All year I’ve been building a playlist of my favorite songs; or songs that, at least, I found catchy at one point. Now that it’s the end of the year, I want to take a look at my favorite 17 songs (by genre) of the year.
Today, let’s take a look at rock. I’m a huge fan of pop-punk, and that’s certainly reflected in this list. But I’ve also become increasingly interested in glam rock this year, and of course, favorite bands of mine like Skillet and Sleep On It released new projects in 2017.
The songs presented below aren’t listed in order of popularity, as that would be too hard for me to decide. I had a hard enough time picking these 17 from a list of about 50.
- Nice2KnoU – All Time Low
- I’ve been a huge of Baltimore’s All Time Low since the mid-2000s, so I was extremely pleased that they’d be releasing their first album since 2015’s Future Hearts in June. There are a handful of songs that I considered for inclusion in this list, but this one is classic ATL. High energy, tight drum work, echoing background vocals. It’s a look back at those who initially helped the band when they first started touring—and immortalizing them forever in a song.
- Passion – AWOLNATION
- I would’ve passed over this song—and I did, originally, after listening to it once the Friday it came out. But a few weeks later the opening riff popped into my head and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. When I searched the lyrics, lo and behold it was this song. For pure earworminess, it gets a mention. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a subtle Switchfoot vibe to parts of the song, and Switchfoot is my favorite band, so….
- Thunder – Imagine Dragons
- Before Jeep commercials and radio play, I had this song pegged for this list. From its release in late April, I knew it was going to be big—it’s unique use of pitched vocals, 808s, and the band’s trademark snaps/claps (“It’s Time”) made it stand out from most of the other tracks released to date. Of course, the gang chorus and radio-ready lyrics made it an easy pick for a single. Dan Reynolds and his crew have something special—have had it since 2012, and will continue to have it into the future.
- Crazy – Makeout
- I discovered this band while sitting on a train outside of Kansas City. I’d been doing this project for months and had discovered some great albums, but it was immediately clear this would jump to the top. The verses’ hip-hop influence is unique in the pop-punk space, and a spoken-word bridge pleasantly surprises. It’s not as 5SoS as “Childish” was (see below), but there’s enough influence to call it out.
- Childish – Makeout
- The second Makeout song on this list, “Childish” is a raucous pop-punk song that could have easily been released by 5 Seconds of Summer—just listen to the chorus and you’ll hear what I mean. This album-opener is pure fun—“can we make a life that’s childlike, not childish, ya!”
- Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man
- This track has met with tremendous radio success, so I’ll spare you the generic description—you’ve likely already heard it. There’s a funk/soul/retro feel to this song, yet it still feels distinctly 2017. This is one of those songs that, upon listeneng to the snippet on iTune, I would have thought I wouldn’t like. But the moment I heard it on the radio I knew it was going to be a favorite.
- What’s Wrong – PVRIS
- These Lowell, Massachusetts rockers put out what I consider to be their best song yet earlier this year. Vocalist Lynn Gunn gives a velvety delivery and her angelic falsetto is used perfectly in this song focusing on the pitfalls of fame. “Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable.” What a line.
- Hanging On – Falling In Reverse
- This whole album is fire, and I’d have picked four or five tracks for this list if I wasn’t aiming for some semblance of parity. Ronnie Radke’s operatic voice alternates between soaring and haunting with ease. The choir in the chorus adds a layer of depth and you can easily imagine a stadium full of fans singing along.
- Paparazzi – Falling In Reverse
- This look at the trappings of celebrity life is wonderful. From the opening line where a group of fans spells out “Sell my soul,” to the tongue-in-cheek “Parapazzi/Please snapshot me!” you’re taken on a special journey through the mind of a band that wants to stay true to itself but also, you know…do well enough to actually continue making music. “Your radio station plays the same three tracks,” Ronnie Radke sings. “That’s nine total minutes we could never get back.” This is four minutes you’ll be glad you spent.
- Double Helix – Knuckle Puck
- This was a surprise inclusion to me. I know nothing of Knuckle Puck, but this song popped up on iTunes new release section and I gave it a try. I’m glad I did! This is a perfect mix of energy and gravitas, a melding of Makeout and Sleep On It, two of the other bands on this list. How many other pop-punk songs talk about overcoming the failures of their parents in a deep way?
- HARD LOVE (feat. Andra Day) – NEEDTOBREATHE
- This southern rock band already has a great vocalist in Bear Rineheart, but adding Andra Day to this track brings it to another level. Just let your ears take in this perfect duet. The hopeful refrain will be a popular chorus among those who love Christian music (the band’s core audience)—but also among those who enjoy a good, well-put-together rock song.
- Every Time We’re Together – Nickelback
- Yes, I included a Nickelback song on this list. The post-grunge rockers get a bad rap in my opinion. Just the other day I heard someone say that the band was “so 2005.” But they’re still kicking, even though this track is a wistful look back at the good old days, perhaps 2005 (which ironically was the year they released their other glory days song “Photograph.” There’s something throwbackish and soothing about this one, and I encourage you to give it a try even if you’ve written Chad Kroeger and company off.
- Brave – Skillet
- This is classic Skillet: uplifting rock. “My feet were made to march like thunder.” While the song starts off generic and (dare I say it) boringly, the chorus is where things take off—literally. “You call me to be brave” soars as John Kooper and Jen Ledger blend their voices. It’s a solid anthem for those whare feeling beaten back by the world.
- What We Stay Alive For – Sleep On It
- I’ll be honest, I’ve been friends with the drummer of this Chicago band since fourth grade (hi Luka!). But even without the connection, I’d say this band is going places. Their first full-length release dropped in November, and this song quickly became a favorite. Lead singer Zech Pluister brings a vocal maturity lacking in a lot of pop-punk. While not as lyrically innovative, this debut brings to mind the early catalog of fellow Chicago band Fall Out Boy.
- One Night Only – The Struts
- When I first learned of the Struts last year on the short-lived CW show Frequency, I assumed they’d been around forever. Not the case. Their first album had only been recently released. So I listened to that one a lot this year, but none of those songs qualified since it had been released in 2016. Which is why I’m glad they released this single. Soaring guitars swirl around Luke Spiller’s glam vocals. If you liked anthemic, operatic classic rock—this is the song to listen to this year.
- Heavy (feat. Kiiara) – LINKIN PARK
- This song takes on even deeper meaning given the suicide of lead singer Chester Bennington earlier this year. He let us into his mind, made it clear things weren’t necessarily happy. And I feel the same way. Not suicidal—just…why is everything so heavy? This song speaks to me more than most did this year. “I know I’m not the center of the universe/But you keep spinning ’round me just the same.”
- Signs – Dalton Rapattoni
- This is perhaps the least rocklike song on this list. It’s almost a Broadway production, but it’s that “almost” that keeps it on this list. The ex-American Idol contestant brings an earnestness to this track that you don’t normally hear in rock. This trait, which he was able to encapsulate during his time on Idol time after time without becoming schtick-y, is a welcome one in a genre where anger and aggressiveness are more often what sells.
Listen to these songs here: