Public Radio's #1 Songs Of 2015
Hidden inside our enormous year-end Songs We Love 2015 app — 401 songs across a dozen genres compiled by NPR Music and our public radio partners — is a playlist of 61 jewels, the ones we loved the best. We polled our entire team --including dozens of hosts from around the country — and these are the songs we singled out. A few selected were more than once (these names probably aren't surprising to you at this point: Alabama Shakes, Courtney Barnett, Future, Jason Isbell, Kamasi Washington, Kehlani, Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra), but all of them are worth sharing. And you can listen to all of them by clicking the link below.
Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"
The best song from one of the year's best albums, "Don't Wanna Fight" shows Brittany Howard's gathering power as a singer, with the band's rhythmic bump and guitar growls making for a memorably catchy song.
--David Christensen, opbmusic
When I saw the Shakes perform this song in May 2014, I was instantly excited to hear the direction the band's music was taking. Brittany Howard is a force and I love hearing the emotional and vocal control she has in "Don't Wanna Fight."
Brittany Howard's fiery vocals — reminiscent of Robert Plant and Tina Turner — make this one of the best rock songs in years.
--Dave Jackson, Jefferson Public Radio
Alessia Cara, "Here"
In an exhausting year of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, police brutalities, Nepalese earthquakes, refugee crises, Trump xenophobia, Cosby allegations and HBO's humorless Season 2 of the The Leftovers, "Here" is a solid reminder, in no uncertain terms, that the party has been over for a long time. --Jason King, host of I'll Take You There
Anderson East, "Satisfy Me"
He makes his home in Nashville, but East finds his way to Muscle Shoals with plenty of Wurlitzer, fat horns, a convincingly soulful rasp and a Ph.D. in TLC.
Becca Stevens Band, "Be Still"
Brilliant mix of quirky rhythm with a great pop sense.
George Graham, WVIA
Bomba Estereo, "Fiesta"
The Colombian band Bomba Estereo is in it for the long haul. "Fiesta" is a multi-layered gem that captures the progress of a band that gets better and better with every release.
Brenna Whitaker, "You Don't Own Me"
The truth is easier to take when it's wrapped up in a killer song by a beautiful and talented newcomer.
--Luke Nestler, KDNK
Caitlin Canty, "Get Up"
A song about resiliency, about picking yourself up and moving forward. The Vermont-native, now Nashvillian, is backed by an all-star band featuring Eric Heywood, Billy Conway, Jeffrey Foucault, Matt Lorenz and Jeremy Moses Curtis.
Carroll, "Green Acres"
The perfect "lying on the couch looking out the window at a cloudy Sunday afternoon" song.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, "The Trolley Song"
Salvant is the rightful heir to Sarah Vaughan. She's fresh, innovative and one a kind. She's got to be heard and seen to be believed!
The Chemical Brothers feat. Q-Tip, "Go"
This is the mega hit of 2015 that should have been!
Chris Stapleton, "Traveller"
From country's breakthrough lyrical voice, an instantly timeless slice of country soul that will lift you up wherever you perambulate.
City & Colour, "Lover Come Back"
Dallas Green's soulful voice carries the listener through equal amounts of joy and lovesick sadness.
Courtney Barnett, "Pedestrian at Best"
Courtney's brilliant "internal diatribe" complete with endless hooks and a Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited meets Nirvana Bleach sneer and attitude (and humor). Freud would have said this is the song of the year.
A ferocious statement of identity from one of the most gripping voices to emerge in rock since Kurt Cobain.
Courtney's the best. Her wordplay and her phrasing are always compelling and she rocks it, too.
As Barnett's thickets of witty words spill out, her band blasts out an anthem worthy of the inevitable Nirvana comparisons.
D'Angelo, "Betray My Heart"
The 2015 single from one of the best albums of 2014. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 14 years for more D'Angelo.
Darlingside, "God Of Loss"
The instrumentals are just as meticulous as the harmonies, the harmonies just as haunting as the lyrics, and the lyrics a testament to the Boston quartet's success to come.
Divers exploded onto the Portland music scene this year on the back of incredibly intense live shows driven by expertly-crafted punk rock anthems, like this song from their debut album Hello Hello.
--Jerad Walker, opbmusic
Dr. Dre feat. Anderson .Paak, "Animals"
As the unofficial star of Dr. Dre's Compton LP, Anderson .Paak pulled out all stops on the Dre/Premier joint production. Speaking directly to the current civil turmoil going on in many U.S. cities, Paak raps, sings and ultimately steals the spotlight from the two most celebrated producers in hip-hop.
Eska, "Shades of Blue"
An enchanting amalgam of soul, psych and pop, Eska's "Shades of Blue" summons the divine spirit of Minnie Riperton's "Come to My Garden."
Ezra Furman, "Restless Year"
A frenzy of poppy synths, rackety percussion and a throbbing bassline, this song effectively blends Furman's visceral indie rock roots with his newer, glossier throwback sound. But there's no time to pin him down or clasify him anyway — it's just good to be along for the ride.
Father John Misty, "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)"
It took a long time for Josh Tillman to craft this brilliant ode to his then-new love, and he struck sonic gold by wrapping his wit and vulnerability in lush strings, mariachi horns and one of the lines of the year: "What are you doing with your whole life? / How 'bout forever?" (By the way, she said "yes.")
Future, "March Madness"
An intergalactic beat + Future's infallible flow + perfectly timed ad libs = a legitimately lovely, debatably perfect rap song about nothing and everything.
A groggy, codeine-addled exploration of Future's binding dichotomy: egomaniacal braggart and depressed addict. It's the undisputable sonic peak of the rapper's career year.
G.L.O.S.S., "Lined Lips and Spiked Bats"
You do not want to mess with these trans punks or this seriously pissed-off anthem to smashing the patriarchy.
Ge-ology feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe, "Moon Circuitry"
Fast, hard and funky, this is peak time club music packed with thwacking metallics and a blistering key solo.
Gretchen Peters, "Pretty Things"
Peters manages to distill decades of negative thoughts into a single song that gives me goosebumps and makes my eyes well up every time I hear it.
Hamilton Broadway Cast Recording feat. Leslie Odom, Jr., "Wait For It"
A historical villain made flesh and blood before our very ears — and yet, Leslie Odom Jr.'s delivery is so transcendent that the context hardly matters. Anyone who's ever yearned can relate.
Harold Mabern feat. Gregory Porter, "Afro Blue"
Nice "up" beat, and it swings.
Rashad Abdul-Muhaimin, WSHA
The Honey Dewdrops, "Same Old"
Just one of the highlights from the outstanding Tangled Country, a collection of often sad but still hopeful songs. "Same Old" mines some of the territory of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, with lilting banjo, gorgeous harmonies and tasteful pedal steel, and exemplifies this duo's simple yet beautiful music.
--Freddy Jenkins, WUNC's Back Porch Music
Hop Along, "Waitress"
The vocal performance of the year, courtesy of Frances Quinlan, whose ragged pipes added a well-worn familiarity to detailed lyrics about being trapped by bad decisions, circumstance and casual cruelty.
Israel Nash, "L.A. Lately"
A Harvest era-soundalike for the 21st century that transcends its Laurel Canyon feel from an amazing singer-songwriter.
Jason Isbell, "24 Frames"
"You thought God was an architect, now you know / He's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow" are the best lyrics anyone has come up with in a long time, rivaling Bob Dylan in his prime.
A catchy tune that nobody gets tired of, with terrific songwriting and singing.
Jason Isbell, "Speed Trap Town"
Absolutely heartbreaking. Reality and Friday Night Lights come together in a beautiful song.
Josh Ritter, "Getting Ready To Get Down"
One of the world's best songwriters. Josh Ritter's story songs feel so real.
Kacey Musgraves, "Dime Store Cowgirl"
Hopefully Kacey Musgraves will inspire others to create authentic and smartly written country songs like this heart-warming tribute to her hometown of Golden, Texas.
Kamaiyah, "How Does It Feel"
An anthem for the 99 percent from an Oakland rapper who might know the answer this time next year.
Kamasi Washington, "The Rhythm Changes"
Need a swaying terry bathrobe of a groove? An unironic mantra of uplift? A sign that jazz past might just have a resonant future? "I'm here."
A stand-out track from Washington's The Epic, incorporating R&B into a timeless, classic jazz tune.
Oakland's rising R&B sensation is poised for a breakout year in 2016, and "Alive" — a joyous counterweight to the 20-year-old singer's tumultuous upbringing — helps explain why.
--Gabe Meline, KQED
Kehlani's 2015 mixtape You Should Be Here is a roller coaster of emotions with a glimpse of hope at the end of the journey. And while you catch the brightness from the beginning, there's nothing like when you arrive: That's "Alive," the song where the R&B singer candidly embraces the bad to find peace and really — I mean really — enjoy the good.
Kendrick Lamar, "Alright"
Faith, perseverance and bravery in the face of hate are recurring themes in black life, so it's only right that K Dot's single has become an anthem for today's struggle.
Kendrick Lamar, "Complexion (A Zulu Love)"
With the issue of race constantly in question, "Complexion" is a soothing meditation and message for hope with lyrics that can open minds and a melody to change hearts.
Kurt Vile, "Pretty Pimpin"
The self-described "pop jam" on Kurt Vile's brilliant new album b'lieve i'm goin' down. The wordplay and phrasing in this song completely hooked me from the start.
Lizzo, "My Skin"
Feminists have long understood that the personal is political; with "My Skin," Lizzo captures the pain and poignance of the Black Lives Matter movement with a candid, moving and deeply personal ballad about her own experiences as an African-American woman.
Major Lazer feat. MØ & DJ Snake, "Lean On"
Diplo was the MVP of 2015 as far as I'm concerned; behind the boards on Jack Ü's "Where Are Ü Now" and MØ's "Kamikaze," it was tough to pick just one of his contributions for this list, but in the end I'm going with Spotify's most-streamed song in the world this year.
Mateo Senolia, "Baldwin"
Up-and-coming house music producer Mateo Senolia sets a classic speech by James Baldwin from 1962 against a vibe heavy deep house groove.
Mbongwana Star feat. Konono No. 1, "Malukayi"
The ideal soundtrack for a spaceman meandering through the streets of Kinshasa: next-level alienation and sonic disorientation, pure humanity.
Michael Rault, "Real Love (Yeah)"
If the Cisco Kid was actually a singer-songwriter from Toronto.
--Annie Bartholomew, KXLL
Miguel is by turns epic and intimate, sexy and innocent in this near-perfect love song.
Popcaan, "Unruly Prayer"
When the going gets rough, the best you can hope for is a rasta gospel number, and this one delivered so hard one could forgive the Drizzy shout out. "Tell the devil to keep his diss-tance, yeah."
Protomartyr, "Why Does It Shake?"
Youthful bravado melts into the uncertainty of aging, and the Detroit band turns the words of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer's disease into a moving, guitar-stoked anthem.
Raury, "Devil's Whisper"
A young Atlanta rapper and singer marshals a choir for a forceful lesson about temptation delivered in shouts and stomps. Spacious and extremely musical — and he absolutely torched the Colbert show with it.
Rich Homie Quan, "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)"
"Flex" is spry and sunshine bright. It's goofy while it wisely plays its position. It is satisfying on every level; it's complete. This is why I was late for everything this year. Not turning it off for anybody.
Speedy Ortiz, "Raising The Skate"
With equal parts hilarious self-deprecation, wry honesty and ambiguous non sequiturs, Sadie Dupuis fires off an empowering call to arms for anyone who's ever felt underestimated by toxic people in their lives.
St. Germain, "Sittin' Here"
We've waited 15 years for the follow up to this French producer's worldwide hit album, Tourist, and he's blended African influences into his super smooth downbeat production style.
Sumi Jo and Viktoria Mullova, "Simple Song #3 (David Lang)"
Victoria Mullova's plaintive violin, Sumi Jo's ardent soprano and David Lang's sweeping music give this uneasy love song from the movie Youth, ravishing gravitas.
Sweet Spirit, "If You Wanna"
This Austin band writes catchy tunes that reveal several layers upon repeated listens. Also, I want to go to Mexico RIGHT NOW.
The Tallest Man On Earth, "Sagres"
Right out of the gate, this Kristian Matsson song engulfs you with wave after wave of beautifully lush sounds that are perfectly suited to a summer drive.
--Eric Teel, Jefferson Public Radio
Tame Impala, "Let It Happen"
This one is a bargain for your buck. It's like four songs in one and they're all good!
7 minutes, 46 seconds, and I wish it was longer.
Terence Blanchard feat. The E-Collective, "Samadhi"
A great song for everybody that meditates.
Thundercat, "Them Changes"
One of the most devastating songs of 2015, without a doubt. If the fusion of funk and jazz isn't enough, add Thundercat's beautiful bass and the heart stopping lyric, "Nobody move there's blood on the floor and I can't find my heart ...," and you won't be able to pull yourself off the floor, either.
Tomas Pagan Motta, "Up and Away"
If the amazing vocal — which conjures up Van Morrison, Tim and Jeff Buckley and somehow, Led Zeppelin — doesn't seduce your spirit, try resisting the alchemy of acoustic guitar, strings and pedal steel.
--Vicky Gregor, KRCC
Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap, "All The Things You Are"
A song that's been done a million times and ways, essayed slowly and deliberately by voice and piano, with conviction that feels like instinct.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, "Can't Keep Checking My Phone"
This song is a funky reminder to "be here now, man!" Put your phone down and dance.
From its Tarantino spaghetti western start to its groovy "Purple Rain" end, this single by the Portland-by-way-of-New Zealand band is a cinematic treat for our ears.
--Joni Deutsch, West Virginia Public Broadcsting
Young Fathers, "Shame"
From the orchestrated chaos to the catchy hooks and children's choir, the Scottish trio's anthem for 2015 makes you feel no ... shame.
--Alisha Sweeney, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir
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