Without going into detail, 2017 is ending in a very “sucky” way. Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to worsen. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine passed away. And, recently, the only son of a very good friend of mine died under suspicious circumstances. When these types of things hit so very close to you, it is a gut punch that completely knocks the wind out of you. So, instead of dragging this whole thing out for a week, like all of the critics on music sites and in magazines, I have created My Top 50 Albums of the Year. Do I own them all? Heck no! But, I have listened to them, as well as several others and picked my Top 50 for 2017.
I was surprised at how many of the artists that I listened to in high school and college made great albums this year. My list does not try to cater to the current flavors of the month. However, if an album got a good review, or was by an artist with a solid history with me over the years, I listened to the album. Occasionally, I would stumble across an album on my own. Before just like I used to tell my athletes, if you are good enough, the college coaches will find you. In this case, the music critics will find you.
I have many surprises on my list. Artists who tend to get all of the press they need did not make my list. While several artists who are not known quantities did. I do love an underdog! On with the countdown!
- Beck – Colors
Beck took four years to get this album out of his system, and quite honestly, the album gives off that impression. Still, the album contains a big hit from 2015 in “Dreams”, and one from last year, the updated take on his initial breakthrough hit “Loser” called “Wow.” Both fit comfortably within in catalog of hits.
49. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black
The gospel/soul icon recently released her third album recorded with her present muse, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Tweedy is the perfect match for Staples as they have created a gospel album that comments on the status of today’s race relations in Trump’s America. This stands up nicely with her family’s masterpieces from the late-Sixties and early-Seventies.
- John Mellencamp – Sad Clowns & Hillbillies
Mellencamp has joined forces with T-Bone Burnett again to expand on the country blues into what Mellencamp is currently immersed. The voice of Indiana, with counterpoint vocals by country star Carlene Carter created another haunting album about the truth behind the deterioration of the American Dream, which often runs contrary to what FOX Noise is telling these same folks.
- Joey Bada$$ – All-American Bada$$
Joey woke up the day after election day pissed off and created an album during which he spews his frustrations of all the societal ills that frustrate inner city and set them to some of the illest beats this side of Dre.
- Jay-Z – 4:44
Whenever Mr. or Mrs. Beyoncé drops a new joint, the music world gets so excited that it collectively needs its Depends. Quite honestly, this is not one of Jay-Z’s better albums, but it still stood tall in a lukewarm year for music.
- Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie – Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie
After nearly two decades of a break from the main band Fleetwood Mac, Christine McVie decided it was time to come back to the fold. And her pristine vocals were welcomed throughout the band’s tour celebrating their creative and financial triumph Rumours. The aftermath was the creative mind and the soul of the Mac coming together to create the finest Fleetwood Mac-related album since Tango in the Night.
- Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
I really never understood the music critics love of this band’s debut album. Oh, sure, the vocals were nice, but there was no melody or joy in the music. But, I always give this band’s new stuff another try, and this album is an improvement on their previous releases. Who knew that Sub Pop would go folkie after turning the world onto grunge.
- Future – HNDRXX
I always have to give Future a listen after I discovered him a few years back. This year, Future released two albums, a week or so apart. So, when I see that a hip hop artist names an album after Jimi Hendrix, I get intrigued. This is how experimental music should sound. Someone needs to Radiohead.
- Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
Tyler, The Creator likes to mix things up. And, boy, did he ever mix things up on this album. And, I’m talking about his beats and rhymes and his notes on society. While not as angry as Joey Bada$$, the man is saying the same thing: Walk a mile in our shoes.
- Little Steven – Soulfire
The Boss’s right-hand man in the studio and on stage, made the E Street Band break a working break by releasing his most fun and Springsteen-like album in years. It reminds me so much of the album Steven and Bruce made in 1981 with Gary “U.S.” Bonds, that I almost believe that we partied to this album back in college.
- Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
Giddens is the lead singer of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose Americana take on some famous songs, such as Run-DMC’s “You Be Illin’”, brought the band to some level of prominence. But, on her sophomore solo album, Giddens has made an inspired song set that transcends the folk and country worlds she lives in.
- Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?
We needed a Waters album this year to put things in perspective. Still, this solo album makes me wonder just how much greater this album would have been if the Floyd had played on it. Regardless, this album is the direct political statement that Floyd’s Animals almost was.
- Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Staples has become one of my favorite emcees, and this album further solidifies his status in my mind. This is just plain fun to listen to on all levels.
- Flamin’ Groovies – Fantastic Plastic
This year has been a crazy year, during which some of the artists from my teenage years have made some compelling albums. And, that’s where we find these power pop originators from San Francisco releasing their best album since their 1975 masterpiece Shake Some Action.
- Kehlani – Sweet Sexy Savage
This album totally took me by surprise. Just when I thought I was tired of the female R&B chanteuse, I put this one on and got totally knocked up the side of my head with the soulful brilliance of Kehlani’s musical vision.
- Fancey – Love Mirage
2017 has been a great year for Canadian power poppers extraordinaires, as you will see later in the countdown. So, when Seventies pop/disco lover Fancey quietly released his third solo album, I was not ready for what I heard. I swear I was transported to 1978 by the music on Love Mirage, and it was a great trip. If the sounds of Bee Gees, England Dan & John Ford Coley and Little River Band are up your alley, then this album is for you.
- Songhoy Blues – Résistance
The men from Mali couple world music and the blues into a rock sound all their own. And, this is a compelling new taken on the blues with the freshest sound since Stevie Ray popped on the scene in 1983.
- Ray Davies – Americana
The former voice of The Kinks finally released a great solo album by embracing not his English heritage as Davies had done throughout his career, but the sounds of America, much like his Sixties cohorts The Band did 50 years. And this fresh sound and approach has inspired Davies to his finest solo album, and his best since The Kinks released Low Budget in 1979.
- Bleachers – Gone Now
Jack Aronoff has found more success outside of fun. as the leader of his own band, Bleachers, and as a song doctor for the wealthy and talentless. But, he truly shines in the Bleachers. This is a power poppish punk rock band that hits the mark on the pop side of the power punk thang. Simply put, this is a fun album, without the pretensions.
- (tie) Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 2
- (tie) Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 1
These two volumes of outlaw country music only solidified Stapleton as the best thing in country music this side of Sturgill Simpson. Simply put, Stapleton has picked up the torch from Willie Nelson and is running with it to new levels.
- Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell, that brilliant former member of the Drive-By Truckers, is taking Americana to new levels. I have been enjoying his solo music ever since he went solo. And, watching him reach new heights as a solo artist is so encouraging to this aging rock fan.
- Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Robert Plant has been on a roll ever since his Grammy-winning album with Allison Kraus. And, this album only shows how beautifully Plant is aging as an artist, which is long way from his golden god days in Zep. And then again, it’s not that far away from Zeppelin III.
- Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
This rap supergroup has released its third album, and they are only getting better. There is nothing like angry experimentalists in hip hop hitting their career peak. Run the Jewels are near the peak of the hip hop mountain.
- Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Comedy
Halsey is one of the best pop rockers around right now. And while she is in her early-Twenties, we can only expect her to improve upon her current sound, which might make her one of the greatest of all-time. Otherwise, she have this as her finest moment, which is pretty damn good.
- Warm Soda – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up
On their last album together, Warm Soda proved that power pop was alive and well here in power pop’s fourth decade as genre. Here’s to another band who looks up to Cheap Trick for all the right reasons.
- Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
Queens of the Stone Age is NOT your brother’s favorite stoner metal band. QOTSA are now transcending the genre they ushered in back a decade or so ago. On their previous album, they teamed with Sir Elton John in an effort to move their sound along a bit. On Villains, band leader Josh Homme turned to current popmeister Mark Ronson to advance the band’s sound and not as a sign of selling out. This is much like Metallica turning to Bob Rock to produce their “Black Album”.
- Lorde – Melodrama
I much prefer Lorde over Taylor Swift, but I’m not sure why. I think it might be her Goth bent, but if I want a non-American view of pop music, Lorde is the artist for me,
- Styx – The Mission
Remember what I said about the Flaming Groovies? Well, I was even more surprised by this sci-fi rock opera and the magic that Styx rediscovered while creating it. And, if only for a moment, I thought Styx were back to their glory days.
- The National – Sleep Well Beast
It has taken years for my ears to warm to The National’s brand of alternative music. But, now I am a fan, and it has to do with this slickness of this album.
- Randy Newman – Dark Matter
During these uncertain times, isn’t it heart-warming to know that we still have t and he finest satirist and parodist in rock history still at the top of his game when he releases a rock album. Plus, this album is more than the greatness of the first single “Putin”, which sets Newman’s acerbic lyrics against early-Twentieth century Russian music, Newman reminded us of his spot-on observations of the ruling class is ripe for his kicks.
- The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
Canada’s finest power pop band released their strongest album in the current decade. This band, consisting of some of the country’s finest solo artists (Americana Queen Neko Case is a member of the band), is showing the world that power pop is NOT dead and is a rather groovy in the hands of these expert exporters.
- Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
The former drummer of Fleet Foxes is creating some of the most compelling folk-based rock these days. If you saw FJM on Saturday Night Live last spring, then you know this man is the real deal. When this album was first released, I was certain it might be my Album of the Year. Still, it is in the Top Twenty.
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar is THE man of all rap music right now. He has proven himself on his previous three albums, each of which were masterpieces, which this one is as well. Plus, he has Dr. Dre creating the musical landscape that is equal parts jazz and hip hop. We are witnessing the coronation of the new King of Rap. All hail the King!
- Paramore – After Laughter
This album represents the state of pop-rock in the Twenty-Teens. I honestly never thought this band would grow this much in stature, but much to my surprise, they have. Throughout this album, Paramore’s hooks are spot on and their rock is heavy and hard. It’s not power pop, but it’s close.
- John Mayer – The Search for Everything
Back in 2000, Mayer was every teen girl’s poster boys of folk pop. Then, slowly, we found out the man was a guitar hero. Then, we all watch as he vacillated between the blues, R&B and the folk-pop he used to announce himself to the world. But, over the course of the past two or three albums, Mayer has tied together all of these disparate sounds into his own sound…finally. He has been looking back to the Seventies’ California sound of Jackson Browne and the Eagles, all the while playing his blues rock. Finally, Mayer is a rock original.
- The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Unfortunately, we lost the great Tom Petty upon the conclusion of his 40th Anniversary Tour. Fortunately, we have this great band, The War on Drugs, waiting in the wings to pick up Petty’s mantle. This is the band that all classic rock fans have been for years to hear. Seriously, classic rock, this is the rock band for today.
- Shake Some Action! – Crash Through or Crash
Shake Some Action! is a band to watch. They have a unique sound that is familiar yet totally new. They possess the same energy as Green Day and similar writing chops as Cheap Trick. Yet, SSA is NOT some throwback band. They are rock & roll for the second decade of the Twenty-First century.
- Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman
It wasn’t until Sharon Jones was in her fifties that she began to taste the success that had been predicted for her for decades. Jones was a throwback forceful voice that reminded fans of the heyday of R&B and funk. Unfortunately, Jones lost her long battle with cancer and this album represents the last of her musical output. Still, it remains a perfect epilogue on a career that should have been bigger.
- Nick Heyward – Woodland Echoes
Do any of you remember an English band from the early days of MTV called Haircut One Hundred? They were a great pop, new wave band in the early Eighties who only released one album of so brilliant pop dipped in Motown milk chocolate and a solid candy coating of Caribbean shadings. They were a delight! This year, that band’s lead singer and mastermind, Nick Heyward, released a terrific set of pop songs that adults everywhere should enjoy.
- Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Sure, Ryan Adams’ ex-wife is on a hot streak right now as Mandy Moore has a role on TV hottest drama This Is Us. Yet, when Adams is suffering, we become the benefactors of great music. Prisoner could be his greatest album, on which Adams makes his case to take Tom Petty’s spot as the voice of the disenfranchised.
- SZA – Ctrl
Did you see SZA on SNL this past Saturday? What a performance! This is the R&B Album of the Year. Just one listen, and you will be hooked!
- Squeeze – The Knowledge
Seriously, THE pop band of the Eighties is back with their second great album in a row since their reunion. Difford and Tillbrook are finally becoming the writing team that critics had predicted for them since the late Seventies.
- Kesha – Rainbow
Who knew Kesha was really a talented artist underneath that image of a disaster she was a few years back. But, she cleaned up, literally and figuratively, and created a terrific album that flips the bird at her critics and shows the confidence of the artist she always knew she was.
- Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright
Back a few years ago, Cheap Trick made the difficult decision to let drummer Bun E. Carlos go for the band’s first personnel change since 1988, when original bassist Tom Peterson returned to the fold. Then, the band signed with Big 3 Records, and Cheap Trick has been on a roll ever since. Finally, new drummer, and guitarist Rick Neilson’s son, Daxx has begun to fill the large shoes that Bun E. left behind. Now that the band is finally in the Hall of Fame, they have released two straight great albums of great Cheap Trick music.
- DREAMCAR – DREAMCAR
If you have been missing some great new wave music like they made in the Eighties, then do I have an album for you! Take the lead singer from AFI and back him up with the musicians from No Doubt, and you have DREAMCAR, a pop-rock beauty of a band that may eclipse either of the original band’s success if they stick together and develop. Still, they have released one helluva album of new wave music.
- Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
The Modfather is back with another great collection of songs. I cannot believe this man is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Seriously! The UK understands, but what the hell is wrong with the USA? This man has created a wealth of brilliant music over the past forty years with The Jam, The Style Council and as a solo artist. This man is ground zero for the whole Britpop phenomenon of the Nineties, all the while not resting on his laurels. And, A Kind Revolution is proof of all of my praise.
- LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
James Murphy started LCD Soundsystem to fulfill his rock and electronica dreams. Then, after a few great albums, Murphy pulled a David Bowie and retired after a big sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden. Then, quietly, he returned with a 21st century Remain in Light-era Talking Heads album with American Dream, which might very well be his masterpiece.
- The xx – I See You
Just when you thought the whole post-punk revival had run out of steam, The xx comes along with a new album that blows that theory right out of the water. The xx is a trio that is equal parts dream pop, dance beats, post-punk and a touch of 80s new wave which made this band jump from the “oh they’re okay” to “this band just may become something.”
- St. Vincent – Masseducation
Over the course of three albums, New York City art rock impresario Annie Clark has moved from the underground to the mainstream. A couple of years ago, she recorded a great album with former Talking Head David Byrne. She followed that album with her biggest mainstream statement as St. Vincent to date. Now, in 2017, St. Vincent has released her most fully realized album that tiptoes the fine line between underground art and mainstream rock, much like the great artists of the past like Talking Heads and Roxy Music, two of her most obvious influences.
- U2 – Songs of Experience
Since U2 dropped this album on December 1, 2017, I have watched this album slowly move up this list after each time I played it. Their previous album, Songs of Innocence, was the sound of a band of 50-somethings coming to grips with their lost innocence and what it means to be a rock band as each member hit the half-century mark. This year, U2 dropped an album that not only was the sister album of that previous album, but Songs of Experience finds the members of U2 facing their mortality not only as individuals but also as a band. Instead of looking back, as the band did on the last album, U2 are looking forward on this album. Do they have all the answers? No. But, we have all gained enough experience to know that something wrong is in the water and air today that we better be prepared or our individual lives maybe lost forever. This is the sound of an experienced band of individuals who are musicians deciding that they are going down with a fight. And, that’s what separates U2 from all of their heroes, peers and followers. Sorry, millennials, this is an album that you won’t understand for another 20 to 30 years. And, that is why U2 remains vital artists at an age when the Stones started packing it in.
And, there you have it: 2017 according to Keller. Tell me below what album was your favorite this year. Peace!