Monday, January 16, 2017

The 2016-40: No.10 - 1

10. Viva Love – ABC.

2016 was the year when I reconnected with the 80s, mainly thanks to Absolute Radio 80s and its fantastic Sunday night show Forgotten 80s, presented by the brilliant Matthew Rudd who is probably the best DJ on British radio at the moment; his enthusiasm, knowledge and empathy is a rarity in a time of plastic, generic presenters.

But I digress.  ABC, one of the finest acts of that decade, made their recording comeback this year with “Lexicon of Love II”.  Of course they couldn’t top that original classic album, but this lead-off single took the best elements of their sound and the result was pretty special indeed.

9.  Hotter Than Hell – Dua Lipa.

As you know, I'm no fan of these 'next big thing' lists which we get at the beginning of every year. This is usually just a marketing ploy to ensure that record companies will get their artists onto every radio playlist.  2016 misfired though (now there's a surprise eh!) as the music-loving public did not take critics' favourite Jack Garratt to their hearts.  Another name who turned up time and again on these lists was Dua Lipa, so I was initially sceptical.  However as the year progressed, Dua completely won me over and "Hotter Than Hell" became her biggest hit to date here in the UK.

8.  Cake By The Ocean – DNCE. 

Joe Jonas has come a long way from the squeaky-clean Jonas Brothers hasn’t he! Apparently the song has nothing to do with cake (!) and he also throws a wee sweary word into the chorus too.  This was on heavy rotation on radio playlists over the summer but for once I didn’t mind.

This is the kind of uptempo catchy pop song which I love, and we need more of them and less of the generic tropical house/Chainsmokers-style garbage which has filled the charts this past year.  

7.  Give It Up – Nathan Sykes feat G-Eazy.

He still only looks about 14 years old (!) but Nathan has been the surprise breakout solo star from The Wanted, releasing a number of rather good singles over the past year or so.  This is my favourite of them, channelling 80s soul vibes.  And of course to match the steamy nature of the song, there is a steamy video to go with it too!

6.  Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake.

Like many others I was initially sceptical at the news that JT was going to be one of the interval acts at ESC in Stockholm: but then I thought why not?  A world-class entertainment event deserves a world-class act.  This was another radio playlist staple over the summer but I still don’t get tired of it even now.  He is probably the only one of the globalised superstars of today who I can be bothered with.  As they say on my favourite TV quiz show, "The Chase", "we need you back here".  So please hurry up with a new album Justin!

5. Merrmë Që Sot – Aslajdon Zaimaj.

My 2015-50 was written up by the time I heard this song for the first time in FiK54 in December 2015, so that explains why it makes an appearance on here a year later - yes, it's one of my good old “technicalities”.

Festivali i Këngës is always prone to a rock song or two, and this one stood out among FiK54's sea of dramatic divas and drunk uncles (!) Aslajdon won The Voice of Albania and went on to FiK54 where he delivered an energetic performance which brought him a well-deserved 2nd place behind Eneda Tarifa's winning song "Përrallë" which was later watered-down into "Fairytale" by the time it got to Eurovision and failed to make the final.  This, on the other hand, was my real FiK54 winner.

4. Be The One - Dua Lipa. 

And now on to another of those "technicalities" which pop up in my chart every year. Although this song initially made an appearance in 2015, it never really came onto my radar until 2016.  I used to have my "great lost European hit of the year" on my annual chart and if it was still going, then I suppose this would get the 2016 prize.  This song performed very well indeed on the continent and despite being used to soundtrack a car advert, it missed out on UK success. Perhaps it's just too subtle to appeal to the "Spotify generation" who now dictate the chart hits?

3. Laika – The Hungry Hearts feat Lisa Dillan.

"My life is sadness/my life is madness".

Following Eurovision national finals every year always brings its rewards.  You discover the most unlikely songs which you inevitably grow to love.  It would be fair to say that this brilliant, offbeat electro-pop song by this avant-garde Norwegian lesbian collective was a particular favourite of the fandom in 2016.

If you haven't heard "Laika", it's probably quite difficult to explain it, but it's a delightfully bizarre, mix of the disco, the streets of Moscow and a weightless Laika, topped off by Lisa Dillan's vocals which give the song some emotional weight too.

2. Constellation Prize – Robin Bengtsson.

So....up until just over 3 weeks ago, it looked like normal service would be resumed and yet another Swedish song would top my annual chart.

My first thoughts: what a bloody ridiculous song title.  I initially wrote this off as a "Stole The Show" copy. And I don’t always like songs on first listen; especially since I wasn’t really in a great place around national finals season and didn’t enjoy Melodifestivalen at the time.  However I was very impressed by the simple but effective staging - and particularly lighting - which helped to make this song the highlight of the Swedish national selection for 2016.

The test of a song for me is how it grows and grows from those first listens and eventually makes its way into my heart over a longer period of time.  So it was with “Constellation Prize” which just grew and grew on me after the contest and  current and more timeless influences.  Although nothing's changed, I still think it's a bloody ridiculous song title...!

So just when my chart was ready to go, there was a very late inclusion which not only caused me to rewrite my 2016 chart, but which also meant a change at the top, as this very quickly became my favourite song of (what was left of) 2016!

1.  Sot - Lynx.

Yes, in a very short space of time, this Festivali i Këngës 55 finalist quickly went from being a song I liked, to a song I loved, loved, loved!

"Sot" is a rock song, performed by a group of men in suits, fronted by the outrageously gorgeous Renato Rexha.  So as faithful travelling companion would probably remind me, a number of boxes are being ticked here.  But shallow moments aside, it's a cracking example of the greatness which can happen when rock music is mixed with a terrific orchestral accompaniment and in this instance it's such a perfect fit for the song.

This is a very appealing and accessible rock song in the Albanian language, and it just buzzes from beginning to end and you just want to play it over and over again.  Oh, and Gridi Kraja is the conductor, just so you know....  although we never get to see close-ups of the conductors at FiK any more :(

"Sot" only placed 10th out of 14 songs in the FiK55 final, but attracted many favourable comments among the Twitter fandom during the contest.  In the weeks which have passed since FiK, I have played this song non-stop and there's no sign of that changing any time soon.

So there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed my annual chart rundown!  Unfortunately though, I now have to abandon love for hate as I am about to bring my annual listing of my most hated songs of the past year...!

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