Public Radio’s #1 Songs Of 2015

By NPR Staff  |  NPR

Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes Elliott Ross, Courtesy of the artist

Hidden inside our enormous year-end Songs We Love 2015 app — 401 songs across a dozen genres compiled by NPR Music and our public radio partners — is a playlist of 61 jewels, the ones we loved the best. We polled our entire team –including dozens of hosts from around the country — and these are the songs we singled out. A few selected were more than once (these names probably aren’t surprising to you at this point: Alabama Shakes, Courtney Barnett, Future, Jason Isbell, Kamasi Washington, Kehlani, Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra), but all of them are worth sharing. And you can listen to all of them by clicking the link below.

Play All Of Public Radio’s #1 Songs Of 2015

Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

The best song from one of the year’s best albums, “Don’t Wanna Fight” shows Brittany Howard’s gathering power as a singer, with the band’s rhythmic bump and guitar growls making for a memorably catchy song.
–David Christensen, opbmusic

When I saw the Shakes perform this song in May 2014, I was instantly excited to hear the direction the band’s music was taking. Brittany Howard is a force and I love hearing the emotional and vocal control she has in “Don’t Wanna Fight.”
–Kate Drozynski

Brittany Howard’s fiery vocals — reminiscent of Robert Plant and Tina Turner — make this one of the best rock songs in years.
–Dave Jackson, Jefferson Public Radio

Alessia Cara, “Here”
In an exhausting year of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, police brutalities, Nepalese earthquakes, refugee crises, Trump xenophobia, Cosby allegations and HBO’s humorless Season 2 of the The Leftovers, “Here” is a solid reminder, in no uncertain terms, that the party has been over for a long time. –Jason King, host of I’ll Take You There

Anderson East, “Satisfy Me”
He makes his home in Nashville, but East finds his way to Muscle Shoals with plenty of Wurlitzer, fat horns, a convincingly soulful rasp and a Ph.D. in TLC.
–Rachel Horn

Becca Stevens Band, “Be Still”
Brilliant mix of quirky rhythm with a great pop sense.
George Graham, WVIA

Bomba Estereo, “Fiesta”
The Colombian band Bomba Estereo is in it for the long haul. “Fiesta” is a multi-layered gem that captures the progress of a band that gets better and better with every release.
–Felix Contreras

Brenna Whitaker, “You Don’t Own Me”
The truth is easier to take when it’s wrapped up in a killer song by a beautiful and talented newcomer.
–Luke Nestler, KDNK

Caitlin Canty, “Get Up”
A song about resiliency, about picking yourself up and moving forward. The Vermont-native, now Nashvillian, is backed by an all-star band featuring Eric Heywood, Billy Conway, Jeffrey Foucault, Matt Lorenz and Jeremy Moses Curtis.
–Linda Fahey, Folk Alley

Carroll, “Green Acres”
The perfect “lying on the couch looking out the window at a cloudy Sunday afternoon” song.
–Chris Ranck, Delmarva Public Radio

Cecile McLorin Salvant, “The Trolley Song”
Salvant is the rightful heir to Sarah Vaughan. She’s fresh, innovative and one a kind. She’s got to be heard and seen to be believed!
–Melanie Berzon, KCSM

The Chemical Brothers feat. Q-Tip, “Go”
This is the mega hit of 2015 that should have been!
Rita Houston, WFUV

Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”
From country’s breakthrough lyrical voice, an instantly timeless slice of country soul that will lift you up wherever you perambulate.
–Ann Powers

City & Colour, “Lover Come Back”
Dallas Green’s soulful voice carries the listener through equal amounts of joy and lovesick sadness.
–Kyle Smith, WYEP

Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”
Courtney’s brilliant “internal diatribe” complete with endless hooks and a Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited meets Nirvana Bleach sneer and attitude (and humor). Freud would have said this is the song of the year.
–Kevin Cole, KEXP

A ferocious statement of identity from one of the most gripping voices to emerge in rock since Kurt Cobain.
–Jim DeRogatis, Sound Opinions

Courtney’s the best. Her wordplay and her phrasing are always compelling and she rocks it, too.
–Dan Reed, WXPN

As Barnett’s thickets of witty words spill out, her band blasts out an anthem worthy of the inevitable Nirvana comparisons.
–Stephen Thompson

D’Angelo, “Betray My Heart”
The 2015 single from one of the best albums of 2014. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 14 years for more D’Angelo.
–Jody Denberg, KUTX

Darlingside, “God Of Loss”
The instrumentals are just as meticulous as the harmonies, the harmonies just as haunting as the lyrics, and the lyrics a testament to the Boston quartet’s success to come.
–Larry Groce, Mountain Stage

Divers, “Breathless”
Divers exploded onto the Portland music scene this year on the back of incredibly intense live shows driven by expertly-crafted punk rock anthems, like this song from their debut album Hello Hello.
–Jerad Walker, opbmusic

Dr. Dre feat. Anderson .Paak, “Animals”
As the unofficial star of Dr. Dre’s Compton LP, Anderson .Paak pulled out all stops on the Dre/Premier joint production. Speaking directly to the current civil turmoil going on in many U.S. cities, Paak raps, sings and ultimately steals the spotlight from the two most celebrated producers in hip-hop.
–Bobby Carter

Eska, “Shades of Blue”
An enchanting amalgam of soul, psych and pop, Eska’s “Shades of Blue” summons the divine spirit of Minnie Riperton’s “Come to My Garden.”
–Ally Schweitzer, WAMU’s Bandwidth

Ezra Furman, “Restless Year”
A frenzy of poppy synths, rackety percussion and a throbbing bassline, this song effectively blends Furman’s visceral indie rock roots with his newer, glossier throwback sound. But there’s no time to pin him down or clasify him anyway — it’s just good to be along for the ride.
–Kelsey, The Current

Father John Misty, “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
It took a long time for Josh Tillman to craft this brilliant ode to his then-new love, and he struck sonic gold by wrapping his wit and vulnerability in lush strings, mariachi horns and one of the lines of the year: “What are you doing with your whole life? / How ’bout forever?” (By the way, she said “yes.”)
–Carmel Holt, WFUV

Future, “March Madness”
An intergalactic beat + Future’s infallible flow + perfectly timed ad libs = a legitimately lovely, debatably perfect rap song about nothing and everything.
–Kiana Fitzgerald

A groggy, codeine-addled exploration of Future’s binding dichotomy: egomaniacal braggart and depressed addict. It’s the undisputable sonic peak of the rapper’s career year.
–Sheldon Pearce

G.L.O.S.S., “Lined Lips and Spiked Bats”
You do not want to mess with these trans punks or this seriously pissed-off anthem to smashing the patriarchy.
–Lars Gotrich

Ge-ology feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe, “Moon Circuitry”
Fast, hard and funky, this is peak time club music packed with thwacking metallics and a blistering key solo.
–Sami Yenigun

Gretchen Peters, “Pretty Things”
Peters manages to distill decades of negative thoughts into a single song that gives me goosebumps and makes my eyes well up every time I hear it.
–Elena See, Folk Alley

Hamilton Broadway Cast Recording feat. Leslie Odom, Jr., “Wait For It”
A historical villain made flesh and blood before our very ears — and yet, Leslie Odom Jr.’s delivery is so transcendent that the context hardly matters. Anyone who’s ever yearned can relate.
–Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Harold Mabern feat. Gregory Porter, “Afro Blue”
Nice “up” beat, and it swings.
Rashad Abdul-Muhaimin, WSHA

The Honey Dewdrops, “Same Old”
Just one of the highlights from the outstanding Tangled Country, a collection of often sad but still hopeful songs. “Same Old” mines some of the territory of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, with lilting banjo, gorgeous harmonies and tasteful pedal steel, and exemplifies this duo’s simple yet beautiful music.
–Freddy Jenkins, WUNC’s Back Porch Music

Hop Along, “Waitress”
The vocal performance of the year, courtesy of Frances Quinlan, whose ragged pipes added a well-worn familiarity to detailed lyrics about being trapped by bad decisions, circumstance and casual cruelty.
–Jacob Ganz

Israel Nash, “L.A. Lately”
A Harvest era-soundalike for the 21st century that transcends its Laurel Canyon feel from an amazing singer-songwriter.
Dave Michaels, WEXT

Jason Isbell, “24 Frames”
“You thought God was an architect, now you know / He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow” are the best lyrics anyone has come up with in a long time, rivaling Bob Dylan in his prime.
–Benji McPhail, KUNC

A catchy tune that nobody gets tired of, with terrific songwriting and singing.
–Randy Wind, WMNF

Jason Isbell, “Speed Trap Town”
Absolutely heartbreaking. Reality and Friday Night Lights come together in a beautiful song.
–John Aielli, KUTX

Josh Ritter, “Getting Ready To Get Down”
One of the world’s best songwriters. Josh Ritter’s story songs feel so real.
–Chris Wienk, WEXT

Kacey Musgraves, “Dime Store Cowgirl”
Hopefully Kacey Musgraves will inspire others to create authentic and smartly written country songs like this heart-warming tribute to her hometown of Golden, Texas.
–Cindy Howes, Folk Alley

Kamaiyah, “How Does It Feel”
An anthem for the 99 percent from an Oakland rapper who might know the answer this time next year.
–Otis Hart

Kamasi Washington, “The Rhythm Changes”
Need a swaying terry bathrobe of a groove? An unironic mantra of uplift? A sign that jazz past might just have a resonant future? “I’m here.”
–Patrick Jarenwattananon

A stand-out track from Washington’s The Epic, incorporating R&B into a timeless, classic jazz tune.
–Bruce Warren, WXPN

Kehlani, “Alive”
Oakland’s rising R&B sensation is poised for a breakout year in 2016, and “Alive” — a joyous counterweight to the 20-year-old singer’s tumultuous upbringing — helps explain why.
–Gabe Meline, KQED

Kehlani’s 2015 mixtape You Should Be Here is a roller coaster of emotions with a glimpse of hope at the end of the journey. And while you catch the brightness from the beginning, there’s nothing like when you arrive: That’s “Alive,” the song where the R&B singer candidly embraces the bad to find peace and really — I mean really — enjoy the good.
–Erika Ramirez

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Faith, perseverance and bravery in the face of hate are recurring themes in black life, so it’s only right that K Dot’s single has become an anthem for today’s struggle.
–Timmhotep Aku

Kendrick Lamar, “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”
With the issue of race constantly in question, “Complexion” is a soothing meditation and message for hope with lyrics that can open minds and a melody to change hearts.
–Simon Rentner, WBGO

Kurt Vile, “Pretty Pimpin”
The self-described “pop jam” on Kurt Vile’s brilliant new album b’lieve i’m goin’ down. The wordplay and phrasing in this song completely hooked me from the start.
Russ Borris, WFUV

Lizzo, “My Skin”
Feminists have long understood that the personal is political; with “My Skin,” Lizzo captures the pain and poignance of the Black Lives Matter movement with a candid, moving and deeply personal ballad about her own experiences as an African-American woman.
Andrea Swensson, The Current

Major Lazer feat. MØ & DJ Snake, “Lean On”
Diplo was the MVP of 2015 as far as I’m concerned; behind the boards on Jack Ü’s “Where Are Ü Now” and MØ’s “Kamikaze,” it was tough to pick just one of his contributions for this list, but in the end I’m going with Spotify’s most-streamed song in the world this year.
–Travis Holcombe, KCRW

Mateo Senolia, “Baldwin”
Up-and-coming house music producer Mateo Senolia sets a classic speech by James Baldwin from 1962 against a vibe heavy deep house groove.
–Garth Trinidad, KCRW

Mbongwana Star feat. Konono No. 1, “Malukayi”
The ideal soundtrack for a spaceman meandering through the streets of Kinshasa: next-level alienation and sonic disorientation, pure humanity.
–Anastasia Tsioulcas

Michael Rault, “Real Love (Yeah)”
If the Cisco Kid was actually a singer-songwriter from Toronto.
–Annie Bartholomew, KXLL

Miguel, “coffee”
Miguel is by turns epic and intimate, sexy and innocent in this near-perfect love song.
–Amelia Mason, WBUR’s The Artery

Popcaan, “Unruly Prayer”
When the going gets rough, the best you can hope for is a rasta gospel number, and this one delivered so hard one could forgive the Drizzy shout out. “Tell the devil to keep his diss-tance, yeah.”
–Piotr Orlov

Protomartyr, “Why Does It Shake?”
Youthful bravado melts into the uncertainty of aging, and the Detroit band turns the words of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease into a moving, guitar-stoked anthem.
–Greg Kot, Sound Opinions

Raury, “Devil’s Whisper”
A young Atlanta rapper and singer marshals a choir for a forceful lesson about temptation delivered in shouts and stomps. Spacious and extremely musical — and he absolutely torched the Colbert show with it.
–Mark Mobley

Rich Homie Quan, “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)”
“Flex” is spry and sunshine bright. It’s goofy while it wisely plays its position. It is satisfying on every level; it’s complete. This is why I was late for everything this year. Not turning it off for anybody.
–Frannie Kelley

Speedy Ortiz, “Raising The Skate”
With equal parts hilarious self-deprecation, wry honesty and ambiguous non sequiturs, Sadie Dupuis fires off an empowering call to arms for anyone who’s ever felt underestimated by toxic people in their lives.
–Mike Katzif

St. Germain, “Sittin’ Here”
We’ve waited 15 years for the follow up to this French producer’s worldwide hit album, Tourist, and he’s blended African influences into his super smooth downbeat production style.
–Mark Wheat, The Current

Sumi Jo and Viktoria Mullova, “Simple Song #3 (David Lang)”
Victoria Mullova’s plaintive violin, Sumi Jo’s ardent soprano and David Lang’s sweeping music give this uneasy love song from the movie Youth, ravishing gravitas.
–Tom Huizenga

Sweet Spirit, “If You Wanna”
This Austin band writes catchy tunes that reveal several layers upon repeated listens. Also, I want to go to Mexico RIGHT NOW.
–Matt Reilly, KUTX

The Tallest Man On Earth, “Sagres”
Right out of the gate, this Kristian Matsson song engulfs you with wave after wave of beautifully lush sounds that are perfectly suited to a summer drive.
–Eric Teel, Jefferson Public Radio

Tame Impala, “Let It Happen”
This one is a bargain for your buck. It’s like four songs in one and they’re all good!
–Bill DeVille, The Current

7 minutes, 46 seconds, and I wish it was longer.
–Mac Wilson, The Current

Terence Blanchard feat. The E-Collective, “Samadhi”
A great song for everybody that meditates.
Aaron Cohen, WCLK

Thundercat, “Them Changes”
One of the most devastating songs of 2015, without a doubt. If the fusion of funk and jazz isn’t enough, add Thundercat’s beautiful bass and the heart stopping lyric, “Nobody move there’s blood on the floor and I can’t find my heart …,” and you won’t be able to pull yourself off the floor, either.
–Anne Litt, KCRW

Tomas Pagan Motta, “Up and Away”
If the amazing vocal — which conjures up Van Morrison, Tim and Jeff Buckley and somehow, Led Zeppelin — doesn’t seduce your spirit, try resisting the alchemy of acoustic guitar, strings and pedal steel.
–Vicky Gregor, KRCC

Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap, “All The Things You Are”
A song that’s been done a million times and ways, essayed slowly and deliberately by voice and piano, with conviction that feels like instinct.
–Michael Bourne, WBGO

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
This song is a funky reminder to “be here now, man!” Put your phone down and dance.
–Alisa Ali, WFUV

From its Tarantino spaghetti western start to its groovy “Purple Rain” end, this single by the Portland-by-way-of-New Zealand band is a cinematic treat for our ears.
–Joni Deutsch, West Virginia Public Broadcsting

Young Fathers, “Shame”
From the orchestrated chaos to the catchy hooks and children’s choir, the Scottish trio’s anthem for 2015 makes you feel no … shame.
–Alisha Sweeney, Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir

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