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The 101 Best Songs of 2015

The Hills were alive with the sound of music in 2015, a period dominated by pop monoliths — the year started with Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars threatening the all-time record for weeks spent at No. 1,  peaked with Drake and Future super-teaming at the same time that Ryan Adams ensured that Taylor Swift’s 1989 got its full 12 months in the news cycle, and ended with Adele serving as the music industry’s one-woman Black Friday. But as usual, SPIN found just as much joy in the spaces between, whether it be an Oscar-nominated child star trying her hand at Top 40, a series of gifted singer-songwriters exhuming the spirit of ’90s post-grunge for Buzz Bin-worthy alt jams, or an unnaturally ebullient rapper emerging out of nowhere — well, Paterson, New Jersey — to become the people’s champ (and unavoidable voice) of hip-hop radio.

Read on to our picks for the 101 best songs of 2015, and see how we balanced the massive with the intimate, the self-aggrandizing with the self-deprecating, the iconic with the iconoclastic. Run away with us, it’s gonna feel so good.


101. Demi Lovato, “Cool for the Summer”

From that first icy, neon piano riff, “Cool For the Summer” feels like a Miami drag race in an ‘80s dream, with a muscular force in Demi’s chorus that makes those sweet, girlish verses seem like a lie you’d tell your parents just before you’d sneak out of the house. It’s the younger, more unpredictable cousin to fellow Max Martin joint “I Kissed a Girl,” and it should’ve gone to No. 1. — JIA TOLENTINO


100. Pinegrove, “New Friends”

Montclair, New Jersey’s Pinegrove aren’t too far removed from their suburban adolescence, so when frontman Evan Stephens Hall sings of growing up and slowly shedding all of his old pals, the wounds still feel fresh and open. But consider “New Friends” a hopeful salve — over a dizzy guitar line and the whinny of a distant banjo, Hall offers cautious optimism: lose all your old friends? Go ahead and make new ones. — COLIN JOYCE


99. CL feat. Diplo, RiFF RaFF & OG Maco, “Doctor Pepper”

Diplo’s menacing, tension-filled production and K-Pop star CL’s hard-assed delivery combine for the ultimate endorsement that no brand would ever actually touch — especially since noted miscreant RiFF RAFF is involved. There doesn’t appear to be any particular reason that the all-star quartet are boasting about America’s oldest soft drink, other than that it has an authoritative ring to it, but whatever — the world can share a Coke, we’ll be chilling in the freezer, putting it on ice like the musicals. — JAMES GREBEY


98. Big Sean feat. Drake & Kanye West, “Blessings”

Give thanks for the song that spawned a thousand hashtags and all but leads off Dark Sky Paradise, the G.O.O.D. Music acolyte’s claim to Yeezus’ Holy Mountain. Though the skies may be cloudy and synths stalk ominously underneath “Blessings”— which itself threatens to be overshadowed by its Bigger Guests — Big Sean’s future is as bright as anyone’s. — HARLEY BROWN


97. Jess Glynne, “Ain’t Got Far to Go”

Glynne’s voice is so huge that she often struggles to find songs vast enough to contain it. Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” had room; most of Glynne’s disappointing album did not. But over that rollicking piano, double-time string darts, and call-response backup of dreams, this gospel-tinged banger was the grand exception. — DAN WEISS

96. Gavin Turek, “Don’t Fight It”


“Don’t Fight It” is such a hidden gem that it wasn’t even the A-side of the Los Angeles-based Turek’s “Frontline” single, where it debuted. But the slinky, Doobies-dabbling track deserves headline billing; you’re unlikely to hear roller disco this hummable until Daft Punk’s next album in 2021. — DAN WEISS


95. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Ruban Nielson, leader of psych-soul project Unknown Mortal Orchestra, sounds caught in Fred Armisen’s Technology Loop in this funk-flecked creeper about getting — or not, as the case may be — someone on the horn. It’s extra-frustrating, because on top of everyday anxieties, there’s an unwelcome sense of resentment that comes into play when someone’s making you repeatedly grab at your pocket due to Phantom Vibration Syndrome — a visceral unpleasantry captured by UMO’s ominous opening horns, low-toned guitar line, and jittery, scattered percussion. Let this be another reason to stop ghosting already. — RACHEL BRODSKY


94. Floating Points, “Silhouettes (I, II, III)”

The crown jewel of electronic intellectual Floating Points’ solo debut LP Elaenia, “Silhouettes (I, II, III),” swims into focus as if doing the butterfly. Orchestral muscles exert themselves in tandem — searing strings, precisely timed loose and then tight jazz drums, ethereal choral blooms — all without breaking a sweat. The result sounds as effortless as it is staggeringly complex beneath such a pellucid surface. — HARLEY BROWN


93. Action Bronson feat. Chance the Rapper, “Baby Blue”

The closing chapter of a mini-musical within Action Bronson’s major-label debut, “Baby Blue” catches the Queens chef-turned-rapper moving on from a breakup and living the only way he knows: large. He’s reeling in swordfish, riding butt-naked in a Lamborghini, taking, er, liberties in the front row of the opera, and enjoying the company of his friends (producer Mark Ronson, featured guest Chance the Rapper, and Beats 1 DJ Zane Lowe, who co-wrote the chorus), as they raise their champagne glasses and toast the bouncy, breezy piano-and-horns arrangement they cooked up. — KYLE MCGOVERN


92. Selena Gomez, “Hands to Myself”

Selena Gomez’s vocals will never match those of Adele or Beyoncé, but she knows her own limitations, and she’s gotten better at stretching the boundaries of what her aerated tones can achieve. On the crackling, insightful “Hands to Myself,” Gomez breathes life into bars like “your me-ta-pho-ri-cal gin and juice” and “I mean I could but why would I want to?” — an all-time great pop kicker — atop a crisp Mattman & Robin hand-clapper. It’s the not-so hidden anchor of Gomez’s coming-of-age LP Revival, and with a well-timed radio push (and a prime upcoming performance slot at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, thanks very much), “Hands to Myself” will soon have its hands all over you, too. — BRENNAN CARLEY


91. A$AP Rocky feat. Rod Stewart, Miguel & Mark Ronson, “Everyday”

A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP holds together almost too well: Tracks bleed into one another, thick with psychedelic ripple effects and disembodied-sounding vocals, making it tough to distinguish individual songs. The one single to rise above the psychotropic swirl is the penultimate number, the Beaujolais-sipping “Everyday,” which is boosted by a rip from none other than Rod Stewart. The small-voiced sample — taken from Stewart’s guest turn on “In a Broken Dream,” a 1972 hit by Australian band Python Lee Jackson — is so intrinsic to “Everyday” (and likely so expensive) that it earned the 70-year-old singer a prime spot on the track’s marquee, above studio contributors Miguel and Mark Ronson. Rocky’s never been shy about flashing the labels he dons, so why start now? — KYLE MCGOVERN


90. Deafheaven, “Luna”

The longest entry on a record dominated by shape-shifting epics, the ten-minute “Luna” typifies Deafheaven’s devastating and gorgeous New Bermuda. Opening with teeth-gnashing guitar and blood-curdling screams, the track builds and swells, spiraling furiously within itself until it settles, about two-thirds of the way through, into a doleful intermission. Then, the crashing denouement; frontman George Clarke continues to sacrifice his throat with lyrics that are tough to make out unless you read along — except for one word, the source of his inner strife, parsable only because he’s howling it over and over: “suburbia.” Welcome to Bermuda. — KYLE MCGOVERN


89. Dan Deacon, “When I Was Done Dying”

Fitting of a stream-of-consciousness narrative that begins with consciousness’ literal end, the climax off Dan Deacon’s Gliss Riffer album operates on its own musical plane, an ever-morphing post-folk trance of surrealist imagery (“How my skin did explode leaving only my shirt”) delivered with hymnal conviction and new-wave playfulness. Look for it on Vol. 1 of Sung Tongs to Learn and Sing. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


88. The Radio Dept., “Occupied”

As the political climate in Scandinavia increasingly favors the far right, the Radio Dept.’s Johan Duncanson has taken care to write songs whose protest messages (2010’s “The New Improved Hypocrisy,” 2014’s “Death to Fascism”) are unambiguous. Their Occupied EP and its title track blurred the lines a bit more, using language that speaks of conquest (“This was a warning”), but whether that’s romantic or political remains unclear. Their message is a whisper on the dance floor and over the din it’s hard to tell whether they want to fight or f**k. May as well do both. — COLIN JOYCE


87. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk!”

At the tail end of 2014, “Don’t believe me, just watch” could’ve well been referring to one’s ability to top the charts with a present-day, Morris Day-esque funk ditty. But along with over one billion YouTubers, watch we did. And danced. — DAN WEISS


86. Girl Band, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?”

It’s just as funny picturing Girl Band accidentally accosting diners at a nice steak dinner with their take on “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” as it is difficult to imagine an environment in which it’s comfortable enduring such brown-note blasts and chalkboard-scraping feedback. But beneath the noise throbs a pulse as thrilling and visceral as the bludgeoning bass on techno producer Blawan’s original, which is more than can be said for what’s buried beneath the band’s ride. — HARLEY BROWN


85. Hailee Steinfeld, “Love Myself”

A great song about masturbation has to match its built-in childishness with an equally convincing level of command. Eighteen-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld gets there by way of sincerity and understatement: “Can’t help myself / No, I don’t need anybody else,” she belts on this buoyant, restless track, as the chords break new colors into the background. — JIA TOLENTINO


84. Beach Slang, “Throwaways”

All of us daydream about pulling up every root we’ve set down, but those above a certain age are usually expected to just stay put and grow extra rings around their center. Not so with forever-punk fortysomething James Alex. Throwing gruff vocals and Westerbergian melodies on top of drummer JP Flexner’s crashing cymbals, the Beach Slang frontman has no reservations about wanting to decamp to “hungrier” and “wilder” pastures — hard to blame him when the “streets ain’t got no guts.” More importantly, though, it’s weirdly reassuring to know that youthful restlessness isn’t only for the young. — RACHEL BRODSKY


83. Juan Wauters, “I’m All Wrong”

As breezy and untethered as the hands-free bike cruise Juan takes through Flushing Meadows Park in the video, and as endearingly naïve in its self-confidence. Delivered in a warbling grin over hip-swiveling acoustic rhythms and handclaps that you yourself might be subconsciously providing, the song’s open-armed refrain becomes Wauters’ version of a ’70s self-help mantra: I’m All Wrong, You’re All Wrong. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


82. Father John Misty, “The Ideal Husband”

Name: Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty. Sex: Male. Occupation: Musical shaman. Marital Status: Formerly (and dangerously) untethered, now happily married. Interests: In his darkest moments? Excessive drinking, obsessing over graying hair, sleeping late, binging on unearned attention, and worrying that this information will be made public. In his brightest moments? Channeling all of his self-awareness, self-loathing, and self-absorption into rich, meticulously assembled songs. — KYLE MCGOVERN


81. Thomas Rhett, “Crash and Burn”

That’s the sound of the men of country realizing that Sam Cooke was long overdue for a Nashville reboot. Zac Brown and Brett Eldredge achieved similar revelations in 2015, but none did so more memorably than Thomas Rhett, who best harnessed the sweet science of ‘60s soul for the perfect whistling, grunting, and sashaying accompaniment to the sound of his teardrops falling dow-ow-ow-ow-ownnnnn. A “lesson learned,” for sure. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER