(Pictured: Miranda Lambert onstage in 2017.)
I don’t see Billboard‘s adult-contemporary chart every week of the year. I suppose I could look at it, but I haven’t got the habit. So when the year-end chart comes out, I often find myself surprised by the results. This past year, for example, I expected Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” to be #1—but it came in at #2 behind Maroon 5’s “Don’t Wanna Know.” The Maroon 5 record is fine, although it’s neither quantitatively nor qualitatively different from every other single they’ve released in the last four or five years. That’s not to say I prefer “Shape of You.” The overwhelming impression I get from listening to Ed Sheeran songs, especially those on his latest album Divide, is that for as popular as they are, they should be a lot more distinctive. For example, on the autobiographical “Castle on the Hill” (#19), he’s obviously trying to tell a poignant story about the crowd he ran with as a kid and how their lives have worked out, or not, in the years since. The raw material is there, but in the execution it just kind of spools out for four minutes without ever getting anywhere.
My favorite songs of the year include Adele’s “Water Under the Bridge” (#3) and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” (#11), Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” (#20), which feels like an old-school soul joint, and Niall Horan’s “This Town” (#21), which is as emotional and engaging as Ed Sheeran’s records want to be. Two records that threaten to drown in synthesizers and/or auto-tune, “Something Just Like This” by the Chainsmokers with Coldplay (#10) and “Life’s About to Get Good” by Shania Twain (#40), both qualify as guilty pleasures. A couple of hits that didn’t make the Top 50 are worth mentioning, too: “Wish I Knew You” by the Revivalists was first released in 2015 but didn’t become an AC hit until this year. The killer hook of the year belonged to “Feel It Still” by Portugal The Man: “I’m a rebel just for kicks now / I been feelin’ it since 1966 now.”
(I was tempted to dock “Feel It Still” a few points for the band’s remarkably bad name, which is even worse for being officially styled with a period after “Portugal,” an affectation I refuse to cotton to. I haven’t hated an extraneous punctuation mark so much since Bob Seger’s “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.”)
Similarly, some of the best country songs of the year didn’t make the top 70 compiled by Country Aircheck magazine, including Drake White’s “Makin’ Me Look Good Again,” which he delivers with the savvy of a soul singer twice his age, and two Miranda Lambert singles from her acclaimed album The Weight of These Wings, “Tin Man” and “We Should Be Friends.” My favorite country song of the year did make the Top 70, however: “It Ain’t My Fault” by the Brothers Osborne (#43), which, if you transported it back to 1979, would sound just fine on a classic-rock station, just like Lynryd Skynyrd did next to Led Zeppelin. (The #1 country song of 2017 was “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt, and the less I say about it, the better.)
But back to Miranda Lambert for a second. When I first heard her in 2010, she was firmly trading on being your crazy ex-girlfriend—which was also the title of her third album, released in 2007. With her Grammy-winning #1 hit “The House That Built Me” in 2010, she showed herself much deeper than merely that. For the next several years, her singles could be smart and touching (“Over You”, “Automatic”) or bring the crazy (“Mama’s Broken Heart,” “Little Red Wagon”—which is the worst record she ever made—and “Somethin’ Bad,” a duet with Carrie Underwood that NBC modified for its Sunday Night Football theme). But then came The Weight of These Wings. First single “Vice” was a substantial hit on momentum; “We Should Be Friends” and “Tin Man” did less well, as it seemed to dawn on people that the crazy ex-girlfriend has left town for good. It won’t be a surprise if Lambert’s next album, whenever it comes out, is a hit with the alt-country and Americana crowd and barely registers in the mainstream.
If there’s something you particularly liked in 2017, on a chart or not, share it with the whole class in the comments.