Top 5 songs of 2016

Top 5 songs of 2016

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee
With music from The Avalanches, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, Kanye West, and more

2016 was a fantastic year in music. Putting together an end-of-the-year list is not an exact science. Depending on mood, time of the day, last time I heard a song, subliminal messaging, hell, probably even what I ate today, this list could change at any time. I’m sure I will look back at this list and say, “What was this guy thinking?” But, here we are. This is my personal, me being Justin Barney, this is my favorite songs of 2016. They aren’t an objective look at what is “best” these were the right songs that hit me at the right time, and ended up meaning so much to me. Feel free to pick it apart, disagree, and gaffaw at any or all picks, but these are the ones that I love.

Listen to the whole thing in the player below.


5. The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”

The Avalanches “Frankie Sinatra” comes in at number 5, on my lists of top five songs of 2016. The song is a study in contrasts. Like Newton’s Third Law of Physics, Everything has an equal and opposite reaction. The plodding of a tuba is matched with a high pitch slide whistle. Danny Brown’s nasaly delivery is met with MF DOOM’s bars that comes from deep within. The weight of the whole thing is lifted by a sample of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things.” The Avalances, are not musicians, they are sound architects, and here they have used the science of music to create a masterpiece.


  • “Frankie Sinatra” was released on July 8th on The Avalanches album, “Wildflower.”
  • Listen if you like: a study in contrast, Danny Brown, tuba


4. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – “A 1000 Times”

I’m not sure how Hamilton Leithauser even has a voice at this point. The thing that gets me about this song every time is that voice. The strain, the pain. The way he gets to the end of a line and just leans into it. Like his heart is breaking at the end of every sentence, at every thought, at every time he has that dream. A 1000 times. A thousand heartbreaks. A thousand times he wakes up and it’s all gone.


  • “A 1000 Times” was released on September 23rd on Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam’s album, “I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.”
  • Listen if you like: the pain in his voice, The Walkmen, Vampire Weekend


3. Kanye West feat. Chance the Rapper and Kirk Franklin – “Ultralight Beam”

Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” is my favorite Chance the Rapper song of the year. Yes, Kanye ultimately gets the byline, but it’s Chance the Rapper’s verse that makes this my third favorite song of the year. It is less than a verse, and more of a prophecy.

Chance’s verse is all about “Chance 3” which, ultimately, would be called “Coloring Book” when it was released. But this was before that. This is while he was making it. And let’s just take a look at it.

In his verse he says, “Let’s do a good ass job with Chance three/I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy” That was true. You had to sell your music in order to get a Grammy, instead of giving it away as Chance does. BUT a month after Chance released Chance 3, and because of Chance the Rapper, the Grammy’s changed their policy, and announced that streaming-only albums would be nominated for Grammy’s, and because of that, Chance 3, or Coloring Book, has been nominated for seven Grammy’s in 2017.

And we will just diagram one more here. He also says, in the next line, “Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard, that there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet.” Three days after Chance released his album, fans had tweeted every single line of the album. There IS no gosh darn part you can’t tweet.

It’s hands down my favorite verse of 2016, and it makes “Ultralight Beam” by third favorite song of 2016.


  • “Ultralight Beam” was released on February 14th on Kanye West’s album, “The Life of Pablo.”
  • Listen if you like: prophecy, Chance the Rapper predicting the future, the greatest verse of 2016


2. Angel Olsen – “Shut Up Kiss Me”

The reason I like this song is that she takes a feeling and she twists it. The feeling is helplessness, being needy, feeling small. Like a wrestler on the mat by love, she uses the weight of emotion, flips it, and pins them. She doesn’t just say, she declares, “Shut up kiss me, hold me tight” She takes that tender need, and empowers that emotion.

Shut up Kiss Me is a declaration of need and an anthem for the emotional, and it is my second favorite song of 2016.


  • “Shut Up Kiss Me” was released on September 2nd on her album, “My Woman.”
  • Listen if you like: feeling empowered, anthems, being needy


1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Skeleton Tree”

My number one song, my favorite song of 2016, is “Skeleton Tree” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

There were quite a few albums about death in 2016, or resulting from it. Two of my favorite artists Leonard Cohen and David Bowie released albums as their last goodbyes. And my favorite album of 2016 was a reflection on mortality.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds album “Skeleton Tree” came out of the tragic passing of Nick Cave’s 15 year old son, who fell to his death off a cliff last year.

It’s a sad album that reflects on the elements of tragedy and grief, but this is the song that brings the album to a close. And it is sad, but there is this peace to it. Like the fog is lifting. The line that closes out such a tragic album is, “It’s alright”

A reminder that no matter what happens, we have to keep on going.

My number one song of 2016 is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Skeleton Tree”


  • “Skeleton Tree” was released on September 9th on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, “Skeleton Tree.”
  • Listen if you like: overcoming tragedy, the fog being lifted, finding closure somehow