Bob’s Top 10 Pop Songs of 2017

Here we go again. This is my 9th annual countdown of the top pop hits of the year.

Some frequently asked questions that recur:

1. Why is it all pop music?
I chose to do a pop music countdown because I wanted to limit to songs that most readers have heard. For that reason, it’s not necessarily my favorite songs of the year–that would be a different countdown.

2.  Do you not like other genres? 
I do enjoy songs that are off the beaten chart and genres other than pop. I’d love to hear your selections in those areas.

3. Which songs are eligible?
I start with any song that made the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in any week of 2017. This year, there were 66 songs that qualify. Then I start to eliminate some from consideration. Any song that made last year’s top 10 is ineligible for this year’s top 10. There are four such songs: “Starboy” by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk, “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, “Closer” by the Chainsmokers ft. Halsey and “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello.

Okay, that leaves 62 songs for consideration, including one song released in 1994 that just hit the top 10 for the first time. While I did not make that song officially ineligible, I decided against ranking Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” because it just feel right to put it among the top songs of this year.

4. Which songs are ineligible?
If it didn’t make the top 10 at any time this year, it does not make this countdown. Some of this year’s biggest songs were near misses. There were three big hits that peaked at #11: James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go,” “Issues” by Julia Michaels and “Slow Hands” by Niall Horan. Other big hits that didn’t quite make it are “Redbone” by Childish Gambino and Kesha’s comeback hit, “Praying.”

Beginning on December 26, I will reveal my number 10 song, followed by two more songs each day in this space. I will reveal my number one song on New Year’s Eve.

On the whole, 2017 was a mixed year. There were quite a few songs I don’t like, but my top five songs this year would be strong contenders for number one in just about any other year I have done this. If I had to describe 2017, I’d call it the year of former band members going solo.

As usual, I welcome comments and criticism, and feel free to bring it. So, without further babbling, here is my list:

1. Love On The Brain, Rihanna, Westbury Road/Roc Nation
I have long thought that Rihanna has a great voice, but doesn’t always use it on many of her records. “Love On The Brain” allows her to shine. Adele’s 25 and Beyonce’s Lemonade got a lot of attention in 2016, but Rihanna’s Anti album was quite good—her best. The fourth single from Anti, “Love On The Brain” was released in September 2016. I was well aware of the song last year, but it didn’t hit the top 10 until March 2017. It’s a throwback—a song you might have heard from a pop-jazz diva back in the doo-wop era. Like Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” it has a 12/8 time signature, unusual in modern pop. Written mainly by producer Fred Ball, ‘Love On The Brain” details the excruciating highs and lows of a tumultuous relationship. It allows Rihanna to pour in some emotion and belt it out at times. Her timing and phrasing is exquisite, a potential defining moment in her career. In most countries, it took some time to catch on, perhaps due to not sounding like a pop hit from this era. It did take off in Poland, where it spent four weeks at number one in 2016. In the USA, it was originally released to urban R&B radio. Pop radio discovered it over time, and “Love On the Brain” took off in March 2017 and peaked at #5 later that month, more than six months after the single’s release and more than a year after the album release. Rihanna first performed the song on television for the Billboard Music Awards in May 2016. This is Rihanna’s third appearance on my year-end top 10 lists, following “Take Care” with Drake in 2012 and ‘FourFiveSeconds” with Kanye West and Paul McCartney in 2015.

Official video: YouTube link
Alternate black & white video: YouTube link
Live at 2016 Billboard Music Awards: YouTube link
Stay/Diamonds/Love On The Brain medley, 2016 MTV Music Awards: YouTube link
Jessie James Decker cover: YouTube link
Little Mix live cover: YouTube link
Kelly Clarkson cover from Facebook live: YouTube link

2. Chained To The Rhythm, Katy Perry featuring Skip Marley, Capitol
Katy Perry’s fifth album, Witness, is a departure from her past adult pop sound. Unfortunately, in trying to be different, she would up with an album that’s uneven and really all over the place. The first single from Witness is easily my favorite Katy Perry song. You can hear the influence of four major songwriters. Perry came up with the concept and prolific Swedish writer Max Martin gives it a strong dance melody. Skip Marley, grandson of the great Bob Marley, adds the Jamaican dancehall feel. He is a featured artist on “Chained To The Rhythm.” Another songwriter is Sia, who also provides uncredited backup vocals. Sia gives the song a little of her edge. The collaborative effort is outstanding. On the surface, it’s a catchy dance tune about dancing to a favorite song. Dig deeper into the lyrics, and there’s a clear message about living in a bubble and ignoring troubles. According to Perry, the song concept was borne out of her frustration with the 2016 presidential election, however, the lyrics are not at all specific to any individual. “Chained To The Rhythm” was released in February and hit number one in Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Serbia. It peaked at number five in the U.K. and number four in the U.S. This is Skip Marley’s first appearance on my year-end top 10 lists and Perry’s second. “Firework” made my 2010 favorites.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the BRIT Awards: YouTube link
Perry singing with the semifinalists of The Voice France: YouTube link
Boyce Avenue acoustic cover: YouTube link
Cover by Rebecca Black with Adam Goot: YouTube link
Alexander Stewart cover: YouTube link


3. Havana, Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug, Syco/Epic
I was obsessed with this song the first time I heard it. The bouncy piano, the Latin groove, the understated brass, and well, I just love a good cha-cha rhythm. Camila Cabello is a 20-year-old Cuban-born singer who first gained fame as a member of Fifth Harmony, a girl band put together by Simon Cowell on The X Factor. She released two collaboration singles on her own in 2016—one (“Bad Things”) hit #4 and made my year-end list for that year. In December 2016, Fifth Harmony announced Cabello’s departure. Going solo appears to have been a great decision. “Havana,” co-written by Pharrell Williams, who also sings backup, has hit number one in six countries, including Australia, Canada and the U.K. In the United States, “Havana” shot up the charts in November and spent five weeks at number two behind “Rockstar” by Post Malone. Now I don’t quite understand this but reportedly, a YouTube hack artificially (but legally) inflated the chart position of “Rockstar,” likely preventing “Havana” from hitting number one. It marks the biggest hit for either Cabello or for Young Thug, who performs the rap verse. Young Thug is an Atlanta-based rapper who has had considerable success with mixtapes and has recently done well as a featured artist on pop hits. There is a rap-free solo version that excludes Young Thug designed for play on radio stations that avoid playing rap, but I prefer the version with Young Thug. The video, which features a young woman obsessed with telenovelas, delightfully captures the steamy sultry nature of this track. “Havana” is still at number three headed into 2018, behind “Perfect” and “Rockstar.” It’s still one of the songs I actively search for on my car radio.

Official video: Vevo link
Live on NBC’s Today: YouTube link
European Music Awards performance: MTV UK link
Spanglish version, Latin American Music Awards, Los Angeles: YouTube link
Spanglish remix with Cabello and Daddy Yankee (audio): YouTube link


4. Perfect, Ed Sheeran or Ed Sheeran Duet with Beyoncé, Atlantic
I can’t remember the last number one hit with a time signature of 12/8. Ed Sheeran’s love ballad, written for his girlfriend Cherry Seaborn, seems more suited to a Viennese waltz dance floor than pop radio. Sheeran manages to pull it off. Originally a solo hit from his ÷ (Divide) album, “Perfect” was a top ten hit worldwide, including in the United Kingdom and the United States. A duet version with Beyoncé was released on December 1. Billboard treats an alternate version as the equivalent of the flip side of a record. In some cases, the B-side becomes the A-side. The December 16 issue listed the solo version at #3 as the A-side. The following week, the duet was the A-side, giving Sheeran had his second #1 hit. It’s Beyoncé’s seventh #1 and her tenth if you include Destiny’s Child songs. The duet remains #1 headed into 2018 and has reached #1 in 16 countries. In the UK, Sheeran’s duet version also boosted “Perfect” to #1, giving Sheeran and Beyoncé the prestigious Christmas Number One status. More recently, a version with Andrea Bocelli has been released, but the bulk of American airplay is divided between the solo version and the Beyoncé duet. One more trivia chart fact—in the UK in March 2017, Sheeran had all the top five songs, and 16 of the top 20 the week his album debuted. “Perfect” spent a week at number 4 long before its chart run near the end of the year. On my year-end lists, “Perfect” is the second appearance for both Sheeran and Beyoncé. I’ll end with a misheard lyric. When I first heard this song, I wondered what was up with the “barefoot on the cross” line, before eventually coming to realize it was Sheeran’s pronunciation of “grass” that had me confused.

Official video: Vevo link
Official audio with Beyoncé: YouTube link
Official video with Andrea Bocelli: Vevo link
“Live” duet with Beyoncé: YouTube video
Live performance on X-Factor Italy finale: YouTube link
Anthony Alexander cover on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link


5. Feel It Still, Portugal. The Man., Atlantic
Portugal. The Man. is not just a man, and not from Portugal. It’s actually a five-man band from Wasilla, Alaska. Yes, that Wasilla. Their breakout hit, “Feel It Still,” was a major airplay hit in America before it really took off on the Billboard Hot 100. The retro-sounding lead single from the band’s Woodstock album borrows just enough from “Please Mr. Postman” to give the song a clear 1960s feel while still sounding original. “Feel It Still” originally hit big on rock and alternative stations. After a mid-March release, “Feel It Still” was number one on the Adult Alternative chart by the week ending May 9. It took a bit longer on the Alternative Songs chart, but spent a record-breaking 20 weeks at the top of that chart. Eventually, pop radio got in on the act. “Feel It Still” entered the Billboard Top 20 in mid-September. The band’s first big hit went on to spend nine weeks in the Top 10, two of them at its peak position of four. The lyrics are intentionally vague (“am I coming out of left field”) and are reportedly somewhat of a political statement, mainly frustration with the whole political party structure. Some of the better songs of recent years have a retro-feel; I suspect that trend will continue. “Feel It Still” was one of few songs to top six different Billboard airplay charts, but did not hit number one on the Hot 100. It was successful worldwide, but only reached number one in one country: Slovenia.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the American Music Awards: YouTube link
Stripped down studio version: YouTube link
London rooftop performance: YouTube link
Acoustic cover by Megan Davies: YouTube link

6. Despacito, Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, Universal Music Latino/Raymond Braun/Schoolboy/Def Jam/UMLE/Republic
I’ll pre-emptively state that the version with Justin Bieber is the only one eligible for this countdown. “Despacito” was a record-breaking hit in so many ways that it’s hard to list them all. A chart-topper in at least 47 countries, “Despacito” was a clear winner of Billboard’s official Song of the Summer competition, and is the only song in history to spent all of June, July and August at number one. It’s tied for the longest-running number one hit with “One Sweet Day,” at 16 weeks. Luis Fonsi is a Puerto Rican superstar who is well-known in the Latin music community. Daddy Yankee is also from Puerto Rico and is a reggaeton star, mostly known to U.S. listeners for his 2004 hit, “Gasolina.” “Despacito” was originally released in January 2017 and immediately took off on the Latin charts. Starting in mid-February, “Despacito” spent 35 straight weeks atop the Billboard Hot Latin songs chart. In mid-April, a remix featuring Justin Bieber was released, subsequently, sales and airplay surged dramatically in English-speaking countries. By August, its original YouTube video, without Bieber, became the first video ever to hit 3 billion views. It has since reached 4.5 billion. Perhaps surprisingly, “Despacito” was only the second-biggest hit of 2017, according to Billboard, however, that is mainly because Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” came out well before the Bieber remix, giving Sheeran’s hit a big head start. “Despacito” has already won four Latin Grammys, and is nominated for three more Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. This is the first appearance for Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on my top 10 lists, and the third for Bieber.

Official video (without Bieber): YouTube link
Official video (with Bieber): YouTube link
Merengue cover by Antony Santos (audio): YouTube link
Croatian duo 2Cellos: YouTube link
Peter Bence piano cover: YouTube link
Postmodern Jukebox Broadway-style cover: YouTube link
Luis Fonsi and others at the Latin Grammys: YouTube link
Daddy Yankee in Merida, Mexico: YouTube link
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee at the Billboard Latin Music Awards: YouTube link
Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber in Puerto Rico: YouTube link

7. I Feel It Coming, The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk, XO/Republic
The Weeknd makes the list for the third straight year with this year’s entry, “I Feel It Coming,” his second straight single to feature French electronic duo Daft Punk. Their previous collaborative single was the title track to the Starboy album, which opened 2017 at number one. “I Feel It Coming” was released in November 2016 and is a little less edgy and more dance pop than “Starboy.” “I Feel It Coming” entered the Billboard top 20 as “Starboy” was falling down the chart. It peaked at number four in April and spent just four weeks in the top 10. It was a number one hit in France and Mexico. Daft Punk appears on my lists for the third time, following last year’s “Starboy” and my number one song of 2013, “Get Lucky.” Both “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming” were nominated but lost in the Top R&B Collaboration category at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards  Starboy is nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards in January 2018.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater: YouTube link
Anthony Alexander and Michael Kight on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link
Spanish cover by Chilean singer Kevin Vasquez: YouTube link
English cover by K-Pop star J. Fla: YouTube link

8. Million Reasons, Lady Gaga, Streamline/Interscope
I could probably not give you a million reasons why I think you’ve at least heard this song, but since Lady Gaga performed “Million Reasons” at halftime of the Super Bowl, odds are that you have heard it at least once. “Perfect Illusion” was the first single from Lady Gaga’s album, Joanne, released in September 2016. Although it hit number one in France and Spain, it was a bit of a disappointment here, peaking at #15. “Million Reasons,” the second single is a minimalist ballad written by Lady Gaga with Mark Ronson and country songwriter Hillary Lindsey. I credit Lady Gaga for taking what is a so-so country-tinged ballad and adding a little funk to it. It still didn’t chart very well initially. “Million Reasons” peaked at number 52 in December 2016, but re-entered the chart at #4 following her performance at the Super Bowl in Houston. “Million Reasons” was never intended to be a single. It was supposed to be a promotional extra for people pre-ordering the Joanne album. After performing “Million Reasons” on a carpool karaoke segment with James Corden, demand for the song led to its official release as the album’s second single. “Million Reasons” also earned Lady Gaga a Grammy nomination for Pop Solo Performance. This marks the fifth song for Lady Gaga on my year-end top 10 lists and the first since 2011.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at Super Bowl 51: YouTube link 
Carpool Karaoke segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden: YouTube link
Live from Saturday Night Live: YouTube link
Royal Variety Performance (orchestral backing), Hammersmith Apollo in London, December 2016: YouTube link
Cover version by Bob Weir and Trey Anastasio, Wanee Music Festival: YouTube link

9. Thunder, Imagine Dragons, Kidinakorner/Interscope
It would be difficult to rationally explain why I like “Thunder.” The target audience seems to be around ages 6-8. It’s very repetitive, the synthetic voice shift is corny, the synthesizer bridge is weird and the transition into that bridge is not at all smooth. It has shown up already on more than a few worst songs of the year lists, however, it was among the most requested songs on radio at the end of 2017. “Thunder” topped the charts in Belarus, the Czech Republic and Latvia and was truly an international sensation. Released in April as the second single from the Evolve album, “Thunder” hit the Billboard top 10 in late October and remained in the top 10 for the rest of the year. It spent two weeks at #4 and seven additional weeks at the #5 position. “Thunder” has topped some of Billboard‘s other charts, including Adult Top 40, Alternative Songs, Mainstream Top 40 and Hot Rock Songs. Perhaps the “so silly it’s good” strategy is working. “Thunder is nominated for a Grammy in the Pop Duo/Group Performance category. “Thunder” is also the first Imagine Dragons song to make any of my year-end Top 10 lists.

Official video: Vevo link
Live from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: YouTube link
Live at the Wind Music Awards at Verona, Italy: YouTube link
Live mashup at the Billboard Music Awards with Khalid’s “Young Dumb and Broke:” YouTube link

10. Strip That Down, Liam Payne featuring Quavo, Hampton/Republic
All five former members of One Direction hit the top 40 in 2017. Three of them had top-10 hits and Niall Horan just missed (“Slow Hands” peaked at #11).  Payne’s first big hit takes him into more of a dance/hip-hop direction than that of his former bandmates. “Strip That Down” is a result of a collaboration between Payne and Ed Sheeran along with producer Steve Mac. They wrote the song in the summer of 2016 and brought in Quavo to perform the hip hop verses. Quavo, who seemed to be the featured artist of 2017, is listed as a songwriter with Payne, Sheeran and Mac along with a slew of other songwriters. The writers of “Strip That Down” borrowed from Shaggy’s hit “It Wasn’t Me,” which itself borrowed from a War song called “Smile Happy.” Every credited writer on both of those songs is credited on “Strip That Down.” Released in May 2017, “Strip That Down” was intended to be the first single from Payne’s first album, although that album has yet to be released. It began to pick up airplay throughout the summer and hit the top 20 in August. Although it hung around for some time, it only spent one week at #10 in September. I chose this as my number 10 song of the year after going back-and-forth with another song that peaked at #10, “Malibu” by Miley Cyrus. I settled on “Strip That Down” as recently as December 26. In addition to the songwriting credit, Ed Sheeran’s vocals are on “Strip That Down,” but uncredited.

Official video: Vevo link
Performance from BBC’s The Graham Norton ShowYouTube link
Live performance at the Capital FM Summertime Ball at Wembley: YouTube link


Favorite George Michael songs (including Wham)

George Michael left quite a legacy. I think that if you asked 20 people to name their favorite George Michael songs, including Wham, you would probably get 10 different answers. I recently asked that question on social media and it didn’t take me long to get to eight different songs.

Here are the top 20 songs I selected as my favorites, in reverse order. Some good ones did not make my list. Thoughts and comments welcome. What is your favorite?


20. Praying For Time, George Michael (1989/1990)
“Praying For Time” was the first single from Listen Without Prejudice and marked his first release after the hugely successful Faith album. It was his last number one in the US and peaked at #6 in the UK. MTV Unplugged version

19. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Wham! (1984)
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” pretty much introduced the world to George Michael and Wham. It spent two weeks at #1 in the UK, three weeks in America. The “Choose Life” shorts from the video were part of an anti-drug, anti-suicide campaign. Official video

18. Heal The Pain (Duet Version), George Michael & Paul McCartney (2005/2008)
“Heal The Pain” was first released in 1991 as the fourth single from Listen Without Prejudice. I have a slight preference for the duet version with Paul McCartney from his Twenty-Five album. Video link

17. Fastlove, George Michael (1996)
“Fastlove” was the first single released by a then-new company called DreamWorks. It hit #8 in 1996 and was Michael’s last new song to hit the Billboard Hot 100 (Wham’s “Last Christmas” charts seasonally). Official video

16. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John (1991/1992)
There is a generation who doesn’t know that “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was originally Elton solo. The live remake outperformed the original and hit number one in February 1992, making the line, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John” famous. Official live video

15. Too Funky, George Michael (1990/1992)
Later that summer in 1992, “Too Funky,” from the Red Hot & Dance album, cracked the top 10. It notably starts with a sound clip of Anne Bancroft from The Graduate. Official video

14. Freedom, Wham! (1984/1985)
“Freedom” was a #1 hit in the UK from Wham’s breakthrough album Make It Big. It hit #3 in the USA right around the time that Wham was dealing with overexposure. Freedom is one of those songs I got tired of at the time but sounds better given the distance of time. The official video was shot in China, where Wham was among the first western bands to tour.

13. Round Here, George Michael (2003/2004)
“Round Here” is from George’s Patience album and was a minor hit in the UK. It’s about his recollections of life as a child and his parents when they were young. One of my favorite of his “unfamiliar songs.” Official video

12. A Different Corner – George Michael (1985/1986)
For some, “A Different Corner” is George’s best. In the USA, this was officially George Michael’s first solo hit, even though it’s on a Wham album and Andrew Ridgely performs on it. “Careless Whisper” was really Michael’s first solo, but in America it was billed as “Wham! featuring George Michael.” “A Different Corner” has a very understated production but it’s a powerful song. Official video

11. Waiting For That Day – George Michael (1990)
“Waiting For That Day” was the third single off Listen Without Prejudice and was a disappointment commercially. It’s loosely based on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards share songwriter credits with Michael. YouTube audio

10. Careless Whisper, Wham! featuring George Michael (1983/1984-85)
It was on a Wham album. was co-written by Andrew Ridgeley, but in most of the world, it was a solo song by George Michael. Because the record company did not want people to think Wham had broken up, it was credited as “Wham! featuring George Michael” in Japan, Canada and the USA. It’s one of George’s most recognizable songs and was Billboard’s biggest hit of 1985. It has become well-known recently as the walk-up music for outfielder Josh Reddick. His unusual selection has led to baseball fans singing along as he walks up to home plate. Official video

9. One More Try, George Michael (1987/1988)
The fifth single off Faith was also his third straight number one hit. “One More Try” also topped the R&B chart and the Adult Contemporary chart. The title only appears once in the lyrics–the final three words. Official video

8. Where Did Your Heart Go?, Wham! (1986)
“Where Did Your Heart Go?” was Wham’s last single in 1986. A cover of a Was (Not Was) song, it was among Wham’s more subdued tracks. It missed the top 40 in America. Clearly not Wham’s most successful singles, but in my mind “Where Did Your Heart Go?” is among their best. Official video

7. I’m Your Man, Wham! (1985)
One of the last singles by Wham has become one of my favorites. Written by George Michael, it’s a bit of a glimpse into what we would hear on his solo album, Faith. “I’m Your Man” was also the last song Wham performed on stage, at Wembley Stadium. Here is George Michael performing it live in 1991: YouTube link.

6. Faith, George Michael (1987/1987-88)
“Faith” is perhaps George Michael’s most well-known song. It spent four weeks at #1 spanning 1987 and 1988 and was the number one hit in America for the year in ’88. The organ intro into the guitar break are as recognizable as the lyrics. It has been covered by Limp Bizkit, among others. Here is a live version from 2008: YouTube link.

5. Last Christmas, Wham! (1984)
I remember resenting all the airplay this song got when it came out. I mean, they have one hit and now they get to have a Christmas song? Pay your dues, punks. Of course. “Last Christmas” became a Christmas classic and it became one of my favorite modern holiday songs. It would rank even higher if they could remix it with the ’80s synth toned down a bit. It be a bit sadder “this year” now that George Michael passed away on Christmas Day. Official video

4. Freedom! ’90, George Michael (1990/1990-91)
The second single from Listen Without Prejudice has a similar title to a Wham song, hence the year in the title. Known especially for its video featuring supermodels and no George Michael, it seemed he wanted to blow up his MTV past. Ironic that in doing so, he had a big video hit. It hit #3 in the US and #1 in Canada. Here’s a 25th anniversary video with younger models: YouTube link.

3. Father Figure, George Michael (1987/1988)
“Father Figure” was the song that really got George Michael noticed by R&B radio. He would go on to win two American Music Awards in the Soul/R&B category. It was also his first Grammy-nominated solo song. The video really propelled its success, but the haunting R&B sound proved memorable. A #1 hit in America, “Father Figure” only reached #11 in the UK, although it is reportedly one of his most requested songs on British radio. Official video

2. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), Aretha Franklin & George Michael (1986/1987)
Probably my favorite superstar duet of all time. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” hit number one in both the USA and the UK in 1987. Despite its success, it almost seems to have become a somewhat forgotten track for both artists. Official video

1. Kissing A Fool, George Michael (1987/1988)
People. If “Father Figure” established Michael as an R&B star, the final single from Faith, “Kissing A Fool” showed that he had some crooner chops. He recorded the vocals a cappella in a single take. His phrasing and timing are impeccable. By the time “Kissing A Fool” was released, very few fans did not already own the Faith album. Still, this one reached #5 in America and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Video link

Bob’s Top 10 Pop Songs of 2016

For the eighth year, I am counting down my top 10 pop hits of 2016. That’s pop hits–not necessarily the best songs of the year. When I started this in 2009, I decided that limiting the countdown to songs that have been heard by a wider audience would generate more commentary. So while others do their favorites regardless of chart success, I limit my countdown to any song that hit the Billboard top 10 at any time in 2016. This year, there were 57 top 10 hits.

However, my selection was limited to 54 songs. As with other years, any song that I chose in my 2015 top 10 is not eligible, even if it was still in the top 10 going into 2016.  That eliminates Adele’s “Hello.” As with Whitney Houston a few years ago, I decided not to rank songs that charted after a singer’s death. So while “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” hit the top 10 this year, those songs really belong to other years in my mind.

It was a big year for Justin Bieber, who had the top two songs of the year according to Billboard. Will that success translate to my top 10? Tay-Tay only had one top 10 song this year, a duet at year’s end. Do I dare include Taylor Swift for a second straight year? What about the Chainsmokers? Or twenty-one pilots? Drake? Or J.Cole, who obliterated a record by having 10 singles in the top 40 on the December 31 chart? Stay tuned to find out.

I’ll release a few songs daily and reveal my number one song on New Year’s Eve. I think many will figure out my number one. Comments and heavy criticism are welcomed as always. I love a good debate.



1. Can’t Stop The Feeling!, Justin Timberlake, DreamWorks/RCA
Quite predictable, I’m sure. The big summer dance-pop smash, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is my number one song of the year. Justin Timberlake co-wrote “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” with prolific Swedish songwriters Max Martin and Shellback for the movie, Trolls. Timberlake first performed it in May as a guest at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm. That performance marked the first time that a major star who was not a former contestant was invited to perform. The song took off quickly. It topped the charts in 17 countries and was the best-selling single in the United States in 2016. It was the number one song in America for only a week in late May, but it stayed in the top 10 the entire summer and is still on the charts at year end. Timberlake has had quite a bit of chart success, however, it’s a bit hard to believe that “Cant Stop The Feeling!” marked his first number one hit in over nine years. The version heard in the movie begins with Anna Kendrick singing. James Corden, Zooey Deschanel and Gwen Stefani also can be heard. There have been a few covers—perhaps one of the more unlikely ones by Lady Antebellum, not necessarily known for dance-pop.

Official Video: Vevo link
Lyric video: YouTube link
Official film clip from Trolls: YouTube link
Performance at Eurovision 2016 (medley with “Rock Your Body”): YouTube link
Lady Antebellum on stage: YouTube link
Season seven winner Mateusz Grędziński on The Voice of Poland: YouTube link

2. Piece By Piece, Kelly Clarkson, 19/RCA
My number two song of the year wasn’t even a hit when it was first released in February 2015. The second single was the title track from Kelly Clarkson’s album, Piece By Piece. She first performed it to the public on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on March 2, 2015. Co-written by Clarkson and Greg Kurstin, the lyrics refer to family and fatherhood. According to Clarkson, it’s inspired by abandonment (by her father) and support (by her husband). The February 2015 release was promotional, not commercial, to promote her album. The song was re-recorded and released as a single in November 2015. It spent eight weeks on the chart and peaked at number 32. But the song wasn’t yet done. The producers of American Idol brought back the first winner to perform in the show’s final season. Clarkson performed “Piece by Piece” on the February 25, 2016 live episode, a year after the song’s initial release. The reception of the live and home audience revived the single. An “Idol version” of her performance was also released to radio. A second televised performance on the March 3 episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show enhanced the buzz around “Piece By Piece.” Remarkably, well over a year after the song’s debut, “Piece By Piece” re-entered the Hot 100 at #8 the week of March 19. Based on its unusual chart run, “Piece By Piece” will likely be remembered as one of Clarkson’s minor hits, but it’s among her best performances to date.

Official Video: Vevo link
Acoustic video released in March 2015: YouTube link
February 2016 performance on American Idol: YouTube link
On The Ellen DeGeneres Show: YouTube link
Caitlyn Vanbeck’s audition on The X-Factor UK: YouTube link
Nancy Ponto on The Voice Indonesia: YouTube link

3. Sorry, Justin Bieber, Schoolboy/Raymond Braun/Def Jam
I overlooked Justin Bieber a year ago when three singles from Promise were in the midst of a long stretch of chart dominance that lasted well into 2016. The second single, “Sorry,” was released in October 2015 and debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. It was stuck behind Adele’s “Hello” and finally hit number one the last week of January. “Sorry” stayed at #1 for two weeks before Bieber’s third single from Promise knocked it out of that spot. The music was written by producer Michael Tucker (aka “Blood”). Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels penned the lyrics. Bieber sings falsetto in a song with a reggaeton feel and a touch of brass. The mysterious backup vocal motif was the result of producer Skrillex manipulating the voice of Julia Michaels from her demo tape. The song was a worldwide smash and was the number one song of the year in Canada; number two for the year, behind Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” in the United States.

Official Video: Vevo link
Lyric video: Vevo link
On The Ellen DeGeneres Show: YouTube link
Live at the 2015 American Music Awards: YouTube link
From The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: YouTube link
Piano performance on the Fall 2015 finale of NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link
Contestant Bryan Bautista on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link

4. Cake By The Ocean, DNCE, Republic
So what happened to the Jonas Brothers? Well, Joe Jonas and his longtime friend & roommate Jack Lawless formed DNCE, which is not an acronym, but rather an imperfect spelling of “dance.” Lawless played drums for the Jonas Brothers, Korean female guitarist JinJoo Lee had backed the Jonas Brothers and Cee Lo Green, and bassist Cole Whittle came from the band, Semi Precious Weapons. The concept of DNCE is for a rock band to play dance-friendly uptempo disco, R&B and funk. Their first single, “Cake By The Ocean,” was released in September 2015. The previously unknown group’s hit took some time to catch on. Their break may have come on January 31, 2016, performing on Fox’s live version of Grease. One of the songs that the band played was a ’50s-style version of “Cake By The Ocean.” Two weeks later, the single entered the top 20 and spent eight nonconsecutive weeks in the top 10 in March/April. Although it peaked at #9, “Cake By The Ocean” continued to get significant airplay well into the summer and fall. Billboard ranked it as the 18th biggest single of the year. With mysterious lyrics and an infectious beat, “Cake By The Ocean” will be associated with mid-2010s music for quite some time.

Official Video: Vevo link
Slowed down ’50s version from Grease live (audio): YouTube link
On The Ellen DeGeneres Show: YouTube link
In the BBC Radio Live Lounge: YouTube link
On stage from Jimmy Kimmel Live!: YouTube link
Alvin and the Chipmunks cover: YouTube link
Contestant Mateusz Grędziński on The Voice of Poland: YouTube link

5. Starboy, The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk, XO/Republic
My #5 song of 2016 is the first number one hit of 2017. After 12 weeks in the top five and eight straight at #2, “Starboy” has been announced as the new number one song on the first Billboard chart of 2017, replacing Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” Abel Tesfaye is the Canadian singer who uses the purposely misspelled pseudonym, “The Weeknd.” He had a fabulous breakthrough year in 2015, and in my mind, deserved the Best Song Oscar for “Earned It,” from the horrifically awful movie Fifty Shades of Grey. The first single from the new album, also titled Starboy, is a collaboration with the French superstar electronica duo Daft Punk. The collaboration works–“Starboy” has an almost futuristic moody sound with an excellent grove. A song called “Starboy” immediately brings to mind the late David Bowie’s song, “Starman.” Whether that influenced The Weeknd and Daft Punk is unknown, but the video does suggest reinventing a persona. The lyrics contain some clever references to several luxury cars and even Star Trek.

Official Video: Vevo link
Lyric video (NSFW): YouTube link
From Saturday Night Live: YouTube link
The Weeknd live on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link
Victoria’s Secret 2016 Fashion Show Performance: YouTube link

6. 24K Magic, Bruno Mars, Atlantic
Bruno Mars has had some success with retro-funk with recent hits such as “Treasure” and the Mark Ronson collaboration, “Uptown Funk.” His newest album, 24K Magic, is his first release of new music since “Uptown Funk” debuted in November 2014. The first single, also titled “24K Magic,” dropped on October 7, 2016, the same day as the album. This song sticks with that funk, R&B, disco throwback sound, centered on synthesizer chords. Mars is primarily a showman. The vocals on “24K Magic” allow the performer to shine. The single debuted at #5 the week of October 29 coming off a performance on Saturday Night Live. After falling to #7, it rebounded and spent the final four weeks of 2016 in the top five. So far, it has hit #1 in Argentina, France, Israel and New Zealand. Mars included his newest hit on a December 13 edition of “Carpool Karaoke,” a popular feature of The Late Late Show with James Corden. Corden will host the upcoming Grammys, but “24K Magic” was released after the deadline for Grammy consideration this year. “It’s Showtime!”

Official Video: Vevo link
American Music Awards performance: YouTube link
From Saturday Night Live: YouTube link
Live in Rotterdam at the 2016 MTV European Music Awards: YouTube link
Victoria’s Secret 2016 Fashion Show Performance: YouTube link

7. Love Yourself, Justin Bieber, Schoolboy/Raymond Braun/Def Jam
Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” was ranked the number one song of 2016 by Billboard. Bieber has had a pretty good year, one of the most successful calendar years of all time by a pop artist. “Love Yourself” was the third single from Bieber’s Purpose album, and his third straight number one hit from that album. Co-written by Ed Sheeran, Benny Blanco and Bieber, “Love Yourself” is basically a nasty way to tell an ex where he/she can go. Released on November 9, 2015, it debuted at #4 the week of December 5, giving Bieber three of the top five songs that week. Stuck behind Adele’s “Hello” and Bieber’s “Sorry” for two months, “Love Yourself” finally hit the top in February 2016. In the United Kingdom, Bieber broke an all-time record when “Love Yourself,” “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean” held the top three spots on the British chart. Additionally, he broke a record held by the Beatles by having the top two songs on that same chart for four straight weeks. The “Love Yourself” video has logged over one billion views. It’s up for two Grammys: Song of the Year (the songwriters award) and Pop Solo Performance. I think you get the idea—this was a huge hit!

Video: Vevo link
From The Ellen DeGeneres Show: YouTube link
At the 2015 Capital FM Jingle Bell Ball: YouTube link
Alessia Cara cover version: YouTube link
Halsey cover (NSFW lyrics): YouTube link
Moushumi on NBC’s The Voice: YouTube link

8. Closer, The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, Disruptor/Columbia
The Chainsmokers first hit, “#Selfie,” didn’t endear me to this DJ duo. It’s still one of the worst songs I’ve heard on radio in recent years. They followed that song up with a few more conventionally sounding hits before releasing their big breakthrough, “Closer.” The collaboration with singer Halsey spent 12 weeks on top the Billboard Hot 100, a rare achievement, indeed. Halsey is a 22-year-old singer from New Jersey named Ashley Frangipane. She broke through late in 2015 using her pseudonym, a rearrangement of her first name, with a hit on the alternative chart called “New Americana.” “Closer” is the first top 40 hit for Halsey and the fourth for the Chainsmokers, and is the first number one hit for both. Internationally, “Closer” topped the charts in 10 countries on five continents. Both members of the Chainsmokers and Halsey were listed as songwriters upon its July release, however, in early September, Isaac Slade and Joe King of The Fray were added as co-writers. Apparently, “Closer” is somewhat similar to “Over My Head (Cable Car).” Although it was the longest running number one hit of 2016, Billboard ranked “Closer” as the 10th biggest hit of the year. It’s up for one Grammy, for Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Official video: Vevo link
Live at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards: YouTube link
At the 2016 American Music Awards: YouTube link

9. I Hate You, I Love U, gnash featuring Olivia O’Brien, Atlantic/Warner Brothers
“I Hate You I Love U” is a breakthrough hit for both rapper/DJ gnash and 17-year-old singer-songwriter Olivia O’Brien. Their collaboration began after gnash heard a cover of one of his songs that O’Brien performed and posted online. He asked if she had material and she sent a demo of “I Hate U, I Love You.” They re-wrote it and released it in February. This song began to take off after they performed it on Late Night with Seth Meyers. It started climbing the charts in September and peaked at number 10 the week of October 22, making it barely eligible for this countdown. O’Brien’s vocals work well with this sad song about a breakup aftermath. The rap verses from gnash are pretty low-key but they fit well with O’Brien’s voice. O’Brien released her own solo version as a single in December.

Official video: Vevo link
In the Live Lounge: YouTube link
Olivia O’Brien solo version (audio): Vevo link

10. Bad Things, Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello, Bad Boy/Interscope/Epic
Okay, I knew nothing about Machine Gun Kelly until watching this video. “Bad Things” was released in mid-October, and just hit the top 10 the week of December 24. It fell from number 10 to number 14 on December 31, but that may have been the effect of three J. Cole songs debuting ahead of it. So it’s still on the charts now and may or not hang around a while longer. I am familiar with Camila Cabello, formerly of Fifth Harmony. That “formerly” is also very recent–she left the group put together by Simon Cowell for The X-Factor, via an announcement on December 18. The 19-year-old Cabello’s vocals far outshine Kelly’s rapping, which brings to mind a bland Pitbull imitation. However, Kelly, a white rapper from Cleveland, really just provides a backdrop that allows Cabello to shine.  The song is based on “Out Of My Head,” a Fastball hit from the late 1990s. The video seem to combine Bonnie and Clyde with Romeo and Juliet. Not so subtly, the characters’ names are Bonnie and Romeo.

Official video: Vevo link
Performance from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: YouTube link
Performance from The Late Late Show with James Corden: YouTube link
Live at the Z100 Jingle Ball concert: YouTube link

State Songs: South Dakota – Wyoming

Here are the final 10 states alphabetically. The task—pick a favorite song that references the state or a place in the state. It must be a clear geographical reference — you can’t pick “Fly Me To The Moon” because there happens to be a Moon, Pennsylvania. Common sense rules still apply. This is the end!

What would you have picked??

Links to the first 40 states:
State Songs: Alabama – Georgia
State Songs: Hawaii – Maryland
State Songs: Maine – New Jersey
State Songs: New Mexico – South Carolina

South Dakota: Rocky Raccoon – The Beatles (1968)
From the White Album, Rocky Raccoon was from Minnesota on one earlier take. He wound up being from the “Black Mountain Hills of Dakota.” Safe to assume that’s the “Black Hills,” indicating South Dakota. Five of 10 participants selected “Rocky Raccoon” for South Dakota.

Rocky Raccoon is a game piece in the Beatles' version of Monopoly. Photo from Beatle Brunch at
Rocky Raccoon is a game piece in the Beatles’ version of Monopoly. Photo from Beatle Brunch at

Tennessee: Dixie Chicken – Little Feat (1972/1973)
A lot of choices for Tennessee and at one point I was going to use “Honky Tonk Women.” I decided on “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat’s signature song from the album of the same name. Although it never charted, “Dixie Chicken” has had staying power and has been covered by many bar bands. From “The Midnight Special:”

Texas: El Paso – Marty Robbins (1959/1959-60)
Perhaps the greatest story song of all time. Marty Robbins wrote and recorded “El Paso” in the Fall of 1959 for his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album. It became a major country and pop hit and was the first number one pop song of the 1960s. Here is a live version:

Utah: Cell Block Tango – Chicago cast (original – 1975)
Found a few Utah songs but not many stand out for me. The “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago mentions Ezekiel Young from Salt Lake City. He’s the guy who can’t hold his arsenic. I guess he had it coming. Here is the movie version:

Vermont: Moonlight In Vermont – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (1956)
The song is a pretty clear winner–picking the artist is trickier, as many greats have covered this song. It was written by John Blackburn and Karl Suesdorff and originally recorded by Margaret Whiting in 1944. This version is from the 1956 album, Ella & Louis. Seven of eight participants chose this song, but many different versions were chosen.

Virginia: Who’ll Stop The Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969/1970)
CCR was cranking out the hits between 1969 and 1971, but famously never had a number one song. “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and its B-side “Travelin’ Band” spent two weeks at number two in March 1970, one of five CCR records to peak at #2. This one had the great misfortune of being released at the same time of one of the greatest singles of all time, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Written about Fogerty’s trip to Woodstock. Here’s John Fogerty solo:

Washington: Rock’n Me – Steve Miller (1976)
Could have gone Perry Como or a few other ways, but nothing grabbed me that much. The Tacoma reference wins it for Steve Miller. I’ve always wondered why the girls are warm in Northern California–some of those coastal towns are cold. Spent a week at #1 in November 1976. A live version:

West Virginia: Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver (1970/1971)
Easiest choice of the whole exercise. West Virginia even slapped “Almost Heaven” on its license plates. Released in April 1971, it took until late August to peak at #2 behind “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” Here’s an unusual cover by Hermes House Band from 2001 that was a top 10 hit in the U.K. and other locations (my choice remains the John Denver version).

Wisconsin: The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot (1975/1976)
“The ship was the pride of the American side.” Canadian Gordon Lightfoot wrote of the tragedy of the ship coming back from a mill in Wisconsin. “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” was hitting its peak one year after the tragedy. Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” denied Lightfoot another number one hit.

Wyoming: The Beaches Of Cheyenne – Garth Brooks (1995/1996)
Garth Brooks was on fire in the 1990s, after Billboard’s soundscan technology revealed he was more popular than anyone had ever realized. The third single from Fresh Horses was a tragic song that hit number one on the country chart in March 1996. It’s hard to find Brooks on YouTube, but here’s a live performance that hasn’t yet been taken down.

So that’s it. Thoughts or comments??

State Songs: New Mexico – South Carolina

Here are the next 10 states alphabetically, leaving only 10 to go. The basic idea—pick a favorite song that references the state or a place in the state. It must me a geographical reference — songs about a girl named Virginia don’t count for the state of Virginia. Common sense rules still apply. Here are my choices—about 10 people participated in this exercise.

This set of 10 included some of the tougher states to find songs.

Links to the first 30 states:
State Songs: Alabama – Georgia
State Songs: Hawaii – Maryland
State Songs: Maine – New Jersey

New Mexico: By The Time I Get to Phoenix – Glen Campbell (1967)
“By the time I make Albuquerque….”
Glen Campbell’s version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” is the most famous. Johnny Rivers recorded it in 1965. Campbell’s version peaked at #26 late in 1967 but went to #2 on the country chart. Campbell did win two Grammys for it.

New York: Native New Yorker – Odyssey (1977/1977-78)

I am picking a disco song over classics by Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel, which may seem to take some audacity, but is more of a testament to how much I really like “Native New Yorker.” The song was written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, who also wrote “A Lover’s Concerto” and “Working My Way Back To You.” “Native New Yorker” spent two weeks at #21 in February 1978 but has proved to be a disco standard.

North Carolina: Wagon Wheel – Bob Dylan (1973); Old Crow Medicine Show (2004)
Originally a Dylan song, versions by Old Crow Medicine Show and later Darius Rucker have made this song more famous. I have to include the Old Crow Medicine Show because their verses include Raleigh, North Carolina when they expanded on the Dylan tune.

North Dakota: I’ve Been Everywhere – Johnny Cash (1996)
I should credit Hank Snow, a Canadian who first sang the North American version. This song was originally about places in Australia. The good news is that Cash mentions Fargo. The bad news is that I can no longer use this song for a difficult state.

Ohio: Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
Ohio, referring to the Kent State shootings earlier in 1970, was not a single from the Deja Vu album that was recorded before the shootings. That created an unusual chart situation in which “Teach Your Children” (from the album) and “Ohio” were climbing the charts almost simultaneously. For one week in August 1970, “Teach Your Children” was at #16 and “Ohio” at #17. The following week, “Ohio” peaked at #14 but the Neil Young protest song’s lasting impact is undeniable.

Oklahoma: Never Been To Spain – Three Dog Night (1971/1972)
There were a few possible selections for Oklahoma, including the musical and a Bacharach-David song by Gene Pitney. “Never Been To Spain” was written by Hoyt Axton, who also wrote the group’s biggest hit, “Joy To The World.” It was the second single from their Harmony album and spent two weeks at #5 in February 1972.

Oregon: City Of Roses – Esperanza Spalding (2012)
A track from her Radio Music Society album. I have had the chance to see Esperanza Spalding in concert–she’s best known for an upset Best New Artist Grammy win. Pretty rare when that award goes to a chamber music artist. Very talented and deserving. City of Roses is Portland’s nickname and the song is a tribute to her childhood home.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Freedom – The Elton John Band (1974/1975)
I wonder what Bernie Taupin thought when Elton told him to write lyrics for a song to be called “Philadelphia Freedom.” Elton wrote it for Billie Jean King, who at that time played for the Philadelphia Freedoms of the World Team Tennis league. Taupin came up with some odd lyrics with a few gems–“the whippoorwill of freedom zapped me right between the eyes!” Spent two weeks at #1 in April 1975.

Rhode Island: Sweet Rhode Island Red – Ike & Tina Turner (1974)
From the album of the same name from 1974, a decent track by Ike & Tina. There weren’t a lot of options for Rhode Island. Later covered by John Waite. Tina Turner once covered Waite’s biggest solo hit, “Missing You.”

South Carolina: Dancin’, Shaggin’ On The Boulevard – Alabama (1997)
I considered “Greenville” by Lucinda Williams but all evidence I could find suggested inconclusively that the Greenville is not the one in South Carolina. There’s a “new country” song by Jason Aldean called “She’s Country” that clearly references South Carolina. I just can’t say I like that song though. That brought me to Alabama, a band who played a lot of clubs in Myrtle Beach. Since all of the places in the song are in Myrtle Beach, it counts. Hit #3 on the country chart in June 1997.

State Songs: Maine – New Jersey

Let’s keep going. Here are the next 10 states. The challenge is to pick one song for every state and it has to clearly refer to a place in that state. Common sense rules still apply. Here are the middle 10 states alphabetically.

Massachusetts: Dirty Water – The Standells (1965/1966)
I lived in Boston for a few years and thus became very familiar with this song. That was before it was played at the end of every Red Sox home win, but radio there did play it quite a bit. It edges out Massachusetts by the Bee Gees for me. The Standells were an L.A. band who took this song to #11 in July 1966. Here is a televised lip-sync version.

Michigan: Dancing In The Street – Martha & the Vandellas (1964)
One person in the group posted this for Maryland and I resisted the temptation to say “coming soon to another state.” I originally had “Don’t Stop Believin'” penciled in here but I couldn’t pass on this Motown classic that references “the motor city.” It spent two weeks at #2 in October 1964 behind “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”

Minnesota: Leader Of The Band – Dan Fogelberg (1981/1982)
“One went to Chicago and the other to St. Paul.” Fogelberg was on a soft rock roll in the early 1980s. “Leader Of The Band” hit number 9 in March 1982. He did better on the Adult Contemporary Chart, with two weeks at number one in February. It’s a bit sad–he wrote it for his father who had passed away, Even more sad that Fogelberg died young.

Mississippi: Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry (1967)
One of the greatest and most mysterious story songs of all time, the mentioned Tallahatchee was indeed in Mississippi. If that’s not enough, there is a reference to Tupelo as well. Gentry reached rare air with this megahit–she hit the top 20 on the pop, R&B and country charts. It spent four weeks at number one at the end of the summer of love….and oh, by the way……The Tallahatchie Bridge of which she sang collapsed in 1972.

Missouri: Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison (1959)
Written by Leiber & Stoller in 1952, “Kansas City” has quite the history and has been covered many times. Wilbert Harrison has be far the most successful version, released in 1959. It spent two weeks at number one in May of that year.

Montana: Come Monday – Jimmy Buffett (1974)
Not surprised to see that others agreed. This was a far bigger Easy Listening hit that a pop hit. Peaked at number three on the softer chart and at #30 on the Hot 100 in 1974. Buffett had not yet blown up into a big star by that point.

Nebraska: You And I – Lady Gaga (2010/2011)
“You And I” was the fourth single from Born This Way. The song spent five weeks in the top 10 in the fall of 2011 and peaked at number six in September. She had already performed it on the Today show as early as July 2010. The single features Brian May on guitar but in her live shows, it’s a piano power ballad. Nebraska is mentioned six times. I’ll start with the studio/video version:
Live on The View:

Nevada: Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash (1955/1956; 1968)
It’s one of Cash’s signature songs. Originally recorded and released on Sun Records in December 1955, the song was already a Cash classic when he released his live version in 1968. The live version hit #1 on the country chart and was a Grammy winner.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire – Jason Reeves (2007)
I really couldn’t find much else. From the album The Magnificent Adventures Of Heartache (And Other Frightening Tales…). Reeves is best known for writing “Bubbly.” the Colbie Caillat song. That’s about all I’ve got.

New Jersey: Palisades Park – Freddy Cannon (1962)
Freddy Cannon’s biggest hit was intended to be a B-side. A DJ in Flint, Michigan played “Palisades Park” by mistake and several weeks later, Cannon had a #3 hit. Who wrote this unintended classic? Chuck Barris, the TV producer host who would later create The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, was working for ABC in the early 1960s. One of his roles was to keep an eye on Dick Clark after the 1959 payola scandal. Barris wound up producing records and writing songs. “Palisades Park” was by far his most successful composition.

So that’s it. Done with 30 states and 20 more to go. Thoughts and opinions?


State Songs: Hawaii – Maryland

Continuing with one song for every state. A reminder of the rules–the song must mention a place in that state, use common sense. And you can’t use the same song for more than one state. Here goes the next set of states, alphabetically.

Hawaii: California Girls – The Beach Boys (1965)
“I dig a French bikini on Hawaii island.” I like the sound of Hawaiian music and really liked the music from The Descendants, but I’m not familiar enough with it to find a song that has the geographical reference. Using the Beach Boys here is a bit of a cop out but it’s within the rules. Peaked at #3 late summer 1965.

Idaho: What’s Your Name – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977/1978)
More people who participated used Lynyrd Skynyrd for Idaho than for Alabama, which is somewhat surprising. “It’s eight o’clock in Boise, Idaho” and for another weak state, that’s a winner. Peaked at #13 in March 1978.

Illinois: Bad, Bad Leroy Brown – Jim Croce (1973)
I was going to go with the Kankakee reference in “City of New Orleans” but upon further thought, I like this song better. It’s a childhood favorite that holds up. It spent two weeks at number one in July 1973. Croce died in a plane crash in September of that year.

Indiana: Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor (1970)
It’s a decent pop hit and I just couldn’t think of anything better. This was Canadian Taylor’s only U.S. hit and was supposedly inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. It hit number five in November 1970.

Iowa: Iowa – Bing Crosby (1944)
Iowa was tough, real tough. This song was written by Meredith Willson, who also wrote “Gary, Indiana” and other songs from The Music Man. Willson was born in Iowa and he wrote a few songs about Iowa, including the fight songs for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. I don’t think Bing released this single, but he had some fun with it on his radio show.

Kansas: Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell (1968/1968-69)
Looks like two songs are popular for Kansas, including this one. I’m going with Campbell’s version. Written by Jimmy Webb about a lineman in Oklahoma, but Wichita fit the song better. “Wichita Lineman” peaked at #3 but hit number one on the country chart and the easy listening chart late in 1968.

Kentucky: Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley (1969/1970)
Should be no surprise to anyone who paid attention to my Elvis countdown and my rain songs countdown–I like this song quite a bit. That’s Jerry Scheff on bass, Ronnie Milsap on piano and Eddie Rabbitt is the songwriter. It spent two weeks at #16 in March 1970.

Louisiana: Walking To New Orleans – Fats Domino (1960)
Tough to choose just one for Louisiana. The Animals, Arlo Guthrie, CCR and Poco are among those with strong contenders. Few singers are as associated with one city as Fats Domino is with New Orleans. In 1960, he recorded this Bobby Charles composition. The New Orleans Symphony string section was brought in to add to the finished recording–a wise move. Peaked at #6 in August 1960.

Maine: King Of The Road – Roger Miller (1964/1965)
Not surprisingly, others have chosen “King Of The Road” for Maine, we could have had back-to-back Roger Miller entries. Miller’s follow-up single, Engine Engine #9, mentions Baltimore. King Of The Road peaked at #4 in March 1965. Engine Engine #9 hit #7 in June.

Maryland: Moonlight Feels Right – Starbuck (1976)
In the end, however, I chose Starbuck over Roger Miller for Maryland. “Moonlight Feels Right” was Starbuck’s first and biggest hit. Spent two weeks at #3 in the summer of 1976. It references Ole Miss in addition to Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a recent live version.

Comments or suggestions?