Let There Be Rock – The 35 Best Rock Songs of 2016

best rock song 2016

Let There Be Rock – The 35 Best Rock Songs of 2016

10. Garbage – Empty (Strange Little Birds)

“I’ve been feeling so frustrated.
I’ll never be as great as, I want to be.”

Garbage was a great band back in the day, so I was happy to see they regrouped a few years ago for a new album. The follow-up Strange Little Birds came out earlier this year, and while it doesn’t quite live up to Garbage or Version 2.0 (how could it?), it’s got some cool tracks … especially the lead single.

‘Empty’ is about finding yourself vulnerable and full of self-doubt, served up on layers of melody and searing guitars.

TL;DR: Vintage Garbage.

9. Avatar – The Eagle Has Landed (Feathers & Flesh)

“Ladies and gentlemen.
Your hero has returned again.”

Oddball song by a weird Swedish metal band. What exactly is going on up there, anyway? A couple of Swedish rock groups made this list, plus a couple narrowly missed.

‘The Eagle Has Landed’ begins with a bizarre polka intro, and quickly gets weirder from there. It’s a heavy song with a touch of death metal, but a strangely accessible chorus. It’s part of a concept album, so it probably makes more sense in the larger context. Though if you’re expecting the video to help you make sense of it all … um, yeah. Don’t do that.

I like to imagine that if the members of Gwar had been listening to a polka album right before they took peyote and drifted off into a trance, and then when they woke up hours later discovered they’d all had the same dream to try and write a pop song … it’d probably sound something like this.

P.S. That’s a good thing.

TL;DR: Heavy, weird & cool.

8. Metallica – Moth Into Flame (Hardwired … To Self-Destruct)

“Seduced by fame.
A moth into the flame.”

One of the more interesting musical stories of 2016 will no doubt be the massive return to form of Metallica.

Just when most fans had settled into an expectation of more of the same, and given up on the idea of new material that rivaled the good ol’ days, the boys came roaring back to life with a new album full of modern thrash metal classics. I guess some people kind of liked Death Magnetic, but it didn’t demand much repeat business from me.

There are 3 or 4 songs I could have chosen here – the title track, ‘Atlas, Rise’, ‘Spit Out the Bone’ … the album’s pretty much great from start to finish.

But I’m comfortable rolling with ‘Moth Into Flame’. Why? Because IT ROCKS, with galloping bursts of thrash and a sense of danger. The band is on fire, and seeing them get off on the new material in the video is infectious.

There really isn’t much else to say about this track, other than, see that volume knob on your stereo, phone or speaker? Turn it as far to the right as you can reasonably expect to get away with without getting arrested, and let’s break some windows already.

TL;DR: Destruction going viral.

7. Butch Walker – Stay Gold (Stay Gold)

“With a world so black and white, boy.
Stay gold.”

Hailing from Atlanta, Butch Walker is a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist who should be way more famous. He’s released several critically acclaimed albums, both as a member of late-90s alternarock band Marvelous 3 and as a solo act.

He’s also an in-demand writer and producer who has worked with a bunch of artists you’ve heard of including Weezer, Ryan Adams, Panic at the Disco, Pink, and many more.

For more info about Butch, check out our Butch Walker Artist Spotlight.

His latest album Stay Gold came out this summer, and it’s got a retro-rock Americana sound with a strong Springsteen / Petty influence. And just the usual assortment of catchy, underrated rock anthems.

I like every song on the record, but keep coming back to the title track, a raucous number that takes its cue from The Outsiders and sets the tone for the wide variety of emotions and small-town characters sprinkled throughout the rest of the album. Great guitar sound and a shout-along chorus.

TL;DR: Stay gold, Ponyboy.

6. Blink-182 – Bored to Death (California)

“Bored to death and fading fast.
Life is too short to last long.”

I look back fondly at Blink-182. They had a good sense of humor and some cool tunes. But I was never a huge fan or anything: they weren’t that great of a band.

So when I heard they had a new album coming out this year, I yawned (metaphorically, I think). I mean, after all this time, how good could it be? Especially when it was announced that key founding member Tom DeLonge had left the group earlier in the year, because he needed more time to spend on his alien research (seriously… aliens!)

Boy, was I wrong. The first time I heard the lead single ‘Bored to Death’, I knew it would end up being one of the best rock songs of the year, and repeat listens have proven this to be true.

It’s got that signature Blink-182 sound nailed down. A sing-along rocker full of pop-punk hooks, it got them back to #1 on the charts for the first time in 12 years for a reason.

TL;DR: Not boring.

5. Highly Suspect – My Name is Human (The Boy Who Died Wolf)

“Look what they do to you. Look what they do to me.
Must be joking if you think that either one is free.”

Massachusetts rock trio Highly Suspect released their second studio album The Boy Who Died Wolf in November, and the single ‘My Name is Human’ already hit #1 on the Alternative Rock chart and just got nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song.

What?

Oh yeah. It really is a great song.

‘My Name is Human’ has been shooting up my list for weeks now, and it’s got it all: a great vocal performance, thought-provoking lyrics, and excellent music, featuring some cool guitar sounds and an atmospheric soundscape. It starts out mellow and dark, and slowly builds.

If only there were some kind of media outlet that played songs and sent out a signal through the air so people could listen to them in their cars and homes. Because if we invented something like that, they could play stuff like this!

I highly suspect (see what I did there?) you’ll dig this song.

TL;DR: Smart and memorable.

4. Beck – Wow (Single)

“It’s like wow!
It’s like right now.”

Beck’s musical output has been rather uneven over the last decade or so, but he put 2016 on notice with his brilliant single, ‘Wow’. It was meant to be the lead-in to his 13th studio album, which still hasn’t been released and will probably surface in 2017.

A funky deconstruction of several musical genres done in a way that only Beck can do, ‘Wow’ combines his famed wordplay with a sense of fun and a hip hop beat, then tosses everything into a blender along with some flutes and sound effects, spinning the blades until it all just clicks.

In a weird way, the song feels like a retrospective of Beck’s career in 4 minutes. Off-the-wall but still damn cool. A great pop nugget.

TL;DR: Giddy up.

3. The Temperance Movement – White Bear (White Bear)

“And I never even saw it coming.
Until I’d given myself away.”

The Temperance Movement is a British rock band with a vintage sound, classic 70s style with a bit of Southern rock and Zep-style blues and a modern touch. Maybe a little like Free, filtered through 90s alternative.

And the title track ‘White Bear’ is the sound of a relatively unknown band making a strong sonic statement.

It’s got raucous guitars and a stellar chorus, and is simply one of the best rock songs I’ve heard all year. What are you still reading this for? Crank it up!

TL;DR: Awesome hook.

2. Ghost – Square Hammer (Popestar EP )

“Are you on the square?
Are you on the level?”

Ghost is one of the more interesting bands on the scene these days, and they really started gaining steam with 2015’s excellent album Meliora.

They returned this year with the Popestar EP, a collection of covers (check out their unnerving but brilliant version of ‘Bible’ if you dare), and one original track, the brilliant ‘Square Hammer’.

It’s a good example of what these nameless ghouls do best: a little Blue Oyster Cult mixed with glossy elements of hard rock and metal, and wrapped in an eerie goth package. They’re a great band, provided you can handle the gimmick.

‘Square Hammer’ features fantastic vocals, a great guitar solo and a killer chorus, plus probably the best music video of the year.

Ghost is in the groove, and their next album is going to be huge.

TL;DR: Gothic metal pop.

1. The Monkees – Me and Magdalena (Good Times!)

“But know everything lost will be recovered.
When we drift into the arms of the undiscovered.”

When the sun first dawned on 2016, I don’t think anyone – not diehard fans, record company execs, or even the band members themselves – could have predicted the Monkees would soon have a universally well-reviewed album shooting up the charts.

After all, they’d recorded a new album in the 80s (Pool It!) and the 90s (Justus), and both were relatively weak records. Sure, they each had a few cool tracks and were a welcome treat for the diehards, but they didn’t gain a lot of traction and definitely didn’t measure up to their brilliant 60s discography.

This year, things were different.

They had a gameplan, and the execution was brilliant: they sorted through some unreleased tracks from the 60s and found a few they could clean up and use, including an excellent Neil Diamond demo sung by Davy Jones (‘Love to Love’). The remaining band members (Mike, Micky and Peter) each contributed a new song. And a call was sent out for song submissions from some indie-rock stalwarts, leading to contributions from Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Andy Partridge (XTC), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and a co-write by Paul Weller (The Jam) and Noel Gallagher (Oasis).

They’re mostly catchy pop songs with added elements of folk, art-rock and psychedelia, lovingly recorded and mixed until the whole thing started to sparkle.

I love the Monkees so I may be a little biased, but most music fans who have heard the album agree that it’s clearly their best work since the 60s.

And then there’s ‘Me and Magdalena’, written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The Monkees recorded a fast version of the song, but hit paydirt when they slowed it down.

It’s a melancholy, wistful track, with genuine emotion and a heartfelt singalong. Plus it’s just great fun to hear Mike and Micky harmonizing together again after all these years.

Get these guys into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame already. They clearly have as much talent, longevity and great songs as most of the acts already enshrined.

TL;DR: Instant classic.

Bonus Track:

Since the Monkees finished at #1, they get a bonus track. But only because the song’s so good.

‘You Bring the Summer’ was written by XTC’s Andy Partridge, and it could have easily made this list. A shimmering pop confection that may melt the snow around you this winter when you play it.

The music video has experienced a renaissance lately thanks to YouTube, and this animated video is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Mike’s son Jonathan Nesmith had a hand in the production, and it looks back at the Monkees TV series and legacy with a wink and a smile.

If you’re feeling a tad melancholy after ‘Me and Magdalena’, this song will put a smile right back on your face.

That’s all, folks!

If you enjoyed this article, please like and share it.

We rock fans need to spread the word that rock n’ roll ain’t dead just yet, and that there’s plenty of great new music out there worth checking out. Thanks for reading, and more importantly, thanks for listening!!

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Comments (2)

  • Debbie D. Reply

    I’m the first to admit, my musical tastes are mostly stuck in the ’60s and ’70s, but there is good music out there if you look for it. Loving Metallica’s new album and I recently discovered “The Pretty Reckless”. Taylor Momsen has a fantastic voice! This is bookmarked so I can come back and listen in depth. Thanks for expanding my musical education! I had no idea The Monkees had any new recordings.

    December 7, 2016 at 9:21 pm
    • GuitarSpotting Reply

      Thanks for checking it out. I love lots of classic music too, but it’s definitely worthwhile to keep up to date as well, lots of great music getting made. Hopefully you find a few songs you like!

      December 9, 2016 at 6:30 am

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