Triangle” will leave you in tatters. —Robert Ham

Read Paste’s review of RaeLynn’s WildHorse

44. Goldfrapp, “Anymore”
The perfect fusion of emotional frustration and dark dance beats, “Anymore” finds Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory returning to the slinky sexuality of Black Cherry and Supernature. This time, though, the British duo have painted it black with a helping of electronic work from producer Haxan Cloak. The beefed-up beats bring a do-or-die verisimilitude to the track. When Goldfrapp coo/growls “You’re what I want / you’re what I need / give me your love / make Me a freak,” you can taste the urgency in her words. —Laura Studarus

Read Paste’s 2017 interview with Goldfrapp

43. Thundercat, “Friend Zone”
Don’t lie: The “friend zone” is a thing and we’ve all been there. On Thundercat’s version, he drops an all-too-real recount of getting thrown into the zone by a prospective flame. The reigning bass god writes a steady groove to pair with a spacey synth loop and tongue-in-cheek references to having more time to play classic videogames. Let’s not overthink it, though, this is some nerdy stuff, and a song about getting friend-zoned on your 23-track album of bass-heavy funky jazz and hip-hop fusions called Drunk, is par for the course. —Adrian Spinelli

Read Paste’s review of Thundercat’s Drunk

42. Vince Staples, “Yeah Right”
Hip-hop’s continued embrace of modern electronic music gets a big boost on this highlight from Vince Staples’s stunning album “Big Fish Theory.” Anchored by soused production from PC Music member Sophie and Australian producer Flume, the LBC rapper rattles off an array of life’s important questions (“Is your girl phat? Fuck her all night? Is your buzz right?”) long before KUCKA arrives with the vocal hook and Kendrick Lamar slides in to win the entire damn game. “Twilight the zeitgeist,” indeed. —Robert Ham

Watch Vince Staples Perform with Damon Albarn, Ray J and Kilo Kish on The Tonight Show

41. Sallie Ford, “Get Out”
Sallie Ford  has been plugging away in the rockabilly/retro rock circles for quite a while now, but this year’s Soul Sick feels like a major leap forward, ditching some of the bounce and pep for an infusion of garage-rock grittiness. “Get Out” is one of the album’s two righteously rocking earworms, along with “Record on Repeat,” driven by psychedelic guitar solos and some seriously groovy organ. Ford’s gravelly voice is commanding here, both raw and triumphant. The song is a simple, in-your-face statement from a girl who won’t be pushed around or put up with your crap. It’s a song for ripping down the highway at 100 mph with the top down, hellbent on your objective. —Jim Vorel

Watch Sallie Ford perform at the Paste Studio

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