Above is a YouTube video playlist counting down each song. I've included official videos when possible, with official audio-only "videos" as a backup. Unofficial audio streams are never used. As a result, several tracks in the countdown are unfortunately not available in this playlist. Pro tip: Click on bars in the upper right of the YouTube window to jump to a specific video.
It seems there are less "best of" lists this year. Or maybe I care less about them. I do care about mine though. It's a nice way to put a bow on the year. So here is my Top 35 Songs of 2016 including three "Adventure Picks." In this case it's kind of an unadverturous pick as these are songs from 2015 I didn't get around to hearing until 2016, but surely would have made last year's best of list had I been more adventurous — you can't win them all. Why 35? Why adventure picks? To honor the time I spent in the early '90s as Music Director at (the now-defunct) WQAX in Bloomington, IN where I reported the top 35 songs and three adventure picks each week to the College Music Journal.
Top 35 Songs of 2016:
Slutever's Rachel Gagliardi returns with this thick, churning, and noisy alt rock masterpiece. If you're not head banging in slow motion to these giant downbeats then we're just not friends.
Sure guitar rock has all but disappeared from the charts, but Kurt Baker isn't fazed. "Baby's Gone Bad" is great skinny-tie power pop with a big chorus, and so much wood block.
Robert Harrison perfects crystalline indie pop with this timeless track that recalls your favorite Squeeze and XTC moments.
Norwegians recreate the early '80s LA female-fronted power pop genre flawlessly, and I'm smitten. This is 110% catchy and undeniably fun.
"Wire" is a anxious post-punk track held together with frosty vocals and sinewy guitar. Each listen reveals another nuance and demands one more go around. You might get stuck on this track all day.
No one can paint with a guitar the way Bob Mould does. "Voice In My Head" is a gentle, transportive track that recalls his "Sugar" output years ago. Let it take you away.
There's nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve. "Punks at a Disco Bar" delivers the same loud guitars, heady dynamics, and infectious pop that The Replacements gave us year ago, and I couldn't be happier about that.
"Tenement Song" proves that the Pixies aren't afraid to still be the Pixies. Tempos shift, co-ed vocals reign over the chorus, and guitars wail in a perfectly wrapped package.
This scorching rocker exists outside of time. Sure snapping drums and twangy guitar carry most of the load, but if you're not shouting along to the chorus, check your pulse.
"Living Wage" has all the hallmarks of a great oi song — a working class message, a simple punk rock rhythm, and a big sing-along chorus ready for your and your drunken mates to make your own.
"Back in the Day" recalls the brilliant power pop of Nick Lowe. It's pure magic that such a meticulously composed track can sound so simple and accessible. It doesn't get smarter than this track.
Despite his Chicago home, Walker paints a deeply Southern Gothic tale with "Sullen Mind." This long song unfolds slowly, nearly erupting several times before ultimately giving into a chaos of instrumentation just before composure is regained for a final, ultimate chord.
I may start DJing just so I can burn up dance floors with this timeless rock 'n' roll number. Tambourine and organ never sounded so good together.
Juliana Hatfield convinces Paul Westerberg to revisit some of his old demos, and the duo cut a quick album that contains some of Westerberg's best tracks in decade. There's a simple honesty in this strong Americana track that makes it undeniable.
Philly Indie rocker "Dan Wisniewski" has created a layered, multi-movement gem that rings brightly in just over two urgent minutes. Color me impressed.
It's right there in the title. This is punk rock for the fist pumping crowd that knows rock 'n' roll can still mean something. Sing along with the chorus and forget your day job for three minutes and eight seconds.
In 2016 no one wrote better songs than Josh Berwanger. With only a few notes, this buoyant rocker manages to lodge itself right into your amygdala. It's not a part of you.
Listening to "QACHINA" is an instant trip somewhere tropical where cactus extracts are legal and days are easily lost. Every listen gets me closer to transcendence or collapse, but I'm not which.
Constant clicking cymbals define "Dunbar"'s cold and technical Krautrock. There's something dystopian about this track and its bubbling chorus that demands "All you guys with the money should just leave our shit alone."
A spare waltz serves as the background for this couple's narrative origin story. It's brilliant, literary, familiar, and I want to be frontman Mathias Korn's friend.
Seattle's Tacocat writes perfect pop punk full of hooks and lyrical brilliance. It takes a lot to get me to sing the words "I Hate the Weekend" but I'm putty in Tacocat's hands.
There is no hesitation in "Beta Male Erotica." The song is all urgency and propulsion. Guitar and vocals layer on top of the the insistent rhythm section, battling for position, but the listener is the real winner here.
"Flesh and Electricity"'s tumbling indie rock leaves open spaces for the narrative vocals and heartfelt elongated Australian vowels of singer Georgia Macdonald. The lyrics shine here, so put on your headphones and give this song all the attention it deserves.
There's something sinister about Big Ups' "National Park." It creeps along with chiming bass and nearly spoken vocals, both frequently interrupted by maniacal shouts. Sure Slint has been here before, but they didn't do it any better.
Kait Eldridge knows how pop punk and power pop fold together perfectly, and "Leave This Town"'s explosive chorus is one of my favorite moments of 2016.
The members of this Cincinnati band has been around long enough to develop patience. "Hello I'm a Ghost" is enveloping and ethereal. Its chorus isn't hammered home, but rather drifts in escorted by free-wheeling guitar leads. Such brilliance.
Finally a pop punk song that those girls who have "no time for girls or boys, horses their only joy" can pogo to. You need more Tacocat in your life. Pop punk needs more Tacocat.
Revisiting the "88 lines" formula shouldn't earn a band a spot in the top 10, but here we are. "Boys" is like reading someone's Twitter feed and I can't get enough of it.
Delightful indie pop from two of the best song writers of my generation. And how do you deny an opening stanza of "I'm an asshole. I forget names. I forget faces. I'm an asshole. I show up late and I leave early."
Bounding indie pop from Jimmy Hindle that opens to a delightful chorus. You can (and should) dance to this one.
When I was a kid they called it "Acid Rock." Today this riff-heavy occultist rock is simply "Stoner Metal." Call it nostalgia but I lose myself in "Black Magic" every listen.
"Adam" is a cover of The Paragons "Abba" by a Minneapolis all-female garage supergroup. It's perfect. In every way.
Rob Crow came back in 2016. Hallelujah. "Business Interruptus" is the same limping, disjointed, brilliant pop song that he (and he alone) has been able to create. The growing flourishes in this song are transformative.
Canadian Jim Kilpatrick creates the best crashing indie rock this side of Guided By Voices. If the travelogue "Join the Band" is an offer, sign me up as I'd follow Kilpatrick anywhere.
It makes sense that my favorite songwriter of 2016 would end up on top of the chart. "Exorcism Rock" is an immediately embraceable rock song with big guitars, great backing vocals, and a chorus that I have to sing along to even if I'm listening to it on the bus with headphones on.
Sadly this North Carolina foursome is no longer around, but it's better to have discovered this surf punk slice of empowerment late than never at all.
This is an ace indie pop song built on bright instruments and biting lyrics. Glasgow scene mainstay vocalist Melanie Whittle's voice has never sounded better or smarter.
Delightfully melodic indie pop with just enough sneer to penetrate those fantastic harmonies.
Tracks #7 through #1 can be heard in their entirety on Too Much Rock Podcast #384.
Are your favourite songs on my list? If not, let me know and maybe they'll make my 2017 adventure picks.